Thursday, November 28, 2019

We Need Grace

Photo by Frank McKenna on Unsplash

What is "grace?"

"Grace" has the same root as "gracias."

1.  When we say grace, we are thankful.
We pause, notice, and appreciate.  By focusing on all that is good in our lives, we crowd out more negative thoughts.  So by practicing gratitude, our blessings seem to multiply.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Your Personal Minimalist Holiday

Photo by on Unsplash

I guarantee that a minimalist mindset will make your holidays more joyful.  And no, I'm not envisioning a Little House on the Prairie Christmas with candy canes and handkerchiefs for gifts.

Simply put, managing your money, time, and energy during the holidays will bring more peace and comfort to your days, now and into the new year.  When you find out what matters most to you, and focus your attention and resources on those things, the return is far greater than what you'll get from trying to buy and do it all.

Your Money

Even if you've already begun (or finished) your holiday shopping, it's not too late to create a budget for your money.  If you're anything like me, you tend to hope you'll have enough money, and if you feel like you've overspent, there's always the credit card.  Problem?  Holiday shopping isn't an emergency (which really should be the only reason you whip out the plastic), and you have to pay eventually.  January always comes.

Here's a thought:  if you budget for this coming holiday realistically, you won't be making credit card payments in January and beyond, and you could actually save that money, month by month, for next year.  Create a holiday nest egg.  Wow!  This is not a new concept by any means, but we don't do it.  Either we can't do it because that extra monthly money is going toward credit card debt, or because we have no plan for that money and we just spend it.  We fritter it away on who knows what.  Save it instead, and pay for next year's holidays ahead of time.

But back to this year.  This holiday season is still ahead of us.  Think about all of your holiday spending categories:  gifts, travel, special foods, postage, entertainment, the tree and other decor, special clothing and/or salon visits, donations, and anything else that comes to mind.  Don't forget the higher heating and electricity bills that come every winter.  List it all out, and estimate the cost of each thing.  Include anything you've already spent.

Add it all up.  (Okay....)

Look at the total.  (Ouch!)

Ask yourself these two questions:

  • Can I really afford all of this?
  • Is this really how I want to spend my money? 

If your honest answer to either of those questions is no, go back to your list and organize it according to your priorities, most important category first.  Then begin eliminating from the bottom up until you can answer yes to both questions.  (It's okay to find a less expensive way of doing something in order to keep it on the list, if it's really important to you.)

Your Time

If your calendar is usually a little crammed between now and January 1, create a time budget the way you did your money budget.  List time demands, such as parties, holiday concerts, rehearsals for those concerts, extra shopping time (including online), baking and cooking holiday foods, volunteer activities, standing in lines and driving in traffic, extra cleaning, wrapping packages, addressing cards and mailing packages, hours at the airport, etc.  Don't forget your normal time commitments to your spouse, kids, friends, job, and other family members.

Look at your list of time demands and ask yourself two questions:

  • Can I really manage all of this?
  • Is this really how I want to spend my time?

If your honest answer to either of those questions is no, go back to your list and organize it according to your priorities, most important category first.  Then begin eliminating from the bottom up until you can answer yes to both questions.

Know What Matters

If you've stayed with me so far, you've defined your personal minimalist holiday by choosing the things that are most important to you and eliminating the rest.  The items you deleted are the ones you probably do year after year even though they add to your stress and your debt and you get little or no enjoyment from them.  The items that remain on your money and time budgets are the ones that matter the most to you, the ones that add the most meaning to your holiday celebration.  

Look at your lists one more time to see how you've chosen to spend your money and time, and what you've chosen to delete.

Now you can focus on the things that bring you joy.

Friday, November 22, 2019


There are many ways to start down a minimalist path; it's not a one-size-fits-all blueprint.  See if any of these ideas resonate with you:

1.  Visualize your pared-down life.

Take a break with pen and paper and make a list of three to five things that would change if you embraced minimalism.  Would you have

  • a living room that's ready for relaxing and socializing?
  • a kitchen with clear counters ready for cooking and baking?
  • a polished table ready for dinner or a family board game?
  • a bedroom that's private and restful?
  • a bathroom that's spa-like?
  • fewer but better toys that your kids can put away on their own?
  • fewer but better clothes that fit and flatter and make getting dressed a pleasure?
  • a calendar with some empty slots for down time or spur-of-the-moment creativity?
  • a balanced budget, with a plan for getting out of debt?
  • or some other improvement in your day-to-day life?

