Financial documents—keep or toss?

Last week I taught a class on simplifying, and a common goal was clearing stacks of papers off the dining room table. Special angst was reserved for “financial documents,” which tend to stick around because they need review and/or filing. Or do they? It quickly became clear that none of us felt completely confident about what documents should be kept and which should be shredded.

Thanks to my friend Lisa for pointing out this short list from Real Simple magazine of what to save and for how long. I’ve added my own version below.  Continue reading

We get to choose

Today was TBS (throwback Sunday). On a gorgeous summer afternoon, my husband and I were sweating and dodging cobwebs in a stinking basement, trying to make sense of stuff. Our stuff.

If you’ve been reading this blog from the beginning, you may be scratching your head. Didn’t I proclaim a while back that I was now in the “maintenance phase” of reducing our stuff? Well, yes. And the best explanation I can offer for this last unaddressed storage area is “out of sight out of mind.” We are finally dealing with it because, thankfully, we have a deadline imposed on us.

It’s probably good to have a throwback day. To feel resentful about having to deal with stuff. To feel guilty about what we are putting in the trash and into the Goodwill pipeline (will anyone want a single wine glass from a vineyard they’ve never visited? a sand-caked Frisbee?). To feel ashamed that our prosperity has allowed us to acquire so much stuff—the cost of which, in many cases, has been subsidized by people working in other parts of the world—that we can’t wait to give it away or throw it away.

In case I’ve bummed you out, I’ll hurry up to the good part:  stuff comes into our lives because of choices we make, and it is fully within our power—each of us—to make different choices.

Today and tomorrow, I will choose less.

Simplifying at Home class—June 23

This is for folks in the Twin Cities.

If you’d like to spend part of an evening making a concrete plan to reduce your stuff—with the support, encouragement, and ideas of others working toward the same goal—please join me for Simplifying at Home: Living Better, a class I’m offering through St. Paul Community Education.

Tuesday, June 23
6:30 – 8:30 pm
1780 W. 7th St., St. Paul
Click here to register

How fun would it be for me to get to meet some of you local readers?! Come to the class!


Back to basics

If you’re reading a simplifying blog, you probably already know basic steps for taking charge of your stuff. In case you’re not already taking advantage of those basic steps, however, here’s a list straight from the August 2013 edition of Family Circle magazine,* with my comments.

1. “Stow as you go”

As much as possible, put things away as you go. Hang up clothes when you take them off. Keep countertops free. Open/recycle/attend to mail every day (tips for reducing junk mail in the U.S.).

2. Spend just a few minutes a day de-cluttering.

The idea is to make a daily habit of not letting unwanted/unneeded items accumulate.

3. Carve out a place to store bulk items.

I’m generally not a fan of buying in gross, unless it’s something like toilet paper or dog food. “Only purchase what you really need and have plenty of space to store,” concludes Family Circle.

4. Streamline rooms fast by tossing trash.

If you have kids, especially, you’ve probably got broken bits, odds and ends, and plain old junk that can easily be recycled or thrown away.

5. Give storage an expiration date.

“Pack away anything you haven’t used in the last year. After six months, reevaluate whether you still need it. Ask yourself what’s worth more, the belongings or the real estate they’re occupying in your life,” says Family Circle.

6. Use the 30-second rule to pare down.

When you can’t easily decide if something should stay or go, use technique number 5 above and consider shortening the storage period to one month.

7. Divide and conquer.

To make the process of reducing your things easier, tackle one small area or one group of like items at a time. For example, put all shoes and boots together, then sort and evaluate. If you’ve got a few hours of uninterrupted time, here are my tips for taking on a kitchen or bathroom.

8. For each item you buy, get rid of one in its place.

A rigid one-for-one approach doesn’t work for me, but I think the spirit of this is critical. We need to be more intentional about what we bring into our homes and avoid reverting to old buying habits or we risk undoing all of the hard effort we’ve already put into reducing our stuff.

9. Beware of gifts and freebies.

“We should ask ourselves, ‘Would I spend money on this?,'” says Brooks Palmer, author of Clutter Busting. I decline all promotional giveaways, even if I get confused or rejected looks in return, because I don’t want another plastic water bottle or bag or cheap plastic toy.

10. When you need help deciding what to part with, enlist someone whose opinion you trust.

Look for someone who can give you an honest and objective—but caring—assessment. It’s even better if that person has experience and can advise you on different ways to get rid of unwanted items (consignment, Craigslist,, donation, recycling, trash).

It goes without saying that the steps above are ideally a household affair, not the domain of a single person. Here’s my post on negotiating the simplifying journey with others.

* The women’s magazine Family Circle was a staple in my home growing up, so when an old edition turned up on the reading cart at work it caught my eye!

