The Year of Saying “No.”

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The daylight fades and a gray pall is cast upon the earth. It’s the first evening of the first day of the new year. What have I to say for myself?

Nothing.

I search for words to convey my exact meaning, and still, something is lost in translation.

Wisdom Himself, Christ, once said, “Let what you say be simply, “yes” or “no;” anything more than this comes from evil.” (Mt. 5:37)

Isn’t it enough that I remove the clutter from my home? Do I really have to remove it from my speech, too?

If I want to be understood, yes.

If I want to be taken seriously, yes.

If I want to continue living with a minimum of things so that I can get the maximum out of life, then absolutely yes.

Which is why I need to say No.

No to buying stuff I want but don’t need.

No to going out with the girls if it means I lose valuable time with my family.

No to distraction.

No to everything which takes me away from ultimate happiness.

What a tall order! But, as I’ve often heard it said, I can do something for fifteen minutes that would appall me if I had to do it for a lifetime.

I can say no to online shopping–for right now.

I can say no to checking my facebook status–for now.

Ditto for the twitter feed.

And email.

And other blogs.

All these things I can do later. Because what I need to do is publish this post, then go kiss my husband.

Where the hell have I been?

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It’s been months, no SEASONS, since I’ve posted anything. What happened?

Here’s the long, the short, and the whole of it: I forgot about this blog. Seriously, I forgot I even started it.

But something strange happened in the last few weeks–the desire to write again nosed its way back into my consciousness. Then, a vague mist of recollection about starting a new blog last spring began to form.

I dismissed it as the faulty memory of middle age.

Until ten minutes ago when WordPress sent me an email displaying my 2015 blog activity.

Dismal doesn’t begin to describe it.

But here’s the thing about blogging–we get to restart, anytime, anywhere. Even in the last two days of 2015.

So, raise a glass to restarting at the end. May it mark a new beginning.

Our Minimalist Wedding

Minimalism was not our intention. My husband has a small family, so not a lot of guests on that side. The focus on my end was just to keep it simple. Truth be told, I couldn’t be bothered with all of the planning, headache and heartache.  I’d seen enough of that in the various weddings I’ve attended or been a part of for the better part of 3 decades.

No thanks.

We both agreed that we wanted something where our guests could feel at home. Where they could chat and laugh without having to scream over loud music. Where they could get their clothes dirty with food stains. Where children could frolic in the pool or in the backyard.

Oh, and we had to have two weddings. First, there was the civil ceremony in the Fall. Our parents are in their eighties and it was important for us to have them witness our vows. The Church wedding would take a few months and we had to schedule pre-Cana sessions, a kind of counseling for those getting married in the Catholic Church.  These sessions could take a few months to complete. So a civil ceremony was the answer. The mayor of a local village came to my sister’s house and we had a small luncheon afterwards. It was beautiful.

The “big shindig” took place the following Summer. At first, we were going to have a cool food truck cater the party in my sister’s backyard, but they were busy, so we went with a more traditional caterer. Which was fine, since we were also able to hire two wait staff.  So far, the wedding costs were a few hundred dollars.

Since there is a pool in the backyard, I insisted on hiring a lifeguard. This protects both my sister and her husband financially as well as protecting swimmers. It was a good investment, and we hoped we did not have to make use of it. Thankfully, we did not. This added another hundred or so. So far, the wedding cost is still under $1,000.

My two wedding dresses were bought at a national designer discount store for less than $60 total. The Fall dress was an awesome fuchsia and the Summer dress was just that–a Summer dress, white with lace.  Inexpensive white sandals and a handmade lace shrug from Etsy completed the outfit, for less than $200. The hair clip was from a dollar store.

My hair is naturally wavy, so all I did was step out of the shower and let it dry naturally. The bangs I styled.

The makeup was what I wore daily.

My husband bought his suit and shoes.

Still, the wedding so far costs less than $5,000.

We rented tents, tables, chairs, and portable toilets. The table linens were donated from local restaurants. Hey, it helps to have a sister who is known in her hometown.

We decided not to hire a professional photographer. What we wanted were those candid shots gotten only from friends and family. Turns out a friend decided to bring his professional-grade camera and played photographer for the day. Later, we printed out those pics on shutterfly, and POW! a cute little wedding album for less than $100.

My brother-in-law provided live music for us, for free. Free and priceless.

The alcohol served was a gift from my sister, as were the simple centerpieces.

