Declutter Regrets?

I want to be able to field those honest questions. We simply want to help. As my friend and his wife see their youngest become entrenched in his Junior year of of high school and his own plans to retire not far away, he’s facing the reality that it’s time for them to declutter. It’s on their mind a lot.

“Do you have any regrets about items you’ve discarded?” He asked me.

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But I didn’t have a simple yes or no answer. After a long pause I said no. And then I quickly retracted my statement with, well I recycled my high school year books. They were heavy and I carried them around for 30 years and I rarely look at them. If they were on a tablet, well, I might have thought different. But they took space and that was years ago. Now however I hear that some teachers and fellow students have passed and there is something inside me that wants to look them up and remember.

But then I pulled back on that too. Actually, no, I regret not discarding those yearbooks earlier or even buying them in the first place because those who had an impact on my life have done their job. And I hope I have done the same for them and others. Flipping through those pages to see who that classmate or teacher was, isn’t how I want to live. Those black and white images don’t serve me now. It’s like a form a silent gossip to look at their 35 year old photo, “Oh yeah, I remember them…” I know gossip is not good.

The art of decluttering is not as simple as it seems it should be. That’s why so many struggle to begin the declutter process. But as we focus on the rewards that it provides, which are numerous and real; less stress, more time, more money… And and recognize that it is a process, a form of growth within us unfurls over time. It won’t happen in just one weekend, but like any exercise, the muscles and the value becomes stronger and more visible with consistent effort.

Now that I’ve had time to ponder the question, the answer, the honest answer is no, I have no regrets about anything I’ve discarded. Elly and I were intentional about things we kept and said goodbye to the things we left. And if we were to comb deeply through the past and the journey we took, we might come across a regret or two, but since we don’t look back, it hasn’t been an issue.

People, things, experiences come and go in our lives. Living in the past is missing out on the present. Live moment to moment, leave a mark. Keep what you want and need, enjoy the freedom of letting go of the rest.

Increase the peace.

Minimalism Does Not Solve All of Life's Problems (it just helps reduce them)

I read a lot about minimalism and decluttering and alternatives to the common consumer lifestyle that so many pursue. And I don’t want to make personal lifestyle adjustments because of someone else’s opinion, even a seasoned minimalists opinion. I prefer the facts. The true beauty of minimalism is that we can form it to fit what is right for us. One size and one color does not fit all.

My personal view is that decluttering is a the process and minimalism is the lifestyle.

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As a midlife minimalist, I still like things. It’s just that I like my things more when I have less of them. I can honestly say that I know where everything I own is. My signed Bill Freehan ball, check. My great grandfathers billy club, check… Name them and I can tell you exactly where they are. There is freedom in that.

I remember countless times in my life looking for things, feeling the weight in my stomach and the stress in my head because I couldn’t find a thing. Its been a long time though.

The toughest thing for me about having this blog is that I don’t like to tell people how to live. So I try not to. But the message is too important not to share. It is easy to get caught in the undertow of life, but we can break free and live the life that we choose.

Minimalism can make that journey smoother.

Imagine driving across town for an event. You’re anticipating a great evening, but the roads are bad, potholes, detours, clutter. Traffic slows, time is wasted, anxiety creeps in. Everywhere you turn, roadblocks, potholes and traffic, stress. That is clutter. A decluttered life is similar to that same journey but on a smooth road with no obstruction.

Get in the car and drive that road. You’ll get there faster with a clear mind and a joyful spirit.

JS

Increase the peace.

Rhythm and Flow

I wish I understood the psychology of it. I’ll drive by an antique store full of rusty items or I’ll see a cable show with people who dig through barns to find old clothes, rusty toys and broken clocks and I wonder where will that stuff end up?

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Furniture store catalogs give me peace. They show uncluttered rooms with matching decor and a few mementos to provide the personal touch . And while those photos undoubtedly sell a lot of furniture, I’ll bet that the environment those items wind up in will not ultimately, mirror the images in the catalog

It is difficult to be a de-clutter person and it is perhaps more difficult to maintain a minimalist lifestyle, initially. But the rewards are so valuable; more time, better finances and in many cases improved mental and physical health.

There is a reason to consider minimalism. Life inherently is a balancing act. And like anything, if it leans too far and topples, it takes a lot of work to reestablish stability. Debt is difficult to climb out of, a poor grade point average takes work to restore… But when your environment is clutter free and takes a quarter of the time to clean, when you don’t wast time looking for lost items because they are in their place, when your bills are few because you spend less, the transformation begins and you realize how valuable the journey is.