Discover your minimalist priorities.

2.  Make your bed.

I know I sound like your mother, but this could be the first step toward creating a truly restful sanctuary.  Declutter excess pillows, dust ruffles, and blankets.  Enjoy the way a neat and pretty bed improves the feel of the entire room, and let this clarity and simplicity ripple outward.

3.  Create one minimalist area.

This could be the top of your desk, your bedside table, your kitchen island, the bathroom counter.  Remove everything from the space.  Throw out the trash, donate the dusty, and find a home for the items you use.  Thoroughly clean the area, and replace just one or two items that will make the space pleasant or efficient.  A lamp and a family photo on your desk, for example, or a bowl of fruit on the kitchen island.  Or leave the area completely empty, if that's more calm and inspiring.  Enjoy your minimalist space, and commit to keeping it that way.

4.  Donate duplicates.

It's relatively painless:  grab a box and fill it with extraneous items, such as towels, vases, mugs, tee shirts, and the third set of dishes you never use.  Realize that you have enough, and donate the box immediately if you can.

5.  Go deep.

Do you have tons of partially-used hotel shampoos cluttering your cupboard?  Multiple mini containers of floss and toothpaste from the dentist?  Extra lipsticks and eyeshadow palettes?  How about canned foods shoved to the back of your pantry?  Books you bought but never read?  Clothing you've never worn?  Go deep, from the surface all the way to the bottom.  I still have to do this sometimes.  Don't just landfill these items.  Return them (if you still can), donate them, sell them, or use them.  Use what you've collected, and become sensitive to the habits that are bringing clutter into your home.  Commit to buying no more until you've used what you already own.

6.  Unsubscribe.

Information is a wonderful thing, but when the flow is never-ending it becomes stressful and noisy.  If you're still getting newspapers or magazines (physical or digital), consider which ones you actually read. which ones inform or entertain you, and which ones make you discontented or simply get piled on the coffee table.  Unsubscribe from those.  Evaluate RSS feeds, phone apps, and too-frequent emails from companies you once did business with.  What's left will be more useful and accessible.

7.  Toss.

Clear out expired foods in your refrigerator or pantry.  Ditch outdated potions and pills from the bathroom (place pills in sealed bags with coffee grounds or kitty litter to discourage scavengers).  Recycle expired coupons and junk mail.  Donate old textbooks to Books for Africa, or remove the covers and recycle the pages.

8.  Wait.

Lots of clutter (and debt) results from impulse purchases.  Try delaying unplanned purchases for a day, a week, or even a month.  Keep a record of the items and their prices, and once your waiting period has passed, see if you still desire the item as much as you did.  If you could afford to buy it now, would you?  Or have you forgotten all about it?

9.  Drop it.

Give yourself permission to resign from one activity.  Only you know what has become a chore or an obligation instead of a challenge you thrive on or a rewarding chance to do good and share your time and talents.  Set aside other people's expectations, set aside the guilt, and free up some space for rest and serendipity.  Go ahead and pare one activity from your child's schedule as well.

10.  Pack for disaster.

A crisis makes things very clear.  Where I live in California, a flood or a wildfire could mean you have minutes to leave your home.  What do you pack?

  • medications, glasses, hearing aids, etc.
  • important papers (these should fit in one file box)
  • phone and laptop, charging cords
  • wallet/purse, keys

And if you have time:

  • change of clothes, some extra underwear and socks
  • the same for your kids
  • pet carrier/leash, food and water bowls, litter box

If you can, you might also grab family pictures or photo albums, or your child's most beloved cuddle toy.  Once your family is safe, and you have the bare necessities for survival and communication, you'll realize that everything else is either replaceable or completely unimportant.

Start anywhere... today!

Photo by June Admiraal on Unsplash

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

A Minimalist Black Friday

Photo by Xiaolong Wong on Unsplash


Yes, it was exactly one year ago today that I published my first post... and today I'll share a revision of that post.

"Are you ready for Black Friday?"

It was just friendly chitchat from a store clerk, but it caught me by surprise.  The aisles were packed with people shopping for Thanksgiving dinner ingredients, just as I was.  But in our consumerist culture, Thanksgiving Day has become Black Friday Eve.  The real event is a long weekend of shopping.

I'm not the first to notice the irony.  Thanksgiving, which is supposed to be a day about being grateful for all you have, has become a time to make a shopping list and plan your retail strategy, because everyone you know (yourself included) wants even more.

