Buy quality, not quantity

This should be the end of Week 4 of the minimalist game, but I am severely far behind. I am up to Day 24 I think. Not that I’m trying to make excuses, but the past week my older son had food poisoning for two days followed by false croup for two days. I was not out of his sight for more than a minute or two for all this time, because if I was, it would result in badness. Not that I’m making excuses, but I’m making excuses. Also, the holidays.

Anyway, I have given myself up until January 23rd to complete this challenge. The remaining few days are the hardest, of course, and I’m going away on vacation that day, so I do want to be done by then. That is, as much “done” as I will ever be.

This brings me to another issue that came to my attention in this struggle to embrace minimalism. Eventually, you do have to buy some stuff. For me, the first thing I really wanted was a pair of boots. Not just any boots, but $400 Frye boots. Every time I saw someone wearing boots I liked, I noticed they were of the same make. I agonized over it for days and days, and eventually gave in and visited their NYC retail store, which is only a few blocks away from my office. I was just going to look. Yeah, right. I didn’t even believe that myself.

What happened was, I went into the store and made a beeline for the pair I had wanted, thinking they would never fit my oddly shaped feet. Well, they fit. Also, they looked amazing. And felt amazing. And at that moment, I thought my life would be complete if I could just have those damn boots.

What I would like to say now is that I didn’t buy them. But that would be lying. I did buy them, and I liked them so much, I had to wear them out of the store. And then I went home and got rid of many pairs of shoes I hated to make room for these new, wonderful boots. And as I was tossing old shoes and boots into the bag for the charity bin, I noticed that they were all cheap shoes, possibly about $40 each.

One thing that really swayed me into buying the Frye boots was a coworker telling me that they would last for ten years at a minimum. The cheap shoes I was used to buying usually lasted me about a year (and that’s being generous). When you look at it that way, it’s the same price, except the boots I bought are more beautiful, well-made, and comfortable. And of course, if I’m buying one pair of boots instead of ten, that’s nine pairs of boots that aren’t cluttering up either my house or wherever they eventually end up.

The lesson here is to buy quality over quantity. I’m trying to get to the point where this is second nature to me. This weekend I went to buy a shower curtain liner, because the $2.99 one I bought last month had already ripped. I bought the $30 one that is supposedly mildew- and tear-resistant, because those are the things that usually cause me to have to replace the liner after only a few months. Because if this one lasts 12 months even, I will still have saved money in the end, as well as kept some garbage out of the landfill.

So that’s where my head is at today. I promise I’m still working on Fresh Blood, the sixth and final book of the Vampire in the City series. But more on that on another day!

Minimalist Game–Week 3

Week 3 of the minimalist game is over, and it was definitely more challenging! I struggled with sets of things, unsure whether to categorize them as one or multiple things. Obviously the latter would make it much easier, but for the most part, I took the more difficult path. However, this weekend my older son had food poisoning, and I was up for almost 48 hours with no sleep, so I broke down and got rid of cables (Day 21). Next week (the last week in the challenge), I fear I may have to do the same.

Day 15–(1)Cat leash. (2)Old costume earrings that are gross. (3)Small velvet bag. (4)Curtain rods. (5)Dry cleaning bags. (6)Jewelry boxes. (7)Unmatched earrings. (8)Face cream I hate. (9)Expired medicine. (10)Fabric spray I’ve never used. (11)Least favorite tweezers. (11)Snot sucker of undetermined age. (12)Slips I haven’t worn in at least ten years. (13)Cat toy cat doesn’t like. (14)Old notebook. (15)Ugly yarn.

Day 16–(1)Jewelry bag. (2)Eyeglass case. (3)Husband’s old shirts. (3)Old gift bags. (4)Stale candy. (5)Too many bubbles. (6)Crappy goodie bag toys. (7)Underwear I hate. (8)Tablet device (sold on ebay). (9)Food from freezer that’s several years old. (10)Loose papers and old receipts. (11)Pens that don’t write. (12)Nail polishes that have gone bad. (13)Unhelpful shelving unit. (14)Jar of ink. (15)Long underwear. (16)Thermal shirts.

