Sunday, December 31, 2017

Bye 2017

Merry Christmas!

As of today, we've lived in Hong Kong for six months! Though I'm actually writing this from America. Specifically the American South, in Mississippi, where my parents moved from California after we left America seven years ago. This is the first American Christmas we've had in seven years. My Mom has been in poor health, and I've been trying since before we left Shanghai to get here to be with her, but life happens, business trips happen, parent nights at new schools happen, and finding someone to watch your dog in a new country happens. Coming to visit my parents didn't happen. So when we were booking our trip to Scandinavia for a sequel to our awesome trip last year, we had a realization that instead of just me coming to America at some unknown point, we could all come together for Christmas. And here we are! Completely disrupting my parents orderly life with our noise and teenage boys and electronics and weird jet lag hunger patterns. We spent a week with them in Florida to visit Walt Disney World (wearing them out completely) and are now spending the second week of our holiday going back and forth to the Wal-Mart (the only store in town) and eating so much Southern Cooking that when I finally washed and tumble dried my jeans after wearing them several times in a row (no need to dress up for the folks at Wal-Mart), I found them tight and miserable to wear. We leave on New Year's Day and we'll be back to walking 5-6 miles a day around Hong Kong and eating our usual more vegetable based diets and hopefully the pants will fit again shortly. In the meantime, I did pick up a pair of super comfy stretchy pants on one of our trips to the Wal-Mart for our 30 hour journey home...

I know 2017 was a rotten year for a lot of people. But as is the case for me on most every year, I can only look back with gratitude. I continue to get to live the life I've always dreamed of, with the man of my dreams, and with these two lovely young men who I swear were just toddlers a few minutes ago.  And is the case for me with most every year, I've got so much to look forward to. Exciting things are always on the horizon.

I hope you enter 2018 with joy and much to look forward to as well!

Happy New Year, Friends!

My Mama and Me.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Three Months in Hong Kong

Yesterday I was out of the house for most of the day, getting home after the rest of the family was already in bed and asleep. But just because I'm not here doesn't mean that the laundry does itself in our tiny washer/dryer machine that takes about four hours to complete a very small load (no, not an exaggeration of the time). Close to midnight as I was watching the spin cycle while eating a late night snack in the kitchen, I realized it was actually the end of our third month in Hong Kong. We've completed our first quarter of the year!

I've been doing a little project where I take one second of film every single day to record our life here in Hong Kong. It's funny how just the tiniest snippet actually opens a flood of memories of the day in question. I've never bought into the ideology that less is more, I mean, let's be honest, MORE is more, right? But it's actually a very low key, easy way to document our time here. I've posted the videos month by month over on Instagram and thought I'd share the links here as well. Originally I was just going to do the first month of our stay in Disney Explorers Lodge, but I found it wasn't really a burden to create thanks to an app that does all the heavy lifting, so I continued. I'm so glad I did! At the end of the year I'll put it all into one 365 second video. Enjoy!

Month One:

Month Two:

Month Three:

Friday, September 1, 2017

Welcome Guests!

When we lived in Shanghai, we had many house guests. But in a strange twist of events, almost none of them were known to us prior to actually spending the night in our home.

There's a weird thing that happens when you live abroad, friends of friends (and sometimes friends of friends of friends) will put you in touch when they know someone who happens to be passing through. Generally, I'll get to chatting with them through Facebook or email about hotel recommendations and they'll freak out over the cost and I'll just say, "Oh just stay with us. We have a very humble home, but if you really just need a place to sleep so you can focus your time and funds on _________, save your money and use our spare room."

Before leaving Shanghai, I calculated how many people came and stayed with us in five years, and I'm not joking (we have the guest book to prove it) twenty-seven people spent the night that we'd never met in person before they knocked on our door or we picked them up at the airport.

I have pondered whether we would be so open with our home if we were still living in our birthplace of Los Angeles. I'm not sure. Living abroad, even in some of the largest cities on the planet, it feels a bit like being in the distant prairie of the wild west, living in an outpost where there's no doubt you'll welcome weary travelers who happen to pass through because you're quite aware of the "dangers" awaiting them out in the dark (i.e. scams, and Shanghai sure had a lot). I know we've certainly spent many a night in a guest bedroom in enough places around the world to know there's a vast difference in the experience you have in a home vs a hotel (and I've got nothing against hotels, I love a concierge, a set of luxury sheets, and room service at 11:00 p.m. as much as the next girl).