Apparently, the true meaning of the holidays in America isn't family, or peace on earth, or the light of goodness and joy shining in spite of the darkness of human woes.

It's about a bunch of new stuff.  Even children are encouraged to expect that Santa will bring them all the stuff they want.

I'm not immune to this.  It's not just "those people" who commercialize Christmas, it's me too.  When I start thinking about the holidays, I definitely consider gifts, food, decor, clothes, parties, holiday performances, and -- oh yeah -- Jesus, whose birth we're supposedly celebrating.

I do love spending time with my family, so I also think about special activities and outings we can share together, such as movie nights with favorite holiday films, holiday stories to read aloud, an evening of board games, driving or walking around looking at light displays, and the carol service at church on Christmas Eve.

More than almost any physical gift, it is these shared activities that my now-grown kids remember most through the years.

They still like to do those things with us.  It's those fun times together, along with a few other non-material things, that create holiday joy for all of us.

  • It's Bing Crosby singing "White Christmas," and Handel's Messiah, and sets of keys shaken while caroling "Jingle Bells" that sound like Christmas.
  • It's the scents of fir and pine, wood smoke and rain-fresh air, and cinnamon, cloves, and pumpkin pie that smell like Christmas.
  • It's the twinkling lights on houses and trees, glowing candles, and the pair of choirboy angels my mom bought the year I was born that look like Christmas to us.

My kids fondly remember the year we didn't spend money on gifts but took a trip to Mendocino, on California's northern coast, instead.  They never forget the ice cream shop on Main Street that opened on Christmas morning and gave free scoops to all who passed by.

They remember aunts and uncles and cousins we may not often see but with whom we've had happy times.  They remember (with laughter) the extremely bad jokes my father always told, and we all miss him now that he has passed away.  We remember Christmas Eves when we slept amid blankets on the living room floor with the tree lights on all night.  We look at photo albums, those relics of the 20th century, and remember the way we were.

Gifts?  Do we remember any gifts?  Very few.  I remember a doll I got one year when I was about nine.  Another time I got my very own sewing basket, just like Mama's.  My kids remember getting their bikes and their own CD players.  Otherwise, we remember nothing specific, even though much time, money, and energy was expended.

What would happen if we focused less on what comes from a store and more on all of the sights, sounds, scents, and shared activities that we actually remember so happily and in such detail?

There are so many enjoyable things that can be part of the holiday season even without presents, new decor, fancy clothes, or tons of special foods.

So here's my challenge:

Stay out of stores (including virtual ones) this Black Friday weekend.

Ignore the crowds, the traffic, the rudeness and violence, and the pressure to shop because of the sales.  You're not interested in buying something simply because the price is low, anyway.  That's how you wind up with junk and clutter.

25 Non-Consumer Black Friday Activities

  1. Rest and relax.
  2. If you didn't have time to do it on Thanksgiving Day, write a list of things for which you're grateful.  Try to get to at least 100.
  3. Play your favorite Christmas music, or other music you haven't listened to for a while.
  4. Call a friend or family member you didn't see on Thanksgiving and take time for a visit.
  5. Make creative sandwiches with your leftover turkey.
  6. Pick up neighborhood trash (some of your neighbors might be interested in helping too).
  7. Bundle up and take a walk in the park, along the beach, or on a hiking trail.
  8. Clean up, organize, and back up computer files.
  9. If you have any evergreens in your yard (including juniper, rosemary, and ivy), use cuttings to craft a wreath for your front door.
  10. Rake leaves into a huge pile and jump in it.
  11. Curl up with that new book you haven't started yet, or with an old favorite.
  12. Volunteer at the soup kitchen, the senior center, an animal shelter, or somewhere else you care about.
  13. Declutter the junk drawer, the front closet, the guest room, the kids' toys, or somewhere else.
  14. Write a thank you letter to a friend, relative, teacher, pastor, or neighbor.
  15. Watch your favorite holiday movie.
  16. Give yourself a facial or a manicure.
  17. Play board games.
  18. Clean up or delete social media profiles.
  19. Put up storm windows, clean roof gutters, or otherwise winterize your home.
  20. Go to a local museum (it will be uncrowded).
  21. Go to the gym.
  22. Make something.  Take out your neglected knitting, beading, embroidery, sketchbook, or whatever it is you enjoy.
  23. Gather a group for touch football or croquet.
  24. Go through the year's photos, choose the best, and prepare a digital photo book or calendar.
  25. Hang outdoor Christmas lights.