Motherlode blog on balancing home and work

The author of “The Sweet Spot: Advice for Finding Your Groove at Home and Work”—which I want to read based simply on its promising title—is going to be coaching three American working mothers via the New York Times’s Motherlode blog.

The first bit of advice is to set up boundaries around checking email/Facebook/news feeds.

Intuitively I know this is a good idea and a year ago I wrote on this blog that I was going to do that. And then I didn’t.

I’ll be interested to read in the Motherlode blog if working mother Julie—who said “I know intellectually that I have a great life, but I want to feel it and appreciate it emotionally”—is able to stick to the new boundaries she set and whether she finds some relief by using technology more strategically.

* * *

An hour after publishing what you see above I thought “Hey, I’m not giving myself enough credit!” I have made changes that bring me closer to having social media and easy access to information work for me, rather than being such a passive (and twitchy) consumer. If you’re in the midst of making changes, I hope you stop to appreciate the progress you’ve already made toward your goals.


Simple household cleaners

simple home cleanersI am not an early adopter, but once I find something I like I am fiercely loyal. This was my trajectory with simple cleaning products. If you haven’t already made this switch, like 10 years ago, I’m here to say it’s easier than you think and yes, they work.

You can see most of my kit in the picture.


There are recipes for making your own laundry soap, but I’ve heard that they can be hard on fine fabrics, so I use a “green” commercial laundry soap. No dryer sheets—they coat your clothes and your dryer filter, and that coating can eventually cause your dryer to fail. No bleach—it’s not good for human or pet health or the environment, and like dryer sheets I consider it unnecessary. I do use a stain spray because I have a six year old boy and, yes, I totally cheated by not including that in the picture (it ruined the composition).


Switching to homemade bathroom cleaners requires an upfront investment that quickly pays off:

  • two spray bottles
  • funnel
  • tea tree oil plus a good-smelling essential oil (if you use lavender oil or lemon oil, you’re adding to the antibacterial properties of the tea tree oil, borax and vinegar)
  • borax (look for it in the laundry soap aisle)
  • white vinegar (oh, wait, I already had that)
  • liquid dishsoap (had that too)
  • baking soda (…had it)
  • water

Glass cleaner: mix 1/4 c. white vinegar with 2 c. water in a spray bottle (that’s an “official” recipe—I don’t actually measure); the vinegar scent quickly disappears and if I wipe sufficiently there’s no streaking.

Surface cleaner (I do measure these ingredients): dissolve 1 t. borax in 2 c. hot water and let cool before adding in a spray bottle to 1/2 t. liquid dish soap; 3 T. white vinegar; 5 drops tea tree oil; 15 drops good-smelling essential oil

Boosting the surface cleaner: if you use bar soap (see my recommendation for an alternative to shaving cream), or have mildew on your tile grout, or for some other reason you need to scrub your sink, bathtub or tile, baking soda works well; spray surface cleaner or glass cleaner (vinegar kills mildew), sprinkle baking soda, and scrub away with a sponge or old toothbrush; of course there are mildew and soap scum sprays that allow you to skip most of the scrubbing, but over the long term they’re not good for tile or grout and they’re not good for human health.

Toilet bowl cleaner: I use borax the way I would any other powdered toilet bowl cleaner, i.e. the borax crystals boost the friction power of the toilet brush and act as an antimicrobial agent.

plastic sink uncloggerUnclogging the sink: you’ve probably heard that commercial drain cleaners can ruin your pipes if overused; a better alternative to removing the horribleness that prevents the water from draining is a saw-toothed piece of plastic designed just for this job.

(Yick. Glad to be done writing about bathroom cleaning.)


Oven: you know those oven cleaner sprays that smell so toxic–especially when heated–that you need to leave the room or house when they’re doing their job? yeah, toxic. I have an ordinary oven and, because of multiple bubbling over incidents, it needed to be cleaned. I used a plastic scrubber (that blue thing in the picture that originally had a ball shape), some baking soda and my spray glass cleaner, and some cloth rags I threw away when I was done. Because I am a careless/distracted cook, I should probably just line the bottom of the oven with aluminum foil (I found 100% recycled aluminum foil at my food coop).

Surfaces: I use a clean dishcloth and a little soapy water.

Garbage disposal: I run the disposal with a chunk of fresh or frozen lemon.


Hardwood, laminate and tile floors: for normal dirt, I vacuum or use a dry Swiffer to pick up hair and other bits, then get on my knees with a cloth rag and warm water (wring most of the water out)—it’s more work than just going over the surface with a wet Swiffer cloth, but also more effective. I was told by a hardwood floor specialist to never use Murphy’s Oil Soap.


I use a cloth rag. No spray.


If you have other suggestions for simple, green cleaners, please share them!