Sunday, May 22, 2016

A 4-Month Upcycled Project (FINALLY!) Complete

Whew, this one was a long time in the making. To be fair, it's not the clothing involved, but my own procrastination.

Do you ever start a creative project and then drift away from it? Sometimes it's because you're bored with it, sometimes because you're stuck or sometimes ... well, I'm not sure what happened with this shirt. I think it was seeing the stains after I'd done the work of adding the ruffled bottom:

I noticed a pink stain near the neckline and a little more on the sleeve.I think it was due to the fact that I washed it at the same time as the brightly colored shirt that makes up the ruffle.

Anyway, I pulled it back out today to play with it a bit. First, I trimmed the sleeves and removed the stained area there. After hemming these I looked at the front again. I liked the ruffled bottom but the shirt itself was rather boring. What to add to cute-en it up a bit?

I'm on a bird kick lately so he was a definite "yes." After going through my stash, I found this pretty fuchsia pink lace number. I used a bit of this to make some hearts.

I've dubbed it the "Love Bird," shirt and am pretty pleased with the result.

What creative project are you working on now? What's your best way to get un-stuck when you're struggling? 

Monday, May 16, 2016

Revelations, Inspirations and an Altered Art Bag

It was a beautiful, sunny Saturday morning. The only sounds were those of bicycle tires over gravel and songbirds chatting away in the trees above. Green buds, just forming, were the most beautiful shade of spring green.

My good friend J and I were riding our bikes on the local bike path, catching up and talking about life. J has known me for many, many years, so I felt comfortable sharing a revelation I'd had recently about my life's passion.

"You know how some people are just really focused on one thing?" I asked. "It's where their passion lies, it's what they're most interested in and they make it a priority in their life," I said. For my friend, it's fitness and health. As long as I've known her she's been a workout diva, a runner, a fitness instructor and always prioritizes exercise and healthy eating in her life.

I on the other hand, enjoy exercise because of how it makes me feel. If I could take it in pill form, I likely would. "I finally realized, after all these years what my "thing" is." I waited, part of me worried that she would be surprised when I told her what my revelation was.

"It's creativity," I said.

"Yeah, of course it is," J responded. "You've always been creative. Who else paints their car purple and draws flowers on it?" she asked, referring to my groovy Ford Festiva that had undergone a major overhaul when I inherited it from my parents. I laughed. Inside I was glowing. She knew! She accepted it like it was a cold, hard fact!

If you're anything like me, you sometimes struggle with calling yourself "an artist." Saying you're "creative," or "crafty," or "enjoy painting/sewing/making, etc." is easier than labeling yourself as the "A-word."

Of course, nothing pleases us more than someone else referring to us as artists. Especially if that person is an artist or judge or curator. What could be more validating?

J and I went on to talk about other things. I told her how I've been struggling lately with making without a purpose or goal in mind. I dislike clutter so it's hard for me to make things without them having homes. What will I do with all of the pieces after their finished? Store them for years (shiver, shiver).

I told her that I needed race dates. As a marathon runner and avid racer, J schedules races for herself to stay motivated and to have a goal to work toward.

"Maybe I need to enter competitions or try to take part in art shows or other things to stay motivated and have deadlines," I said as we pedaled along. I told her about STRUT! a fashion show held annually in Burlington, VT. I had contemplated applying to be a designer (upcycled fashion of course) earlier this year. But then life got in the way, as it often does. The deadline is quickly approaching in mid-June and I told J that I didn't have enough time to get pieces done to photograph and send in with the application.

"Yes, you do," she said. "You can do it. That's your race date."

Oh no. What had I done?! I tried to get out of it, tried a few other excuses, but J held firm. "You're going to do a great job. And I'll be here to cheer you on."

My stomach felt tight with dread. I would have broken out in a cold sweat but the air rushing past me was too cool for that. But underneath that layer of fear was something else: a glow of excitement. Maybe I could do it. Maybe I just need to break the big goal (three pieces ready to photograph in four weeks/five complete outfits done by September) down into smaller sections.

That afternoon, I looked over some sketches I'd done. I went through the reclaimed fabric and clothes that I've set aside for upcycling. And I started to feel that glow of excitement growing bigger and bigger.

What about you? Do you feel uncomfortable referring to yourself as an artist, or have you in the past? What tips would you give to others to help make this mental leap?

Maybe this bag will end up in the show ...

Altered art/upcycled canvas bag

Bag before:

Saturday, May 7, 2016

April Savings: How Many Pennies Did I Pinch (You May Be Surprised!)

Ohmygosh, you guys. I'm beyond excited to share with you what the total was for my April Savings Challenge. If you remember, I was putting away any extra money that I could find, just to see how much I'd come up with at the end of the month. I didn't tell my husband what I was doing so that I could surprise him at our monthly budget meeting.

