Retail therapy

Generally speaking, I try not to shop very much.  That’s not to say that I’m always successful, but I do try to be very conscious of what I buy and why.  Usually it’s books or household items.  The books are because I enjoy reading, it’s inexpensive entertainment, and I think there’s great value in having a store of books on hand from fiction to reference.  The household items are because I love taking care of my home and appreciate using nice and useful house and kitchenware.  Other than that, though, I do try to keep the shopping to a minimum.

This hasn’t been the case recently, though.  As my marriage was falling apart, I was shopping myself silly.

Initially I was shopping as a distraction.  Over the past few months hitting the thrift stores meant I was getting out for a bit of exercise in the form of a bike ride and then allowing myself an hour or two of distraction where I wasn’t thinking about everything that was going on or sitting on my computer obsessively reading sites on how to save your marriage.  Then, once J. left, I was shopping as a way to remake myself and my home for what felt like a huge life transition.  I was buying some clothes (partly to make sure I had pants that fit after the nearly 20 pound weight loss), some craft supplies (stuff to do with my hands), and a whole lot of household goods (to revamp the apartment and replace things that I’d rather not have around anymore).

In my defense, all of my shopping was secondhand.  I wasn’t contributing to the market for new goods to be produced.  It was also very inexpensive, too, so there wasn’t much in the way of savings account depletion either.  But I was shopping all the same.  I was buying into the mentality that shopping was an acceptable way to deal with my problems and that because things were rough I deserved to have new things to make myself feel better.  Both mentalities are ones that I usually try to avoid, but it’s easy to see how they feel incredibly comforting when things are tough.  Shopping is easy, distracting, and feels like a form of self-care and given everything that was going on, I don’t really feel all that bad about it in context.

So, what did I buy?  Truthfully, it would probably be easier to talk about what I didn’t buy, but in the interest of full disclosure and keeping myself at least somewhat accountable, here’s a brief overview of what four months of stress-induced secondhand retail therapy looks like in my world.

Furniture: two walnut chairs, two bookcases, two pine side tables, brass floor lamp, pottery table lamp, tiered table, metal filing shelf

Kitchenware: food processor, blender, shears, two pottery plates, four pottery mugs, four pottery bowls, ten crystal glasses, two jadeite egg cups, magnetic knife rack, two pottery jugs, three tea tins, knife sharpener, four settings of cutlery

Linens: two wool blankets, wool mattress pad, five throw pillows, eight linen napkins, three towels, bathmat

Decor: dozens of candles, two pottery vases, Hermes typewriter, five picture frames, large basket, small basket

Entertainment: two cookbooks, ten novels, two board games, puzzle

Clothing and accessories: three pair of jeans, black pants, sweatshirt, canvas travel bag, two canvas tote bags, laptop bag, Converse sneakers, leather boots, running shorts, running top

Craft supplies: three pairs of knitting needles, 18 balls of wool, five yards wool fabric, five sewing patterns

I know I was just going to thrift store so often that I was bound to find things I was looking for, but there were times when it felt the thrift gods were throwing every thrift desire I’ve had over the last few months my way.  I’ve knocked jadeite, Otagiri blue horizon, metal filing unit, vintage blender, food processor, and The Flavor Bible off my ongoing “let’s keep an eye out for this at the thrift store” list. 

Of course none of this makes anything tangibly better.  Shopping was a distraction, and all the stuff in the world won’t magically fix anything.  On the positive side, I’m feeling less like shopping all the time and more like getting back to focusing on the important things in life.  But to start with, I should probably tidy up around here and figure out where to put all this stuff…

 

 

 

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Changes

I haven’t been here much in awhile now.  Not that I suppose I’m ever here all that much, but the reasons for my absence have been a bit different this time around.  After four years of marriage, my husband and I have separated.

For what are probably pretty obvious reasons, I don’t want to go into a lot of detail here about what happened, how it happened, and all of those other things.  It suffices to say that things have been unpleasant for the last however many months, but in and amongst the crud there have been some startling moments of revelation, clarity, and grace.  And, if nothing else, I’ve been reminded of how wonderful my friends and family are as I navigate this new territory.

This is all fresh and new and things still feel rough.  But at the same time, I feel like I have more time and space and energy than I have in a long time, and I’m working to channel that into rebuilding a life for myself that is even more clearly aligned with my interests and values.  For now, that has amounted to a serious clearing out of the apartment and some pretty hefty thrift shopping, but I’m looking to more significant changes going forward, and in particular more changes that reflect my ever-present interest in sustainability and resilience and that will hopefully be reflected here.

