Monday, December 30, 2019

The 30-Day Habit Challenge

Photo by Gemma Evans on Unsplash

A 30-day habit challenge is a commitment to a new personal habit or routine for 30 days.

The purpose of the challenge is to find out if this interesting new behavior is something that works well and improves your life.  Maybe it saves you money or time, maybe it helps you eat more healthfully or get more exercise, maybe it helps you get rid of clutter or streamline your wardrobe, or maybe it helps you be more mindful and grateful.  It may or may not become a permanent part of your life.  It's an experiment, meant to be enlightening and fun.


  1. For 30 days, eat 20 meals per week at home (eat out only once per week).
  2. For 30 days, get at least 15 minutes of extra movement every day, even if it's a stroll around the block.
  3. For 30 days, drink coffee or tea at home and stay away from the coffee shop.
  4. For 30 days, allow no snacks (chips, cookies, ice cream, etc.) into your home.
  5. For 30 days, add an extra fruit or vegetable to every meal.
  6. For 30 days, refuse to browse or shop online.  Don't even visit your usual shopping websites.  If you need something, you'll have to get dressed and leave your house to locate and purchase it.
  7. For 30 days, buy nothing except essentials (food, gas, toilet paper, etc.).  If you think of something else you need or want, or encounter it online or in a store, write it on a list, along with the date and the price.  After 30 days, evaluate the list.  Do you still want or need any items on it?  Do you still think those items are worth the price?  If you answer yes for any item, purchase it without guilt.
  8. For 30 days, choose 10 pieces of clothing to wear for work, and 10 pieces of clothing to wear for leisure.  Don't count accessories (jewelry, scarves, belts, shoes), underclothes, nightwear, or cold or wet weather gear, such as snow boots or a rain coat.  Questions to ask yourself:  How hard is it to limit myself to these pieces?  How does this impact my laundry situation?  Does anyone notice what I wear?
  9. For 30 days, declutter at least one item every day.
  10. For 30 days, accept no "freebies" (promotional brochures, pens, magnets, Happy Meal toys, etc.).
  11. For 30 days, remove all retail notifications from your phone and computer.  Remove all email and social media notifications, and only check those things at two specific times during the day.  Do you feel more focused and peaceful without constant interruptions?  Do you find it easier to refrain from unnecessary shopping without constant ads and other enticements?  Are you satisfied with your ability to engage socially when you limit the time you spend doing it?
  12. For 30 days, enjoy a screen-free period of time before bed (60 minutes, 30 minutes, or whatever suits).
  13. (For women) For 30 days, use no more than five makeup products (perhaps foundation, blush, mascara, brow pencil, and lipstick).  Questions to ask yourself:  How does this impact my morning routine?  Is there a product I really need or miss?  Does anyone notice my makeup?
  14. For 30 days, take a minute or so each morning and evening to write a list of 3-5 things for which you are grateful.  Read the list aloud to yourself as you write.  Challenge yourself to notice new blessings each time you engage in this practice.

Why not choose one of these challenges, or another that seems valuable to you, and try it for yourself?  You might find that a focused plan, for a specific length of time, is a more useful way to attempt change than the traditional New Year's resolution.

May God bless you and your loved ones in 2020!

Monday, December 23, 2019

Song of the Shepherds

Photo by Fabrice Villard on Unsplash

I don't often write poetry, but I recently tried to write new words for an old tune, and this is the result:

Bright stars shine in a wintry sky,
Glory, alleluia.
Moon is rising, night winds sigh,
Glory, alleluia.
Shepherds with their flocks bed down
In the fields near Bethlehem town;
Silver light glows all around,
Glory, alleluia.

Angels come with joyous news,
Glory, alleluia.
A Savior's born for me and you,
Glory, alleluia.
Choirs are singing peace and mirth
To all people of the earth,
For God's love grants all souls worth,
Glory, alleluia.

