Creating Space: Part 1

 
Recently I’ve been on a mission* to get rid of stuff. To purge unnecessary items. To cut out clutter. To simplify. In essence, to create space.
 
*(does anyone immediately think of Nickelodeon magazine when they hear the phrase “on a mission”? I know I can’t be the only one)
 
Physical clutter is frustrating for a lot of people, how else would we have an entire store dedicated to containing all our stuff? I love The Container Store as much as the next organizer fanatic but the issue is about more than clutter. Even if everything I own right now was 100% organized in my home, the excess would still bother me. Those tidy and organized boxes are still holding things, things I may never use again. These are things I don’t need to hold on to.
 
Sometimes my anxiety seems related to the amount of clutter and stuff around me. I almost feel claustrophobic, like my collections of things will trap me. I’m weighed down by my material possessions and I obsess over how to reduce them.
 
I’ve always preferred neat and tidy. But my recent fascination with downsizing and getting rid of things is new. I blame a lot of it on moving twice in two years — does anyone like packing? Or moving heavy boxes up and down two and then three flights of stairs? How about unpacking?  I hate moving. I hate moving and every time my husband I moved I realized we still had too much stuff. Even though we’re done moving for a while (we bought our first house in August of last year) I still want to get rid of things we don’t need.
 
Another event that has inspired my desire to simplify is my grandmother’s passing. My Grandma, Ruby, died in 2014. Soon after, my family went through all her belongings that my Grandpa wasn’t keeping. My Grandma was a collector. She collected so many different, interesting things: ruby glass, vintage and vintage-esque food tins, jewelry, cardinal figurines and more. She was also an avid crafter. She painted gorgeous ceramics and made her own jewelry. Seeing all her belongings laid out in my aunt’s basement made it feel like she was with us. I even found an empty perfume bottle: it smelled like her.
 
That afternoon going through my Grandma’s things was cathartic. It was bittersweet but educational – I learned things about my Grandma I had never known. My dad and my aunt shared stories from their childhood and my sister and I recounted ours with our cousins. But what do we do with all her things? We took turns picking items to keep, a ruby glass piece or a cardinal figurine. I selected several pieces of jewelry and some of her vintage style food tins. But even after everyone had chosen something to remember Grandma by, we still had so much. It was overwhelming! At first, we worried that if we didn’t keep it, it meant we didn’t love her. But we realized that Grandma wasn’t contained in the things she left behind. We keep her alive in our memories of her and by talking about her. This helped us be able to choose items to donate or sell at a garage sale later in the year.
 
This experience made an impact on my parents and my aunt and uncle. They didn’t want to leave a bunch of things for me and my sister or my cousins to sort through and wonder about. “Why did they keep this?” or “What should I do with this?”. Our semi-regular family garage sale that year was huge. We all went on purging sprees. We actually held more than one garage sale at many family members houses — sometimes at the same time! 
 
The last reason that I’ve been especially focused on reducing for the past few years or so is that I’ve been reading more about simple living and minimalism. The idea that we don’t need more stuff to make us happy is appealing. I follow blogs about minimalism and listen to podcasts on the topic. I save tips on how to purge your closet of the clothes you don’t love and read books about decluttering.
 
I’ve decided to share a little of my journey in “creating space” with you. It’ll be a multi-part series. I’ll share some of my experiences along with the tools I’ve found most helpful along the way. A post on what I did with all my excess stuff is a must as is a post on how to not fall back into the same habits again.

Coming Home

Ever since my husband, Kenneth, and I moved back to our home county in late 2015, I’ve been thinking about where I grew up and how I ended up coming back. I prefer to take back roads to get to work… or anywhere, really. So I spend a lot of time thinking about coming back home when I’m driving through Miami County. I have a backlog of essays and blog post ideas related to coming back home — how certain parts of town can make me feel like a kid or teenager again, or how driving down some familiar roads can fill me with hope and inspiration while others bring to mind painful memories.

To be completely honest, I didn’t plan on living in Miami County as an adult. I didn’t really have a town or area picked out, but I didn’t expect it to be where I grew up. I certainly didn’t expect to live in the town that was my high school’s biggest rival, either.

I think I felt that I had outgrown my hometown. I had graduated high school and was going on to do big, exciting things in college and, then, who knows where? My boyfriend (now husband) and I lived in a small college town for four years, then we moved to a big city for another four. That’s really all it took for me to want to come back home: being away.

I loved living in Athens. It is the most interesting place I’ve ever called home. Athens is a unique blend of rural Appalachia and the international community via Ohio University – it’s a cultural explosion in a lovely little area of Ohio. Columbus took me a while to get used to. I quickly discovered that big cities are not my thing. I didn’t like how long it took me to drive to work, or how noisy and smelly the city could be, especially in the summer. Big cities are an assault on my senses; they overwhelm me easily. I did end up falling for Columbus, about a year before Kenneth and I moved. The gorgeous metro parks, amazing restaurants, fantastic library system, and numerous museums did it for me in the end.

We lived in a little town near Cincinnati called Harrison for a year and a half. While I found things that I loved about Athens, Columbus, Harrison, and Cincinnati they were not somewhere I could call home. I couldn’t put down roots there. The 3-hour drive from Athens to visit family or for school breaks started to feel like it took forever. Then when we were only 1 1/2 hours from home in Columbus and Cincinnati, we wondered how we ever managed the 3-hour drive (with cats in the car too!).

Kenneth had an opportunity to take a job in Miami County and we jumped at it. We were both ready to be closer to our family and to really, finally, be home. While I thought that I had outgrown Miami County, Miami County had been growing while I was away.