I'm quite aware that most everything we have here in Asia isn't really ours... we were given so much, whether it was a lump sum payment to buy needed household goods, hand-me-down appliances gifted to us when another family was repatriating, or even the monthly allowance that goes toward our housing. Come to think of it, with just two more years until graduation for Nathan and four more for Benjamin, even our kids aren't our own, they'll be off doing their own thing a hundred or so blog posts from now... I think being aware of this perspective helps me to understand that I can't (or perhaps shouldn't?) keep to myself what doesn't really belong to me in the first place.

I'm not sure I really believe in karma, but I do know that when my hand is open to freely give rather than tightly wrapped in a fist holding on to what's mine-mine-mine, things have a way of being gently placed in that still open palm at exactly the time I need them.

Our new home in Hong Kong is the second-smallest place we've ever lived (the smallest was in the San Francisco Bay Area, which despite the tiny size remains one of the most expensive homes we've ever lived in). We no longer have a dedicated guest room here, just a pull out sofa in the room where I write and my husband pays bills. It's not much, and to be honest, one month into our stay in this home it still looks and feels like the storage room it kinda is.

I won't deny I feel a twinge of sadness that we had so few people who actually know us in real life stay with us when we had far more space to offer in both Macau and Shanghai. Especially since so many family members and close friends have declared their intention to come visit us now that we are in Hong Kong. But though our space on offer has greatly diminished, the gift of a warm home (or cool, hooray for working air conditioning!) and an enthusiastic welcome to weary travelers certainly won't shrink in size. If anything, we're just seeking new ways to be creative with what we do have. We're putting this to the test as our very first actual overnight house guest in Hong Kong arrives tonight at midnight for a few days, and our second arrives in two weeks. We'll see how this works out! Adventure, always!

As far as visitors who haven't actually stayed overnight with us, we've already had seven people swing through Hong Kong to say hello, six of them Shanghai friends and one who I met via Instagram (I'm @roseknows if you want to follow along where I post daily, certainly more often than here). It's always nice to see a friendly face, and that definitely goes both ways... it's always rough when we move to a new country (even, I'm finding, when it's actually an old country you've lived in before), so seeing these beautiful friends has certainly made a big difference!

Marijke on July 11!

Sara on July 31!

Anthony & Maria + kiddos on August 1!

Kelsey on August 31!

Friday, August 18, 2017

Home Sweet Hong Kong

We are home!

No we don't actually live in Sleeping Beauty Castle at Hong Kong Disneyland, but we did spend a month at the Disney Explorers Lodge while waiting for our household goods to arrive in Hong Kong! My husband immediately began work on some of the exciting expansions coming to Hong Kong Disneyland and the boys and I enjoyed summer to its fullest (spoiler alert, today was the third day of school so buh-bye summer!). 

We are all settled into our new flat, the last two boxes were unpacked yesterday (record time!) though we are still figuring out where to put everything... Our home in Shanghai was twice the size (and half the price) as our home here in Hong Kong. That's what you get when you live in a tiny country where the only way to get more space is to build straight up into the sky! Our flat is actually pretty big by Hong Kong standards to be honest. We live on one of the islands where there is some room to breathe and we have the South China Sea as our front yard and a mountain as our back yard. I love it so much. And don't worry, I'll be sharing more about our new home shortly. 

The wonderful thing about being out of Mainland China is my blog isn't censored and I can actually access it super easily! Now I just need to sit down and fill it with content. Oh, but I do wish I could hug it... it's like an old friend I've not seen in a long time! If you're still here, thanks for hanging out long enough for me to get back to My Wandering Life. I've got some great things in store so just hang in there a little bit longer, okay? 

PS, good to see you!

Monday, May 29, 2017

Ode to a Shanghai Sofa

When my Mama was growing up, the walls in her home were a riot of noisy color. Mustard yellow, avocado green, deep crimson. And though my Mama is an artist, she found the colors to be dark and oppressive. She dreamt of a quiet, peaceful home with pale white walls where her furniture and art could be the focus. 