Day 17–(1)Old condiments. (2)Unmatching socks. (2)Unattractive underwear. (3)Bottle from when Samir was a baby. (4)Broken mouse. (5)Unidentifiable electric thing. (6)Eyeliner I hate. (7)Too many pots. (8)A hot glue gun. (9)The thing that goes under the rug (a rug anti-skid thing). (10)Hated bathing suit. (11)Wretched necklace. (12)Ill-fitting underwear. (13)Ear cleaner. (14)Discs of old computer stuff. (15)Lid of broken rice cooker. (16)Disgusting lotion. (17)Ugly pajamas.

Day 18–(1)Small funnel. (2)Expired vitamins. (3)Some kind of medicinal herb. (4)Robe never worn. (5)Very old glasses. (6)Pillow case that doesn’t match anything. (7)Ripped tank top. (8)Clothespins. (9)Chopsticks. (10)Glue gun. (11)Robe. (12)Tablecloth. (13)Onesies. (14)Weird skirt. (15)Plastic snack holder. (16)Decorative rocks. (17)Stale herbs. (18)Old sprinkles.

Day 19–(1)Stale baking ingredients. (2)Food from cabinets no one wants. (3)Husband’s old belt. (4)Husband’s old shirt. (5)Husband’s old pajamas. (6)Random hooks. (7)Random screws (8)Stale gum. (9)Drawer shut thingies. (10)Unopened candy that expired five years ago. (11)Vats of nutritional yeast. (12)Dead plant. (13)Empty pill bottles. (14)Gross silverware. (15)Piece for a water bottle I got rid of a year ago. (16)Least favorite brush. (17)Foot scrubber. (18)Loofahs. (19)Instructions for various things.

Day 20–(1)Weird skirt. (2)Underwear that hit my c-section scar. (3)Gold necklace (given away). (4)Ummatching earrings. (5)Broken bracelet. (6)Ugly necklace. (7)Ugly bracelet. (8)Ripped cosmetic bag. (9)Several lipsticks. (10)Old foundation. (11)Old mascara. (12)Broken mug. (13)Old face lotion. (14)Boots that never fit (returned). (15) Shoes that always hurt. (16)Broken mouse. (17)Mystery computer part. (18)Husband’s shirt I’ve never seen him wear. (19)Food I have decided we will never eat. (20)Too many Benadryl creams.

Day 21–(21)Random cables (my husband has a cable problem!)

The gift of meaningful experiences

Before I get to the point of this post, I just want to note that I do intend to tie this concept of minimalism to what this blog is primarily about, writing. But seeing as next week is Christmas, I did want to write about that, or at least one aspect of that.

Although my family was never religious, we did celebrate Christmas as a secular holiday, which of course means buying a lot of stuff. When I turned maybe 20-ish, we basically stopped celebrating it (no tree, no presents). My parents and I did spend the day together, however. We would usually go out to the movies, and then go to dinner at a Chinese restaurant. The point was that we were together, and we always had a good time. And no one missed the gifts.

After my parents both died (about a dozen years ago), I stopped celebrating entirely, because I didn’t really see the point. My husband and I used to go out with friends and drink on Christmas, because that’s what married couples do before they have kids. Now that we have two kids, my perspective has changed a bit.

I want to give my children holidays that are meaningful and memorable. Does this have anything to do with getting stuff? Absolutely not. Do I remember anything anyone ever gave me for Christmas? No, not one thing. When I look back on this holiday, and holidays in general, from when I was a child, I remember is tons of relatives coming over to visit, and sitting down to share a meal with them. That’s what I remember, not the gifts.

In fact, the only gift I remember ever was when I was in my mid-20s and bought my mom a spa weekend. We stayed over for two nights and had massages and swam in the pool, and generally had a great time together. That’s why I generally prefer the gift of time and experience rather than material gifts. Instead of taking up space in your house, they add something of value to your life.

