The Garage

August 21st, 2011 by annie
1 vegan star shoe (trash)

1 vegan star shoe (trash)

After tackling the porch I was energized and took a peek into the garage. My sister’s boyfriend was storing his car in there while they were traveling, so I couldn’t really get to the full pile-o-junk-that-must-be-dealt-with. However, I did go through the nearest heaps of things and managed to throw out one big black trashbag worth of miscellaneous items not useful enough to donate or able to be recycled. In the process, I found the prescription sunglasses I lost over a year ago, a bunch of CDs that once lived in my car and I forgot about, several polaroid cameras I bought at various yard sales who knows when, my collection of map books (which are supposed to live in the car), the missing page for NY and NJ from the map book which does live in the car, and, get this, an unstuck JIMMY CARTER FOR PRESIDENT bumper sticker. (No, I’m not that old… not sure where I got that.)

In the ongoing saga of shoes, I threw out an old pair of sneakers that were clearly dead and sadly, one vegan mary jane with metal star studs (the other one wasn’t to be found). Whoa. I used to wear cool shoes.

Threw out some random stuff that had been in the garage since I moved in (pretty sure no one needs carburetor stuff anymore) and various icky wet things.

I contemplated doing something with the box of very very messy letterpress rollers (which are unsalvageable, I think), but decided to leave that and the rest of the miscellany blocked by Lou’s car for another day.

Found a plastic bin of hardcover books that I’d taken from a purge that Wm had about 4 years ago with the intent of — I don’t remember — perhaps reading them? I loaded up all of these books, along with a few more from indoors in a totebag and brought it to my mum, who sells books on Amazon regularly for extra money. I wish I could see her face when she pulls out the erotic anthology!


The porch

August 21st, 2011 by annie
Chair, settee and endtable

Chair, settee and endtable (trash)

Last weekend, I decided it was time to do something about the front porch. For several years, there’d been a cute mid-century style settee out there, and a wicker nightstand/endtable thing. Both were from the trash.

I used to have these awesome upstairs neighbors, Liliana and Armando. They got wind of my weekly trash-night furniture hunting crusades and decided to come with one week. We found the settee that week, and carried back on the roof of their car. It was in very nice condition then, and was clearly a quality piece of furniture.

For the several years that L. and A. lived here, we’d often sit out there. I’d have my coffee and Armando would drink his yerba maté out of his special Argentinian tea mug with the weird metal straw thing and sometimes, after he and L. had had their twins, come out to smoke a leftover celebratory cigar. I would sit outside and work or just stare at the cats who lived across the street. It was lovely.

But my nice neighbors moved away. Indeed, they’ve lived in DC, Jakarta and the Dominican since then. Meanwhile, the settee started to rapidly decompose. I’d still go out there sometimes, but it got worse and worse. The fabric had reached a point of sun-bleachedness where it just started to spontaneously burst.

One day I couldn’t take it any more and dragged the thing to the curb. I also threw out the wicker nightstand (that we also found in the trash). Wistfully noting there were still several of Armando’s cigars in the drawer. (Cigars are gross, the wistfulness was missing my neighbors.)

While I was at it, I also threw out the blue chair that had been decomposing on the back porch since Armando left it there when they moved. He’d been planning to refinish it — and I’m sure he would have. He had an excellent track record with such things. But in the intervening years the wood cracked and it was a mess. OK, out with all you crappy furniture. You are not my memories.

[I did go to Ikea and buy 2 wicker chairs and a little laptop table so I can still work on the porch. It looks much tidier now.]

Return to the Expurgatory, now with vague but important goals

August 21st, 2011 by annie

The past half year has been chock full of nuts. Or, rather, acquiring and trying to revamp a business while still doing most of the day to day work for it as well. Busy bee. But that’s not what we’re here to discuss. That’s just by way of lame excuses for not having been about.

In some way, this month marks a milestone. Or a turning point. I signed my lease for another year. But as I did, I thought, this will be the last year in this apartment. By this time next year, I’ll be ready to move on.

In itself, that’s not that huge a thing. I’ve lived here long enough to have lost count of the years — though I think this is something like my ninth. But along with the idea of making a change in one year’s time, I’ve bundled in, in my mind, the idea of it’s being a big change. Of really working to turn round my ideas of stuff and to get rid of a ton of it. I don’t know where I’ll move, or what I’ll do exactly, but it will be something different.

And that’s scary. But I know that’s what you’re supposed to do: embrace the scary changes. Take risks, challenge yourself, grow. Not be complacent without contentment.