Through starlit streets the shepherds trod,
Glory, alleluia,
To see the infant Son of God,
Glory, alleluia.
Marvel at the lowly place
Where God comes down to our sad race
And offers His amazing grace,
Glory, alleluia.

Go and tell both far and wide,
Glory, alleluia,
Of Jesus' birth at Christmastide,
Glory, alleluia.
This holy Child, our Prince of Peace,
Has come to give our souls release,
That greed and strife may finally cease,
Glory, alleluia.

Now sing alleluia!

Merry Christmas to all of you!

Friday, December 20, 2019

The Best Christmas

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

What truly makes the holidays special?  Jo March in the classic Little Women says that "Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents," but is that really true?  Jo might be forgiven for that feeling when you realize that she and her sisters were giving up so much else that might have made their Christmas merry:  their father was away serving in the Army during the Civil War, and they barely had money for everyday needs such as food, heat, and clothing, let alone anything special for a holiday.

Do you know of anyone in a similar situation?  A family with a parent on active duty somewhere in a dangerous part of the world?  Someone out of a job (or working two or more low-paying jobs) and struggling to buy groceries, coats, boots, or to pay for light and heat?  Perhaps you know someone dealing with health issues and doctor's bills, or unreliable transportation and large auto repair bills.

To a family in any of those circumstances, Christmas may not feel like Christmas at all, whether or not there are any presents.  In fact, Christmas may seem like the darkest, most dreary day of the year, because their situation contrasts so strongly with what the day is "supposed to be."

It may be a time that makes them feel particularly deprived and hopeless.

My 22-year-old niece was recently diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and is currently experiencing increasing symptoms in a flare-up that has gone on for almost a month now.  She and her parents are trying to put a very brave face on, but this diagnosis is devastating.

I don't want to deliver platitudes or pat answers, but I do want to show support and love.  No trinket is going to do that.  No carefully wrapped item from an upscale magazine's holiday gift list is going to do that.  Probably no beautifully sung, heartfelt rendition of "Oh Holy Night" is going to do that.  Those things are for the comfortable.  They're for people who already have everything they need -- and so maybe they're not necessary at all.

What can I offer?  My prayers.  A kind word.  A long hug.  Perhaps a listening ear.  My presence, even if it's at the end of a phone line.  They won't ask for help with medical bills, although there must be many.

What else?  I can donate to research that hopes to reverse symptoms and find a cure.

If we actually see them during the holidays, maybe it would be good to try to have as normal an interaction as possible.  To play cards, and tell jokes and stories, and definitely not to grill them about symptoms and treatments.  To give them a bit of respite from what's going on -- unless they bring up the subject of MS and seem to want to talk about it.

What would you do?

In the meantime, it's easy to drop some coins into the Salvation Army kettle.  It's easy to help your elderly neighbor by clearing some snow, or the last of the leaves, or by offering a ride to church on Christmas Eve so she doesn't have to drive in darkness.  It's easy to put an unwrapped toy or two in the Toys for Tots bin, or to donate online.  It's easy to donate the coats you no longer need.  It's easy to go caroling in a care home or a hospital.  It's easy to drop off a bag or two of canned goods at your local food closet.

Pick one or two or more of those ideas and do them.  I guarantee it will be joyful and life-affirming for you, and of course to those who benefit from your actions.

Do you think it's possible we could celebrate a wonderful Christmas without any gifts, without Secret Santa exchanges, without crowds at the mall, without online click-to-ship?  Maybe we'd still enjoy lots of festive music, maybe a tree and some bright lights, and certainly plenty of time to visit and play.  Maybe we'd still give a few toys to the young children in our lives, but otherwise our only giving would be to those who really need it.

It wouldn't be crazy-making or debt-creating, and it wouldn't add to guilt or stress.  It would simply be a joyful celebration of the season.

It just might be the best Christmas ever.

Monday, December 16, 2019

A Natural Holiday

Photo courtesy of Bartlett Arboretum, Connecticut, USA

For the winners of the book drawing, see below.... 

