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James Wanless

this is where I write

Progressing to Simple

I’ve been journaling my various back and gut maladies enough lately that I need not delve any further into that topic for the time being. As such, a brief update on the other main thing taking my attention; the march toward a simpler, more minimalist lifestyle.

We’ve been slowly moving toward this goal most of the year, the main catalyst of which is to sell our 1800 square foot, double-garage townhouse and downsize to a condo of roughly 1000 square feet, further west. Just how much further west depends on many things, but we could even end up all the way over in Victoria. I’m not going to get ahead of myself though.

Changing Gears and Making a Plan

From the end, to the range

Not that long ago, we thought it likely we’d stay where we are for several years, and we renovated our kitchen and baths accordingly two summers ago. We’d probably have done some updates to the then 30 year old rooms even if we’d have known we were going to sell, but I suspect we may have gone in a more budget-oriented direction with the work. What we’ve done will help the place show well and sell, but we’ve got a little line of credit debt we want to clear up from the sale before committing to our new mortgage.

As partial empty-nesters of two now-adult sons, our home had collected the amount of stuff you’d expect a place of its size to contain, including two vehicles, and enough furnishings, TVs, conveniences and the like for a family of four with three bedrooms, a family room, den, three bathrooms, a very small yard space, bicycles, etc, etc, etc.

Nonetheless, we decided that we needed to begin the process of purging and eliminating. Our main goal is to be lean and mean by the time we move, with just enough left to furnish a home half the size of our current one. As we have house-sized furniture, it’s possible we’ll need to over-purge and then get very small and simple things for our new place.

Even with neither of us being packrats by nature, the things that accumulate in your garage and storage areas take a lot of work to remove. We already know we’re donating a bunch of digital media, electronics, clothing and the like to the Developmental Disabilities Association. That pickup is scheduled for May 1st, so we have a fixed target of ten days from now for deciding exactly what’s going where in our purge. To meet this goal, we’ve decided to separate the things slated for landfill and sale/donation in our garage. In a perfect world, we’d donate or sell everything, but some things simply don’t have the value for either fate.

So Far …


I sold our 2005 Xterra a few weeks ago and got pretty much what I asked for it. While I liked driving it much more than our Subaru Imprezza, not only did the cost of operating it sway me, but I realized that driving an off-road 4×4 around town hardly screams minimalism or simplicity. As part of the reason for moving closer to the city centre is a significant reduction in driving, keeping the larger, less efficient vehicle made no sense.

We took this week off, in part, to get some small/medium things done around the house in preparation for listing it. In particular, I had some long-standing wall patch and paint touch-up work to do. I’m happy to report that the three main things all got done and ended up looking not too bad, if I do say so myself.

Gettin’ all electrical

I should also mention at this point, that while I’ve been patching, sanding and painting, Connie updated the remainder of our plugs and switches updated to decora style. Much like what I’ve been doing, this has been on the back burner for some time. Nothing like deciding to sell to get your ass in gear.

We still have this weekend before it’s back to work, so my hope is to get a bit of the yard work and a trip or two of the definite dump stuff taken by the end of it. We also presently have the beginnings of three distinct piles on the side of our garage which no longer accommodates a vehicle.

Coming Up

Our main reason for taking a week off together in the spring was to get these little things done before the whole sell and buy process of moving begins. We still have more purging and organizing of the garage piles left to do before we know exactly what’s being dumped, donated or possibly even sold via a garage sale in the next few weeks. We also have more furniture that we’ll need to sell before we move. However, we need to leave it in place for now to show our townhouse. Not only the extra furniture we will no longer need, but I expect our dining and bedroom furniture to be too large for a smaller condo.

We have our pre-approval financing application rolling with our mortgage broker, so we’ll have a good idea of where we stand before we begin looking seriously at condos with the notion of making any offers. Given the rental market in Vancouver and us being dog folk, there’s no way we can consider renting for a while after we sell, and then buying a condo. As such, similar to our last move eight years ago, I expect we’ll be into the wonderful world of bridge financing for a short period. I don’t expect selling our townhouse to be too difficult. We’re in a nice quiet family neighbourhood with great schools, with an end unit in a well-run strata. We also have one of the largest townhouses in our entire neighbourhood, with three full (renovated) baths. Our place kind of screams “ideal for families.”

