Photo of graduate Sam Routledge, in cap and gown.
Photo by Abhishek Kar

It's been an incredible journey of learning, especially considering that when I applied to UNB Computer Science I had literally zero experience programming and knew very little about computers. I used a very silly method when applying for a degree program: I didn't like science labs, I hated calculus, I disliked writing, I saw no future in any of the fine arts, and so... that left CS! I got lucky that I found my passion on the first try. I discovered that I adored the computer science parts - the mathematical and logical foundations of the field. Pursuing that interest allowed me to complete the requirements for the Theory and Computation CS specialty.

Photo of several professors in their academic robes.Photo by Abhishek Kar

The graduation ceremony itself is always interesting - at least, I always enjoy seeing the professors in their academic splendor. The three professors on the left in the photo above are CS professors - The sleepy one is the professor I took advanced algorithms from (one of my favourite courses), the bored-looking one wearing jeans and sneakers is who taught my C programming class (my favourite programming language), and the guy in the middle taught.... uh, let's just call it computation theory (the most organized, easy-to-understand prof I've ever had!).

We had the misfortune to be in the final ceremony with the engineers. Dear lord, there are a lot of engineers! Haha, it wasn't actually that bad, because the ceremony was in a brand new building with wonderful air conditioning! We were also the only ceremony that didn't get rained out; in fact it turned into a beautiful sunny day. Not a bad finale for five years of work!

PS, if you know what's good for you, don't ask what I plan to do next. >:(

What I learned from packing; a new life philosophy

The experience of packing for our approaching move has led me on a journey of discovery. It began on Pinterest, where I started (obsessively) looking for clever organization tricks. The apartment we are currently living in has a spare room in addition to extremely sizable kitchen, bedroom and living room. There is a lot of space in this place, and we've filled it all with stuff. I was desperate for ideas to fit four rooms worth of stuff into our new tiny one-bedroom apartment.

This led me to cleaning and organizing tips, mainly featuring advice on how to pare down possessions and deal with clutter. And that train of reading finally led me to the minimalist blogging niche. I spent hours perusing The Minimalist Mom, exploring her view on life and possessions. Minimalists have a very Zen philosophy: the more possessions you own, the more you are owned by them. Minimalism is effectively about living with the bare essentials. I read about folks who only own one plate. I read about folks who throw their children's toys in the garbage if they're left on the floor. I read about folks who have scanned and digitized their entire personal library. I read about folks who produced only a handful of trash in a year. Minimalism has a lot of offer a young couple who want to make a move easier - especially when said young couple is considering where they will end up in five years - but to be frank, it's intimidating in its extremes.

"The last thing I want is for someone else to have to throw away my junk! I'd rather leave only skills and memories behind"

The problem is, I like a lot of my stuff. The stuff I like has plenty of benefits, and my life would definitely not be better if I lived without it. Clothing and crafting is a creative outlet. Board games and video games gives us something fun to do with friends (and in this city, there isn't much else!), and having more than two place settings allows us to feed and water guests. Pet supplies keep our animals happy and healthy. I constantly re-read the books on our bookshelves. A desk covered in tools and fiddly electronic bits helps T get school work done, in addition to his personal hobbies. Take any of these things away, and our lives are noticeably more dull.

The typical reasons given for minimalism didn't resonate with me. We don't have children with which we want to spend more time. We don't spend so much time cleaning that it negatively impacts our life. The only debt we have is student loan debt - we don't have a car loan, credit card debt or house. Our standard of living is comfortable - just a little cluttered, is all!

Then, just before I became exasperated with the minimalist philosophy, I found the idea of optimalism. "Don't make due with the minimum amount," the optimalists say, "find the optimal amount. Yes, technically we could all make due with one pot and a wooden spoon, but if it makes your life harder or less enjoyable, don't do it! Aim to find the perfect amount, the perfect balance, of things in your life - not too few or too many. Don't be afraid to be aggressive. Remove the little things that frustrate you and replace them with things that you enjoy."

Ah! Finally, here is something I can get behind. With that in mind, I began sweeping through the apartment. I made a list of things I wanted to replace - a spatula that was hard to clean, a garbage can that took two hands to open (or - more frequently - a hand and foot while I desperately tried to balance on the other foot and hold whatever garbage I had in my other hand). I threw away/donated hundreds of items that we hadn't used or enjoyed in the four years we've lived here - books I knew I would never read again, CDs of outdated OS installs, dried up tubes of paint. It feels... good.

T has been a champ through the whole thing. He's a pack rat by nature, and it's very difficult for him to let things go. Some part of his brain just screams "But it used to be worth money! It still works, we could use it in the future! What if I want to look at it again and it's not there!" We've compromised by putting a bunch of stuff "in storage" (AKA at his parents' house). He still has a lot of clothing, and binders full of old school notes, but hey... one step at a time.