Bouquets and boutonnieres were bought from Bunches Direct a few days before the wedding.

The cakes were bought at a local big box retailer.

Did I mention the wedding and engagement rings? Mine are sterling silver with cubic zirconia. The hubby’s is a simple sterling band. Just a couple of hundred dollars for them.

Our honeymoon will be a weekend at Wellneste Lodge this coming June. I bought it as a Christmas gift to my husband via Groupon. The cost? $250 for a two-night stay.

The whole wedding cost between $5,000-$6,000. Where we live, $20,000 is considered inexpensive.

We kept asking ourselves, “What’s more important, the wedding or the marriage?” Of course, it’s the marriage. So why waste so much time and effort, not to mention money, on something so temporal as a wedding?

On the big day, it rained a little and the lifeguard got sick. I shrugged it all off. My sister said to me, “I’ve never seen such a relaxed bride.” Of course. The wedding already happened, we were joined in union. The party afterwards was just a celebration of that. Stuff goes wrong. Stuff goes right. Why worry?

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The Fall Wedding. The shoes were actually given as a birthday gift from the matron of honor the previous year.
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The Summer Wedding. Husband used the same suit, just a different tie.
For those who want to see the back of the dress.
For those who want to see the back of the dress.

Facebook or Not to Facebook?

Here’s a question to all my readers:

Should there be an Essential Life Facebook page, or not?

Here’s a list of pros and cons for your consideration:

PROS:

  • Greater Exposure to a wider audience
  • Ability to post quick and easy tidbits, IE, beautiful photographs with nice sayings, like this one:

CONS:

A (possibly) big Sucker of Time.

In the interests of full disclosure, I am already leaning toward one answer, but I don’t want to sway your opinion, so I won’t say what it is here (yet!)

Leave your answer in the comments and let’s get this discussion rolling!

Decluttering Sentimental STUFF

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Last week, I attended a webinar by Rachel Jones of Nourishing Minimalism. The focus was on letting go of sentimental items.

Easy peasy, I thought. I’d let go of most of that stuff years ago.  After my mother died in 2001, my sisters and I went through her belongings and trashed or donated all but a few things. I have her Mother’s Ring (do they even make those anymore?) and a stupid turquoise umbrella with a wooden ducks head as the handle. I wear the ring occasionally and use the umbrella when it rains. I’d had this decluttering business down pat. Or so I thought.

There was one item I’d held on to for nearly 14 years. I wore it once, Thanksgiving Day, 2001. That was the first holiday I spent away from my family. It was also the first holiday after my mother died. It was therefore a crucial time for family togetherness.

What could possibly pull me away from family on this day?

It was an important Thanksgiving for the entire nation. We were wounded and bewildered. Thousands died on Sept. 11, 2001 and hundreds if men and women spent the holiday cleaning up the debris.

It was them I wanted to serve. So, that Thanksgiving, I worked at the Ground Zero Respite Center, feeding the hungry workers. This was the best way I could honor the fallen and honor my mother’s memory.

It was still a dangerous area and all volunteers had to wear a hard hat, even if they worked indoors like I did. I took that hat home along with a few other items as a “reminder.”

For years the hat:

  • Sat in the back of my car
  • Lay buried in a closet
  • Moved with me as I moved into a new home and settled into married life.

Unlike my mother’s umbrella and ring, I was not using the hard hat for anything. It no longer served a purpose.

Why was I even keeping it? Quite frankly, I was afraid I would forget the experience. Yet keeping the item and not using it doesn’t honor the experience I had.

This morning I made a decision and took action. I needed to keep a physical manifestation of the experience, yet I could not justify keeping the actual item.

So I took several pictures of it
. One if which is at the top of the post.
I can frame the picture or I can simply save it on my laptop or phone.

After the pictures were done, I kissed the hard hat, thanked it for its service and threw it in the dumpster.

“Good Dealing” Your Way Into Debt

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A few months into our marriage my husband and I were looking for ways to save money. We began couponing. “Couponing” refers to combining coupons and sales to save maximum money.

We took on this project with gusto–buying newspapers, asking family and friends for their weekly coupon inserts. We even bought a banquet-style folding table so could we could cut and organize every coupon into a binder. I became known as the Coupon Binder Queen. By doing this, we saved hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. The new printer I bought was immediately paid for by the coupons I printed out and used.