 

Decluttering

I’ve been swearing – for years now, it seems – that I need to do a big clean out of the apartment.  Living here for over eight years and frequenting thrift stores as I do has led to the accumulation of a lot of stuff – piles of books, clothing, cookware, dishes, and all manner of other bits and pieces.  Since the apartment isn’t huge, this has meant that not everything really has a place of its own, and things get messy and disorganized really quickly.

Although I’m going slowly, I’ve already started the purging process.  At the end of April, I took 14 bags of donations to the thrift store – two of clothes, two of housewares, and ten of books.  (I didn’t think to take pictures, which I now kind of regret – the pile was impressive.)  While I’m a little embarrassed to have had so much to get rid of and that it barely made a dent in the stuff around here, I’m also really pleased to have it gone and moved on to a charity that will benefit from it and other people who will use it.

This is, however, just the start of the process.  One of my summer goals is to do a good bit of the decluttering that I keep saying that I need and want to do, but never really get around to.  My starting goal is to get rid of a quarter of what I own.  It feels a bit ambitious, particularly for someone who has a tendency to hang onto things, but I suspect that aiming high is the best bet.  Even if I fall short, I still get something accomplished.  On top of that, I find that as I get going the process becomes a good deal easier.

The other side of the coin is that I’m also bringing in less.  I got into a bit of a thrift store habit last year and I’m consciously avoiding that now.  Being out on my bike a lot meant that I was passing thrift stores pretty regularly.  Stopping for a bit of a browse became a common thing.  Admittedly, I got some pretty lovely and useful stuff – handmade pottery, wool blankets, a tomato sauce maker, and many great books – but I have enough and I certainly don’t need any more right now.  While I haven’t stopped going entirely – there are still a few specific things on my wish list – I’m being a lot more selective about what I choose to spend money on and bring home.

My ideal is simply to have a home that is a good deal tidier and more organized and that functions better, particularly in light of some of the projects I’d like to work on this summer.  I have a lot of things that I want to get to work on and having a space where there’s actually some room to work and that’s easy to tidy up would be a real boon.  On top of that, the nicer home is to be, the more time I spend here and the more relaxed and productive I am.  I spend so much time here that putting the time and effort into making it a good place to live is very well-spent.

Surfacing

River 1Much as I wish it were otherwise, work often gets the better of me and my time writing here becomes limited, if not nonexistent.  Such was the case this last semester – I had quite a few students (and lots of grading), an extra writing project to complete, and various other bits and pieces of life getting in the way, some lovely and some challenging.  Happily, the semester’ winding down and I have a good bit more time on my hands.  Of course, there are new classes to prep and conference papers to write and hopefully some publishing to do, but I feel like I’m surfacing again as I relish the slower pace of these last few weeks and ponder what else I’d like to do with some of my time.

One thing – a big, general thing – that’s front and centre in my mind is stepping up my sustainability and resilience game a bit more.  I’ve allowed the craziness of the last semester to let me slip a bit in terms of some of the standards to which I hold myself.  I need to take some time to get back to basics and build some new habits.  There’s a lot of room for things like producing less trash, reducing what I consume, eating lower on the food chain, and growing and producing more of what I eat and use.  I’m also excited at the prospect of simplifying my life a bit more.  Just yesterday I took a huge load (huge enough to actually be kind of embarrassing) of books and clothes to the thrift store for donation, and I’m only just getting started.  I’m hoping to spend a bit more time on projects that help with these goals and a bit more time here writing about them.  Living more lightly is something that’s always on my mind and I see the summer break as an excellent time to put theory a bit more into practice in a meaningful way.

Book report

For a long time, reading was one of my great pleasures.  I was constantly reading when I was younger – on weekends and after school, on vacation, at recess, and even late into the night when I’d sneak into the bathroom and read by the nightlight my parents kept there.  I could devour a book in a few days.  I never seemed to bring enough reading material on vacation that there wasn’t a point where we’d have to visit a book store to tide me over until we got home.

