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another “stuff” post: dollar bin edition

I have a confession to make: last night I bought some things from the Target dollar area. You know, that place at the front of the store that seems to always have the thing you almost totally need? I got a cheap “autumn wreath,” a gold stamp pad, some fall-themed rubber stamps, and two packs of colored tissue paper.They’re all sitting in a bag in my living room, with all the other crap I still need to sort through and purge.

I promised myself I would curb this most mindless of my mindless spending habits, and up until last night I had done well. I don’t mean to beat myself up over this too much, I really don’t, because I know it’s about the bigger picture and it’s not worth getting bogged down in these little setbacks.

But.

The mindlessness part. It kills me. It wasn’t until I was walking out of the sliding double doors that I thought to myself, “What did I just buy?” and “Why did I buy them?” Both serious questions. It bothered me that I didn’t have immediate, concrete answers to either.

This all reminds me of a visit my mom and I made to Kansas once when I was in high school. We were staying with some family in Marion, which is a very small town with few options for entertainment and shopping. After a day and a half inside my Uncle’s house, during which time we played cards, consumed home-cooked meals, watched movies, read, and slept, both my mom and I were stir-crazy. My mother said, in explaining to my family why we needed to get in the car and take a ride into town, “I haven’t spent anything in two days, come on, I need to go to the store.” We hadn’t talked about our shared boredom in those terms but that’s exactly how I felt! I hadn’t been somewhere where I could buy something, and it was driving me nuts.In case you’re wondering, we ended up renting a movie on my mom’s dime and heading back to my Uncle’s.

I stopped by Target on my way to campus last night for no real reason. Because I could, because I needed to see what was there and have that brief post-purchase bliss that makes me feel like everything is coming together in my life because I bought some dumb rubber stamps. The more reflection I give my consuming habits the most absurd the whole thing is, including that very real “everything is coming together” bliss. I’m a smart lady but I here I go falling for that same mind trick again and again.

I have to laugh, otherwise I might cry!

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September 22, 2010 - 10:05 AM

Jen Whit - I felt the same way last night. Knowing I had perfectly good food at home to cook, I began mindlessly dialing my phone and before I knew it I was in an indian food coma all puffy and tired.

Also, whenever I go into Target, I buy those Welches snack packs from the dollar bin. Every. Time.

September 23, 2010 - 8:11 PM

Teresa - I think that sometimes you just need something shiny and new–even if it is just some cheapo little impulse thing. I am ridiculous with cosmetics (and how often do you see me wearing makeup??) and toiletries. I also have weird compulsions to buy school supplies every August even though I haven’t been in school since 1999.

December 5, 2010 - 7:05 PM

a gift guide with a conscious | oh, what? - [...] and family from big corporations, both online and in stores. I will go further and admit that I had a run-in with the Target dollar bins last week (shiny wrapping paper, weakness!). My battle with senseless spending will not be won [...]

December 13, 2010 - 7:19 PM

#reverb: 11 things | oh, what? - [...] MINDLESS CONSUMPTION. I’ve documented my desire to cut down on stuff, and one tactic is to stop buying crap I don’t [...]

bits & pieces

I started my fall semester last night and after my first class, which ended around 9:00pm, I felt buzzy. Tonight, after my class that ends around 10:00pm, I feel zonked. Even during class I was out of it, as evidenced by my pathetic and uncreative response to the professor’s “get to know” you game when she called roll. She wanted us to describe ourselves using two words, one of them starting with our first initial and the second with our last. I went with “wonderful,” which garnered some laughs as I expected, and then stole “caring” from another student with a C-name. Lame city, right? Somewhat related: I love Colin’s first-class questions.

