Tag Archives: Minimalism

A Churchill Surprise!

Can you believe my time in Churchill is nearly up? I’ve been here for 41 days and I only have six more days to go.

I’ve now seen 11 polar bears. Some from a Tundra Buggy and some peaking inside the Churchill Northern Studies Centre’s (CNSC) windows.

Tundra Buggy

Spotted while on a Tundra Buggy

Peaking at me through the window

As you can imagine, it’s been quite emotional for me to see my favorite animal in the wild. I’m still processing these emotions and how these experiences are changing my life (and, yes, they are). I’m not yet ready to write about them here.

Instead, let me tell you about something that happened in Churchill that took me by surprise. It wasn’t even on my radar for things that could happen here. Yet it happened and I couldn’t be happier.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I am now the proud owner of a sweater. Two, in fact.

Back when I was an over-worked, stressed out college professor, I owned a bunch of sweaters. I also only weighed between 97-107 pounds at that time because I was so unhealthy. I outgrew many of those sweaters once I quit my job and returned to a healthier weight.

But as a minimalist, I’ve been rather reluctant to buy any new clothing.

I’ve written before about how one of my greatest ambitions is to have all of my belongings fit into one backpack. Sweaters are bulky and take up a lot of room.

As such, I never replaced the ones I outgrew. I managed to make it through two Connecticut winters without any.

Although let’s be honest – I spent these last two winters in Connecticut feeling rather cold. I had already made up my mind to get at least one sweater for this coming winter when I returned to Norfolk, so when I was given the opportunity to buy a sweater here in Churchill, I did so with open arms (haha, get it?).

Besides, it’s cold here, too. As I’m writing this blog post, it’s currently 10 degrees Fahrenheit, feels like -7. This is not the coldest I’ve ever been, which happened over a two-week time span in 2009 when windchills in the Chicago suburbs made it feel like -60 degrees Fahrenheit. But I do feel rather chilled.

Here’s the best part about my new sweaters – I bought them at the thrift store underneath St. Paul’s Anglican Church in town. They were each $1 Canadian, which is about 76 cents US.

You know what I also bought for $1 Canadian?

This awesome Columbia Omni Heat Winter Jacket, practically in brand new condition.

Oh, and this XRoads vest. Yes, also $1 Canadian. I get so overheated when I’m bundled up walking dogs in the wintertime, I thought this vest would be better than a coat.

This thrift store has quickly become one of my favorite places in Churchill. It’s only open every other Friday evening from 7 to 9pm.

Wow! Do they have bargains.

As a minimalist, I did experience some angst that I was adding so many “new” clothes to my wardrobe. Altogether, here’s what I bought at the thrift store:

  • two sweaters
  • one winter coat
  • one winter vest
  • one fleece top
  • one bamboo zip-up sweatshirt from the British Columbia SPCA
  • Winnipeg Jets NHL long-sleeved t-shirt
  • Irish Viking Hat to wear on Halloween (which I’ll be donating back to the thrift shop)
  • Striped sweater (for my roommate Rachel who couldn’t come to the thrift shop last time)

My grand total for everything – a whopping $6 Canadian! And I didn’t even pay for all of it myself.

The first week we went to the thrift store, Sarah, one of the cooks at the Churchill Northern Studies Centre, treated me to my first sweater. Canadians really are some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet!

In the spirit of full disclosure, I’m also going to admit that before I even knew about the thrift store’s existence, I had already made two clothing purchases.

First, I bought a CNSC t-shirt that was on clearance. When I packed for this trip, I only brought two short-sleeved t-shirts. Working in the kitchen is kind of messy, especially for me, and after my first week I found two t-shirts woefully inadequate. Since this shirt is Kelly green (one of my favorite colors) and features a polar bear, I thought it would be a good addition to my wardrobe.

Second, I also bought a polar Buff, which features a cool design of the Northern Lights and the CSNC’s name and logo and is much less bulky than a scarf. A scarf was always necessary at the start of all my walks with Dodger last winter, but halfway through the woods I was always unraveling it and tying it around my arm when I became overheated. It then would fall off every so often, get tangled with Dodger’s leash, or drag along the forest floor.

My new Buff will now fit in my pocket, so yay for ease and compactability.

As if I’m now on some sort of clothing bender, I’m also going to cop to buying a t-shirt at one of the souvenir shops in Churchill.