I know, intellectually, I need to change and shake off the Victorian I was in my 20s and have clung to out of fear. But it terrifies me, in many ways to let go of the towers of books and Indian fabrics and bits of stained glass and candles. I’ve become a different and more modern person. I work with computers for heaven’s sake. But there’s a vast and complicated part of me that’s got its identity all tied up in quite a complex and very 19th century sense of style. It’s so complicated, I’m having trouble even explaining — the sentences won’t come out in a logical order — there are so many ideas and conflicts in my head.

I read the following on Miss Minimalist’s blog and it hit home in such an exact way that it is still traumatizing me a bit, days later:

Once upon a time (a long time ago), I had a fantasy self. She was an aficionado of antique chandeliers, vintage beaded dresses, fine china, and silver tea sets; I think she fancied one day she would marry a prince and live out her days in a British castle or manor house.

Charming as she was, after dragging her stuff thousands of miles in a cross-country move, I had to kick her out. And it’s a good thing I did—because even though I eventually married a prince (metaphorically) and moved to England (literally), my 400-square-foot flat would have never accommodated her lavish accoutrements.

Ironically enough, decluttering my fantasy self gave me the freedom and resources to turn my dreams into reality.

Do you have a fantasy self? And if so, how much of your clutter belongs to it?

She goes on to give other examples. But christ, that’s me. When I was 13 I spent a lot time trying to figure out how to marry into the royal family, even though none of the princes were the right age (or very interesting). Until I was in my late teens, I refused to read any American literature, thinking America somehow a corruption of everything literate. In college I sewed my own capes and Edwardian dresses and started the processes of acquiring things that any eccentric, artistic Victorian would be proud to fill their parlor with. Books books books. Bits, bobs, curiosities.

I was highly influenced by my art history studies,  my avid reading of early 20th century and 19th century novels, my obsession with Merchant Ivory films (and their like), and more than anything, my love for a certain gentleman friend who’s overstuffed, cabinet-of-curiosities of an apartment was the most magical place I’d ever been and the only place I ever really longed to be. Truth be told.

Then I went through a phase buying an selling little antiques (like sewing buttons). Mostly buying.

But it’s been more than 10 years now, since I shook off the majority of those obsessions — or let them lessen to fondnesses. I still love period films, and my friend moved into a house with his girlfriend a decade ago (lovely house, but it does not hold me in its thrall strongly enough that I need to live in a facsimile).

Also in there somewhere, I moved from my tiny studio apartment to where I am now, which is an entire floor of a large house, replete with basement and garage. And in my first year here, the horror vacui was strong and I filled the place without thinking. Oh and while I’m admitting things, I also got obsessed with driving around on trash night, looking for treasures — several between the wars armchairs I recovered, etc. etc.

I had all these ideas, as I furnished my house, that I would “entertain” and that to do so I needed certain accouterments (willow pattern china, an enormous carved dining table, an opulent, vaguely Indian living room. I needed to impress people. And sure enough, whenever someone comes to my apartment, they are in impressed.

But almost no one comes to my apartment. Because I don’t have my social shit together to actually entertain. (I also don’t have chairs to go round that table — all my chairs are so antique that they are wobbly and dangerous and uncomfortable). Anyway, the little itty bitty ping of pride I get when someone compliments my place — it’s nothing. I don’t know that it’s even palpable at all. It’s almost embarrassing. I don’t really care about that.

I wish I had people over in a comfortable, easy way. That would be of more value.

So now, here I am, in my late 30s, always having been a very artsy person with a very strong and particular aesthetic that involved filling every corner with complicated, old, dusty, odd things wondering what’s really me. 

I don’t know what the answer is yet. There’s definitely something in me highly attracted to simplicity. Some yearning. A longing for freedom. But I’m not really ready to quite go there yet. That’s why I have this year to figure out how to get from here to there and what’s comfortable for me, exactly.

I know I want to get rid of a lot of stuff — I mean, I have been, slowly and steadily for a couple years now. But I want to make a much bigger push this year, and see where I get.

I want to think about maybe living somewhere modern (I’ve always felt I needed to live in 19th c. buildings — between-the-wars at the latest). It all goes back, I think, to this pivotal period in my childhood when I was about 10. But I think I’ll go into that another day.

At any rate, this is the beginning of something. It’s going to involve a lot of expurgating, thinking and coming to terms with something pretty heady.




At the mall (Help, I’m being greenwashed!)

