Friday, August 30, 2019

Habits That Keep Life Simple

Photo by Jarek Ceborski on Unsplash

We're real people.  We work, we socialize, we have hobbies and husbands and kids.  Stuff enters our homes every day, and if we don't change the way we deal with it, clutter will reappear.  So part of the minimalist lifestyle includes learning new habits that keep stuff from once again overwhelming our lives.

Here are four habits that will prevent the reappearance of clutter.  Use them as minimalist mantras!

1.  Don't just put it down -- put it away.

You've probably heard the old adage, "A place for everything and everything in its place."  As you declutter, make a home for everything you need, use, and love.

Items often end up "homeless" because we simply have too much stuff.  If your bathroom counter is covered with bottles and potions, for example, you may just have too many.  Get rid of the duplicates, and the things you used once and didn't like, and the outdated creams and remedies.  Use the medicine cabinet and vanity drawers to store the things you need and use regularly, and try to keep the counter clear of everything except hand soap.  It's not only more soothing and spa-like, it's FAR more sanitary.

Remember that organizing, by itself, isn't the same as decluttering.  Simply organizing stuff in boxes and bins can hide the fact that we have too much clutter.  Containers are meant to restrain and corral the items they hold.  Containers such as drawers, cupboards, closets, spice racks, book cases, and shoe bags place limits on what we store.  The answer is not to run out and buy more containers, it's to put your favorite items in the containers you have and declutter the lesser-loved items that don't fit.

Don't waste another minute searching for your misplaced phone or checkbook, or shuffling through drawers looking for your most comfortable and supportive bra.  Find a home for these things, and never put them down except where they belong.

2.  One in, one out.

When you purchase something new, discard something comparable.  That way, your containers don't overflow and everything still has a home.  For example, if you replace a worn pair of sandals, discard the old ones.  New laptop?  Recycle the old one.  Don't waste all the time and effort you spent decluttering.  Drop your habit of hanging on to old stuff you don't need.

3.  Curb the impulse.

Shopping for the sake of entertainment, novelty, or on a whim is another habit that needs to stop.  Nothing derails your decluttering efforts (and your budget) more quickly than impulse buys.

Be aware of your weaknesses.  Are there certain stores you "can't resist?"  Certain items you tend to collect?  Has stopping at yard sales become a favorite form of entertainment?  Awareness is an important part of changing habits.  Several strategies may help:  carry only cash, change your route so you don't drive by the alluring store, wait three (or seven, or thirty) days to see if you still want to purchase a tempting item.

Commit to buying less.

4.  It's a lot easier to keep up than to catch up.

Develop routines for doing household chores, since piles grow when chores are neglected.  It really takes just a couple of minutes to sort through the mail every day.  The longer you wait, the bigger the pile gets and the more you dread the job.  The same goes for doing dishes or laundry.

Do you put off a chore because you hate doing it?  Try timing it.  It may not take as long as you think, and once you realize that, it will be easier to make yourself do it.  So many jobs take only five minutes (some take only one)!  Or trade a chore you dislike with another household member's least favorite chore.  My husband vacuums for me, and I never ask him to dust or pay the bills.

Your children benefit from learning to do chores, so teach them to help you.  Make a list of jobs the kids can do weekly, such as sweep the front porch, strip beds and put dirty sheets in the laundry hamper, clean the bathroom mirror/counter/sink, or tidy and dust living room tables.  Have them rotate responsibilities each week.

Create daily habits for yourself and your kids.  Be specific about what you want them to do, such as "Make your bed (at least pull up bedclothes neatly and put the pillow at the head)," "Put clean clothes away and dirty ones in the hamper," "Hang up your towel," and "Put toys where they belong."  These habits should become just as routine as "Brush your teeth" and "Wash your hands."

Instead of letting the house get really dirty and cluttered, and then having to spend a lot of time and effort cleaning it up, make it a habit to clean as you go.  You'll reduce mess, stress, and arguments, and keep your newly decluttered home spacious and serene.

Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, reminds us that "What you do every day matters more than what you do once in a while."  It's the daily events, habits, routines, and attitudes that determine the direction of our lives.  When minimalist habits become your daily lifestyle, you'll never have to do a huge declutter again!

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Give Gifts That Matter

Photo by Val Vesa on Unsplash

I used to use gift-giving as an excuse to shop.

I would feel the urge to buy something, anything really, just because it's "fun" to buy.  (Oh yes, I understand the idea of a shopping addiction, that little rush of pleasure when you acquire something new.)

So, to assuage my guilt (because I knew I didn't really need anything), I'd buy something as a gift.  Maybe because one of my nieces or nephews really did have a birthday coming up, or because Mother's Day was just around the corner, or because I thought I'd save an item for Christmas.  (I often had a closet full of gifts by October that I didn't remember purchasing and that I no longer felt excited about giving.)

A lot of debt is generated by gift-buying.  Back in the day, I always had a few thousand dollars in credit card debt, largely due to spur-of-the-moment buying.  I always justified it because much of it was stuff I bought for others, but I was usually spending money I didn't have.  In my teens, I saved my allowance and babysitting earnings for Christmas shopping, but I certainly didn't continue that practice as an adult.