I first saw this Made in the USA polar bear t-shirt way back on Friday, October 5th. I told myself if I was still thinking about the shirt towards the end of my trip, I would buy it since one of my favorite t-shirts, a Hogwarts Alumni one that my niece gave me as a wedding present back in May 2016, is pretty much on its last threads.

I bought the t-shirt last week since I’ve thought about it every single day since.

Oh, and did I mention that the Churchill Northern Studies Centre also gave each of the volunteers their choice of CNSC sweatshirt? And my other roommate Fiona gave me another Buff-like head wrap as she no longer wanted hers?

In the last seven weeks, I’ve increased my total wardrobe by an estimated 50%. It will be interesting to see what my actual clothing counts are when I return to Norfolk and take stock of all that I have.

Not all of my clothes survived our 11,500 mile road trip this summer, like my winter coat (reminder — it was still snowing when we left Montana in July). I also know I’ve worn through some other things, like the aforementioned Hogwarts Alumni t-shirt and one of my Carolina shirts that I’ve had at least six years (I gave that shirt to Dodger so he would remember me while I’m gone).

All my acquisitions on this trip has made me question just how committed to minimalism I am.

Then this morning I read a minimalism blog post from No Side Bar on lessons learned from the death of a parent and I found these words of wisdom especially useful:

Minimalism isn’t about having nothing, it’s about finding true value in what you do have and keeping only what meets your high standards.

And you know what? I’m tired of being cold during the winter. So, hello new high standard of warmth. It’s good to welcome you back into my life again.

I am a little worried about how I’m going to get all my “new” clothes back to Norfolk. I only brought with me my backpack and one of Heath’s duffel bags.

Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be coming back from Churchill with half of a new wardrobe. Yet, here I am.

We’ll see how many layers I can wear at once while on the plane. I’m thinking one pair of long underwear, one pair of yoga pants, snow pants, t-shirt, long underwear long-sleeved t-shirt, sweater, vest, winter coat, scarf, and hat. I suspect I’ll look a little something like this:

At least I’ll be toasty warm!

See you when I get back.

 

Minimalism as a Professional Touchstone

TItle

A few days ago, I received an email from one of my incredibly talented and insightful critique partners. She had been listening to a replay of a free webinar on How Picture Books Work and someone on the webinar named Kelly made the comment, “anything with a dog in it has me interested.” She wanted to know if it was me.

OF COURSE IT WAS!

I also made a comment when discussing personal reactions to the opening scenes of Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are that I could never be too frustrated with Max because kids in wolf costumes are funny.

Where the wild things are Max in wolf costume

This How Picture Books Work webinar was offered by Kids’ Book Revisions and it was taught by Harold Underdown and moderated by Eileen Robinson.

Although I have never had the pleasure of taking a workshop or seminar with Eileen, I attended one of Harold’s presentations at the Children’s Writers of the Hudson Valley summer conference last year. In addition to learning quite a bit, he also startled the bejeezus out of me at a first pages event when he declared the first 100 words of an author’s picture book manuscript were cute and thoroughly enjoyable, but … “So, what?”

“Would someone want to pay $16.95 for this book?” is the rhetorical question he asked the audience.

I felt like a million light bulbs simultaneously went off, then shattered to pieces in my head because I realized that OH. MY. GOSH. Sometimes, my stories will be good, perhaps even great, but that doesn’t mean they are desirable by industry standards.

It’s always a good day when you have a swift kick of humility straight to your head.

I’ve used Harold’s message to help inform which of my manuscripts to submit to my agent and which should simply be exercises in creativity and imagination. His message has also helped me hone in on what types of stories bring me the most joy throughout the creation process, which ultimately lead to stronger and more engaging manuscripts because I am more passionate and invested in them.

Anyone want to guess what kind of characters I feature in those manuscripts? That’s right! Dogs and bears. I suspect anyone who reads this blog on a regular basis will not be surprised.

What was surprising to me, however, was the realization that with this awareness comes a responsibility to stay true to myself. As a minimalist, I enthusiastically proclaim that I don’t want a lot of stuff, and I embrace and even revel in how awesome I find a simple life; yet, how funny that I had ignored how minimalism could improve my approach to writing projects.

Just like the millions of light bulbs going off, then shattering with the “Would someone want to pay $16.95 for this book?” I had the same sort of moment when I realized this insight means letting go of some really great ideas I have for books simply because they don’t align with my personal values that bring me the most joy.