Sadly, this isn’t a pleasure that I’ve really kept up with.  Partly, I think it’s a case of having spent so much of my grad school life reading that it’s become more work than relaxation to me.  No matter how many interesting, intriguing, or thought-provoking texts I read, there was always an element of work attached to it.  The materials needed to be understood, evaluated, retained, and applied in very important ways.  This seems to make reading more of a high-pressure activity for me than the time to unwind that I’d like it to be.

On top of that, I had so little time for reading for pleasure that I also put a lot of pressure on myself to choose the perfect book for the limited time that I had.  I constantly felt like I wanted to be reading the “right” book, one that would entertain, enlighten, inspire, fit my mood, and allow me to relax all at the same time – a very tall order (too tall, in fact).  Unfortunately, the desire to choose the most ideal book out of the many that I have waiting to be read often means that I’d dither and debate so long that I’d rarely get to read very much at all, even to this day.

My hope this year is that I can get myself reading for pleasure again on a much more regular basis.  Practically speaking, reading is an inexpensive, engaging, mind-opening hobby that can be done almost anywhere.  But even more than that, I want to cry at sad books, laugh at happy ones, and rant at those that anger me.  I’d like to lose Saturday afternoons engrossed in reading a book on the couch and stay up until 2 am flipping through the pages of something that I couldn’t possibly put down.

In an effort to keep track of what I’ve been reading and buying, I’m going to try to do a monthly book report here.  I’m hoping that it will be further incentive to read more and to eventually relax into reading without the associations of work and the pressure to choose that are all to common these days.

During February, I read:

  • The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Neil Gaiman
  • Auguries of Innocence – William Blake
  • Five Little Pigs – Agatha Christie
  • The ABC Murders – Agatha Christie
  • After the Funeral – Agatha Christie
  • You Can Buy Happiness (And It’s Cheap) – Tammy Strobel

I also bought (all used):

  • The Forest of Hours – Kerstin Ekman
  • What Are People For? – Wendell Berry
  • The Owl Pen – Kenneth Wells
  • The Morte D’Arthur – Thomas Mallory
  • Short Novels – John Steinbeck
  • The Winter Queen – Boris Akunin
  • Middlemarch – George Eliot
  • Dharma Bums – Jack Kerouac
  • The Golem and the Jinni – Helene Wecker

Looking at these lists, it also strikes me that one of my aims should probably be to read at least as many books in a month as I bring home.  Books are a weakness for me – actually, it could probably be argued that they’re my greatest vice – and the fact that I can buy them very inexpensively very close to home has resulted in a vast surplus of reading material.  I’d like to make my way through more of what I have, keep what I love, pass along what I don’t, and build a collection of books that I really love.

Resolutions, habits, and goals, oh my

Although the new year is really just a completely arbitrary date, I often find myself wanting to set goals as a reminder to myself of the things that I think are important that I want to work towards.  Having a solid sense of what I want to accomplish still helps me to move forward, and also makes it all the easier to get back to the important things when I lapse or fall of the wagon.  I’m aiming a bit big here, but for the most part, these tend to be also things that I’m already working towards.  This usually means that my goals for the year aren’t really a huge stretch, really just a bit of a formalization of the things that I think are good to focus on.  I also see these things much more as goals to work on and habits to be developed, rather than strict resolutions.  To me, this feels like a gentler approach, which is nice because I don’t really feel inclined to beat myself up over fitting in only one yoga session in a week rather than two.

A lot of my goals are focused on different measures of health – it seems to be the theme for my plans for the year.  After a year of feeling off balance and unhealthy in a number of different ways, I’d like to start nudging things back on track a bit more.  This includes physical and mental health, but also bolstering my financial health, improving my position at work, and an ever-increasing focus on self-reliance.  My hope is that all of these points will feed into each other and help to support a life that’s healthier generally.

Health

  • Meditation – 15 minutes twice per day
  • Cardio – 30 minutes five times per week
  • Strength training – 30 minutes five times per week
  • Yoga – 45 minutes twice per week
  • Water – eight glasses a day
  • Veggies – five servings a day
  • Fruit – two servings a day

Financial

  • Have 20 no-spend days per month
  • Save $3000 towards my emergency fund
  • Save $3000 towards a house or land down payment
  • Save $3000 towards retirement
  • Save $1000 for self-reliance related purchases
  • Open a discount brokerage account
  • Switch health insurance to a better plan

Work

  • Submit two papers for publication
  • Present at one conference
  • Read one new article per week
  • Read one new book per month
  • Write 30 minutes per day

