Sustainability down under (or how I spent part of my summer vacation)

July disappeared in the blink of my eyes. It was a milestone month that marked both my 25th anniversary as a San Franciscan/Californian and the 10th anniversary of my business. Initially I had visions of a celebration where I’d bring clients past and present together to get to know one another and exchange stories. Instead I hemmed and hawed under the radar about taking off a generous bit of time in the middle of the month and joining my husband, Sven, on a work trip to attend the Ecocity World Summit. Coming immediately on the heels of a long-planned vacation to visit family and friends in Europe, indulging in a second overseas excursion in two months seemed a bit over the top.

A handful of pros outweighed the cons rather quickly – among them being the opportunity to explore the world’s most livable city (as it’s been designated since 2011) on a continent neither of us had yet to visit. And then there was the chance to see former Vice President Al Gore present a keynote. Can you see how all of that added up to a good excuse catalyst to jet off to Melbourne, Australia?

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Things Can Really Hang You Up the Most

The content of this post was written by my friend, Paul Overton, teacher, creator, seeker, writer,  Renaissance man, and as you’ll soon read, active liberator of spaces. He shared it on facebook earlier today, and it kind of blew my mind. It has been reproduced here in its entirety with his permission. You are invited follow him at https://www.facebook.com/dudecraft.

It’s five a.m. and I’m sitting on the floor of my apartment with a shirt in each hand, trying to decide whether to keep either of them. I have been doing this for ten minutes, and god knows how long it might go on.

I’m supposed to have a simple rule in place that keeps these things from happening: If I haven’t worn it or used it in the last two months, it goes. But the practical side of downsizing is always more complicated. The first few items are easy. Stuff I haven’t used, worn, or looked at in a year or more goes without a second thought. “Good job!”, I tell myself. “You’re really editing now!” But when you get down to three or four-hundred possessions, your stuff starts to put up a fight, and what seems like a straightforward “stay or go” proposition can become so fraught with emotion and nostalgia that a sort of object paralysis sets in. I can spend hours weighing the pros and cons of a potato peeler if I’m not careful, and the importance of that decision can balloon in significance until it seems as crucial as choosing a university or investing in the stock market.

It sounds insane. And it is, in a way. It’s addict behavior. I am asking a part of my brain to do the opposite of what it has been conditioned to do and, unsurprisingly, it’s fighting me every step of the way…inventing justifications and playing on my emotions to prevent me from simplifying my life. But, why? Why are my attachments to things so hard to break?

Aside from the obvious social conditioning that we have all been subjected to that tells us to constantly consume, rather than pay attention to what’s actually important, I think it has to do with fear. My brain knows that if I get rid of all the non-essential possessions in my life, then my focus may shift from thinking about what I might buy next to what I might do with all the freedom that comes along with voluntary simplicity…and that is terrifying. “What happens then?”, says my brain, as it’s flipping out about the unknown and imbuing things like lemon zesters with inflated significance. “What happens if you fight your programming and become radically free from the urge to hold onto useless things? Then what will we do?”

My brain, in actuality, would rather not know the answer to that question…because it would mean a foundational change in my way of being…and that means a lot of work. My brain hates to break habits when I ask it to, and this would be the biggest one I’ve ever set it to work on.

It also knows that by making big shifts that appear to be abnormal by society’s standards, my relationships may be affected, and my brain is afraid of being seen as a weirdo, or rather, MORE of a weirdo. It just wants me to assimilate and be comfortable with the routine. Work, buy stuff, keep an eye on the Joneses, blend in, etc. But that’s not what my gut, or soul, or higher self is interested in. My soul, for lack of a less woo-woo word, wants to see what’s possible. It knows that stuff is meaningless and that, out there beyond it, is something infinitely more interesting. It knows that shedding objects may be the first step in shedding a multitude of other fears, self-limiting beliefs, and habits that my brain has been steadfastly maintaining for decades…and it has a strong suspicion that if we can manage to get over this hilltop, we might see something that resembles the truth and sets us free.

This is the thought that I’m keeping in front of me as my brain tries to convince me that because a shirt says Brooks Brothers on it, it has some kind of intrinsic value beyond its “shirtness”. Twenty minutes in, I’m fed up and I quickly stuff both shirts in the Goodwill bag while my brain isn’t looking, and then throw the bag in my car before it has a chance at any further protest. I might regret it, but I probably won’t.

Like it or not…we’re doing this, brain.

GSD: An alternative productivity acronym

Me: What’s the hardest thing about tackling certain projects or items on your to-do list?

(If you have a list, I think I know what you’re going to say.)

You: Getting started.

(If you don’t have a list, I think I know what you’re going to say.)

You: I should probably have a list.

(Yup. That’s what I thought.) Continue reading

Zen and the art of disruption

The topic of this post was nowhere on my running list of things to write about, but sometimes life or the random or unplanned event zips itself to the beginning of the queue, screams for attention, and ends up being shared like this:

I usually experience the before-during-after of home remodels, construction, and the like through the eyes and emotions of my clients. As the calm and practical voice of reason who can see where they are, where they’re going, and how to bring them back to center, I’m called on to help with the preparation, navigation, and resettlement img_7428of their spaces and minds.

As a long-time renter, and unlike many homeowners, I had yet to experience the temporary life-interrupting effects of residing in my home while contractors did their thing. Leave it to some defective paint issues in an old Victorian to provide such an opportunity. Continue reading

Chaos to clarity

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Describing what they face as the familiar clutter, mess, chaos, disarray, congestion, roadblocks, or the unique paper salad (one of my all-time favorites) or landscape of piles is a state of disorder that is real for and relative to each and every client I meet.