January 23rd, 2011 by annie

As William McDonough and Michael Braungart famously state in Cradle to Cradle, there is no away. Today I’m feeling angry (probably because I’m at the mall) and I want to emblazon that sentiment onto every, stinkin’ styrofoam-filled trash receptacle in this place. Ok, yeah, maybe I shouldn’t be at the mall at all. But I needed a book for a design project that they had at the store and not at the library. So I came here to buy the book. No excuses though. I’m consuming and playing my part in the problem.

I decided to check out a new food stand for lunch. It looked pretty, or, should I say, since I’m a professional in these matters, well-branded. Middle Eastern food, with clearly marked vegan options on the menu.

I’m not holier-than-thou. I’m very flawed and first to admit it. But we do what we can, right? So, I noticed that the plates of falafel and salad at this new food place were being served in plastic containers. Wm and I have been talking about avoiding plastic that you use for 10 minutes and throw out. So, I got a falafel and salad wrap — which came in foil and paper. Good good. (Quite tasty, actually).

I finished, I separated my foil from my paper, ready to find the recycling place. Looking, looking…. trash can. Trash can. Trash can. 5 trash cans. Winding my way around the crowded food court area, looking, looking. I see lots of people eating meat from styrofoam boxes, eating and then throwing the styrofoam away. I start to get ireful. Ok, ok, don’t judge people. We do what we can. I’m sure I’ve purchased something in styrofoam within the past 6 months. Looking, looking…

Then I come across this sign. It says: “Eco Friendly CambridgeSide. Recycle here. Join us in our commitment to the environment.”

OK! I will! Thanks!

Near the sign is a recycling bin. It accepts glass, plastic and aluminum. I deposit my foil.

“There must be a box for paper around here”, I think. I don’t see one. I start wandering around the food court again. Trash can, trash can, trash can.  Then I see it — another blue box, tucked away. But again, it’s only for glass, plastic and aluminum. I think about how much paper is generated in the food court. All these corporations there (Burger King, Taco Bell, etc) using paper and no doubt touting their greenness.

Really? I can’t recycle this wad of paper? But I joined you in your commitment to the environment!

I look around some more. I wonder why, if they’re so committed, they let all these food stands sell stuff in styrofoam containers. The mall could ban that. The parent company of this mall, which owns tons of properties, could ban that.

I give up. There’s no way to recycle my paper. I toss it into a trash can, with a heavy plastic bin liner. My paper will live in that black trash back for who knows how many years, in a landfill somewhere. I’m sad. I should have put it in my bag and taken it home.

The sign continues to infuriate me as I walk through the mall, looking for a mall information desk where I can make some kind of complaint. Why are there 20 trash cans and only 2 recycling bins which are hard to find? Why no paper recycling? How exactly are you committed to the environment, oh palace of consumerism?

I can’t find a help desk. I go to Starbux and get a coffee (in a “for here” cup). I glare at people’s luxury-brand leather status handbags and mentally smack myself for being judgmental and counterproductive.

This story doesn’t wrap up neatly. It doesn’t have a tidy moral, per se. Only, I suppose, that we can all do better with the simple things. Including me.

Sunday expurgation round-up

October 25th, 2009 by annie

[No, not round-up like the weedkiller poison stuff. Far less cruel.]

Today I took a large bag to the Salvation Army. I would have rather taken it to the AIDS thrift store, but the Salvation Army was open when I was free. Inside said big bag:

  • a bunch of clothes, pajamas, my white satin nightgown (not a nightgown person anymore)
  • all those shoes and other items I was on about collecting last week
  • the neat wooden bowl that my old neighbors left when they moved (I’m sure it’s from one of the interesting countries they traveled to and has story, but I don’t know it)
  • more handbags
  • a black soft suitcase that I found a Coffee Crisp wrapper in – which, through my Sherlock Holmesian powers of deduction, I can tell you means I haven’t used it since I lived in Canada and wasn’t vegan, which was over 15 years ago.
  • a few other odds and ends I forget
  • a never used “smoothie machine” (i.e.  a blender with a spigot) that I got as a gift but don’t really need, as I already have a blender
  • Nestlé Coffee Crisp

    Image by cacaobug via Flickr

    In the office, I made a new rule: no more “back up pen drawer”. You see, I’d have all the pens and markers and pencils that I keep in cups on my drafting table and desk, then I had another drawer, for the overflow. I decided that was silly (especially since I always went out and bought new pens rather than exploring the overflow drawer). So I went through it and tested all the pens. Each went either:

    • into a cup on my drafting table
    • into the bag of art supplies for my sister (she’s an art teacher)
    • into the trash, if they didn’t work

    I have a lot of pens and markers and stuff, but being an artist type, who only likes writing and drawing with certain kinds of pens, I think that’s relatively ok. But not I have a finite amount that I’m allowed to have, that I consider reasonable.

