As I hunted through my closet for more things to purge, I felt a big goofy grin spreading across my face. No, I had not been doing shots of whiskey (it’s still twenty-eight days and counting without any alcohol). So why was there such a pleasant buzz going through my body?
The joy of fifty or so pounds of unneeded possessions soon to be leaving my life, and the relief there’s only 72 hours left to the Minimalism Game.
With days 26-28, I successfully completed the Great Clothing Catharsis of 2016. Sayonara, ties. Adios, suits. Dress shirts and pants that have been collecting dust in my closet since I moved . . . so long, suckers. Shoes with holes or worn soles, I’ll see you in hell (no, just kidding, shoes, I meant the trash barrel). I also got rid of a pair of underwear, a pair of long johns, one sock, two bags, eight hats, 24 more t-shirts, and a batting glove. Eighty-one items in all.
I’d say the things I was happiest to see go were my suits and ties. Since moving to Hawaii, they have darkened my closet with their sneering attitude. You need to keep us, Ostrowski. You can’t stay in Honolulu forever, and when you go back to the mainland they’ll laugh at you if you wear aloha shirts to work. Grays, charcoals, and dark colors. You need us!
I don’t need you.
As Hunter S. Thompson once said, “all energy flows according to the whims of the great magnet”. I’m not sure how long this Hawaii adventure will last, or what the future holds for me. But I’m confident I don’t need a neck tie to get there.
Was there anything I hesitated over parting with? Yes, and it actually did not end up in the pile even though it probably should have. My Chicago Cubs fishing hat from 1991.
It’s dirty, it’s threadbare, and I’ll never wear it again. But I couldn’t give it up because of the memories. I got it the summer I turned twenty-one on a trip to Chicago, as a giveaway on the Fourth of July at Wrigley Field. I’d seen the ballpark on TV so many times, but I wasn’t prepared for how green and vivid it was on first glance as we walked up the concourse ramp to our seats.
There were the houses hanging over the bleachers! The Ivy! And we could see Harry Caray up in the broadcast booth! Simply put, you will never forget your first trip to Wrigley Field.
You also didn’t have to leave your seat to get beer, and we took full advantage of that convenience to keep cool that muggy afternoon. We also got treated to extra innings, and Mark Grace sent the fans home happy with an 11th Inning walk-off homerun. We left Wrigley for Grant Park, where we got to sample great food at the Taste of Chicago and then watch fireworks later in evening.
I can remember that day better than most that happened last month. While I didn’t need that hat to conjure up those memories, it made me smile just holding it and feeling the stitching of the Cubs logo. It might be going back in the closet to collect dust, but it stays.
Looking ahead, these final three days are going to be a challenge. Ninety more things must go. Come April Fools’ Day, we’ll see if I succeeded.
“Because they battle me they’re really taking a risk. You’re an 8-Track Tape and I’m a compact disc.”
-Young MC, from the track “I Come Off”, off the album Stone Cold Rhymin’ (1989)
I was late to the compact disc game, and it wasn’t until 1991 that I got a CD player. For the record the first CDs I bought were Springsteen’s Greetings fromAsbury Park, NJ, Buffett’s A1A, and Paul’s Boutique from the Beastie Boys (my tape player had just eaten my cassette copy). They were purchased at Newbury Comics, a New England Cathedral of Music, which I’m happy to see is still in business.
While I would continue to play my analog cassettes for years after 1991 because I had so many of them, I fell in love with this burgeoning digital format. Other than what I spent on food or booze, most of my disposable income of that time went into my music collection. This was money well spent.
While the journey of most CD collections end in abandonment after the rise of iTunes (and mine does as well), I had a couple of pit stops along the way that are worth mentioning. Between 1998-2001, my music collection was the victim of some unfortunate events. Let me explain.
I moved from Boston to LA in June of 1998 to pursue my dream of being a screenwriter. I knew it was going to be a challenge, and I thought the $4,000 I had saved would be enough for my relocation. But this got quickly gobbled up from the road trip there (which was amazing, and a tale for another time), first/last/deposit for my apartment, and then buying supplies to assist in my quest to become a screenwriter (printer paper, ink, stationary, envelopes, and postage stamps . . . yes, this was before it was acceptable to email agents and producers).
It took me about a month to find a job, and by that time my bank account was anemic. I was lucky to have been hired as a bartender at Pizzeria Uno’s West Hollywood, but we were far from being a hip spot and the tips were never consistent. While we had busy nights and even weeks, there were shifts I was lucky if three people sat at the bar. I was loving Los Angeles and I was making new friends, but I was going broke.
And then it happened. It was sometime at the end of summer I did not have enough money to pay for rent, a first for me. No matter how low on funds I’d been in the past, I’d never been in a situation where I couldn’t pay for my apartment.
I was about seventy-five dollars short, and I’m not sure how I came up with the idea but I sold off part of my CD collection to pay for it. I can’t remember the name of the used record store in Burbank (but it wasn’t far from my apartment) and they paid around $3 to 4 a CD. It was embarrassing to have to do this, and depressing to have to part with any of my beloved music. This was also long before iTunes and the ability to copy CDs (I’m pretty sure the technology existed in 1998, but it wasn’t readily available to someone who couldn’t afford to keep their compact discs).
The view from my Burbank apartment in 1998
Me trying to forget I had to sell CDs to pay for my Burbank aparment
The view from my Burbank apartment in the late 90s, and me drinking in said apartment probably celebrating being able to pay rent.
Fortunately that was my low-point in Los Angeles (I guess if selling CDs to make rent is the worst thing that happens to you in LA, you’re not doing so bad), and I soon rebounded. By 2000 I had bought either new or used copies of the CDs I had sold, and also added more along the way. Things were looking up for Young Ostrowski.