When I was growing up, the walls in my home were white. White, white, white, every room, every wall. My little brother and I wore my Mama down when we were in the 4th and 5th grades, and my brother got one wall painted the palest of blue in his room, and I got the palest of creamy yellow painted on a single wall in mine. It was barely satisfying though... I daydreamed of a home with walls dressed in a riot of noisy color. 

At age 18 I moved from the family home into a tiny bachelor apartment, and then got married at 21. In our almost 21 years of marriage, we have never yet owned our own home. Which means I've lived the entirety of my adult life with Rental White walls. Somehow I ended up living my Mama's childhood dream, while she got mine. We always want what we can't have.

I have lived in Asia eight years cumulatively. The thing about living in Asia as an expat- most places come furnished. And it's very common to find that the owner of the home you rent does not make the same choices with furnishing their property that you might make, especially if you were raised in a Western country (even my own raised-in-Asia children have very different taste from me, theirs is firmly based in a Chinese aesthetic). But like they say in Kindergarten: you get what you get and you don't throw a fit. And there is a certain level of freedom which comes from not owning furniture, and a free lesson in creativity in trying to make someone else's stuff look like home while you live with it.

Our last flat in Shanghai was the closest to what I like, lots of bright green and purple furniture instead of the usual red and metallic gold that much of Shanghai's, Macau's, and Hong Kong's landlords have embraced. The walls even had a little color, pale lavender in the common areas and medium yellow in the bedrooms. 

A fellow expat friend of mine went and designed and had some furniture made to order here in Shanghai, and when she abruptly repatriated, she had to sell off a lot of it. I was so happy to take her little sofa and four purple chairs, because the color scheme perfectly fit with our living room, already home to a large purple sofa (owned by the landlord) and a big green rug (also owned by the landlord) which looked great with the little sofa. And it was really unique, not something you could ever walk into a store here in Shanghai to buy. 


It made our landlord mad. He truly despised it. Whenever he'd come over to check out something in the flat, he'd remark on how ugly it was and ask us if we wanted him to buy something nicer to replace it. In more recent visits he'd gasp and ask why we still had it and when we planned to get rid of it. "Drag it to the curb, someone will take it with the garbage," he say, pained expression on his face. That somehow just made me love it more. We also always love what people don't want us to have, and that little sofa, unlike everything else in our home, was mine all mine. 

It was my oldest son Nathan's favorite place to sit. Far too short to contain all of his 6'+ body, our part-octopus boy would somehow wind up all his legs and arms and make himself comfortable for movie night. It was very deep, perfect to curl your feet under your legs with a good book. 

A year ago we moved from our flat in Lujiazui, the area of Shanghai with all the highest of high rises, to the suburban Century Park area of Pudong. Our new flat was a study in red and metallic gold, and it caused me pain to think about making peace with a garish red brocade couch set with gold lame' trim, along with textured faux gold paint on every piece of furniture. But the location was great and the price was more than right and we negotiated with the owner to remove the furniture so we could bring in our own. Which, on the day we signed the lease consisted of that small sofa and four purple chairs. 

I would have loved to be like my friend and have designed some furniture for the new flat and then have it made, but when we moved, my husband was in the middle of opening Disney's newest theme park and I was about to go live in Suzhou for a few weeks to produce an arts camp for teenagers, and having a place to sit down wasn't something we could delay. So we made a trip to my happy place, IKEA, and came home with a large neutral sofa and a large neutral rug and a dining room table to put those bright purple chairs around. My husband was surprised at the sedate choices, but I still hoped to paint our walls something bright and cheerful, which the new landlord agreed to as long as we painted it back to rental white before we moved out. Suddenly our lightweight expat freedom got a little heavier, and I got a little grumpier, no one eat on this couch we own it! No juice on the carpet we own it! Don't drag things across the table we own it! But my favorite was still the little sofa. We owned it, but it somehow felt more like home because it was different from anything you'll ever find in IKEA or any other Shanghai flat. Plus, it had already lived in someone else's home and the shabby chic style was meant to look lived in. 