Increase the peace.

JS

It Seems Really Important, At The Time

The value of embracing minimalism is that it moves us away from material possessions so we can get a tighter hold on life, real life. Time for our family, travel, experience. And as I try to live my advocacy for the experience, I realize that being involved in too many activities can create its own form of clutter.

We’re entering that time of year when the festivals announce their lineups, the summer concert venues reveal their schedules and the final, final tours of our high school favorites broadcast their itinerary. And it seems like a really big deal, until it’s over.

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In the late 70’s a record album could be purchased for less than $10. A concert ticket would have been $10 - $15. Today an album can be downloaded for about $12.99, but a concert ticket can cost 10 times that amount. So how many concerts can one person afford in a summer season? I can fly to London and back for the price of two tickets to some of the most popular touring acts hitting the stadiums in 2019. But where do I draw the line?

I confess that I’ve seen about 25 James Taylor concerts since 1976 and honestly, I only remember a few of them. The magic is in the memory, the experience. In retrospect I wish I would have seen JT five times and 20 more artists once. But in my youth, it was the summer thing to do, and so I learned.

When an event comes to town, the marketing can be captivating, everyone is talking about the fact that this may be the last time for this band to come around. But when they leave, they’re gone. No one really talks about it any more. If you saw a band in 1979 or 2019, nobody really cares. If you want to go, go. But don’t feel that anyone other than you really cares if you went or not. It’s your life, your experience.

There are moments in my life that anchor me, and most of them involve travel.

Choose your events carefully. What resonates with you? What will give you the most value for the dollars you spend?

Mindful decisions will provide the most value to your life and increasingly, the most benefit to your wallet.

JS

Increase the peace.

Transitions Can Be Managed. Or Not.

A few of decades ago, my folks called to say that they sold the house and they were moving permanently to the sunny south. I was the last of five kids, my parents were in their 40’s when I was born.  Children of the depression, they were then in their mid 60’s, retired and yearning for a warmer, less slippery climate.  Their message was kind but clear, if I want any of my stuff, come and get it cause who knows where it will be in a few weeks.

I lived in Chicago and they lived outside of Detroit so it’s not like I could walk over with my wagon. But, I was young, a few years out of the house, and I had a pickup truck, so I decided to make the three hundred mile journey for a brief visit to wish them well, say goodbye to my childhood home and preserve some of my treasures. 

Their closing was on a Wednesday and I arrived the previous Saturday.  My plan was to load the truck bed with the few useful things and leave the next day.  I assumed they discarded most of the property I left behind when I went to college, but to my surprise they had not.  The house was full of items from my youth, my siblings youth and, I hesitate to say, my parents youth.  “Do you remember this?” my mom would ask as she handed me a well made and surprisingly well-preserved child’s fire helmet from 1968.  I though you might like it.  Thanks Mom, I’ll try to shrink my head to a third of its current size and be a fireperson next Halloween.  “Maybe you’re kids will have use for it.”  Sure Mom, I’ll store this in inventory for when my kids are born several years from now. 

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To be fair, my parents were not hoarders.  Their house was orderly, but full of meaningless (who am I to judge?) knickknacks.  And they didn’t keep a balanced inventory.  Stuff came in but little went out.  Clearly, they suffered from the very common “they might need it someday” syndrome. So into a bin, closet, garage or backyard shed it went. 

My six-hour journey east was relaxing, as I love the open road, Springsteen and Sinatra cassettes keeping me company. But a few hours after I had arrived in childhood home, I began to feel the stress. Mom handing me things, trying to relive a memory, Dad tinkering around with no clear direction.  Five days before closing and they hadn’t’ even started to pack.  I was worried they could even get it done.  That’s when I opened the door to the garage. 

There’s a common scene in movies where the kids enter a cave or a spacecraft and there’s a monster is staring them in the face. They stand there paralyzed in fear not knowing if they should fight or run like hell? That was my face when I opened the garage door and saw miniature mountains of stuff.  The “five days” reality continuously ran through my mind.  

My dad couldn’t park a scooter in that garage let alone a car. Bicycles, desks, tools, chairs, boxes of who knows what, filled two bays to capacity.  Things were hanging from the ceiling and walls. Some tools were in their proper place, but many were scattered on the workbench. Again, it was controlled chaos. And oh, hello, there was Calico, my cat.  You still live here? You’re still alive? I picked him up and cradled him in my arms, sensing that his advanced age, and the stress of the move was even getting to him.