One of the best ways I know to limit consumerism is to replace shopping time with time in nature.  The world created by God is an effective antidote to the man-made glitter and hype of the marketplace.  When I'm tired of the crowds or the traffic or the constant pop renditions of Santa songs, even a walk through the park can restore my sense of peace and joy.

For me, being more aware of the natural world seems to deepen the spiritual impact of Christmas.

As the winter solstice approaches, the period of daylight grows slowly shorter.  Sunsets come earlier, and the welcome glow of Christmas lights and candles, and the sparkling winter constellations, remind me that even when things seem dark, the light of faith can shine brightly.  And isn't that the central message of Christmas, Hanukkah, and other winter holidays?

So much of our culture is about making money.  Our world is in thrall to consumerism, and the month of December demonstrates that more than any other time of the year.  And yet, in the month of December most of us are also at our most generous.  The busyness and hype of this holiday season can make us impatient and greedy, and yet this season also inspires us to be cheerful and friendly.

It gives one reason to hope.

We all have the capacity to be nasty or nice.  We can choose to display our better selves.  It's not always easy, but with God's help we can behave in ways that being more light and kindness to the world, instead of adding to its injustice, cruelty, and darkness.

Spending time in nature as part of your Christmas celebration will provide a good reminder of the blessings of growth, new beginnings, and the hope that God's love brings to us and our world.

The winter solstice marks the reversal of the sun's ebbing presence in the sky.  Early Christian leaders chose December 25 as the celebration of Jesus' birth (which many Biblical scholars believe actually occurred in the spring) because it coincided with ancient solstice festivals.  By Christianizing those festivals and their symbols, the early church offered a way for new converts to understand the meaning of Jesus' birth.

6 Nature Activities to Celebrate the Solstice

1.  Watch the sun set on the shortest day.
This year, it's this Saturday, December 21.  Alternatively, you could watch the sun rise on Sunday morning.

2.  Take a walk in the woods or a park to collect evergreen cones, and bring evergreens into your home.
Evergreens represented eternal life to ancient people, because unlike other plants they did not seem to die in the winter.  Holly, ivy, pine, fir, cedar, rosemary, and juniper are all ancient symbols of life and rebirth.

A Christmas tree is also a symbol of life.  Pope John Paul II said that it should remind Christians of the Tree of Life in Genesis chapter 2, and of eternal life through God's son Jesus.  Many Americans put up a Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving, but it is more traditional to bring it in on the evening of the solstice.

Use several types of evergreen cuttings to craft a wreath.  The wreath's circular shape extends the symbolism of continuity and eternity.

3.  Stargaze.
Take a walk in the park or a field where you can see the moon and stars.  The winter constellations are so brilliant!  My favorite is Orion, with the orange star Betelgeuse, diamond-blue Rigel, and the incredibly bright Sirius following behind.

Spend some time in the silence and the darkness and the radiance of the sky.  Imagine the miracle of angels appearing to shepherds to announce the birth of Jesus, or of a group of kings (or, more likely, scholars) traveling far from their homeland to find the royal child whose birth was heralded by a remarkable star.

4.  Burn a Yule log.
The ancient Norse called this time of year "Jul," meaning "wheel."  Because the seasons of the year rotate predictably, we can count on the return of spring and of harvest.  A yule log symbolizes that faith and hope for the future.

If you have a fireplace or an outdoor fire pit, burn an oak, pine, birch, or ash log on the night of the solstice.  If you'd like, write a bad habit or a wish for the coming year on a slip of paper and add it to the fire.

5.  Create a Christmas tree for wild birds.
Feeding birds in winter improves their nutrition and helps them prepare for successful spring mating.  It also allows you to enjoy the birds' colors, habits, and songs at close range.

Choose a tree that can be seen from the living area or kitchen of your home.  An evergreen tree will offer birds protection, but a bare deciduous tree with bushes nearby offers space for birds to perch, feed, and find shelter.

