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12 Cheap & Simple Ways to Experience Autumn

Autumn has finally arrived in the Northern Hemisphere. Another summer has passed: Now nature declines gracefully toward the long, peaceful slumber of winter.

It’s a great time of year to be observant. If you’re inclined — like most of the people reading More Minimal — to a simpler lifestyle, then autumn is the season for you. Mother Nature makes it easy for the aspiring minimalist. Just follow her lead over the coming months, and everything will fall into place.

See how nature unburdens herself. It begins in the garden and in the fields, with harvests large and small. Their purpose complete, the rows are left to marauding crows and the compost pile. Then the trees take a turn, releasing their leaves to the retreating sun. All of this is by design: October’s muddy leaves and cold puddles become next May’s wildflowers. Freed from the tedium of photosynthesis, trees gird themselves against the coming freeze. Nature puts things down so that she may take them up again. Casting things away is the precursor of growth.

There’s a close connection between living simply and being mindful of the changing seasons. To get you into the heart of autumn, here are a dozen little seasonal delights. No doubt you’ll think of others. Here’s wishing you the bounty of this harvest season.

Twelve Autumn To-Dos

Walk, hike, or ride your bicycle. The most basic way to enjoy the season is to get outdoors. That animated falling leaf desktop background on your computer is pretty nifty, but it’s not nature. Find a real leaf-covered sidewalk, street, or trail. There’s no substitute for a brisk breeze or the scent of chimney smoke on a cool evening. Don’t miss out.

Be ready for a flash picnic. You’ll know the first evening of autumn when it comes. That chill in the air? Have a basket and picnic supplies ready to go. Decide in advance where you’d like to spread your blanket, then drop everything and head out to greet the arrival of the season.

Find a stand of trees and begin photographing them daily. Digital photography is great for recording the unhurried phases of autumn. Find some photogenic trees, pick an easily identifiable location for a camera stand, and start shooting every day or two. In a few weeks, you’ll have a colorful perspective of the changing season.

Visit a farmer’s market. Autumn is harvest time. Go and appreciate its bounty, color, and variety at your local farmer’s market. Local Harvest can help locate one in your community. Bonus points if you take this opportunity to join a local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture).

Preserve food. Canning, freezing, drying herbs — it’s all part of bringing in the harvest. To your homegrown veggies or a bushel or two from a local green market and put them up for winter. Fresh preserving a great way to eat healthier, save money, and appreciate the distinctive character of autumn.
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Find a field and watch it being harvested. This is easier for some people than others, but get away from the blacktop and out to where things are grown if it’s at all possible. We’ve largely lost touch with the process of bringing food to the table. Watching the combines bring in a field of soybeans or corn is a great way to reconnect. It puts a new perspective on your plate.

Host a viewing party on the night of the Harvest Moon. Here’s an old custom ripe for revival: moon viewings. This year’s Harvest Moon falls on Sunday, October 4th. Invite over a few friends, pour some wine, and bring out a few seasonal goodies beneath a brilliant orange moon.

Make mulled cider. Scent, taste, and the season all go together. It would be tough to find a more distinctively autumnal beverage than mulled cider. Fill your home with its spicy smell. Never made mulled cider before? has dozens of recipe suggestions.

Forage for walnuts or pecans. Maybe it’s cranberries where you live, or some other kind of nut. The idea is to get outdoors and find something wild to eat. Bringing kids? Take some store-bought snacks, too.

Set up a late-season compost pile. Composting slows down as temperatures fall, but you can’t miss the opportunity to stock next spring’s pile with all those fallen leaves. If it’s still warm where you are, feel free to get them started. Otherwise, cover your leaf piles loosely and they’ll keep through winter. Remember that an inch or two of raked leaves is a great natural weed deterrent for resting plant beds.

Bring autumn leaves indoors. Start a leaf collection with your kids. Make a table decoration or autumnal door wreath. Bringing the season’s reds, yellows, and oranges indoors is a great way to deepen your autumn experience. The nice thing about these collections and decorations is that they can all be taken out to the compost heap when you’re done with them.

Attend a high school football game. Admittedly, this is a very American way to celebrate autumn. There will be plenty of big pro and college games in the coming weeks. But if you want to really appreciate football for what it is, take in some high school action. The smaller the school the better, and it’s best if you have no connection to the teams. So pick a tiny academy somewhere, root for one team one half, then switch sides. Enjoy the game — and don’t miss the bands at halftime.