At this point, my task shifted from being a simple retrieve and leave trip to a salvage and recovery mission.  How much stuff could I eliminate and make my parents move less difficult? Dad, you’re office desk, do you mind if I take that? Mind you, it was 6 feet by 4 feet and would barely fit in any room in my apartment, but it was heavy and I didn’t want them to deal with it.  “Sure, no problem.  Do you remember you used to hide under that desk and I would pretend I couldn’t find you?” “Good times Dad.” I replied.  All I could think of was “five days.”  

I am not a wizard in mathematics, but I do know to calculate the volume of a container (depth times length times width) and I was measuring and calculating every inch of my pickup, inside and out.  I spent the next 10 hours gathering, collecting, re-living and in the process somehow adding emotional value to things that I thought were long, long gone. To be clear, I really didn't even think about them as long gone because I never ever thought about them.  They just weren’t important, yet somehow, now that they were back in my life, (hear me complete set of Topp’s 1978 MLB cards), I thought that perhaps they were. 

I loaded up the truck, swept the garage, cleaned and organized as much as I could, hoping that my presence would inspire my folks to pack up and begin their next chapter.  We had a nice dinner, I had a good sleep and Sunday afternoon I wished them well, hugged them, held Calico for the last time, and I was on my way.  

During my six-hour drive home I had a lot of time to reflect, the hypnotically scaled back sounds of Bruce’s Nebraska helped deepen the reflection. Yet, I could really only think of two things; why weren’t they ready for this? And with an apartment slightly bigger than my truck, what am I going to do with all this stuff?

It was an early wake up call, but it took a very long time for me to actually wake up.

However as I look back, it was really my introduction to the necessity of midlife minimalism.

JS

Increase the peace.

 

 

 

Social Media, It’s Time For Me To Go

When we met, I thought it would be different.  

It was social, reconnecting, images of family and old friends.  Touching base, with former class mates and colleagues, comfort in knowing that, after all these years they were OK.  You told me it was about two-way communication, building community and I believed you. I was blinded; I only saw the good in you.

 I gave you so much, my name, contact info, photos and plans.  I trusted you.  

At first it was great. Being alerted by a former co-worker or schoolmate.  We’d exchange a few greetings. I’d see their houses, families, food, perhaps too much food. But over time I have to be honest, I became bored.  All of a sudden it seemed to be a competition of who had the most connections.  It all became less and less important.

We’re Done.

We’re Done.

And you never really told me how my comments were shared.  I thought they went to all my “friends”, but perhaps not, I don’t know. You created algorithms to maximize my data for your benefit.  I began to feel we weren’t in this together anymore, now I was simply serving you. 

You’d send me notes, “haven’t heard from you in a while”, to create a false sense of urgency. And I fell for it at first.  But now I really don’t care.

And then I began to hear rumors about you.  That you weren’t honest. You were sharing my information with people who I didn’t even know. You took my private info, the data I trusted you with, and freely gave it to anyone who asked or would pay.  And I realized some people, whom I never intended to share it with, were actually stealing it.  

Sadly, it just seemed to get worse. People who don’t like people began to say bad and unfounded things about my brothers and sisters from around the world. It became frightening. The joy disappeared from the experience, and the trust was removed from the equation. 

The lies began piling up. You provided me news that was not accurate or true; you freely and uncaringly misrepresented places, people, events and things.  I started to question everything I saw, what could I believe?  You changed.  

In a very short time you’ve perhaps unintentionally, created chaos in our country and our world. I will no longer participate in your nonsense. We’ve been together a long time.  And now I have to say it’s over for me.  I’m leaving you. 

Life exists, real life. And it seems that the time I spend with you is wasted.  You don’t teach me anything that I can’t learn elsewhere. And you fill my mind with things that don’t matter or worse, aren’t true.  You can’t replace being there, present in the moment, focused on real friends and family, experiences. Images and videos do not replace the real life joy of travel, voice conversations and dinners with real food on a table..

As of this moment, I’m done. I’ll stay in touch, but it will be strictly business between us.  I will shift my focus to handshakes, hugs, conversations, prayer, meditation, reflection, work, phone calls, letters, books, visits and travel.

I’m not sorry.  It is not me, it’s you.  

JS

Four Steps to a Clutter Free Life - Step One: Finances

Planning for what’s on the horizon.

Planning for what’s on the horizon.