Use string or natural twine and craft nutritious bird treats:

  • slices of apple and orange
  • strings of raisins, fresh cranberries, and unsalted air-popped popcorn
  • pine cones covered with natural peanut butter and sunflower seeds
  • garlands of unsalted in-shell peanuts and original, unsweetened Cheerios

6.  Go caroling.
It's an old tradition to go singing from door to door.  Originally, it allowed the poor a chance to receive alms from the wealthy, to "sing for their supper."

Bundle up, and enjoy the opportunity to get outside and stretch your legs a bit.  It's practical to carry lanterns or flashlights with you, but light shining in the darkness also symbolizes hope, faith, and the triumph of good over evil.

Share tidings of comfort and joy about Jesus, the Light of the World:

  • "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen"
  • "Joy to the World"
  • "Go Tell it on the Mountain"

Include songs that mention solstice symbols:

  • "The Holly and the Ivy"
  • "Oh Christmas Tree"
  • "Deck the Halls"

End with "We Wish You a Merry Christmas," that famous begging/thank you carol that's been sung for more than 400 years.

P. S.  I realize my readers in Australia, New Zealand, and other southern hemisphere nations are getting ready to experience the summer solstice.  Nevertheless, I hope that some of what I've written will be inspirational to you.  Merry Christmas, wherever you make your home!

Dear readers, thank you for your comments here on the blog and via my Contact Page.  My husband randomly drew four names of people to receive my books.  I have two copies of Minimalism A to Z and two copies of Minimalism for the Holidays to give away.
And the winners are... Lisa, the native New Mexican who finds that hygge is integral to her life; Jennifer, who wrote that she just discovered this blog and wants to slow down and appreciate life; goseigirl, celebrating the virtues of natural light and less TV at her new home in New Mexico; and Georgi, who writes that experiencing hygge every day might change the world. 
The next step is for you four to use the Contact Form way down at the bottom of this page to send me your mailing addresses, or just email me directly at kmtrefzger  I'll get your packages in the mail ASAP. 

Friday, December 13, 2019

Feel the Hygge

The Danish know a thing or two about coziness and comfort.  During long northern winters when it can be dark for up to 17 hours a day, Danes lift their spirits with hygge (pronounced "hoo-gah").

As days get shorter, wetter, and colder this season, we might all like to snuggle in and enjoy hygge, the Danish concept of positive self-care.  But while hygge has been aggressively marketed of late, it is definitely not about buying something to improve your mood.

Meik Wiking, Danish author of The Little Book of Hygge, says that hygge has been corrupted by marketers who have turned something that has always been free into something they can sell.  $100 "hygge blankets" and $40 "hygge-scented" candles are commercial hype.  Hygge, Wiking explains, is not about things.  It's a feeling of contentment that exists "only in the absence of stress and nuisance," when you experience a sense of relaxation and belonging.

It's not surprising that Brits and Americans have jumped on the hygge bandwagon.  Ours is the culture that invented the 24-hour market and next-day delivery.  We're famous for constant multi-tasking and voracious ambition.

But many of us also long for a slower pace, quality time with loved ones, a deeper connection to nature, and feelings of peace and tranquility.

Norwegian anthropologist and chef Signe Johanson, who wrote How to Hygge, says that the interest in hygge "isn't just because people are being duped by clever marketers."  She receives a lot of emails from readers in the UK and North America who "find the idea of hygge to be a soothing element in times of upheaval, and who are genuinely interested in why and how Scandinavia has achieved such a high quality of life."

So if hygge is not just a trend or an aesthetic, what is it?

It's actually something we already know how to do.  On a snow day, for example, you've probably experienced hygge without even knowing it.

Hygge is a feeling.  It costs nothing.  In fact, explains Johanson, if you're even thinking too much about it you're kind of missing the point.  Hygge is "effortless comfort.  It has no element of performance.  It is the absence of all pretense and worry."  It's about finding joy in the moment.