One person’s chaos is another person’s bliss and vice versa. I will never forget a phone call from a woman who confided that photographs of super tidy kitchen drawers made her extremely uneasy. She was most comfortable with a degree of “stuffedness” that would frustrate or overwhelm someone else.

I appreciate the diversity of and challenges for every person who invites me to enter their home, the bravery it takes to call for help, the transformations that happen within and around them. Everyone has muscles to stretch and new things to experience.

So it will come as little surprise I was filled with intrigue when I was invited to be the guest lecturer for an experimental weekend workshop titled “Chaos to Clarity: Finding Order in a Disorganized World,” at Stanford University’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design (a.k.a. the d.school). The invitation also included an offer to attend and participate in any or all of the workshop. Knowing this was a rare opportunity, I opted for the latter. Continue reading

A vote to opt-out of e-waste

I’m going to get a little political without getting political. The California primary is two days way. Voting guides arrived weeks ago. That’s it.

Sort of…

Below you’ll find the voting guides from the San Francisco Department of Elections and the California Office of the Secretary of State that were delivered to a visually impaired client. The former was delivered via a thumb drive and the latter was delivered via an audio cassette. That’s right, two different formats. At least one, if not both, arrived in bubble mailers. (Grrrr…)

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Whether or not she and thousands of others have the technology or technological know-how to listen to the content contained on these is an entirely different topic for discussion. At issue and the point of this brief post is that the recipients of these cassettes and drives are now responsible for disposing of these inherently single-use items. Most will be tossed in the trash because that’s what most people do.

In this case, the cassette will be added to a bag of e-waste I’ve collected from clients over the past month for proper recycling/disposal. The 8GB thumb drive is reusable. I deleted the voting information and renamed the drive. It’s ready for action in my office.

Do our municipalities and state offer an opt-out of these delivery vehicles? Could there be a program for taking these back for re-use? How about phone-in options where folks can listen to a recording. The recordings already exist as evidenced by the above.

It’s time to make some calls to investigate the alternatives. I’ll wait until after Tuesday.

This is not (only) a basket

basketloadedAs the Earth makes another trip around the sun, we find ourselves arriving once again at that day for collectively celebrating and honoring her awesomeness. And it is on this occasion that I’ve chosen to share a little tale about how we can become mindful and respectful of her resources while we connect with one another.

The story begins with a visit to southern Germany shortly after my partner and I started dating. One of the things that struck me was the sight of women carrying baskets to and from the village bakery for their daily loaves and pretzels. There was something so old world and quaint about these containers, while at the same time, their use made so much modern-day environmental sense. They were decorative, multi-functional, and they  eliminated the need for paper bags and the accompanying accumulation and storage of the latter.

IMG_5246Back at home, I kept re-noticing the beautiful Ghanaian Bolga baskets I coveted so much on the arms of my fellow farmers market shoppers. Oh, how much I yearned to have one, but it was impractical to walk to and from the market with a full and often heavy load hanging from my arm. Those baskets are great for someone who walks just a couple of blocks or drives. Our forays to the farmers market are on foot, by public transit, or by bicycle. Sturdy reusable bags or a backpack are ideal. Once I started pedaling there, panniers became the carrier option of choice.

The idea of integrating a basket into my life never left my mind. One day I had an aha moment: we visit the bakery down the street with enough regularity to warrant a designated receptacle for transporting and storing our purchases. Finally, I had a reason to acquire a fair trade Bolga basket! Beyond bread-like things, it gets used for transporting goods to parties and other social gatherings.

But let’s get back to the bakery for a moment. More often than not, the worker-owners at the bakery cooperative down the street express gratitude whenever we bring and use our basket. A brief conversation often ensues at the register while the transaction is completed. They wish more people saw the benefit of bringing their own bag or container, and all we can say them is that we hope our basket will inspire and motivate others who see it in action. One cashier, complimenting me on the basket, told me it reminded her of the market baskets used Mexico where she grew up. We chatted about that for a bit. It was then and there that I realized the basket is more than a device for carrying or storing things. It’s also a catalyst for communicating with others and sharing our stories. In fact, whenever he sees me with the basket in tow, the owner at the corner cafe gets a kick out of what he calls my mushroom hunting basket. I hadn’t thought about becoming a mushroom hunter, but there’s an idea…

 

 

How to tame your paper piles

IMG_1982I’ve written about paper before, and I’m writing about paper again. Why? Because one area of life people routinely wish to get under control once and for all is the overwhelming array of papers that congregate in any number of places around the home.

While paper can cause feelings of anxiety and overwhelm, you’ll be happy to know that once it’s reined in, the very same paper can also produce calm and control.

For many, paper congestion begins at the mailbox, and I’ve got a handful of steps you can take to curb the influx, increase the paper flow, and create greater clarity and control. Continue reading

The stuff in her dad’s garage

A little over seven years ago, a friend invited me to meet her parents at their home in San Jose. Her father had amassed a collection of stuff in the garage, and she asked me to bring my camera in case I was inclined to photograph it.

Having been told little about what to expect, but assured I’d be interested in what was there, I was prepared for a garage packed to the gills scenario.

We arrived at the house where she grew up and rang the doorbell. Her mother met us at the front door, and said she’d see us at the garage. We walked back toward the car and waited a few minutes on the driveway for the wide double door to rise.

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