But then my music collection received a double whammy.
On my flight home to Boston for Christmas in 2000, I left one of those hard plastic CD holders on the plane with about twenty of my favorites in it. I didn’t realize this until the next day, and when I called the airline (I can’t even remember which one now) they said they would look for it. I gave my parents’ phone number (no cell phone back then), but during the whole week they never rang. When I called back, after being put on hold and transferred a million times, the airline informed me they were unable to locate my CDs.
Then about a couple months after returning to LA, I got robbed. All the CDs in my car were taken, and in their place the thief (or thieves) left six small cylindrical pieces of scorched glass. Apparently my car was used as a crack den, and my music was on its way to being sold for drugs.
In 2001 I was still living paycheck-to-paycheck, and this was a big blow. I made the decision I would not even attempt to try and replace what was stolen, but fortunately this was around the time my roommate Fozzie got an iMac. Not only did his computer look cool, he was able to make copies of CDs and also burn mixes. Foz let me use his new toy, and I borrowed from friends to make copies of the ones I lost and also to add more music to my collection.
This lead eventually to 2006 and my first iPod, and the slow and unceremonious death of my CD collection. My discs got imported and stored digitally, all available through those little white headphones wherever I went. For the next couple years I still listened to CDs on the stereo, but when I moved into my studio apartment in late 2007 I pretty much abandoned the format.
Fifteen years after the double whammy disaster to my music collection, I’m now happily giving away 72 compact discs as part of the Minimalism Game. I would have no problem parting with dozens more, but I don’t think Goodwill or the Salvation Army will accept them without the jewel cases. Several years back I liberated most discs in my collection from their cases, and along with the booklets put them in an easily storable zip-up album.
All of the CDs I’m giving away or recycling have been imported wholly or in part to my iTunes. I could put them in an album, but I can’t remember the last time I dusted off the one I currently have. And it also feels good to be physically getting rid of all this plastic, which fits into the reason why I began this Minimalism Game.
Just a quick note on a few of the CDs that are departing my home:
Jimmy Buffett’s Fruitcakes – This was one of my most anticipated CDs of all time, as Buffett had not recorded a studio album in five years. Upon its release in May 1994 I was living in Key West, and I biked down to Duval Street early that morning to the Margaritaville Café store to purchase it. My buddy Paul was visiting at the time, and we listened to every track while enjoying cocktails in my apartment on Bertha Street. Unfortunately this disc is scratched to shit, but I do have another copy.
CDs of Swing & Standards – Back in the mid to late 90s, I was listening to swing music and standards every day. While I loved the current stuff of my generation, there was just something about Frank, Sammy, Dino, Glen Miller, Mel Torme, Count Basie, Nat King Cole and the artists of that period that really spoke to me. This was the music of my grandparents, and I couldn’t get enough of it. While I still enjoy these tunes, hopefully my CDs will fall into the hands of a twenty-something who will turn off Kayne or Taylor Swift for a little while and find some appreciation in the classics.
CDs of singer songwriters – Marc Cohn, Kevin Welch, and Lyle Lovett are three artists who are very under appreciated. Cohn scored a huge hit on his self-titled debut with “Walking in Memphis” in the early 90s, but then pretty much disappeared off the charts even though he continued to record quality music. The Rainy Season, his second album, (which is on my list) is quite good. I especially like “Rest for the Weary” and “She’s Becoming Gold”. Kevin Welch and Lyle Lovett are two alt country artists I’ve loved for decades, and I will never tire of listening to the former’s “Something ‘Bout You” and the latter’s “Song for Sonja”. As with my Swing Music, I’m sure if a younger person (with good taste) were to listen to these great singer songwriters they would appreciate their soulful voices and songs.
Mix CDs – These make up more than half of the 72 I’m getting rid of, and there are ones dating back to the days of my old roommate’s iMac. Since they’re already safely stored on my computer and in the cloud, there is just no logical reason to keep them. And I was happy to learn that Target and Best Buy have recycling bins that will keep these pieces of plastic out of a landfill.
I’m behind a day with this post, so I’ll be back tomorrow or Monday with Days 26 & 27 of the Minimalism Game. That makes six more days to go, and 171 more things I need to oust from my apartment. Can I make it?
I’ve always kept things pretty lean in the kitchenware department.
Before moving to Hawaii I lived for nearly five years in a tiny studio apartment in the Richmond District of San Francisco. Without hyperbole, my kitchen area was not much bigger than your typical closet. I cooked with two pots and two pans (one each medium sized, one each small) on a little combo stovetop/sink. There wasn’t a conventional oven (the fridge was underneath the burners) or even a microwave. Cabinet and counter space was scant at best, and I barely had room to utilize my toaster oven and mini George Forman grill.
I ate out a lot.
But I’ve always liked to cook, and I think I’ve done well through the years within my limited tools and knowledge. So can I find a way to accomplish my food and beverage needs with even less? I’m going to try.
The studio days are behind me, and my girlfriend and I live in a nice (but old) two-bedroom apartment in Waikiki. The kitchen is on the small side, but there’s enough space for us. And now that I raided the cabinets and drawers for the Minimalism Game, we should now be able to start entertaining large groups of guests with lavish parties (just kidding, I wasn’t able to magically increase the cubic feet).
The previous occupants left quite a bit of kitchenware (some nice plates, cups, and silverware), which we’ve utilized since day one. While it was tempting to put some of that stuff in my Minimalism Game pile, I resisted. I only chose items that I either brought with me to Hawaii, purchased while here, or received as gifts.
