Thursday, January 1, 2009

Treading Water in the Sea of Good Intentions

I’m in danger of drowning in the sea of my own good intentions, and let’s face it, none of the following items could serve as a life preserver: scrapbooking supplies, unread bargain books, specialty Bundt pans, the response cards from my 2003 wedding, a 12-pack of organic tomato paste from Costco, a pillow case full of the notes I received in high school, the Dancing With the Stars workout DVD, an impressive collection of miniature hotel toiletries, or more pairs of running shoes and flip-flops than someone who rarely works out and does not live anywhere near the beach ought to own.

To be clear, I am not an obsessive hoarder (like those featured on Oprah). I don’t even consider myself a hardcore packrat. Thankfully I have not filled our house with expensive things we cannot afford, but I have filled it with many things that we don’t need, use, or enjoy.

When I choose to buy or save something, I have the best intentions. I buy workout DVDs because I intend to workout. I save my high school notes, eighth grade autograph book, and almost every post card I have ever been sent because I intend to look at them again and, I don’t know . . . discover the secret of who I am? share them with my kids someday? donate them to the Smithsonian? remind myself to “stay cool and have a great summer”? I overstock my pantry with ingredients (but usually not all the ones required) for various healthy or interesting recipes I intend to make. I save my college t-shirts (and my husband’s) in a bin because I intend to use the sewing machine I do not know how to use (or even thread) to turn them into a t-shirt quilt. Seriously. Some of my good intentions do produce good results, but not often enough to justify all the stuff and I'm getting weary of shuffling the stuff around waiting for “someday” when I will use, need, or enjoy it.

So, here’s the plan. Almost every day in 2009, I will report to you on an item I have decided to use or lose. The items I “lose” will be donated, pitched, or otherwise removed from my life and home. The items I choose to “use” will be ones that are currently taking up space until, you know, “someday.” So, for example, eating a Lean Cuisine will not count as a "Use it!" but finding something to do with the half gallon of half and half in my fridge (that seems destined to be pitched, mostly untouched, when it expires) would count. My posts will be on the brief side (they’ll have to be or I won’t be able to keep up). I hope that those of you who also struggle with stuff might be entertained (I will not go so far as to say inspired) by them. I will do my best to be creative in my losing and using.

A few guidelines: I do not want my “stuff” to become someone else’s burden. Therefore, I will not be donating items that I cannot in good conscience see someone else using/appreciating. I will not take advantage of other good-intentioned souls who might be susceptible to taking items off my hands that they are not likely to use or enjoy. If someone is interested in an item, I will happily hand it over. However, I will passing off my undervalued, underused items as gifts for others. I will be throwing away some things that may have some use value to someone somewhere or in some situation. There will be some waste. For that I am sorry, but I will do my best to make up for it by trying to end (or at least stem) the cycle of waste this year, to stop buying crap I don’t need, use, or enjoy (broken record, sorry). I’m not sure about blogging about this effort (“I was at Target and tempted to buy a vanilla candle but then didn’t . . .”) would make for riveting reading, but I am committed to this change even if I am not documenting it. My new mantra: I have everything I need.

Finally, I suspect that “Just use it or lose it” is not an ideal title for this project. There are, after all, items that I do not “use” but that I am also unwilling to lose. There are some items for which I think a “someday” may really come. Perhaps once I get into the use it or lose it habit, I will get a perspective on that "someday" though.

I'm going to see where each day takes me in terms of losing and using, but I do have three specific challenges in the “Use it!” category.
1. Try one new recipe from every cookbook I own. If I haven’t made something out of the cookbook by the end of the year, I have to lose it.
2. Learn to thread my sewing machine.
3. Make a list of “the lingerers,” the 8-10 books I have never been able to give away but also have never read. Many of these books have moved with me three or more times. As with the cookbooks, these lingerers need to get read in 2009 or find a new home.
4. Deal with the items on my hubby’s “(S)Hit List” (currently being formulated) at my own pace. These are the items whose purpose he questions.

If you’re at all interested, intrigued, or inspired, I would love for you to join me. Comments of support and encouragement are always welcome, but I would also like for readers to use the comments section of each post to report on their own efforts to use it or lose it each day.

Please join me as I lose (and use) my stuff before I lose my mind.

And, just to get the ball rolling, today’s report is a “Use It!”: I am making Chocolate Chips Cookies from The Magnolia Bakery Cookbook. I received the book for Christmas last year. I made my first recipe--some very tasty dreamsicle-type cookies that also required my zester (Use It!)--three weeks ago. I am hoping to get 2009 off to a sweet start by trying another new recipe from this cookbook.


CaraBee said...

What a great idea! I could use some support in the use or lose it department myself. My list is pretty long. I have a house full of items that my husband questions their use/fullness. Not to mention several cookbooks that I asked for that I have not made one recipe from in a year, or more.

T-Baby said...

I am big supporter of this project as the amount of "stuff" our household seems to accumulate is amazing. I will also attest to the fact that Meppie did make the cookies. I highly recommend the dreamsicle cookies.

Kristina said...

Andy and I are big fans and plan to join you in this effort. I will try and report to you on a weekly basis of our use it or lose it items!
Happy New Year! -K

LAP said...

I look forward to reading about your use it or lose it ventures. I am amazed at how quickly and unknowingly things accumulate. While BB is a Nazi when it comes to things like keeping the fridge stocked only with things that will get used, there are other areas where a good purging would be great. My big thing is that everything needs to have a place (something learned from who else, but Oprah) so for things that have no home, I need to make room for them or just get rid of them.

As a side note, I'd love to see T-Baby's S-hit list:)

Bailey said...

What a good idea!

You've inspired me to go get a library card today instead of buying books on Amazon.

cake said...

aww MEP, just more evidence that you are a girl after my own heart!

i know there are boxes of things that i will keep, will continue to drag around with me move after move after move. those are "keepsakes." but i am with you on all the other crap that i've managed to surround myself with. it is so much worse now, with cosmo's stuff too. i have a very hard time getting rid of toys he's outgrown, because he always seems to find a new way of playing with it, moments before i plan to take it to the goodwill.

but, you are a great inspiration, and i will support you in your efforts by trying it myself, and posting comments here.

cake said...

also, i love your mantra.
i have a small card with blue, hand-script font print that reads,

"everything you need lies within you."

i have kept this card in my bathroom, usually near the mirror somewhere, for over 10 years. it is a great reminder.

Kathy Mick Prough said...

hey MEP!

Love reading this and am already doing something like this of my own; i pitch pitch pitch, or better yet, recycle, recycle, recycle. and am also trying to use everything in my pantry before we go to the store, except for essentials like milk, bread, etc. i saw the oprah show yesterday for only 5 minutes, but it re-ignited what i started over new year's. loving this and will be alongside you, doing my own version! GO US!!!!!!!