Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Mental Margarita - Dewey Grass

I was making brekkie when I looked out the kitchen window and saw how magical the morning sun was making the dewey world appear. Got belly down in the wet grass to get this shot.

We've been out of the desert for three years but I'm still not over my water fascination. Still getting rehydrated, I guess. The fun thing lately here in Seattle is the crazy cold weather we've been having. Last Saturday night we got a few inches of snow which stuck around through today, and we're getting more tonight. I find myself wanting to honor my ursine nature and hibernate for a while... but it's so beautiful out!

On Saturday, the night was so bright from all the light bouncing off the snow that I was inspired to go out and try to capture some of the sweetness of it. I was juggling tripod and umbrella when Raymond came out and held the umbrella for me, saying, "I'm earning good husband points." No doubt -- it was chilly.

Here's our neighbor's tree at about 10 p.m.:

And here's a Buddha I saw in the ice the next day on my walk:

However you celebrate, I wish you and your family the best. Here's to 2009 being a year of hope and change for all!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Ending the Story of the Adventure

Back in June I began responding to the numerous requests to share about how we massively decluttered our lives and went on this adventure. We began in Mexico and ended with new artistic careers in Seattle.

And now I think I’m done sharing about that. I don’t mean I don’t want to talk about it anymore, I’m happy to. I’ve just said what I’ve had to say on the topic, unless someone asks for something else.

I will say one more thing, perhaps in closing, which is this:

There is something extremely powerful in releasing your possessions and setting up your life to be free to do whatever it is you are embarking on. Not owning a home, cars or stuff is tremendously liberating.

It can also be so liberating, you may not feel grounded.

Now that we have been in one place for nine months, with a car, freshly acquired furniture, and a new cat, I am enjoying the benefits that being grounded provides for me. I am feeling the kind of joy that comes not from experiencing something new and wild, like one does while traveling, but the joy that comes from a deeper place. A stillness. A serenity.

I know that some people access that deep joy while traveling. What I’ve learned about myself is that it’s my nature to nest. That stability gives me peace. I guess I’ve always known that on some level, because if given the choice when traveling, I’d rather set up camp in a small town in a foreign country and soak up the culture there rather than take a tour and try to see everything.

So although I have enjoyed the adventure, and gained immensely from living lightly in numerous places these last few years, I am happy to be home again. It’s a new home, to be sure, but it is home. And at the risk of sounding corny, I will also say I am at home with myself even more so for having made the trip.

I will continue to post Mental Margaritas here. And if in the future I am so moved to use this blog for another purpose, well then, that's what I'll do!

My thanks to those of you who asked for this conversation, communicated back to me about it, or simply participated by reading it.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Mental Margarita - Orange Leaves

What's fall doing where you live? We have never lived anywhere with such rich autumn colors and we're loving it. It's very cool how some trees started turning at the end of August, and are bare now, and some are just starting to go gold. Even bushes get into the act. (I know for some of you this is NOT news but it is to me!)

We've also never lived in a place where the end of Daylight Saving Time made such an impact. All of the sudden, it's dark at the end of the work day - not at the end of dinner.

The leaves, the light, the crispness in the air, all contribute to that sense of winter hibernation. Cuddling up and tucking in for a spell. Sleeping more. Resting. Storing up. Being quiet and at peace.

It's a good thing.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead)

I've always loved the Mexican tradition of celebrating those who have gone before but it wasn't until we lived there that we made our own altar.

Represented are our grandparents, our pets, and our friends. We have some of their things as well; a beer for Roger, Zeus's collar, Shelley's jam recipe she sent on a postcard. There's a special dead bread you're supposed to put out as well, but I'm out of space.

The general mood of the day is more one of joy than sorrow, although sorrow is definitely in the mix. When I pass by my altar, mostly I feel connected to those who have passed, but I also still grieve the recent ones. Putting out these photos and decorations brings present for me how much we don't talk about death in our culture. It's so much more acknowledged in Mexico.

Although it falls near Halloween, and the skeleton images are similar to ones you'll see in the States, it's a very different holiday. The graves are meticulously decorated and visited. Picnics are had in the cemetery, and music plays. Fireworks are shot off to guide souls home.

This cemetery in San Miguel de Allende was so old that it didn't seem like anyone now living would have actually known anyone buried here. But all the graves are decorated - even the unmarked ones.

Another sight that impressed me in San Miguel was an altar in the town square. It was for a man who clearly enjoyed his vices, as it featured a bottle of tequila and pack of cigarettes. I was amazed teenagers hadn't absconded with the goods.

But I guess that points to a very different context for death, which was my initial point. A very wise woman taught me that when someone dies, our relationship with them doesn't end, it changes. So in the spirit of Dia de Los Muertos, I invite you to celebrate your loved ones, your ancestors, your pets, and feel sad if you feel sad, but don't back away from the sad. Move through it, until you get to feeling glad they blessed your life. Share about them today. Remember something funny or wonderful they did. And be grateful you have this moment right now.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Who's Driving Your Schedule?

Two weeks ago, I wrote about decluttering the schedule. That post prompted an interesting exchange of emails between a reader and me, and she gave permission for me to share it with you. I hope you glean something from it. I know she and I both did!

Q: So in your reconstructed life... do you have lots of time with nothing planned? Or do you have a routine each day? It is beyond what I can imagine that you have maybe one thing to do each day and the rest of the day is yours with nothing on the agenda... Can you provide insight?