Glassware was a major opportunity. And while I was able to successfully purge a bunch of it, I’m pretty sure what remains likely exceeds our needs (if anyone out there is able to put forth a justifiable argument on why one guy would need to own seventeen coffee cups, please share). Maybe I’ll revisit this area later, but what I kept in my kitchen was either for functional purposes or because I consider them collector’s items.
I have so many glasses and cups commemorating championships won by my sports teams, and logic says I should get rid of some of them. However logic often gets its ass kicked by nostalgia, and the only one I could part with at this time was actually a duplicate. The rest of my collection span the last fourteen years, and if I ever end up owning a house I’d love to keep them all in a cool display case. That, of course, would likely horrify any card carrying minimalist. But no matter how impractical, I know I would really get a bang out of having something like that.
In random order, here is what ended up in the box to donate.
The four plates were the ones I primarily used for the five years I lived in that studio apartment. They served me well, but the ones remaining in the cabinet are nicer.
Of the five coffee cups that made the list, here’s some background on three of them. (1) I received two City of Champions mugs for Christmas of 2004, and I’ve consumed hundreds of cups of coffee in them since. Even though I’m still keeping one, it actually wasn’t so easy letting the other go. (2) The California Adventure cup was from a nice trip to Disneyland with my Mom back in 2001. While it wasn’t an easy decision, I have plenty of pictures from that time to bring back all those great memories and I still have too many choices for my coffee. (3) My New England Patriots Superbowl participant coffee mug from January 1997 is one of the oldest pieces in my collection. My team lost to Green Bay, and I also got pulled over by one of Boston’s finest that night when I should not have been driving (let’s just leave it at that). Although he let me go (I was decked out head to toe in Pats gear, and I think he felt bad for me), there aren’t too many nice memories attached to that day. I’m actually not sure why I didn’t smash this in some kind of cleansing ritual years ago.
The Sam Adams Octoberfest mug dates back to my bartending days (late 90s or early 00s). For years I kept loose change in it, but after my last move I scrubbed it out and put it back in the rotation. Even with this gone, I still have more Sam Adams glasses.
The ginormous pilsner glass was a White Elephant gift from two years ago that I’ve used once.
The rocks glass and beer koozie were recently acquired, but certainly not needed.
Their origins are hazy, but the ten shot glasses were somehow received as gifts from our friends Khara and Tom. They came over to watch football one Sunday, and I think brought them because they were trying to minimize their glassware (as well as ensure we had the ability to do Jager shots after our teams scored). I still have six shot glasses left in the cupboard for the 2016 season.
The seventeen pieces of plastic cutlery have always been superfluous, but they’ve lingered in our kitchen drawer for quite a long time. I’ve gotten better at giving back the disposable utensils when receiving take-out, but these found their way to our home. I’m going to walk these up to Diamond Head Market for reuse.
The two plastic to-go containers are part of a large contingent of Tupperware-esque items that live in our cabinet. There’s definitely more that can go, but need to consult my girlfriend before liberating any of the others.
And lastly we have a plastic cup that I brought back from my 2014 trip to Green Bay. I met my buddies there to see the Patriots play the Packers, and even though my team lost it was still a fun time. The people of Green Bay couldn’t have been any nicer, Lambeau could be the best venue in the NFL, and I had (out of this cup) one of the best Bloody Mary’s of my life. In a completely genius move on so many levels, it contained two of my all-time favorite things (string cheese and alcohol). God bless the good people of Wisconsin.
I’ve never been what you would consider a neat person. Fastidious, anal retentive, or even well-ordered are adjectives I’ve never heard anyone use to describe me. Tidy . . . maybe once or twice. That is actually a lie of the dirty-rotten variety. In all my years on the planet, I’ve never received a compliment (not even in the ballpark) that I was organized.
But am I messy?
Save for Oscar Madison or Oscar the Grouch (and maybe Pig Pen), most people would not readily admit they were messy. In my younger days I might have shrugged or possibly given a wry smile if somebody called me that. But in 2016, do I want the world-at-large to consider me a messy person?
Not that I’m admitting such a moniker applies. I prefer to say that I’ve chosen a lifestyle of slight disarray. And who’s to say you should go about your business being neat or messy, that one way is correct and the other wrong?
Well, turns out there’s actually a helluva lot of people.
There’s the famous quote by Einstein, who said: “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?” While I don’t think Mr. E = mc2 actually admitting to being messy, it sounds like he didn’t think it was such a bad thing either. Plenty of studies have shown that a messy desk (or disorder in your work space), makes a person more creative. I’ve always liked that (f-you, ya tidy bastards), and have used it to justify my unkemptness (still not capitulating to being messy).
In the other camp, there’s a ton of information that shows a strong tie between being organized and being productive. In my extensive research on this topic (fifteen minutes of Googling), I learned from an Office Max survey that 77% of workers said clutter damages their productivity, 50% believed it had a negative effect mentally, and 20% thought it made them look bad professionally.I also came across a startling statistic. There was a study done several years back (by some publication called Fast Company magazine) where they determined executives waste six weeks per year looking for lost documents.
Since I read it on the Internet it has to be true, right? Well, even if it’s only somewhat true (let’s say it’s two weeks), that’s way too long to be looking for shit. I often waste time rifling through my papers trying to find things, and same can be said of my electronic files.
Shortly after starting the Minimalism Game, I took a couple of hours at work and went through my office looking for paper to either recycle or shred (if it contained confidential info). I found a lot. Buried under my desk in a cardboard box was a veritable treasure trove of useless documents, and I was able to excavate more from drawers and cabinets. When I finished purging, I felt downright gleeful.