All in all, our goal was to be in a position to list by early May and I think we’ll pretty much be on track. The only thing I’m still not sure about is how much yard work I’m going to do before selling. I expect any new owner will want to change a few things and give our place a coat of paint, so the goal with all of it is more about being presentable than perfect.

2017-04-01

A few months ago, I vowed I would publish a journal post every day. After a little while I realized an entry a day was a bit much. At the time I wanted the quality to be somewhat decent. However, the frequency slowly dwindled to every few days, to weekly, to the point where the past five weeks have seen nothing.

Starting Over

Given that my goal was simply regular journaling, I realized that worrying too much about quality defeated the purpose. So, once again I’m rebooting the daily thing for April. No goals, no specific format, just daily writing for a few minutes. This isn’t about audience or readership, just reflection and practise.

If I wanted to write something long I could go into some detail about the past few weeks, but instead I’ll just mention in brief that we’ve begun down the road to some big changes (we hope) this year. Gone is one of our two vehicles, sold last weekend. We’ve begun to accumulate items we are donating, selling or tossing in the freed up garage space. Presently, that includes a very old surround sound system, a very heavy old CRT TV, a ton of books, CDs, DVD and a bunch of what can only be described as junk.

As we continue compiling this stuff we’re now beginning to do some small touchups around the house ~ some minor drywall patching, a little paint here and there, replacing some old switches and plugs with decora, a little yard cleanup and shrub planting, etc. The goal is to be done all this stuff by the end of April so that we can list our townhome and downsize to a condo of about half its size closer to downtown.

We don’t really know what the timing of everything will be yet, but if we could be in a new place by summer we’d be pretty happy. Of course, aside from the purging of old stuff, there’s also a fair bit of furniture we simply can’t keep in a place half the size of our current one, so we’ll also be selling a large sofa, chair and bedroom suite. Anything we do need when we move will be purchased after we’re in our new place.

If it’s not apparent by what I’ve described above, we’re trying to embrace a somewhat more minimalist, simple lifestyle. I suspect that, if we could eventually go down to no cars and use co-op services and other rentals when needed, we’d actually consider that.

Regardless of how far we get down the minimalist path, I expect things will look much different in a year.

Baby Steps

A while ago, I decided I wanted to focus more on creative pursuits; notably reading, regular journal writing, re-engaging with drumming and music, sketching, visual art, and the like. I’m definitely making progress on the first two, and if you include learning and developing a love for Sketch, a progress of sorts on the visual/art side.

Writing

With regard to writing, I’m not generating daily posts as I initially wanted to, but I often take little notes for ideas, am posting fairly frequently and usually have the germination of more than one post in draft form.

Related to the (online) writing piece, I’ll be doing a little re-theming and re-structuring of this site beginning almost immediately. It may not be a huge change all at once, rather as with the other things I’m trying to do more of, it will likely change in baby steps. Before I refine what I write about or consider more intensive projects, I want to establish a daily practise, and I’m simply not there yet. Make the change first until it becomes habit, then refine and improve upon it.

And that’s really my point in this post. Unless you’re referring to the genesis of our planet, lasting change rarely happens with one big bang, at least not for me. I’ve tried. I’ve failed. If you break off more than you can chew, you choke. What I find does work when I manage to make change, is to break my goal into the smallest useful pieces and do them until they are habit. Then I add.

Reading

For example, to read more has initially been a two-stage process. The first is to simply do it. As opposed to mindlessly going online, zoning out on music, late night staring at the tube, I’ve been stealing half hours at lunch, twenty minutes here and there and usually been adding at least an hour of reading, if not more, to my day. I’m reading every day now without exception.

The second stage has been more about determining what I should spend my time reading. My reading history has been equal parts fiction and nonfiction, though given how my brain works it’s hardly a surprise that I’ve usually enjoyed nonfiction more. I think it’s because I like learning things I can apply to my daily life and I find more of that in nonfiction.

