Category Archives: Clutter

Less Stuff

People who have a lot of stuff at home are usually surprised at how much less stuff we have in our house.

Our house’s sparseness isn’t by necessity or due to lack of money. We’re not really minimalists or cheap.

In our case, it’s the result of a system rather than the goal of being minimalists. By just optimizing our lives for happiness rather than maximum consumption we just wound up with less stuff.

There’s less to worry about, clean, or have to make room for. Having less stuff is an easier and simpler way to go through life. End of story.

Give up the bottle

ethiqueWhy not make shampoo and conditioners in bar form?

The next question is, why hasn’t this been done before? Bar shampoo seems like a logical step forward because it doesn’t need a plastic container and it’s cheaper to ship because there’s no need to ship the water normally in shampoo.

The reverse happened awhile back – some companies start selling harder-to-use liquid body soap in place of easier-to-use bar soap. I’m sure it’s marketing and trying to keep up with the competition.

Now, a company called Ethique is selling shampoo, conditioner and soap in bar form. Ethique uses packaging that’s plastic-free, made of biodegradable, compostable material.

“The more I thought about it, the crazier it seemed to me that we pay gobs of money for all that water packaged in plastic,” founder Brianne West told Forbes.

All the products are made from natural ingredients and have eliminated the need for another plastic bottle bobbing around in the trash.


Food for thought

old stadiumIn our car the other day, we wanted to know the price difference between the US dollar and the Australian dollar ten years ago. A quick internet inquiry on our smart phone gave us the answer. It would’ve been a pain in the ass tracking down that obscure tidbit of info a few years ago.

There’s so much food for thought sloshing around the internet. I realized this past week I’d collected some interesting snippets of information. They’re unrelated to each other except that they’re weird ideas gleaned from cyberspace. Here are some of them.

When the system is evil people will do evil things. A recently published book called “The American Slave Coast: A History of the Slave-Breeding Industry” points out a disturbing commodification of humans when they’re bought and sold: “The price of a slave peaked in his or her late teens. There was another price spike upwards at about age eight, when child mortality declined.”

Okay, maybe an argument can be made that this falls under a similar category – when the system is bad people will do bad things. In an article about how rapidly marriage is changing the author made an interesting point, “If monogamy were natural we probably wouldn’t need to have so many rules about it.”

A happiness study looked at two factors characterizing basic differences between ancestral and modern life, population density and frequency of socialization with friends. Population density is negatively associated, and frequency of socialization with friends is positively associated with life satisfaction – except that “More intelligent individuals experience lower life satisfaction with more frequent socialization with friends.”

Sometimes making a change can be upsetting, consider this snippet about education, “The access to teacher training in Finland is highly competitive; there’re ten applicants for every training place to become a primary schoolteacher. It doesn’t seem  to dawn upon those in Britain and the US who want to implement the Finnish system that it’d mean firing something like three-quarters of the current teachers.”

Then there was this bridge between prehistoric and current times, “Tusks from dead mammoths, found in the frozen Siberian tundra, have risen to account for as much as 20 percent of all ivory production. Crunching the numbers, the researchers concluded, ‘Mammoth ivory trade may be saving elephants from extinction.'”

Does it spark joy?

cool pattern on a potAlfred Hitchcock said, “Movies are like real life but with the boring parts cut out.” What things are you dragging along in your life that don’t serve you anymore? Why hang on to those things?

I just finished a book about decluttering called “The life-changing magic of tidying up” by Marie Kondo. It’s hard to believe there’s enough advice on decluttering to fill a book, but there is.

Kondo is an expert at helping people declutter their homes and there’s a three-month waiting list for her help.

Her book covers her experiences and the techniques that she uses to help people streamline their accumulated stuff.

Her central technique is determining whether or not something “sparks joy.” If it does, keep it. Otherwise out it goes. When you hold something it should be bringing you surprise and delight, not a gotcha feeling arising from having to store and manage that thing.

According to Kondo sorting through your stuff should be treated as a one time event (a celebration of sorts) after which your decision making will be refined enough to prevent another build up of stuff that doesn’t spark joy in you.  “Why? Because tidying is not the purpose of life.” she says.

There’s an important hierarchy for sorting. She insists that the easiest stuff to get rid of be tackled first – your clothes. You need to save the hardest, photos, for last. Her reasoning is that you’ll be strengthening your decision making ability by following a particular order: clothes, books, papers, random stuff, sentimental possessions, and photos.

Another clever part of Kondo’s decluttering technique is bringing everything in a category, say clothes, to one spot in your house before deciding what stays or goes. In other words, don’t do your sorting room by room. All the clothes must be in one location.

She has other tips to make decluttering more successful. Do it alone, especially don’t let your Mom be there. Another is using black plastic bags for the discarded stuff to discourage “re-evaluating.”

This book is a great place to start when you’re ready to declutter your life. One of her client realized that, “Letting go is more important than adding.”

If simplicity really is the highest form of sophistication, start by getting rid of the boring parts.

EDC again

red bagEDC stands for “every day carry,” the stuff you carry around when you leave the house.