This article originally appeared on More Minimal.

Minimalism Is More Than Less

At some point in the future, we will gather at the ocean’s edge to rid our vocabulary of its most venerable clichés.

This is how it will happen: A ship will be brought up onto the shore, piled high with offerings and fragrant woods. I picture a Viking longboat with one of those fabulous dragon figureheads rising from its prow and rows of colorful round shields.

One by one, we will bring our tired phrases and lay them tenderly upon the kindling. “Hunker down” will be among first. Someone will sob softly as their “inner child” is borne to its final reward. We’ll bid a respectful farewell to “Beauty is just skin deep,” “Penny wise, pound foolish,” and “It’s all good.”

Then, as sunset fades, we shall together commit the ship to fire and the receding tide, watching in silence as the waves carry away our collective linguistic sin.

My personal contribution to the great pyre will have been phrase “Less is more.”

What minimalism isn’t

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the philosophy of minimalism — or, perhaps more importantly, what minimalism is not. Unburdening oneself of needless things is good for the soul. I’m sure Feng Shui devotees are correct in their belief that clutter disrupts the energy of a room. Parents have been preaching this to their messy children since time immemorial.

But no matter how many times managers and consultants might intone the “less is more” mantra (usually before doing something unpleasant), reduction strictly for reduction’s sake isn’t minimalism. It’s vandalism.

Minimalism is the restoration of balance

Minimalism is actually a positive value. It’s the balance of that which is necessary against that which is desirable.

When I’m working around my office during the day, I’ll sometimes let my iTunes library shuffle through the lesser traveled sections of its music library. A passage from the Byrds’ lilting Turn! Turn! Turn! caught my ear this afternoon:

A time to build up, a time to break down;
A time to dance, a time to mourn;
A time to cast away stones,
A time to gather stones together.

A borrowing, of course, from the book of Ecclesiastes: three perfectly balanced couplets, each with a positive and negative value. Less isn’t more unless it brings the elements of something into harmony. Less isn’t more until it validates one of the clichés I will not carry down to the longboat: The whole can sometimes be greater than the sum of its parts.

And so we arrive at one way of viewing minimalism.

This article originally appeared on More Minimal.

Five Reasons Why We Cling to Our Stuff

Over on Facebook this morning, a friend of mine made an interesting observation. I don’t have permission to quote him, so I’ll present it anonymously:

We identify emotionally with our possessions because we’re not physically capable of holding enough meaning and memories by ourselves.

The guy who wrote this is a brilliant designer, responsible for some of the most beautiful contemporary housewares I’ve ever seen. So I can appreciate his attachment to objects — especially the lovely ones. But what he’s said here springs directly from the modern “we-are-our-stuff” myth which has so seduced us.

Whatever meaning, emotion, or memory is conjured by an object already exists within. There’s nothing wrong with stuff: I’m no ascetic, and minimalism is a method to achieving joy and balance — plenty. However, what’s at the root of my friend’s thought is something more than the desire for meaning.

Why we grasp so tightly

We sometimes collect things for good reason: need, for example, or the perfectly natural human impulse to curate beauty. But the main reason we cling to things, I believe, is fear. Specifically:

  • We fear want
  • We fear not being able to provide for others
  • We fear forgetting
  • We fear not being loved
  • We fear the unknown

You are not your things

We hold on for dear life. It’s futile, of course. The nature of material things is dissolution, and the meaning we find in objects is ultimately a reflection of our own thoughts. So when we talk about our stuff holding meaning, we have things precisely backwards. Our own memories, emotions, and experience are the source of that meaning.

We define our stuff — not the other way around. There’s no reason to fear letting go. Ultimately, we’ll do that, anyway. We enter and depart the stage with an empty hand.

Clinging to objects is the root of over-consumption, and the potential ruin of planet.

How to break free from aspirational clutter

For me, the moment came when I knocked over the five-gallon glass carboy jug. The one I’d bought for home brewing at least ten years ago, then never used. That, of course, hadn’t stopped me from dutifully moving to two different households — along with an enormous snarl of plastic tubing, bottle brushes, fermentation buckets, metal kegs, and two cases of empty beer bottles. All of it gathering dust since the Nineties.