I always highly appreciate offers to take me out to dinner or a movie, or offers to take me and the kids to the park or zoo. This year, my husband and I bought tickets each other tickets to a show we wanted to see (Ghost Quartet, for those interested). We are taking our older son to see How the Grinch Stole Christmas at Madison Square Garden. I know these are events we will be able to look back on and remember for years to come.

Did I buy the kids other gifts as well? Yes, because they are very young and of course have not yet learned to not compare themselves to others. But did I buy them expensive gifts? No, I spent about $15 a child (excluding tickets to the show). And in addition to the show we’re going to this Sunday, I also have some activities planned, like having friends over to decorate ornaments and bake cookies. To me, minimalism is not about the absence of things (although a less cluttered house is always a bonus), but rather the presence of people who matter in my life.

Minimalist Game–Week 2

Week 2 of the minimalist game is over! I knew this week would be harder, but I was surprised at just how hard it was. I found myself re-evaluating things I had already gone over, and looking for more things to get rid of. I even took everything out of a closet and found…not that much. A visiting friend commented this game would be much easier for someone who tends to collect things, rather than someone who takes obvious glee in getting rid of things, like myself. What I found I had to do was state that 11 items of clothing were the 11 things for day 11, rather than just one thing. I’m planning to do this with books, DVDs, etc, as well, even though I’m not sure if some would consider this cheating.

Day 8–(1)Expired contact lenses. (2)Breastfeeding pads. (3)Old lipsticks. (3)Gross perfume I hate. (4)Watch box (no idea where watch is). (5)Some kind of plug-in scent thing. (6)Baby snot sucker too old to suck. (7)Breathing device hospital likes you to use after surgery. (8)Lipstick I hate but for some reason was carrying it around in my bag every day.

Day 9–(1)Cell phone case for a broken phone. (2)Old vacuum cleaner that hasn’t worked for years and was in the garage. (3)Xmas decorations left in house by old owners. (4)Expensive but uncomfortable shoes I wore once (sold on Ebay). (5)Old rug I had stored under bed for years. (6)Glass thing that used to hold an air plant a few years ago (the plant died). (7)Hand-held mirror that doesn’t reflect very well. (8)Least favorite nail clippers. (9)Binkie that baby doesn’t like.

Day 10–(10+)Tons of my old clothes, maybe a dozen things? There was a charity pickup.

Day 11—(11+)Tons of baby clothes in newborn sizes. More than 11 by a lot but charity was picking up this morning.

Day 12–(1)All menus from menu drawer. (2)Weird colored lip gloss. (3)Case from sunglasses that I lost. (4)Expired vitamins. (5)Lipstick I bought five years ago but never wore. (6)Old magazine. (7)Sneakers I never liked. (8)Boots I don’t like. (9)Saddle soap. (10)Belt never worn. (11)Plastic liner for drawers left by old owners. (12)Slip-on shoes I hate.

Day 13–(1)Frisbee too small to play with. (2)Unsavory looking pot. (3)Ugly plastic toy. (4)Finger paints. (5)Freezer pack. (6)Phone. (7)Weird bag. (8)Electric plug. (9)Strange plastic ball thing. (10)Ugly tote bag. (11)Broken toy. (12)Large plastic item. (13)Ripped tote bag.

Day 14–(1)Large flat plastic pieces whose use is undetermined. (2)Box of toy soldiers. (3)Temporary tattoos. (4)Wooden dowels. (5)Old laundry bag. (6)Failed crafts. (7)Magazine rack. (8)Large make-up sorter. (9)Old make up. (10)Expired prescription. (11)Some used gift bags. (12)Single earring I’ve given up finding match for. (13)Broken backpack. (14)Eyeglass case.

So that’s it for this week. I’m hoping to make it through another successful week!

What are you thinking?

You may be the annoying questioner or the annoyed answerer on any given day, but more than likely you and your significant other have traded the question “What are you thinking about?”

Some idyllic but often untrue answers are: “How much I love you.” “How beautiful our children are/will be.” “Remember that night in Paris?”

Some mundane but truthful answers include: “What to make for dinner.” “Should I change cable companies?” “What made that stain on the carpet and will it ever come out?”