Anyway, I’ve got a list of random tidbits I wanted to write about on the blog and since I’ve already revealed my lack of spunk tonight, I will indulge my laziness with bullet points:

  • Andrea Scher and Jen Lemen have just begun the first fall session of their awesome online class, Mondo Beyondo, and there’s still room. I took the class last October, and continue to return to the lessons they wrote and the discoveries I made during the five weeks. I highly recommend Mondo Beyondo for any man or woman craving more space for reflection and courage to dream.
  • My friend Courtney’s book cover has been released and it is hella gorgeous. I can’t wait to get my copy of Fall for Anything in December and press my face up against its loveliness. And then, of course, read it. Yay Courts!
  • Speaking of books, I just finished the second installment of the Parasol Protectorate Series, Changeless (do not click lest ye be spoiled). My friend Candice gave me her copy of the first book, Soulless, a couple months ago and I finally read it this month. The books are ridiculous fun, and a great combination of science fiction/fantasy, romance, and mystery. They also introduced me to the Steampunk genre, about which I knew next to nothing. The third book, Blameless, comes out tomorrow and Candice and I have a date tomorrow evening to go buy it!
  • Kim’s recent post over at What Claudia Wore reminded me of the genius of her blog and made me feel cool for being her friend. Do you like how braggy I am about these cool friends of mine? Yeah? Well I should be because THEY ARE AWESOME.

The next several weeks of my life are going to be very busy. I’ve detailed this to practically everyone I know but since I haven’t written about it on the internet, the circle ain’t complete. The good news is that I’m going to be busy for awesome reasons (three out-of-town weddings in four weeks) and will get to see a lot of people (and places) I love. Yay! The stressful part is that I have a lot to balance at school and work between now and then, and some folks will probably think I’ve dropped off the face of the earth. To those who may search here for answers in the near future: I haven’t fallen off the face of the earth, just busy getting my school and celebration on!

And what’s the first stop on the Whirlwind Express? Kansas City! Kansas City here I come! (<— It occurs to me this might not be a song and if it’s not, I am totally pulling a “my mom.”)

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September 1, 2010 - 5:21 AM

courtney - Congrats on starting the fall semester! SO proud of you, bb. It’s going to be a total adjustment, but if anyone can do this, it’s you. And WONDERFUL CARING is not lame city. It’s an accurate description. If it ever happens again: Willful (uhm now I am looking at that and wondering if it’s a word) and Cunning. Wise and Charismatic. Or oooh WICKED COOL. That is what I am calling you from now on, fyi. Thank you for the cover shout-out, bb. You rock. Do you know how braggy I am about being a friend to someone as wicked cool as you? REALLY BRAGGY. (Also, see what I did there?)

And aah, I didn’t know you were reading Gail Carriger! I’ve heard such good things about that series but the whole game changes hearing good things about it from YOU. I should definitely check them out.

Busy busy weeks ahead. Don’t forget to take a minute to breathe. Or a few minutes even.

KANSAS CITY, WATCH OUT FOR WICKED COOL! (I did it again! I will never stop! Mwahahahah!)

September 2, 2010 - 5:53 PM

Jenn - Don’t worry, Whit. It’s an actual song!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ig1Ls8_fBI8

September 2, 2010 - 7:07 PM

Teresa - Though you are, indeed, both wonderful and caring, I have a few others to add. Welcoming and Collaborative. Witty and Creative. I could go on, but Courtney got to the best ones first. :)

September 2, 2010 - 9:33 PM

whitney - Courtney – Aww, thanks. I know I will have some great support from the hos along the way. I totally accept Wicked Cool as my name change too. And ahhhh you should read Gail Carriger BUT you need to know that there is significant werewolf action. It might kill it for you. But for reals, it’s the best a werewolf could be and there will be plenty of opportunities for you to hate the werewolves and still be ok with the series. Trust. Plus it’s just fast and fun.
Jenn – Awesome, thank you. I knew it was. I didn’t grow up with a mom from Kansas who likes to sing off-key for nothin.

