Aspiring minimalist with 56 chairs

We are a family of four and we own 56 chairs. I know this because we recently moved and consolidated our two houses into one, which gave me the opportunity to inventory all of our possessions.

It probably goes without saying that we do not have room for nor do we need 56 chairs. We live in a regular 3 bedroom house and we don’t host music or sporting events, so 56 chairs feels excessive.

Additionally, these 56 chairs are among the many many other things standing between me and the minimalist lifestyle to which I aspire.

Minimalism, in case you missed it, is trending as a tool to rid yourself of life’s excesses in favor of focusing on what’s important.  Minimalists search for happiness not through things, but through life itself–fewer possesions, less clutter, fewer distractions and things to clean and maintain and find space for. More time, more mind share for family, experiences and creative and strategic thinking.

There are all kinds of “minimalist gurus” in the media and on the Internet proselytizing this trend through their books, websites, podcasts and documentaries. They offer tips and tricks for consuming less and case studies of families who have reduced their possessions by 91% and now live in “tiny houses,” with less than 500 square feet for 6 people and the family pets.

But let’s get back to my 56 chairs. Minimalism only works if everyone in the house is on board and since each person values items differently, it is extremely difficult to reach consensus around what goes and what stays.  Each of our 56 chairs has a purpose and a value, be it present, past, or future, for someone in the family, myself included.

Fortunately, I am married to a kind and rationale human being who is open to reducing our chair inventory (right, honey?).  However, it will require a lot of negotiation and discussion to determine which chairs make the cut. And for the chairs that don’t make the cut, we must determine what to do with them and then actually do it.

Finding homes for a dozen mismatched chairs will take some time and energy that should be spent doing something else. And this is, I believe, the real reason American’s make terrible minimalists. Most of us are not up to the monumental task of clearing out what we have already amassed.

Some of our chairs:

For our current dining room

IMG_1739 A cool chair my husband loves; 1 of 2

IMG_1742 1 of 3 barstools on standby
IMG_1737 3 of 6 chairs from our old kitchen dining set
IMG_1744 Outdoor patio chair; 1 of 6

A vegetarian raised by wolves

Full disclosure, I was not raised by actual wolves. I was raised by “The Wulfs”, a large German-American family in Clinton County, Iowa.

Like many midwestern families, or those of German heritage, the “Wulf Pack” eats a diet heavy in meat and dairy.  A meal doesn’t feel like a meal unless it featured a serving of meat; breakfast sausage, lunch meat, steak or pork tenderloin, etc. And all my life, I was right there in the middle of the pack three times a day.

Flash forward to right now. Nearly 20 years in liberal Northern California and more than 6 years of yoga practice have rendered me a vegetarian.

So what? Well, in California, being a vegetarian in extremely easy because 1) nobody cares and 2) the regional cuisine offers a wide variety of vegetarian- friendly options. But at the end of July I’ll join the Wulf Pack at the family cabin in Northern Minnesota for our annual pack gathering where we will drink beer and wine, grill stuff, and have a really fabulous time doing it.

This is anxiety inducing for me because my move to committed vegetarianism is relatively new and I feel I’ll have to defend my rationale to the pack leaders (my mom, her siblings, and my cousins). I also don’t want to be considered “high maintenance” because I now have a “special diet.” So I had better hone my answer for just exactly why I would make such a choice and do some strategic thinking about what I’m going to eat that week.

Vegetarianism, technically veganism, is prescribed in a yoga practice because it supports the ideas of equality, compassion, and nonviolence, which are central to the yoga philosophy and required to attain enlightenment.

All of those things are great, but yoga is not the reason I became a vegetarian; I strongly suspect I would have found my way there regardless of my spiritual path. I have never felt great about where our meat comes from and what animal farming (on any scale) does to animals and the environment. I have also come to believe that a meat-centric diet isn’t that healthy for a person. When you live in a farming community, it is hard to own those thoughts.

Now I am all grown up and I live in suburban Santa Rosa, California. My meat comes from the grocery store, processed and packaged, with all the dirty work taken care of for me. But  my life experience and the media remind me on a daily basis what is required to put a steak or a pork chop on my grill or a chicken in the oven. And for right now, I’ll pass the tofu please.

The Wulf Pack 2015


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Between over and next

On the Fourth of July my husband and I were driving home to Santa Rosa from a four-day backpacking trip in the Yosemite Valley.

While Ron drove, I was busy in the passenger seat stewing in my anxiety about the fact that we would be getting home a lot later than we had planned and what that meant for everything else that had to happen after we got there–laundry, and packing lunches for kids, and getting ready for work the next day. And those thoughts were just a gateway into anxiety about the rest of the summer where two surgeries, a move, and another vacation awaited us. And then it would be the first week of school, and on and on it went.

My beloved on the other hand was having no such thoughts. He was listening to “wait wait…don’t tell me!”, an NPR quiz show. The guest was Norman Lear, a 93-year old television writer and producer. You may know him from All in the Family, Sanford and Son, One Day at a Time, The Jeffersons, Good Times, and Maude.

Just as I was tuning in, the host, Peter Sagal, asked Norman Lear if he had any tips for those of us who would like to arrive at 93 as spry and happy as he is, and this is what Mr. Lear said:

“What occurs to me first are two simple words…over and next…When something is over it is over and we are on to next and if there was a hammock in the middle between over and next that would be what is meant by living in the moment.” 

And just like that, I realized that our backpacking trip was over and what was next would come later. The bit in the middle was the right now; 5 hours of alone time with my sweet husband, drinking my Starbucks, and staring out the window where I could see firework displays for three different cities all simultaneously, in a country that is free.

“Between over and next” was first published on