For example, over the winter holidays when I was catching up on my Carolina Alumni Review issues (GO TAR HEELS!),

Carolina AR

I came across a feature article about Zena Cardman ’10, who is the first microbiologist astronaut for NASA and who wants to go to Mars. HOW COOL IS THAT?!?!?

I underlined the article, made margin notes, and thought to myself: this is a story that needs to be told.

Women in Science is so relevant right now to children’s literature and quite a few editors are specifically looking for stories like Zena’s.

But as a minimalist, I’ve learned that I can’t say yes to everything. Doing so makes my life feel unbalanced and anything but simple. I now understand that Zena’s story is not mine to tell. Thinking a story is cool, relevant, and timely is not enough to devote hours and hours to research, writing, and revising, or giving away pieces of my heart, which I feel is necessary for a manuscript to be considered my best work.

Of course, that doesn’t mean I’m going to forget that I ever read Zena’s story.

I have a plan for trying to connect her with a rather successful nonfiction kidlit writer who is currently looking for scientists to interview for her e-zine. Also, if you are a kidlit writer reading this blog post, who just happened to be thinking, I wish I had a cool woman in science story to write about, please reach out to me and I’ll send you a copy of Zena’s Carolina Alumni Review article. She’s an outstanding person and a wonderful role model for our future generation of scientists, and even though I will not be writing her story, I can’t wait for it to get told through a children’s book.

In the meantime, I’m going to continue working on my animal stories because that’s where my heart is. A story about this little girl is still percolating in my mind.

Lelu

And, just yesterday while getting out of the shower, I had an idea for a mashup involving two of my favorite animals. Haha, no¸ this new mashup is not about dogs and bears – I’m already working on that story, thanks to this ball of fluff I got to know in December.

Shiloh

Her name is Shiloh and I’m pretty sure she’s part bear.

This new story is inspired by Smudge and ….

Smudge!

Sorry, but that’s all I’m going to say about that. I have to leave some things left to surprise my readers.

As always, thanks for your encouragement and support. A special shout-out to my new friend Bob, UNC class of ’72, who entertained me yesterday with some fun stories about his and his wife’s life journey to minimalism. I was feeling some bloggy writer’s block earlier and as soon as I hung up the phone with him, I cranked out most of this post. YAY TAR HEELS!

Taking Stock

Taking Stock

Now that we’re settling back into our Connecticut life, I’ve been considering another goal of mine: get all my belongings down to just one backpack.  Yes, this is a lofty goal, and if I’m being honest with myself I’m not entirely sure why I want to take my minimalism to such an extreme point.  I think what it boils down to is I like the freedom and mobility that comes with being able to pick up and move at a moment’s notice.

I’ve done a decent job of whittling away at my belongings.  It was fairly easy to do, what with moving eight times in the last ten years (not counting a few short-term housesitting stints).  When you don’t unpack boxes from one move to the next, that’s a good indicator you do not need those items, whatever they are.

What I’m having the most trouble with at this point is the amount of clothes I have.  For anyone who knows me personally, this may make you laugh, because I pretty much wear the same thing every day: yoga pants/leggings (usually in a fun pattern or bright color) under a black skirt and a t-shirt of some sort.

My Uniform

For curiosity’s sake, I just took stock of my closest and checked my laundry.  Here’s what I own:

  • 13 pairs of yoga pants/leggings
  • 10 pairs of Be Present yoga pants (I’ll come back to why these pants are in a separate category later)
  • 3 long-sleeved t-shirts
  • 7 short-sleeved t-shirts
  • 10 tank tops
  • 3 skirts
  • 2 dresses (including the dress I wore when we eloped)
  • 3 sets of long underwear
  • 2 pair regular underwear
  • 6 bras
  • 13 pairs of socks (3 athletic; 8 wool for hiking; 2 fleece for warmth)
  • 1 pair jammy pants
  • 1 sweater
  • 1 quilted flannel shirt
  • 1 hoodie
  • 1 bathing suit, plus swim bra
  • 1 rash guard
  • 1 all-around scarf
  • 2 winter scarves
  • 2 pair fingerless gloves (including the pair I wore when we eloped)
  • 1 winter hat
  • 2 ear warmers (one handmade by my niece)
  • 1 pair heated gloves
  • 1 pair arm warmers
  • 1 pair leg warmers (a gift from friends when they went to Peru)
  • 1 winter coat
  • 1 up-cycled sweater coat (which I also wore when I eloped and I wear until I need my winter coat)
  • 1 pair sandals
  • 1 pair hiking boots
  • 1 pair “dress” boots I bought in Peru
  • 1 pair Uggs I now mostly wear around the house to keep my feet warm (but I also wore them when we eloped)

