Thursday, November 1, 2012

Ditching the Bed.

No, I didn't actually ditch my bed. I have a mattress and boxspring.

What I do not have (and haven't had for about 3 years) is a bed frame. I hate having to clean under the bed. My cats thought that black lining on the underside of the boxspring was made for ripping holes in and sleeping in like a hammock.

So, after removing that annoying fabric, I put both mattress and boxspring on the floor and sold the bed frame. At the time, I'd intended on replacing it with something I liked better, but then I realized: I like having my mattress on the floor. It makes getting out of bed easy, my cats don't get underneath it, my nightstand/two-shelf bookshelf is the perfect height, my bedroom seems bigger and airier, and making the bed look neat on the quick is so easy.

Maybe it's normal for most people to have a bed frame. I don't know. But I know what I like, and I hope I can always have a mattress on the floor! :)

P.S. Ideally, I'd like to try a futon and sleep on the floor, but I know that I really love a soft sleeping surface, and futons are meant for people who like a firm mattress.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Three Things.

I was pondering it the other day, and came to the conclusion that, if the situation ever occurred, I could truly only own three items. By that, I mean extra things. Things that aren't clothing or blankets to sleep under or my cats and the stuff that they need (food bowls, toys, litter pans, cat tree).

Everything else, while important and meaningful to me, can be replaced. All but these three things.

1) A small collector's hardcover of "Pride and Prejudice". Besides being one of my favorite books of all time, it was the last book my grandmother ever gave me.

2) A small tin box containing cards and letters from my grandmother. We corresponded regularly from the time I was a kid until she passed away when I was 24, and now that she's gone, the letters I saved from her mean so much.

3) A piece of art I purchased from a local artist in Afghanistan. It's been cleaned up and beautifully framed now, and it's stunning and one-of-a-kind.

This was taken in Afghanistan, so it doesn't really look like that now. Maybe I'll upload a more recent photo sometime.

So there they are. The three things that mean the most to me.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Qur'an on Moderation.

"And they ask you how much they are to give, say: "The excess." It is thus that God clarifies for you the revelations that you may think." Qur'an 2:219

"O Children of Adam, dress nicely at every temple, and eat and drink and do not indulge; He does not like the indulgers." Qur'an 7:31

"And give the relative his due, and the poor, and the wayfarer; and do not waste excessively. Those who waste excessively are brothers to the devils, and the devil was to his Lord a rejecter." Qur'an 17:26-27

"And those who when they give they are not excessive nor stingy, but they are in a measure between that." Qur’an 25:67

"No, you are not generous to the orphan.
And you do not look to feeding the poor.
And you consume others inheritance, all with greed.
And you love money, a love that is excessive." Qur'an 89:17-20

The Qur'an stresses the importance of charity over and over again. It urges Muslims to be moderate in all things -- in eating and drinking, in work, in the family, in worship, in finances, and all other aspects of life. It warns us against consuming excessively, because that is greed and waste.

Islam is a faith of balance, where the individual, through moderation, is most fully able to reach his or her potential and live the best life they can.

This doesn't mean living in big houses, with flashy cars, expensive clothes, and the like.

Think about it: if you're spending all of your money on material things, how much is left to go to charity?

How can you help others when you're tied down to working too much to pay for that stuff?

How can your relationship with your partner/spouse and family be good when you're too tired to spend time with them?

How can you flourish spiritually when having too much around you is a cause of stress and distraction?

The answer to all of these questions is: You can't.

There is a direct correlation between the stuff in our lives (the distraction clutter causes, the constant need for cleaning, organizing, and maintaining) and spiritual fulfilment. The less stuff you have, the less time and effort and mental occupation it can take up. Instead you can devote that mental focus to developing your relationship with Allah (or whatever deity you believe in). That's why mosques are empty rooms -- it promotes both cleanliness (very important for prayer and worship) and lack of distraction.

Spiritual contentment is a big factor in over-all happiness for many people.