Our culture tells us we should have what we want even if we can't afford it.  We just buy now and pay later.  We have "good" credit if we make our payments on time, even if we're carrying a staggering amount of debt.  And the items end up costing a lot more when you take interest into account.

What are we buying, anyway?  Largely it's stuff that no one needs or wants.  We all feel a certain amount of guilt when we get rid of gifts, so they sit in our homes cluttering them up, adding to our feelings of stress and overwhelm.

We are spending money we don't have to buy things people don't want, which winds up filling our homes with clutter.

Ask your friends or family members about their favorite memories of birthdays or holidays.  When I did this, people mentioned:

  • solving clues in a "treasure hunt" for gifts
  • annual trips to the same mountain Christmas tree farm, roaming through the crisp winter forest to choose a tree, and sitting by the campfire with mugs of hot apple cider
  • the holiday we stayed in the coastal town of Mendocino, and the ice cream shop on Main Street that opened up on Christmas morning to give free ice cream cones to passersby
  • a birthday trip to San Francisco when we walked across the Golden Gate Bridge and visited the Exploratorium
  • a birthday party held at a local tea shop, when all the girls wore fancy Victorian hats and feasted on tea, scones, and tiny sandwiches served on pretty china
  • a late-October birthday party when every guest carved, decorated, and took home their own jack-o-lantern.

No one mentioned actual gifts.  Not one present was even remembered.

Think about your own favorite memories.  Do they involve things you received, or things you experienced with friends and loved ones?

The most valuable gifts we can give are time and attention.

I don't care if your "love language" is giving gifts.  That doesn't mean you have to buy a knickknack or a piece of jewelry to show your love.

The best gifts demonstrate how well you know someone and how much attention you pay to their interests.  They also cost more than money -- they take creativity, sensitivity, and effort.  A heartfelt thank you letter might be a wonderful gift.

  • Don't just give concert tickets to your parents; take them to the concert and enjoy talking about it afterwards.  
  • Don't just give your kid a pile of new toys; buy one toy you know he'll love, and then play with him.
  • Don't just give a restaurant gift card to your friend; take her to lunch, or invite her into your home for a meal, and spend time reconnecting.

Bake cookies, plant a rose bush, or refurbish that used bicycle together.  Go to a movie, break in new hiking boots, or get a massage together.  Go somewhere you've never been, but always wanted to go, together.  Turn your phone off, and focus on your shared activity.

When you give gifts that matter, you do more than avoid clutter and debt.  You do more than throw a Pinterest-worthy party or attempt to wow with quantity or expense.  You actually strengthen the relationship between yourself and your recipient, and create memories that last forever.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Financial Freedom

Courtesy of Comstock/Getty Images

Here it is -- the most important financial advice you'll ever receive.

Spend less than you earn.

If you cut back on spending, you'll be able to pay off debt, build an emergency fund, give more generously, and start saving for college or retirement or a trip to Europe.  Spending less will reduce your stress levels and improve your sleep.  It might even improve your marriage.

Spend less enables us to achieve financial freedom.  But in a country where 78% of us live paycheck to paycheck and the average American has almost $7,000 of credit card debt, the message to spend less is clearly not getting through.

Minimalism is not about living with no comforts or modern conveniences.  But a minimalist does embrace the concept of intentional spending.  Once you find balance by shedding the things you don't need so you can focus on the things that really matter to you, you realize that mindless or impulsive purchases burden and distract you.  More than that, they steal your life energy.

"Your money or your life."

If someone thrust a gun into your ribs and said that sentence, what would you do?  Most of us would turn over our wallets.  The threat works because we value our lives more than our money.

Or do we?

As consumers, we act as if money has the capacity to meet all of our needs, wants, and desires.  Most of us believe that if we had more money, we'd be happier and worry-free.  That might be true if you make less than $20,000 a year, but people with six-figure incomes feel the same way.  We place a lot of faith in our money.

But we need to remember that money represents our life energy.

When we go to our jobs, we trade our life energy for money.  Life energy is our allotment of time here on earth.  It's precious because it's finite and irretrievable, and because our choices about how we use it express the meaning and purpose of our lives.

So when we spend money thoughtlessly, or worse, use credit and spend money we don't yet have (thereby promising our future life energy in payment), we may be harming ourselves more than we realize.  If we aren't receiving fulfillment, satisfaction, and value in proportion to the life energy we gave in exchange, we are the losers.

Financial freedom comes when you identify for yourself what you need, and consciously choose to purchase the items and experiences which actually meet those needs and bring you fulfillment.  If you spend your life energy on stuff that doesn't ultimately satisfy and support your values, you end up with lots of clutter and a lot less life.

This is not about guilt and deprivation.  It's about honoring and valuing your life energy, a limited resource.  When you become conscious of your unrewarding spending patterns, you can start to use money in ways that bring you more contentment and well-being.  And you will realize that you have enough.