There’s a subculture of people interested in displaying, discussing, and looking at EDC of other folks. I don’t know how big the EDC subculture is, but it’s big enough to have sites online dedicated to EDC.

I wrote about EDC years ago. It was a guilty pleasure for a while. But eventually, most of the EDC submissions begin looking similar: keys, a knife( usually a Spyderco), an expensive penlight, a multitool (usually a Leatherman), and a few other bits and bobs. So I stopped visiting.

Then I checked in on the EDC scene last week.

The stuff being carried every day isn’t much different except for newer iPhones and such. The site though is more sophisticated. Maybe monetized would be a better way to say it. Now, when you let your cursor hover over an EDC photo, each item is overlaid with a number corresponding to numbered hot links just below the photo. If you click on the item description you’ll be sent to Amazon, or some other vendor. There are even notes in the description to let you know if an item is on sale.

The newer format also has lots of little features, ads really, about new gear for EDC.

One thing that’s the same as before is how new and unused the items seem in almost every submission. The submissions with items that appear to be actually carried every day really stand out. Maybe the new, slicker format feeds into the EDC crowd who’re more about style than actually carrying the stuff they fetishize about.


The big house trick

tiny house in whiteWe live in a small house in Mexico. There’s a little grocery store about a block away and a laundry a half block from us. Before you get to the store, there’s a tortilla shop and across street from the laundry is a place selling roasted chickens. We’re surrounded by little businesses in our neighborhood. Within a block and a half radius of our house, there’s a hardware store, coffee shop, a kite shop, several restaurants, and more.

So it’s easy pretending we live in a house that’s about a block square. If I need something for the kitchen, going to the store is like walking to the pantry in a big house. The big house trick.

We store stuff at the store, instead of our small house.

There’s no reason for buying a plastic wrapped cube of 72 rolls of toilet paper we’d need to store somewhere while slowly chipping away at it when I can buy a few rolls at a time at our “pantry.” We don’t need to stock up.

Sure, we go to the big box stores sometimes too. But it’s for things we can’t get somewhere else. Those trips aren’t for bulk purchases that’ll clutter our house, becoming a pain in the neck instead of convenient and thrifty. It’s not thrifty if you have to pay for a bigger house to accommodate more  stuff, and then you need to heat, air condition,and clean the extra space.

Super-sized packs of things can erode a peaceful and relaxing home when there’s not enough room for them. A cluttered home quickly becomes a source of stress nibbling away at your tranquillity because you feel like a hoarder.

There’s no need to stock up. The apocalypse isn’t near, unless you consider running out of dish soap the end of the world.

Plus it’s nice walking to the store visiting with people along the way and in the shop.

The Slow Web

Disappearing down a digital rabbit hole is easy to do on the web.

Information access is so fast now that  spending lots of time repeatedly checking updates and sites is the norm.

I’m trying to create a better user experience for myself that’s more enjoyable by slowing down how I access the web. A good analogy might be the trend away from fast food towards slow food. The slow web.

It’s easy to build up a backlog of sites, articles, blogs, and emails. What seemed like it might make your life better, winds up adding  stress. It’s the newest version of the growing stack of magazines you’d keep adding to with the best intentions of reading each one, but never actually got around to them.

Here’s what I’ve been doing:

First, trash most of your “stack of stuff” you’ll never get around to and create a “Backlog” folder for the stuff you can’t justify trashing. You can keep some expiration date in mind and trash the Backlog file later.

I’ve created six other files on my browser.

One file is called “Daily.”

And the five others are labeled for each day of the workweek, “Monday” through “Friday.”

I grouped the stuff I check everyday like email, the NYT, and Seth Godin’s blog and put them into the “Daily” file. Infrequently updated sites were randomly put into the “day” folders, with each folder holding three to ten sites.

Now each day of the week, I check in on the “Daily” and that day of the week’s folder. Saturday and Sunday don’t have folders. I’m trying to use the computer even less on the weekends, so I only open the “Daily” folder. It’s pretty simple.

So far I’ve found a week is enough time to allow a site’s material to accumulate. For sites  that aren’t very active, I made a “15th of the month” folder and I check it on the 15th.

When I stumble across a new site I like, I bookmark it and it stays there. Later, if I like it,  I’ll move to a day of the week folder.

There’re still the other older folders in my browser for reference, like: Doctors, Spanish, Travel, etc. Usually, I open those as needed.

This slow web idea is working out well for me; and it’s still fun to disappear down a digital rabbit hole.



Travel Essentials

I like traveling without a lot of stuff and rarely have checked luggage.

For temperate weather travel, everything fits into an easy-to-tote (not a rolling) bag, something light with a shoulder strap. With this set up I can take the stairs, move about more quickly, have easy access to my stuff.