A: Girl, I will never have a life with just one thing on the schedule for the day. I'm just not wired up that way! (Maybe if I stopped writing everything down...) But most days are relatively unstructured time-wise, but with a prioritized to do list that I get through as much as I can. I'm fairly disciplined, although when it comes to the creative to dos, I don't try to force it if it ain't there that particular day. And I never get it all done. Too entrepreneurial. Too many ideas and “could dos” floating around to ever feel done. But I certainly do have a sense of accomplishment at the end of most days. And each week I make a plan that tends to give some structure to each day.

Q: I am trying to see the difference… I feel that you have made changes, have more control.... Is it accurate to say you are paced by the things you want to do, rather than doing things/events driven by others? (It does not appear that you have many appointments/meetings that are directed by others.) But you still have a list of things to do, they are just things that are Karen-driven, rather than initiated by others. If this is so, then it could be easy to let the day drift away, if you did not have any intent or purpose or goal? Or am I sounding like a highly scheduled type A?

A: Yes, leaving Phoenix where I had such a large community of friends and associates, immediately freed my schedule from the seemingly thousands of events driven by others, the let's have coffees, let's have dinner, let's have a committee meeting, etc. Both fun and business commitments tended to fill up my schedule. I enjoyed the vast majority of them, but it was so constant.

So now, with a much "quieter" business and a much smaller social circle, my time is a lot more self-directed. I mean, I was the one always saying yes to the many commitments before, but now there's a lot less to say yes or no to, and that makes it easier.

And if I did not have a clear plan, you bet the day would drift.

So Reader, how much of your time is you-driven vs. initiated by others? If it’s mostly the latter, where could you take back some control? And where could you start saying “No”? I look forward to your comments!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Mental Margarita for October 1, 2008

This is the first time I've lived somewhere that has a recognizable fall. It's not as vivid as back east, but there is a crispness in the morning, a softer (and later) sunrise, and beautiful shocks of red and gold on the trees here and there. The fruits and veggies at the farmers' market are becoming more hearty. I'm making soup again (besides gazpacho, which holds no appeal right now). And one of my favorite signs of fall: Halloween decorations.

As I've posted about recently, I'm also feeling a change in the schedule. Even though we're moving toward the holiday season, I personally am feeling the lightness that comes after a busy summer, and after the slew of September birthdays in our community.

I look forward to snuggling in, to lighting candles (no fireplace) and sipping tea or cocoa. I'm anticipating weekends with not one thing scheduled.

And I'm looking forward to distinctly Seattle fall experiences. One thing I heard about was Indian drumming at the mouth of a local stream to welcome the salmon back. Gotta find the orchard and the cider house. Pick pumpkins from the field.

And stay warm.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Releasing Activities

As I mentioned in last week’s post, I used to speak on the topic of Decluttering Life, and trimming the schedule was an integral part of that. I’m so glad I reminded myself of that valuable lesson, because this week, I needed the reminder!

One of the many blessings in moving away from our home of 35 years is that all of the sudden, my schedule was shockingly light. Delightfully open. It was almost like being on vacation. I’ve always had a busy life, requiring rigorous schedule management. I suppose I took a perverse pride in how busy I was, as if degree of busy-ness equaled relative importance in the world. Anyone relate to that? (While going through old keepsakes in our move, I even found a daily planner I had in high school. High school! It was full, too. I guess I knew even then that trying to keep it all in my head was a recipe for disaster.)

Anyhoo, we’ve been Seattleites now for seven months (as long as we’ve lived anywhere in the last three years) and we’ve reconnected with old friends, made new ones, had visitors, and this month is birthday celebration season in our house. We are busy. Oh yeah, and there’s work.

It doesn’t matter that the majority of the extra-curricular activities are fun. It’s still a hella full schedule.

Swinging the schedule pendulum from the uber-full direction to the uber-light direction has allowed me to get a true reading on what I need. My new center is quite a bit further to the light side than it ever was in Phoenix. So when it started eking back in the full direction, I started getting cranky. I’m glad I haven’t gotten sick. (Sometimes when I don’t slow down, my body forces me to.)

The point that I am winding my way toward is this: Do you know what your center of balance is? If you have kids, or say “yes” too often, you may not even have a true sense of what you need. It’s too easy to get pulled a lot of directions, especially where family is concerned.

And it is utterly useless to compare yourself to other people. If you do this, I have some very wise words for you. Ready? Listen closely: CUT IT OUT! Comparing yourself to others only makes you feel less than and possibly guilty. They don’t have your life – so why should yours look like theirs?

This week, I really encourage you to get in touch with what your center of balance looks like. What do you need? What would your calendar look like? How about down time with nothing scheduled? What would feed you?

Because if you don’t know what balance means in your life, you won’t have it.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Releasing People

I used to do a talk on Decluttering Life. Decluttering paper, decluttering stuff, decluttering the schedule, and even decluttering people. On that topic, we talked about releasing the energy vampires, the ones who suck you dry and don’t give anything in return. I had done a pretty good job of walking my talk, and could honestly say that I no longer had any vampires in my life.

When we announced we were leaving Phoenix to go on our adventure, I had a friend get upset with me for saying I would miss my house but not saying I would miss my friends. I didn’t say it because I honestly expected to keep all my friends, no matter where I was.


Moving away from most of the people in our lives was the hardest part of this adventure. Some of them stopped writing or calling or replying to my messages. It seemed out of sight really was out of mind. Actually losing friends was shocking to me. I was truly – naively – expecting that we would stay in touch with everyone and they would stay in touch with us. (In my defense, I had never moved away from Phoenix before. Yet I knew that people who did move away didn’t always stay connected, even good friends. Bottom line: I just didn’t give it a lot of thought. Just had expectations.)