Well, this Saturday we sat down to go over our finances for the month. (I should note that we try to do this monthly but it doesn't always happen.) This month was a little depressing because we had to send in tax money to the IRS and our state tax department. We also had some leftover vacation costs to pay for. So I was even happier when, at the end of our chat, I got to dump out an envelope full of cash. 

Because we use hybrid-cash system, there are certain categories (childcare, entertainment, household expenses and pocket money) that we take out in cash. So each time I was able to pick my son up after school instead of his daycare provider doing it, I got to keep a little of that money. Baking bread, borrowing supplies I needed for a project from my mom instead of buying them new, riding my bike to run errands instead of taking the car--all of these things added up.

At the end of the month I had collected everything from $20 bills to pennies to fill up the envelope. Mid-month I thought we might end up with about $100 or so. As we sat and counted it soon became obvious that it was more than that. How much more?

Extremely high-tech saving method
The grand total saved in the month of April was (insert drum roll here): $260.77!

I know this isn't big money, but for me it was eye-opening. This was basically free cash that was available because of some very minor adjustments and a little elbow grease on my part.

I'm putting all of it toward early-mortgage payoff. I can't wait to add it to my little chart and to start saving again in May. Will I beat that figure or was it a fluke?

Want to join me? It's simple: just track your extra savings and weigh in at the end of May. Keep a little written list of where you're saving money (you can do this with paper or an app). Then, get ready to add a little--or a lot--to your next financial goal. 

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The More of Less by Joshua Becker: a Book Review

It's the perfect time of the year to re-start, isn't it? The sun is shining again, the sky is blue and everywhere you look, new greenness is popping from tree limbs and bushes. Flowers are bright and cheerful after the dark days of winter.

Yes, you think, surveying your home--which, if it's anything like mine, has sprouted smears, grime, fingerprints, and dust bunnies half the size of Colorado--it's the perfect time of the year to de-clutter and finally start that minimalism thing.

I've been talking about minimalism a bit here on the blog lately, but for those of you who aren't familiar with the term it means basically this: paring down on things that don't matter so much to you, in order to focus on those that do.

For a lot of people this means letting go: of possessions, mostly, but also other things that aren't serving you well--be it toxic relationships, time-eating meetings, work commitments that are so far outside of your pay scale it's laughable, and more.

I recently had the pleasure of receiving an advanced copy of Joshua Becker's book, The More of Less. Joshua is the founder and editor of Becoming Minimalist, an awesome simple living/minimalism site that I've been reading for years.

While I personally feel that book reviews are somewhat silly because they are so subjective--what I love, you may hate and what you adore, I might find annoying--I promised to give an honest review in exchange for being an early reader of the book.

The More of Less

This book has a lot going for it: it's inspiring yet down-to-earth, motivating without being condemning and filled with personal anecdotes and stories that make the pages really come to life. If you've read Joshua's other books, Simplify and Clutter-Free with Kids, some of the stories in The More of Less will be refreshers. 

Somehow, though, the author makes the information--which he's been talking about for I believe it's eight years now--seem new and interesting. There was also a different level of depth to this book that I didn't find in the others. To me, it was similar to someone giving you a recipe (earlier books) versus making you a delicious French pastry, then walking you through the steps one by one while standing at your shoulder. Which do you think would make a long-lasting impression? 

One of my favorite parts of The More of Less, was the section on how minimalism plays a role, not just in helping us let go of things that we now longer need, but how this impacts our view of ourselves. Could we, by letting go of the guitar we never play, the woodworking tools we rarely use, or the art supplies we haven't pulled out in a decade, finally admit to ourselves that those things represent people we are not, and may never be? 

This hit me big time as I'm a bit of a grandiose thinker. I think of my future in glittering lights and breathlessly happy moments. "Then," I imagine, "when I reach that place or meet that goal or become that person, then I'll truly be happy." 

What this section of the book made me really evaluate is how I'm allowing certain possessions I hold on to to keep me stuck in this false sense of self. Does this make sense? It's like an artist trying constantly to force herself to be an accountant although she's a little scared of numbers, or a top salesman trying to make poetry his thing, even though he really has no talent for writing. 

In fact, my favorite parts of the book--which does focus a lot on the hands-on work of minimizing one's physical space--were the parts that went deeper. The author talks about focusing on your priorities and choosing to say no to some things so that you can say yes to those things which you love and are made for. It's all well and good to let go of things, but what will end up in their place? He also talks a lot about giving: of your money, your time, your love. 