Sounds like a better Black Friday!

Monday, November 18, 2019

Just Start

Photo by Jurien Huggins on Unsplash

I had another post scheduled for today, but it came to me while I was watching my husband do push-ups at 5:30 this morning that I needed to write again about habits.

Many of us have good habits that were taught to us (nagged into us) when we were small, such as "wash your hands" and "brush your teeth" and "turn off the lights when you leave a room."  (My dad was a stickler for that last one!)

And there are habits that every minimalist should practice to help keep clutter at bay.  Maybe you also learned some of these habits when you were young.  "Don't just put it down, put it away" is one that was often uttered by my mother, and it started with toys and clothes and wet towels and went on from there.  If that's not a habit for you, you might want to learn it now.

"It's a lot easier to keep up than to catch up" refers to the fact that having routines for household chores, and cleaning as you go, will keep your home from becoming filled with clutter and unfinished jobs, rather than being the beautiful, spacious, and inviting home of your dreams.

If you have not developed daily and weekly routines, or if you've thought about them but aren't practicing them regularly, these are habits you want to learn.  Start with one, such as cleaning up the kitchen every night after dinner (it really only takes a few minutes), or dealing with mail as soon as it comes into the house (this can take as little as one minute).

"One in, one out" is a habit that helps maintain the decluttered state.  If you've done the work of removing the excess from your home, don't waste your efforts by hanging onto old, unused, or unusable stuff when you replace or upgrade it.  Donate, recycle, or discard a comparable item so that new purchases don't cause your containers to overflow.

If you're trying to reduce debt, there are some habits that can help you to do that.  First, "buy less," which might require the development of several smaller habits to finally make that big change a reality.  Again, picking one, such as tracking your spending in a problem area (providing motivation to get that area under control) or using the seven day rule (to curb impulse buying), and focusing your efforts, will be more effective than just having a general desire to stop shopping.

A second habit I recommend for reducing debt is Dave Ramsey's debt snowball.  Millions of people have used this method to get out of debt, and it works because it's about behavior modification.  In other words, it creates a new habit to replace your old habit of acquiring debt, and it does it with the built-in reward of seeing each debt, from smallest to largest, disappear.

That's the thing about practicing new, beneficial habits -- they replace old, harmful habits.

I've been practicing the habit of getting out of my chair every 30 minutes to do some stretching, jogging in place, or a household chore -- anything to break my habit of sitting for hours at a stretch, which researchers are saying is as bad for you as smoking.

Maybe this habit isn't an issue for you, but instead you want to develop a bedtime ritual along with an earlier sleep time, or you want to replace sugary, fatty snacks with fresh fruit and veggies, or you want to take an internet intermission once a week.  These are fantastic habits!

Remember that changes are easier to make when you begin with small steps.  It's hard to tell yourself you're too tired or too busy if your new habit is tiny.

You know sudden huge changes tend to fail.  Remember those "whole new you" plans that lasted less than a week?  (Believe me, I've done it too!)  Take smaller steps.  Choose just two or three tiny changes to start, and allow those to become firm habits before you try more.

Don't try to be impressive, just be consistent.

I've started with one minute of stretching or jogging in place for every half hour I sit at my desk or on the couch (I usually do more than one minute).  My husband was inspired last summer to start with five push-ups first thing every morning.  He now does 50, and never misses a day.

When you do a tiny habit every day, you enjoy immediate success, find it easy to meet or exceed your goal, and continuously move forward.  Your motivation grows as you achieve those small wins, and you develop confidence and momentum.  You control your behavior by completing a very simple task, and over time this practice creates new, better habits.

So go for it!  Decide and commit to a new habit.  Make the habit so tiny to begin with that it's impossible not to do it.  Tell a friend and ask her to be an accountability partner.  Make a calendar, and give yourself a star each day that you accomplish the new habit.  Try to keep that row of stars growing for 30, 40, or 60 days, until the new habit feels natural.

Just start.

P.S.  If you liked this post and the links, you might find my book Minimalism A to Z useful.  It's full of inspiration and practical ideas for living a freer, happier, more intentional life through minimalism.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Put Your Blinders On

Photo by Alex Jones on Unsplash

You don't need to know exactly where you'll end up in order to begin.

Minimalism is not a one-size-fits-all blueprint.  It does not look the same for everyone, because minimalism is all about discovering the people, activities, and things that have value for you, and minimizing the things that take time, money, and energy away from what you value.

