Look at social media use the way you would a full closet

I stopped using Facebook the day after the U.S. presidential election in early November. I just couldn’t stand to read anyone’s comments. (This while I obsessively read traditional news and analysis.)

Later, a friend told me how to deactivate my Facebook status, which effectively made me disappear from view while leaving open the possibility for me to return at any time. That same friend suggested I offer the nicely activist “fake news” as my reason for deactivating.

The more distance I have from social media, the more queasy I feel about it. There’s the conduit social media provides for the spread of fake news. The ease with which we further streamline our information sources to reinforce our existing beliefs (because of who we friend and follow, cookies and algorithms). The fact that we grant FacebookTwitter, and Instagram royalty-free, worldwide license to content we post unless it is already protected under intellectual property laws. Selfies. Cyberbullying. FOMO and other kinds of anxiety. Distraction from real life. Clutter.

If you are simplifying in order to live in closer alignment with your values, it’s good practice to look at your social media use the way you would closets full of stuff. Ask yourself: Am I using social media intentionally or out of habit? What benefits does it bring me, what are the trade-offs, and do I need to change anything? If I cut back on social media, how else do I want to use that time?

I’ve tagged this post “Five-minute simplifying” because disconnecting is that easy. For instructions on deactivating or temporarily disabling your accounts, just Google the service name and “deactivate.” Don’t forget to remove apps from your phone and bookmarks from your web browser.

March 24, 2017: Here’s a great article from the New York Times about logging off of social media.

Magazines and paper mail

Simplify with PaperKarmaA year ago I started emailing companies asking them to remove me from their paper catalog mailing lists. Now I’ve discovered there’s an app for this (of course)!  Other ways to cut down on junk mail in the U.S. are described by the Center for a New American Dream.

If you subscribe to paper magazines or newspapers, my suggestion is to keep only the current edition and recycle others because once you fall behind it can be awfully hard (impossible?) to catch up.

If you currently or previously subscribed to some kind of hobby or specialty magazine, you may be holding onto several or more of them because one day you are going to do those cool DIY projects, try those recipes, or take the time to read the articles instead of just looking at the amazing pictures. Maybe. In the meantime, that stack of magazines is serving as a visual and psychological reminder of Things You Say You’re Going to Do But Haven’t and Likely Won’t. Consider donating or recycling the magazines.

In my case I’ve recycled several unread news magazines over the past several months. If I’m not going to make time for learning about current events, I need to be honest about it and just cancel my subscription.



A simpler bathroom cleaner

Ingredients for a simpler bathroom cleaner.

For years (years!) I had been meaning make my own household cleaners. And now I can say that I’ve made a bathroom cleaner and it works well.

Mix these ingredients in a spray bottle:

  • 1 t. borax mixed in 2 c. hot water, then cooled
  • 1/2 t. liquid dish soap
  • 3 T. white vinegar
  • 5 drops of tea tree oil
  • 15 drops of lavender oil and 10 drops of eucalyptus oil
    (when I saw the price of essential oils—$8 or more for a small bottle like you see in the picture—I opted to use 10 drops of lemon oil only; tea tree oil contains antibacterial properties but smells medicinal, so other oils are added for their scent)

I was feeling self-congratulatory about my eco-sensitivity and was looking forward to teaching my five year old boy how to clean a bathroom using this new cleaner, and then I stumbled onto some facts about borax (which does a great job as a toilet bowl cleaner, BTW).

According to About.com, “borax and other borates clean and bleach by converting some water molecules to hydrogen peroxide.” Boron also “inhibit[s] the metabolic processes of many organisms…allow[ing] borax to disinfect and kill unwanted pests.” That is exactly what I wanted, but like most other cleaners borax can potentially cause eye, skin, and respiratory irritation.

This cleaner may not be safer than ready-made “green” cleaners, but I take some comfort knowing the ingredients and their quantities. And by using a homemade cleaner I’ll be throwing out less packaging and, over time, spending less money.

(You can buy borax at a hardware store and essential oils at a food coop or online. If you don’t include sourcing the ingredients, including a spray bottle, you can definitely consider this “Five-minute simplifying.”)

Culling cookbooks

Page from a church cookbook

We are overrepresented in the category of cookbooks. There’s the original set of three Good Home Cooking cookbooks, a gift received in my preteen years, used many times and stuffed with clippings and recipes for things like brownies and wild rice soup copied in bubbly, preteen cursive. Plus several grocery store booklets designed to promote the use of ingredients like Pillsbury crescent rolls and Old El Paso refried beans. Plus several vegetarian cookbooks with styles ranging from earthy to light and refined. Plus ethnic cookbooks covering the cuisines of Korea and cultures found along the Silk Road. Plus a lone chili pepper cookbook. Plus a church cookbook consulted a handful of times for Christmas cookie recipes and once for ethnographic study private judgment (could these people make nothing without adding a can of cream soup or the equivalent 1/2 cup of salt?). Plus a book with panini recipes (gorgeous, but I never had a panini maker). Plus some cooking magazines. Plus the Joy of Cooking.

For someone with access to the Internet who hasn’t done much cooking in the last five years, I’ve got about 18 more cookbooks than I can ever hope to use.

And so I am going to set most of the books free now (love ya, Goodwill!), expecting that more will go when I see that my life is not impacted in any way by the absence of the first wave.

(If you have fewer cookbooks, you might be able to call your culling “Five-minute simplifying,” which is how I tagged this post. For me it was not a five-minute project. I had to think hard about whether I might suddenly start preparing meals requiring multiple fresh ingredients that only two of the three of us would even consider eating.)

Recycle old eyeglasses

This morning I finally turned an old pair of eyeglasses in at the Target optical shop, after driving around with them in the map pocket of my car for months (with good intentions).

I learned that glasses collected at Target—as well as at LensCrafters, Pearle Vision, Sears Optical, Goodwill, Salvation Army, and Lions Club collection boxes—go to non-profit organizations such as OneSight and New Eyes for the Needy. If the lenses aren’t too scratched and the coatings are intact, the glasses are matched as-is to a recipient who shares your particular prescription.

This is seriously low-hanging fruit:  if you’ve got an old pair of glasses cluttering up your space, get them to your nearest collection point stat so they can enter the global pipeline to someone who needs them.Donate old eyeglasses to reduce clutter

Reduce dry cleaning stuff

At one point we had a jumble of dry cleaner hangers in the closet that made it even more difficult to find something to wear in the morning. So I hauled the hangers and two dozen safety pins back to my dry cleaner and he gladly accepted them to be reused.

I’m using the dry cleaner a lot less these days, and at the same time it has become part of my routine to return the accoutrement—including those flimsy plastic bags—for reuse and recycling.

Ask if your dry cleaner will accept returns of hangers and plastic bags



Key clutter

More than two dozen keys! Surely we don't need all of them.Do you have a pile of keys like this in a drawer, or maybe even on hooks? At our house we drop keys into a pottery jar (or onto a kitchen counter). We seem to have a ridiculous amount of keys for two adults.

For a quick sense of accomplishment, I spent five minutes doing what I could to identify keys and then got my husband to try to identify the rest.

  • 13 keys will go to the new owners of our house
  • 1 long-gone Kryptonite bike lock key went in the trash
  • 1 key for a missing locking cable went in the trash
  • 4 mystery keys went in the trash
  • 2 keys are suspected of belonging to my father-in-law and will be checked and returned or trashed
  • some crummy unused key chains also went in the trash

It’s small progress, but it also required very little time or effort, and no emotional decision-making.