Now here we are, a year later, moving to Hong Kong. We never did have an opportunity to paint our walls something noisy and wild, probably a good thing since we have no time right now to paint them back to Rental White before we leave less than 30 days from now. We went to Hong Kong a couple weeks ago to apply to schools for the boys and look at apartments and figure some things out. One thing we realized right away: we're going to be living in a flat half the size of the apartment we currently live in, and we'll be paying twice as much in rent. Our budget simply won't allow us to go any bigger in one of the most expensive real estate markets on this entire planet. Hard decisions had to be made, and one of the first was finding a new home for the little sofa and the four purple chairs. They take up a lot of space that we simply won't have. Too small to be the sole seating furniture, too big to be the extras.

I listed them for sale on a local buy/sell/swap group and within minutes there were takers lining up for all the pieces. Sadly, they've been separated, as the person who immediately claimed the sofa waffled on the chairs and someone else swooped in with cash. But that's okay. It just means they'll go on to bring color and joy to two other families living the expat life in rented, furnished apartments hoping to put a little of their own personality in a space that isn't their own. 

My son Nathan helped us load the little sofa into our elevator and take it down to the lobby to meet the person taking it. Nat was a little bereft at losing his favorite spot. I know how he feels. Living this global nomadic life means we don't have one place that will forever be home, so home ends up being mostly people, along with little pieces of this and that which stay consistent while everything else changes. We had that little sofa for nearly five years, a lifetime in our family. We all took a moment to consider the truth in that, and I felt like I needed to write it out as a way to release it instead of changing my mind and refusing to sell it and then ending up with an overstuffed home in Hong Kong and growing to resent the thing that used to bring me so much joy, or worse... ending up having to drag it out to a curb there with the garbage because we just can't keep it. I also think the little sofa is a bit of a metaphor for this city we are leaving. It may seem like just a little sofa, and it may seem like five years in one city is such a small unit of time. But from the time I moved out of the family home in 1993, I've never before been in one place for five years. In fact, only once in my life did I ever get beyond five years, and that was the house my brand new parents brought their firstborn baby girl home to on my very first Christmas. Five years, to me, is quite a wild accomplishment. 

I'm excited for what's next, really and truly filled with joy over the future for all four of us (and hope springs eternal for a future with walls which are a riot of noisy color in our new home). But I also have space inside me for the bit of sorrow which comes when you say goodbye to something you will never get back. It's true, we are moving back to Hong Kong, a place we lived before, so I know it's absolutely possible that at some point in the future we'll end up moving back to Shanghai too. Never say never, right? But just like Hong Kong isn't the same now as it was back then, Shanghai won't be the same either. And I know I certainly won't be the same.

Thank you, little sofa. And thank you, big Shanghai. You will both be missed.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Wandering, Again (Finally!)


Our Five Year Shanghai-versary is just a few weeks away! This is a huuuuge record for us, since becoming Mr & Mrs over two decades ago, my husband and I have never before lived in one city (or country!) for five consecutive years. 

But considering there are five of us in our little family, it seemed like five years is a good solid number of completion. Soooo after much thought and deliberation, we decided it was time to say goodbye to Shanghai and move home! 

BUT... Where is home, when you've moved fourteen times between five countries in twenty-one years of marriage? 

Is home a place you were born but have no memory of living, as America is to Benjamin, our youngest son? 

Is it one of a dozen places you've lived and loved and created family out of friends, people who are closer than any actual relative because of the crazy life you've walked through together?

We left it up to the littlest member of our family to decide where to go. And with great furry enthusiasm, Lucy Rocket asked if we could please move back to her birthplace, and our former home from twelve years ago, HONG KONG! 

The rest of us thought this was a splendid idea, and even Disney went along with the plan, offering my husband a coveted permanent position in one of our favorite and most visited cities on the planet, still the current home of people we love and are thrilled to reconnect with. 

And: In the most beautiful bookend I couldn't have planned if I'd tried, my oldest son Nathan, who began Kindergarten in Hong Kong way back at the start of his school career, will also graduate high school there! 

We are all very excited for the new adventures in our former and future home! We'll be moving by Benjamin's birthday at the end of June. We're in the midst of applying for schools and scoping out places to live, along with the paperwork hell that comes with legally living in a country where you weren't born. Hong Kong real estate is notoriously tiny for the price, so we're also downsizing our belongings like crazy so we don't start out frustrated with too much stuff and not enough space (thus my post yesterday). Good times!

