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Saturday, December 23, 2017

Book of the Week -- Stuffocation

by James Wallman

The material equivalent of the obesity epidemic. That's how author James Wallman defines Stuffocation.

All the time and money we spent buying stuff, we thought we were improving life, making ourselves (our families) happier, improving the economy, thumbing our noses at terrorists. But evidence shows this isn't the case. We're more depressed, anxious, in debt, and lonely than ever. So, now what? 

  In his book, James takes a look at minimalism, the medium chill (as opposed to the big chill), and simple living; and then casts them all aside for the one thing they all have incommon -- experientialism. Then he spends the second half of the book defining, tearing down and then defending experientialism.

I found this book to be well researched, well presented, and an easy, comprehensive read. It has certainly helped me expand and shape my thinking about minimalism and my values and goals after the  Big Declutter which defines minimalism.

I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for direction in life, especially if you're in the minimalism track.

Image result for stuffocation

What are you reading?


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Struggle is Real...

.. and oh how I am struggling!

How's that for an opening line? Ha!

My struggle is not new. Moving from full-time employment outside the home to all the time stay-at-home mom has been the hardest thing I've ever done. It has been nearly 20 years, and I am still sorting myself out. I get bored. I get lonely. I get a lot done. I lose motivation and get nothing done. I just don't know what to do with myself! So it's been 20 years, why write about it now?

I'm writing about it for a few reasons: 1) I'm sure I am not the only one with this struggle - feeling totally overwhelmed, and at loose ends at the same time. 2) I'm not happy living this way! It's not fair to myself, and it's not fair to my family. 3) I've been doing a lot of thinking and writing the last couple of days which has resulted in some self-awareness that is going to make the changes I make stick this time.

What I knew about myself before is that I function better with structure, so routines and lists were always my go to when I needed help. And they do help, until I forget to write a list or get distracted or bored. Then it all falls apart, and I have to start again. Very frustrating.

Living in the world of homeschoolers, I constantly hear things like "Oh, we don't have a schedule. We start our days about 10 and get all our school work by about 3. Who needs a schedule?" or "I'm so busy with so many kids. They keep my jumping all day long." or even "We tried a schedule but it didn't work for us so now we just do school in he morning and play all afternoon." Now, I don't know if they're all just blowing smoke or if that's really the way they're all living, but I do know nobody is owning up to using a schedule. And I get it, schedules are kind of frowned on in the homeschool circles. "Children need to play!" I've even said it. But I also know that I function better when I have structure, a schedule. And I'm confident I'm not the only one. Plus I'm only homeschooling one! Typically our lessons are done in an hour or so. The days can be soooo long.

What I've learned in the last couple days of self-reflection is that I need the boundaries of a schedule and the accountability that comes along with them. Last summer, while Isabelle was on swim team, we had to be up and out the door by a certain time each morning, and I LOVED it! When the season ended, I was back at loose ends. I lack internal motivation. It's not enough for me to just tell myself to get more done. I crave acknowledgement from others. (That's not easy to admit.)

Add to all of this being in a new country where I have none of my regular people to check in with and activities to go to, and I'm finding myself at a low spot. I have limited resources at hand to keep myself busy, entertained, and motivated.

Over the last 20 years, I have tried to create structure. I've written plans and schedules over and over. And they do work, for a few days, until I stop focusing, forget about it, or just get overwhelmed. But, I was always trying to do it all by myself. I felt like this was my problem and I had to solve it by myself. I didn't share my struggle with my family or friends to recruit their support. I lacked support and accountability. So this time, I'm doing it differently.

This time, I am writing the schedule on poster board and putting it up in the kitchen, Supernanny style.

This time, I am including my family. (Isabelle is excited. She is already looking at the schedule and telling me it is time to start supper.)

And, this time, I am telling all of you, my extended support team.

