Tidying Up

In our effort to downsize our stuff so we can upsize our lives, my husband and I both read Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Art of Tidying Up.  (We checked it out from the library—no additional clutter.)  Like many “self-help” books, I ended up skimming a lot of it.  Sometimes people have a great idea but when they try to explain their ideas in a book, they end up repeating themselves and adding a bunch of fluff to make it long enough for a book.  This was the case here.  Plus she asks that we thank our socks and assign feelings to inanimate objects, and that was a little challenging for me.

If you haven’t read it yet, here’s a synopsis you can read in a few minutes.

The Rules

Ms. Kondo suggests that the process of tidying up starts with letting go of things you no longer need.  It’s easier to organize and be tidy with fewer things.  Here are her rules for sorting through your belongings:

  1. Discard then organize.
  2. Do it all at once.  Dedicate a couple of days, and just get it done.
  3. Sort by category, not by room.  Gather everything that belongs to that category from every room, and sort through it all at once.
  4. DO NOT start with mementos. It’s too easy to get distracted, and you need some practice letting go of things with less emotional attachment first.
  5. Sort your items in this order, and this order only:
    1. Clothes
    2. Books
    3. Papers
    4. Miscellany
    5. Mementos

In the book, Ms. Kondo explains her rationale for these rules, provides stories and examples, and gives more details and suggestions, but this is the gist of it.  Then she makes suggestions about how to organize and store things.

The Ah-Ha Moment

For me, the most helpful take-away from the book was this:

Keep only those things that speak to your heart.

That was a revelation, and I don’t know why I hadn’t figured this out on my own.  How many times had I “purged” my closet, only to leave that blouse hanging there that I never wore because I thought I should wear it, but I never pulled it off the hanger to actually wear.  If I asked myself, per Marie Kondo’s suggestion, if it sparked joy, I would clearly say no.  So as I sorted my belongings, and even when I was considering buying new things, I would ask myself if that item brought me joy.  If not, it was given away, thrown out, or never purchased in the first place.

She also points out that at some point the stuff in our homes brought us joy and/or served a purpose, even if that was a few minutes of excitement at the cash register.  This simple concept keeps us from chastising ourselves for having things we don’t need or want, and it give us permission to let them go if they’re no longer bringing us joy.

Our Experience

Did we use her rules as we downsized from a 2100 square foot home to a 900 square foot apartment, and now to a 200 square foot motorcoach?  No.  We’ve been slowly downsizing over the last couple of years, and selling the house was another big push.  Honestly, I don’t know if we could have done it all in a couple of days.  And we’ve been thankful we had an intermediate step between the house and the motorhome.  Still, I can certainly see the advantages to doing it all in one fell swoop.

I can say it’s liberating to not be tied down to so much stuff.  We won’t have to hire movers or rent a moving van when we settle down.  We won’t need to rent or buy a large home to store all our stuff.  It allows us more flexibility and the ability to be more mobile.  When you live in a tiny space (especially a tiny space that moves) you learn to be more tidy and more organized, to keep everything in it’s place.

And you learn you don’t really need a lot of stuff.

Points of Light

Photo by Dave Kershberg

Photo by Dave Kershberg

It seems like my first Gap Year post should be about the things we’ve done over the last couple weeks—the places we visited, the hikes we did, the campgrounds we stayed in.  But that feels like work, and that’s what I’m trying to avoid on Gap Year.

Twinkle, Twinkle

What’s inspiring me to write are the stars.  There are stars in the sky!  I mean, obviously I know there are stars out there, but I cannot remember when I’ve last been some place where you could see more than Venus and the Big Dipper—if you were lucky.

I have a memory of a campout at Palomar Mountain when I was a fourth grade Junior Girl Scout.  We slept out under the stars, and my recollection is looking through the pine trees up into a black sky filled with giant stars.  The stars were so many and so large, they almost touched each other.  I remember thinking the sky from that vantage looked like lace.