Nope, not yet able to say what my husband will be doing for Hong Kong Disneyland other than continuing to make Disney Magic! WE heart❤️ HK!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up

Can I tell you a secret? Though if you knew me in my childhood or in America, it is perhaps not such a secret. I'm terrible at keeping a space, any space, tidy. While plenty of people share design secrets about "less is more," my life motto since birth has been MORE IS MORE. Why settle for less? In childhood I had the messiest room of anyone I knew. And it was partially because I had more stuff than anyone I knew (I collected a lot of things. One thing was plush monkeys. You can read about that here).

A big part of my problem is that I am incredibly sentimental. If I were an actress and had to cry on cue, I could do it like a pro because just looking at something I treasure can start the waterworks. There's something about the way my memories are tied to tangible stuff that makes me want to hang onto everything. And if you ever come to my home, you'll see there isn't a single item in it that doesn't have a story attached to it. (If you do come over, you're welcome to test me on this. I love telling stories!) Sometimes I feel like I can't let go of something because it would be like letting go of the memory, or the person who gave me the item. It's a weird sensation, but I'm far from alone on this. To make matters worse, when I was 14 every single item from my childhood -- along with everything my family owned except about two weeks worth of clothing, a few photo albums, and two stuffed animals -- were completely destroyed in a random, senseless accident. Irreplaceable items, gone. Every day items that make up a home, gone. No choice in the matter, just the lucky chance that we had a few things with us when we lost everything else. It affected each member of my family differently, but in my case I went from being sentimental to near-hoarder of anything that might at all be important, and even if something wasn't important, I could elevate it to treasure status because I was the girl with no tangible proof of a childhood or young teenage life, no old birthday cards, no puppy-love letters, no baby toys or scrapbooks. And so I don't get rid of stuff, and my childhood room, my college bachelor apartment, my California house, my Shanghai apartment... they were (or are) filled to overflowing with stuff. So much stuff.

Since moving out of my parents' house right after high school graduation, I have lived in 19 homes. Nineteen different addresses, in twenty-four years. That's an average of a new home every 16 or so months. And just to make things fun, that's nineteen different addresses between five different countries. When I mention the number of moves, including the international ones, the number one comment I get is, "Wow, you must be so good at organizing and purging stuff! I bet you're a pro at knowing what the essentials are and letting everything else go! Can you teach me your ways?"

Um. No.

I'm horrible at organization. I have a hard time letting go of even brochures or tourist maps. And for me, everything can be an essential!

Expat life doesn't help... apart from America we've lived in Tokyo, Hong Kong, Macau, and Mainland China, which is our current home of FIVE record years (and so yes, if you're good at math, that means several of our previous homes we only lived in for 9-12 months!). Living in a country which is not your own where you don't speak the language can present big challenges. We have to bring everything, just-in-case we can't buy this or that there. And every time someone else repatriates or moves away, I'm always happy to take anything anyone is willing to hand off. After all, if they found it handy and useful, then surely I will too, right? We have a spare room which is frequently filled with guests, and no matter what they might need, I'm certain I have it on hand. (Some friends call that "hospitality." I think it's more "hoarding.") The only plus side to living abroad? Inexpensive household help who keep the huge collection of things at bay and who make me look like I actually am the domestic goddess I might have been in a different lifetime.

I have tried many times over the years to get organized. My beloved mother and my dearest mother-in-law have helped with many of our moves, either at the packing up end or the unpacking end (if you ever need to create a functional kitchen from scratch, my mother-in-law has skillzzz worth paying for!). But nothing ever stays organized. Everything is quickly overflowing. I've frequently done very drastic moves, like completely emptying all the closets and cupboards (or the entire office) and putting it all back together again in new storage bins or bookcases, but no matter how I rearrange it, it's still too much stuff.

When we moved from Los Angeles to Macau in 2011, I got rid of what felt like an extraordinary amount of stuff. And then we moved into a flat that was 3,000 square feet, the largest home I've ever lived in. So everything had a place, and it was all behind cupboards. Then we moved to Shanghai into a smaller flat of "just" 2,000 square feet. Unfortunately, it had no built in storage whatsoever. Everything we owned was pretty much out in the open at all times. Last summer we moved into another flat across town which was smaller and had one less bedroom. The office has moved into my bedroom and the spare room looks like a storage space, because there's nowhere to put anything.