Looking at the retirement horizon, there are key areas of life should be monitored and kept in order. Regardless of your age or specific timeline, actions can be taken that cultivate a rich life, materially, mentally, physically and financially.

Financial components;

I had the good fortune of interviewing a successful manufacturing business owner as he celebrated his companies 50 year anniversary. He shared a compelling and inspirational story of how he grew his business from the basement of his suburban home to an 80 million dollar enterprise. While I was able to glean several nuggets of wisdom from our conversations, one specifically stuck with me and I think of it very often. He said that when he started his business with a US $5,000 investment, he never borrowed a dime. Admittedly, he paid late sometimes, but he always paid and he never borrowed. “Debt will rot your guts,” he told me. It stuck.

There are numerous calculations available to determine the income needed to live a certain type of lifestyle. These formulas include expenses, food, housing, loans, healthcare… But imagine if you cold enter retirement debt free. Your home is paid, you have no loans, no credit card debt and because of your discipline, you’ve got a reasonable sum in the bank. Your monthly cost of living is reduced dramatically!

The swing between paying debts and trying to save saving and being debt free and saving is dramatic. It is hard to both at the same time and without debt, savings grows.

So, what to do:

Begin with the why again. If your not into it, you won’t succeed. But if you are tired of the stress and would like a sense of freedom from financial burdens, lay it all out on paper - here is a simple place to begin:

  1. List the reasons your taking this action and what your ultimate goal is. Hopefully it will be something like a debt load of zero.

  2. List your monthly expenses, and your monthly income. Compare the two. If your expenses are more than your income, you’ve got two options:

    1. Reduce your expenses.

      • Eliminate all non essentials, cable, magazines, online shopping…

    2. Increase your earnings.

      • Sell stuff

      • Part time it

There may be a period of time when you consciously do not take that vacation, buy that couch or splurge on a holiday, but the goal has been determined and the results are life changing.

Once the landscape is surveyed, list the debts from the lowest to highest with the mortgage being last and pay the lowest off first. Once that one is gone, high-five yourself! Now take the funds that went into the first debt and apply it to the next debt principal and repeat.

It may take a while, even years, but the discipline will reap financial and emotional benefits. Imagine how much you’ll be able to save if you had no monthly payments on anything but the mortgage. And when you reach that milestone, double up on the mortgage and eliminate that expense. By then your life has been changed. And the things you used to buy (waste money on) no longer have meaning and you are able to focus on the present life you have, not the future purchase or debt payment but the now

Of course as a secondary benefit, you’re now earning interest instead of paying it.

Increase the peace.

JS

What is the Difference Between Decluttering and Minimalism?

I’m delighted that decluttering is getting the attention it deserves. Lives will be changed in positive ways.

I’ve been asked about the difference between one who declutters vs. one who is a minimalist. Here is a short answer.

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Decluttering is an activity, minimalism is a lifestyle.

In order to become a minimalist, you need to go through the process of decluttering, however what prevents you from re-cluttering is the minimalist mindset.

A lot of people who have eliminated the majority of their household items and are very proud, and should be, of their accomplishment. But then reality sets in and that blank wall looks like it could use some art, or that empty end table space can be refilled with a new beauty, that happens to be on sale.

We went through the process of decluttering our TV room into a peaceful place of rest where more meditation occurred than streaming entertainment binges. But there was a nagging urge to purchase a end table to store the remotes. This is when the minimalist takes charge; the minimalist does not buy the end table. We considered the following:

  1. The room, in its current state is peaceful, complete.

  2. The end table, if purchased, will reduce space and impact the aura of the room.

  3. It is not necessary, it will require cleaning and maintenance.

  4. And, for some ridiculous reason, we are willing to spend in the vicinity of one hundred dollars on a piece of furniture to store four remotes.

Instead, we added a small basket to a shelf in the room where the remotes now functionally sit.

Minimalist resist the desire to add or acquire things and focus on the freedom of having less.

Increase the peace.

JS

Step 2: Begin With a Drawer

As we contemplate the why and determine that yes, a change needs to take place, the next step is to begin, now.  Procrastination is not an option and is, in its own way a form of clutter.   It clutters your mind with thoughts of “Oh, I’ve got to get to that…”  Stop it, begin today.

Start with a drawer. Perhaps that ever present household “junk drawer”.

Take it out. Physically take the drawer out of the cabinet, desk or dresser and surround it with a wide open space.  An empty table will do, or an open floor.  Empty it, all of it.  Dump everything out so that drawer is nothing but a beautiful box of emptiness.  Notice the dust in the corners, clean it out.   This is your first big step toward minimalism. 