So last Friday before leaving for the weekend, I went around my office (mostly in the nether regions underneath my desk) finding various things (other than paper) I could either recycle, donate, or throw away. Since I spend five days a week in this space (and probably more waking hours there than my apartment), I decided to extend the Minimalism Game to my job. It wasn’t hard to find the 57 items I needed for Days 18, 19, and 20.
There were 28 magazines (mostly Human Resources or hotel industry related . . . far from the “Industry of Cool”), 8 pieces of clothing that belong to two different Halloween costumes (yes, that is a Poodle Skirt you see in the picture, please don’t ask), 6 HR books (three I never read, the others antiquated), 4 Kuikui Nut Leis (I still have a couple if needed), 3 more t-shirts (they must multiple on their own), 1 turtle cup, 1 mason jar, 1 Hawaii themed wine opener, 1 “Kiss Me I’m Irish” plastic necklace (362 days until next St. Paddy’s Day), 1 button down shirt that is now too big for me, 1 tub of cleaning solution, 1 Tori Richards bag (kept from a Christmas present), and 1 moped helmet (I got rid of the moped last month, poor planning on my part).
I’m never going transform my desk (or life) at home or at my office into being completely orderly, and there will always be an element of disaray. So I won’t have to worry about becoming Howard Hughes bat-shit obsessed with cleanliness. And if Einstein was right, I need not fear sacrificing any creativity in this Minimalism venture. But in my three weeks at this game, I’ve become pretty sure that being better organized (maybe you could call it trending towards tidy) will be a good thing.
Although it’s been years since I’ve actually gone out to a bar on St. Patrick’s Day, this could be the first one in my adult life I haven’t even had one pint of Guinness. Erin Go Bragh, the Sober Edition. If I listen hard enough, I can hear a leprechaun laughing at me.
Along with no beer, there aren’t any pots of gold to be found in my apartment either. But what I do have is thirty-three things I’m getting rid of for the Minimalism Game. Clutter comes in all shapes and sizes, and for Days 16 & 17 I’m going small.
I’ve chosen seventeen plastic cards and sixteen pens to expel from my home. Not quite as exciting as giving up a TV or even an object twinged with nostalgia, but still as important. Just because I can hold all of these items in one hand, doesn’t mean I should keep them.
I actually think something as simple as a collection of pens works as a good microcosm as to why I want to live a more minimalist lifestyle. On my desk I have an orange Café Du Monde coffee tin stuffed with all sorts of writing utensils. After I took sixteen pens, there was still twenty-one left.
Did I really need thirty-seven pens to be within my reach? I bet if I hunted around the apartment I could probably find at least a dozen more. Why keep so many pens, especially when I do most of my writing on a laptop?
Maybe I’m being a bit too philosophical (or possibly this is a side effect of not drinking for seventeen days), but if I want to free the clutter from my life how can I justify having so many pens? Last I checked, I can only use one at a time. I also don’t need thirty-six replacements if the one I’m using runs out of ink. So this gluttonous excess of pens will be going with me to work tomorrow, where I know they will eventually be used by someone.
For Day Seventeen I went into my desk drawer and found a bunch of hotel key cards, along with some Casino Player’s Club ones. I cannot give a logical reason why I’ve kept these, as for the most part there aren’t strong memories attached. All I can say is that it goes to my souvenir mentality.
When I travel, I’ve always taken the Ryan Bingham approach to packing. I go lightly and avoid checking a bag at all costs. My carry-on (and small personal bag) holds the essentials, and is efficiently stuffed to every inch of space. It makes traveling easier, but it does curtail your shopping habits.
Therefore, my souvenirs have tended to be smaller knickknacks that I pick along the trip. Maybe it’s a coaster from a cool bar, or a small book that I could only find locally, possibly postcards, or quite often (as I described in a previous post) t-shirts. Then there’s the hotel collateral, anything from pens and stationary to do not disturb hangers to the wrappers on the turndown mints after I’ve shoved the chocolate in my face. If it’s got a logo on it or says the name of the place I’m visiting, it’s going in the bag.
In the case of the hotel keys, I would say most of the time it’s actually accidental. The cards end up in my wallet or pants pocket, and it isn’t until I’m back home that I realize I still have them. However, for some of the real special places I’ve been, I will intentionally keep them.
The seventeen hotel key/casino players club cards are from the last three or so years and come from Hawaii, San Francisco, Boston, and Las Vegas. While all of the trips/stays have great memories attached, the St. Regis Princeville and the Royal Hawaiian are the only two I’m sure I’ve kept on purpose. But when I look at those key cards again, they actually rate low on the keep-ability factor. The St. Regis one just has the logo and doesn’t list the name of the property, and the key for the Royal Hawaiian simply just says Luxury Collection. Too generic to be true keepsakes.
As I continue along in the month, I know there are plenty more of these pseudo souvenirs in my collection that I can set free. Maybe the leprechaun will want them.
“I want to live in the world that these people are in (the world of magazines). No one ever says anything in there, have you noticed? They’re all very cool. Like, they’re all really deep. It’s when people start talking that everything goes to shit.”
-Nessa Watkins, from the film Mumford (character played by Zooey Deschanel, script by Lawrence Kasdan)
When I was younger, I was a magazine junkie.
At various points in my life I’ve had subscriptions to Sports Illustrated, Sporting News, ESPN the Magazine, Premiere, Filmmaker, Entertainment Weekly, Empire, The Hollywood Reporter, Variety, Detour, Maxim, Rolling Stone, Men’s Heath, Men’s Journal, Esquire, and GQ. I know I’m missing several magazines on that list, but you get the point.