So here's my new philosophy: I'm not going to put up with "good enough" if I don't have to. Getting rid of things I don't use and love makes it easier for me to get at the things I DO love. And, of course, the most beneficial part of this is in acquiring new possessions. Even before now, I've made a conscious effort to stop buying things just because they're cheap. (You'd think it would be easier to resit a pair of shoes on sale for $5, especially if the heel is a little ugly, but you'd be wrong) So I'm going to continue to apply that philosophy even more... especially making sure to get rid of the original when replacing things. (Like the vacuum cleaner. And the laser printer. And the camera. *cough*) Then, we bring fewer things into the apartment in the first place, and so the need to eliminate and declutter eventually subsides.

Decluttering tips

So, with two weeks left, I haven't done any packing. What I have done is begun removing all the things we won't be wanting or needing in the new apartment. By next week, I hope to have nothing but the "good stuff" left behind, which I will then pack up in boxes. One great tip for this kind of paring down is to touch everything. I found that by removing everything from its container, drawer or closet, I was less tempted to leave it for "later." I forced myself to look at everything and evaluate it on the spot.

The second tip that really helped was not just to purge things I didn't want, but rather to set aside the things I really wanted to keep. If you only get rid of the things you definitely don't like, you're left with a sizable pile of things that you only kinda like; taking out the things you definitely want to keep will result in a smaller "keep" pile! (This is especially useful for clothing, jewelry and craft supplies!)

The last tip I read about was, don't purchase organization supplies until after you've done your organizing. You won't know until after your purge and re-organization what kind of storage you will need. If I had done all my supply shopping beforehand, I never would have realized that I really needed a CD box, a seal-able glass jar... and that I'd have ten empty bins, boxes and baskets.

I discovered the benefit of labeling everything. I borrowed a label maker and put something like ten labels on each plastic bin, listing what was inside. That way, if I wanted to know where, for example, I had stashed an extra jar of buttons, I didn't have to dig through three bins of things that came from the craft room.

Have you done a declutter, or just a move before? What things helped you the most?

Believe me, I am still alive!

The past few months have been quite a thing. I got through finals and will be graduating in a couple of weeks (though the official confirmation doesn't come 'til next week, which leaves just enough room for my paranoia to kick in!). I'll be full-time job hunting soon. We're moving to a new apartment on the first of June, so I've been cleaning and organizing in preparation for that. I've already tossed ten bags of garbage and put the same amount of plastic bins into storage... and that was only about 1/3 of all the stuff. Yesterday, I cleaned the kitchen from top to bottom - even under the fridge. (Well, except the the bit of wall near the ceiling that I couldn't reach). Now I only have four rooms to go!

I've been making an ever-growing list of things that I think would make our apartment so much easier to live in... it's smaller than this place by a significant amount, so things will have to be quite viciously organized if we're going to not be drowning in clutter. I'm really excited to move into a place where it feels "worth it" to put effort into decorating because it's not dingy and run-down. I think we'll even paint a few walls!

We also gave the aquarium some much-needed love. We replaced the ballast and lights, so now we actually have enough light for the plants. T bought a proper compressed C02 diffuser, also for the plants. We scrubbed the driftwood, rocks and gravel to get rid of the gross moss. We swapped out the Amazon Sword for several smaller plants. We also got shrimp again! I love shrimp, they're my favourite part about aquariums. Here, have a photo of a discarded shrimp skin (from before we cleaned the moss):

We all started playing League of Legends again, and T picked up Magic the Gathering. I've played a few games of Magic with him by quickly building a deck. It's a pretty fun game, but I'm definitely not as "into" it as he is. I've been re-watching Cardcaptor Sakura, and got a pack of Clow cards to match the Sakura cards I got last time I watched the series. I've begun thinking about how one would go about making a screen-accurate leather-bound Clow book. Similar to my Pocahontas costume, I have yet to find anyone who put the effort into making a Clow book prop that was screen-accurate and "realistic."

I've been doing research on web-accessibility, so I can better understand what kinds of support I should be providing on my blog for alternative browsers and screen readers. I've also been gathering information on light SEO techniques; nothing hard core, just a few best practices such as meta markup that will make things easier on the bots. I really enjoy this kind of project. :)

Oh, and I made an apron following this free apron pattern. It's the first time I've done bias tape binding; it was way easier than I thought it would be! I screwed up in a few spots, but it's nothing a little hand stitching couldn't fix. I'm super happy with it and wear it all the time! It's really feminine, and was a great use for an otherwise awkwardly-colored bit of cotton fabric.

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"Whenever you find that you are on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect."