This folk art block lives in my daughter’s brownstone apartment. We share a love of nests, for birds and other Robins. Despite having seen it countless times, I've been slow to realize that this little block is symbolic of the foundation that underpins all these essays. (I know some of you wish I’d call a blog a blog…) And it's a very different writer's block. Rather than being an obstacle, it's an inspiration.
My Rules are the cornerstone for everything I write. Some Rules have been expressed and many have been hinted-but today, they are coming out. If these Rules are the building blocks of my writing, why have I waited until now to clue you in? Maybe I imagined that readers of these essays had first read my book. Hubris! Maybe I thought that an essay that was largely excerpted from previous work was cheating. You can’t plagiarize yourself! Maybe I thought that those who knelt at the altar of “enough” must instinctively know the Rules. Tunnel vision! Mea Culpa.
So, readers, meet the Rules. And Rules, say hello (nicely) to the readers. Rules have been my companion for as long as I can remember. And at this point, I can remember about six decades. I’m one of those people who has always known that less made me happier, not sadder; that I couldn’t have the best of everything, so I’d better decide what was worth sticking my neck out for; and that curating my things like they mattered (which they do), made me a master, not a servant.
The Rules of Order
1. HANDLE IT ONCE. Decisions postponed lead to paralysis. Actions postponed create clutter.
2. LESS IS MORE. Mostly true, but exceptions are permitted. The one perfect something that works well, looks good and makes you happy, is far better than a life full of so-so possessions. Does the thing in question bring value to your life? Are you better off with it or without it? An important, but often-overlooked question. Like the farmer, learn to cull your “herd”. It will make the herd healthier, happier and more productive.
3. CURATE YOUR COLLECTION. Sounds like something reserved for a museum or library, but it works with possessions. They are your collection. Editing isn’t a matter of just getting rid of the things you used to like, but of getting rid of the ones you’ve always disliked.
4. A PLACE FOR EVERYTHING AND EVERYTHING IN ITS PLACE. Create systems for organizing, storing and retrieving your things. The system can be anything that works for you. Remember, it’s hard to get anything meaningful accomplished if you can’t even find a matching pair of socks. Manage your inventory. Find a system- one in one out. Rotate your “stock”. Out of date, broken, mismatched, tired… they need to go.
5. CREATE A UNIFORM. What is it that makes you, you? Not just in clothing, but in decorating, cooking, entertaining, gifting- basically a “lifestyle” uniform. Habits (aka “uniforms”) are mostly helpful. And breaking out on occasion is too.
6. EXERCISE YOUR RESTRAINT MUSCLE. Follow Sarah Lazarovic’s advice and practice saying no to a bunch of pretty things you will not buy. 1“They may be fair-trade, organic leg warmers, but if your legs aren’t cold, it’s still a frivolous purchase.” Without knowing rules, restraint is almost impossible. The Rules can create an emotional firewall between impulse and intentionality.
7. USE IT UP, WEAR IT OUT, MAKE IT DO, OR DO WITHOUT. Thrift, practicality, and resourcefulness used to be desirable traits. Somewhere along the way, crafty corporations, seductive media and political agendas have besmirched these qualities. Let’s bring them back. The proverbial “Jones” are awash in clutter and debt. Let them go.
8. BETTER CAN BE THE ENEMY OF GOOD. Consider the paradox of choice. 2 Good is usually good enough. Sometimes better makes sense. And perfection is rarely necessary and always illusive. Before you begin that search, be sure it’s worthwhile.
9. BE AS CAREFUL ABOUT WHAT YOU LET INTO YOUR HOME AS WHOM YOU LET IN. It’s hard to let go of things even if we didn’t want them or like them. The letting go makes us sadder than the acquiring made us happy. Roll up the welcome mat on stuff.
10. FASHION IS FLEETING AND SHOULD BE LARGELY IGNORED. STYLE ENDURES. Define yours. It’s nothing more than confidence, clarity, and consistency, tempered with authenticity.
11. MISTAKES HAPPEN. ADMIT, LEARN AND MOVE ON. Perseveration will only gnaw at you. If you can afford to correct your mistake, do so. If you must live with it, endeavor to not make it again.
12. IF EVERYTHING IS PRECIOUS, THEN NOTHING IS. For something to shine, there must be something dull to contrast it. We’ve eviscerated the word“special”. Because it can now mean most anything, it likely means nothing. It’s easy to understand why people don’t want to admit that much of what they own is not very useful or special, and seldom precious.
13. NEEDS AND WANTS ARE NOT THE SAME. Needs are fundamental. Wants are fleeting. No thinking person would dispute that our wants far exceed our needs. We want our houses huge, even though family size has shrunk. We want our food fast and large, even though we’ve never been fatter or less hungry. We want more clothes, tchotchkes, furniture, toys, and equipment than we can cram into our big houses. And at least one in ten of us is willing to rent remote storage rather than own less stuff. Make sure you are mostly satisfying a genuine need rather than indulging a fleeting want.
14. AESTHETICS MATTER. On every level in every arena. They are the main course, not the garnish. A well-honed aesthetic sense is best cultivated early, but it’s never too late to learn. Filling our homes with clutter stunts our affinity for intrinsic beauty. Beautiful doesn’t mean rare or expensive. It means genuine, natural, and authentic. Humble materials can be beautiful. Use your nice things. Otherwise, what’s the point? You and your family are the worthy occasion!
15. DO OR DON’T DO. THERE IS NO TRY. So do it. “One of these days”… is probably never. Discipline with your possessions can translate into discipline in other areas of your life. Habits take time. A new way may seem awkward at first, then not so bad, and before you know it, you’re a convert. Quit sabotaging yourself. What decisions are you avoiding and at what cost?
These Rules are not carved in stone. They are my way and are offered only as a guide for you finding your way. You might take a few and leave a few, but I’ve found that considering all of the Rules, or at least not dismissing any of them, makes order easier. Rules provide a standard or default mode for doing lots of things. This affords you the time, energy, and enthusiasm for sometimes doing things in a very non-standard kind of way. And standardization doesn’t mean flat or dull. With the guesswork and confusion eliminated from parts of your life, you have room for spontaneity and creativity when it really matters. So breaking Rules is at worst a misdemeanor and at best, exactly the right thing to do. But you must first learn the Rules before you can break them!