14 Ways to Experience Hygge Today

1.  Make time for a relaxed dinner with loved ones.
Ditch your phone and enjoy laughter and conversation (and light a few candles if you feel like it).

2.  Curl up with a good book.
Add some fluffy socks and a warm blanket, if you like.  Let your pet curl up near you.  Great novels to read in the winter include Peace Like a River and Bear Town by Swedish author Fredrik Backman.

3.  Visit a cozy pub with friends.
This isn't really about going for a drink.  It's about relaxing and being together.  So a glass of wine, a cold beer, a mug of hot apple cider, or a foamy latte work equally well.  Share your day, share your ideas, avoid political debates and celebrity gossip.  Just be with your people!

4.  Bundle up and go for a long walk.
Breathe deeply.  Observe the sky, the trees, birds.  Notice how colors appear brighter against the monochromes of winter.  Be refreshed!

5.  Make time to savor breakfast.
Most of us are rushing around in the morning, and not only skip breakfast, but lose the chance to connect with our families.  With just 20 extra minutes you can make and eat whole grain toast topped with either a fried egg, some nut butter and raisins, or ricotta cheese with a drizzle of balsamic glaze.  Or cook some old-fashioned oats, adding chopped apple and walnuts.  Have everyone pitch in so you can work and eat together.

6.  Bring out old photos.
Remember friends and family, special celebrations and wonderful trips.  Reminisce with your partner, or share stories with your kids or grandkids.

7.  Listen to music.
Sing along with the tunes you loved in high school, play some of your holiday favorites, or meditate on something deep and relaxing such as Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata.

8.  Make something.
Bring out your knitting needles or crochet hook and a skein of soft, beautiful yarn.  Draw, color, or paint.  Build Lego or do a jigsaw puzzle with your child.

9.  Bake.
This isn't the time for something fussy.  Make your favorite banana bread, or some oatmeal or chocolate chip cookies.  Enjoy a portion warm from the oven, then wrap up the rest for lunch treats later in the week.  Savor the delicious, lingering aroma.

10.  Watch a favorite movie.
Choose your favorite comedy or romance, or a beloved holiday film, and watch it alone or with someone else.  Put your phone away and get comfortable.

11.  Play cards.
Cards are so versatile -- games can be simple or competitive.  A regular deck of cards can provide a fun and relaxing evening with friends or family.  Enjoy Go Fish, Crazy Eights, Hearts, or Knockout Whist.

12.  Simmer a pot of soup.
This is all about the warmth, the aroma, and the resulting easy, tasty meal.  Just add some crusty bread and butter and you're set.

13.  Pretend the power is out.
Turn off lamps, computers, and appliances (except the fridge).  Gather in one room or around the table.  Light a fire and some candles, or bring out flashlights.  Enjoy the quiet togetherness.

14.  Read aloud.
Get everyone nestled together while you read a stack of picture books, or start a longer book to be read over several nights.  Wonderful winter chapter books include Moominland Midwinter (Scandi madness!), The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis, and J. R. R. Tolkien's Letters From Father Christmas.

Experiencing hygge is really about making time, shunning distraction, and appreciating the good things in your life.  It's a feeling minimalists know well.

P.S. If you enjoyed this post, you might also like my book Minimalism for the Holidays (paid link), available now on Kindle and in paperback.

Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Guest Author on No Sidebar

Photo courtesy of Deanna Mills

I'm so pleased and grateful to once again be featured on the minimalist website, No Sidebar.

The piece I wrote is partly about a holiday tradition in my town, and while I like the photo chosen by the editor of No Sidebar, I thought I'd share an actual photo of one house on Toyon Avenue, so you can see the work of some Christmas-loving homeowners.

I hope you're making time to savor the people and traditions that mean the most to you during this season.  Ask anybody what they love most about Christmas.  I've never heard anyone mention receiving gifts.  A few mention making or giving gifts, but most speak of lights and music, snow and coziness, family, memories, and love.  Don't miss it!