I did grieve the loss of those folks. But time and distance has given me perspective. You’ve probably seen that email that comes around now and again about some people staying in your life for a reason, some just staying for a season, and so on. It’s corny, but in my opinion, utterly true.

Although I never intended to consciously “declutter” anyone from my life, that’s how it worked out. Some relationships simply don’t survive distance. The ones I lost weren’t energy vampires. But you know what? I’m really OK with letting them go. Just like with stuff, letting go of the old makes way for the new.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Mental Margarita for September 11, 2008

If you read the Mental Margarita message this week, you'll already know that I'm in a kind of philosophical place right now. No, that's not right. I don't mean to undermine my own message, which I kind of just did. I think the major theme of my writings in the MMs and in this blog has been that of simplifying life, and implied in that is the ability to be present to the simple things, the little moments that make life rich.

All we ever have access to is the very moment we're in. So remembering a friend who has passed, and reflecting on the anniversary of 9/11, are both ways of reminding ourselves what's really important. Kind of theme of this blog, although a new angle this week.

The new images on my site this week all exemplify the being present to life's little moments. Simply watching the graceful undulations of kelp in the current, or noticing the patterns as the rain starts to fall, and the lovely effect when it's done. Or watching the shadows dance on the petals of a flower. (If you missed these images, please go to: fotos de karina: new)

And although photojournalism is not my strength, I kind of like this series I did on our jam-making with Shelley. I was going for a look like what you'd see in the magazine Real Simple. Please check out the post below.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

A Blackberry Tribute to my friend Shelley

Two weekends ago, our friend Shelley Davis came up to teach us how to make jam. She had proposed the idea in June when I showed her our blossom-laden bushes. We harvested 16 cups of berries, and made a lovely, tangy jam.

This past weekend, Shelley died in a tragic accident. There simply are not the words. What I can say is that I am so grateful for the time we had, for the gift she was and continues to be, and for this delicious jam I will enjoy in honor of my friend.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

More Stories of Releasing Stuff

This week I'm sharing others' perspectives on major life decluttering. Please read the article by Sonja Haller that appeared this week in the Arizona Republic. She interviewed me as well as other folks radically simplifying their lives.

Check it out: Cleaning out their lives

And if you're checking out this blog because of that article, please read some of the earlier posts for more ideas on simplifying life. Thanks for visiting!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Scheduling Simplicity

I’ve been doing some work for a local company for the last couple weeks, and I’ve been growing increasingly out of sorts. So on our daily walk, I talked it out with Raymond until I got to the source of it. I like the work and the company, and it’s just a short project, so I knew it wasn’t that. Nor was it lack of sleep or exercise. I was being good about that, as well as being sure I was still eating healthily. Was it hormones? No.

I finally hit on it – it was simply one thing I’d dropped out when my schedule changed, and that was my daily writing. It was something I’d started after reading The Artists Way, and although I almost never want to write those daily three pages, they had come to be like meditation, prayer, and thanks giving, all rolled up into one. Doing it gets me present to what’s going on with myself, and in a place of gratitude for all of my life -- the good, the bad, the ugly.

When I first decided not to do my daily writing, I justified it by thinking I’d glean the benefits in some other way, like appreciating nature while I was on my run, for example. But that didn’t work. So I put the habit back in today, and Raymond noticed the difference when he called me. Said I sounded like I had “a spring in my step, and candy in my pouch.”

So, yes, it is another thing on my calendar. But it is a thing that feeds me, that gives me energy.

What are the things you do (or don’t do, as the case may be) that nurture you? What brings simplicity and peace into your day? Are you doing it? Where could you fit it in to your schedule? Do you need to let something else go so there’s room for it?

Simple living does not just happen, especially in our culture and time. Most of us are pulled in the opposite direction. Or we get so burnt out we do things that don’t really feed us, like watching TV or eating or drinking too much.

So this week, I challenge you to promise one thing you will do for yourself everyday that nurtures you. Put in it your calendar. Do it. And please let me know how it goes.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Mental Margarita for August 13, 2008

May I beg your permission to be extremely lazy this week and send you elsewhere for more thoughts on decluttering and the energy of stuff? I may? Thank you! You're too kind.

Please check out Jody Owen's newsletter (of The Space You're In) at and click on the "Energy of Stuff" link. (You'll have to copy and paste the link into your browser, I couldn't get it to be an active link.) You can also sign up for newsletter there - it's a good one.

Hope you're having a stellar summer!

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Mental Margarita for July 31, 2008

As I started saying in the Mental Margarita email, I am now seeing more strongly the connection between simplifying my life and having the space to see and appreciate simplicity in life, and therefore in my photography. I think this is one of those "Well, duh," insights, but sometimes the most profound ones in life are, right?

I don't want to get smug about how I've simplified. In our culture, the pull is towards acquiring and having more. Towards being busy and always on the go. The more in demand you are, the busier you are, the more worthy you must be. So I am realizing I need to watch this tendency in myself and make sure I'm staying true to what works for me. The longer we're here in one place, with lots of people here we know and love, the more stuff that goes on our calendars. Even though my life in Phoenix was filled with rewarding things, it was still filled. I will not live that way again.

