Learning to Let Go Of Magazines

The first thing you see when you walk into my house - magazines.

The first thing you see when you walk into my house – magazines. And Koda.

This weekend I tackled a project that I hadn’t done in years – recycling old magazines and newspapers. Please, someone tell me that I’m not the only magazine hoarder in town. If you don’t have at least six month’s worth of magazines and/or newspapers laying around, then I applaud you.

Check the date on this one - three years old.

Check the date on this one – three years old.

I don’t know about you, but I hold on to unread magazines for that day when I can kick back and relax on the beach and catch up on some lighthearted reading. What’s that you say? I’ve never taken a beach vacation? Damn.

Photoshop Magazine from when CS4 still existed

My read magazines hang around collecting dust and dog fur just in case there’s a tidbit of information in an article I might need one day. In case Google decides to shut dow. It can happen.

Prayer flags that have yet to be hung back up draped lovingly over more magazines

We have baskets of magazines in our office and living room from the past few years, and we mysteriously get the Sunday paper, which I stick into storage cubes to read during breakfast. Note: I eat breakfast in the car on my way to run. Every day.

Newspapers from the past four months

Newspapers from the past four months

Do you see a trend here? We hang on to things we think we might need one day, or use one day, never stopping to question our reasoning. Whether it’s magazines, old clothes you wish you fit into, cookbooks you will never use, or thousands of plastic bags, we all have something sitting around our house that can be eliminated. Sure, you could need plastic bags to use for mini garbage cans or to clean up puppy presents, but no one needs three cabinets full of them.

2013 issues of Runner's World made the cut to stick around for another month  or so

2013 issues of Runner’s World made the cut to stick around for another month or so

After the millionth time moving a basket to vacuum around it, I decided to purge. It pains me to throw perfectly good reading materials out. I read everything cover-to-cover, even the copy on cereal boxes. I felt like a hoarder at first – pouring through every article before tossing it into the donate or recycle pile. But that got old quickly. Ain’t no one got time for that shit. I switched over to recycling the old newspapers without even looking at them, and only keeping the magazines I knew I’d refer back to one day, like our favorite Backpacker issues.

I’m sure none of our guests have ever judged us by the amount of magazines in our baskets, but to me the house looked much better. It felt like a breath of fresh air when I was done, and I felt like I had tackled something big. I’ll be pissed though if one day I need a certain recipe or workout circuit only to discover that it’s in a magazine sitting in a doctor’s office somewhere.

What do you have lying around your house that you can get rid of?


…and a side of waffle fries

By: Javacia Harris Bowser



Today I begin the third and final week of my 9 foods experiment, inspired by Jen Hatmaker’s book 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess.

Since I’m two-thirds of the way to the finish line, I should be thinking, “Oh, I got this.” But I’m not.

The first week was tough, but not nearly as tough as I thought it would be, once my sugar withdrawal headaches subsided. Then I foolishly stepped inside a Chick Fil-A.

It was the Saturday of week one of the experiment. I attended a storytelling night at one of my favorite local coffee shops Urban Standard. There I managed to resist ordering hot chocolate and didn’t even glance at the shop’s famous cupcakes.

But after the event my cousin and I were hungry. I suggested Chick Fil-A because I knew I could have a char-grilled chicken sandwich without breaking my fast, as long as I removed the tomato and pickles. But I hadn’t considered how weak my willpower would become as the scent of waffle fries began wafting toward my nose. So I ordered the char-grilled chicken sandwich combo (not just the sandwich) with a lemonade (which was also a violation of my fast).

I can’t blame this on Chick Fil-A for tempting me with their tasty tubers. This was all my fault.

But something strange happened: I nearly ate my entire sandwich without touching the fries. And I realized I didn’t really want them anymore. I ate about five fries anyway only to justify spending the money on them and I didn’t enjoy them at all. Nor was I tempted by the ice cream cones being enjoyed by the kids at the table across from mine.

In just one week, my appetite had changed.

And with just five waffle fries I ruined my progress.

My slip-up on Saturday set a bad tone for week two. I felt frustrated and kept referring to my experiment as “THIS STUPID FAST!” My pal Erin kept telling me, “It’s not stupid,” but I just wasn’t convinced.

The purpose of a fast is to give up something so you can focus more on God. And I haven’t done this as much as I had hoped because I’ve been so busy. This experiment has shown me that the thing I probably need to streamline most of all is not my diet, but my day. I need to streamline my schedule.

This experiment has also taught me the value of forming healthy habits. My appetite began to change in just one week. Think of how our lives could change if we applied that to other areas. If you begin to exercise regularly, suddenly your body just won’t tolerate being sedentary. If you begin to write regularly your mind just won’t put up with writer’s block. And if you begin to do something loving and kind for yourself and for someone else every day, your heart just won’t have room for jealousy and hate.

I don’t know what the third week of this experiment will bring, but if I can hold on to these thoughts after my fast ends then I will know it was worth it. I will know it wasn’t stupid after all.