While many things look the way they did ten years ago, Miami County has been changing. New businesses and community events have been popping up in our absence. Old underused buildings have been or will be renovated. We have farmer’s markets, delicious restaurants, music festivals and half-marathons! Miami County is still the place where I grew up, but it’s becoming so much more.

One of the things I think about a lot when I’m driving to and from work is the sky. You can see so much of the sky here. In Athens and Cincinnati, the gorgeous hills and forests took up a lot of the horizon. In Columbus, the skyscrapers and miles of suburbs surrounding the city filled the view. In Miami County, I can see the sky and it’s huge. Fantastic red sunrises, stormy gray mornings, bright blue afternoons and clear night skies. There’s so much room here, room to grow. Room to put down roots.

Which I am ready to do.

New Year, New Travel Posts

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately thinking about blogging. Why I blog, what I like about blogging, what I have been writing about and what I want to write about in the future. I started blogging mainly for one reason: I wanted to cultivate a habit of writing often. The goal being to write every day… honestly, I’m still working on that one.

I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was pretty young but I spend much more time thinking about being a writer than I spend actually writing. Starting a blog helped me write more often, but the joy I find in writing for my blog has been hit and miss. Some posts I love writing, others I am less enthused about and write them so I can check them off my to-do list.

I’ve realized that there are three main things I love writing: fiction, personal essays, and posts that promote how awesome my home state is. I don’t really love writing restaurant reviews: it feels like a chore. And since writing reviews on my blog is not my job and I don’t love it, I’m not going to do it anymore. Not in the way I used to at least. I still want to share awesome places in my area with you, my readers, but I am no longer writing a review of a restaurant simply because I ate there and remembered to take pictures before letting my husband eat his dinner (you’re welcome, Kenneth ?).

I’m going to test the waters on this style of blogging by re-writing my travel blog posts. Instead of posting about each and every place we visited on a trip, I’m going to write about the trip itself and leave out the contact info, hours, and addresses for the places we went (you’re smart cookies — Google them if you want to visit). I want to tell you about how it felt to be in San Antonio when it was over 100 degrees and I decided to walk three miles to the botanical garden because I was too nervous to Uber alone (I was a hot sweaty mess by the time I arrived, but the plants were so worth it!). Or how I want to go back Louisville when it’s warm and sunny because even though we visited in January and it was cloudy and gray the entire time, I could just see how gorgeous this city must be in the summer.

So, if you were desperately searching for what I thought of the fabulous gluten-free almond pancakes I enjoyed at North End Cafe in Louisville, that post is gone. But I will be replacing it with highlights of the entire trip, so it’s pretty likely that those particular pancakes will pop up on the blog again. ?

2016 Reflections

I’ve always liked getting ready for the new year. I enjoy thinking about the past 12 months and making resolutions for the next 12 (even though I know I won’t last long in keeping them). The new year feels like wiping the slate clean and starting anew.

This past year was a really great year for me and my little bubble, my little world. My husband, Kenneth, and I are both feeling settled in our new jobs (which we started November 2015). I work full-time now, which I haven’t done since 2014 and have been a little scared to take on again… but it’s going well so far.

We are also settling into our new home. In August we bought our first house! We spent the summer looking and agonizing over different houses. Our main issue was that I fell in love with every house we saw, which made it difficult for my practical husband who thought about each house instead of just how it made him feel. The one we finally decided on is in a cute little neighborhood within a short drive of both of our jobs. I’m in love with our bamboo floors, the open floor plan, and our new backyard. I have my own yard and we will be starting a garden in 2017! We’ve already cut down a Bradford Pear from the front yard (they’re non-native, invasive and the flowers stink like a junior high boys locker room) and planted two Redbud trees and two fruit trees to replace it.

I also worked on two fears I struggle with. My fear of needles and my travel (mostly flying) anxiety. I worked on my needle anxiety by getting a tattoo (yes, a real, permanent one!) and I worked on my fear of planes with three trips (which totaled more than three flights with layovers and connecting flights).

I will be writing a whole blog post about my tattoo experience – which was far less scary than I thought it would be (I even want more tattoos!). I will also be writing a blog post about each of my trips: Atlanta, Georgia; San Antonio, Texas, and Seattle, Washington. I’ve decided to change the format of my travel blog posts since this is an Ohio-focused blog; travel posts will be highlights of the entire trip rather than a post for each restaurant, park and museum visited.

I have a lot to be thankful for and a lot to look forward to in 2017. But I know that for many people, for my community and for the world, 2016 has not been great. The dumpster-fire analogy I have seen on social media seems to be an accurate way to describe this past year. There were so many lives lost, dreams dampened and hate and intolerance spread.

It feels wrong to celebrate the good in my life when there is so much pain and hurt in the world. The genocide in Aleppo, Syria, the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, the violence against black men, the violence against police officers and the entire 2016 election (yes, I am #stillwithher). All of the brilliant, talented artists who passed from our world and on to the next. It feels like this year has given us a collective beating and when we were down and almost broken, 2016 stole the people who helped make us feel better; the artists, musicians, and writers who made us laugh and cry, the scientists who made us wonder. It’s been a really rough year for the world.

Because 2016 has been so rough to those outside my bubble and because I feel I have more than I need right now to keep my soul afloat, I am setting an intention to spread joy and warmth in 2017.

I’m changing the focus of this blog and starting a new project. My blog will focus more on my writing and will host my new project. The project is called Share + Give 2017 and I will be sharing a blog post with details very soon.

Stay bright. Stay warm. Stay healthy. Have a safe and happy new year.

– Courtney