Midlife Simplicity

A journey from more to less.

Month: April 2014

Boxes

boxes

 

My life seems full of boxes right now.  The living room is full of them. The garage is full of them. I even had a box salesperson visit me at the office today to sell me more boxes.

It’s a common mantra to “think outside the box.”

Boxes, boxes, boxes.

With all of the boxes around, including the one that we kind of define our existence with, i.e., this is my family, this is my town, this my religion, etc., there’s one box that I find myself thinking about more and more.  It’s not the one full of beer.

It’s the one that will be in the closet of some relative long after you’re gone. The one that they pull out every ten years or so to remember who you were. The one that has perhaps a trinket that meant something to you so therefore they hang on to it as some sort of talisman that somehow continues to keep you connected to them. Like physical objects have some sort of magical power. They sure have a hold on us, but I’m unsure of any magic.

About a year ago I was sitting in a farm-house in the Midwest and a friend pulled out the “box” of her recently deceased grandmother. A woman who was, by all accounts, a hard-working staunch catholic woman you’d expect to find in the rural farm land of Missouri. As my friend pulled out items one-by-one from the box – there were letters, paperwork, cash among other things – I was astonished to think about who little meaning there was in these items.

Now to be honest, I don’t know what went to other relatives and I don’t know if there were more items in a different closet or anything of that nature.

What I do know is that I left that event with two thoughts:

What the hell is going to be in my box. What will people want to hold on to remember me when I’m gone. Should they hold on to anything. Will it just another box filling up there lives?

Secondly, the legacy of this woman was so much more. It was the family that was kind enough to let me stay with them for a night when I was sort of stranded. It was amazing talents of my friend that was going through the box. It was the grandchildren that sat there interested but not really understanding what that box represented and not knowing they were there because of the woman, not the things.

I left that farm-house with the thought that, I don’t wan to be remembered by stuff in a box pulled out every so often to remind people I was here.

I want to be remembered because I was here, not because of items I left behind. Some people do that through family; others through deeds.  I’m still working to find my way, as I believe we all are.

What will be in your box?

 

Memories generated by things

zephyr

Photographer Pedro Meyer released a photo CD in 1991 called I Photograph to Remember. Over the years that title has become my mantra in many ways. I often use photos I’ve taken to remember people, places, events, etc. I imagine I’m not too different from most people.

There are times I wish I was one of those rare people who can remember everyday of their life and are able to instantly access it. I simply am not. Photos to me are like bookmarks that seem to fire up the area of my brain associated with that memory. Otherwise it just seems to take a lot of effort to access them.

As I’ve been cleaning out boxes and drawers I’ve come to realize I’ve hung on to some pretty silly items over the years for much the same reason. Whether it was a bracelet or necklace from some part of the world, or a receipt for a big purchase, or a private club membership card like the one above, they’ve all been sitting in a dark little corner of my house waiting for a ray of light to hit them and reflect into my eyes to active a little part of my brain reminding me of something associated with the item.

Kind of funny.  I know the memories are in my brain but I’ve convinced myself that some sort of physical item is required to trigger the thoughts. Perhaps, I’ve just grown lazy and know that these things at least help in getting those synapses firing.

When I stumbled upon membership card from 10 years ago to a “private club” that’s been closed for 544 weeks. (See Bill Frost’s continued tracking of the state of the Zephyr Club) it brought back a slew of memories from many nights at one of Salt Lake City’s most revered bars that closed in 2003.

I had flashes of the many nights spend in the two-storied Zephyr Club watching bands like the Young Dubliners, Robert Earl Keen, Leftover Salmon, Buck Wheat Zydeco, Darden Smith, Chris Whitley, Maceo Parker, Michelle Shocked, C.J. Chenier, etc.

ticket

I remembered specifics like the night some girl stole my hat while I was waiting in line and ran off with it. Or the night I had to leave a show early to go to the airport to pick up a friend at the airport that was flying in from Kentucky. I remembered my friend Jon meeting his future wife there. I remember always getting there early so we could get the table we liked to sit at. I remember given drunken people rides home and I remember staying in Salt Lake City after many shows for the same reason.  I remember seeing friendly faces who were all there to have a great time.