Enough for survival.  Enough comforts.  And even enough little luxuries.  With enough, we have everything we need, and nothing extra to weigh us down.  We can appreciate and enjoy what money brings into our lives without purchasing anything that isn't needed or wanted.  As the ancient Chinese book of wisdom, the Tao Te Ching, puts it:

"He who knows he has enough is rich."

This mindset also helps us avoid lifestyle inflation.  Lifestyle inflation is the tendency we all have to increase our spending when income goes up.  When we do this, it remains impossible to get out of debt, save, invest, contemplate changing careers, or work less.  It forces us to keep working just so we can pay the bills.  We may justify spending by saying, "I work hard so I deserve this."  But we're putting ourselves in financial bondage.  What we deserve is less debt, less stress, less clutter, more time, and more long-lasting satisfaction.

When we stop trying to buy happiness, we can start to discover our true calling and identity, which our culture usually equates with a job, but is so much more than that.  When we gain financial freedom, we can use our life energy to build real wealth:  knowledge, skills, creativity, relationships, community, gratitude, and generosity.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Embrace Empty Space

Many people think they can't be minimalists because they don't want to live in an all-white room with a chair, a lamp, and a mattress on the floor, or with only enough possessions to fill a backpack.

You know what?  The majority of aspiring minimalists don't choose that lifestyle.  I live with my husband in a small apartment, but we have a couch and a coffee table and bookshelves and a queen-size bed and a dresser and a dining table with several chairs.  My kitchen has a dishwasher and a microwave.  I have art on my walls, houseplants, and hobby supplies.

But I also have something I didn't have when my home was more cluttered, and that's empty space.

Before I decluttered, I didn't realize how much I would love empty space, because I'd always filled every space I had.  Every shelf, every drawer, every cupboard, closet, wall, or shed was filled with stuff I was sure I needed (or would need someday) and valued (even if I didn't use or look at it).

Once I had more space, I realized that space made me happy.  I like a kitchen cupboard with only one set of dishes in it, or a bookshelf that doesn't have books stacked behind or on top of other books.  I like not bumping into or tripping on things, or searching for them in piles of clutter.  I can see, enjoy, and easily access the items I own.

I love it that my home looks and feels bigger.

Dana K. White, author of Decluttering at the Speed of Life, says that the secret to creating empty space is to start thinking of your home, and each room, closet, cupboard, and drawer in it, as a container.

The purpose of a container is to restrain, to limit, to prevent the spread of something.  We can buy all kinds of containers:  bins, boxes, baskets, and more.  Then we fill all of those storage containers, and they fill all of our closets and cupboards.  This hoard of organized stuff creates the illusion that there is no clutter, but sooner or later all the containers are full.  Then we buy more containers to fill and organize (and eventually a new, bigger house).  Does that sound familiar?  It's what I did for years.

Once I realized that my home was itself a container, and that the secret was not to pack it as full as possible, but to use it to help me set limits on my possessions, I found that I had plenty of space.

Take my clothes closet, for example.  I wanted to be able to store my clothes without having them all squashed together and wrinkled, or falling off the hangers.  I thought for a long time that my closet was just too small, and that I need special multi-garment hangers or another clothing rod (additional "containers").

But when I took all of my clothes out of the closet, and put all of the pants together, and all of the dresses, and all of the skirts, jackets, tops, and shoes, I found that more than half of those pieces were things I didn't even wear, and that probably no one needs six pairs of black sandals, and that button-down shirts always gap and pull, and that fitted jackets aren't my best look.  When I removed all of that, and replaced the items I actually liked to wear, I had plenty of space in my closet.  I could see at a glance what was available and what I truly needed to add or replace.  I loved the empty floor and the space between each hanger.

Instead of filling each space in my home with as much as I possibly can, even if it looks organized, I choose the best, the most useful, my favorites.  Those go in first, and when the space is full, I know that anything that won't fit is less valuable to me than what's already in there.

And by "filling" the space, I don't mean stacking things high and cramming things in so that every cupboard or drawer is like Fibber McGee's closet, always ready to tumble out and bury me in an avalanche of junk.

The key to successful decluttering is to purge enough stuff that you only have what fits comfortably in the container of your home.  You don't have to question whether something has worth, but whether it fits your container.  Favorite things get first dibs on the space; things that don't have a current purpose don't.  It's not an emotional decision, it's a practical one.

You don't need a bigger house; you need less stuff.

  • If you love a painting, don't hang twelve other things on the wall.  Leave empty space around it to show it off.
  • If your kitchen counter is for preparing meals, don't crowd it with appliances, canisters, dishes, mail, or anything that will steal the space you need to chop veggies or bake cookies.
  • If your couch is for relaxing, don't cover it with laundry, cat toys, and eight throw pillows.  Leave empty space for more than one person to sit or recline.

Similarly, you don't need more hours in your day, you need to edit your activities and commitments.

  • If you enjoy a hobby, make time to pursue it.
  • If you value a relationship, leave space on the calendar for date night, and time during the day or evening to talk, listen, and cuddle.
  • Don't let TV, social media, online shopping, or other distractions steal your time.  Create limits ("containers") to preserve space for activities you believe are more important.

