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LIFESTYLE

Simple Approach : Spring cleaning is an attitude, and it can be applied to all aspects of life.

April 16, 1998|ANN SHIELDS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

There's something about daffodils pushing through soil that stirs up a desire to fling open the windows, brush away cobwebs and clear out clutter. Somewhere in the country, storm windows are coming down about now; but in Southern California, where seasons blend almost seamlessly into each other, spring and spring cleaning aren't necessarily synonymous. Still, the urge to clean up and simplify surroundings is universal, whether it's your house or your life. So where to start?

According to Janet Luhrs, author of "The Simple Living Guide: A Sourcebook for Less Stressful, More Joyful Living" (Broadway Books, New York, 1997), the easiest place to begin is with your possessions, since that is where the typical American is raised to find gratification. Who hasn't felt a rush rummaging through hidden junk collections and clearing out the creeping fungus of clutter? If it sounds daunting, tackle it in small steps, drawer by drawer, shelf by shelf.

"Get rid of those things you don't use, love or care about and you'll realize how much time, money and effort you spend fooling with junk. Psychic energy is drained when you have all that stuff," Luhrs says.

Although Luhrs is a longtime advocate of living under her means, her life became more complicated with a law degree, marriage, children and a mortgage. A class on simplicity in 1991 started her on the quest for a simpler life.

"It was like I came out of the simplicity closet," Luhrs says. Researching the subject, she combined information, personal experience and a journalism background into a quarterly newsletter, "Simple Living." The Boston Globe called it "the nation's premier newsletter on voluntary simplicity."

Since possessions do tend to possess us, freedom from ownership is one way to create space for that inward journey toward contentment. From a global perspective, it's not only worth the effort but essential for the environment, according to Virgil Nelson, former executive director of Habitat for Humanity in Ventura County. He notes that the United States and Canada combine 6% of the world's population while consuming more than 46% of the world's energy in nonrenewable resources.

"Our whole culture needs a spring cleaning," Nelson says, laughing.

Coordinator of Church Relations and Oxnard Outreach at Project Understanding as well as interim pastor of a small church in Santa Paula, he and his wife, Lynn, never adopted the lavish lifestyle their children might have preferred while growing up. They have a wood-burning stove, a solar heating system and a '60s-vintage VW. From time to time they have shared appliances, lawn mowers and cooperative gardens with friends and neighbors.

"Several families in our neighborhood share a common tool shed, knowing it's acceptable to go in and borrow as long as it gets returned," Nelson says.

He and Lynn come from Depression-era parents--his father yanked nails out of boards to hammer straight and reuse--and were born to recycle. But their chosen way of life goes beyond frugality.

"We are living simply so that others may simply live," Nelson says, adding that the phrase is not his, but captures both a lifestyle and motivation that transcend theology. Although it sounds easy, it's actually complex if you have to deal with the logistics of one car in a family with differing schedules, for example.

"Commitment to simplicity clearly does bring peace, but it may not bring what many people consider to be ease," he says.

Obviously, it's easier to clean up and pare down where there's not much to "de-junk," a term that Don Aslett coined in "Clutter's Last Stand" (Writer's Digest Books, 1984). Identified as the world's No. 1 cleaning expert, he owns a commercial cleaning organization, a cleaning center, cleaning library and cleaning museum. He's in the process of building a maintenance-free house in Hawaii, and you can be sure it will be clutter-free.

"Clutter is the No. 1 housework problem. It takes 40% longer to clean a clutter-filled house," Aslett says.

Globally speaking, he believes clutter is at the root of every problem, because it creates an attitude problem. Furthermore, people treat you according to your cleanliness level, which is the main reason people clean anyway, he concludes. So de-junk your life and everyone will feel better.

You might consider starting with your vacation souvenirs--the gift-shop arrowheads or those cute porcelain hearts that tugged at your purse strings. Aslett calls these items garbage maintained by people who call them collections.

"Throw out what you grow out of," he says.

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