One night just before Christmas Robert Earl Keen was playing. About midway thought the set, about 100 people in Santa Clause outfits came through the door and filled the dance floor. What had been a full venue turned into a crowded dance floor of Santa Clauses all toasting Shiner Bock beer to one another. REK ended song the song he was playing and, in a bit of shock, said, “We were going to play this later, but now seems like the time.”

Seizing the moment he and the band broke into Merry Christmas from the Family. It is a fantastic memory of the Zephyr Club. It could have only been 50 people in costume, but the way I remember it, it was nothing but a sea of red, long-necks and smiles for that song. A couple of songs later, they were all gone.

I enjoy listening to James McMurtry’s Live In Aught Three recorded mostly at the Zephyr Club. The  very first time I heard McMurtry he was playing solo in Waterloo Records in Austin trying to get people to buy his first album. Year’s later I was lucky enough to attend both nights of the recording. You can read McMurtry’s thoughts on the Zephyr Club in an archived Salt Lake Tribune article from 2004.

ticket2

I spent many nights at the Zephyr Club. Many memorable. Many lost to the short-comings of an aging mind. More than anything I remember them full of good music and good friends. And while I know things, like the card above, don’t hold my memories, they sure do help me recall them.

As part of the exercise of getting rid of stuff I find myself confronted with this often. How long should I hold on this worthless card from the days when Utah was full of private clubs.

For this of you who aren’t from Utah, this was time when you had to an annual membership due just to enter a bar – hence private club. If you didn’t have a membership or weren’t the guest of someone who was, you couldn’t get in. It was pretty silly. Those days are gone now, thank God. I’ll tell you the stories of only being able to be served mini-bottles like on an airplane some other time.

So how long? The answer is as long as it has value to me I guess, but it seems so easy to “give things value.” We do it all the time. The approach I’m taking is that if something is basically worthless – meaning no one would pay me anything for it, it is going on the garbage. Like this card.

I value its place as memory jogger, but I have a feeling simply taking a picture of it  and looking at the picture at a later time will serve the same purpose.  It’s a risk I’m willing to take. All my adult life I’ve been photographing to remember.

 

 

I got piles and piles of Tom Petty

Today I boxed up my CDs which I intend to eventually get rid of. Over the years I have burned many of them to my computer. I hope to transfer to digital form the hundreds that I haven’t by the end of the year.

For most of my adult years I’ve dedicated a piece of furniture to proudly hold and display all of the CD’s that I’d spent years accumulating. Some sort of trophy rack. I find it interesting that today’s young music lovers don’t go through the exercise of showing off, for all to thumb through, their music collection. Now they just hand someone their phone. Many, many years ago when I worked at the IRS music was all that got me and my co-workers through a ten-hour shift.

Often we’d listen to the local radio stations like KGSR and legendary DJ Jody Densberg. Rolling Stone Magazine once called KGSR one of the “Ten Radio Station in America that Don’t Suck.”  We worked the night shift from 6 pm to 4:30 am so we’d listen to baseball playoff games, we’d listen to Larry King doing his AM radio talk show – this was before he’d moved to TV.  We’d trade mix tapes (Cassette tapes recorded from album tracks for you younger people. It was  a lot of labor and time.) The years I sat reviewing stranger’s tax returns filled my head with interesting topics and new music night after night. Somewhere in the first couple of years the Compact Disc player was introduced to the market and within a short while everyone was bringing their freshly pressed CD’s to work.

From there it became a nightly event to trade for the evening your discs with someone else as they were expensive and everyone’s collections were relatively small. Whether it was listening to Lloyd Cole from Clay Carver or America’s Greatest Hits from someone else there was always something new to listen to – especially after payday. When James McMurtry or other local Austin musicians would release a new album you could always count on someone bringing it to work that night and it being passed around to those interested. It was a lot of fun and a great way to find new music.  Running to Waterloo Records with your buddies and dropping $100 on new music was just what we did on regular occasions. I have a lot of great memories related to the music we bought and listened to.