This February our family went to America for five weeks over the Spring Festival holiday (Chinese New Year). We left China with two suitcases full of our clothes and gifts for friends and family, but we returned with nine suitcases, four carry ons, and four backpacks, filled to the weight limit with new clothes, new kitchen gear, new shoes, new books, new stuff. We've been back in China for ten weeks and we still haven't found a place to put about 75% of the stuff we brought back with us. That's depressing.

A lot of things have been overwhelming lately, things that have absolutely nothing to do with the state of my house or the number of items I have. And I don't know about you, but when things start to get out of control, I tend to find something, anything, that actually is within my control, and then do something about it. And because one of the things that was out of my control was the health of my husband and oldest son, I was spending an extraordinary amount of time in my home, all day, every day, taking care of them for five weeks (three weeks for my husband, two weeks for my son). When you're trapped at home, you notice a lot more about your home. And what I noticed was the amount of stuff that surrounded me wasn't actually making me happy. The things I really wanted to put on display or hang on the wall were still in boxes or stacked behind doors because there was no place to put them. Because I traveled out of town for work in the month after we moved into this flat, it wasn't me who unpacked and put things away, it was our ayi (housekeeper) who has been with us for nearly five years. And I'm not complaining about having help (#firstworldproblems), but by the time I got back home, things were in place and being used and objects at rest tend to stay at rest and it was easier to just leave things as they were instead of actually gutting everything and putting it back in a way I would have preferred.

This year I'm doing the #52Weeks52Books2017 reading challenge, and my lucky #13 book is one that I actually first read back in 2015, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Written by a woman in Japan named Marie Kondo who is obsessed with organizing and keeping things neat and tidy, it's a whole system of keeping only things that "spark joy" in your home and letting the rest go. 2015 was a pretty awful year for my family, so it really didn't have an impact on me then because I was in no mood to let go of anything that brought even the tiniest amount of happiness, which was everything. But when I re-read it again a few weeks ago, I was like... yes. Yes. YES. YESSSSS. It's a very quick read but every word packs a punch. The entire idea behind Marie Kondo's book (a system its followers call KonMari) for lasting tidiness is to not declutter room by room, but to gather like items together and go in a marathon of decluttering each item by holding it in your hands and deciding if it "sparks joy" within you or not. So instead of doing a closet here or a drawer there, you take 100% of your clothes out of your closet, drawers, storage bins, and laundry basket, and go over each piece to decide if it brings you joy. If it doesn't, you discard it (sell, donate, trash). Very simple, and because it focuses on the positive of keeping rather than the negative of "you must get rid of things," it is very effective. Plus, the visual image of dumping every last piece of clothing you own into one big pile is exactly the right kind of jolt a person might need to be able to only keep what you really and truly love. The ultimate goal is for every single item in your home to be something that brings you joy, and for every single item to have a place it belongs. No junk drawers full of tangled power adapters. Just a tidy home that is a joy to come home to and easy to keep tidy because everything has a place it belongs that isn't just a stack of boxes in the spare room (and how much joy can something that has lived in a box for five years actually bring you?).

I decided this system was worth a try. Before I started, I read her follow-up book, Spark Joy - An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up.  It takes everything in the first book one step further. I wanted to make sure I completely understood what I was getting into, and that I could completely buy into it. It looked like a lifestyle that I desperately wanted to have, so I wanted to have as much knowledge about it as I could before I started. And then I took the highlights from the book, the steps and do's and don'ts, and sat down with my husband to get him on board too. And once he was ready to start the KonMari journey, we brought the kids in to tell them all about it as well. After all, I was about to change four decades of habits and processes -- it was not going to be easy and I did not want to be sabotaged by my own family. Once everyone knew what we were going to do and was completely on board, we waited for China's three day Qing Ming Festival weekend and we tackled the first category, clothes.

