Mar 31 2011

urban explorers [day 308]

I love exploring abandoned houses and buildings.  A friend sent me a link to an article about “urban explorers” on howstuffworks.com.  This explained my attraction to these old, and sometimes dangerous places.  I learned a few things from this article, but mostly, it explained a lot.

“Urban exploration purists advocate only trespassing — not breaking and entering.  This forces explorers to get creative when finding an entry point into a structure.”

This is true, I have been creative on ‘entering’ some of these places.  If they’re locked up tight, then I enjoy the outside.  If the no trespassing signs are visible and well posted, I leave it alone.

“It should be said that UE is an extremely dangerous and illegal pastime. By nature, old abandoned buildings are unsafe.”

This is true, as I’ve fallen through several rotted floors.  Being careful is good, but being aware and preparing for a UE trip are necessary.

“Some appreciate the old architecture and ancient machinery. For other people, it’s the thrill of just standing still in a silent, untraveled place. Others find beauty in the type of decay that can be found only in neglected buildings.”

I do find beauty, but I’m also fascinated by the personal effects people leave behind.  I’ve found many things in abandoned houses, everything from photographs to electronics.  One house had the whole backside blown out by a storm, the closet full of clothes and the vacuum cleaner from 20+ years prior, sitting there as if the people ran out quickly, never looking back.  I can’t help but wonder why people leave stuff behind, what situation made them leave and how they determined what they did take.

“Whatever his or her motive, an urban explorer finds adventure in these abandoned sites. There’s a peacefulness in these empty, concrete caves that isn’t like the solitude found in the woods. It’s an experience opposite of nature; instead of finding reassurance in the renewal of the seasons, the urban explorer finds kinship with the past.”

This is so true, it’s a peacefulness, but very different than what’s found in nature.  It’s a serene feeling, laden with curiosity and wonder.

“These explorers usually take photos of the places they visit.”

Here’s some photographs I’ve taken in abandoned places, mostly houses.  I photograph these as a hobby, but I just can’t get past the fact that people throw away buildings, houses and cars as if they have no value.  Some of these places are structurally good and it just makes no sense that they’re thrown away.  Continue reading


Mar 28 2011

mental gymnastics [day 305]

Buy one, purge one.

I’ve been practicing my “buy one, purge one” philosophy and it’s going well.  I was hoping to photograph all of the items, however that would take a lot of time.  I am doing it though.  I don’t shop near as much as I used to.  Even though I purchased things from a thrift store, it was still buying a lot of junk I didn’t need.  Now I’m much more selective and I buy much less, especially knowing I will have to get rid of something every time I buy something.  It’s a good plan and it’s not been a struggle at all.

I bought 2 pairs of shoes, a pair of jeans and a pair of swim trunks at the thrift store a few weeks ago.  I needed a pair of dress shoes that were comfortable.  I found just the right pair and I bought another pair that were on sale for $2.00.  I came home and got rid of 2 pairs of shoes.  The jeans, girl’s size 16, fit me, but a little snug.  I bought them with the intention of wearing them if I could, but if not, using them to repair some of my other jeans.  The boys needed a pair of swim trunks, as they’ve been fighting over the one pair they have.  I actually got rid of a lot of clothing, not just 2 pieces.  I’ll be blogging that soon.

Just a few days ago, I bought some throw pillows for my patio swing.  I’ve been wanting some because I love the swing this time of year and I like to lay on it and read.  Considering I got the swing for free from a friend and the cushions free from a dumpster, spending a few bucks at a thrift store on pillows seemed okay.  They’re the same fabric as my patio chairs and are from Pottery Barn, so they cost someone a lot of money.  I plan to dye or paint the unbleached cotton cushions.  So what am I getting rid of?  My colorful tile pot (that’s broken), some of my solar lights (a few that don’t work) and the shiny rocks (that are serving no purpose whatsoever).

Buy one, purge one is not difficult.  It’s a good feeling to know I’m not going to be accumulating more stuff when I do shop and it makes me walk away from many things I would have purchased with my old shopping habits.

Snap one, show one.

I started a quirky little habit.  I take photos of the things I considered buying, but chose not to.  I snap a photo and I show it here on my blog.  Here’s a couple of pics.  To the left are 4 square glass tables.  I thought these would be nice for my patio.  Mental gymnastics:

  • What would I get rid of?
  • Do I want to clean these?
  • Will I maintain the plants I want to put on them?
  • Where will I get the plants?  The pots?
  • Are these made for outdoor use?
  • Do I really want to spend $70?