Now look at that pile of whatever used to live inside the drawer and from that make three smaller piles.  Pile one represents what you need to put back in the drawer, pile two is the trash pile and pile three will be given away, relocated or recycled.

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Let’s assume that our project is cleaning out the kitchen junk drawer.  The drawer is now empty, and the pile is high.  This is not a trip down memory lane; embracing the day that rubber band found its way into your home or your fondness for that twisty that kept marvelous loaf of bread fresh is not in the equation. Nostalgia is not part of the plan.  We are making quick “keep, don’t keep” decisions.   Trust me, you wouldn’t call it a junk drawer if it had value.   Ready set go… Rubber bands = trash, twisty = trash, hardened glue stick = trash, recipe pad = keep, pocket knife = trash, fork = silverware drawer… grocery flyer = recycle, go, go, go.  Don’t let this project take all day.  If you dumped the whole lot in the trash your life would only be better for it.  This is a baby step.  The risk of monetary or sentimental loss from cleaning a junk drawer is nonexistent. Keep only what is needed, the recipe pad, some pens, tape scissors, glue, a small hammer and perhaps some nails.  Trash or recycle the rest.  

Don’t stop or second guess, your daughter will not need that pocket knife if she goes to camp in high school, she’s only two.  By the time she’s in high school pocket knives will have lasers not blades.  Trash it.

When this exercise is completed, toss the trash pile. Now, I mean literally, right now, get rid of it.  Drive to the garbage can outside the quick mart if you must but eliminate it from your home.  You want it out and you don’t want to look at it again. 

The giveaway, recycle pile needs to be given away (i.e. donated) or recycled. And please don’t think giving away means giving it to someone else in your home, that’s not de-cluttering, that’s rearranging clutter.

Organize the items that are left. Organize the drawer with the few items in a way that is functional and useful to you. Remember what is there. When you need that pen, you know were to go, the scissors, always there. Feel the peace and rest in it.

Thank yourself. You made a difference. You took a step toward making a lifestyle change that will change your life.

Increase the peace.

Jim

Where Does the Road to Minimalism Begin? At the Why.

The road begins at the “Why?”. Unless we are certain of our why, we won’t be committed to the direction we take. Why do we even consider the question of minimalism? What brought you to the place where minimalism even piqued your interest? If we truly know our why before we begin this journey, my experience is that this road will have less bumps and many exciting, around the bend type of discoveries.

Determine your “Why?”.

Determine your “Why?”.

For us, it didn’t really begin with minimalism. It began with the act of de-cluttering. We were at that age where our home was a warehouse full of stuff, our stuff, our kids stuff, but the kids were gone and we felt cramped, we wanted more space. Our home was clean and presentable, but we still felt confined.

Common thought would tell us that there are only two ways of adding more space a home; move to something bigger or build an addition. However there is a third. A cheaper, more realistic, but rarely considered option is this; reduce the number of things in your current home. If more people executed this option, I would bet that home sales would decrease, as would short sales and foreclosures.

Personally, we were pleasantly surprised that by removing unnecessary things, items, furniture, our space began to increase from the inside out. Things went out and with strong intention, we did not replace them.

I take pleasure in looking at furniture magazines. It is like looking at art to me. You’ll see a common theme in the home decor world, it’s clutter free. You don’t see advertisements for couches, bedroom sets or kitchen cabinets that are full of clutter. It is simply unappealing. Picture your home that way. Create a home that is a haven, not a stress.

As our de-cluttering progressed, our why began to evolve and reveal itself in different ways. We began to review our possessions, furnishings and decorations, and we removed what did not have meaning or value. Amazingly, our own imprint began to make itself known. Our home became “our” home. Not a replica of the latest furniture store catalog , but an extension who we were, as a couple and as individuals. We displayed items that brought joy to our heart, not those we had placed to impress our guests and friends.

The freedom became our “Why?”. It was intoxicating, we wanted more, more of less and the sense of peace that came with it. We used Marie Kondo’s excellent book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing” as our guide.and tried to be as sensitive to each other as possible.