Here it is -- our daily schedule (M - F)
before 6:30 - Kenn and I get up and do our morning routines
7:00 Kenn leaves for work. I start the laundry and prepare for the day.
7:30 Isabelle gets up, does MR, chickens, and breakfast
8:00 Homeschool
9:30 morning tea, play or go for a walk. Try to get outside.
10:00 Homeschool
11:30 Make and eat lunch. Clean up kitchen. Play outside.
1230 Homeschool
1:30 Independent time. Pursue individual interests inside or outside.
3:30 afternoon tea and board games
4:15 fold & put away laundry
4:45 computer time
5:30 make supper, eat, clean up kitchen
6:30 family bicycle ride or walk
7 Dad and Isabelle time. Mom alone time
7:30 Isabelle bedtime routine, read stories, in bed by 8, lights out by 8:15
8:15 Kenn and Ann time

And there ya go. Of course tomorrow, our first day on our new schedule, we're going to blow the morning out of the water by spending most of it at the library. But hey! That's how it goes when you're a homeschooling family.

And I am going to have to plug in a bit more homeschooling to fill those time slots, but I think Isabelle will thrive with more structure and focused activities.

Thanks for reading my blog.

Friday, September 15, 2017

My (new and improved) Capsule Wardrobe

I've been flirting around the edges of a capsule wardrobe for a few years without ever fully embracing the entire concept of a mixy-matchy collection of clothes. The closest I've even been was last summer when I had 4 outfits I rotated through each week

That same collection of 4 outfits makes up the base of my wardrobe here in Australia - 3 pr capri pants, 4 brightly colored t-shirts, and 2 long-sleeve shirts for layering over. And I've added a couple pair of jeans since it's colder here than I expected. But otherwise my collection has stayed the same - a mixture of a lot of different colors without any sense of mixy-matchy.

And then....
I go to put away my freshly laundered clothes this evening, and I have a moment of inspiration as I look into my closet. What I see is that a LOT of my long-sleeve shirts are blue and white, and I have one more pair of white capri pants and a bright yellow shirt still hanging with them.

Blue (which is and always has been my favorite color), white, and yellow!!

Hello! I LOVE blue, white, and yellow and together. My last set of dishes were white with a blue and yellow flower pattern. I'd be so very happy to decorate my entire house in blue, white, and yellow. How did I not think of this before?

It's not a lot, but it's a start as I go forward, excited about my clothes collection. Clothes that I enjoy wearing and are flattering.


Monday, September 4, 2017

Starting Out Minimally and Creating Our Home Intentionally

After much sorting, donating, disposing, and giving away of "stuff", and shipping not a whole lot, Husband and I have decided to be much more intentional and thoughtful about the things we buy as we set up our new home. We are taking the time to define the characteristics and values of our family so we can ask before each potential purchase "Does this fit with our family's values? Does this fit with who we are?"

The mattresses and bedsteads were non-negotiable. We have to have a comfortable place to sleep, preferably up off the floor. And so, our for first purchases. we were able to shop together online and find a bedstead we both like. Daughter was able to choose hers too. Husband had them all set up by the time we arrived. That gets us up off the floor for sleeping, and on to the living room.

Our house has two dining/living rooms, both off the kitchen, but in different directions. (It may be an Australia thing. We saw a lot of houses with 2 living/dining rooms.) Obviously living minimally we don't need to go running right out and buy a full dining and living room set for both rooms, but we do need some pieces. What do we really need? And what do we need first? Do we buy short term pieces and save up for investment pieces down the road? Or do we go with one investment piece now?

It took us a few lengthy conversations to work through these questions, to define our immediate needs, and make a plan. In the short term, we need some chairs so we can sit up off the floor in the evenings. And finally we decided on camping chairs. They get us up off the floor, don't cost a lot, and will be a long-term use for us down the road when we get to the camping time of year. But we still need real living/dining room furniture.

When considering living room (couch and chairs) vs dining room (table and comfortable chairs) furniture, we came to the conclusion that a dining table with comfortable chairs would be more useful and versatile than a couch and chairs. A dining table gives us a place to eat, play games, work puzzles, chat with each other and friends, so long as the chairs are comfortable. And yes I know I keep saying comfortable chairs, but we've all had that experience of uncomfortable dining chairs, and if these are going to be our main sitting places for a while (and they are), they HAVE to be comfortable -- for a couple hours of sitting.