Most of these subscriptions were from my 20s and early 30s, and my choices clearly fit into my socioeconomic demographic. Sports, movies, music, and miscellaneous guys’ shit. I was never a person who had an unhealthy obsession with the world of magazines, though looking back, I’m not sure how good they were for me.
Movie stars, top athletes, models, and assorted millionaires. People I’ll never meet and places I’ll most likely never go. Beautiful photos, fascinating stories, and all sorts of advice from “How to Find the Perfect Watch” to “More Than You Actually Need to Know About Shaving” to “How to Break All the Rules & Make New Ones”.
Aspire to a better lifestyle and consume. All the latest styles and products for your review. The best a man can get.
Whoa . . . channeling my inner Tyler Durden a little too much there. I still actually enjoy reading these glossy periodicals on occasion, and this isn’t supposed to come off as an anti-magazine screed. There’s a lot of great journalism being done in those pages, and any kind of reading is better than none at all. But, like anything, too much of it (especially with the wrong perspective) just ain’t good for you.
While the quote that started this post is from Mumford (the movie, not the band), I referenced another film in the title. Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous is one of my favorites, and Lester Bangs (based on a real person) delivers the line when talking about the music industry. He said when it ceased to be real, it just becomes “an industry of cool”.
I see a lot of parallels to magazines in that statement. Most of what we read and see in them isn’t very real (or at least does not reflect the reality most of us live in), and what we’re getting is just an industry of cool. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, and these magazines can be very entertaining and even informative. But I think back to the 20-something version of myself, and even if it was only at a subconscious level, I’m sure I was doing what I could to be like the people in those pages.
As I gotten older I’ve renewed less and less, and the last several years the only magazine subscriptions I’ve purchased were through my nephews’ fundraising efforts for their schools. The last one of those (Esquire) expired, and now I’m only receiving my BU and Emerson alumni ones (thank you, college loans). For some reason I still get random ones in the mail (just this month I got a GQ about forgiving Justin Bieber, and the last several issues of Better Homes & Gardens have found their way to my door), and I also still buy one-offs every now and then. So I have no plans to stop reading them.
For the Minimalism Game, it wasn’t hard to find 29 magazines in my apartment that I managed to keep from the recycling bins. Going through them while making my pile to photograph, I can see why I didn’t get rid of them. I’ve probably read only about 20% of these issues. And while I’m sure I’d delight in learning about Scarlett Johansson, George Clooney, and Esquire’s take on The Meaning of Life, I know I will have opportunities to do so in other magazines in the future.
“Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes, and not rather a new wearer of clothes.”
― Henry David Thoreau
I hate all malls, and shopping in general. The clothing stores I usually frequent, like Ross or Marshalls, are an evil necessity I must mentally prepare myself for before visiting. I shop online occasionally for clothes, but usually just workout gear.
I am also as far from hip as you can get. Since I’ve been old enough to buy my own clothes, I’ve never even attempted to keep up with the trends and styles of the time. You sure as hell won’t see me thumbing through the pages of GQ exclaiming “I need that”.
And then there’s this. When I moved from San Francisco to Hawaii in late 2012, I donated eight garbage bags full of clothes. Mostly they were warm weather items, but I also rid myself of things that no longer fit or I hadn’t worn in years. I’d actually felt proud I’d jettisoned so many my garments before the movers arrived.
But I still consider my wardrobe excessive for what I need.
How did this happen?
Since we moved in together, my girlfriend J’Nell has been telling me I have too many t-shirts. I knew she was right (in theory), but when I actually inventoried them this weekend I was astounded. I have over eighty t-shirts . . . that I know about. There are storage bins in my closet I didn’t even open, and I shudder to think there are probably more. Through the years it seems I’ve taken the cliché “Been there, done that, got the t-shirt” far too literally.
I can break my tees down into five basic categories: (1) Boston Sports Teams, (2) Jimmy Buffett, (3) Travel/Cities, (4) Work/Fundraising Events, and (5) Undershirts. That is not an exhaustive list, and I think I might need another for all the awesome comp ones my buddy Marcos has sent from his company Wounded Apparel (shameless plug, but they do fine work there). Regardless of how you break them down, I have too many damn t-shirts.
For Day 12, I took the easy route and focused on categories four and five. Since I no longer wear a suit and tie for my job, my need for undershirts is at an all-time low. With work/fund-raising tees, usually you wear them on the day of the event and then bury them deep in your closet or dresser. It didn’t take long to complete my dozen.
In fact, on top of the twelve I put aside, I identified twenty more tees I’m fairly sure I can donate. But even if I go through with those, that still leaves more than fifty! Do I need that many? Of course not, but getting rid of any that rate high on the nostalgia scale (categories 1-3) will be challenging. I’m thinking of you, my Saturday Night Live 15th Anniversary t-shirt that I purchased in 1990.
Moving along in my wardrobe, on March 11th I selected eleven pairs of shorts to give to Good Will. For the most part they were either too big, too short (who wears short, shorts?), or else I owned its doppelganger. And then there was the work-out ones I’ve had for a decade (with the Italy insignia), but have probably worn less than five times. They fit, but I always hated they didn’t have any pockets (a major deal breaker when it comes to shorts). I must have kept them all these years out of stubbornness, which has no place in the Minimalism Game.
Day 13 was all about boxes. Either I’d been keeping them just-in-case, or else I had wanted to see how long I could play an over-sized game of Jenga in the corner of the apartment. Cardboard is clutter, and those thirteen boxes are all now on their way to being recycled.
I’m almost two-weeks into this de-cluttering project, and I’ve given up 91 of my things. Only 405 more to go . . .
Every person, place, or thing connected to our lives has a story.