Embrace empty space, in your home and on your calendar.  Release the things that don't add value to life, and make space for what you cherish.  Don't rush to fill empty spaces, but appreciate the clarity and peace they bring.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Do Less

Photo by Melissa Askew on Unsplash

A lot of people think of "minimalism" as a huge white room with a white couch, a glass table, and some modern art.

And while that is one minimalist design aesthetic, and minimalists do talk a lot about decluttering, it would be a mistake to think that purging physical items (along with all color and personality) from your home is the ultimate goal.

Decluttering is a valuable tool that brings many benefits, but minimalism is a complete lifestyle that impacts much more than your physical space.

Blogger Emma Scheib originally thought that minimalism was all about clearing the clutter.  She eventually realized it's about much more -- removing busyness and stress in order to focus on the things you personally value.

She writes:
I [used to be] quick to answer "yes" to any new request for my time, resulting in an overflowing calendar.  These "yes commitments" meant I was living under constant duress.  I began to feel fearful of the life I was creating for myself....  Thankfully, the concepts of minimalism taught me the importance of saying "no" and the courage to enforce personal boundaries that I'd never had before.
The conventional wisdom is that we must multi-task, we must be on the go, we must push to have a valuable life.  We become too busy to be flexible, too busy to stop, to engage with others, to listen, to observe, to pay attention, to reflect, to imagine, or to properly rest.

But time and energy are finite, and you simply can't do it all.  In truth, when you try to say "yes" to everything, when you let the Fear of Missing Out drive your schedule, you will experience burnout.  And the blur of activity is not just stressful and tiring -- it will make you feel that your life is racing past while everything important falls through the cracks.

Minimalism lets you focus.

It lets you breathe.  It's about being intentional.

Advertisers work hard to convince you that you'll be more confident, happy, and fulfilled with the newest this or that.  You work longer, shop more, and rest less in order to satisfy the cravings they create.  But aren't you sick and tired of wasting your precious life on paying for, cleaning, organizing, and maintaining stuff?

When we choose to own less, we gain time.  When we sign ourselves up for fewer activities, we have more time to create, learn, appreciate nature, and connect with family and friends.  We must learn to say "no," even when it feels uncomfortable, and guard some open spaces on our calendars.  We need to make time to do the things we love.

So consider social obligations, volunteer commitments, your children's extracurricular activities, and how you use your smart phone.  Evaluate time spent on your beauty routine and in front of the TV.

How you spend your time defines who you are and who you become.

And for more quality time, savor the people, activities, and things that truly add meaning to your life, and minimize everything else.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Clear the Clutter

Photo courtesy of Magnolia Home

Imagine your dream home.

Open the front door, step inside, and look around.  What do you see?

You probably don't see stacks of movies on the coffee table or toys scattered over the floor.  You don't see a kitchen counter too crowded for meal prep, or a dining table so cluttered that no one can eat there.  You don't see piles of mail, laundry, dirty dishes, unfinished repairs, or things that need to be cleared away before you can sit down.

You see the beautiful home you'd love to have.

Unfortunately, it can be hard to get started with the difficult job of reducing the amount of stuff we've accumulated over the years.  As much as we might want to live with only the things that "spark joy," that also means we have to deal with all of the things that don't, things we don't really want or need, things that weigh us down and make us feel stressed or unhappy.

But that relaxing home is not an impossible dream.  And there isn't one "right way" to clear the clutter.  Try one or more of these six strategies.

1.  Start with the most visible areas.

Tackle stuff on countertops or the floor, for example.  Leave closets and drawers for later.  You'll see immediate positive results, which will make you feel confident and energized.  Visible progress will help sustain your decluttering efforts.

2.  Start with one thing that will make your life easier.

  • Are you always searching for your keys?  Put a hook for them near the door, or clear clutter from your purse and designate one pocket for keys.
  • Is the TV remote always buried?  Declutter some throw pillows from the couch, clear out a drawer to give it a permanent home, or clear off the coffee table and place a tray or a basket for it there.
  • Do coats, backpacks, and shoes always end up on the kitchen table or strewn across the floor?  Declutter the front closet so there's plenty of room to hang coats, and put up some heavy-duty hooks for backpacks.  Place a basket on the floor of the closet for outdoor shoes.
  • Are your sink and counter always full of dirty dishes?  Take three minutes each morning to empty the dishwasher, and help everyone start the habit of putting dirty dishes into it.  Is there no room to put clean dishes away?  Sort and declutter the 27 plates, 23 bowls, 18 mugs, 9 cooking pots, and piles of utensils that overfill your kitchen cupboards and drawers.

3.  Start with the biggest items.

Do you need a couch and a love seat and three chairs?  Can you mount the TV on the wall and remove the entertainment center?  What about that table covered in junk mail?  If all it does is collect clutter, remove it, and dump the mail in the recycling bin.  Do you need four bookcases?  Declutter unloved books and trinkets, and maybe you can remove one or more.  Do you need a hutch and a sideboard?  Declutter unused china, linens, and miscellany at the back of the cupboard, and maybe you can delete one piece of furniture.  You might love the space far more than you love the stuff.