This Time magazine article about the "100 Things Challenge" got me thinking about being more radical about the process of simplifying. When we left AZ, we released about 95% of our stuff. We then moved nine times over the course of two and a half years -- all furnished places. Until now. We are "settled" again. I use quotes because I now have a very different take on what that means. Although we recently acquired enough household goods and furniture to live comfortably in our little home, I don't feel as weighted down by it all as once I did. I am clear we could sell it all again and go. And the house we're in is half the size of the one we had in Phoenix. And it feels right to us.

(As a professional organizer for 12 years, I saw again and again the downside of homes with lots of storage: lots of saving. A small space forces you to be more choosy.)

How are you simplifying life? Or is this even a process you're interested in?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

How to Know What to Keep, and What to Let Go

It’s the end of any vacation, and I’m repacking my suitcase for the trip home. I’ve used most of the stuff I brought, and most of the clothes were worn. But there’s always that small pile of things untouched and unneeded during my trip. In that moment, I always wish that while I had packed for the trip, there had been a little alert with a blinking red light that would warn me: “Don’t pack that! You won’t need it!”

Multiply that wish by about 100 – that’s how strongly I felt when we were plowing through all our worldly goods, choosing what to sell, what to take in four suitcases to Mexico, what to store for the future. After a while, making all those choices about each and every item got so overwhelming that I stopped feeling into each thing and started being more mechanical about the process. And as I’ve said before, mistakes were made. And that became especially evident when we got back from Mexico and unloaded our small storage pod.

The main test I had used when sorting was this: If I don’t love it or use it, out it went. I’ve used that test for many years in my organizing business, and it usually worked.

However, I’ve had to forgive myself a LOT for a few items of personal value that I released. I’m not a very sentimental gal, and using my don’t love it/use it rule, I let go a few items that had been in my family for years. It’s still hard to even write about. But at the time, I was being ruthless. Unsentimental. And I was under quite a bit of pressure. So I goofed on a few things.

Now, rather than continue to beat myself up about it, I decided to look at the lesson I could take away. And I realized the don't love it/use it rule has its limits. I didn’t love or use Grandma’s crystal punch bowl. But it did have good energy for me. And that’s a critical key. What is the energy of the thing? (By the way, if you’re not convinced that things have energy, then why do you keep looking in your closet right after you’ve purged and organized it?)

After Mexico, when we opened up our storage bin, I was surprised at some of the things we had deemed worthy of saving. A small oscillating fan, for example. It was something I used, and it worked fine. But it was dirty. You know how fans get linty and dusty on the blades and they’re impossible to clean without dissembling? Well, this fan was a mess. So I got rid of it, shaking my head at what had ever possessed me to keep it. I can see now that if I had asked myself, “What is the energy of this thing?” I wouldn't have stored it. Yes, the fan worked and I used it. But I didn’t want it blowing junk all over my space. The energy of it was dirty. Or a vase that I kept that was nice. I used it, but it had been a gift from someone I no longer trusted, and every time I looked at it, I was reminded of that. Bad energy. I later let it go. If fact, we ended up purging about another third of our small pile of things we had put in storage before leaving.

So it’s a different kind of test, and I invite you to use it yourself. What are you hanging on to that, simply put, has bad energy for you? And when are you going to let it go?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Mental Margarita for July 16, 2008

I realize I'm jumping around in telling the story of our leaving Phoenix and our adventure to Mexico and up the western coast of the US. I don't have to be organized anymore! Well, that's not really true. You can take the girl out of organizing, but... It's just that as I'm going back and remembering, things get stirred up. So I guess I'm kind of honoring the process and letting it happen in the order it wants, rather than imposing my will on it.

So this week's Mental Margarita brings up for me one of the unforeseen blessings of the journey, which is my ability to see. Even before we chose this path, I used to bug Raymond by pointing stuff out. "Look at that tree! Check out the sunset! Wow, a bug!" (He said that my constant badgering for him to look at stuff gave him the opportunity to work through his knee-jerk response, which was, "Don't tell me what to do!" He now acknowledges me for showing him a world he wouldn't have otherwise seen. Similarly, his natural peace and ease in the world gives me the space to slow down and take it in.)

Our life in Phoenix was good. Very good. And very full. We had too many commitments; demands on our time and energy. Like many people, we were constantly having to manage our schedules. I had to schedule in down time for myself. There's nothing wrong with living this way, but for me personally, there was no space for creativity. No space to just be. To just see. Releasing not only our stuff, but also the schedule we had, granted us both enormous freedom. Too much freedom at first, perhaps, but it was a good detox period from such fullness.

So this week's magnolia is a perfect example of something I may have seen before, but hurriedly. Perfunctorily. I would have missed the yellow and black center all together. Capturing an image in the camera allows me to see it more fully. To see things I wouldn't have seen before. And in all the moving around we've done, it helps me learn a new area. I can identity the flora around me in a way I never was able to before, which connects me to the place.

So let's say you're not ready to chuck it all. How do you make space in your life for your creativity?

Or if you are considering releasing some or even all of it to go on an adventure, what are you grappling with? Please share your thoughts!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Staying in Touch...

It’s funny how in this day and age, even with all the technology we have to stay connected, proximity still plays a big role in how often we connect with each other.

I was in Phoenix last week for less than 48 hours for a memorial service. Other than visiting my in-laws, I only saw friends who went to the service, simply due to lack of time. But a buddy there told Raymond to have me call him while I was in town. Why? He knew I didn’t have time to see him face-to face. We talk on the phone all the time when I’m in Seattle. I even still have a Phoenix area code on my cell, so it’s not like my being there was going to save him a nickel.

And then this morning, my first day back at home, I had a phone chat with a friend here. We’ve fallen into a lovely routine of connecting most mornings during the time that she’s on her way to work and I’m washing breakfast dishes. We didn’t talk when I was gone. Nor did we talk regularly before I moved here. But now that I’m in vicinity, we’re back in the mode. (And it’s not because now there’s no long distance fees. There weren’t before either, using the cell.)

When we moved from Phoenix to Mexico, we got a Vonage phone, which works using the internet line in the house. You can choose an area code for wherever you want, so naturally, we picked a local Phoenix number. But no matter how often we explained to Raymond’s folks that our number was just like calling us when we lived across town, they simply didn’t call us. We were in Mexico. (The best - really only – exception to this was my friend Dory, who called me in Mexico to get driving directions when she was lost in the east valley of Phoenix. I even said to her, “You’re calling me in Mexico so I can tell you how to get on the 101???” But why my reaction? It was technically a local call for her.)

So why does proximity affect how we stay in touch with people?

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Mental Margarita from June 26, 2008

Although I love making pictures around here (so pretty! always changing!) I am really looking forward to next week: Florida. (So no post, probably. Did you know I was posting weekly now? It's true - I'm telling the story of our grand adventure. Check it out!)

I notice the evolution of my photography seems to be that I'm getting a lot closer to things, and therefore, slightly more abstract. I like that sometimes it's not clear what the image is - just that the lines are arresting, or the colors or patterns are interesting. Look Ma, I'm growing!

PS - One more thing about the weather for all you Phoenicians: Last weekend we were in the car, sunroof open, windows cracked, but I was hot. I told Raymond, he said he was, too. Then I looked at the temperature gauge: 72. We cracked up! And wisely discarded the notion of calling our AZ friends and whining about how hot we were. You're welcome.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Part 2 – The Releasing

If you ever decide to chuck it all to go on an adventure, I recommend using an estate sale specialist. They know how to price items, they advertise the event, they organize the merchandise, and they run the actual sale.

We interviewed three estate sale companies. The first two came through to assess our stuff and sniffily informed us that we didn’t have enough stuff. (One of them actually used the word “clutter.” We didn’t have enough clutter. I took it as a compliment.) The third person who came over was our angel, Kathy Dubs ( She didn’t mind our lack of clutter typical for an estate sale, and was sensitive and appropriate to our grief at leaving and letting go. I think because she often works with people who are releasing a deceased loved one’s items, she was really gentle with us. She recognized our different kind of loss.

In hiring an estate sale person, besides the obvious benefit of not having to do all that work yourself, you are also spared the overwhelming feelings as you watch people pick over the 90% of the stuff that you’ve chosen to let go. You don’t have to watch favorite items go to a stranger. You don’t have to listen to someone haggle down something you once valued. You don’t have to see your friends come through and have their own reactions to your move.

On the morning of the sale, we left a house full of our things tagged and laid out on tables, with people beginning to show up and rummage through the stuff of our lives. We returned later that day to find most of gone. Although we knew what to expect, it was still mildly shocking. Seeing the emptiness of our home, made the adventure, the future, become that more real. The anxiety and sadness that preceded the sale were replaced with excitement and a definite sense of freedom. We were really doing this! There was no turning back now.

The stuff that remained went to charity. And as time went on, we would occasionally hear from friends that they had the bed, and loved it, or another who had the chiminea, and it was featured on the patio, or someone else had the bookshelf on which they stored their treasures. All of them let us know that they used those things, and thought of us. It touched my heart to know the things we had once loved, things though they were, were still being used and appreciated.

In exchange for letting it all go, we gained our freedom.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Mistakes Were Made Part 1: The Sorting

The thing that was tricky about preparing to leave was that the future was rather uncertain. (Truthfully, when is it not?) But in this case, we didn’t enjoy the usual illusion of certainty. We didn’t know how long we were going for, we didn’t know when or even if we were coming back to Phoenix. We didn’t know what we’d need soon, or later when we settled down, whenever that would be.

When I used to teach the art of decluttering, I spoke about releasing in these four areas: paper, stuff, activities, and even people. Once we decided to go, we began to tackle the first three categories. In our process, I really didn’t tackle the people side of it for a couple reasons. On the business front, I planned to refer new clients to my contractors, so I didn’t really spread the word that I was leaving. On the personal side, I fully expected to stay connected with my friends. (I came to discover that this expectation was unrealistic – but that’s a later post.)

So we began choosing what to take with us, what to store, what to sell, and what to donate. But we had to do this sorting while keeping the house show-ready.

(It’s so funny – I’ve been staring blankly for a while now as I attempt to recall this time. There are flashes of memory, but they are from the milestones like when we finally sold the house, or were having the estate sale. I’ll have to ask Raymond but I truly am blanking on this letting go process. Was it that horrible? That painful? As an organizer, I saw over and over again the process people go through in releasing their stuff. It’s never just “stuff.” Each thing holds an energy; an energy of a good memory, or of a failure, or a reminder of the person who it was from, or guilt, or joy, or puzzlement [as in, “Why do I have this?”] or, taken as a whole, a rush of feeling overwhelmed. So I must be blanking for a reason because I know it couldn’t have been easy. Perhaps the excitement of the journey ahead made it bearable? I honestly don’t remember. Weird.)