I thought about all of that in less than a minute and easily decided against them.  Next was 2 latte mugs, the polka dot one and the orange rimmed one.  It’s rare to find oversized mugs.  Here we go again.  More mental gymnastics for he sake of consumerism.

  • Do I like these mugs?
  • Do I need these mugs?
  • What will I get rid of?
  • Do I need more dishes to wash?
  • How many cups can I use at one time?
  • How do these fit into my minimalist approach to downsizing?
  • Do they coordinate with my mismatched collection?
  • Do I really want to spend money on these?

Again, in less than a minute, I walked away from these.  I like the new habits.  They aren’t painful at all.  I haven’t quit shopping, but I’m spending my money less frequently and more wisely.  Time to kick it up another notch?  Probably so.


Mar 24 2011

digital picture frame [minimalist challenge item #35]

[item] Double digital photo frame

[purchase info] This was given to me

[time in my possession] Approximately 2 months

[last used] Never

[difficulty level in getting rid of it] Easy

[destination] Freecycle

[info] I saved this from the possible fate of a dumpster.  I really didn’t need it.  I like the concept of a digital frame, but I really have no desire to own one.


Mar 14 2011

I didn’t buy it, but I wanted to [day 292]

I met Guy Kawasaki yesterday at a book signing.  Not only is he an extremely talented communicator and writer, he’s just a really nice person.  Just look on Twitter, hashtag #guykawasaki, and you’ll see what I mean.  Now I’ve been thinking, it’s kind of odd to go to a book signing without a book.  Knowing that he would be at SXSW, I decided to go to the used book store to find his new book.  I knew my chances were slim to none on finding his new book Enchantment, but I thought maybe I could find one of his older books.  I’ve been following Guy for a long time on friendfeed and he always has great stuff out there.

I had to go to a few locations before I found one of his books.  I found The Art of the Start. I bought it and I was happy that I would have a book for him to sign, although I wondered what I would say to him as I asked him to sign my not-so-new book with a red half price sticker on the front.

Yesterday, I found myself in a long line of people to have my book signed.  It’s pretty safe to say that I was the only weirdo in line without a fresh-off-the-press copy of Enchantment.  Soon, it was my turn.  I proceeded to the table and quickly explained my story.  “I’m doing a year of no retail shopping, so I can’t buy your new book, even though I really want to.  I bought a used copy of one of your older books, so could you sign this one?”  First, he laughed a bit and said he wouldn’t last a week without shopping.  Then he asked where I got the book.  I told him I bought it at a used book store and showed him the bright red price tag on the front.  He then proceeded to tell me that The Art of the Start never came out in paperback.  Mine is a paperback.  Either it’s a illegitimate copy or an unmarked advanced reading copy, intended for bookstores.  Either way, he said that was the best reason he’s ever heard from anyone as to why they’re not buying his book.

He signed my book and he even allowed me to have a photo taken with him.  I have to say, if there were more people in the world like Guy, the world would be a noticeably better place.  I plan to buy his new book and I found 3 used copies on amazon.com.  If anyone should teach us about enchantment, it should be someone that understands it and lives that way.  Guy seems to get it.

If you’re interested in his new book, here’s the amazon link.  There’s 2 used ones left, the 3rd one is mine, so leave it there.  😉

Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds and Actions

I had the opportunity to just buy a new copy of his book, and I wanted to, but I didn’t.  I might be waiting a little longer to read his amazing book (prejudged from his awesome session at SXSW), but it goes to show that with a little pre-planning, you can have what you want while saving money and being good to the environment.  Thanks Guy!


Mar 7 2011

go to your happy place [day 284]

I have many happy places, as well as many non-happy places.  I guess we all have those lists.  Sitting in my hot tub, happy place.  Going to the mall, not a happy place.  Jumping on the trampoline, happy place.  Driving in traffic, not a happy place.  Going to the beach, happy place.  Going to a snowy place, not happy.  Some happy places are obvious, while others are not.  One of my happy places is being in an abandoned house or building.  It sounds crazy, but take a look.