Personal

  • Donate to the food bank once per month
  • Have lunch with a friend once per month
  • Have tea with a friend once per week
  • Try two new recipes per month
  • Have one date night per month
  • Read 12 novels
  • Declutter one thing per day

Self-reliance

  • Do the Riot for Austerity again
  • Grow (and use) one jar of sprouts per week
  • Grow another container garden
  • Bake bread once per week
  • Ferment three different things
  • Learn to make yogurt
  • Can five different things
  • Knit a wearable article of clothing
  • Read at least one book each on peak oil, seed saving, breadmaking, fermentation, food systems, permaculture, and urban agriculture
  • Buy one self-reliance related item that I’ve been holding off on (pressure canner, dehydrator, grain mill, water filter, or garden tools)

Food storage solutions

It pains me to admit this, but today I threw out a relatively large amount of food.  I originally set out to start cleaning, rearranging, and decluttering the kitchen.  I soon realised that in addition to a nice assortment of veggies decomposing in the fridge, I also had a selection of nuts and whole grain rice that were well past their expiration dates, in some cases by years.  Being uninterested in the stomach issues that typically arise from eating mouldy or rancid food, I disposed of the lot.  Some went to my worms and some to the garbage.  As I got rid of it, I realised that I need to make some changes.  I’m good at the accumulating, but not so good at the management.  I tend to bring home a good range of tasty and nutritious food, but I don’t always get the best use of it.

We have a few things working against us.  We have limited space, so things get stuffed onto shelves and wedged into corners in various locations.  It becomes really easy to forget what’s stored where and how much of something we have on hand.  I also have a tendency to get excited about food and buy a lot of new things to try which has resulted in the acquisition of such things as 15 kinds of beans, eight kinds of rice, and dozens of different nuts, seeds, mushrooms, sauces, and seaweeds.  At the same time, we typically cook a lot of different kinds of food which usually leaves us with a lot of different kinds of ingredients and leftover bits and pieces from trying out new recipes or tweaking old ones.

I loathe tossing food, a problem that Wasted Food has a lot of good information on.  Throwing away stuff that once was perfectly good was hard to do.  Shameful is a good word to describe the feeling.  But as awful as actually throwing it was, I’m grateful that it forced me to think through how we store and use food around and to reconsider our current system (okay, okay…our lack thereof).  And so, when I needed a break this afternoon I sat down and drafted a loose five-part plan.

Part one is to use up what we already have. I’d like to not waste any more food if I can avoid it, so I’m going to figure out some recipes to make with the odds and ends and bits and pieces.  Tonight, that meant a dinner of spiced split mung beans and spinach.  The mung beans were the last of the bag and the spinach needed to be eaten before the holidays.

Part two is to figure out what we eat regularly.  The things we stock up on and keep on hand should be the things that we use a lot.  We seem to be doing well with things like rice, cornmeal, oatmeal, flour, lentils, pasta, tomatoes, broth, and sugar, but we still have a bunch of other things that don’t get used all that often.  Focusing on the things that we use a lot of makes the most sense, particularly given out limited storage space.

Part three is to try some new meals.  I need recipes for about ten of those different kinds of beans that I have kicking around, plus a whole bunch of other things (seaweed, I’m looking at you since I’m pretty regularly at a loss on this one).  While I’d like to stick with what we eat regularly, I’d also like to expand our repertoire of recipes that are really healthy and made from ingredients that I know store well.

Part four is to plan for new purchases.  Buying a bunch of food because it’s new and interesting isn’t all that useful if its just going to sit in the closet.  This doesn’t mean we won’t try new things or put them into the regular rotation.  It just means that I have to know exactly what we’ll be using something for before I put it in my grocery cart.

Part five is somewhat longer-term and involves setting up a database of foods that we have on hand.  It’s hard to know how much of everything we have stored, so a system where we can note what’s coming in, what’s going out, and what’s located where would be helpful.  I’m also hoping this will help me rotate food more effectively so we don’t keep opening new bags of beans or rice when there are older ones sitting in the closet – sadly, it seems that good rice doesn’t age quite the same way that good wine does.

This is pretty preliminary and I’ll probably need to tweak it as I go.  However, I’m hopeful that we can establish a system to reduce food waste.  Given the many different social justice issues throughout the world, I find it unconscionable to waste food.  It’s well past time that I find ways to better manage our food resources.