So in decluttering our home, I do know I was ruthless. If I didn’t love it or need it, I let it go. Raymond and I had been married 12 years by then, and a lot of our stuff was ready for upgrading, so instead, we let it go. For example, I had been wanting new dishes for a while, so out went the old ones. Things that you need to run a household, like step ladders, were fair game. I didn’t want to a) pay for storage and possibly b) pay to move a $20 item to a new state or even country when I could easily buy a new one. So with that thinking, we got rid of more stuff than we should have, had we been able to see into the future and know that we would regret getting rid of basics like the food processor.

As I said, mistakes were made. I’d never before regretted being too ruthless in the decluttering process. (Oh, the former organizer in me so does not want to write this! I hate the thought of giving any support to the tendency people already have to keep too much!)

I got rid of some things that we ended up needing (and therefore had to pay to replace) as well as some things with sentimental value (I honestly don’t know what I was thinking). It created some hurt feelings when some people became aware of things I’d let go. I still feel bad about some of it. And in all the moves, I’ve lost stuff, too. That’s never been me. I’m just not one of those people who loses things, yet I have.

So if stuff has energy, looking back now I can see I did not want to feel all the feelings connected with my stuff, and that had me make rash decisions. I was going through literally everything I owned, choosing what very small bit of it to keep – no wonder I felt overwhelmed. Not to mention leaving the town I’d lived in since birth, the people I knew and loved, my home… whew. I actually have to hand it to myself for doing as well as I did.

And mistakes were made.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Uber-Decluttering for a New Life Direction

Now that I feel more settled than I have in about three years, I finally have the space to go back to the beginning of this adventure. I can now give some thought to the many requests about what it took to sell our home, cars, almost all our stuff, leave our friends, family and community in Phoenix, not to mention my business, and go live in Mexico for a while with no idea of where to go next, eventually ending somewhere we never thought we'd be, doing work we never imagined we'd do. (I can also now reply to those whose reaction was more along the lines of "What the hell are you thinking???")

I am going to attempt to recreate the adventure here, with the intention of distilling out the lessons. Or maybe I'll just write and let you take what you will. At least, I hope you'll enjoy the tale. And for those of you whose interest ran more along the lines of "How can I do that?" I hope this will inspire.

So, first, if you don't know the backstory of this journey and would like to, please see the blog entry from November 27, 2007 for a brief summary of events. I'll wait here.

Done? OK, onward. Or actually, backward.

In the summer of 2005, we got an invitation from some friends who had always wanted to live in San Miguel de Allende, which is a lovely colonial town in central Mexico. The invitation included an opportunity for Raymond to be trained in our friend's consulting business as well. So it was a career opportunity for Raymond, as well as an adventure for us both. I had been feeling kind of "done" with my professional organizing business, but I wasn't sure what direction to go in. We adore Mexico, so all of those factors were pushing us in the direction of Yes.

However. We had lived in Phoenix for 35 years. In a row. We had a large community of friends, family, business colleagues. We had a home we owned and loved. We had an ancient cat (17 years!) and a very old dog (14!). We had stuff - not a huge amount, as I did practice what I preached as a professional declutterer, but you know, enough to fill a home. I had never lived anywhere outside of Phoenix. (Whew - recreating this in writing is bringing back all those feelings: fear, excitement, grief, uncertainty. As Homer Simpson said, "Everything looks bad if you remember it.")

When we first got the invitation, I knew there was no way. NO way. Impossible. What would we do with our critters? How would we leave everything we knew? Everything we had worked for? All our peeps? Crazy.

Then the air conditioning went out, ever so conveniently on the Friday night of the three-day 4th of July weekend. No repair without massive holiday rates. We called the B&B two blocks away, the Yum Yum Tree, and booked a room for a night or three. And sitting by their pool on a hot summer night, I knew. Actually, I felt it. I knew it was an improbable, rash move. But I felt my soul stir, and knew on some level that we were leaving.

It wasn't until we were back home a couple days later, air back on, continuing to discuss, still processing, that we actually chose. We were outside on our front porch, watching the stars come out, having a much-needed mood enhancing beverage, and our heads caught up to our hearts. And we said Yes.

Oh, shit. We just said Yes.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Mental Margarita for May 28, 2008

Rain drops = bling for nature.

OK, I'm declaring right now this is my final post about the weather. Maybe we talked about it this much in Phoenix, and I'm just blanking it out. In fact, now that I think about it, we did. People really did like to ask -- with no trace of irony -- "Hot enough for ya?" Ugh.

Anyhoo, I have three more Seattle observations for my list.

1. It actually rains more inches per year in New York City than Seattle.

2. But the problem is, it's greyer here. There will be days with little rain, but no sun. Thank God we have a full-spectrum lamp. Santa brought it when he heard we were moving here, and it makes quite a difference.

3. Someone told me last week that when it does rain here, it rains politely.

Enough about the weather.

This weekend we attended our first pork jihad. Well, as a vegetarian (fish-atarian?) I don't eat pork and was just heckling from the audience, but Raymond is happy to pick up my slack and very much enjoyed the bacon-wrapped tenderloin. The premise behind this Holy War of Pork is simple -- the most tense cultures in our world are the ones who shun pork (such as the Middle East) and the most chill are the ones who embrace it (Mexico and Hawaii, for example). So eat pork for peace, I guess.

I've had more requests to share our last few years' process of massive simplifying of life (selling home, cars, stuff in home, etc.) to be free to be on this adventure, so I will begin blogging more regularly on this topic. Your comments/requests are welcome.

Peace -- no, Pork Out.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Mental Margarita for April 28, 2008

More about life in the Northwest. (Is it a sign of getting older that I'm once more revisiting the topic of weather?)