In my last post when describing my old electronic cords and plugs, I said they didn’t have much of a nostalgia factor. While true, if I thought hard enough I could still tell a story about each of them, which in turn would help tell the story of me. You could do the same with any item in any room of your house.
For Days Nine & Ten of the Minimalism Game, I went through closets and drawers and shelves and plucked things at random to purge from my life. Then I looked at them, closed my eyes, and went over each object one-by-one. Thinking about some made me laugh, a few got me angry, some sad, others wistful, and the majority of them brought a smile to my face. And each certainly had a story.
Here are a few:
Instant Italian CD
Purchased in 2009, I listened to this CD over and over for several weeks before I flew to Italy to meet my girlfriend J’Nell. My crash course in the language, it also came with a study guide of useful words and phrases that I tacked up on the wall of my office at the Westin Market Street Hotel. On nights I stayed late I would play it when nobody else was around, following along out loud with “grazie mille” and “Lo parlo un po’ Italiano” and “Vino, per favore”.
I loaded the CD into my iTunes back then, and I remember listening to my Italian lessons while sitting at a sidewalk café in an alley off Post Street in San Francisco. While sipping a pint of beer (from my pitcher), I also had my Rick Steves Tuscany book and a notebook to write down ideas for the trip. On that early evening it was still warm for the city, and as the sun went down the outside lights clicked on, and I did not want to leave that table. But the temperature started to drop with each sip of beer, and with thoughts of Italy buzzing in my head (along with the booze) I eventually took the bus back to the Richmond District.
Miniature American Flag
I bought this flag the day after 9/11. I was living in Los Angeles at the time and working downtown at California Pizza Kitchen on 7th & Figueroa. The first shift back after that tragic day was bizarre. The guests weren’t saying much to each other and there was probably as little conversation between the staff as I’d ever seen in any restaurant. Everyone was still in a daze.
I used to park about a fifteen-minute walk from CPK in a lot that was a little sketchy, but cost a fraction of what it did on the other side of the freeway bridge. On my way back to my car that day I noticed a guy at a makeshift sidewalk kiosk selling American Flags for $10 apiece. At that point in my life I’m pretty sure I’d never bought a flag (American or otherwise), but on September 12, 2001 I didn’t hesitate. I pulled $10 out of my pocket and was soon fastening the flag to the back passenger side window of my car (it’s long since gone, but it came with a holder clip).
Within a week the plastic piece that held the flag in place between the window began to crack, and I took it off and put it in the back of my 1990 Passat Wagon. I remember thinking at the time that although displaying a cheaply made American Flag on my car didn’t in any way help, it felt good to do so that week. When I finally got rid of that car in 2004, I kept the flag and it’s been put in various boxes and bags and drawers and cabinets over the last 12 years.
Pink Bicycle Playing Cards
It was a Saturday afternoon sometime in the Spring of 2008, and the Red Sox were playing the Yankees on the Fox Game of the Week. My buddy Bradleigh, who had just moved to San Francisco, came over to my little studio apartment off Lake Street watch it. We bought beer and had pizza delivered, and I was looking forward to hanging with Bradleigh and watching some baseball.
Sometime after the pizza was gone it began to rain . . . in Boston. The game got postponed, and while we waited for it to start we reminisced about our days in LA, had a lot of laughs, and knocked back our beers. When the rain delay began to drag on, Bradleigh went to the corner store for smokes (and more beer if I remember correctly). Upon his return he also took out a pack of pink player cards from the bag.
When I made a quizzical face, Bradleigh said with his trademark gruff voice, “These might be the worst fucking cards I’ve ever seen, but it’s to support breast cancer, bro”. Then he lit a cigarette, took a long drag, and coughed. I couldn’t help but laugh, as it was just a perfect ironic juxtaposition of the pink cards and the cigarettes. We ended up playing heads-up Texas Hold ‘Em (Bradleigh won more hands than me, as he always did), and at some point the game resumed.
Bradleigh passed away less than two years later, and that afternoon we spent together remains one of my favorite memories of him.
Pen from the Intermission Tavern
In 2011 I was living in San Francisco, but I was lucky enough to be on a work assignment in Boston that June. The Bruins were in the Stanley Cup Finals, and I watched all the games after work either in my hotel room at the Park Plaza or else at the Sweetwater Café at Boylston Place. I would have loved to have seen at least one game at the Garden, but I wasn’t able to get tickets.
Although just being in Boston during the Finals was pretty special. As a huge Boston sports fan, I’d either been in Los Angeles or San Francisco when the Red Sox, Celtics, and Patriots had won their championships. This was my first chance to witness one just a few miles from where my team played their home games.
For Game Seven I met my friend Brian and we walked over to the Sweetwater Café (where I’d seen all three of the Bruins’ wins). No seats anywhere. I was a little worried about messing with the mojo, but after going into a couple other places close-by that were packed, I just wanted to get a seat.
We finally found spots at the bar at the Intermission Tavern on Tremont Street just before the game started. It turned out being a great place (atmosphere, food, service), and Brian and I would celebrate the Bruins’ first championship since 1972 there. When paying my tab, I signed the credit card slip with a pen that read on the side: “This pen has been stolen from the Intermission Tavern”.
Like I’m sure many before me and many after, I took the pen home as a souvenir of that night.
Plastic Midori Lizard
I was working at Pizzeria Uno’s in Lynnfield, and the year was either 1993 or 1994. Our drink menu featured a Midori cocktail where we had to attach a plastic lizard to its side. I find Midori to be green, sweet-tasting dishwater, but I always liked that little reptile. At one point I probably had about twelve of them, but through the years the number dwindled to one. And for whatever reason, during several moves I would always put it on my desk as a sort of good luck charm for writing.
