Stewardship of Life

Lessons from a Happy Closet ala Audrey: Round Two

Posted in Just Living by Sharron R. Lucas on July 28, 2010
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Six months ago, I wrote about streamlining my wardrobe and trying for a more unified, basic, yet stylish look. In the interim, I have made a 1500 mile move and downsized significantly. Before the move, I completed one more closet purge and felt like I had managed to reduce my wardrobe to a really good size. What I owned three months ago fit easily in the six foot closet of my apartment bedroom.

Recently, however, I’ve been thinking again about the Audrey Hepburn wardrobe and whether I’m really inching any closer to my goal. In case you forgot, here’s the basic wardrobe:

  • 2 pair classic Capri pants
  • 2 white shirts
  • 6 pairs of shoes
  • 2 basic black dresses
  • Trench Coat
  • 4 classic sweaters
  • 2 simple skirts

Here’s where I am right now:

  • 1 pair classic black Capri pants (just bought used at the Junior League bargain mart for $3)
  • 1 white shirt (Yup, it’s still the same old Eddie Bauer button down oxford classic)
  • 1 black dress (a three quarter sleeve Hanna Andersson knit that my daughter proclaims a fashion casualty)
  • Trench Coat (Classic London fog with zip out wool lining—wish it was black, but khaki will have to do)
  • 6 classic sweaters (1 long teal cardigan, 1 long navy cardigan, 1 long orange cardigan, 1 red cable cardigan, 1 purple cap sleeve cardigan, 1 three-quarter sleeve ruby cardigan) All are cotton or wool/cotton blend, so they can be worn virtually year-round in Tennessee.
  • 7 simple skirts (1 gray pencil skirt, 1 black all-season wool skirt, 1 dress khaki skirt, 1 casual khaki skirt, three above the knee casual skirts—black, dark denim, and khaki)
  • 6 pair shoes (1 black ballet flats, 1 black heels, 1 black Birkenstocks, 1 black boots, 1 brown boots, 1 pair tennis shoes)
  • 3 pair sandals (1 black Keens, 1 brown vintage Italian leather, and 1 brown beaded flip flops)
  • 3 suits (black, teal, and navy)
  • 3 clergy shirts
  • 3 casual blazers (navy, khaki, and lavender linen)

I also have a pair of old khakis, old faded jeans, nice dark stretch jeans, and black leggings. I have four sleeveless cotton shells, seven solid t-shirts, and four other shirts/blouses. I have one dark green velvet Mandarin style dressy dress, an oatmeal-colored linen dress, jeans jacket, two pair khaki shorts, four pair running/soccer shorts, one swim suit, and about a dozen assorted t-shirts, two windbreakers, several scarves, two purses, two belts, and an ample supply of undergarments and pajamas.

I continue to downsize and have given away three bags of assorted clothes since moving here. The rule is two things out for every one thing in. I also have one plastic tote of winter clothes, including a sapphire wool coat and the gigantic Irish sweater that I simply could not leave behind.

Am I where I would like to be? Well, no, I’d still like to simplify more, but it is a process. I am under 100 items, not counting undergarments and accessories, and it still feels like too much. I plan to cut out another 10-20 items at the end of summer, but I am still looking for that perfect white shirt and a pair of khaki capris. Form, function, and comfort are the key elements over trendy style. I have way more than enough, and as items wear out, my plan is to only replace them with the best possible quality that I can find. That may mean splurging on a really nice pair of leather flats (I’ve already re-heeled the ballet flats twice!), but every purchase will be carefully analyzed.

How about you? What’s the state of your summer wardrobe? Moving any closer to the 19 classic Hepburn-inspired items? Men, what’s the state of your closet? Would you consider yourself more of a Jack Johnson or Cary Grant kind of dresser? Do you own six pair of shoes or 36? Do you worry about what to wear?

As long as we’re talking about a wardrobe ala Audrey, here a few timeless tips from the paragon of style herself:

“For beautiful eyes, look for the good in others; for beautiful lips, speak only words of kindness; and for poise, walk with the knowledge that you are never alone.” – Audrey Hepburn

Photos by katerina w, Theresa Thompson, and pwbaker used under a Creative Commons License. Thank you!

Open Your Paws (and your hands)!

Posted in Just Living by Sharron R. Lucas on March 28, 2010
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One of my favorite stories is about the raccoon that happened upon a mason jar full of shiny buttons. Now being the clever and creative animal that she was, she had visions of how these baubles would enhance the décor of her nest, so she plunged both paws into the jar and grabbed hold of fistfuls of the twinkly treasure. When she tried to pull her bounty forth from the jar, she discovered to her dismay that her paws would not come out. She pulled and tugged and fretted and pulled some more. She chattered and kicked at the jar with her back paws. Try as she might, she could not remove her prizes from their glassy prison. Finally, in frustration she let go of everything, and with a disgusted chatter headed back to her nest defeated without so much as one button. Had she simply been willing to extract one button at a time, she could have “bedazzled” her boudoir in short order. Instead her greed and unwillingness to open her hands to possibility prevented any chance of success.