This is an abandoned church up in Maine.  It was locked up tight, so no inside time here, but it was a beautiful day and many photo opportunities outside.  It’s so peaceful, yet mysterious.  I also got to spend some quality time with a great friend here.

Some of the best happy places don’t cost money, there’s no admission and can be a spontaneous thing to do.  I have a happy place with my kids.  When the weather permits twice a year, in the fall and in the spring, we sleep outside on the trampoline.   My happy place in my house is standing in front to my latte machine in the kitchen.  No, it’s not in anticipation of the steamed, frothy greatness that I’m about to drink.  It’s because there’s a small rug there to warm my feet from the cold floor and the heater vent gently blows a soft breeze of warm air, wrapping me in an invisible blanket.  I stand there every morning and count my blessings.  Occasionally, one of those little blessings will stand there with me if  he’s awake, as it’s his happy place too.

Some of the best things in life are free.  Enjoy them.  Where is your happy place?  I’m going to mine right now, you should too.


Feb 21 2011

photography reflector [minimalist challenge item #4]

[item] Photo reflector, double sided

[purchase info] Purchased on eBay

[time in my possession] Approximately 5 years

[last used] 3 years ago

[difficulty level in getting rid of it] Easy

[destination] Donation to church

[info] I have 2 of these.  I don’t need two and I never used them both at the same time.  This is the larger of the 2, but I prefer to work with the smaller one.  This was not a good purchase, it was me being a hoarder.  😉


Feb 7 2011

downsizing the kitchen & food supply [day 256]

I’ve been doing a lot of downsizing lately.  Right before snowmageddon, I decided to clean out the kitchen, not just utensils and cabinet crap, but food.  I don’t like being wasteful, and although we waste a lot less than the average American family, I felt that we needed to make some changes.  We made some radical changes and some subtle changes, and the results are proving to be really good.  I’ll share the overall goodness of this, the process of cleaning out the kitchen and a couple of mini-challenges.

The big picture.

We haven’t died of starvation. Again, we started this a couple of weeks before the ice storm.  We have much less food in the house, but we had plenty to eat during the 4-5 days at home.  I didn’t buy extra, in fear that we would starve and have nothing to eat for a week.  I bought a gallon of milk and a loaf of bread the day before the storm hit.  We had plenty, and I was even able to feed the two painters working in my house a couple of times.

Airstream… I mean streamline. Okay, I want an Airstream, but that has nothing to do with my kitchen.  The tasks of cooking, grocery shopping and cleaning the kitchen is much easier.  Cooking is easier, as there’s less stuff to shuffle around and I know what ingredients I have on hand.  Grocery shopping is easier, again, because I have less and I know the few things I need.  Cleaning is easier too, as I have a lot of extra pantry and cabinet space.  So much extra, that I was able to move all of my pantry items into empty cabinets while the oil paint takes 5 days to dry.

Here a snack, there a snack, everywhere a snack snack. My kids will open every bag of everything we buy at the store.  We could have, and have had, a pantry overflowing with food, and yet the kids can’t find a thing to snack on.  With much less in there, this is not a problem anymore.  It’s easy to see we have two open bags of crackers or pretzels.

Waste not, want not. We are wasting very little food these days.  Not that we wasted a lot before, but it was still more than I was comfortable with.  Waste is unnecessary, and by making some small changes to lessen it allows us to save a little money, be better to our environment and enables us to help others that don’t have enough to eat.

What did we do?

Downsized the pantry. If you have a smaller house like mine, the pantry is a small closet.  The picture is my “before” picture.  I don’t have an after right now, as the oil paint is still drying.  Whether your pantry is large or small, stuff always gets hidden in the back.  My pantry wasn’t horribly unorganized, it just had too much in it and could use a little more a system of “first in, first out”.  We took everything out and carefully selected what would go back.  I had cedar balls that didn’t smell like anything anymore.  Out.  Ridiculously expired stuff?  Out.  Open bags of stale crackers and chips?  Out.

We broke down the boxes and recycled them.  We couldn’t see all of the food behind the big boxes of crackers and cereal.  The boxes take up a lot of space.  I found it best to use see-through containers and baskets as much as possible.  Most of the stuff I didn’t know I has was in these black plastic crates and could not be seen. Continue reading


Feb 2 2011

where is she? [day 251]

I still need to get rid of some of my clothing.  I downsized by 50% a few weeks ago, but there’s still a few more pieces I could part with.  I was thinking about the clothing again after a short trip I took recently.