I can't write a prescription or step-by-step road map for your minimalist journey.  I can give you ideas, suggestions, and challenges to help you question, test, and reveal what minimalism looks like for you and your family in your current situation and time of life.  I can try to inspire you on your way.

What I have no intention of doing is laying blame on you.  Clutter and overwhelm may strongly impact your life today, but clutter doesn't need to define or limit you.  It doesn't need to have a say in your life going forward.

You can change that picture.

Watch TV for just two hours, or read one lifestyle magazine, and you'll understand the messages our culture throws at you all day, every day, from so many directions.  These messages say you need to:

  • look a certain way
  • dress a certain way
  • drive a certain kind of car
  • live in a certain kind of house
  • have a partner who looks a certain way
  • travel exotically
  • buy your kids all they want so they're popular and cool
  • eat out all the time (a lot of it crappy food)
  • drink with the beautiful people
  • work out like an Olympian... 
  • so you can look a certain way!

It seems that the Instagram life is what everyone has.  The fashion and home design bloggers, the fitness gurus, the remarkable home chefs, and all of our friends' amazing vacations, accomplishments, and parties are there for us to compare ourselves to.  It's no wonder we feel jealous and "less than" when it comes to being ourselves and living our own lives -- the lives we're missing because we're too busy scrolling.

It's no wonder you start feeling that if you had that body, that outfit, those shoes, that hairstyle, or that house, or car, or job, or partner, or kid, your life would be Instagram-perfect too!  You devalue what you have because everything you're looking at seems so much better.

Look.  You know you're missing something:  the whole story.  You don't know what else may be going on in those perfect-looking Instagram lives.  They might be happy, good lives.  Or they might be hiding a lot of

  • debt
  • stress
  • perfectionism
  • anxiety
  • shopping addiction
  • greed
  • entitlement
  • dissatisfaction
  • shallowness
  • relationship problems
  • insecurity
  • exhaustion

Have you ever seen a racehorse in training?  You'll notice they have blinders attached to their bridles that prevent them from seeing beside or behind themselves.  This is so they don't get distracted or spooked by what's going on around them.  They can stay focused on themselves and their own race -- their next step forward.

You need your own set of blinders so you can keep coming back to what works for you:

  • the level of clutter you feel comfortable with
  • the level of busyness you want to handle
  • the level of free time you need
  • the lifestyle that supports your values and your best possible level of choice, freedom, and satisfaction.

With your blinders on, you

  • minimize the time you spend looking at other people's lives (including friends, acquaintances, and celebrities)
  • focus on your own choices and goals
  • remind yourself that life is a work in progress
  • expose yourself to people who have far less than you do
  • accept where you are now and acknowledge that you have the power to change if you want to
  • take the first step, and then the next, and the next.

Don't let yourself feel overwhelmed by the size of your piles, or the many-years-untouched basement, or the closet you fear to open because it might all fall out and bury you.  Don't focus on the mountain, because it will freeze you up and make you feel too defeated to begin.

Start by starting, even if you can't see the end.

Lay aside the outcome and the list of steps to get there, and do something that energizes you right now.  Taking action builds your confidence; confidence moves you to your next action; many small actions add up to big change.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Three Sentences

Photo by Caroline Hernandez on Unsplash

When I was a young mother, if you had asked what was most dear to me, what were my absolute highest priorities, I wouldn't have hesitated to say my husband and kids.  There would have been no question in my mind that they were the center of my life.

I wouldn't have said my greatest concern was my house or its decor or the list of things I wanted to buy to "improve" it.  I wouldn't have said it was food, or my next diet.  I wouldn't even have said it was singing, or pursuing my next role.  After all, I had chosen to home school my kids, and opera singing was now a hobby.

I wouldn't have said so, but that's where my thoughts, efforts, and money went.

I was constantly shopping or planning what to buy next.  I ate junk to fill some sort of lack, but I was still dissatisfied.  How could I be otherwise?  My time and energy were spent on things that didn't really matter.

My problem was really a spiritual problem.  I was constantly committing three of the seven deadly sins.

  • I felt envy.  I wanted what others had, and I would compete or go into debt for it.
  • I was full of greed.  I wanted more and more, and I didn't think much about sharing what I had.
  • I was a glutton.  I kept consuming, both food and possessions, even when I had enough, until I was sick of it.