How often do we humans behave like said raccoon? We clutch tenaciously at our stuff, afraid that if we let some of it go…well, let’s just say it won’t be good. What if we can’t replace something? What if we need it? Don’t you know that the minute you get rid of something is exactly when you’ll need it? When we ask questions like that, we tend to bind ourselves to our stuff, and we miss a great opportunity at freedom AND community.

Before we moved a couple of weeks ago, we gave away a lot of stuff. We sold our furniture and a few other things to finance the move, but we also gave away everything from cameras to books to kitchen utensils to clothes and more. When you try to limit your possessions to what will fit in two cars and a few boxes, you quickly realize just how much “stuff” clogs your life. Hopefully a lot of our “stuff” will be sold at the Sheyenne community’s secondhand store, where the proceeds will benefit the school repurposing project.

The funny thing is that I don’t even remember a whole lot of what we left behind. It wasn’t crucial to our existence. In fact, it wasn’t necessary at all. Even more importantly, by opening our hands and letting go of our stuff so that others might benefit from it, we opened ourselves to the generosity of others.

My mother put the word out among her friends about how we had left so much behind, and things started to appear—linens, a complete set of Pyrex bake ware, a used blender, a can opener, and so much more. We even ended up with a wok—something I’d long wanted. Friends came to help us move our used washer and dryer into the apartment and our floor-model-as-is sofa and loveseat. We have plenty; in fact, we have abundance. I’ve been so deeply moved and humbled by the outpouring of love and support both from our friends in North Dakota and friends in Tennessee.

Yes, when you open your hands and your heart to others, when you share what you have, and when you extend a helping hand and some hospitality, blessings rain down all around. So don’t be a raccoon! Keep your paws open and be prepared to be amazed at the results.

Do you have a story about open hands and hearts to share? I’d love to hear it!

Why Stuff Sticks Around

Posted in Just Living by Sharron R. Lucas on March 17, 2010
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No, this is not my stuff, but it's a great picture of way too much stuff.

The reason you haven’t heard from me in almost two weeks is because I have been sorting through stuff in preparation to move. I thought it would be an easy task. Well, by last Wednesday the sort turned into an all-out tearful assault upon the mess that had become my house as drawers, closets, and cubbyholes were emptied. Moving day loomed large, and there were piles upon piles of belongings whose fate was yet to be determined.

Fortunately, good friends came to the rescue on Friday by helping us “toss or treasure” and load the two cars. When it was all said and done, both cars were stacked and loaded as intricately as a tower of Jenga blocks, the three pets were loaded, and we were on the road in a heavy fog that dovetailed nicely with the interior fog of my tired mind. An entire front porch-full and numerous piles inside were left behind for the new community secondhand store, while several boxes of books, toys, and treasures were winging their way toward Tennessee via the United States Postal Service. Do I have any regrets? I sure do wish I could have figured out a way to stuff my beloved futon mattress in the car. Other than that one thing, the rest was just stuff—yep, just stuff.

The trip afforded me 22 hours of drive time and two nights in hotels to reflect on this process of sorting and ridding oneself of stuff—and the concept of why stuff sticks around in the first place. Remember that all this comes on the heels of my determination to rid myself of clutter and unnecessary possessions in an effort to live more justly and simply. Multiply that fact by the sudden need to uproot and move back closer to aging parents. What one gets from that equation is something akin to chaos. Small wonder more folks don’t declutter their lives—it’s flat out difficult! Here are my observations about the process:

It’s a whole lot easier to acquire stuff than it is to get rid of it.

For most people buying feels good. Purchasing something new is fun and temporarily fills some hole or need. The problems start when the adrenaline rush of the purchase wears off and the tarnish of an unwanted, unused item becomes apparent. It’s easier to rationalize a poor purchase if one simply stuffs the stuff in a closet or drawer and forgets about it. The solution to this problem is pretty straightforward. Don’t buy a bunch of stuff in the first place. Buy only what you absolutely need, give gifts that can be consumed or that offer an experience (theatre or movie tickets, for example), and avoid immediate and impulse purchases. Most of all, be honest with yourself about your stuff.

As soon as I toss it, I’ll need it!

This depression-era mental hangover still afflicts many of the baby boomer children of frugal parents and even more frugal grandparents. Who knows when you might need an extra pair of scissors? Never mind that you have five or six better pair in your drawers. Hey, if you hang on to that sweater from high school it’ll come back into style and be “vintage.” An extra coffee maker sure would be handy if your new one goes out. Yikes! If everybody thought this way, there’d be no Goodwill, no rummage sales, and no fun. Trust the goodness of humankind that you’ll be able to find what you need when you really need it and release your excess so that others may have the same opportunity.

But it was a gift…I can’t get rid of it.