Teresa – See, where were you in class the other night? I could’ve used you whispering in my ear. And thanks :)

five photo friday

I. Sara and Sean on Clifton Hill in Niagara Falls, Ontario. I had a friend from the farm (Nat Tagge!) and her boyfriend visit us for a night, and neither had ever been to Canada. We parked on the U.S. side and walked across the Rainbow Bridge, one of my favorite ways to see the Falls. We decided to take them up Clifton Hill too, just because it’s a spectacle and surreal. One of the few instances where the U.S. did a better job at something than Canada. II. My potted hens and chicks in the backyard. I hope they explode a bit more next summer. III. Two guys in line for clay-oven baked pizza at the Fancy and Delicious pizza fundraiser. IV. Terrible, awful wax figures of Elvis, Robert Pattison, Kristen Stewart, and Miley Cyrus in Niagara Falls. V. Super-woman Maura at the F&D pizza party, looking lovely while living the chaos.

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August 27, 2010 - 2:17 PM

lisasfoods - Yay – I got to see Natalie too! We met up in Great Barrington for coffee; I’m glad you got to see her as well. It’d be fun to have a big ole farm reunion one day.

September 2, 2010 - 9:38 PM

whitney - I’m glad! She said she was going to try to see you, good news.

September 12, 2010 - 10:37 AM

Julie - Those wax figure pictures are frightening…the Elvis one looks more like Robert Pattison than the Robert Pattison one!

October 17, 2010 - 4:02 AM

Arwen - Hi Whitney,
I’ve just found your lovely blog through Mondo Beyondo! I am loving the dress/apron that Maura is wearing in the last photo and wondering if it is hand made? If so, is there a pattern out there so that I can make one too?!

October 17, 2010 - 10:39 AM

whitney - Arwen – I’m not sure, I’ll ask her!

Update on my downsizing

I’ve made some decent progress since writing about my desire to downsize my possessions last week.

Perhaps the most significant step I took was to do a quick run through of my bookshelves. Keeping in mind that great book-related article I linked to last week, I pulled over fifty books off my shelf in about 30 minutes. I divided up the discards into several piles:

  • Young adult books I read but don’t need to hang onto went to the Grant Street Neighborhood Center, a youth-focused drop in center that I helped develop through my awesome job at City Hall.
  • Borrowed books that I’ve read and haven’t returned, or that I will not be reading in the near future. I bagged these ones up according to their owner and was surprised by how many of them I had acquired. Yikes!
  • Books I’m going to try to sell on half.com, mostly former college textbooks. I’m giving myself until October to sell them and then they are being donated. There are five of them in total.
  • Books that Powells.com wants. I input the ISBNs of about 15 good-quality, used books and Powells accepted five of them. I opted to get $15.00 in virtual credit and plan to use the money to purchase the next book in my Book Club’s reading queue.
  • To-read books that I’ve placed on a particular shelf in my living room bookcase. If I don’t read these in the next six months, they’ll go.
  • Finally, the biggest pile of books: books for the Really Really Free Market on September 11.

If I still have unwanted books after the Free Market, I will look for other ways to get rid of my no-longer-needed tomes. Perhaps the Prison Book Project if my books fit the bill?

I plan on doing a more thorough review in the near future but I’m pretty impressed with what I came up with in 30 minutes. The next focus in my downsizing will be my home office, which is already torn apart because I’ve moved my desk and reading chair to the new writing studio. The studio, by the way, is very sparse and has very little stuff in it. It’s also exactly where I want to be. That says something, no?

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August 27, 2010 - 2:47 AM

courtney - Good work, bb! I also think breaking it down into small manageable tasks is helpful too. I think a lot of people stop before they start because they big-picture downsizing right off the bat, instead of phasing it into manageable tasks. You rock.

August 29, 2010 - 8:00 PM

Teresa - Brava! The first pass is always the hardest–like everything, it gets easier with practice. There is a great little used bookstore in East Aurora that runs half cash half credit for turning in books, with a maximum of 12 turn-ins per visit (obviously you can buy as many as you want). It’s called The Bookworm. That is where I take most of my books that I am choosing to not keep. I have also donated bags to the library (they resell them at their annual book sales). Once I even took a huge sack of books into my office (this was when I was at 1199) and sent an email to the staff to come pick out whatever they wanted. For me, the hardest part has been not aquiring such a mountain of books. I have gotten much more discriminate about what I purchase, even from the bargain tables and library book sales. Plus, I really love using the library so it just gives me more excuses to go there to buy less.