4.  Start small.

Choose a drawer, a shelf, or a cupboard.  Empty it completely.  Sort stuff into three categories:  keep, donate, or toss.  Clean the area, and return only the items you use and love.  Organizing is easier now that you've removed the excess.

5.  Do it all at once.

Take the next several weekends, or a week's vacation, and declutter all at once.  Work room by room or category by category (all of your clothes, for example, or books, kitchen items, knickknacks, hobby items, etc.).  Stay hydrated.  Take a short break every couple of hours to eat, stretch, or simply close your eyes.  Stop each evening and do something fun and relaxing, such as going out for dinner or a movie, taking a bike ride, or having a soak in the tub and an early bedtime.

6.  Do it little by little.

Slow and steady isn't glamorous, but it might be more thoughtful and sustainable.  Start with the easy stuff, like duplicates and items in storage that you've basically forgotten you own.  Each thing you part with will give you the strength and motivation to let go of the next.

Maybe you think you have no time to declutter.  Do you have 10 minutes?  10 minutes a day times 7 days a week times 52 weeks equals 3,640 minutes.  That's more than 60 hours.  You can do a lot in 60 hours!

Clearing little by little has a snowball effect.  As you continue, whole rooms will feel lighter, look brighter, and be more usable.

P.S. Want some inbox inspiration?  Please submit your email address to subscribe to Maximum Gratitude Minimal Stuff.  Additionally, use the Contact Form at the bottom of this page, and I'll be happy to send you "100 Items to Declutter for a Simpler Home," bonus content I've created just for you!

Friday, August 16, 2019

Buy Less

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Want to reduce clutter permanently?  Stop buying so much.

Well, duh.

We all know that, right?  So why is it so hard to do?

Maybe it's difficult because it sounds like taking a step backward in life.  In a culture where success is often measured in terms of material possessions, buying less sounds boring, old-fashioned, and destined for ridicule.

And since we're all exposed to hundreds of ads every day, in every possible space and format, we're constantly aware of the world of products available for our consumption.  Even if we tune out most of the details, our cultural atmosphere is permeated with the message "buy, buy, buy!"

I own a lot less than I used to.  I have more time and money available to me than ever before.  Because I own fewer things, I spend less energy cleaning, managing, and organizing.  I spend less time shopping.  I have more opportunity to pursue my greatest passions in life, however I decide to define them.

But there are some areas where I still struggle with spending too much.  I can't pass up a bookstore, and my husband and I eat way too often in restaurants.

My weaknesses may be different from yours, but maybe there are some strategies that can help all of us.

8 Ways to Stop Buying So Much

  1. Track your spending.  Many people make this suggestion, and I've tried it several times, only to become bogged down and give it up after a few weeks.  What finally made it a useful strategy was to track spending in one problem area (for us it was eating out).  Seeing in black and white how often we ate out (five or more times every week at the beginning) and how much we spent (over $1,000 the first month) gave us a ton of motivation to practice some self control.
  2. Don't look for ways to save money on items you don't really need to buy in the first place.  When I get a coupon for 25% off any item at my favorite book store, I suddenly feel a compulsion to buy, even if I don't have a particular book in mind.  Buy-one-get-one posters try to lure me in.  Instead of looking for deals, rewards, or other ways to "save," just don't shop until you need to.  Stick with the couch you already have, the clothes you already own, and the car you just paid off.
  3. Eliminate shopping triggers.  Unsubscribe from store emails.  Unlike brands on Facebook.  Change your route home if you drive by a store or restaurant you tend to visit.  You get the idea.  Out of sight, out of mind.  By not having the visual reminder, you can change your routine and break your habit.
  4. Start with a fixed amount of cash each week.  Pay bills online or with a check.  The cash is for groceries and other food, gas, and incidentals.  Challenge yourself to make it last.
  5. Don't carry a credit card.  This is a corollary to #4.  Keep your credit card at home where it can't be whipped out on impulse (I seal mine in an envelope and file it with my credit card statements).  You can always retrieve it for a true emergency.
  6. Plan ahead.  My husband and I eat out less if I have dinner planned and ingredients ready to go.  You might curb spending on clothes if you take time before each new season to look at what you already own and plan to purchase only what you need to fill in gaps.
  7. Use the "seven day rule."  Impulse buying will not only blow your budget, it will fill your house with clutter.  Notice what you see and want to buy ("Ooooh, that's cute!"), and tell yourself that if you still want it in seven days you can come back and buy it guilt-free.  Do you even remember it a week later?  Or does your sudden "need" dissipate during that time?
  8. Redirect the time you spend shopping.  Minimalism isn't just about having less or buying less.  It's also about having more time to do things that add value to your life.  So instead of spending time shopping, take the time to learn something new, to connect with a friend, to get more exercise, or to pursue a hobby.  Spend time riding your motorcycle rather than buying accessories for it.  Spend time creating art rather than shopping for the latest d├ęcor. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2019