Apparently, this is the coldest spring on record. Snowed again last weekend even (but didn't stick this time). We're not taking it personally, honest! No, seriously, even though this is the coldest place I've ever lived, I seem to have acclimated quickly and naturally. It's a bit of a relief, as I wasn't sure I would. An example of my progress: the other morning when I looked at the outside temperature reading, I surprised myself by thinking, "Oh good, 44, that's not cold."

Who is this woman?

I used to adore Arizona summers, and now I seriously don't think I could take it.

As I write this now, we are enjoying a brightly sunny day, about mid-60s. Glorious. And I'm pretending that I didn't see tomorrow's forecast for rain...

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Mental Margarita from April 9, 2008

As Raymond and I enter our third month here in Seattle, I am beginning to understand something my mother has been telling me about Seattlites for a long time: They are in serious rain denial. She has lived here about 10 years, and when I would visit, I would notice people going about their business in the rain, sans umbrellas, sans hats. I had it chalked up to a kind of blase attitude about the rain, or a kind of "if I wait until the weather's nice I'll never go running/get groceries/walk the dog." But it goes deeper than that, and I'm not afraid to name that depth for what it is: denial.

How I discovered this is that I am a runner, more or less. Before we moved from the Bay Area, we enjoyed a particularly wet winter. Perfect Seattle prep, I thought. And when I'd come home from a run with sopping running shoes, I figured I'd get the scoop on how to keep the feet dry from those who should know best: Seattle runners.


I have been met with absolute blank stares when I have asked multiple running store experts, "How do you keep your feet dry?"

If you're not aware, running shoes are partially made of mesh, to allow the feet to breathe. So anyone wearing proper running shoes here in the rain is getting wet feet. Yet no one has an answer for me. In fact, they look at me like I'm off for even asking. Back California, I was imagining some sort of rain coat shoe dickie, but no. Or a killer rain-proof sock. I haven't even been able to find water-proof running pants (I know they're out there, I just haven't found them yet.) Why can't I find products to help me stay dry?

DENIAL. Who needs rain-proof clothing when it's not really wet out?

Well, even though I am a native of the desert, I also will not wait for the rain to stop to go outside. I'm right there with the Seattlites on that one. However, I will NOT get as wet as the rest of you deniers. I'll invent my own little shoe raincoat. So there.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Mental Margarita from March 19, 2008

We are now happily ensconced in life in the PacNorWest. Yes, it's a tad damp at times, but so far, the loveliness of the area more than compensates. We expect to hang here for at least a couple of years before venturing out of the States again, so we're busy making our new home home.

I'll keep working on this but so far...

Observations on life in Seattle:

3. I thought by leaving the Bay Area we were leaving the scene of imminent disaster, but our first night here we learned that the Cascadia fault line tends to slip every 300 years to the tune of a 9 pointer, and its last slip was in 1700.

2. There is a kind of precipitation here that can be best described by saying, "It's pretending not to rain." It does that a lot.

1. People don't say the clouds have cleared. They say, "The mountain is out." Here it is, the mountain - volcano, actually - that we see from our mailbox. When it's out.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Grand Re-Opening of Fotos de Karina

If you've been on my site, you may remember this image from the past. Unlike the other Mental Margaritas, this one does not herald the addition of new images. It heralds something even greater - The Grand Re-Opening of Fotos de Karina!

Fotos de Karina is now the place for original, ready-to-hang canvas printed photography.

I am so excited about being able to offer you this new way to enjoy your favorite fotos de karina. Here's a sample of a 12-inch square canvas print done with black edges, hanging in its new home:

I chose the above calla lily for testing this new method and it came out beautifully. In fact, that 3 foot by 3 foot print will be auctioned off on 2/21 at the benefit for Leah Vanpoelvoorde's mother, Corki. (Please contact for more info.)

This option really makes the former professional organizer part of me happy. (You can take the girl out of organizing, but you can't take the organizing out of the girl. I know, I've tried.) Why it makes me happy is that I can rest assured that people who invest in my work will now end up with something that's ready to go up on the wall, as opposed to something they have to deal with getting matted and framed, which takes time, money and effort. So here's to life being as simple as possible!

And yes, I still have standard printing available if you've got the perfect frame you're just dying to use. Check out the "standard printing" page of the site.

I could go on and on, but, well, I already have here:
Fotos de Karina canvas printing

Questions? Comments? Lemme know!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Mental Margarita from February 6, 2008

Thanks for reading the blog! I really enjoying writing, as those of you who formerly read my monthly organizing tips know. So I'm glad you're reading.

I've noticed an interesting thing as I complete the transition from my professional organizing business to my art photography business. When I was starting Organized for Success, I thought that to appear legitimate, I had to be a "we." As if a one-person business wasn't a real business. So during my 30-second commercials at the Chamber, I would say, "At Organized for Success, we strive to blah, blah, blah," or "Call us today to get organized!" One time after I sat down, my friend leaned over and said, "Do you have a mouse in your pocket?"