Just ask yourself: What matters more to me? This stuff? Or having the time and emotional/physical/mental energy to get closer to Allah?

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Pets: Part of the Minimalist Lifestyle?

Sometimes people wonder where pets fit in in the minimalist lifestyle.

My answer: Just like they do in a non-minimalist's life.

Minimalism isn't getting rid of stuff just to get rid of stuff (although, if you're seeking out the ML, chances are good you DO need to get rid of the excess). It's about clearing the space to make room for the things that are most important to you. My four cats are extremely important to me, and part of my motivation for chucking a lot of my possessions was to make more room in my 550 sq ft apartment for them to run around, play, and generally enjoy our home. They are my priority, which is why I was utterly baffled by what I found on one blog.

One minimalist featured on another blog actually gave away her two cats because they weren't "convenient for the lifestyle" that she wanted.

Granted, she found them good homes, rather than dumping them in the street, but the bottom line is that she treated her cats like inanimate objects, dumping them off on someone else when she no longer wanted them.

And boy, oh boy, was there ever some backlash to that post. The vast majority of posters were outraged at this person. A few defended her choice, saying "Well, she found them a good home!"

Personally, I was aghast that she could ever give up her pets. Pets are not for convenience. Pets are a long-term commitment, and if you aren't prepared to care for them their whole lives, you shouldn't have any in the first place.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Pursuing Your Passions.

One common refrain I read on virtually every minimalist blog is that if you adopt a minimalist perspective and lifestyle, you have time to pursue your passions.

But how do you figure out what your passions ARE?

A New Home is a New Beginning.

A friend of mine and her boyfriend recently bought a house. It's a beautiful 19th-century Victorian home. She already has plans of how she wants to decorate it.

I am beyond thrilled for her. There's nothing quite like the first time you unlock the door, walk in, and know that this beautiful home is YOURS.

Speaking as a homeowner, my advice to her was:

1) Don't buy things you don't LOVE. Furniture (or anything else) that you merely "like" doesn't deserve your hard-earned dough.

2) Don't buy furniture just to have somewhere to sit/eat/put your clean clothes away/etc. Some people (myself included) fall into the trap of buying furniture for "just for now" while waiting for the piece they love to appear. Sit on your old college furniture or the floor if you have to. But don't sell yourself or your wallet short.

I've bought a few pieces that were "just okay" or "fine". I hardly used them, they collected dust, crowded my beautiful living space, and eventually were broken and tossed or were given away. Thankfullly, my stuff came from the thrift store, so it wasn't expensive, but I still don't like to think of the wasted effort and money spent on all of it.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Things as Symbols

About three days ago, I looked at my sofa, and I realized:

It was torn to shreds (particularly on the arms -- the result of kitty claws).

It was dirty.

It was broken.

It was, quite simply, a mess.

And tt symbolized everything wrong in my life.

So I tore it apart.

It's in six pieces, in front of my apartment. Tomorrow a friend and his brother are going to come and help me move all the pieces to the dumpster.

Then I will be free to start anew.

In its place is a multi-colored rug and a coffee table I use as a dinner table/computer desk for my laptop. I can sit and watch the sky and the people in the courtyard, and gain inspiration from the outdoors as I type.

It refreshes me.

Out with the old and being open to the new really does a heart and mind good.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Oppression of Success...I mean, Excess

Most of us spend our lives - especially in our 20's and 30's - pursuing success of the professional, fiscal, and/or relationship variety. We want to get that flashy job, that gold credit card that means we make a lot of money, or that relationship with the perfect partner.

Along the way, we usually pick up the "signs" of our "success": the status car, big house, most current electronic gadget, expensive clothes, and other things that we've been conditioned to believe proclaim to the world: "Look at me! I'm successful!"

But we accumulate too much, and suddenly the things that said "Success!" have become a stifling heap of excess. We become oppressed by the things that promised to make us happy.

We've overspent our income, maxed out our credit cards, all in the name of making an impression that doesn't last on strangers, people who don't matter to us (and those who do, don't care about that superficial stuff anyway - or they shouldn't).