Now I know memories have a way of morphing over time, especially childhood memories, but even if my visual memory is idealized and exaggerated, clearly what was visible at that time and place was certainly more stunning than what I see in San Diego, or even at Palomar now.  Light pollution is so prevalent that it’s hard to find somewhere to see more than the brightest stars.  It’s one of the things we hoped to experience on Gap Year.

We stayed at the De Motte campground in the Kaibab National Forest.  We had no electricity or water hookups; we were surrounded by tent campers.  Just outside Grand Canyon National Park, and miles away from any city, it’s completely dark at night.  I can’t remember the last time I experienced true darkness at night.  Everywhere we’ve stayed in our RV so far has had sufficient ambient light that the sky light in the shower was sufficient to see in the middle of the night.  Not so at Kaibab.  We had a campfire on our last night there so I would be sufficiently less cold to enjoy sitting outside to look up at the stars.  I’m so glad we did.

Citizen Campers

Being in a campground with no services brought some additional challenges.  It was our first experience in the RV without water and electricity hook-ups, and it was below freezing at night.  We want to be good neighbors, but we also don’t want to freeze or have our pipes burst.  Running the generator and other services on board so we’re comfortable means some unnatural noises for our neighbors, and even though we didn’t run our generator during quiet hours, it still bothered me to introduce this kind of noise in such a beautiful, natural setting.

Being a good citizen when camping and hiking is important to me.  I was pretty pleased to find most of the people we encountered at Grand Canyon were good citizens. A couple of young couples went off the marked trails (even climbing over railings to do so!), but mostly people were respectful of the boundaries.  And I found very little trash on the trails.  I’ve taken to bringing a trash bag with me on hikes to clean up after my fellow hikers (Girl Scouts always leave a place cleaner than they found it), but on all the many miles of hiking we did over two days, we only found a couple pieces of trash.


If you’re interested in seeing what we’ve been up to since Gap Year started, you can check out our Facebook page.

Now is the Time

Our Gap Year adventure is beginning!

Thor Ace 27.1 | 1CL

When I last wrote about Gap Year, we hadn’t decided when it would happen.  We knew the earliest it could possibly get started was after our youngest child left home, but we didn’t know if we’d be ready right then or not.  And when my husband got his dream job a few years ago, I was sure he wouldn’t want to leave it after only a couple years.  But the reality of working for a big company set in, and the honeymoon ended.

Since I wrote that Gap Year post back in 2011 we’ve lost some family members that were way too young, had coworkers that suddenly passed or developed life-threatening illnesses, and both of us lost our fathers.  It reinforced the notion that our time here is limited, and we don’t know how limited.

With the housing market starting to recover, we thought we could sell our house without too much pain (that turned out to be true).  My mom is still living independently, we’re healthy, our kids our healthy, and we don’t have any grandkids.  The planets had aligned—there was no reason to put it off.  The longer we waited, we knew the greater the chance that any one of those things could change.

The Plan

We sold our house, bought a motorcoach, and quit our jobs.  We said goodbye to San Diego and to our family and friends there.  After I finish up one last week of work in Las Vegas, we are heading to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, then on to Lake Powell.  After that the plan is to have no plan (or at least minimal plans).  Here is what we do have planned:

  • Stay out of the snow
  • Drive no more than four hours a day and only in the daylight
  • Hike, hike, hike
  • Spend Christmas with Mom in NW Arkansas
  • Experience Mardi Gras in New Orleans
  • Spend our 10-year wedding anniversary in Niagara Falls
  • See the fall colors on the Eastern Seaboard
  • Drop in on friends and family whenever possible on our journey
  • See as many national parks and monuments as we can
  • Find opportunities for Kelly to do Scottish country dancing
  • Go back to work for a few years before retiring

We have a long list of places to see, but no itinerary.  It’s a challenge for me to set out on something this big without a definitive plan, but it’s also part of the adventure.   By not making a bunch of reservations in advance, we have the freedom to stay a little longer or follow recommendations we hadn’t considered before.  It’s an opportunity to practice letting go.

The Blog

One Conscious Life will become more or less a travelogue now.  I may still write posts about frugal living, healthy eating/cooking, personal finance, eco-friendly living, and being of service because these will always be topics of importance to me.  But this blog is about to become more personal than before, and I won’t have a set posting schedule.