I gradually realized I wasn't fooling anyone, and there was nothing wrong with being a one-woman show. With Fotos de Karina, this blog and the Mental Margarita, and even the web site, I have the opportunity to share myself with you. It's just me, taking pictures, ruminating about them and life in general, and you writing back to me, which I love. It's a very different quality. I think having a business background is helpful, but first and foremost I'm an artist, sharing her work/self. And in that kind of business, I get to be an I. And your participation and feedback makes it us.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

To the Great Wet North and Top 10 List for the Bay Area

We are soon on our way to Seattle! They’ve had a snowy winter there (we witnessed some of it over Christmas) and I’m excited! I’m taking this moment to officially declare: My blood has thickened. Moving from Phoenix to Mexico (both dry and hot) to SoCal (mild and more humid) to NoCal (wet and cold, at least this winter) has provided the perfect acclimatization for moving to the Great Wet North. I’m ready, baby! Bring it! (The only things I still need are a hat, and some sort of running shoe dickie to keep my feet dry – anyone know of such a thing? I’ve visited Seattle enough to see that people do not, cannot, wait for nice weather to go running, or they never will.)

Some thoughts on the Bay Area. First, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: This is a hella great place to live. Because it’s so fab, it’s so expensive, which is really the only drawback. Well, that and the fact that it is widely known – not just believed – known – that the next great earthquake is coming. In fact, the ones we enjoyed here were located about a mile from us on the Hayward Fault, which is predicted to be the source of the next biggie, as opposed to the San Andreas.

When we first got here it was a bit of a culture shock, but a good one. Here’s my Top Ten list of things I discovered about life in Northern Cal:

10. If you pay attention when you’re out, you will hear at least three other languages besides English.
9. Gas priced under $3.50/gallon seems like a good deal.
8. The soul food we ate was gourmet.
7. In June, July and August, I had to keep reminding myself it was summer as I donned my jacket.
6. I could count the number of pro-Bush bumper stickers I’ve seen here on one hand.
5. If a house is listed for sale at less than one million dollars, we think it's gotta be a good deal, or a bad house.
4. We can no longer be referred to as "that interracial couple" as a way of distinguishing us from others - there are as many mixed-race couples as not around here.
3. We could literally eat at a different restaurant every night and never repeat and never eat at a chain establishment. And 90% of them would have delicious food.
2. We are used to paying $10 for a cocktail. We aren’t happy about it, but we’re used to it.
1. As part of a regular exam by the veterinarian, our pets had acupuncture done. (I'm not kidding – they liked it, too!)

So we bid the Bay a fond farewell! Could we live here again? Absolutely. But after the quake clean-up.

As we’ve been on this adventure. I’ve shared with some of you my thoughts about clutter and stuff. I still think there’s a book in here somewhere, but it hasn’t quite materialized yet. We went from a relatively uncluttered but well-stocked and furnished 2000 sqaure foot home, to four large suitcases plus a small storage bin. Since we left Arizona, we’ve lived in furnished rentals, and none for more than seven months. We’ve traveled light. Some stuff has accumulated again, but not to the degree it would if we had a home.

So now, for the first time in over two years, we are taking – gasp – a full year’s lease! YES. And we will have our own furniture again. I’m delighted we’ll be so “permanent” and won’t have to move in a few months. And I’m curious to see how this will play out in our new, lighter lifestyle. Will we feel bogged down? Will we be as willing to pick up and move to a foreign country again?

I know my relationship to owning stuff has altered. From being a professional de-clutterer to de-cluttering practically everything, to re-accumulating… we shall see. What are your thoughts?

Friday, January 11, 2008

Mental Margarita from January 17, 2008

I am finding myself more attracted to the abstract. Not so abstract that you can't tell what it is, but the kind of pattern-y close-up nature stuff. I started with some snow when up in BC for Christmas. (It's on the "new" page at fotos de karina.) I'm not there yet - I can tell this will be an area of growth for me because I won't get simply reply on nature's obvious beauty. This will require greater artistry on my part and I say I'm up for it! But that's the fun thing about this - I don't have to do it if I end up not being inspired or moved in that particular direction.

On another note, I had my second "assigned" shoot today. My hairdresser wanted close-ups of locks of hair to frame and put on the walls, and I was happy to do it. I'm thinking this will be a service I can offer to everyone once I figure out the logistics (the assigned shoot, not the locks of hair). I'll still shoot within artistic parameters (i.e., no weddings) and will focus on a requested subject or color or mood. So start thinking of what should go on your dining room wall!

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Mental Margarita from January 8, 2008

"Grandiflora" (a South American tree with leafy bunches)

For those of you receiving the "Mental Margarita," I promised on update on our adventure. (If you're behind in the story, you can catch up at the blog post from November 27, if you're so inclined.)

We are now a month out from moving up to Seattle, and although we have loved flitting about these last couple years, we are really looking forward to the deep commitment of - yes - a one year lease! Wooooo hooooooo! We may even extend it to two years. Or even buy a home. Who knows? Even though we'll be more "settled" (and by that I mean we will again own furniture) we will continue to live by the guidance we get. Living that way is at times scary, but overall has been deeply rewarding. We simply would not be doing what we're doing if we'd stayed in Phoenix and played it safe.

I've been thinking about this whole notion of security lately, and then not so coincidentally, got this quote in my email:

"Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature nor do the children of man as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing."
Helen Keller

So here we are, the beginning of new year. I know it's a human construct, the idea of a "new year," but it's one I'm quite grateful for at this particular change of the calendar. 2007 was tough. One of those growth years. One of those years that can either have you shrivel up or grow stronger. Thankfully, we did the latter. And we ended the year with a wonderful visit with family and friends in Washington and BC. I'm pleased to report we did really well with the cold and snowy/rainy weather. It really is simply a matter of having the right clothes (and being sure you have them on when leaving the house).

So what's 2008 about for you? Raymond and I wrote down some things that we're in the process of revisiting. I'd love to hear what you're creating. Please share! And let's have 2008 be the best yet for each one of us.