Photo by David Mao on Unsplash

Mindlessness wastes your life with busyness and distraction.  Find gratitude, purpose, and joy with this Twelve Step Program to increase attention:

  1. As soon as you're awake, breathe deeply, stretch, and pray or meditate.
  2. Eat healthfully, possibly outside or at least near a window.  Relish the flavor of your food; watch and listen to the wind, birds, trees, water, even the cars going by.  Notice when you have eaten enough, and realize that you feel peaceful and grateful.
  3. Take time to connect with your roommate, spouse, or kids.
  4. Work at your most important tasks first, one at a time, giving each your full attention.  Realize that if something is worth your time, it's worth doing well.  Feel less anxiety and stress because you know you're giving your best efforts to the tasks that matter.
  5. As you stand in the kitchen making your lunch or boiling the pot for tea, don't be distracted by your phone.  Look at the sunlight shining on the floor.  Taste the crisp flavors of your salad.  Listen to the pitch of the kettle as it gets closer to boiling, and smell the bergamot in your Earl Grey.  Feel the warmth as you lift your cup.
  6. Don't try to squeeze in more tasks than you realistically have time for, and accept that there will be occasional delays and mix-ups.  Allow a bit of breathing room in your schedule so you don't need to be pushy or fear being late for an appointment.
  7. In line at the grocery store or bank, put your phone away and pay attention.  Stand straight and loosen your neck, noticing that you're more comfortable when you don't slump.  Be aware of the people around you; smile and meet their eyes.  Is the person who serves you bored or stressed?  Pleasantly acknowledge and thank him.
  8. As you're driving home, observe the weather and seasonal changes.  The radio isn't simply background noise -- if you like a song that's playing you might tap or sing along.  If it brings back memories, think about them.  Once again, straighten your shoulders and relax your neck, breathing deeply to feel re-energized.
  9. Spend time with your family, and be a good listener.  Share your own successes and struggles, and receive congratulations and encouragement from your loved ones.  Realize how much each one means to you.
  10. Relax by doing something creative, or by getting outside, or by moving your body.  Pay attention to what you see, hear, feel, smell, and taste.  Look for beauty, no matter how small.
  11. Prepare for bed by writing in a gratitude journal.  Make a list of important tasks for tomorrow, releasing any worry or concern about them for the night.  Breathe deeply, stretch, and pray or meditate.
  12. Sleep well and peacefully so your body, mind, and spirit will be refreshed for tomorrow.

Congratulations!  You should be feeling more calm, centered, and focused, with more energy for important relationships and tasks.

For best results, remember:

  1. You don't have to buy an app or find a guru to learn mindfulness.  You don't need to insert one more thing on your to-do list.  Mindfulness takes no money and needs no appointment.  You simply need to pay attention.
  2. Don't worry if mindfulness feels strange at first.  It's probably very different from the way you usually barrel through your days without thinking or noticing, but every time you practice it will be easier to be aware.
  3. Accept your emotions, good and bad, high and low.  Notice when you start negative self-talk or when you have feelings like envy or impatience.  We have to recognize and acknowledge these things if we want to replace them with something more positive.
  4. Take time to notice and be in nature.  It's invigorating.
  5. Experience each season as it occurs, instead of following the retail calendar.  This will not only ground you in the real world, it will reduce the feeling that time is rushing by or that each day is blurring into the next.
  6. You will efficiently and effectively handle email and social media when you designate specific times to do so.  Then you can get back to real life.
  7. Paying attention to the people who are right in front of you will greatly increase your appreciation for them.
  8. You will receive far more satisfaction from doing a kindness for one person than from clicking 100 "like" buttons.
  9. Being thoughtful about which responsibilities you take on, and learning to say no, will enable you to experience less stress while you devote your best energy and ideas to the tasks you care most about.
  10. Periods of silence allow us to sort out other people's goals, interests, and priorities from our own.  When we turn our attention away from ads, news, popular culture, and social media, we can start to make decisions that meet our deepest needs.

Now you're really on your way to a joyful life!

P.S.  I'm honored and excited to be the featured guest author on No Sidebar, a website started by Joshua Becker and Brian Gardner.  Please visit!

Monday, August 12, 2019

The ABCs of Minimalism

Photo by element5 Digital on Unsplash

In our stressful world, full of messages that tell us more is always better and that we can buy our way to happiness, our true needs are often ignored, buried under a pile of excess things and relentless busyness.  Minimalism can reduce the background noise of clutter in your home and schedule so you can gain clarity about what really matters to you.

Over the next several weeks, we're going to look at some basics, the A to Z of Minimalism, that can help you start living with freedom and intention.

A - pay Attention.

B - Buy less.

C - Clear the clutter.

D - Do less.

E - Embrace empty space.

F - gain Financial Freedom.

G - Give Gifts that matter.

H - new Habits keep life simple.

I - your Identity is not in your things.

J - Journal your gratitude.