What my actual answer was: “If you were ejected from a submarine at enough of a depth that you wouldn’t be able to get to the surface quickly enough to hold your breath and would get the bends from doing so anyway, and you had three dots in Forces, two in Mind, two in Spirit, one in Prime, and one in Correspondence, but none in Life or Time, would you be able to survive, and if so, how?”*

Fortunately my husband and I have been together for more than ten years and he already knows how weird I am.

In any case, in my further musing on this question, I have done a survey of my own brain as to what thoughts occupy it the most, and this is what I came up with. Note that this list is in order of actual importance to me, and may not be a true reflection of the percentage of time given to each category of thought on a random day. For example, a few days out of the month, I can think of little else than “why isn’t there chocolate?”

1. Kids
2. Stuff to write about
3. RPGs that I’m playing in
4. Video games that I’m playing
5. Why isn’t there chocolate

*This is from a role-playing game that I’m in, and if anyone knows what I’m talking about, feel free to give your opinion!

Minimalist Game, Week 1

Week One of the minimalist game is over! All the stuff I got rid of is below, and my thoughts on this process so far below that.

Day 1–(1)Stack of gauze from NYU. This was given to me in a care package when I had a baby this summer. Because babies are yucky. But apparently mine isn’t that yucky because I still had this gauze laying around.

Day 2–(2)Two very old lipsticks that I might not have ever even worn. I noticed more cosmetics I could part with, but saving them for a later day so I don’t run out of stuff to purge!

Day 3–(1)Old plastic measuring cup, because I realized I had two (and this was the crappier one). (2)Plastic thing made for holding pacifiers in the dishwasher (I no longer have a dishwasher and my baby hates binkies!) Both of these went in plastic recycling. (3)An inflatable nursing pillow given to me by Enfamil, which I never used because I didn’t breastfeed. This went in a charity bag. (4)Bonus today: I broke a wine glass and had to throw it out.

Day 4–(1)Some socks whose matches I will probably never find. (2)Hangers I don’t like. (3)Turkey baster I haven’t used in years. (4)Shoes that never fit correctly.

Day 5–(1)More expired food than I would like to admit. (2)Baby pool float thingie I never liked. (3)Bras that are too big or small. (4)Underwear that is too big or small. (5)Mini electric razor.

Day 6–(1)Used batman piñata. (2)Least favorite tweezers. (3)Least favorite scissors. (4)Stomach holder-in device they give you post C-section. (5)Mint floor cleaner (sold via ebay). (6)Home phone never used (sold via ebay).

Day 7–(1)Least favorite tote bag. (2)Nursing bra (I didn’t even breastfeed.) (3)Ripped crib mattress cover. (4)More expired food, some from 2008 (before we bought our house even). (5)An odd metal net thing that was in the cabinet when we bought the house. (6)Odd, small electronic thing that served no apparent purpose. (7)Packets found in cabinet with no identifying markings.

I know it’s only the first week, and I only got rid of 28 things so far, but I am kind of surprised at how easy and sort of exciting it is. I actually love to get rid of things–the shedding process makes me feel happy, light, and free, which is I guess what the whole concept of minimalism is about. Also, in the course of getting rid of stuff I don’t want or use, I came across some things I could possibly use but didn’t know I had! Bonus!

On endings; or, not letting a vampire jump over a shark

Today my new book, Demon Blood, was released for Kindle. It is the fifth book in the Vampire in the City series, and since I started writing these novels, I knew it was going to be six books. Am I excited to write the last book in the series? Yes! In fact, I have already started writing it, and in this last book, will tie together most of the loose ends and settle most of the character arcs. Am I sad that this will be the last book from Emma’s perspective? Yes, it was fun to write a character so down-to-earth but funny, and at times even clueless. But everything has to end, lest it stagnate, and Emma and I are almost ready to part ways. Writing the last book is a tad bittersweet though, but I’m sure she’ll be able to get by on her own now.

On the flip side, I am very excited to begin an entire new series. I can’t stop myself from planning it out, thinking about the protagonist, and trying to pick out a name to suit her personality. That’s one of the great things about being a writer–there are always new stories to tell!