We started with the person who had the least clothes (Ben, my 13 year old) and finished with the person who had the most (me). I took photos of each person with 100% of every article of clothing except for each person's heavy winter coat (Shanghai winters dip into below-freezing temps, being warm sparks joy, so nobody could toss their primary parka).

Here's Ben with all his clothes (we actually just purchased 90% of his wardrobe in February during our trip to America because we realized all he owned that still fits were his school uniforms and the two pairs of jeans and two tee shirts he wore every weekend when he was home from boarding school):

Here's my older son, Nathan, with all his clothes:

And even with what looks like just a small amount of clothes between the two of them, this is what they discarded, all on their own:

Marie Kondo has an entire system for how to fold clothes and store them, but our (manageable) goal right now is in the discarding of things that don't bring us joy, so we'll get to that next, after we've completed everything else. 

Once the boys were done and their clothes were happily back in their now-suddenly spacious drawers, it was Michael's turn. Here he is with 100% of his clothes (except two winter coats which were hanging by the door):

For Michael it was a little trickier. He needed to keep some less-than-joyful clothes to be worn on construction sites, and with weight fluctuations (we really enjoyed ourselves in America, especially the food), some of his favorite clothes didn't fit in the most flattering way. He still managed to discard quite a few things, as seen here:

And then it was my turn. It actually took me two days to get through everything, and I had so many clothes that there was no way we could pile them all onto the bed at once. In the book, she recommends breaking things into smaller categories if you have too much, so that is what I did. Here I am, with 100% of my clothes except for one hoodie that I'll never get rid of and my winter parka, hanging at the door:

We broke it into four manageable categories, from L-R: underwear/socks/tank tops/pajamas/swimwear/lounge wear, tops, bottoms, and dresses/fancy clothes. I literally cried when we started, because I had so many little storage bags of clothes shoved into the closet and under the bed and when we started pulling them out, they just kept coming and coming, like a never ending night mare. Marie Kondo recommends facing the task like a happy festival, so I put on a smile and started in.

Our dog, Lucy Rocket, was less than helpful. I think it was stressful for her to see us move so many items. She is tiny, and would lay on a pile of clothes, which we'd then toss something on top of her on accident. She'd just wiggle her way out and climb back on top of the ever-growing pile...

In the end, I actually discarded 33 bags of clothing. Some things really surprised me. Like the fact that I owned over 40 bras, most of which didn't even fit. That's another tricky thing about living abroad, in Asia in particular. No store in this country sells a bra that would fit me, and we don't go to America very often, so I'd frequently buy bras online. By the time they'd make it to me, it would be too late to return them. Because I'd spent so much money on them, I felt heavy, horrible guilt over getting rid of them. So they just continued to pile up in the back of the closet or in drawers or in suitcases we'd use for storage. But no more! I tried on every last one of them and kept only the ones that fit perfectly that day, and sparked joy. (And let's be honest ladies, the second point is a tall order.)
Bye-bye, non-joy sparking bras!

Our final count of bags filled with clothing was over 55. Here's what it looked like, all piled up and ready to be donated to a local charity which provides clothes to people in need all over China:

And here's the best part of all this... I feel so light and free. My closet and my drawers are now only filled with the things I love the most. I don't spend any time at all figuring out what to wear, because I know that anything I can put my hand on is something that fits me, looks good on me, and sparks joy. I could never before say that about the crammed, jam-packed space which passed for my closet that I was too fearful to do anything about because what if I needed that one pair of black dress pants that still had the tag on it from seven years ago that would be great if only I hemmed them? Or the four fancy ball gowns that I've never worn and don't even have shoes to match? It's now been three weeks since the big clothing purge, and I miss absolutely nothing! She recommends saying thank you to each item that you discard, and while at first I thought it was a little bit crazy, I actually loved being able to hold a sweater that I'd only worn once because it was a color I never wear (any color other than black, really!) and say, "I bought you thinking it would be nice to add some color into my wardrobe. But I realized that between my bright orange hair and my bright personality, I myself am all the color I need, and I appreciate that you were here to show me who I really am, and who I really want to be. Thank you." Crazy, but FREEING. 