As the years (and decades) past the lizard moved to the drawer and then to a box during one of my moves (it ended up not being very lucky at all). I’m pretty sure I had never even seen it the whole time I lived in the Bay Area (2004-2012). And it wasn’t until about six months ago I came across it in one of my plastic storage bins. The green creature wearing the sunglasses brought a smile to my face, and ever since it’s been on my desk in my apartment.
For most of these nineteen items, I could still easily keep them. They’re all small except for the DVD player, and could continue to be stored without much of an impact on my space. And of course there’s no shortage of memories attached to these objects.
But I have hundreds of such knicknacks, and keeping too many of them contributes to the clutter (whether I see them every day or not). I’m a self-confessed nostalgia junkie, and I admit it’s not easy to part with the stuff I described above. But what I’m coming to realize is I can still keep the stories, even if I no longer have the objects.
“You have permission to keep anything that adds value to your life.
And you have permission to keep anything that doesn’t.
But you also have permission to let go. You have permission to clear the clutter. You have permission to remove the excess—the clothes you don’t wear, the junk you don’t use, the things you hold on to just in case—and focus on what’s truly important to you: health, relationships, passions.”
– Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus (The Minimalists)
When I started to analyze my belongings, I quickly saw that many of them fell into the category of “just in case”. I’ll hold onto a ratty pair of sneakers even though I just bought new ones just in case. I’ll keep a six-foot-long swath of bubble wrap from when I moved just in case. I’ll save an owners’ manual to the VCR I owned in college just in case.
I’m not against utilizing a “just in case” philosophy on occasion, but that type of thinking creates clutter. I’ve rarely put back on the worn-out running shoes after buying a new pair. The bubble wrap and various packing material I kept from my move is so smooshed from being jammed in the closet they are practically unusable. And for why I would keep an old electronics manual . . . maybe just in case I discover a time machine and end up working at Radio Shack.
Which segues to Days Seven and Eight of the Minimalism Game, my attack on the various accoutrements of my old electronic gadgets. I dug deep into the junk drawer and selected fourteen cords, plugs, chargers, and even one remote control I will never use again. They’re items I either own duplicates of or else pair up with electronics that have become obsolete. Unlike my last post where my books, CDs, and DVDs were strongly tied to memories, these things don’t budge the needle on the nostalgia scale.
The fifteenth item does, though just barely. It really wasn’t that hard of a decision to part with my nine-year-old digital antenna that was actually purchased at Radio Shack. If you’re asking what the shit is a digital antenna, you’re probably not alone. So here’s the back story.
In 2007 when I first got the plasma TV I gave up on Day One of the Minimalist Game, I did not have cable. It’s probably a tale for another time, but I was actually cable-free from 2001 to almost the end of 2007. Back then I watched my movies, games, and shows on a clunky thousand-pound TV with rabbit ear antenna. (A 2013 study showed that only 7 percent of US homes utilized antenna to watch TV, and I suspect in 2007 that figure wasn’t much higher.)
Anyway, I remember getting this shiny new 42-inch television home, plugging it in, attaching my antenna, and being pretty pissed off that it did not work. After a few choice curse words and ten minutes on the Internet, I learned that in order for my flat screen to work I either needed cable or a digital antenna. I’m pretty sure I said out loud “what the shit is a digital antenna”. Turned out it was exactly like my current rabbit ears one where you pulled the thingies out and adjusted them until you could reasonably see the picture. But instead of picking up the analog signals in the air it snatched the new digital ones, which beamed back vividly clear images.
The next day I bought an RCA digital antenna for about forty bucks and used it for about six months. I ended up moving to a new apartment in late 2007 that had cable included in the rent. I shoved the thing in my closet, and in the years since I’ve never plugged it again. When I moved from San Francisco to Hawaii I could have easily put the digital antenna in the box along with everything else I donated, but I held onto to it . . . just in case.
As I continue along with this quest to minimize my belongings, I know there’s plenty of other items I’ve been holding onto for some sort of future, mythical use. Time to finally say aloha to these objects of clutter.
Books, Movies, Music . . . in order, those are the things that make up the majority of my possessions. The thought of giving up any item in that holy trinity of categories makes me cringe. But if I am going to see this game to the end, I need to make a lot of tough choices.
On Day Four I took a long look at my DVDs. I have Blu-Rays (too new to give-up) and I’ve still held onto some videotapes (I’m saving those for later), but ever since getting my first player in 2000 I have been steadily collecting DVDs. I still remember the first two I bought, The Big Lebowski and The Matrix (delivered with the player by the long defunct Kozmo.com).
For those of us movie fanatics raised on videotapes, the rise of DVDs was a gift from the gods. You mean, if you play your favorite films (and scenes) over and over the picture and sound doesn’t turn wonky? I was all over those Bad Larrys. In the words of John Laroche (from Adaptation, a film I own), from 2000 – 2013 I collected the shit out of DVDs. The only reason I stopped was I finally got a Blu-Ray player.
My DVDs have layers of memories attached to them. You have the film, which most likely I’d seen in the theater, then the day I bought the DVD, and the subsequent viewings through the years (sometimes by yourself, sometimes with friends or family). There’s so much to analyze and enjoy about movies, then there’s the time of your life when you watched them and all the people with whom you shared the experience (whether watching or discussing).
Selecting four DVDs to oust from my apartment wasn’t easy. The first go around I only plucked two, and it took another pass to get the others.
Dazed & Confused: Richard Linklater is one of my favorite directors, and I’ll never tire of spending time with Wooderson, Slater, Mitch, Darla, Jodi, and the gang. So how can this be on my list? Simple, I bought the Criterion Collection version when it first came out, which was almost 10 years ago. I’ve held onto this old, inferior copy for a decade and it must go.