A whole new world was opened up to us. We bought brands and products we never thought about before, even if we had no use for them.

“We might like these,” we said,  “So let’s buy. Plus, we’re getting a good deal.”

We “good dealed” our way into greater credit card debt and less space for our stuff. We had a stockpile.

Then the nagging conflict came: how can I maintain a clean and spacious one bedroom apartment while having lots of stuff around? Something had to give.

The first thing I did was assess our stockpile. What we used, I kept. What we didn’t use, I donated. Mostly we got rid of brands that we tried once or twice and didn’t care for. The upside to this is that what we stockpiled on were consumable goods–toilet paper, toothpaste, paper towels, canned goods, etc. We kept the brands we knew we would use up and donated the rest.

We still coupon today, only in moderation. We stock up on toilet paper and other consumables based solely on need. We also stock up on goods that can be donated to outreach programs: diapers, laundry detergent, canned food, etc.

We value our time together and couponing this way allows us to do that. No longer do we need to waste valuable time (and money!) running to the store to pick up items we thought we had.  We have what we need. Every once in a while, we re-assess our stockpile and fill accordingly.

We’ve also been able to substantially reduce our debt because we are not buying as much as we were. We are working toward zero credit card debt, and we are a long way from it, but we are also in a much better position today than even a year ago.

This way of minimalism may not be for everybody, but it works for us. And that’s important.

Minimalism and Just Portion Sizes

Minimalism is the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of everything that distracts us from it.

–Joshua Becker, Becoming Minimalist

Social justice issues have always been important to me, from feeding the hungry and clothing the naked in parish outreach work to actually living among the poor in NYC The cry of the poor has been a voice echoing in the wilderness most of my adult life.

It never occurred to me that my over-consumption of food contributed to the lack of food in the lives of the poor.

For so long, I had eaten more than my fair share of food. I’d consumed mass quantities of whatever I desired. Like so many, I suffered from the disease of “wants” and “mores.” The more I wanted (and consumed), the unhappier I became. The more unhappy I became, the more I ate. It was a vicious cycle.

As I started on my journey of life-changing decisions, I realized the importance of weighing and measuring my food. This is a practice I continue to this day.

Weighing and measuring (not just food, but, really, everything) gives me structure, balance–and freedom.  For my meals, I take no more than whatever is within the parameters set for me in consultation with my nutritionist. The food I eat today is better, tastes delicious, and less.

By taking only what I need, I choose quality over quantity. By taking only my prescribed portions, I leave more for the world around me. Sure, the fresh fruits and produce are often more expensive, but I am spending less because I am eating less. This is my just portion size.

Promoting what I value and getting rid of distractions–that’s how my way of eating is minimalist. No longer am I spending money on food I do not need (distraction, waste). No longer are my cupboards overflowing with junk (distraction, clutter). Gone are the twins of shame and embarrassment at the checkout line (distraction SUPREME).

Today, I value health and well-being. Some of the money I used to spend on food is now spent on an alternative health care practitioner. Today, I value such experiences as prayer, meditation, and exercise more than the over-consumption of mass quantities of food.

Most importantly, I can focus more on what I love to do–help those in need.

The Stone and the Cross–A New Life Story

This post originally appeared on Faith, Fiction, and Flannery  in 2011.

“It seems as if all my bridges have been burned,
You say that’s exactly how this grace thing works
It’s not the long walk home that will change this heart,
But the welcome I receive at the restart”

Mumford & Sons “Roll Away Your Stone” 

 
It’s Easter, and the evening is winding to a close. I sit up here in my room listening to the rain pelt against the window. My father watches the late news downstairs. He’s eighty now, and while I know it’s wrong, my patience with him often wears thin. His patience with others is even thinner. Perhaps it’s my way of denying his advancing age and increasing need. My sister Micki once said she believed people got more crotchety as they aged as a way of making their death easier on the surviving family members. That’s a pretty good way to look at mercy, I think.

It’s Easter, and I sit up here, writing, wondering if I have any readers left. Only God in His mercy would see to it that I do, because I certainly haven’t done a thing to retain any. It’s been months since my last blog post, and to the two readers I had, if you are still reading, then all I can say is this: I am sorry.

Roll away the stone

You see, I’ve been getting my life in order. The truth of the matter is that I am an addict in recovery. My “substance of choice” is food, but it really could have been anything: alcohol, coke, sex, crack.  The trouble is, I’ve been too chicken to do most of those things. So, food seemed safe. 