    In a perfect world, I would never buy a disposable plastic writing implement again. In fact, I have a whole cup of fountain pens and used to use them almost exclusively — but they are mostly in somewhat bad shape now, and, though I periodically try to revive them, I’ve yet to really get back into a fountain pen groove. I should though – I really do like writing and drawing with them. And using a glass jar of ink for refills rather than disposable pens does seem like a far more sustainable option. I will at least work it into my pen regime.

    I also collected more art supplies for my sister:

    • drawer sheet samples of all kinds of paper
    • glue dots
    • various and sundry items for art and collage

    The bag for her is getting heavy. I might need to start a second one.

    I also found out that Amazon offers a low-commitment way to sell books online where they do the fulfillment (EasySell) – many past jaunts selling on eBay have taught me that I hate and am bad at fulfillment. Sending one box to Amazon though, I may be able to handle. I listed a box’s worth of books and packed them up. Now if I can manage to make it to the post office this week, I’ll feel quite accomplished. I won’t make tons of money if they sell and perhaps I should have just donated them, but I wanted to give a shot at recouping a tiny bit where I could. I am, after all, also trying to get out of debt.

    The books that were too old to be able to be listed with “EasySell” (i.e., they don’t have an ISBN #) I put in a bag to give to my mum to either read or sell herself online. She can handle fulfillment – far more responsible than I am.

    Yes, these are tiny and banal things, but they are part of my great big simplification goals, and part of owning less, being less of a consumer, etc. It helps me to document things, even if only for myself.

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    Random items going in the donate bag

    October 18th, 2009 by annie

    Here are a few other things that are getting packed up to be donated:

    • black wood bill sorter — nice idea, bad follow through
    • Hungry Hungry Hippos game — turns out me and my boyfriend are too old for this
    • black many-compartmented bag — really nice, but I have too many bags and it’s not quite big enough for a book
    • sundry ugly costume jewelry from grandmother
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    Shoes round 1

    October 18th, 2009 by annie
    dead grandma shoes (donate)

    dead grandma shoes (donate)

    70s school marm (donate)

    70s school marm (donate)

    My first concerted purging project is the heap of shoes in my bedroom closet. Countless times, trying to find matching shoes in said pile has made me late for something, or, at the least, very frustrated. It’s dark, it’s behind a door, it’s disorganized, and, really, there are a lot of shoes that I never wear, or wear infrequently.

    The goal for today was to get rid of the fairly easy-decision-to-purge shoe offenders. There are others that I’m keeping for sentimental or “might need someday” reasons which will be dealt with in some yet-to-be-scheduled round 2. But the idea is that I don’t need to stress myself out more in getting organized, just make some progressive steps.

    Here are the results of today’s sort:


    • 1 pair of brown faux-leather school marm shoes (I really like these, but they killed my feet the last time I wore them, and thus I never want to wear them)
    • 1 pair weird cheap mauve and brown velcro sneakers (These are kinda cool, and I liked wearing them for a while, but I have enough sneakers — ones that are more practical)
    • 1 pair black patent leather open-toe vintage old-lady shoes (These were my grandmothers and I took them from her closet after she died. Honestly, I’ll never wear them, and she and I weren’t close.)
    • 1 pair black faux-leather ballet-flat type shoes (I’m sure I bought these in a panic at some point when I had to wear some sort of excuse for “girl shoes” for something. They don’t even register as being something I own or would think to wear).

    Give to my sister

    • 1 pair black faux-leather Steve Madden mary-jane flats (I ordered these online, thinking they’d be my go-to “girl shoes” but they proved not as comfortable as I hoped. I think my sister’s feet are slightly smaller, and I think she’s more tolerant of more delicate footwear than I am).
    • 1 pair black leather probably very expensive heels with rosettes that look appropriate for some kind of ballroom dancing (These, again, belonged to my dead grandmother. I don’t wear leather, so I’m not sure why they became mine. Maybe I was going to try to sell them or something. Anyway, my sister might actually wear them with a vintage dress or something).