It's not too late, though. It ain't over until it's over, it ain't over until the fat lady sings, etc, so on and so forth. We can change. We can learn to identify happiness, contentment, self-awareness, inner peace, devotion to developing our spiritual selves, contributing our time and effort to volunteering in our communities, etc, with success. To me, contentment, inner peace, and having ample time to devote to nurturing my spiritual self are important aspects in my minimalist journey.

When I'm surrounded by chaos and disorganization in my home, it's reflected in my life. I feel like there aren't enough hours in the day. I dread going to work, partially because I know what I'll be coming home to (a mess). I'm tired, stressed, and generally unhappy.

By contrast, when my home is clean, with everything in its place, I'm relaxed. My home is a soothing refuge from the world, a place where I can sleep and read and play with my cats. It helps me cope with the stresses of the outside world, and things that might be overwhelming me (right now) wouldn't be so bad when my living space isn't also overwhelming.

Even if you make the big bucks, don't let people, advertisements, magazines, the TV or movies, or any other outside influence tell you that you "Must Buy Now!" to show your success off to the world.

Happiness lies in wanting what you have, not having everything you want.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

What to do with it all?

Clearing out the excess generally leaves you with piles of stuff. Big piles. Eventually, though, you get tired of the trips up and down the stair to load the bags and boxes in the car for a trip to Goodwill. What to do?

You have a couple of good options:

1) Sell it on Craigslist.

Craigslist can be a great option if you want to get rid of stuff and make a little money at the same time. It's easy and free to post ads, but the downside is you may have to wait a while before you can sell any of it (especially the big stuff, like furniture). Or, worst case scenario, nobody wants to buy it, leading you to question your taste and sanity in purchasing it in the first place.

2) Give it away via Freecycle.

This is my personal favorite route, best used when I'm more interested in gaining space in my home than in recouping some of the money I spent originally. I gave away a bookshelf, two CD books, and a curtain rod and curtains yesterday. Seeing that stuff go out the door with individuals who would use and appreciate them was fabulous.

Another huge bonus with Freecycle is that the stuff is unlikely to wind up in the dumpster -- never a guarantee with donating to Goodwill. In fact, more merchandise ends up in the dumpsters there than on the shelves. This is particularly true of clothing, which is inexpensive and easily obtainable nowadays due to manufacturing. I recommend Freecycle for almost all clothing in good condition (no stains, holes, tears, or other blemish), that way you can guarantee that the clothes end up with someone who needs them and will use them.

Although I've sold a thing or two on Craigslist, my primary concern has been to reclaim the space in my apartment, and Freecycle has allowed me to do that in a timely manner.

What methods do you like to employ when getting rid of unwanted/unused items?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Concerning Collections.

Stop any random person on the street, in the store, or any other place you frequently go, and ask them "Do you collect anything?" Chances are very, very good that the person will say "Yes", and proceed to tell you about their comic/DVD/doll/sports memorabilia/action figure/mug/etc collection or collections. It's very rare to find someone who doesn't collect anything at all.

Collections can be a sneaky, money-eating, dust-catching, space-hogging nightmare. Even worse, once you are no longer enthused about that collection, you keep it because you spent so much money and time obtaining them. It's like you have a sense of obligation to these things because you brought them into your life, and the thought of getting rid of it all ("wasting" the money you spent) makes you feel guilty.

Let me tell you one of my own collection stories.

I once had 60 Barbies, more or less. Sixty! All in boxes, all beautiful, all sitting on shelves... in the closet. They were there because I had no shelves appropriate for displaying them outside of the closet.

One day, I got tired of it. Of spending money on something I rarely even looked at. Of having a closet full of things that I worried about -- will the boxes get damaged? The cellophane windows cracked?

So one-by-one, they left. I sold at least 20 at a yard sale prior to deploying. Two or three months ago I took them, by fours and fives, to Goodwill. Just yesterday I took the last three, and I sold my last special one on Amazon last week (a Lord of the Rings giftset with Barbie as Arwen and Ken as Aragorn).