UPDATE 2015: I know now that it wasn’t a choice. Those other options held no sway over me.

Harmless, even. But that “harmlessness” set off cravings in me like any alcoholic or drug addict. As a direct result of my addiction, I ballooned to over 240 pounds. I wore my addiction. It was evident to everyone except me. In fact, it was easy to avoid it. If you don’t look below your neck in a mirror, you don’t see the effects of years of compulsive eating and isolation. Now, I go to 3 or 4 meetings a week. And since I’ve put down my substance, I’ve lost a significant amount of weight. Go figure.

I am an addict who has been to hell and back. On July 17, 2010, I got my sobriety back when I put down the food. On August 26th, 2010, I got my serenity back when I walked into a church basement for the first time in over ten years and uttered the words, “My name is Kim and I am a compulsive overeater.”

Photo credit:The jof

I still have to eat to live, but I no longer eat compulsively. I have a food plan and every morning at 7:30 I tell another woman what I am eating for that day. It’s terribly humbling to start the day admitting my brokenness to another human being. Humility and I aren’t natural friends, which is why this daily phone call is so important. But even before I make my phone call, I have two women who call me to make their own humbling admissions. The first call comes in at 6:30 AM.

My addiction doesn’t define me in my totality, this I have come to realize. It doesn’t define me, but it sure as heck wanted to reduce my existence to little more than a slave to it. And I was a willing participant in my own demise.

Addiction is the work of a force that offers me no hope. I need hope. I’m a goner without it. I want more than whatever it is I thought food could offer. Food became the stumbling block, the stone, between me and the only Person who could offer me such beauty; who could roll away the stone of my addiction. That Person, that “Higher Power” for me is Christ.

Christ is risen! He is truly risen! For the next fifty days, Christians around the world will proclaim this in the liturgy. But in order for us to know the Resurrection, we must also bear our cross. For me, and millions like me, addiction is our cross, bearable only because of the presence of Another. We start life again–refreshed and renewed.

Happy Easter.

One White Tee

Minimalism first appeared in my life by accident. It was 2012 and my income was minuscule. I was working part-time at a parish outreach and part-time caring for two children. I had just lost over 100 lbs and could not afford a new wardrobe. Only a few pieces fit.

Most of the clothes in my closet were ten sizes too big. Why did I still have them?

Fear.

Fear of what my closet would look like without them. Fear of lack. Fear of never being able to buy clothes again. Fear of economic insecurity.

With a deep breath, I began the task of ditching the clothes that no longer fit.

The task completed, my closet nearly bare.

I was absolutely frightened, for about five minutes.

This was my reality–I had few things and even less money. But I was free from the shackles of addiction, and free from the delusion of a packed closet.  Today, I can still fit my entire wardrobe, including my winter coat, in the closet. I can afford to buy clothes as I want them, but I don’t want.


Easter is coming.

I needed a new white tee shirt for the outfit I’m wearing to Mass. A white tee is essential to my wardrobe because of it’s versatility. I can wear it to work or out to dinner.

I had one in my closet, but I hadn’t worn it months. I no longer loved it; yet it hung in my closet. Since I wasn’t wearing it, it became useless.

After some thought, I decided to purchase a new one and donate the old one. The old shirt served me well. It was part of the first Easter outfit I bought at my new size. Three years later I still wear the skirt and sweater. They fit fine and I still love them.

Keeping the old tee does not honor the shirt, nor the person who labored to make it. Donating it gives it new life and gives a poor person the dignity of buying something they need.

Minimalism gives us and others respect.

Opening Salvo–Palm Sunday

Essentialism.

That’s what this blog is about. Getting rid of the hubris.  Cutting excess stuff–things, attitudes, words. Moving that stuff out of the way to get to the nitty-gritty, the meaning of a thing.

It requires discipline. In thought and in action.

Who am I?

You may know me from my now defunct blog Faith, Fiction, and Flannery. You may never have heard of me at all. No matter.

College-educated, today I clean toilets and wipe the bottoms of someone else’s children.

I have never been happier.

Great tragedies occur, and still, cleaning needs to be done and children need to be tended to. This is the nitty-gritty, the essential.

Leo Babauta said it best:

  1. Identify the essential
  2. Eliminate the rest

This is a new way of being for me. Join in and we can trudge this road of happy destiny together.