Living the Edited Life

One of the guiding principles that my wife, Linda, and I have used on our journey of simplicity is an adapted version of the Pareto Principle, more widely known as the 80/20 Rule, which for our purposes simply states that 80% of stuff is used 20% of the time and 20% of stuff is used 80% of the time. The goal for us is to get our stuff down to the 20% that we use 80% of the time, and we are basically at that point in the process.

Our rule of thumb for the last several months has been that if we haven’t used an item lately and/or don’t plan to use it then we give it away, either to someone we know or to a charitable organization. We have sold very few items, other than our furniture once we sold our house, simply due to the logistics of selling such as packing and shipping, etc. Besides, we’ve realized the benefits of sowing and reaping in each of our lives.

As Graham Hill said, “Editing is the skill of this century: editing space, media consumption, [even] friends.” That last one may strike some as controversial but the older I get the more I realize that we do indeed outgrow some relationships and that is okay. It doesn’t mean that we no longer like certain people; it simply means that a person may be part of our lives for a season. To that end, Linda and I recently went through our collection of paper photographs [as opposed to digital ones] and culled them accordingly.

What I’ve found is that the same skill needed to be an effective editor of words, which is my livelihood, also plays a part in paring life down to its essentials. Whether it involves limiting space, media or relationships, living the edited life means being selective about the space one inhabits, what media one consumes and yes, even the people one spends time with. The Pareto Principle is applicable across the board so it helps to deal with whatever it is that hinders us from realizing our full potential.

Our New Castle

After seven months of blissful encampment upon this spit of land called Nantucket situated thirty miles out to sea my wife and I are heading to the next stop on our adventure together, the picturesque hamlet of New Castle, New Hampshire. While it is part and parcel of the Portsmouth area, the coastal town I blogged about earlier this month, New Castle has its own zip code, is the smallest town in New Hampshire and the only one comprised solely of islands.

Pictured is the three-story colonial that we will call home for the next several months and while it is not literally a castle it will feel like it compared to the relatively cramped quarters we inhabited here on Nantucket. It is about three times the size of our last place and the entire house is ours, whereas we shared a house last time. Aside from all the extra space we are perhaps most excited about the prospect of using the fireplace in the autumn, our favorite time of year.

Again located on Main Street, we will be across the street from the town post office, church and town hall and just down the street from the market and library. Perhaps most notably, New Castle is also home to the turn-of-the-century resort hotel Wentworth by the Sea, not to mention the Portsmouth Lighthouse, Portsmouth Yacht Club and Fort Constitution, site of the first naval battle during the Revolutionary War. And by this time tomorrow it will be our home.

Creative Corner

While online the other day I came across a picture of the actual desk where my wife’s favorite author, Jane Austen, is reported to have created her bestselling novels. What struck me about it was its diminutive size. No larger than a tea table, it looked barely large enough to eat scones at, much less create the literary masterpieces for which Austen is known.

What I can’t help thinking is whether Austen didn’t need as much exterior space because she had adequate interior space as a result of the time and place she lived. She not only lived during a kinder, gentler period, but she also wrote from a place more attuned to the reflective pace necessary to think and create.

One of the highlights during my and my wife’s holiday vacation to New York City was our visit to the Morgan Library, where there happened to be an exhibit of Jane Austen’s original writings. It was inspiring to see firsthand the handwriting of a genius and to witness the fruits of her creative labor.

And here at home, my wife and I recently sampled several movies via Netflix that adapt Austen’s trademark wit to the big screen. Nearly two hundred years later, it is readily apparent that she had an innate understanding of the human condition. What’s more, it is amazing how much creativity she was able to conjure up in her creative corner of the world.

White Space

In design circles there is a term to describe the limited use of graphics on a page: white space. A similar term regarding the placement of text is called margin. Whatever you call it, the idea behind it is that specific elements stand out in relief. In other words, an uncluttered background allows the focal point of a design to come to the fore.

My wife is helping a friend of ours, who happens to be a fellow editor, organize her living and working space to better function at home, both personally and professionally. And the first move toward a more beautiful space is to remove the clutter from it. Nothing mars a homescape more than too much stuff and no system in place to corral it.

No matter how cramped one’s quarters might be, any space can be made more livable by weeding out the detritus of life gathered over the course of time. For example, I am one of the more organized people I know, but even I found myself with an odd surplus of electronic gadgetry accumulating in the storage closet of my office.

So I finally tackled the tangled web of cords and discovered that, among several outdated devices, my wife and I had collected one set of earbuds, two cell phone cases, three old cell phones, four cell phone chargers, and five corroded batteries. But the best part of the process was my discovery that a set of Aiwa speakers I had stored work wonderfully with our Apple laptop.

Never mind that I’ve had the laptop for 4 years and the speakers for 24 years and somehow they are only now being united in sonic bliss. The sole reason for their belated coupling can be attributed to the saying: “out of sight, out of mind.” As my wife and I often remind each other, “it helps to know what you own so you can use it.” If I’d only explored our spare electronics box earlier I could have been jamming long ago.

Speaking of Stuff

I came across a thought-provoking article in this weekend’s New York Times magazine titled “The Self-Storage Self” by Jon Mooallem and you can read it at Whether or not you use self-storage (I do not), there is no denying the behemoth of a business it has become.

One of the more compelling points of the article captures the sheer size of the self-storage movement: “After a monumental building boom, the United States now has 2.3 billion square feet of self-storage space. (The Self Storage Association notes that, with more than seven square feet for every man, woman and child, it’s now ‘physically possible that every American could stand—all at the same time—under the total canopy of self-storage roofing.’)”

As the article further suggests: “Maybe the recession really is making American consumers serious about scaling back, about decluttering and deleveraging. But there are upward of 51,000 storage facilities across this country. Storage is part of our national infrastructure now. And all it is, is empty space.”

I can’t speak for others, but it sounds to me like people need to discipline themselves when it comes to acquiring stuff. Despite average home sizes doubling to more than 2,300 square feet, many people apparently have trouble fitting it all into their super-sized McMansions (that many also have no business buying).

I recently heard that for the typical buyer of a NEW Rolls Royce, it is the 17TH car in their collection! When the vast majority of the world subsists on about a dollar a day, I can’t help but think that too many of us have our priorities out of whack. I personally subscribe to the philosophy that “less is more” and am reminded of the admonition to “live simply that others may simply live.”

The Gift of Time

My wife and I recently returned from our autumn retreat to the pastoral mountains of North Carolina, where we had the good fortune of being housebound by the weather a good deal of the time. While visiting family there, I had a couple days of downtime to savor the insightful writing of author Ellen Vaughn in her latest book, Time Peace: Living Here and Now with a Timeless God.

Among her more piercing insights are this gem: “If we believe what we say we do—in a huge, sovereign, good God who created all things, including time, and has ordained both our days on earth and our entrance into eternity—we will not be anxious about time. We are in fact rich in it. We can enjoy God’s present. We can relax, and smile.”

As I write these words I am reminded of even more timeless wisdom found in “The Message” paraphrase of the Book of Acts 17:26-27: “He made the entire human race and made the earth hospitable, with plenty of time and space for living so we could seek after God.” I particularly love the phrase, “plenty of time and space for living.” As we all enter the busy Christmas season, I pray we slacken our pace long enough to celebrate Christ and unwrap the gift of time.