Stone Reader: A really great documentary about one fan’s search for the writer who wrote his favorite novel, but then never published again. It’s a literary Searching for Sugar Man (a terrific film I don’t happen to own).As much as I enjoyed Stone Reader, I only watched it once and it’s doubtful I will again.
Hoosiers: A sports film classic (featuring great performances by Gene Hackman, Dennis Hopper, and Barbara Hershey) that I first saw in high school. This DVD was released in the infancy of the format, and boasts for its special features a collectible booklet (literally a glossy piece of paper folded in half) and (holy cow!) the original theatrical trailer. I haven’t watched Hoosiers in years, but if I ever get the hankering for it I’m sure I can find it on cable or streaming somewhere.
Saturday Night Live, The Best of Wil Ferrell: Lots of hilarious sketches, but I’m sure I can find all of the material from this 2003 DVD online.
Day Five I went through my CDs. Since I’ve loaded most of them into iTunes, this is an area of major opportunity for me. But it’s still hard to get out of that “hard copy” mindset, the what if the Cloud or my hard drive or my back-ups fail. Then there’s the booklets, and the memories of buying and playing the CDs at different points in my life. We all know songs have the power to bring you back in time, but so do their visual representations in the form of pieces of round plastic and jewel cases. Here’s what I selected thus far, and I’m sure more will follow later on in the month.
Steel Band Music of the Caribbean: I love Steel Drum music, but no need to keep the jewel case and there isn’t even a booklet.
Brett Dennen, Self-Titled: I have no idea who this is or how I got it.
Van Halen, The Best of Both Worlds: Lot of classic rock songs on this greatest hits compilation, mostly with David Lee Roth as the front man but several enjoyable tracks from the Sammy Hagar years (cranking up “Why Can’t This Be Love” or “Dreams” with the headphones on will instantly bring me back to high school). I bought this used at Amoeba Records in San Francisco maybe four or five years ago (so not much emotional attachment), and the booklet is only a few pages.
Dale Carnegie & Associates, The Leader in You: Never once listened to this, can’t even remember when I bought it (does one drunk-buy self-help CDs?).
Alan Watts, The Way of Zen: I bought this back in 2000 when I was reading a lot about Zen and first starting to mediate. Alan Watts is considered one of the top Western Experts on Zen, and it’s pretty cool to hear recordings of his talks from the 60s. It’s been at least a decade since I’ve listened to any of these 3 discs (and just as long as I regularly meditated). As an aside, I actually went to a meditation class this afternoon and really enjoyed it. Maybe I’ll put on The Way of Zen on my iTunes later tonight.
Day Six involved an area I initially didn’t want to touch during the Minimalist Game, my bookshelves. I love my books, so much so when I moved to Hawaii I brought them all (I tried parting with some, but I just couldn’t). And while I’m not anticipating putting much of a dent in this category of belongings, we’ll see how the month goes. That being said, I was able to find six books to donate.
Secrets of the Jeopardy Champions (1992): When I was in college, I probably wanted to be on Jeopardy more than I wanted to graduate. This was before the Internet (when dinosaurs ruled the earth), and if my memory serves me they used to host open auditions in various locations around the country. I bought the book, studied it, and had been watching the game almost daily for years. My roommates and I used to play against each other, and at the end of the semester the two “losers” had to buy the champion dinner (I think I won and we went to the Newbury Steak House, but maybe that is revisionist history on my part). I dreamed of getting on Jeopardy, and I even looked up the dates where I could take the test. But (shameful to admit) I never went through with even trying. While I’m sure I’ve lost too many IQ points in the subsequent years to get on the show, if I ever get the desire for a comeback I can find other study guides online.
Seeing Red, The Red Auerbach Story (1994): I’m a huge Celtics fan, and Red is a legend in Boston and the NBA. I’m sure Dan Shaughnessy’s book is very interesting, but for whatever reason I’ve never read it after almost two decades in my collection. Maybe it’s some kind of repressed psychological thing. My Dad took me to Celtics games quite often when I was a kid, and after one of them (or maybe it was before it started) we actually ran into Red at the Garden (this had to have been the early 80s). I asked him for his autograph, and he said no.
L.A. Follies: Design and Other Diversions in a Fractured Metropolis: I lived in Los Angeles for six years and I’m fascinated by the history and evolution of that city. I found Sam Hall Kaplan’s book (published in 1989) in a consignment shop in San Pedro, California in 2010, and thumbing through the pages I knew it was a great historical document. I enjoyed the first chapter, but then shelved it for good after starting something else. While I still have a strong affinity for LA and I’m sure I’d enjoy the book, it just doesn’t have any connection to my life here in Hawaii now.
The Elements of Screenwriting (1986) & Aristotle’s Poetics for Screenwriters (2002). Elements was the first book I read on film and TV writing way back at Boston University. While I’m sure there are still usable principles in it, there are plenty other tomes in my collection on the subject. Ditto for the second book, which I read about half of four years ago.
No Go on Jackson Street, by Mike Weiss (1987): It’s an Edgar Award Winning mystery set in San Francisco. I love mysteries and I love San Francisco, but for whatever reason I could not get into it. I bought the book at Green Apple (one of my all-time favorite bookstores) on Clement Street (not Jackson) about six years ago, and hopefully someone will enjoy reading it soon.
Before I end this post a quick note on the alcohol portion of my month long challenge. It’s been six days sans booze, which really isn’t much of an accomplishment. However, this is the first time in years I’ve gone an entire weekend without at least a six pack one beer or a bottle glass of wine. Turns out there are plenty of things to do in Hawaii while sober . . .