    Throw Away

    • 1 pair pink fake-Crocs that have a hole worn through the sole (I bought these from a street vendor in Baltimore, probably four or five years ago when we were walking around the city and my feet were killing me. I was dubious about Crocs and got the silliest color they had. Turns out they were amazingly comfortable and saved the trip. I then wore them into the ground over the course of a few years. Time to say goodbye.)
    • 1 single mary-jane sneaker (I don’t know what happened to the other one, but even if it were around, I wore these out years ago).

    What’s left?

    There are still a lot of shoes left in my closet. Far less than many women, I’m sure, but more than I need. I still have my paint-spattered combat boots from high school. I have at least 2 pairs of insanely pointy, very buckly shoes from my goth days. I have several pairs of non-standard Crocs that I’ve never worn. I have one pair of faux-suede grey boots with a heel that I doubt I’ll wear, or like if I wear because I don’t really do heels. I have a pair of faux-leather mary janes I think are blister-provoking but I can’t remember. I have a pair of mary janes with silver sparkly stars on them that I may (or may not) have gotten too old for. I’m keeping one pair of cork-heeled, dead grandma mules for now. Not sure why.

    Then there are the good and practical things that I’m happy to keep: my felted hemp boots with responsibly-sourced soles from Simple Shoes (very comfortable and cozy), my trail sneakers, my orange Simple sneakers. My incredibly comfortable (but dirty) red cloth Merrell mary-janes — which I can keep replacing the footbeds for, making them last a long time. A few pairs of cheap faux-leather and cloth flats for when I have to look sort of respectable (client meetings, etc). Some weird plaid cloth boots from Target, several pairs of cloth mary janes/china flats. My rubber and neoprene Boggs boots for the snow.

    In the next phase with that closet, I have to make it more practical on the whole, so I don’t get frustrated looking for shoes. In fact, I’m thinking of segregating shoes into several locations (back hall, front hall closet, bedroom closet) — but first all of those locations must be purged and simplified.

    I’m sure this is interesting to no one but me. But I’m completely ok with that.

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    The unexpurgated explanation of

    October 18th, 2009 by annie

    I like many these days, am motivated by multitudinous factors to simplify.

    I thought I’d make some notes here as I do, for better or worse – a chronicle of expurgating the unnecessary, the gratuitous, the unsustainable and unwise physical stuff from my life. It’s all part of a bigger project – but this is just a scrapbook of Stuff as it goes out the door, to remind me where I’ve been and to ward off any propensities towards emotional attachment or sentimentality for the departed. Hence the urge to purge. Everyone’s cleaning out their closets (physical and metaphorical) and I’m jumping right on that bandwagon, with great enthusiasm.

    I know “expurgation” is a bit of a negative term, usually referring to a kind of censorship, or a removal of the dirty bits. In a way, that’s what I’m doing, but I think of it more as a healthy filtering, without all the moral judgement or paternalism. Also, “expurgatory” is just a cool word, no?

    A little background

    In the grand schema, there is overwhelming evidence that we must all invent and embrace sustainable systems. While I believe that doing so will lead to richer, more satisfying and egalitarian lives for us all (rather than lives of going without, or denial of wants/needs), there’s definitely a need to expunge much of the detritus of our current open-loop paradigms in order to get there.

    On a personal level (and that’s the only one I can be sure of truly effecting, at this point), I’ve dug myself into all kinds of rabbit-holes of overcommitment – or rather, the wrong kinds of commitments. These take the form of time commitments, commitments to owning things/spending money on things and to living the kind of life that requires a commitment to a seemingly unsustainable amount of mental energy/strife/anxiety to maintain.

    I’ve been devoting time over the past few months to looking at the decisions (or lack thereof) that have lead me to to where I am now in my life and contemplating ways to clean up the messes and set up some strong, simple sustainable systems for my own day-to-day existence.

    Perhaps that’s a a bit abstract. Here are the goals which I’m talking about:

    • reduce or eliminate unnecessary consumption of products and services – or find ways to work with in the structures of more sustainable systems to obtain them
    • reduce amount of physical stuff I own by  upcycling, donating, recycling or trashing it (in that order of preference)

    That’s what I want to write about here – a sort of unpressured, occasional chronicle of better solutions for stuff. At the same time, there are other, more personal goals I’m working on, which share a synergistic relationship with these tangible, stuff-related ones:

    • live in the present, let go of the past, don’t fret so much about the future
    • improve my health so I can do more, more easily
    • find the balance between giving and overpraising
    • become more integrated with my community and more of service
    • eliminate my debt
    • find work-life balance
    • do more meaningful work

    So, yeah. On to the pictures of Stuff.

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