Monday, December 9, 2019

Top 12 Gifts for a Minimalist

Ask most minimalists what they want for Christmas, and they'll probably say, "Nothing."

But maybe you want to give a gift anyway, or maybe you're a minimalist (or an aspiring minimalist!) who wants to give gifts, but doesn't want to add to anyone's clutter.

Here's a list of gifts pretty much guaranteed to brighten a minimalist's holiday.

12 Gifts for Someone Who Doesn't Want More Stuff

1.  Tickets
Minimalists prefer experiences to material things.  If you know he'd be interested, tickets to a play, the symphony, a special art exhibit, a concert, a sporting event, or even a class (cooking, yoga sessions, beginning guitar at the local community college) would make a wonderful gift.

2.  Gourmet items
Minimalists prefer consumables to other physical items.  Again, you need to know your recipient.  For some, a bottle of organic wine would be greatly appreciated, others wouldn't care for that at all.  But there are plenty of other options:  California extra virgin olive oil, a balsamic glaze from Modena, Italy, a selection of local cheeses, organic fair trade coffee, or a box of nice chocolates would all make delectable gifts.

3.  Luxury bath items
This is another category of consumables that your minimalist recipient might enjoy.  Consider a bar of artisan soap, a heavenly-smelling lotion, or some homemade sugar body scrub.

4.  A restaurant gift card
Pick her favorite restaurant, or a new hot spot, and treat her to a nice dinner out.

5.  Membership
Give a year's membership to a history, science, or art museum, the zoo, the aquarium, or a botanical garden.  This is a gift that is worth far more than it costs, and is especially good for young families.  They'll get free admission for a year plus other VIP perks.

6.  Transportation
How about a transit pass for a dedicated bus or train commuter?  Or a bicycle tune-up, a new helmet, or a strobe headlight and taillight for an intrepid bike commuter?  A student or a person living on a fixed income might appreciate a gas card.

7.  Your skills and energy
Whether you can babysit, clean windows, give a massage, paint a room, bake sourdough bread, wash and detail a car, force bulbs for holiday blooming, or something else, the gift of your knowledge and time means a great deal.

8.  An Amazon Kindle
Yes, the Kindle is another gadget, but it can replace entire shelves of books.  Some minimalists love that, but do make sure your recipient is one of them.  If he's already a Kindle owner, he might enjoy an upgrade to the waterproof Kindle Paperwhite.  Of course, an Amazon gift card so he can purchase books for the Kindle he already owns, or a subscription to Kindle Unlimited or Audible would also make great gifts.

9.  Togetherness
Go on a day trip to the beach or go on a hike.  Pack a picnic lunch and meet at a sunny spot in the park.  Get together to bake cookies, decorate the tree, or watch a favorite movie.

10.  A letter
Written correspondence is more personal and durable than a digital note can ever be.  Its uniqueness and warmth, and the effort expended in producing it, make it more valuable today than ever.

11.  Imagination
For the children of minimalist parents, put together a container of craft supplies:  drawing paper, construction paper, tissue paper, crayons, washable markers, glue, pipe cleaners, colored craft sticks, rhinestone stickers, googly eyes, etc.  A book like Debbie Chapman's Low Mess Crafts for Kids or one of Ed Emberley's drawing books would make a great addition.  Kids can create and play without batteries, and even though the container and books qualify as "stuff," the craft supplies are consumable.

12.  A charitable donation
The money we spend buying each other gadgets and knickknacks can do a world of good for those less fortunate.  If your minimalist loved one is passionate about a certain cause, and especially if it's a cause you both care about, make a donation in her honor.

Of course, you always have the option of doing exactly what your minimalist friend has asked, and give him nothing.  Just a smile or a hug and your best wishes for a healthy and happy New Year!