This is an important piece of the minimalism puzzle that it feels is sometimes overlooked by others in the "field" for lack of a better word. It's wonderful to minimize. It's great to de-clutter. It's fabulous to be thrifty and frugal and save for early retirement or the trip of your dreams. But I think that Joshua hits the nail directly on the head when he talks about the fact that without giving back, none of these things will satisfy us. 

I really enjoyed reading The More of Less and would highly encourage you to get your hands on a copy. It's for sale on Amazon and Barnes and Noble or if you want to be frugal, request that your local library buy a copy to circulate. 

Be sure also to check out Becoming Minimalist for ongoing inspiration. 

*Note, I do not receive any affiliate income for this book review. 

Monday, May 2, 2016

How I Started my Minimalism Journey

Have you ever done something thinking, "well, it would be nice if that happened," but having no idea that it might actually become reality?

When I saw the call for writers for a Chicken Soup for the Soul book focused on de-cluttering, paring down and minimalism, I was intrigued. My inspiration for the story, which ended up being published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Joy of Less came from an experiment I did two years ago ~ to my closet.

But let me back up a little bit.

The Cause of My Minimalism Journey

In 2011, we moved from an 1,800 foot house in a semi-rural area to a 1,400 foot house in the
"suburbs" (if Vermont had suburbs that is). It wasn't a drastic loss of square-footage and there are only three of us in our little family. But MAN did it feel like it! The layout of the new house is a lot different. Whereas before we enjoyed a very open floor plan with tons of windows, this house is much boxier (a Colonial style). There are an average amount of windows but the entire front half of the house faces north and gets no sun.

Anyway, we sold/donated about 1/3 of our stuff (at least) before moving. Still, our new place felt cramped and cluttered. Here's something you may relate to: do you find that you aren't a stickler for cleaning incessantly but are driven mad by clutter? I cannot rest if I'm in a cluttered space. When my son was a baby, I spent his nap times running around the house like a crazy woman putting stuff away. Of course, then I was tired out when he woke up, but it was worth it to have a space that was free of visible chaos ... at least for a while.

The Start of my Minimalism Journey

My parents and sisters likely find it hilarious that I was published in this book. Growing up, I was not the kid with a neat and tidy bedroom. I was a collector, a gatherer, a creative and I really, really struggled with letting go of things. I was afraid if I gave away a certain stuffed animal that it would be heartbroken. I was worried that if I gave away a fancy hat or bottle of perfume (I loved to play dress up and was inspired by the 1800s), I'd never find one just like it again.

In 2014, however, I came across a blog called Be More with Less. The author, Courtney Carver, shared so much inspiration and influenced me so strongly that I simply had to give her Project 333 a try. Project 333 is basically this: you pare down your wardrobe to 33 items (including shoes, accessories and jewelry but not workout clothes, pajamas or underthings) and live with only those items for three months.

I was half-excited and half-terrified. I love new-ness in any form: moving the furniture around for a different look in the house, new art supplies, new books, new magazines, new ideas, new foods, new places to explore ... new things inspire me. Even though I buy nearly 95 percent of my clothes secondhand, what would it be like to give up 90 percent of my wardrobe? Wouldn't I hate having to wear the same boring pieces again and again? Actually, the result was radically different. I felt free. I loved putting together outfits in mere seconds whereas it had always taken me several minutes of standing in front over my overstuffed rack whispering, "hurry, hurry, pick something!"

Continuing to Minimize

After the Great Closet Pare Down, I went a little nutty. I boxed and bagged up stuff in the kitchen, the basement, the living room, our bedroom. I sold or gave away pieces of furniture that we weren't using. I tried to figure out what I needed and what was extraneous and brought me more stress by its very presence. 

Along the way, I read voraciously, books about minimalism and a more free way of living. Joshua Becker's books, Simplify and Clutter Free with Kids were helpful and offered hands-on help for how to start and what to do with those "tender areas" like items from relatives who have passed on, mementos from your past, books, artwork made by family members and more. I also enjoyed Francine Jay's blog and book immensely. 
While I love clear counter tops, they aren't *always* this tidy!
So now, you might be thinking, "Joy's house is bare. She has white walls, minimal artwork, clean surfaces and barely anything in her cupboards or closets." Well, erm, not quite. While I try to keep a handle on clutter, particularly on the kitchen counter, it doesn't always happen. It's a daily ritual, now, to keep things clear and empty. And there are very, very few closets or cupboards in our house that have barely anything in them. They do, however, have a lot less in them than they used to. 

If you're interested in letting go of some things in your life to make room for newness or simply more room to breathe, I'd love for you to share in the comments. One of the reasons for this blog is simply to create a community of people who are interested in the same things. Please let us know how you have minimized in some way and what the end results were.