I went house hunting last Sunday, no, not to buy one, but to look for an abandoned house.  I’m part of a photo group that goes to small towns looking for abandoned houses, vacant buildings, old vehicles or anything else that has been left to deteriorate and wither away.  We’re never disappointed.  This last trip to Krum, Texas produced an abandoned house, a school bus, a fire truck and a semi truck, among other things.  The abandoned houses are always left full of stuff, but the things that surprise me the most is the clothing and the photographs left behind.  Who leaves a house without taking these things?

Just to give you an idea, this was the living room, going into the kitchen.

These are pics of the clothing left behind.

The nightgown still hanging on the back of the door…

I always wonder what the story is, but have yet to find one.  I’m led to look at the artifacts, ponder the possibilities and create my own fictional tale.

It’s dusk, the daylight slowly fading away.  The stuffed pig is sad, waiting patiently for the missing woman that should be coming home now.  After a long bath, she will put on the flowered gown.  Where is she?  Rarely is she late.  What was that?  A sound, followed with silence.  Silence that has turned to deafness over the years.  Still waiting.  It’s dusk.  Where is she?


Jan 26 2011

recycle freecycle [day 246]

Freeycycle is the modern day dumpster diving, without having to touch a dumpster or trash can.  From the freecycle site: It’s a grassroots and entirely nonprofit movement of people who are giving (and getting) stuff for free in their own towns. It’s all about reuse and keeping good stuff out of landfills. Each local group is moderated by local volunteers (them’s good people). Membership is free. To sign up, find your community by entering it into the search box above or by clicking on ‘Browse Groups’ above the search box. Have fun!

I had my first free items from freecycle.org a couple of weeks ago.  Three empty 5-gallon paint buckets from Home Depot.  I really needed just one, but the others will come in handy too, as I need to get rid of most of the paint I’ve been hoarding for years.

A few days ago, I got 3 lamps from freecycle.  One of them being a really cool, ultra-modern lamp, but needing repair to the on/off switch.  I haven’t repaired the lamp yet, but I can use the electrical from one of the other lamps that was missing a shade.  This lamp was not cheap and is probably the nicest lamp I own now.  The other small lamp, also missing a shade, will be my new energy efficient light in the nook on my staircase.  I ran electrical to that a couple of months ago since there was electrical in the closet underneath the stairs.

I’ve also gotten rid of things that I don’t need anymore.  Clutter is not my friend, so this made it easy.  I had some fence boards that I had no place to store.  Someone on freecycle was getting as many fence pieces as possible so he could build a new fence.  Smart dude, as he probably saved $5k and kept a lot of wood out of the landfill.   Continue reading


Jan 15 2011

build it and they will come… [day 232]

Yesterday I had to shop for work again.  I’m designing an interactive wall that unfortunately need some new supplies.  I was mentioning the fact that I had to go to the store in front of someone that just heard about my no retail challenge.  He asked, “So, if you shop for work, isn’t that against your challenge?  Doesn’t that give you the getting-new-stuff satisfaction?”  Okay, so I’m not sure if those were his exact words, but you get the point.  Here’s the answer to that question.

Let me start by saying that shopping is extremely frustrating and a root canal might have been a better way to spend my time.  Here’s why.

Ikea. This store is a giant maze.  I only needed one thing from there, a couple sets of Dioder multi colored lights.  I go in the exit there because I can look in the “as is” section first, and it’s the quickest way to the spot where the lights should be.  After making my way through the cold warehouse part into the marketplace, I find the display.  Sold out.  After asking about the next shipment, I find out these lights are discontinued and they’ll be replaced with a new design.  The problem?  The new sets are not available yet.  I start looking for my bread crumbs and make my way back to civilization.

Walmart. Not much to report here, just another giant superstore that takes forever to get into.  They didn’t have what I needed, which was inexpensive, decent quality, modern digital photo frames.  I needed 5 that look exactly alike.  They had some cheap, low quality ones, so on to the next store.

Lowe’s. Now, I’m all about a hardware store, if I have to shop.  I decided to take a look for LED lights, similar to Ikea’s.  Low and behold, they had them, and for the same price.  These are actually a little better, as one controller will hold more daisy chained lights.  They had just gotten these in a week prior.  Continue reading