It’s not always easy. Different things have different value to different people. But I did begin to ask myself, why do I have my high school yearbooks? I looked at them for the first time in 25 years, tore a few meaning pages and tossed them. Not once have I regretted it. But I understand it is my job to manage my process and to impose my view of what is important to Elly is not prudent. I will say again and again, this is a process. Decluttering is not easy. So don’t expect an overnight solution. It needs to be learned, practiced and perfected over time. It is not as simple as following a declutter to do list. Decluttering has emotional, physical and psychological elements that need attention. But it can be done and the results are extremely gratifying.

Remember; decluttering is an activity, minimalism is a lifestyle.

Increase the peace.

Jim

What Is Minimalism?

To say one is a minimalist is like saying that they like food. Everyone does not like the same food, but they could all gather in one place and agree that food is good. 

We became attracted to minimalism because we tired of storing things, looking for stuff and paying for items we didn’t need and (I’m embarrassed to say,} frequently already had. But we had no plans of discarding everything we owned, dress in black and live out of a backpack. However we needed a change and through the process we learned and grew.  In the beginning we simply wanted to de-clutter.

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Our why was that we sought peace. Those moments of rest that offered so much energy and creative vision. We wanted to spend our weekends with friends and family, recharging for the week ahead, not cleaning, sorting and managing our warehouse of objects, many of which were hidden in boxes that we forgot we even had.  

In 1964, Fannie Lou Hamer, the civil rights leader famously said, “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.” I reference Ms. Hamer’s statement respectfully, recognizing fully that our use of this phrase is on a much smaller and less urgent scale, but her words accurately describe how we felt at this particular time in our lives. 

So what is the difference between someone who de-clutters and a minimalist?

For us, de-cluttering was the avenue to minimalism. It was our entry way into the freedom and excitement that was revealed when we reduced our inventory of stuff and subsequently, reduced our stress. It became a psychological and spiritual exercise and the results were life changing. De-cluttering is an activity, minimalism is a lifestyle.

Yet, I could see someone visiting our home and exclaiming, “You’re not a minimalist, your table doesn’t fold, you’re clothes have color, your shelves have stuff on them.” My response would be simple, “Really? Because we have real furniture and own more than two pairs of sox?”  

A specific amount of objects does not determine a minimalist It is a lifestyle, a practice that is exercised every time we go outside, on-line, or to the mall.   It is a mindful approach to obtaining what we need, not all that we desire. Its creating an environment in which we are at peace and comfortable, and a place where our guests feel the same.  A restful temple of retreat – a home.

While I may fail a variety of individuals standards of what minimalism is, I stand firm in this.  What you see in our home is what we have. Other than seasonal items, we store nothing.  Boots are put away for winter, but books are on the shelf, pictures are on the wall and dishes are in the cupboard.  No hidden gems in the closet or garage. And at this particular point on our path, it works well for us. But we will continue to grow in this arena, learning more about the value of experiences, moments, relationships and life. We’ll make adjustments and mistakes and corrections, which of course is OK, it’s all part of the journey.

That is minimalism to us. By using our visible space and not our storage, we are able to manage what comes in and remove what is not needed, wanted or used. Our home is in order, our cars are clean and our work-space is spotless.  We save time, money and we maintain a balance that keeps us closer to the peace we were seeking when we began this life changing ride.

Increase the peace,

J & E

Planning for Retirement, Not Planning to Retire

I never really start doing anything well. It always took time, practice. I’ve even given up on skills because I could not commit the time to be as good as I wanted (goodbye guitar, so long golf clubs). But the things I’ve committed to, learned and practiced, like juggling, some sports, being a husband, father and my work, I’ve gotten very good at. I am fully aware that elements in life need planning, learning and understanding. I know that I cannot just wait for a magic age or date on the calendar and become good at something. This applies to retirement too.

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I’m not planning to retire, but I am planning for retirement. If I don’t learn the how and the why, I’ll simply wake up one day with no place to go. My feet need to be firmly planted, I need to know where I am and the direction I’m headed.

And minimalism is a big part of it.

We visited friends a while back, shortly before they were scheduled to move. I was surprised at how far behind they appeared to be with their packing. The garage was full of clutter, empty boxes were scattered about the house. They seemed to be unconcerned. It was like they failed to realize that this home would not be theirs in a few days. I followed up a week later and got an earful about how unreasonable they buyers were, they expected an empty, move in ready home and they got sellers who expected extra time to move their masses. It was not a pleasant experience for either of them. An it is all due to lack of planning.

If we had to move tomorrow we could. What we have is on display, there is no more. No garages or closets full of clothes, toys books or treasures. Everything has it’s place.

I am as guilty as anyone of misplacing something and not finding it for days. But that was long ago. In our current situation, it’s almost impossible. Everything has a places and if it is not in it’s place there aren’t many places to look.

And so it is with retirement. I am responsible for managing the material possessions, the finances, the location and the vision of what will be accomplished in this season of life. And I can’t expect to figure it all out on one specific day, it takes time and practice in order to learn how to do it right.

The hardest thing for me to convey in words or through this blog is the feeling of peace that comes with a sense of order. The anxiety that prevented us from parting with our non essentials was trapping us. Less became freedom.

Increase the peace.

Reducing Clutter Adds Value to That Which Remains

Our biggest fear and the one we hear most, was; what if I get rid of something and I regret it?

It may happen, but it’s worth it.

The reality is, if you toss something that you really wish you didn’t, you can buy it again. It’s definitely worth the risk and from experience, I doubt that you’ll ever need to.

My guess is that we’ve eliminated about 70% of the things we had. My goal was that if someone came over. what they saw was what we had. The books on our shelf, that’s it, the items on display, that’s all.

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Of course we have boots stored for winter and some photos in a bench cabinet, but there was at time when our garage had boxes full of things we didn’t know still existed. Our attic had a my plastic poodle from the 60’s, train sets, toys, treasures, collectors items, junk! All in one nice shepherds pie of storage. The kids didn’t want this stuff and honesty, neither did we, but we had space (although it was decreasing) and there it stayed, neat and tidy, nicely boxed in matching plastic containers. I think back now and it seems ridiculous. Ridiculous but very, very normal.

Personally, my biggest emotional toss in the trash was my set of high school year books. Heavy and rarely touched in 35 years, I finally tore out a few specific pages and ceremoniously threw them in the dumpster, without any regret. Freedom.

I cannot say that your experience will be exactly like ours, however I know that others like us now enjoy what remains so much more than when it was overshadowed by the other unimportant things. The things on display are there because they bring us joy, not because we need a place to put them.

Break it down: A cluttered environment can enable a cluttered mind. Removing the excess provides a mental freedom that is difficult to describe and should definitely be experienced.

Increase the peace.

Catching Up as We See Retirement on the Horizon

Know that it is never too late to start saving for retirement. While we may feel we are financially behind, the simple act of increasing our savings can be coupled with other lifestyle changes that can help us move the needle faster.

Three lifestyle changes that will improve your financial situation:

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1) Consolidating all our financial data into one book or binder. At a certain age, the younger the better, we must be able to answer any and every question about our financiers. How much do we have? Where are the assets allocated? What are the account links and passwords. Unless we are able to see exactly what we have and know where it is, it will be difficult to face the reality of were we are. Only then can we take specific action before we’re in a race against the clock.

2) Eliminate things that we don’t need or want. Much easier said than done, this was quite a a process for us that lasted a few years and continues. If you can’t park your car in the garage, you’ve got a lot of work to do. It will take emotional growth to climb that hill, but your financial freedom depends on it. You can’t plan for a healthy retirement if you have too much stuff. And if you have too much, your spending too much. I challenge you, the sense of peace you’ll receive from a clean uncluttered garage, closet, bedroom or shed will out last any purchase you make. And when you see the comfort of the space you’ve created, you’ll be slow to buy more and clutter it again.

3) Combine the organization of finances and the de-cluttering of the home and focus on the areas that need attention. More in the 401K? Selling that old car you really don’t want to restore? Realizing that that board game from 1972 is not a collectors item and you are lose nothing by throwing it in the trash. Lifestyles put us in this situation, lifestyle changes will get us out.

Break it down: It will take time, perhaps a few months, but you have to get all your financial facts, figures and data in one binder or book. Focus on removing clutter from your life, begin this journey now, it will last the rest of your life. Combine these efforts and build wealth by controlling spending and increasing your saving. It’s not too late, it can be done.

Increase the peace.

External resources:

This is a great article on buying too much by Alana Semuels: https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2018/08/online-shopping-and-accumulation-of-junk/567985/

One List We Respect - The Gratitude List

We're bombarded with lists.   Everyone has a list of things I should do to make my life better.   I must see 5 list of 5 or 10 lists a day on Facebook or LinkedIn, actions that will enhance my existence.  That's reasonably 25 things a day, every day, of random, mostly unsolicited suggestions that are intended to help me navigate this journey.

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But I don't listen.  I don't listen because it's become too much. It's simply more clutter.  And unless I'm intentional in my actions, no growth is going to take place anyway. 

It's the clutter that we are trying to rid from our lives.  And our attempt to make mindful, strategic and intentional changes have made the difference. 

That's why we focus on these three things.  And we don't consider this a list, we call it a structure:

  1. Complete Mastery of Finances

  2. Decluttering - Minimize Possessions

  3. Mindfulness - Body, Mind and Spirit

Unless you build strong walls and a roof, it matters not that you have a fireplace.  The foundation must be secure.

Now we create a different list, for ourselves, and it's not a list of things to do, it's a list of things that have been done - a gratitude list. I see this pop up often in my reading and conversations, a lot of people do this practice with satisfying results.  It doesn't have to be long, but consistency makes a difference - three things a day, what am I grateful for?  It didn't take long to realize that we have so much more than we were aware of, and we're honesty thankeful for it. 

Increase the peace.

Where It All Began

When I began to learn about minimalism, I really didn’t think it was for me.  I have a beautiful wife, we have a home, cars, possessions and people gather at our place all the time.  My limited understanding assumed that as minimalists, we would be required to dispose of all our possessions and live with practically nothing.  Our houseguests would have to share a meal at a card table on a lawn chair.  It wasn't going to happen. 

We, or more honestly I, didn't feel like we had a lot of stuff anyway.   I could park in the garage, while many people can't.   But I parked it next a wall lined with plastic boxes and storage items set aside for now and for later.  I had to squeeze in and out of my vehicle.  It had a roof over it, but the garage was crowded.  Why do I have so little space?  

So we didn't start out as minimalists, we started out as declutterers.  Elly found a gem of a book that put us on our journey called "the life-changing magic of tidying up" by Marie Kondo.  It helped us level set and realize the stress acquired by acquiring things.  Ms. Kundo challenges the reader to keep only the things that bring joy. The insights worked well for us.

I could argue that while I was squeezing into my car, many of my neighbors had already given up.  They parked their 35K vehicle in the driveway while their garage served as a storage space for their big box purchases.  The car was exposed to the elements, but the excess toilet paper, bicycles, paper towels and hoses were warm and dry.  The total of these ancillary items certainly added up to a fraction of the vehicle.  I began to think that the priorities may have been reversed. 

So that’s why I consider myself a "Midlife Minimalist."  Someone who after a lifetime of acquiring, has decided that they no longer want to accumulate things.  They want to rid themselves of the things that matter least so they can focus clearly on the things that really matter.  I viewed the reduction of possessions as a portal to a life where I could enjoy the mental, material, relational and spiritual aspects of life to the fullest. 

Where does one start?

For us it started with these three things

  1. Elimination of financial debt

  2. Decluttering

  3. Mindfulness - Body, Mind and Spirit

The combination of these three areas brought us to a place where were consider ourselves midlife minimalists.  We didn't start out as minimalists, we're becoming minimalists; on our terms.  And the rewards are proving that we're doing the right thing. 

Of course we'll talk in detail about these elements in upcoming posts. 

increase the peace.

Too Many Things Dilute the Message of The One Thing

Years ago, I heard a story about a person who lost a loved one.  They were faced with the difficult task of rebuilding a life and sorting through their beloved's things.   In the midst of this difficulty, they were faced with many hard decisions; what to keep and what to discard. After much anguish, they narrowed it down to just a few memory pieces with the key focus on “the one thing”.   The one thing is something that would inspire a warm and loving memory.   In this case, a beautiful piece of artwork was chosen and prominently displayed in the living room. By removing the clutter they were able to actually focus, enjoy, remember and be inspired by a life well lived.

I began to think about the things that I would identify in key relationships and events in my life. 

Bill Freehan

Bill Freehan

When I was 9 years old my dad took me to my first of many Detroit Tigers games at the intersection of Michigan and Trumbull.  The all star catcher, and member of the 68' World Series Championship team, Bill Freehan hit a foul ball right to my father, which he promptly caught and handed to me.  It was a glorious day.  When my dad passed away in 1996, I sent the ball go Mr. Freehan who was kind to sign and return it.   This ball still sits in my home office and is one of the few “one thing” possessions that provides a good feeling and evokes good memories of my dad, my friend and mentor, and of all the wonderful times we had together.

I could have saved a lot of my fathers things, but I really don't need them.  His impact on my life is in my heart and his legacy is who I am. I don't need a Walters Starkey museum or a box full of old dad things.  I'm very satisfied with one or two mementos, simple objects that remind me of how truly blessed I am.

Increase the peace.