Photo by element5 digital on Unsplash

Friday, December 6, 2019

Cozy Minimalism

Minimalism is about owning only what you use and love, but it's not confined to one decorating style.  Your home doesn't need to be all white, with chrome and glass furniture and one piece of modern art.  A home can be uncluttered and still be warm, inviting, relaxed, and personal.

7 Minimalist Ways to Add Coziness and Character

1.  Choose natural materials.
Natural materials are attractive and comfortable.  Possibilities include a floor or table made of reclaimed wood, rattan chairs, a leather ottoman, a wool area rug, a cotton quilt, or pure beeswax candles.

2.  Let there be light.
Open the blinds during the day to maximize natural light, or hang sheer curtains if you need to screen an unattractive view or maintain privacy.  Make sure your windows are sparkling clean and the sills uncluttered.  Mirrors reflect light and visually expand your space.  In the evening, avoid glare by using task lamps instead of ceiling lights, and burn a candle or two for a warm, romantic glow.

3.  Include color.
Even if you love the purity of white walls, you can add depth with pale yellow, blush pink, or warm gray paint.  Add more color with wall art, a lamp, a rug, or a pillow.  Or surround yourself with neutrals and earth tones such as ivory, cocoa, and cinnamon.

4.  Bring nature inside.
Decorate with green plants, a polished geode, or a piece of driftwood you found on vacation.  Press flowers to create your own botanical art, craft a eucalyptus wreath, or simply fill a bowl with fresh fruit or garden vegetables.  For the holidays, add an evergreen wreath, a blooming amaryllis or poinsettia, or a bowl of pine cones.

5.  Use vintage furnishings.
Not only is this more eco-friendly than buying new, there's a special charm to something with history and patina.  My husband and I love using my parents' classic Ethan Allen dresser, and our son-in-law has a wonderful mid-century modern desk passed down from his grandparents.  Perhaps you have a few Christmas tree ornaments inherited from your mother, or even a vintage nutcracker, angel, or nativity set you can display for the holidays.

6.  Delight your senses.
Don't just focus on the look of your home:

  • Listen:  When weather allows, open a window for fresh breezes and birdsong.  Hang a wind chime.  Play your favorite music.
  • Smell:  Diffuse essential oils such as lavender, lemon grass, or rosemary.  Bake bread or brownies.  During the holidays, simmer a pot of water with a sliced orange, several cinnamon sticks, and a tablespoon of whole cloves.
  • Touch:  Enjoy different textures such as distressed wood, stone, brick, tile, metal, glass, a cuddly woolen blanket, crisp cotton or fuzzy flannel sheets.

7.  Highlight personal items.
A favorite holiday photo, the family caricature portrait drawn by a San Francisco street artist, your husband's carved wooden chess set, or a few of your all-time favorite books are so much more interesting than big box store decor.  Display just a few special items to give them the spotlight they deserve.

Adding comfort isn't about adding stuff.

Rather, it's about choosing your stuff with care, so that your home is a welcoming haven for your family, your guests, and yourself.

Photo courtesy of

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

This Holiday, Give Hope

Photo by element5 digital on Unsplash

If you're reading this, it's pretty likely that you have a roof over your head, plenty of food on your table, an education, and many other benefits of a modern life.

We know, even though we may not like to think about it, that others are not so blessed.  Too many homeless are sleeping on the streets tonight, too many children are going to bed hungry, and too many people are without basic medical care or even clean water to drink.  And, shamefully, that kind of deprivation exists in our own country, not just in some far away locale.

Minimalism isn't just about decluttering our homes and our calendars -- it's about realizing that we have enough, and that we can do some good with our excess.  We can donate items we're not using, and we can be generous with our time or our money to help someone in our own town or halfway around the world.

The ability to be generous is one of the greatest gifts we have, and it should make us feel rich.