K - cultivate Kindness.

L - love Limits.

M - Memories don't reside in things.

N - Non-conform.

O - One in, one (or more) out.

P - treasure Public spaces.

Q - opt for Quality over quantity.

R - Rethink leisure.

S - Single-task.

T - Travel light.

U - Unplug.

V - minimalism is Voluntary simplicity.

W - Wear a capsule wardrobe.

X - pretend you have X-ray vision to clear hidden clutter.

Y - You are enough; you have enough.

Z - move toward Zero waste.

Looks for three posts per week (on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays) while this series lasts.  I hope you'll join me!

Friday, August 9, 2019

52 Ways to Clear Clutter in Five Minutes

Photo by Marcelo Leal on Unsplash

Think you have no time to declutter?  Do you have five minutes?

Five minutes is a commercial break.  You can scramble eggs in five minutes.  Forget those cat videos -- you have five minutes!

Use three bags or boxes (one for garbage, one for donations, and one for items that belong somewhere else), and declutter/edit one of these areas in five minutes or less:

1.  your purse
2.  the diaper bag
3.  the medicine cabinet
4.  the bathroom counter
5.  under the bathroom sink
6.  your makeup bag
7.  your bedside table
8.  your underwear or sock drawer
9.  the coffee table
10.  magazines
11.  the top of your desk
12.  your digital desktop
13.  smartphone apps
14.  a pile of mail
15.  the top of the refrigerator
16.  the refrigerator door
17.  small kitchen appliances
18.  the silverware drawer
19.  one shelf in the pantry
20.  one shelf in the refrigerator
21.  one shelf in the linen closet
22.  one shelf of books, toys, games, DVDs, knickknacks, whatever you have on shelves!
23.  one junk drawer
24.  the inside of your car

Do one of these tasks to create a more uncluttered space in five minutes or less:

25.  make your bed
26.  load or unload the dishwasher
27.  clean the sink and wipe the counters
28.  sort and start a load of laundry
29.  fold a load of clean laundry
30.  put away folded laundry
31.  re-sew that loose button
32.  pay a bill
33.  make an "action" folder for bills to pay, permission slips, RSVPs, tax-related receipts, etc.
34.  clear out your inbox (flag important emails and delete the rest)
35.  answer an email
36.  write a thank you note
37.  check voice mail and return a call
38.  empty the garbage cans
39.  pull some weeds
40.  take bags of donations to your car

More five-minute activities to clear your head and leave you feeling refreshed and focused:

41.  meditate
42.  read from your favorite spiritual text
43.  simply close your eyes
44.  stretch
45.  make a cup of tea
46.  water your plants
47.  text a friend or family member
48.  enjoy a quick cuddle with your spouse, child, or pet
49.  write in your gratitude journal
50.  put on your favorite song and sing or dance along
51.  walk around the block
52.  sit in the sun

Want some inbox inspiration?  Simply submit your email address to follow Maximum Gratitude Minimal Stuff.  Additionally, use the Contact Form at the bottom of this page, and I'll be happy to send you "100 Items to Declutter for a Simpler Home," bonus content I've created just for you!

Monday, August 5, 2019

11 Decluttering Jump Starts

Photo by Lubomirkin on Unsplash

When you're ready to launch into decluttering, but don't know where to start, try one of these ideas.

1.  Take a picture.

To you, a room might seem "cozy" rather than cluttered, but a photo will help you see the space with fresh eyes.  Looking at a picture changes your perspective and allows you to be more detached.  It could be the perfect tool to clarify what needs to be cleared away.

Be sure to take an "after" photo as well, so you can see and celebrate what you've accomplished.

2.  Pretend.

What if you were moving?  Ask "Would I bother to wrap this item in bubble wrap, pack it, load it, haul it, carry it, unpack it, and find a place for it?"  If the answer is no, declutter it.

3.  Get real.

If you're paying for off-site storage, why?  Unless you're taking a job overseas for a specified period of time, and plan to return afterwards to use all of your stuff, why are you renting storage space?  My guess is that it's stuff you don't use, that won't fit in your home, that you inherited and don't want or need, or that belonged to your kids when they were small (and they don't want it or have room for it either).  If you never need or want this stuff, or don't even remember what it is, why are you paying to store it?  Contact a local auctioneer, or if you live in the US or Canada you can use an online auction service.

4.  Do a gut check.

Ask yourself, "If I didn't already own this thing, would I spend money to buy it today?"  If not, let it go.

5.  Ditch the guilt.

Do unfinished projects clutter your space?  The quilt you barely started, the dresser you've been meaning to paint and restyle, the old bicycle you planned to refurbish, the drawers full of scrapbooking paper, stickers, and tools?  Here's the question:  Do you want to work on this project right now?  Will you schedule time within the next month to work on it?  If not, abandon it and donate the stuff without guilt.  Now you're free to consider a new project that actually excites you.