I no longer have any dolls, and I'm okay with that. More than okay with that, actually. Other people have assumed the responsibility for them. I no longer have to dust them, store them, or worry about them. Many, I'm sure, are being enjoyed by little girls all around my neighborhood.

In the future, I will simply save photos of the ones I love from the Internet. It's free, I can still enjoy them, but they won't have to take up residence in my home.

Do you have a collection that you no longer want? Don't let it tie you down anymore. Gift pieces you know a family member or friend would enjoy. Consider donating it to the Goodwill -- they always want good quality collectibles for their auction cases. Do some research online and see if any of it is worth the cost of listing, packing, and shipping to sell.

Don't let things you no longer want own you.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Comparison Trap

We've all done it. Compared ourselves, our stuff, our lives, to other people, to their stuff and their lives. Usually, we only look at the negative. "So-and-so has a better job, bigger house, newer car, etc, than me."

But how often do we consider the potential cost of that "better life" for that person? They may have sacrificed their relationships for that job, their savings for that house and car, their mental and emotional well-being in an endless pursuit to get "bigger", "better", and "more".

Having more doesn't make you happier. People in the U.S. have been waking up to that realization since the housing crash in 2008 and 2009. We've come to realize that the best things in life aren't things -- they're our families, our friends, our pets, our hobbies, the travels and other life experiences that shape us and our perceptions.

I've been pondering this topic today because that dreaded milestone is coming up in just a couple of months: my 10-year high school reunion. I've been thinking about what I've done, where I've been, how my life has gone in the last ten years. I don't have a fancy big-money job -- just two barely-over-minimum-wage jobs. I don't have a degree from a fancy four-year college. Just an associate's degree from the community college in my hometown. I'm not married -- my longest relationship was only a year and went downhill for quite some time before we finally called it quits.

This wasn't where I thought I'd be ten years ago. I started feeling the dread of seeing my classmates -- those who'd gone the "traditional route" and went to a four-year college, got a degree, maybe went on to graduate courses, got a good job, got married, and now have the nice house in the suburbs with the picket fence and 2.1 kids. Suddenly my own life was lacking by comparison.

But then I thought about what I DO have: life experience. I've been places and done things that most people couldn't imagine. I spent five years in the Army, was stationed 4 places in the US and attended temporary training at 4 other locations. I did a tour in Afghanistan and found joy in the small things -- a phone call home, a stunningly clear view of the stars in the black-out nights on our COP, eating kabob and naan around the smoky brick grill with our Afghan counterparts.

I've struggled, yes, but I've survived and have done so on my own. Though I'm not rich, and maybe scarcely squeaking by more often than I'd like to admit, I'm financially independent and don't owe anyone for school loans. I've learned, through my interactions with others of widely varying backgrounds, that "my way" isn't the only way, or even the best way. I've learned to coexist and admire differences, to look for our similarities, even when there is a language and/or cultural barrier in the way.

Maybe I haven't found "the One", but at least I don't have a failed marriage (or marriages) haunting my past. I'm still optimistic that the right person is out there -- I just have to be patient and live my life, not sit around waiting for that person to appear.

Maybe the grass isn't greener on my classmates' side of the fence. When I look at what I "have", instead of what I "don't have", I'm starting to appreciate just how good the last decade has been. It can only get better from here.

One Small Spot at a Time.

I've noticed that focussing on one spot -- be it a table, a countertop, a section of the floor, a shelf, the sofa, etc -- is a real key to success in reducing my possessions. If I take it all in at once, things become overwhelming, stressful, and I stop before I even get started. I was stuck in that phase for months, maybe even years. Then I found blogs on minimalism and found the infamous quote from "Fight Club" by Chuck Palahnuik:

"The things you own end up owning you."

Oh, boy. That hit me right between the eyes -- because it was true. I no longer owned my possessions, I was owned by them. My time, my money, my mind, my effort, my health, my body -- all of it no longer belonged to me. Instead, the whole kit and caboodle were stamped "Property of Heather's Stuff", and all working unceasingly to maintain and care for all. that. stuff.

At that point, I got sick of it. The clothes in the closet that I never wore. The knick knacks that collected dust on shelves, tables, in cabinets and hidden behind shelves. The books I never had time (or even the desire) to read.

I wanted it gone. But I didn't know where to start. So I started with a tabletop. Then a shelf in the bookcase. Then came the laundry basket. And so on it went.

I'm seeing clear space in my home now -- space not occupied by anything but open air (and occasionally one - or more - of my cats). It's freeing me up to do the things I want to do -- read, call my mom, lavish affection and attention on my cats -- rather than pressure me to do the things I "should" do.

So I'll keep taking it one small spot at a time, and enjoy life that little bit more afterwards.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Floor space

I've discovered the beauty of floor space. Open, clear, uncluttered floor space. Granted, it's just a small spot right now, but that spot will grow.

And grow.

And grow.

It'll be a wondrous thing -- even if my carpet is grungy and gross.

Side note: WHY do apartments have carpet? It gets all stained and never comes clean, but surely springing for hard floors would be cheaper in the long run (no hiring people to come clean the carpet, no replacing the carpet when it gets too worn or stained, etc).

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Subtraction, not addition.

Subtraction is good. Very good. In this case, it's fantastic.

8 - 5 = 3

I started off with 8 bookcases. Seven feet tall, shelves the length of my arm, and still there weren't enough to hold all my books.

Well, not anymore! After doing a bit of shifting around this morning, I can confidently say that I now have 3 bookcases of books. I've taken 5 SHELVES OF BOOKS to the bookstore to trade in -- that's a heck of a lot of books (and a heck of a lot of store credit!).

As I shop my shelves for reading material, rather than go to the bookstore, I know that number will dwindle further. Ideally, I'd like to have two bookshelves, with room to spare.

Time to sell the extra shelves on Craigslist and make a little money back. :)

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Storage Solutions Don't Solve Anything.

You know, I have to smile and shake my head when people are spending stupid amounts of money on over-priced "organizing solutions" at The Container Store, when they could get their home far more organized for almost nothing (or actually nothing) by getting rid of the excess, period.

Putting your clutter in boxes doesn't mean you've "organized" it. It means you're hiding it away so that you (maybe, possibly, perhaps) won't feel guilty for not dealing with it or stressed from having to look at it. I know - I've done it. I've bought a plastic bin or two, those hanging closet shelves that start to sag and collect dust within a month, all of these things that promised to make my life "better" and "more organized" -- but all they did is add to the clutter in my home while I tried to pretend that I was organized.

The fact of the matter is, when you have to move again, you'll still have to put those boxes on a truck, still have to haul them around. Worst of all: you'll still have that nagging little voice giving you the guilt trip, asking when you're going to shred those old papers, scan those photos, or go through Aunt Betty's what-have-you collection (that you never really wanted, but can't give up because you're afraid someone will ask what happened to it).

That's why I want all of my excess stuff GONE - out of the apartment, out of my life. I don't want to have some great opportunity and end up not taking it because I can't deal with packing and moving all my stuff. If you (or someone you know) has passed up a job, an educational opportunity, or a life experience because of their stuff, they no longer own their stuff, their stuff owns them - and that's no way to live.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Still More Books

Well, I've been going through the books some more, and I actually established a "desert island shelf" - the books that would go with me, even if I suddenly had to up and move to another city or country or outer space. Okay, just joking on the last, but these are the books I love and reread fairly regularly.

It was easier to make that shelf than I thought it would be, though, for the sake of my sanity I didn't include manga in that. They have their own shelf, though since many are series as opposed to stand-alone stories, I'd give myself two shelves, if pressed, for manga.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Books, Books, and More Books... (Part 1)

"Books to the ceiling, Books to the sky,
My pile of books is a mile high.
How I love them! How I need them!
I'll have a long beard by the time I read them."

That is how I felt, and how my house looked when I first looked around my apartment and realized how cluttered and overwhelming it was.

I had books. Books on bookshelves, on tables, on chairs, on counter tops, and even in stacks on the floor.

I simply had NO. more. space. And hundreds of them were books I'd never even read -- books I'd bought 2 or 3 or even more years ago, "intending" to read. (You booklovers out there know exactly what I'm talking about.)

I'd had the best of intentions, had anticipated reading all these books. I'd looked forward to it. Until I realized over 75% of the books in my possession were TBR (to be read).

And then my books, once so valued and wanted... became a burden. Every time I looked at the stacks and full bookshelves, I felt guilty for not reading them. Extremely guilty. I knew I would never read all of them, not at the rate I accumulate new ones. That's when I realized something had to give. It was either keep the mountains of books and read them all - a process that would literally take YEARS - or clear them out.

That's when I found this blog entry:

To Be Continued...

Space....the final frontier....

Okay, so the topic today isn't THAT kind of space.

It's about the space in my apartment. My apartment is 560 square feet. No more, no less. The fact of the matter is that you simply can't fit 1,200 sq feet of stuff into an apartment less than half the size.

So I've been downsizing in a major way. Thankfully, I didn't have tons of extra furniture. I'm a stuff packrat, not a furniture packrat.

I had a major breakthrough the other day. I read something -- could've been a blog post, article, book, I don't remember -- and it struck a chord with me.

It said something to the effect of:

"Do I want to keep this stuff I like or do I want space more?"

Is the extra stuff in your life worth sacrificing the space that it takes up? Or do you want the free, uncluttered space more.

Talk about mind-blowing. I'd never though of it like that before. Space or stuff?

After reading that, I loaded up 9 more bags and a box with books and DVDs to take to the bookstore.

I am not my stuff. I own it, it doesn't own me, and I value space more than stuff. Does that mean my house will become empty? No, of course not. I don't live in a hotel room, nor do I wish to look like I've taken hand-me-down furniture and household items post-disaster. My home will still look like mine, but what remains in the end will be more meaningful to me and worth the time spent to clean and maintain.

Most importantly, my home will be a peaceful, serene place that relaxes me instead of stressing me out.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Lofts and Windows

Salams, everyone!

The topic of this post are lofts. You know, those uber-fashionable, super-modern, defnitely-rich-yuppie-aimed apartments. Exposed brick, usually wood or concrete floors, granite countertops, etc.

What gets me about them are the windows. BIG. Beautiful. Light-sharing. Windows.

I adore them. I long for them. Texas, however, being the largely sunny, hot place that it is, isn't too big on, well, big windows.

Actually, windows here about about the size of a postage stamp.




Having grown up in a beach town on the Gulf Coast (Gulf of New Mexico), every house had windows. Big windows. And lots of them.

Sometimes my apartment feels like a tomb because of the one small window in the bedroom and the sliding glass door in the living room. Yes, those are the only windows I have.

I had four big windows in my bedroom as a kid. Is it any wonder I'm feeling deprived?

I digress...

As I was saying, lofts generally have big windows and wood floors -- two things that are highly desirable in a living space for me. (I'd love to be able to ditch my vacuum cleaner one day in favor of a broom, dust pan, and mop.)

I'm finding that a more minimalist environment helps alleviate the "no windows/no light/no space/it's dark up in here" syndrome.

One less thing (especially when it comes to furniture) is one less thing to cast a shadow, to block the light that does come in, to gather dust, to take up space.

Room to breathe.

Dealing with Books

If you're a book lover like me, you know that cutting down the number of books you have is tough. REALLY tough.

In the next post I'll be talking about the process of weeding out my book collection, but I wanted to go ahead and share a post from the blog Becoming Minimalist called "Breaking the Sentimental Attachment to Books".


Salam aleikum and welcome to my new blog, Minimalist Muslimah. I'm going to be chronicling my adventures in minimalism as a Muslim here. Please stick around! I hope to have a REAL update soon!