The book then recommends moving onto other categories after clothes, including books, paper, "komodo" (small items), and finally sentimental. Because you start at a mostly non-sentimental area, you are kind of a pro at discarding the things that don't spark joy by the time you get to sentimental. We zipped through books and paper, and are now slogging through komodo (we're currently doing the kitchen). I can't recommend these two books and this system enough. It's taken a lifetime, but here I am, using a system that actually brings me joy. I'm not now, nor will I ever be a "minimalist," but by discarding all the things that aren't actually bringing me any joy, I'm finding myself feeling so free and happy. And if something comes up and I really, really do need a [fill in the blank with something I discarded], I'm a creative girl who can figure out a creative way to get it, make it, or learn to do without. Life changing magic, indeed. 

I highly recommend the two books, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, followed by Spark Joy, An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up. Links will take you to Amazon, where you can pick up your own copy. Please share with me your success stories if you used KonMari to clean up!

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

A Bookish New Year!

Happy New Year from Shanghai! Ours was completely low key. We had a friend over and made my traditional New Years Eve Loaded Baked Potato Soup (recipe here) while watching an animated film none of us have ever heard of previously called Kubo and the Two Strings. Evidently it came out last summer everywhere else in the world, but is just now making its way to China. It was strange and unique and fantastic, and if you didn't see it and want a treat for the eyes and mind, check it out!

I never really do New Year's Resolutions. They are weird and silly and don't really work. In the past I've set more of an intention or a goal and have pretty much been wildly successful with those. This year I'm writing a LOT, working on a book of my own. So I decided to set a goal of that has to do with books, creating a 52 Weeks, 52 Books Challenge. I read every day, and I read very quickly, so it's not going to be a huge difficulty (I hope). It's only January 3rd and I've finished one book and am in the second to last chapter of a second one, and have two long haul flights coming up in the next 45 days so I'll be able to get ahead in case life gets in the way and I slip behind later in the year. 

I made this graphic, from a photo I took early this year at The Last Bookstore in Downtown Los Angeles earlier this year, and posted it on Instagram:

It got a lot of interest and people were interested in playing along, asking a bunch of questions about "the rules." Oh golly, I hate rules. I really don't care what kind of book it it, how long it is, what language it's in, what genre it is, if it's audio, electronic, or paperback, etc. As a writer, I just want to encourage people to read more books, in any form! For me, I find it a little challenging to get real, tangible books here in Shanghai. English language books that have been imported are prohibitively expensive and then we have to actually figure out what to do with them at some point (we moved from a large-by-china-standards flat into a small-by-our-standards flat this summer) and have really only one bookcase we can devote to letting books take up real estate, so it's not a great idea to buy them. 

I got a Shanghai Library card right after we moved here, and no exaggeration, went through the entire collection of English language books that I had any desire at all to read within the first seven months of using it. Being an expat and part of the Expat Circle of Life (see here and here), we often get other people's discards when they go to move and can't take heavy, bulky books to their next destination, and so my collection of not-yet-read books is wildly eclectic and varied. I won't read romance and don't really care for westerns, and have found that I can only handle a handful of self-help/inspirational non-fiction books per year unless the writer is a great storyteller and it's not just a dump of dry data. But other than that, I love to read pretty much anything. 

One great bonus for people who have Amazon Prime is the selection of books you can borrow or read for free with the Kindle. I just got a new Kindle and passed my old one off to my younger son who also loves to read. Again, not having the option to walk into a book store to check out a book in person before buying and only choosing from the free and cheap options on Amazon means that again, my collection is incredibly diverse in topic and subject! So, swinging back around to "the rules" of this challenge, if you want to join along and do something like this, do what works for you. One person on social media chided me, saying it was an aggressive challenge and that one fiction book should not count the same as a more serious book, and to that I say - those are your rules, not mine! If you do decide to join and post your books on Instagram, please tag me or use the hashtag #52Weeks52Books2017 and let's cheer each other on! (My goal for this year: giving less advice, giving waaaay more encouragement. GO TEAM!)

I'll post the books on my Instagram account and maybe here. We'll see. Sometimes it takes as long to get into this website and post a simple blog post as it does to read an entire book, so... who knows. 

Do you have any goals for this year? Did you recently read a book that is SO AMAZING that you need to share it with me? Did you get any books for Christmas? I did, I did! 

Hope you had a wonderful holiday season and that 2017 is a great year for all of us! 

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