 

IMG_2600

It’s crazy to think that now days you can jump on You Tube and find almost any song and the artist performing it live. Music is pretty much on-demand these days. It’s fantastic from my point of view. Yet I know that I probably miss out of some “deep-tracks” that I’m never made aware of. The hidden gems that you’d never hear if you didn’t buy the whole album.  It’s not necessarily better or worse, just different.

At this moment, my CDs are all in a box by year’s end they will all be on a hard-drive and the CDs will be dispersed to friends or off to other parts unknown. I hope they the entertainment they have brought to me will continue along with them. I will be happy to not be carrying them around with me! Let me know if you need a floor-to-ceiling case for all your CDs , I’ve got one to get rid of. Now what to do with these books?

Caring … less

tire

As part of the simplification process – while not really an impetus to making change – I’ve begun to reduce my carbon foot print.

Part of it is simple logic. Move from a big space to a small space reduce your heating and cooling costs. Have less lights and no hot tub, reduce your electrical costs. Get rid of snow blowing and lawn mowing stop polluting the air with highly noxious fumes from a four-stroke engine.

One place that I’ve made a huge impact on both my carbon foot print and my pocket-book has been with automobiles. Three years ago I had a Porsche Boxster and a Toyota Tundra. While the Boxster was reasonably fuel-efficient averaging about 21 mpg it was completely impractical between late November through early March most years.

The Tundra on the other hand with its full-size, crew cab accommodations, 4-inch lift and oversized tires was impracticable all the time! Not from a utilitarian point of view, it was awesome for just about everything even cruising 90 mph down the highway. No matter how great it was, in the back of my mind I was always doing calculations of how much $3.50+ per gallon gasoline I was burning which, in turn, was burning a hole in my wallet.

I estimate I averaged 13 mpg most of time I owned that truck. By the time I’d traded it in, I figured I’d spent over $13,500 in fuel in 3.5 years ($321 per month). I won’t even say what my payment on the thing was. Let just say that I will be paying less per month for my living space than I was to own that gas guzzler.

Now as I get ready to move, the truck is gone, the Porsche is gone and I’ve moved on to a nice responsible hybrid Toyota Avalon that is averaging about 36 mpg currently and I expect that to go up at as the temperature rises.

My payment has dropped, my fuel costs are down to about $60 per month and once I move, I will be walking and riding my bike to work as I will just be a mere blocks away from my office.

It is why I didn’t care the least today when the checker at Costco grumpily said, “Gas prices jumped $.06 over night.” His co-worker responded with, “Wow.”

“Yep, they’re headed back to $4.00.” he continued shaking his head.

I stood there and continued to pay for the supplies I was buying for a work event and thought to myself, “I don’t even know what gas prices are and I’ve driven for a week and my needle is still on full. Six cents. Ha. Who cares.”

Of course I know that fuel prices affect everything and everyone across the economy, but as I reduce my foot print, the less it bothers me. Moving from worrying about the cost of every mile to where I am now, is a good place to be. Don’t under-estimate the impact of simplifying you literally can feel the lightening happening in your life.

 

I make lots of mistakes

Red Knobs

Red Knobs

I don’t want to say I bought a stove because it had red knobs, but it certainly didn’t hurt.

And like the knob above says, I sometimes wonder if I was “high” when I decided to put a gourmet stove in my kitchen. I mean, come on, think about it, shiny stainless steel, two ovens, red knobs with high-contrast white lettering, those cast iron grates that could break your toe if you dropped one on your foot. Did you hear me? Two ovens! I mean, how many frozen pizzas could I cook at one time in that thing! I never found out.  I think they were both used at the same time for pies one time, but that had nothing to do with me.

I’d like to say that over the years I’ve gotten an extraordinary amount of enjoyment our of an appliance that cost probably 10 times what I could have gotten away with and I could’ve taken two or three incredible vacations with the funds. The truth is, every can of soup I cooked on the damn thing probably cost me $2 just in “gourmet stove tax” over six years.