Ideally, we are looking for a very specific table (square or slightly rounded pedestal with 2 leaves) and chairs (cushioned seat and back, slightly rounded, probably on casters). Actually more of a gaming table set up than a formal dining room style. Casual and comfortable are what we're looking for. And shopping online didn't do the trick this time. We'll have to go out to the stores to find what we're looking for, possibly even ordering it. When we reached this point, we decided to immediately buy the best and most comfortable table and chairs we could find. For now it is in the front living room, but once we get the ideal set, the first set will move into the back living room and be set up for games, crafts, and sewing. With all of our interests and hobbies, two tables will be handy to have.

Next up, I think, will be some bedside tables for the bedrooms and then some bookcases/sets of shelves to get stuff up off the floors. We're not a Pinterest-ready home by any means, but we are intentional, minimal, and comfortable.


Thursday, August 24, 2017

Getting Out in Our New Community

When moving to a  new community, getting involved, meeting new friends can be a challenge. I know, I lived in a suburb of Lima for 13 years without making friends, which isn't to say I didn't try, because I did try; but it just didn't happen for me, in that community.

And then one day, I changed communities. Rather than the bedroom community which had no library branch, local athletic center, or other local gathering places to meetup with other community members, I turned south (8 miles) to the small town of Wapakoneta, where I quickly and easily, met and made friends through activities at the library and YMCA. Often, I would run into the same folks around town at the store, gas station, bank, etc. And these lessons of local community and connection, Husband and I applied to our move to Melbourne, Australia, population 4 million.

We investigated, and intentionally looked for suburbs of Melbourne that have the features of a village -- local library, local athletic center, local coffee shops, walkable shopping, etc. We explicitly did NOT want to live in an an area where all the children's, family, and adult activities are a car drive to another suburb or into the city. We sought a suburb that feels and has the characteristics of a village. Taylors Lakes looks like it has met all our criteria. We'll see.

The thing we did our second day here was go into the library to get a card and have a chat with a librarian about the programs and activities offered at the library. For children, they have Lego Club and Game Zone (board games) which Daughter is excited to start going to. And for me there is a chat club, a yarn club, and a book discussion club. I'm really looking forward to getting out around other adults and joining these groups. These will be starting points for us in meeting folks we share interests with and building our circles of friends.


In other news:  Day 5 of no internet, no TV. We are surviving by tapping our creativity when home, and walking our neighborhood as the weather allows. I am seeing a whole different side of Daughter emerge -- a happier, more creative, more content side. Technology is a 2-sided sword to be wielded with intent and skill. Will we be able to keep this up once internet is installed or will we allow ourselves to be sucked in despite our best intentions? Time will tell.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Back in Australia -- First Impressions

First impressions of Australia started on the airplanes. On our first leg (Chicago - LA), our seatmate said not one word to  us, and the flight attendants were efficient. No one really seemed to be happy to be there, or in the moment.

On the second leg (LA - Melbourne), our seatmate was a chatty, friendly, Australian man, 35 y/o, who woks for FILAS shoes, returning to home in Melbourne from holidays in Canada with friends. He happily showed my daughter how to operate the remote for her viewing screen, and played thumnb wars and rock, paper, scissors with her. The flight attendants were all helpful (down on knees with flashlight searching for a lost sandal) and cheerful. They all seemed happy to be on the flight. Isabelle made fast friends with them all to the point she scored some QANTAS pajamas for her dad, and we were invited to see the flight deck and have a chat with the captain -- a privilege I've never had before and thoroughly enjoyed.

there is no doubt in my mind we are living in a place where population density is high. Roads are narrower and speed limits are faster. (Husband tells me the speed limits are actually slower than in the US, so it must be my perception that they are faster.) Houses are closer together, and parking spaces are smaller.

Daughter with her flight attendant friends saying "bye" to passengers as they disembark.

That said, there are bits of nature everywhere. Large houses on small lots are surrounded by foliage. There are three parks within a kilometer (half-mile) of our house.