Here’s what 95% of the clothes look like all together:

all my clothes text

And in case you’re interested, here’s my full wedding ensemble:

Wedding

Yes, these are all the clothes I own in the world.  For the record, my mom still has some of my clothes from my teenage years and a few fancy dresses stored at the house I grew up in.  I have cheerfully encouraged her to PLEASE DONATE/GET RID OF all of them as I do not want any of it.  She claims she has a plan to do so.  If I didn’t question the ownership of whether those clothes really belong to me at this point, I would haul them all off to the Shining Light Thrift shop first chance I got.

But I digress.  When I looked at my list of clothes, first I felt a moment of disgust.  How can I be a minimalist and own so many t-shirts! You thought I was going to say yoga pants, didn’t you? I promise, I’m getting to that.

I let those feelings of disgust sink in and then realized that while I could cut down a few t-shirts and tank tops, I reminded myself that I only own one sweater.  I use that sweater and my three long-sleeved t-shirts to get me through the winter.  Plus, I like to layer a short-sleeved shirt or tank top over the long-sleeves, just so I have some variety to my wardrobe and then I get to use those shirts year round.

I do admit that 13 pairs of socks are excessive.  That count increased recently by three because I only brought a few pairs of socks with me the two months we were on the road housesitting.  I ended up wearing my hiking boots more than my sandals, which turned out to be not so good for walking long distances, unlike what the Zappos reviews claimed.  After wearing the same pair of socks for an entire week, I finally broke down when my Mom and I were at Costco and she offered to buy me some more.

But now on to those yoga pants. Yes, it is ridiculous for me to have so many.  There are two reasons why I do. First, yoga pants are my underwear since for the most part I treat them like tights.  And although I may wear the same socks for an entire week, that doesn’t seem nearly as gross to me as wearing the same “tights” two days in a row. So, clean yoga pants every day!

Realistically, I know I could halve the number of legging-like yoga pants I have.  At least three pairs are starting to wear out, so I’m hoping I can lessen this number simply by wearing them more.

The second reason I have so many yoga pants is one that I frankly don’t know what to do about.  The 10 pairs of Be Present yoga pants I have were made by a company that went out of business over two years ago.  I LOVE everything about these pants – they’re comfortable, loose, flexible, made-in-the-USA, and the material has a patented breath-weave technology so they dry super quick.  Plus, I have them in some really great colors.  They also are virtually indestructible, as I’ve had most of them for more than 7 years.

Yoga Pants with Smudge

Here’s the problem – they make excellent summer clothes, but during the cold, windy Connecticut winters I almost never wear them.  With my minimalist mentality, this should mean I donate them somewhere because I can wear my other clothes during the summer anyway.

Except…once the Be Present pants are gone, I can never get them back.  I have a profound sense of fear that if I give them away, I will someday regret it.

Have I ever donated/sold/trashed anything that I then regretted?  Just once.  Last summer, when a huge snake took up residence in the compost bin where we were housesitting, I wished I still had my rubber rain boots.  But I knew that once we left that house in August, I wouldn’t have a need for them.  So I sucked up my fear and instead wore my hiking boots outside in the yard.  That snake never did end up slithering across my feet (THANK GOD).

And I have lost a pair of my Be Present yoga pants – a bright and shimmery pink pair – that several times over the past year I wished I still had because I wanted to wear them.

This situation is quite the spiritual conflict for me.  If I truly believe in the spiritual law of circulation (that whatever you give, you receive back), then I should be able to let go of some of these pants.  Yet, for some reason I can’t let go of my attachment.

Thankfully, this is not a choice I have to decide RIGHT NOW.  We’ll be in Norfolk until May, 2018, and I won’t have to pack any bags until then.  Also, anything and everything could be different with our life at that point in time and there’s a good chance I will have worn through several items of clothing on my above list.  Still, I think it’s good to know how I’m holding myself back on my spiritual journey.  In the coming weeks, I will certainly reflect on what these yoga pants mean to me and try to gain some insight.  If I come up with anything, I will let you know.  Until then…peace, love, and yoga pants!