Here’s the stuff I always travel with on any trip:

In a hangable toiletries bag: Earplugs for blocking out jet engines droning, roosters crowing, and babies crying. Toothbrush, paste, and floss for a shiny fresh smile. Deo for my fellow coach class travelers. A small headlamp allowing hands free mobility in the dark. An eyeglass cleaning cloth for all the lens smudges from kissing international travelers on the cheek. A couple of Ambien pills for jet lag or mental chatter inducing new spaces. And fingernail clippers because short fingernails will stay cleaner. My hair’s so short I just take traveling as an opportunity to let it go crazy (along with the beard) if the trip is shorter than a week or so.

A large outer zippered pocket on my bag holds: My passport, some gum, my Kindle, my car and house keys for my return home, along with a notebook and pen for jotting down interesting things I hear or see.

In my back pocket lives my wallet with credit card, debit card, license, cash, and my  Mexican visa.

Inside the bag there’s usually two changes of clothesunderwear, and socks. And a hat, my hair doesn’t grow fast enough to protect my scalp. Sometimes I’ll have an extra pair of shoes in there depending on the destination.

I know, what about a computer? If I think I’ll use it, I might take it along, but I can usually find a cyber cafe or use someone’s for a quick check.

What’s the one thing you can’t travel without?

Traveling really is easier with less stuff.



In general, I’m curious about how people prefer to organize and do things.  How people use their computers is a small black hole. While there’s a certain framework imposed by your computer’s software, how you arrange your computer experience is up to you.

Everyone who uses a computer a lot must have their own system of getting around on their computer and retrieving information. Since surfing with your computer is a solitary pursuit, people usually aren’t aware of how others organize their experience. Some people probably don’t care so there’re items all over the place, like a messy room but they know where everything is. And other people streamline their layouts.  I’m not sure how you do it, but this is how I do it and it seems to work well for me.

I’m prefer a simple and easy system. On my desktop, for example, I only have two icons, one for my hard drive and one for photos.  I don’t use rss feeds or other notifications when there’s fresh content; instead I prefer checking in on sites I like, confident (based on experience with each site) that there’ll be new content available.

Every few weeks I’ll delete any sites I don’t want to follow, sort of like scraping the barnacles from the hull. I try to keep the number of sites in the first four categories at a manageable 15 or so. If I don’t cull underused sites from my categories, my computer experience  gets to the point of feeling that you need to keep up with all of the sites you have bookmarked. Under “Bookmarks,” I use groupings of sites based on how often I check in on those sites.

There are lots of different titled folders, From BANKING to WEATHER, under the bookmarks heading but they’re not often needed or visited. I find myself mostly visiting the first four bookmark titles on my computer. Here’re the titles and description along with a few examples of sites:

FREQUENT – these are sites I visit at least once a day: my email,, NYT, a surf report, Seth Godin, ….

OCCASIONAL – for sites that I check once a week usually: Dan Savage’s podcast, Leo                            Babauta’s, Colossal, Doug McGuff, …

IN THE WINGS – Basically a waiting room for sites I run across and think I might like. This category is added to and subtracted from constantly.

REFERENCE – A general category containing sites I might look at once or twice a month: the Selby, TED talks, Capoeira sites, …

That’s it in a nutshell. Streamlining and editing what’s on my computer is what I’ve found makes my computer more enjoyable to use.

La Tienda

La Tienda means “the store” in Spanish. In Mexico, la tienda is usually a small neighborhood store that sells most of the things people need. There’s still one every few blocks in Mexico just as there were a generation ago in most cities and towns in the States.

When I was a kid growing up in New Orleans our tienda was Saladino’s just a couple of blocks from our house. It was snuffed out by mass culture before I made it into middle school. We used to buy candy there just like I see kids doing at tiendas here in Mexico. Those kids I see now probably won’t appreciate their little neighborhood tienda either until they’re older and it’s gone.

I love going to tiendas, just looking around at the wide range of objects for sale that have made it through a Darwinian “survival of the fittest” economic sieve. You find mostly grocery items; but tucked away in there you’ll see super glue, hanks of nylon cord, hair dyes, mesh shopping bags, medicines, and on and on. And it’s all shoehorned into a space the size of a McMansion’s bedroom.

Tiendas service a customer base small enough that you can still get store credit. Your tab is handwritten in a notebook; they know who you are and where you live.

My tienda is about a block from our house. It’s called El Indio, The Indian. More often tiendas are named after the owner with the English words “Super Mini” in front of the name. So it’s no surprise El Indio is usually referred to by the first name of the owner (Leo’s) by most of it’s customers.

Leo’s is open early and closes around 11 at night. If you hit it at the wrong time, checking out is like traffic in India, crazy and chaotic but some how it flows with stops and starts. Often, you’ll need to jockey for position at the checkout between a sweaty laborer buying ice cold Pacificos after work and a wobbly grandmother buying fresh cilantro for her familys’ dinner. It’s civil, but the Summer in Central Mexico in a tienda is a toasty place to be and most shoppers are keen to get somewhere cooler.

Because a tienda is usually close to your house it functions almost like a pantry – that’s a block away. You don’t really need to keep lots of supplies at home since whatever you might run out of is only  half minute away. So you wind up going to the tienda on almost a daily basis.

Which is fine by me.