However, as I wanted to explore more, I bought a handful of classics by Hemingway and Joyce, in particular. I started with The Sun Also Rises and all I can really say is, by the halfway point, the sun had already set. While the language and story definitely didn’t translate some ninety years after it was penned, for me the real truth was that it was simply boring. How absolutely nothing of interest could happen in 120 pages, I’m not sure, but Earnest managed to pull it off. I expect the next work of fiction I may tackle is the hefty Ulysses by Joyce, but we’ll see when the time comes.

Where Hemingway failed me, nonfiction isn’t, at least for the time being. Just before Christmas I zipped through a lovely cancer memoire (if such a thing can be called lovely) by Teva Harrison, In Between Days. It’s a fast read, touching, brave and inspiring. I heartily recommend it and you can easily get through it as quickly or as slowly as you want. I’ve had some connections with Teva online and the book is as grounded and authentic as she seems to be.

I’m presently about 3/4 through Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything. At once heavy and light, it rings true to its title by covering everything in just enough depth to be informative, without bludgeoning its reader with the kind of detail that would kill most of us. One review called it “hefty, highly researched and eminently readable” and I couldn’t agree more.

Brain Food

I guess this could still be considered reading, but more than that it’s really what I like to call brain food for lack of a better term. More bite-sized, but more applicable to daily life. I should mention that underpinning a lot of the change I’m trying to make is a desire to think differently in certain circumstances than I currently do. I expect that delving into that topic is likely a future post, but for now suffice it to say, I’m trying to frame my decision-making differently.

Specifically, and again I’ll get more into this at a later time, but I’ve really begun to take to heart something I’ve been thinking about a long time, but which two passages in particular from a Hunter Thomson ‘letter’ to a friend I read last week really crystallized for me:

Decide how you want to live and then see what you can do to make a living WITHIN that way of life.

AND

But a man who procrastinates in his CHOOSING will inevitably have his choice made for him by circumstance.

The added bonus in reading this piece was the discovery of the wonderful Farnam Street blog, exactly the kind of stuff I’m trying to add to my arsenal. So, while something like the Bryson book is more general interest, I’ve begun compiling a few things in the area of philosophy and culture I want to read on an ongoing basis. I’ve begun taking a closer look at an old favourite, Brain Pickings, and am beginning to read The Book of Life as time allows. Again, baby steps toward something more.

As I’ve hit my early fifties, the big questions for me have really become about deriving more satisfaction from life by deciding how I want to live and then making the changes to realize that ~ be they work, living location/abode, hobbies, whatever ~ and ensuring I’m in control of those changes, lest they happen by circumstance in a less-than-optimal way. To some degree, we’re all the result of circumstance, but I’ve often made my decisions more with regard to standard of living and paying bills than I have with regard to joy and happiness and I’m going to do my best to change that.

These baby steps to more reading, more writing, more stuff to learn and change my thought and decision-making processes are all about ensuring life is lived as happily and fully as possible.

Hope and Optimism

2016 has been a bad year, both culturally and politically. It’s easy to be pessimistic and cynical if you allow yourself to be. I know I have ~ too much. However, I’ve also made a decision to try and let go of the crap I can’t change and try and improve the stuff I can. I’m hoping it’ll just take a little hope and optimism (and probably a lot of willpower).

There’s no way around it. From a broad perspective, at least in cultural and political terms, 2016 was a low point. Beginning with David Bowie, the list of obituaries for those who had some sort of impact on my life was astounding. Muhammed Ali, Prince, Morley Safer, Glenn Frey, Alan Rickman, Gene Wilder, Gary Shandling, Ron Glass … and that barely scratches the surface.

However, if there’s one certainty in life, it’s that we eventually all die and 2016 seemingly had far more than its share. I didn’t lose any family members or anyone close to me, so that’s something important.

Of significantly graver consequence to much of the planet was the international shitstorm of the continuing Syrian crisis, Brexit and the election of Donald Trump. These issues have been covered ad nauseum, so there’s little point rehashing the details of any of them here.