Brooke McAlary, author of Slow: Simple Living for a Frantic World, found herself in a similar situation.  In a book of writing prompts, this one seemed to jump out at her:

Write your eulogy in three sentences.

It was a challenge to clearly define who she was, what really mattered to her, and how she wanted to live her life.

She writes,

The book was asking me to fast forward to a time where my life had come to an end and fill in the blanks....  What did I want to see happen in those interim decades?  Who did I want at the center of my life?  What did I want to spend my time doing?...  How did I want to treat people, my community, my planet?
And the bigger, unspoken question was:  What kind of life would I need to live in order for people to say the things I wanted them to say about me?

So what do I hope to be remembered for?  Certainly not envy, greed, and gluttony.

To be honest, I do want people to remember my singing voice with pleasure.  But that's not tied to the operatic roles I sang or the amount of applause I got.  It could be as simple as how heartily and beautifully I sang in the church choir.

I want people to remember my sense of humor, my positive attitude, how easily I showed affection, how well I listened.  I hope they'll remember that I was generous and compassionate.

I want my kids to remember our epic read-aloud sessions, and how we enjoyed experiencing great books together.  I hope they'll remember how often I enthusiastically said "Look at that!" about clouds or the full moon or a bank of daffodils or the golden canopies of a mature walnut orchard in November.  I want them to remember that I was always their cheerleader, that I regularly expressed my pride in them and my gratitude for what they added to my life.

I hope my grandchildren remember that they always had fun at my house, and that I always paid attention to their interests.

If my husband outlives me, I want him to feel he has lost the person he most trusted, who knew him best, who brought out his best qualities.

I absolutely do value all of these things.  But is enough of my time and energy going toward my family and toward humor, generosity, spontaneity, being in nature, reading good books, giving thanks, listening, learning, hugging, encouraging, creating, writing, and singing for the joy of it?

Are these important people, pastimes, and qualities getting the attention they deserve?

A healthy diet, an uncluttered home, an attractive capsule wardrobe, a good haircut, comfortable shoes, and Downton Abbey may have a place in my life, but they shouldn't be on center stage.  And some things, like nail art, reality TV, luxury cars, and who won the Super Bowl, really don't matter to me at all.  I don't need to spend any time, energy, or money on them.

Why not join me in this challenge?  Write your eulogy in three sentences.  Create this minimal statement of your deepest desires, and let it be your compass through life.

P. S.  For more help choosing joy, gratitude, and contentment, you might like my book Minimalism A to Z, now available on Amazon in paperback and as an ebook.

Friday, November 8, 2019

A Recipe for Mindless Living

Looking for a foolproof method to wreck your ability to be present for your own life?  Just follow The American Plan, a twelve step program for mindlessness, guaranteed to leave you numb and disengaged:

1.  As soon as you're awake, pick up your phone and flick through social media feeds and email.

2.  Continue to do this as you eat.  Pay absolutely no attention to the calories you're inhaling.

3.  Make sure to ignore roommates, spouse, and kids in favor of your phone!

4.  Determine to fit two hours' worth of tasks into 45 minutes, and do everything while thinking of something else.  Let your anxiety and impatience continually simmer.

5.  Eat lunch in front of a screen, once again failing to notice what you eat or how it makes you feel.

6.  Continue to rush while trying to fit in more tasks than you have time for, letting your temper boil over when anyone gets in your way.  Drive around town like a bat out of hell.

7.  Eat plenty of snacks and drink coffee or energy drinks so you can "power through" your afternoon.

8.  Rush your kids or whoever through evening routines so you can get them out of your hair, collapse on the couch, and "relax" in front of the TV.

9.  If you must, discuss schedules and logistics with your partner, or chat about sports or celebrities.  All other subjects are off the table.  Keep your phone nearby, and allow interruptions whenever a notification pops up.

10.  Eat more snacks and drink some wine to enable your "relaxation."  Scroll constantly through TV channels (or zombie out on Netflix), and keep checking your phone.

11.  Eventually go to bed, making sure to check social media, email, and news sites to make sure you haven't missed anything.

12.  Sleep poorly so you'll be ready to do it all over again tomorrow!

Congratulations!  If you're not already feeling overwhelmed, trapped, unfocused, and depressed, you soon will be.

For best results, obey these rules:

1.  Never step outside to look at the sky, feel the wind, or breathe the air.  Get a weather app.

2.  Don't observe any details about trees, flowers, birds, clouds, the sun, moon, stars, or anything that might tell you the season.  Allow the clothes on display in stores and "holiday weekend" advertising to tell you what time of year it is.