I can probably justify that I get some of the cost of the stove back when I sell the house, but it certainly isn’t dollar-for-dollar. Was a $9,500 stove a mistake. Probably.

I’ve made plenty of those types of mistakes over the years. TV and advertising does a fantastic job of showing us the potential of an item and we then assume, with little hesitation, that we will use that item to its “incredible” potential.

Need to relieve back pain? Try this “anti-gravity” contraption. Not only will it fix your back but you can do upside down sit ups and have god-like abs in no time – if it doesn’t kill your back.

Almost everything I’ve bought over the years was predicated by me thinking I would be using it to its highest potential. The bright red Kitchen Aide mixer? Never made a damn thing with it. Soon to be sold at a garage sale having never been plugged in.

That floor steam-cleaning thing used once and worked like crap? Its yours for $5. Maybe you can figure it out.

How about that router that was going to jazz up some of my woodwork? Clean as the day it was bought. Someone needs it, I’m certain.

It’s not to say that I don’t use things I buy because I do. I think the conclusion I’ve come to is that I rarely use things to the potential or to the extent I convinced myself I would at the time of making the purchase.

There are exemptions of course and I think this is critical for me to think about as I am jettisoning possessions.

Like I’ve mentioned in a previous post I have to keep my cameras, but not all the associated gadgets. I absolutely love electric toothbrushes as does my dentist (or perhaps not, since he doesn’t get to fill my teeth.)

I’ve always hated mopping the floor and never felt like it got truly clean until – yes laugh if you want to – I bought the Shark Sonic Duo off an infomercial. The damn thing works and works well and as long as I’m residing in a place that requires floor cleaning I will have one!

It’s not that there aren’t possessions that do add value to ones life at a reasonable cost. It’s that they are shockingly low in number of when I look at all of the items I have lying around my home. And certainly there are things that are really valuable when you need them like say a hammer.

To be honest, right now, I don’t care if I ever need a hammer again. If I do, I’m not afraid to ask to borrow one.  At the same time, I’m a guy and I feel conditioned to have some tools around for some reason, so I probably will for a while.

This weekend I will begin really making piles of stuff. One pile “for sale,” another “donations,” yet another for “trash.” I hope my reasoning for items going into each pile is sounder than the reasoning that brought them into my home in the first place.

Yes, I’ve made mistakes, but this was not one of them:

Slap your troubles away.

 

 

Cameras must stay

Fuji X Pro-1

Fuji X-Pro 1

Over the past few years I have tried to be cognizant of what is important to me in my daily life. I’ve come to the conclusion that my cameras must stay.  They won’t stay in a manner that they have in the past. As I worked on simplifying my life, I think it began to impact my photographic technique.

I used to want to carry around a big bag and have any lens needed at my fingertips. In the last year or so, I fell in love with shooting with a 50mm lens (or equivalent on certain cameras like the one above.)  If I don’t like what I’m getting from where I’m at, I do my best to move to where I want to be.

In many ways we live in an age where you can probably just carry around your phone for most photography and I do use my iPhone a lot. The convience is great, but I still like to have a “real” camera handy for events that have great significance to me or are work related and optimal image quality is desired.

Photography seems to be a gadget rich path whether a hobby, profession or habit. I’m shedding as many gadgets as possible.

From the perspective of overall lowering the number of my physical possessions, the cameras that I use will stay. A few lenses will stay. A strobe will stay. I will get rid of most of the other stuff.  The cameras that are 50-plus years old and have been in a box in my basement for seven years will go.

 

My garage – it begins here

In less than a month, this will all be gone.

In less than a month, this will all be gone.

If you haven’t read the “About” Section, I’d recommend you start there.

Above is composite of two photos that illustrates what I’m up against. As mentioned in the “About” section, I decided about three or so years ago that I needed to start simplifying my life from a possession point of view. During the last three years I would classify my attitude as “mindful” of the things I owned. I’ve thought about purchases and how they fit into my life and what I’m trying to accomplish as a professional and as a human being.