In the context of my thoughts, though, there’s a single word that ties them, and indeed many of the world’s problems, together. And that word is fear. Whether driving al-Assad to pummel innocent people into oblivion, or making British people vote to leave the EU and Americans vote for an unstable, immature egomaniac, to me it all comes down to fear. In fact, fear seems to be the prevailing thing that drives most reactive things.

The genesis of the Syrian war was the 2011 Arab uprising. Fearing he’d lose control of his country as he watched other regimes collapse, al-Assad waged war on the rebels, while not caring a whit how many citizens were killed or displaced. As of this writing, Aleppo is a battered pile of ruins, all because of one man’s fear.

Brexit and Trump were campaigns orchestrated to play on human fears. Driven by isms and phobias too numerous to mention, passing half-truths and complete fabrication off as fact, it all ends up in the same place. Telling economically or socially disenfranchised people repeatedly that they should be fearful of past change and its beneficiaries, it’s quite easy to sell the false hope that they’ll get back what they’ve lost by slowing and reversing that change.

Oddly enough, that last bit is my silver lining. If false hope can be sold to desperate people via lies and negativity, then surely real hope never leaves if we remain focused on facts and the logic and goodness of most people. In other words, if false hope and bullshit can win temporarily, real hope and optimism can still prevail long-term. It has to and I feel it ultimately always has.

Among the many things I’ve been examining about myself, cynicism and pessimism are how I deal with things more often than I’d like. Using just the three examples above, it’s not hard to see why. However, just as I’m focused on self-improvement through exploring creativity more, I’ve also decided I’m going to try to see the positives far more often, hard though that may be at times. As opposed to bemoaning and grumbling about the bad stuff, I’m hoping to take more action to change the the things I can and let go of the things I can’t.

Volunteering, more donating, becoming more of a glass half-full guy ~ in short, finding more ways to improve things through hope and optimism.

Consideration

Or, rather a lack thereof. I know I’m not always as compassionate as I could or should be, but generally I think I manage to consider those around me pretty well. It’s not hard. Don’t jump queues, don’t reach in front of people, excuse yourself, hold doors open when you can … In general just try to ensure what you’re doing doesn’t impact others negatively, or that your convenience creates a hardship elsewhere.

All of us occasionally and accidentally has a negative impact on someone around us. When you hopefully come to the conclusion you’ve done this, apologize. That will usually go a long way to fixing things. Sadly, the odd time someone behaves boorishly and actually does apologize, it’s so rare that my chin is usually dragging on the floor.

And then, there’s the problem of holding others to a similar standard to the one I try and set. Ultimately, I know this is where things break down for me. Since it’s how I try to act, I set myself up for disappointment by having standards at all. Unfortunately, self-interest runs deep and strong in public encounters. Pubs, coffee shops, anywhere entitled dog folk are, parking lots and even my own strata are breeding grounds for the Ricky Bobby mantra …

How then to change things? History tells me if you call people out they’ll have one of three reactions and nothing will change for the better. Pretending you don’t exist is the most common strategy (which basically says they know they’re wrong, but if they don’t acknowledge you it’ll just go away), followed closely by obtuse defensiveness to the point of denial in the face of clear visual evidence. The least common, but perhaps most annoying strategy is to actually admit the behaviour (“Yeah, so … and …”) and then justify it by claiming you did something totally unrelated and far worse six months ago, despite the fact this is the first they’ve mentioned it. That last one is my favourite neighbour’s approach.

I’d like to say it’s mostly people inadvertently having this impact while not trying to, but the sheer volume of people who react via the second or third strategy above, suggests to me that many of the self-interested know exactly what they’re doing and simply don’t give a shit how their behaviour impacts others.

I’ve learned, perhaps too late in life though, that frank discussions about manners are almost impossible and I’ve mostly given up trying to have them. It’s understandable because any open discussion of behaviour is, first and foremost, considered an affront to those receiving the feedback. However, just leaving bad behaviour hanging in the air like a peach rotting on the tree isn’t great either because, like rotting fruit, it spreads and affects more people the longer it isn’t stopped.

I’ll admit, aside from ignoring it more often, I’m failing at dealing with this issue effectively.

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