Now there was the carboy, in pieces. I looked for a push broom. But in the clutter of my garage, it was nowhere to be found. In fact, I’d have been hard-pressed to locate anything in the rambling stacks of old bicycles, camping gear, and cast-off electronics crammed into every corner and cubbyhole.

I love the idea of homebrewed beer, even though I haven’t had time to make a batch of my own in over a decade. The stuff got stored, just in case. It was the same with the amateur radio gear and a surprising bulk of the things which had really become a burden. My garage had become a warehouse for a half-dozen cast-off hobbies. Call it aspirational clutter: the stuff you keep in the hope you’ll come back to it someday. It was time for an intervention.

The best intentions

The more intellectually curious you are, the more likely it is that you’re a bit of a dilettante. And what of it? Dilettantism is terribly underrated, at least as far as pastimes are concerned. Trying something, then moving on to another, is how we grow.

It’s also how our clutter multiplies. Clutter requires space to maintain. Before you know it, your things own you.

Let’s clear a little space. Hobbies are rarely mission-critical, so aspirational clutter is a good candidate for lightening your load. That’s not to say it won’t sting a little: Pretty much everything about our consumer culture teaches us that we’re defined by our stuff. Take a deep breath, and let’s decide what’s really important. The rest goes.

The One Year Rule

Here’s how I began clearing my own storage space. When it comes to aspirational clutter, it’s difficult to objective about what should go and what should stay. The One Year Rule does the mental heavy lifting for us. We tend to use the stuff we really value. If something can’t pass the One Year Rule, you’ve already made your decision about its importance — whether you consciously acknowledge it or not.

Have I used this item in the last year? If so, and it’s something you’d like to keep, great. If not — or if you’re feeling like the Grim Reaper of clutter — move on to the next stage.

Do you honestly expect to use this again in the next year? Be realistic: Is there time or money to restart an old hobby? Would you be using this item simply to justify keeping it? Could you actually schedule a date on the calendar for its use? Are we talking about something irreplaceable, such as photographs or a family heirloom? If you can’t answer “yes” to at least one of these, it has failed the one year rule.

Schedule its disposal within 24 hours. You’ve identified clutter — so get rid of it before you change your mind! Of course, we’d like to see our cast-off stuff finding its way back to usefulness, rather than the landfill. Everything that gets reused helps conserve energy and resources, so be smart about how you dispose of things.

  • Family and friends are great for placing unneeded items
  • Look for organizations which recondition electronics and bicycles for those who can afford them
  • There’s nothing wrong with making a few dollars from a yard sale
  • Consider the needs of groups such as the Salvation Army, Goodwill, and local charity thrift shops
  • Freecycle or list your items on Craigslist

A fresh start

Unmoored from your aspirational clutter, you’re free to explore new interests. Or perhaps you can just enjoy the serenity of a few extra square feet of space — and the knowledge that you are the master of your stuff. Not the other way around.

Broom image by Egan Snow / CC BY-SA 2.0. This article originally appeared on More Minimal.

Groundhog Day 2009: Pensacola Max Forecasts an Early Spring

Pensacola Max, North Florida’s famous weather forecasting Rottweiler, emerged for his morning constitutional today and failed to see his shadow. Popular lore supposes this indicates and early spring.

Conditions were cool and overcast as Max lifted a leg for his annual prediction. It’s the second year Max has performed the feat. In 2008, the 110 pound Rottie also failed to see his shadow — correctly forecasting a mild end to winter and early growing season. With a 100 percent track record of accuracy, gardeners in the Southeast can begin setting their plant beds with the assurance of warmer temperatures just ahead.

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The canine prognosticator’s forecast is at odds with the less reliable Punxsutawney Phil, who saw his shadow this morning at the annual Pennsylvania observance. Of course, it’s well known that groundhogs are so stupid they must be poked with a stick and physically hauled from their dens by strangely dressed old men to perform their duties. Such coercion likely explains the worthlessness of their seasonal opinions.

In contrast, Pensacola Max enthusiastically raced out the back door for a lusty pee before running through the bushes and rolling in his favorite sandy hole. After ten minutes of weather observation and chasing squirrels, he retired indoors for a sloppy bowl of water and a doggie biscuit.

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