August 29, 2010 - 8:42 PM

LizzieB - The Paperback Trading Post on Seneca in South Buffalo is great – the guy who owns it was a friend of my grandmother’s. Great big old house full of books. Jerry has some pretty severe physical limitations, so we used to go with Grandma to help vacuum the books every once in a while. Fun to browse and a great way to trade in your books.

September 2, 2010 - 9:44 PM

whitney - Thanks for the support and suggestions everyone!

January 7, 2011 - 5:37 PM

#reverb10: wonder, let go, make | oh, what? - [...] go, on the other hand, is something I’ve written a lot about. This year I’ve started consciously and aggressively letting go of my stuff.  My stuff was [...]

not an archive

Did you read that article in the New York Times, “But Will It Make You Happy?” If not, I highly recommend doing so.

The article led me to Tammy Strobel’s website, Rowdy Kittens, which led me to a whole bunch of online resources about living simply and simply having less stuff.  If you want to explore more, I would start at the aptly named “Start Here” tab on Rowdy Kittens.

Recently, Sean and I have both come around to an inspired revelation: we’re sick of living in a cluttered, cramped, messy apartment. I’ve been organizing cupboards and discarding the contents of junk drawers, and he’s been cleaning out the basement and organizing our “getting ready” room (the room that’s too small to be a bedroom so it’s a glorified closet).  I’ve given away a fair amount and I still find myself with so much junk. I have considered bringing my mother in, and telling her to be ruthless. I’ve also tried to channel my friends Brynn and Natalie, both of whom have given me excellent advice about getting rid of clutter.

The simple truth is that we just have too much stuff. And most of it is mine.

The good news is that I’m inspired, and that there are a number of resources  pushing me towards the purge. One of them is Buffalo’s Really Really Free Market, which next meets on Saturday, September 11th at Bidwell Parkway from 2:00-7:00PM. The idea is that you bring whatever stuff you want to give away for free and take as much or as little as you want from other people. No bartering, no selling–just giving away free stuff. I loved the “free culture” I encountered in Portland, Oregon, and hope to see the idea grow in Buffalo.

Another inspiration: this essay on getting rid of books. I have a lot of books, and I’m terrible about getting rid of them. I find this amusing because during my MLS program I’ve learned about the importance of “weeding” collections, and I agree with the practice. I visited some school libraries that haven’t been significantly weeded in years, and it’s scary: kids can’t find their way through the packed shelves. About her school library, Brynn is fond of saying, “We are not an archive, we are a library.” I realize that I’ve been treating my home collection as an archive, and I know I’m not the only one.

Finally, the other source of my inspiration (or perhaps more accurately, alarm) is The Story of Stuff. If you have 20 minutes and are open to making some life changes, I recommend watching the original film. It has inspired and shamed me into making a conscious decision to buy less stuff and, as Sean pointed out, that’s really the key to my purge and meeting our goal of a simpler, cleaner, clutter-less life.

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August 18, 2010 - 1:47 AM

heather - I used to be kind of a packrat while growing up, but when my boyfriend and I moved across the country twice in two years–both times with nothing more than what we could fit in my car–it definitely cured me of that urge. It’s amazing to see how much stuff you really don’t need or ever use. I had so many things I was holding onto solely because I was too lazy to throw them out, or because they were mementos that were supposed to remind me of the good times (even though I never looked at them!), or because I might need them someday.