Yes, I know, your great aunt twice removed gave you her prized collection of crocheted doilies. You’ve never used doilies in your life and don’t intend to do so, yet because it came from that dear sainted lady you just can’t part with them. They sit, and sit, and sit in a box in the basement never seeing the light of day because somewhere deep in your psyche you’re afraid she might roll over in her grave if they leave your hands. Think about it—how many things do you keep and never use because of the emotional baggage in which the gift is wrapped. Wouldn’t it be much better to find a home where those items will be used and loved?

Going through my stuff takes way too much energy.

O.K. this one is oh so true. Going through stuff does take a huge investment of time and energy. Looking at each item and deciding its fate is taxing. Not only do you revisit its purchase or gifting, you also may take a walk down memory lane for good or ill. What about those high school yearbooks? Can you really just toss them, or are you tempted to sit down and look through them just one more time before they hit the recycle pile? If you want to reduce the amount of time and stress, employ one or more trusted friends to help you. Sure, a few things you think you want may get tossed, but is that really going to cause the earth’s axis to shift? Probably not.

There are many more reasons that we cling to our stuff and that our stuff so willingly sticks around. Even after paring down our belongings to two carloads and a few extra boxes, I’m wishing we could have reduced our stash of stuff even more. Who knows, maybe we will. What about you? What are your thoughts on stuff and letting go of it? Please do tell.

The picture above is from Dr. DeClutter’s well-written blog. Click here to visit.

De-Stuffing: Creative Ways to Clear Clutter

Posted in Just Living by Sharron R. Lucas on February 13, 2010
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The 2010 Lucas Clutter Cleanse continues; however, instead of a leisurely journey toward simplicity and spring cleaning, we are now on the superhighway of emptying the entire contents of the parsonage by early March. Yes, we are moving.

The traditional North American way of approaching relocation is to pack everything up, hire a professional mover or secure a truck, and take everything along. I did investigate the potential costs for such a move and found them to be quite more than I am willing to pay and frankly more than most of my stuff is worth. The alternative? Sell or give away everything possible and hit the road, knowing full well that “stuff” can be replaced.

This is not novel thinking at all—it’s just not the norm for our western culture. I mentioned in a previous post about my friend Ron and his family’s take on moving. Most people have a really hard time with his “leave it behind and start again” approach. How could someone give away great aunt Sally’s crocheted throw (Never mind that it has been sitting in the closet for a decade!) or dispose of little Johnny’s milk carton Santa Claus (Take a picture of 20-year-old John holding it!), or sell the family heirloom table that doesn’t go with your décor anyway? You get the picture. We hang on to our stuff for reasons of the heart and with great gobs of guilt.

Now that I find my family in the same situation, we have decided to leave it all behind except for what we can load into two cars, and a few boxes that will be mailed ahead. Some of my friends and associates think it’s a great idea, while others think I’ve lost my marbles.  

I won’t lie; it is a little strange watching the things that have at least partially defined our existence head out the door by the car and truckload, but it’s also amazingly freeing. What’s really wonderful is the knowledge that a particular item has a good home and will be used and enjoyed. Plus, I know that I will be on that side of the equation once we reach our destination.

So just how does one go about emptying a house? Here’s the way we’re doing it.

Host a virtual yard sale.

Winter in North Dakota is not a good season for yard sales. My solution was to set up a very basic blog and list the items I hope to sell and an asking price. I posted in categories and updated as things sold. The word spread through friends and colleagues, and within four days all the furniture was sold. Now I’m down to posting smaller items in lots. I can’t take credit for this approach; I learned about it from Leo Babuta. Thanks, Leo! This has been the best and easiest yard sale ever.

List items for sale on Craigslist, EBay, Amazon, or other websites.

This is a great approach if you have time and are willing to go to the expense of packaging and mailing purchases or meeting up with buyers.  I have greatly reduced my library thanks to Amazon and have listed a few collectible and expensive items on EBay.

Give items away via Freecycle.

Have something to share that you no longer need or want? There’s probably someone who would really like to have it. If you don’t believe me, list it with your local Freecycle chapter. Then, when you need something, before rushing out to buy it new, place a request online and you may just find someone else willing to share with you.

Give items to friends and to your favorite groups and non-profits.

If you have something you treasure that you know a friend of colleague would enjoy, by all means offer it to them!  

Do you have a lot of clothes you won’t be wearing anymore? Take them to your local charitable resale store or clothing closet. What about those boxes of markers, craft supplies, fabric, and yarn? Give them to a school, church, or community group who would be glad to have them.  Remember that books may also be donated to your local library.

Recycle the Rest

If you can’t sell, donate, give or share, then by all means recycle. Do your best to leave your current location with a light carbon footprint and goodwill.

I’ll keep you posted on our progress, but I’d really like to hear from you. If you’ve completed a move like this or have other ideas for how to de-stuff a house, please share your thoughts and ideas!