Javacia Harris Bowser blogs daily at The Writeous Babe Project and is the founder of See Jane Write, a networking group for women writers in Birmingham.  


Is Your Space Affecting Your Mood?

Buddha, feng shui

I read a post in Tiny Buddha last week (if you don’t subscribe to their daily emails, I suggest dropping everything and doing that now) about Feng Shui and how your space can affect your mood. This seems so obvious yet it is something we often overlook, or at least I know I do. How many times have you walked into a room and ignored that pile of laundry that needs to be folded, not because you’re lazy but because after sitting there for a day or so it has blended into your surroundings.

On Saturday night Zack and I were going to sit down to a quiet dinner and then start the process of moving my blog to a different platform, but for some reason I was antsy, uncomfortable, and unable to focus. Something felt off. I finally stopped for a second and looked around our house – the Christmas decorations were still up, laundry was sitting in our room waiting to be put away, and there was a pile of recycling by the door that had to go outside. Nothing major by any means, but it was making me stressed and cramping my creativity without me realizing it.

Feng shui

The only open floor space for our three pups to lay down

Taking a step back, in order to fit our Christmas tree nicely into the living room we rearranged the furniture so that our couch backed up to the door and cut our already small room in half. It felt crowded and messy. Once we took the tree down and opened the layout of the room, I felt like I could relax again. For a month Zack and I had hated the way the room was arranged, but hadn’t taken the effort to do something about it.

Feng shui

Finished product

Overall it took about an hour to clean the house. After we were done I felt like a new person – I hadn’t realized that all of these little thing were making such an impact on my mood. Between that and reading the Tiny Buddha article, I’m making a conscious effort to walk around the house and fix things as I notice them. Up next – creating a personal writing space!

Take a moment today to glance around your house to see what little (and big) things you can do to impact your mood and share what adjustments you’re going to make.

My Quest to Streamline My Diet

By: Javacia Harris Bowser


This is all Jen Hatmaker’s fault. 

I can’t even remember how I stumbled up her book 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess, but it was around the holidays, a time of year when I always feel disgusted with consumerism and our society’s (and my own) obsession with stuff. 

The book details Jen’s attempt to fight greed, materialism, and overindulgence in hopes of living a more Christ-like existence. The idea was to choose seven areas — food, clothes, spending, media, possessions, waste, and stress — and spend 30 days on each topic boiling it down to the number seven. Only eat seven foods, only wear seven articles of clothing, and spend money in only seven places. Her plan also called for her to eliminate use of seven media types, give away seven things each day for one month, adopt seven green habits, and observe “seven sacred pauses.”

Am I doing Jen’s experiment completely and to the letter? Hell to the no.

But I am inspired to do some altered version of it in hopes that it will help me streamline my life so that I can spend more time, energy, and resources on things that really matter. And my prayer is that I will begin to look more like Jesus along the way.

My husband and I went out for Mexican food last night. I kept referring to this meal as The Last Supper!

My husband and I went out for Mexican food last night. I called this meal The Last Supper!

Just as Jen did, I’m starting with food. Jen’s experiment was inspired by one of her friends who did a “Pick 5” fast. So since Jen added two items to her list, I’m going to add two to mine. (See, this is my problem. I’m such an American. Always trying to have more.)

Also, I’m doing this for 21 days, not 30. Every January my church has what it calls 21 Days of Prayer — a special time of prayer and fasting to kick off the new year. This year my plan was to fast sweets for 21 Days of Prayer, which began today. Then Jen Hatmaker came along and turned my world upside down and I’ve now decided to fast nearly all of the foods I love. 

 For the next 21 Days I will only eat the following: 

  • lean white meat and fish 
  • green vegetables
  • sweet potatoes
  • apples
  • eggs
  • Greek yogurt
  • peanut butter
  • wheat bread
  • almonds

This list is similar to Jen’s but for meat she only allowed herself chicken and for vegetables she only ate spinach. Her list included avocado, which I replaced with almonds. I added Greek yogurt because one of my doctors has been encouraging me to eat this for breakfast for nearly a year. Peanut butter is here because a nutritionist in my favorite magazine recommended PB on wheat bread as a mid-morning snack. 

 Jen only allowed herself to use salt, pepper, and olive oil to flavor to her food. She’s a better woman than I am. I will allow myself to use some low fat, low calorie condiments, but in moderation and I won’t be frying up any of meats on my list. 

 As for beverages, Jen only drank water. I’m allowing myself green tea as well simply because I spend a lot of time in coffee shops meeting with fellow writers and working on my blog and I need to buy something in order to not feel guilty for taking up space and Wi-Fi. 