3.  Don't treat people who are there to serve you as if they are also human beings.  They have a function, and you should only notice them if they make you wait, get your order wrong, give you the wrong change, or fail to tell you to have a nice day.

4.  Don't recognize that a child, spouse, or friend seems discouraged, sad, or worried.  Adopt a "don't ask, don't tell" policy.  You have your own problems to deal with, and don't have time for theirs.

5.  Never take action.  You may "like" all the posts about refugees or the environment or whatever, but don't actually give money or donate food or pick up trash.  You've "increased awareness," so go ahead and feel virtuous.

6.  Never go online for only a specified amount of time to do a specific task.  You might miss something important!  Always be ready to respond to click bait, watch funny cat videos, look at celebrity photos, check hotel prices in Cancun just in case you ever go, etc.  You're so busy you deserve the break.

7.  Don't fail to respond immediately when you get a notification, no matter what you're doing.  Sure, it takes 15 minutes to get back into the flow of a task if you're interrupted, but those tweets, texts, and emails won't answer themselves.  And you don't want to miss a special sale or free offer either!

8.  Don't consider dropping commitments from your schedule or allowing more time to get things done.  Being busy is how you prove your importance and value as a person.  Besides, constant stress is a normal part of 21st century life, and there are pharmaceuticals that can help make it bearable.

9.  Never listen to anyone who has an opinion different from yours.  She's obviously a hater who just doesn't get it.  Besides, you don't have time to consider more than one point of view.

10.  Don't allow yourself to experience silence.  Ideally, you will always be surrounded by traffic, construction noise, or commercial TV or radio.  At the very least, always wear an earbud so you can listen to your personal playlist instead of bird song, rain, crickets, or the person right in front of you.

P.S.  Want an antidote to The American Plan?  Check out my new book, Minimalism A to Z, and read about how mindfulness reduces anxiety and stress while expanding your experience of the world, how slowing down and doing less makes you so much more productive, how gratitude crowds out negative emotions, how limits increase freedom -- and so much more!

Photo by John Tuesday on Unsplash

Monday, November 4, 2019

When a Loved One Won't Stop Shopping

Photo by on Unsplash

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

I had a little shopping addiction, and craved that rush of pleasure you get when you acquire something new.  But when I didn't really need anything, I had to find a way to manage the guilt of buying for no reason.

So I'd buy a gift.  I could always come up with a gift-giving occasion -- maybe Mother's Day was only a month away, or a colleague had a birthday on the horizon, or I thought I'd save an item for Christmas.  (I had a closet full of potential gifts.)

What was I buying?  According to surveys, millions of unwanted gifts are received every Christmas.  Well over half of the stuff we purchase isn't actually brightening anyone's holiday.  And since we all feel a certain amount of guilt when we get rid of gifts, they add to the clutter in our homes, and increase our feelings of stress and overwhelm.

I was wasting money to buy things people didn't want, which wound up filling their homes with clutter.

So what do you do when your mother-in-law won't stop shopping?  She greets your pleas for no gifts, or at least fewer gifts, with horror and even anger.  She tells you that you're ruining Christmas and destroying everyone's pleasure, and that your kids "deserve to be spoiled."  She makes you feel like a Scrooge, when all you want to do is reduce clutter and waste.  Do you just give up and let her continue to load you down with unwanted gifts?

I have some ideas about that.

6 Possible Reactions to Your Shopaholic Loved One

1.  Do not wait to have the "no gifts" or "fewer gifts" conversation.
Do not wait to bring the subject up at Thanksgiving dinner.  Speak up now.  Share your reasons, such as, "We're really enjoying our less cluttered lifestyle," "We really want to focus on being together, rather than on opening presents, this year," or "We all have plenty; wouldn't it be fun to pool our money to give to Charity X?"

2.  Share the latest research that children do better with fewer toys.
They're less distracted and more creative, finding new ways to play with the toys they have.  This actually increases their focus and cognitive development.  They also value their toys and learn to take better care of them.  Additionally, real toys (rather than tech gadgets) allow children to be in charge rather than passive, which increases their confidence and competence.

3.  Take some time to reminisce with her.
Point out that the favorite memories you share aren't about items you owned or purchased, but about places you visited, celebrations you enjoyed, traditions you practiced, and inside jokes.