6.  Look for hot spots.

Hot spots are places where clutter doesn't belong but tends to gather.  Counters and tables are some of the obvious possibilities.  Notice piles of mail, magazines, purses, backpacks, keys, and dirty dishes.  Maybe there are baskets of laundry, whether dirty or clean, in the hallway.  Does your car harbor trash, fast food cartons, and empty water bottles?  Do cases of toilet paper or soft drinks never make it past the entry hall?  Does the living room floor host discarded toys, scattered shoes, and pillows that are supposed to decorate the couch but actually crowd it?  Start your work in one of these areas.

7.  Watch for movement.

Items that are used move from one place to another.  Dishes or cookware are used, become dirty, get washed, are returned to the cupboard.  Towels or clothing are used, dirtied, laundered, folded or hung, returned to the closet.  Possessions that stay in one place for a long time may simply be clutter.  Does your home contain shelves, drawers, closets, maybe even entire rooms where nothing comes or goes?  All that staleness and stagnation needs to be cleared away.

8.  Choose a theme.

Declutter one category of items, such as clothes, books, toys, office supplies, kitchen equipment, makeup and toiletries, hobby supplies.

9.  Overcome inertia.

Does that box of souvenirs really have sentimental value, or do you keep it out of laziness?  Gretchen Rubin, author of Outer Order, Inner Calm, writes about an interesting paradox: having fewer mementos may actually help us enjoy more memories.  Rather than being overwhelmed by a stack of stuff we never actually look at, a carefully chosen keepsake stands alone and uncrowded, able to get the attention it deserves.  So overcome your lethargy.  Choose to display one great photo of a special night with your best college pals, and recycle the boxes of college notebooks and memorabilia.

10.  Make a home.

Any item that is useful and valuable needs its own home.  There should be no question about where the item belongs or where it can be found when it's not in use.  It should always be easy to put your hands on:
  • your passport
  • a flashlight
  • a pair of scissors
  • your checkbook
  • a fresh roll of toilet paper
  • an extension cord
  • the tweezers
  • a postage stamp
  • measuring spoons
  • last year's tax return
  • a working pen
  • a clean kitchen towel
Or anything else you keep in your home!

11.  Prepare for the future.

Many years have passed, and your relatives have gathered to clear out your house after your death.  Emotions aside, how difficult is it to complete this job?  What items will they keep, sell, donate, recycle, or toss?  Declutter now so you don't leave a headache for your children or grandchildren.

Friday, August 2, 2019

5 Things To Do When You Get Stuck Decluttering

Photo by Aubrey Rose Odom on Unsplash

1.  Don't give up just because you're low on motivation.

So you ran out of steam.  Lots of things are like that -- writing this blog can be like that.  Sometimes I write for hours and lose track of time.  Sometimes I'm tweaking three or four posts at a time for future publication.  Other times I'm stuck for ideas, or nothing I write seems valuable.

It would be easy in those circumstances to pay attention to thoughts like these:
  • What was I thinking?  I'll never be a writer.  (I'll never clear all of this clutter.)
  • Who do I think I am?  Why would anyone want to read what I write anyway?  (I've always lived with clutter, disorganization, and overwhelm, and I always will.)
  • Why do I bother?  I knew I wouldn't be very good at this.
Think of it like this.  If you had a discouraging week at work, would you decide to just quit?  If there was some tension in one of your closest relationships, or you were having trouble with one of your kids, would you just give up?

Of course you wouldn't, because those things are too important.  And removing all of the clutter that saps your time and energy and gets in the way of your best life is important too.

It's okay to feel unmotivated at times.  We all do.  Accept it when it comes, and let yourself rest before continuing.

2.  Celebrate your progress so far.

Don't downplay your success!  Focus on how good it feels to live with less stuff, whether it's as small as one less junk drawer and a cleared-out coat closet, or as big as your entire kitchen and the garage.  Really feel the lightness and lack of stress, and use it to encourage the next step of the process.

3.  Remind yourself why.

What got you started on this journey in the first place?  Maybe you were tired of spending so much time and money and energy cleaning, repairing, insuring, upgrading, arranging, and rearranging the things you own.  Or maybe you'd been feeling weighed down by your possessions for years, desperately longing for the freedom that comes with clearing out all the extras.  Maybe you felt you were chasing goals that no longer mattered to you, that you wouldn't choose if you could do it all over again, and you needed the space and clarity to figure out what you really wanted.

Whatever your why is, return to it.  Write about it in your journal, talk about it with a friend or family member, post about it on Instagram, or whatever will make it fresh in your mind.

4.  Pay attention to what you bring home.

While you take a break from decluttering, be sure to watch your consumption so old habits don't take you right back to square one.  Think before you purchase or take a freebie.  Be a vigilant doorkeeper, because staying clutter-free is as much about what comes in as about what goes out.

5.  Start again with baby steps.

When you're ready, don't let negative thoughts be in charge.  Believe that baby steps are enough.  Declutter one small area at a time, and enjoy every accomplishment along the way.  With bite-size tasks, you will eventually get where you want to be.  So set a timer, and start to work for just 15 minutes.  But don't be surprised if you feel a surge of energy and motivation to keep at it for longer!