Looking at my plan you’re probably thinking this won’t be so bad because I have plenty of variety. If you’re thinking that, you clearly don’t know me well. My friends know that I believe the human body needs cheese more than it needs water and that I think most of life’s problems can be solved with a cupcake. I could beat a 16-year-old boy in a pizza eating contest and I’m convinced the manna from heaven God sent down to the Israelites was some form of Mexican food. (Look out! It’s raining chimichangas!)  

And for the next 21 days I can’t have pizza, Mexican food, or sweets. Lord, help me. 

But, seriously, my prayer throughout my entire streamline project will be the same as Jen’s:

“Dear Lord, may there be less of me and my junk and more of You and your kingdom.”

And when I say less of me I mean that figuratively and literally. If I happen to streamline my waistline over the next 21 days I will be a very happy girl. 

Javacia Harris Bowser blogs daily at The Writeous Babe Project and is the founder of See Jane Write, a networking group for women writers in Birmingham.   

Erin’s Home Office: Before

Erin's home office/before

One of the reasons we decided to start Streamlined Birmingham was for accountability.   For me, this means starting with a snapshot of one of my before projects: my home office.

Full disclosure: this isn’t even the before “before” — that was about a year and a half ago, when several kind friends helped me get started. Problem is, I’ve continued in fits and starts — usually when I need to find a document. (Good luck with that.)

The problem: my attempts to date have included shifting a lot of stuff around, and not enough of getting rid of things.

My goal over the next few months is to focus on this room for two reasons:

1. To create a clear, uncluttered space to manage bills and family paperwork

2. To create a space conducive to creating, writing, and dreaming

The challenges: this room has become the storehouse for a lot of stuff unrelated to these goals, including an entire closet full of sentimental items, photos, and knick-knacks. Making the problem worse is it’s become the place where I stack stuff when I don’t want the world to see it.

But stacking is a temporary solution. As is buying tons of organizing supplies to whip me into shape. Looking at stacks (and countless numbers of plastic tubs, trays, and small containers) makes me feel overwhelmed, guilty (that I let things get this bad), and defeated. And I’m not working from that position. Nope.

Small steps: Over Christmas break, I did an initial gutting of this room, packing an SUV with things that are no longer of use to me (yes that much came from this small space). Included in that were a television I’d held on to “just in case” and a large wicker storage unit, that took up a lot of space and held five drawers of stuff I no longer used. These items and more (especially electronic odds and ends) were deposited at the Salvation Army, where I got an electronic receipt. (Less paper — I dig!)

I also started going through the “stacks” — filing important papers from the year, and separating the sentimental from the usable. (I’ll cull through the sentimental stuff later, for now this is a manageable step.)

Finally, I started backing up about 10 years of photos stored on CD and thumb drives, have all photos in one place. Organizing these and my boxes and boxes of paper photos will be addressed in a separate post. (Probably several!)

Next steps: Continue to go through the stacks and find a home for the things that need to be kept, while being brutally honest with myself about what needs to go.

Finish the digital photo backup project, and tackle the print organization after that.

Tackle the closet holding the sentimental stuff-meets-tiki-glass collection (which has an annex in the garage).

Eventual steps: 

Assess the functionality of the room after all the extra paper/objects are gone. And, after that, only after that, will I work on the part that gets me most excited: the aesthetics of the room. Hanging my beloved photos, and art, creating a space that’s beautiful as it’s functional. Or funky as it’s functional, because honestly, that’s my thing.

Right now: I’m trying to go easy myself that I didn’t get everything done in this space over break. It feels good to write about the small accomplishments. I’m going back to work this week, so will be working on the project in nighttime and weekend bursts. It’ll take time. That’s OK.

As part of this process, and my general streamlining focus, I’m readying Joshua Becker’s “Simplify: 7 Guiding Principles To Help Declutter Their Home And Life.” (His blog, “Becoming Minimalist” also has great resources.)

I’ll report back from time to time … including (gasp) writing from my actual home office desk.

Welcome to Streamlined Birmingham!

On December 28, 2012 (that’s today!) I responded to a Tweet from @MezzoEnekes, aka Erika Emody. She wrote:

“Throwing away or donating all the things #purge #fengshui #makeroomforthenew”

I shared that I was doing the same. Truth is: after years of trying to “organize” and “declutter,” none of that really worked for me, a sentimental packrat. In recent weeks I’ve had some glaring examples of just how much space my clutter is taking up (an entire home office, also, stashes in three bedrooms and a garage … oh, a garage.) Buying new plastic tubs and making three piles isn’t cutting it. It’s time to get rid of the stuff.

I’m not the only one. Throughout the morning, the Twitter discussion grew. All of us are women who live in or near Birmingham. We have different goals but one purpose: to get rid of things that no longer serve us, to make room for the new.

So we’re launching Streamlined Birmingham as a way to document our individual progress and hopefully, encourage others to follow suit. I chose “streamlined” because I’m not ready to commit to a 100% Minimalist lifestyle (I still need those Tory Burch gold Reva flats, sorry). And it’s more than “organizing” or “decluttering.” It’s streamlining.