I wouldn’t call my lifestyle austere or anything of that nature, I’ve just been thoughtful. I can safely say, nothing has been added to this garage in the last three years. It doesn’t mean I haven’t bought things, I’ve just slowed down the pace.

I’ve also taken opportunities to unload items when possible. I’m down to three bikes from six, though I hardly ride any of them. There are no longer two jet skis parked in front of the garage door blocking me from moving anything large into the garage, not that there was any room for anything. The five large red plastic gas containers are loosely stacked in the corner containing none of the $4-a-gallon gasoline they used to hold but at least it was logical to have them to fill the jet skis. In the other corner the lawn mower sits needing fuel. I have wheels, bike wheels, bike wheels with cracks in them. Why do they hang on the wall?

Further back on a shelf, there are four space heaters wondering if they will ever be used again as they sit awaiting the upcoming heat of summer.  Four car washing mitts sit waiting for a guy with four hands to use them.

photophoto 2

 

In other place you can find three bicycle seats, set of bike pedals, tools, cans of paint, mineral spirits, painting, wood scraps, chemicals, old car stereos, speakers, photo equipment, boxes of paperwork, two sets of saw-horses. Stuff, stuff, and more stuff.

I was dumbfounded when I found four car cleaning mitts. I mean, I don’t even keep my car that fucking clean. How did this happen? I’m not a hoarder. I think it just became easier to buy things than find things amidst the crap stacked all over the place.

Imagine it like this…

Upon entering Target I grab an empty basket so conveniently located at the door. I start by strolling past the electronics area glancing at the video games I think would entertain me but deep down know I would never play.  That hasn’t stopped me from actually owning an Xbox and Nintendo though neither has been turned on in over two years. I continue my habitual path taking  a quick look at the books and clothing racks never rally at risk of buying much except perhaps a hat. Just a few steps more and I reach the automotive aisle full of generic car stuff. I have to believe at this point my brain says, “You know, if you have one of those car mitts in your trunk you can clean the car better than just giving it a rinse.”

And that sounds smart to me.

Then I’m pretty sure I say to myself, “Don’t I already have one of those?” Well there’s not one in the trunk of the car so I guess the other ones must have gotten lost! Well at least temporarily.

It is possible to look back and see what actions have gotten me here. It is far more difficult to understand all of the mental agility required to justify it all. I think we are very masterful at convincing ourselves that we “need” something. Perhaps so masterful that we can block the  knowing we already have the thing were are buying and even though I’ve been mindful, that hasn’t stopped be from buying things over the last three years, it has just slowed me down.

Now is when the rubber hits the road.

In less than one month I will be moving from my 3,500 sq. ft. house and in to a 1,300 sq. ft. condo. I’ll be going from a two-car garage to a no garage. In fact there will be no exterior storage at all.

The pace at which I have simplified over the last three years has been too slow. Sure the jet skis are gone, the bikes have halved in number – as have the cars. But now, it is serious. In just under four weeks, I will be down to the essentials. Since I have been reluctant to let go of stuff, I’m creating a situation that will force it!

Thank God my house is no where as cluttered as this. It has two completely empty rooms, but that for a whole other post.

I hope you choose to come along for the ride by reading this blog.

Just to be clear, I haven’t come to the conclusion that owning things are bad or anything. If you want to own a lot of stuff, an buy stuff, fill your house with stuff, then more power to you. The conclusion I’ve come to is that I want to own less stuff, buy less stuff and live in a simpler residence. I don’t want mow, snow blow or rake leaves. I don’t want to own the stuff required to do those tasks. I don’t want to own the gas can required to fill the stuff that moves the snow. I am simplifying and I’m fine if you don’t.

Furthermore I don’t have a goal to get down to a certain number of possessions or anything like that. I don’t know at what point I will say, “I feel ‘light’ enough.” I do want to get to that point though, and I don’t think it will be easy. We shall see.

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