And when we give, the impact is greater than we might imagine.  When someone is down on their luck, or has nowhere else to turn, your gift gives them hope.  Your act of kindness gives them the feeling that they're not alone, that they have a future.  It's the greatest minimalist gift of all.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Limits Make Your Christmas Happier

Photo by Vanessa Bucceri on Unsplash

This may sound strange (Or not!  I'm a minimalist, after all.), but the best way I know to make the holidays happier is to create some limits.  Limits are good for several reasons:  they create financial peace of mind, curb materialism in yourself and your children, give you a bit of breathing space amid the bustle and busyness, and force you to choose from among myriad possibilities with thought and care.

You know you're not doing your child any favors by over-indulging her.  How difficult will life be if she always expects to have her own way and get everything she wants when she wants it?  Helping her to understand and appreciate limits is one of the best things you can teach your child.  And putting limits on yourself is one of the best ways you can teach it.

Ask yourself why you are tempted to buy so many gifts for your child (or for others).  Here are several possible answers:

1.  "Because I love him."
Of course you do.  I totally get that.  But giving gifts is only one way to show love, and it may not be the way that is most effective.  Do you want your child to know for sure that you love him?

  • Turn off your computer and your phone and spend uninterrupted time with him.
  • Take time to teach him how to cook or garden, or anything else you're good at.
  • Ask him about his hopes and dreams, and listen when he tells you.
  • Look him in the eye and tell him why you love him.
  • Make the effort to do something with him that he enjoys, whether that means listening to his music, watching the movie he chooses, or shooting some hoops even when it's cold outside.
Let's be honest -- buying something for our kids is easy and fun for us.  That's at least part of why we do it.

2.  "Because I want to make memories."
When I rack my brain, I can remember three or four gifts my parents gave me.  What I remember far more clearly are our day-to-day activities and our holiday traditions.  Things like walking with my dad to the park or the library, doing paper crafts with my mom, making Christmas ornaments with felt and sequins and lots of glue, watching "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" on TV, going to the snow (I grew up near San Francisco, and snow was a rare novelty).

Your child will remember forever the things you do with her, in most cases much longer than the things you give her.  Don't rely on gifts to make memories for your family.

3.  "Because I want to be a cool parent so he'll like me."
That's honest.  I love it when my grandson thinks I'm the best grandma ever.  I love it when my grown kids appreciate me.  And sometimes a gift we give fosters that.  But it doesn't last.  Go back and read the "because I love him" section if you need to, because real connection can't be bought in a store.  It takes more effort than that.

4.  "Because everyone else I know bought X for their kids." 
Yep, peer pressure works on adults too.  But how can you make a difference in the world if you behave just like it?  How can you help your child resist peer pressure if you're in thrall to it too?  Social awareness is important, but if you try to live your life according to other people's standards, you'll never really be happy. 

5.  "Because it's Christmas, and I want it to be special."
I believe we covered this in the "I want to make memories" section.

One Christmas when I was about ten, our family was going to host my mom's three brothers and their families.  My mom sewed little Christmas stockings for each of my ten cousins.  Then my siblings and I were given some money and sent to Woolworth's to buy gifts to put in them.

We had to be careful and thoughtful about what we bought with the money we had, so we'd have enough for everyone.  A mixture of Matchbox cars, Barbie outfits, bottles of bubbles, decks of cards, balsa airplanes, Hershey's Kisses, and penny candy filled those stockings.  We had more fun doing this than they ever got out of receiving our token gifts.

On Christmas evening, our group of 13 kids went caroling around our neighborhood.  Because there were so many of us, we felt confident enough to go to the "mean" man's door (we were afraid of his Dobermans).  He and his wife liked our singing so much they clapped!  And we decided he wasn't mean after all.

It was the most fun Christmas I remember growing up.  I have no idea what gifts I received that year -- I just remember preparing gifts for others and having fun playing and visiting with them.

That's how you make Christmas special.  You stop thinking about yourself and think about others more.  You get out of your comfort zone and broaden your mind.  You stop doing some things you've "always done" and try something new.  You teach your kids the value of sharing, of delayed gratification, and the reality that we don't get everything we think we want, but we can still be happy.