That said, it’s really tough to stop stuff from building up, even when you do regularly toss stuff. We’ve been living in our current apartment for less than a year, and we already have more furniture than we need (none of which we actually bought–all cast-offs or presents from relatives, or free off of craigslist). And books are definitely my downfall, too. Despite doing a massive purge before I moved the first time, I still have two bookcases full, threatening to spill over onto a third. And I try to be really conscientious about what I buy/keep–I stopped holding onto books from college just because they’d make me look smart when somebody else was looking through my collection (haha), and only kept books that I knew I’d read over and over. And I haven’t bought a book in over a year. (Yay libraries!) I’m trying to figure out how I can trim my collection further . . . (It’s just my luck that the one collection I can’t bear to part with is the heaviest/most pain-in-the-ass kind of collection to move!)

August 18, 2010 - 9:45 AM

Lisa @ Lisa's Foods on the Move - My boyfriend and I were just talking about this last night, and how we are terrible about taking free stuff just because it’s free, even though we don’t need anything.

I can’t remember the name of it, but there’s a documentary out that a friend of ours got recently from Netflix, and it’s all about a couple’s decision to really pare down their stuff. Oh, and I love that Story of Stuff cartoon, which I heard about a few years ago and found right on.

August 18, 2010 - 4:25 PM

Elizabeth - I believe the previous commenter might be referring to No Impact Man (http://www.noimpactdoc.com/about.php).

August 18, 2010 - 4:50 PM

whitney - @Heather – I’ve friends who moved across the country and had similar experiences. They get used to living without much stuff and they like it. And you really hit the nail on the head re: holding onto books from college because they make you appear smart. I admit to having placed books on certain shelves because of the message they send to people who might walk by them (who? me and my boyfriend?). So silly. I will be targeting those extra deliberately.

@Lisa – I know, I’m awful at the free stuff. I just gave away some books that I grabbed at the ALA conference. I didn’t need them and I had to pay to mail them home. If the doc is No Impact Man I will definitely check it out.

@Elizabeth – thanks!

August 18, 2010 - 8:28 PM

Teresa - I admit it, I am a reformed packrat. A few years ago I just decided I needed to streamline. My best organizing tip, which is particularly useful for book savers and organizing newbies, is to box up all of the stuff you think you don’t want but can’t quite commit to getting rid of and then put it in storage for six months (attic or basement–out of sight). If you don’t need anything in the box in six months, get rid of it.

Now I have a pretty good system of going through all the rooms in my house a couple of times a year (I tend to go through a different room every six weeks or so, makes it more manageable than a blitz). I keep everything in the attic in boxes throughout the year and in April when I do my spring cleaning I cart the whole works away for donation. Evey year there is less and less stuff that I am giving away, because I just accumulate less during the year.

Also, I have been thinking about having a clothing swap party. Would you be interested? Light dinner, drinks, everyone brings what they want to get rid of from their closets and we all try it on and people can take home whatever they want.

August 21, 2010 - 2:07 AM

courtney - It is my dream to have better stuff management. It’s amazing how much one person can accumulate, let alone a family.

I love this:

About her school library, Brynn is fond of saying, “We are not an archive, we are a library.”

August 23, 2010 - 2:40 PM

lisasfoods - Yup, it was “No Impact Man,” which we watched last night. Not quite as inspiring as I thought it would be, but still good. I’m on the search for similar films and books.

August 25, 2010 - 2:17 PM

Court - Last weekend, I went shopping with my mom. I kept thinking to myself, I really need a pair of grey capri leggings. I need these. Gotta have em. I didn’t buy any leggings on my shopping trip and it turns out that was a good thing–when I was getting dressed this morning I found a pair of grey capri leggings I bought on impulse a month ago but had yet to wear.
I JUST went through my wardrobe with Shawna and gave away 1/2 of all my clothes. I absolutely don’t want to go back to have drawers and drawers packed with clothes–so I think that now that I’ve done the hard work of eliminating the clutter, I need to control my urge to shop.

October 15, 2010 - 5:35 PM

30 Awesome Things About Breaking My Foot | oh, what? - [...] No recreational shopping for me which means I’m fulfilling a big goal. [...]