4.  Tell her that the best gifts you or your children could receive are her time and attention.
Even if she believes her "love language" is giving gifts, remind her that she doesn't need to be limited to what can be purchased in a store.  A special outing, such as a day at the zoo or science museum (without a trip to the gift shop) would create more happy memories for her grandchildren than just another toy.  A shared meal or concert would strengthen your relationship more than any physical gift.

5.  If she must purchase tangible gifts, be specific about wants or needs.
Make sure she knows your children's clothing and shoe sizes, and their current interests and hobbies.  Share info about your perfume allergy and the fact that you prefer to choose your own clothes, but also that you enjoy pure beeswax candles, exotic tea blends, and cozy slippers, size X.

6.  Set the example for clutter-free giving.
Show your love and appreciation by spending time and effort, instead of shopping.  Take her to the art museum and then to lunch, arrange to get a manicure together, spend a day helping her with household maintenance or repairs, make her a calendar featuring photos of her grandkids, or donate to her favorite charity.

If you enjoyed this post, you might be interested in my new book, Minimalism for the Holidays, from which this was adapted.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Live Like Every Day Matters

Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

It's November 1, and you can't go into any store without seeing evidence that as far as marketers are concerned, the Christmas season is here.  There might be a little corner devoted to Thanksgiving, but since that holiday has been celebrated by retailers since Labor Day, it's already getting old, even though, by the calendar, it's still nearly four weeks away.

I don't know about you, but the continued pushing forward of every season (bikinis on sale in January, for example) and every holiday kills the anticipation for me.  Change is a natural part of life, and it's good to plan and prepare for it, but it's also good to pay attention to what's happening right now, and to find ways to savor what today has to offer.

We tend to focus on the big events and the big accomplishments.

Weddings, anniversaries, birthdays, graduations, promotions, and trips command our attention.  As we finish one big project, we're immediately planning for the next one.  If I look at my family's photo albums, I see evidence of all of those special times.  But some of my favorite photos and memories are ones I took on "nothing special" days:

  • my kids playing with autumn leaves in the back yard
  • my dad sitting on a park bench holding my daughter's doll because she's gone to play
  • my two kids holding hands as they walk away from me on a trail through the woods near their grandparents' house

No fanfare, just normal events of a normal life.  But they bring a smile to my face.

Most of life doesn't happen on the high points.

Think of how much time you will spend planning and shopping for the big Thanksgiving meal, how much care you will take making the table look festive and figuring out where everyone will sit.  Think of how many once-a-year dishes you will cook, and how early you'll rise to put the turkey in the oven.  Think of how long it will take to clear the table after everyone's eaten, how long to squeeze the leftovers into the refrigerator, how long to wash the dishes and scrub the roasting pan.  Now think of the actual time spent eating at the table, especially if everyone is hurrying so they can go watch football.  The actual feast is a small part of all of that time and effort, isn't it?

No holiday is special if you can't enjoy the days of planning and preparation, if the tasks are rushed and stressful rather than rewarding, if you don't talk and listen and have fun with your guests while you clean up.  If you can't find joy in those rather mundane tasks, you're going to have a hard time manufacturing any kind of holiday spirit.

And if you find no pleasure in your day-to-day chores and projects, you're going to be "just surviving" an awful lot of time.  Just plodding through all of that ordinary stuff trying to make it to the next celebration.

That's just sad!

So I challenge you:  just for a while, stop thinking about the next birthday party, or your next big trip, and think about today.  Think about the jobs you will do today, and be glad you have jobs to do.  Enjoy your abilities and your competence as you do them.  Find ways to improve your skills if you can.  Appreciate the people you will encounter, and as much as it depends on you, make those encounters positive.  Savor the beauty you can see and hear and taste and touch and smell.  Don't miss any of it while thinking about something else.

Life is in the everyday.

  • Life is in how well you listen to your kids talk about their school and friends and interests (or in how you ignore them or complain as you drive them from one activity to the next).
  • Life is in how you talk about plans and hopes with your spouse while cooking dinner together (or in how you yell at each other or stay glued to your phones while eating yet another take-out meal).
  • Life is in the bike rides you take or the games you play as a family (or in the time you spend in front of the TV or out shopping).

No perfectly decorated home or expensive gift or Disney cruise changes a cruddy everyday life.  As Gretchen Rubin, author of Outer Order, Inner Calm, reminds us, "What you do every day matters more than what you do once in a while."

Life isn't whatever retailers are currently pushing.  Life is in the moments, in daily choices and habits.  What are you choosing today?