The best way to see pictures of our adventure, and to have more up-to-date information on where we are and what we’re doing, will be to follow our Facebook page, “Dave and Kelly’s Gap Year” at facebook.com/dnkgapyear.

We hope you will follow us on our adventure, either here or on Facebook (or both!), and that you’ll actively like and comment on our posts and make suggestions about places we should visit.

Why I Stopped Blogging

After a year of being a blogger, posting three posts each week (I only missed two posts), I decided to stop.  That was a difficult decision for me.  I’m not a quitter, even when I probably should be, and I was proud of what I’d done.

Writing was supposed to bring me joy, and for a while it did.  But the bottom line is that it became a grind.  I came to dread Sunday nights when I needed to have my big Monday post written.  What was the topic?  What was the angle?  What was my unique viewpoint?

The recipe posts were a little easier, but maintaining the spreadsheet in which I tracked the cost of all the food we purchased so I could cost out my recipes was extremely time-consuming.  Imagine going through your grocery receipts every week and recording the cost and weight/volume of everything you bought, and later weighing and measuring and calculating so you could provide cost per serving information.  More grind.

Although I was proud of what I wrote, I didn’t think I was bringing a particularly unique perspective to the topics my blog covered.  There are thousands of bloggers out there—many of them very good.  I just didn’t stand out.  My blog wasn’t sticky; I didn’t have a hook.  Which is probably why….

Nobody read my blog.

Not even my mom.

Still, I didn’t want to give up on the idea of having an outlet for my writing should I feel moved to write.  And I wanted to have something in place for posts about our Gap Year adventure.  So I’ve maintained the site to keep my options open.

In the driver's seat

Why I’m Starting Again

Just like when I started One Conscious Life 4 ½ years ago, I’ve got big life changes underway.  It’s not time to start posting about that quite yet, but it has caused me to think about my little blog again.  It’s time to rethink the purpose and content of my blog, reset my expectations, and get to writing again.  (It’s NOT time to restart the grocery spreadsheet.)

As I’m inspired, I may post something periodically while I rethink and repurpose 1CL, but it’s definitely going to be a more casual, inspiration-based posting schedule.  I hope you’ll check back in and see what happens.

Minus the Sugar

My husband and I just wrapped up 13 days of “clean eating”—-our version anyway. We were inspired by an article in Fast Company in which the author noticed some rather startling changes when he gave up refined sugar for two weeks. With the holiday season and all its temptations coming up, it seemed like a good time to see how it would impact us.

We already eat pretty well, but during this time we gave up all added sugars (including honey and maple syrup), bread and pasta (anything made of wheat flour), alcohol, and our weekly “meal off.” I gave up my Friday trip to Starbucks for my grande nonfat two pump mocha with no whipped cream. We didn’t eat paleo, didn’t give up meat or dairy, didn’t give up coffee.

The results? Unimpressive.

I didn’t weigh myself before we started, so I don’t know if I lost any weight, but it doesn’t feel like it. I don’t eat a lot of sugar (except during a meal off), so I didn’t experience the withdrawal symptoms or positive changes described in the Fast Company article. I also didn’t stop wanting a glass of wine at the end of a long day or thinking that a sweet treat would be wonderful.

I think this was more of a challenge for my husband. He drinks 3-5 cups of coffee every day with a teaspoon of white sugar and a teaspoon of powdered creamer. He doesn’t like the taste of coffee with just milk (how I drink it), so he didn’t drink much coffee during this time. Consequently, he had caffeine withdrawal headaches for a couple days. He also lost a few pounds—-I think he must be having more “tastes” during the day than he realized.

Ultimately, I had hoped that this change in my diet would make me feel so much better that I would be inspired to keep it up, at least at some level. And although I did sleep better, I didn’t feel better enough overall to make any long-term changes in my diet.

Still, I’m glad I did it. It validated our current diet, and I added some new foods into the menu. I know now that I can (at least for a short time period) give up sugar and alcohol, and I’m hoping that will buoy my willpower during the season of gluttony and intemperance.