Shopping, for necessities and discretionary, is as much of a weekend activity here as back in the US. Our local Shopping Centre (mall) was filled with humanity this weekend as we ventured out to explore and stock our kitchen. The shopping centre connected us with the train station, which at some future date will connect us with all that Melbourne has to offer; the local library branch, where about 30 patrons were queued up waiting for the doors to open, on a Sunday afternoon; a small outdoor play area alive with families; and even the grocery stores.

Oh yes, two of the anchor stores for the shopping centre are the national grocery stores, Coles and Woolworths. Additionally, close by, still inside the shopping centre were butcher shops supplying poultry, fish and seafood, pork, beef, and lamb; a fresh bread bakery, and a green grocer with so many tables of fresh fruit and veg. The choices, sounds, number of people, and overall chaos of it was overwhelming. My husband kept pointing out stores to me that he thought would interest me, and eventually, they might. But on my first day, did I see the bookstore? No. Did I want to browse the craft store? No. I just wanted out. It was all too much.

I will have to carve out my quiet spaces in this densely populated suburb of Melbourne, population 4 million. This challenge, I gladly take on, in my new home.


The flight deck of a QANTAS air bus.

Monday, August 7, 2017

How to Pack for an Overseas Move

Yes, it's true! We are moving BACK to Australia, and this time I have my long-term Visa in hand!

But what to do with all this stuff? Right? Is it worth shipping it all? Do we donate or sell it all and start over? And when I started researching an overseas move, those were the two options that I found over and over. Ship it all for many thousands of dollars OR take what fits in the suitcases and get rid of the rest. But those options didn't fit for me. I needed, wanted, a middle ground. And that's what I've found.

We are taking four suitcases (three large to be checked, and one carry-on) plus one back pack each for daughter and I, and we are shipping a mini-container full of our stuff. How did I decide on what stuff? That is a really good questions, which I agonized over for about a month.

For that first month, I kept walking through the house trying to decide on what to get rid of. What had value that I could (hopefully) sell? What could I box up and donate? And it was OVERWHELMING!! Not that we have that much stuff, because we really don't, but when you have to make a decision about each and every single item in your home. It's just SO MUCH!

However, one morning I woke up and saw my dilemma from a different perspective - it didn't really matter what I was not taking. What was really important was setting up house once we arrive. Since some stuff was being shipped, I didn't want to get caught buying pots and pans when we HAVE pots and pans but they're coming 8 weeks later in the container. So first, I had to focus on setting up a basic home - a basic kitchen, clothing, a few toys for daughter, a few board games for all of us. I had to cover the basics so we weren't running out to the store on the 2nd day for stuff we NEED. And it all had to fit in the four suitcases.

Once I got that list written (I LOVE lists.), I was able to focus on what to send in the container. I could choose from furniture, artwork, boardgames, toys, store-bought stuff, hand-crafted stuff, again so MUCH STUFF. I needed a different question and came up with "What defines our family?" When people think about the Leach family, what do they associate with us? What defines our family time? That's easy - we read. We play board games. We love being outdoors. With these answers in mind, I was able to go through our home and choose what to take with us - some (not all) books, all our board games, a few small pieces of unique and functional furniture, a box of hand-crafted ( by family member) quilts, afghans, and pillow cases, pieces of framed art and photographs, bicycles, and the small kitchen appliances.

Now, I know you're thinking - kitchen appliances? but the electricity in Australia is different. And yes, I know that, but here's my thinking - For $50 I can buy a transformer to convert the voltage down to 110 which saves me from having to go out on day 3 and buying a new mixer, food processor, toaster, etc. Long term, they will probably have to be replaced, but they're not adding a huge amount to the cost of the shipping and they are used regularly.

When the shipping container arrives and we start unpacking these items, our house will instantly start to feel more like HOME. And that's my job as homemaker... to make a home for my family.

Everything that didn't make the two lists, gets sold, donated or just given away. And I didn't have to make a list! It's just what is left.

So now I have to run because the movers will be here tomorrow to load up the shipping container, and I'm not ready! Nothing like waiting until the last minute, right?!