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Showing posts from 2020

Make the New Year Merry and Bright

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Even in 2020, the holidays have so much potential to be about real things that last – hope, renewal, love, peace, inspiration.   But advertisers want us to focus on other things.  They want us to think that love is expressed through jewelry, merriment requires booze, and joy is found in a mountain of toys.  They work hard to convince us that a gorgeously decorated tree, a Martha Stewart-worthy feast, and a new car with a big red bow will insure a perfect holiday. Advertisers are wrong. Unfortunately, I still get caught up in the promises of consumerism, even though I know they are empty.  I still rush out to buy all the things.  At times, I have maxed out my credit cards and spent all of my energy.  I've gone crazy chasing the perfect holiday. And then it's all over. The presents are opened, the food is eaten, the special events are in the past.  You'd think I'd be happy and fulfilled by all of it, but instead I feel exhaustion and letdown. As a kid, I remember wailing,

A Fresh Start

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Dear Readers, I think we're all ready to start a new year, with the hope that the issues of 2020 that have plagued us (pun intended) will be resolved in 2021. But I'm sure we have hopes in other areas of life as well.  If you're reading this blog, I'm guessing you want a life of clarity and purpose, a lifestyle that isn't bogged down by inessentials.  You want inspiration and know-how to simplify your home, your schedule, your family life, your wardrobe, your diet, your online life, or something else.  And you want to do it with positivity and gratitude every day. Please tell me, either in a comment below or by contacting me (use the Contact Form at the bottom of this page) how or if Maximum Gratitude Minimal Stuff is helpful to you.  What am I doing well?  And more importantly, what do you struggle with?  Which of your problems have I not helped you solve? How can I add more value to your life, and make it worthwhile for you to read and subscribe to this blog? I&#

The Other Question to Ask This Holiday

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Most of us have asked our kids, or grandkids, or spouses, or siblings, or parents, or coworkers: "What do you want for Christmas?" We encourage them to wish for things during the holiday season.  And the answers are usually material items:  toys, or things for the home, or some other tangible or experiential gift they've been wanting.  Or maybe the answer is, "Nothing!  I already have everything I need."  Maybe the desires are intangible:  "I just want us to get together this season."  Or even, "I wish the vaccine for COVID could be developed and perfected and available ASAP." But there's another question we should ask ourselves and others this holiday: "What can you give this Christmas?" We all have abilities and resources that we can share with others.  Even children can come up with good answers to this question – gifts they can give to friends, family, neighbors, and even strangers.  When we make it a habit to ask a differe

A Non-Consumer Christmas, Part 2

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As much as simple activities make happy times and wonderful memories, most people still love giving and receiving gifts during the holidays.  I love it too, and I don't want to stop doing it just to prove how minimalist I am.  Yet I agree with Leo Babauta of Zen Habits .  He says, I don't love Christmas shopping, or the overconsumption, frenzied malls, consumer debt, environmental waste... and over-accumulation of needless stuff that goes with it.  Bah humbug!  I love Christmas, but the shopping has got to go.  We shop like mad for a month or more, rip open the gifts in a few minutes' time, and then forget about them, break them, or exchange them the next day.  Shopping monopolizes our time, attention, and money.  But we don't have to buy in order to give. "We seem to think that buying is the solution to any problem, but that has led to a society that is deeply in debt and piled high with needless stuff," says Babauta.  "We can find other ways to give.&qu

A Non-Consumer Christmas, Part 1

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Are you tired of the shopping orgy that passes for Christmas in America, the U.K., Australia, and other parts of the world?  Are you convinced that the push to buy, buy, buy is not only ruining your budget but destroying your soul?  Are you ready for a change, but worry that a simpler Christmas will be too bleak and miserly for your family? Maybe you've been unable to work at your usual job for all or part of this year because of quarantine and other COVID-19 protocols.  Maybe you've struggled to find part-time jobs that would let you pay your basic living expenses, but have almost nothing to spend for the holidays. What if I told you that most of what you really love about the holidays requires very little shopping, or even none at all? Don't believe me?  Make a list of your favorite Christmas activities and think about ways to accomplish them for little to no money.   10 Minimal-Cost Holiday Activities 1.  Savor the season. One benefit of COVID is that we have reason to s

Should You Stop Shopping?

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According to the National Retail Federation , consumers are expected to spend more on Christmas this year than ever before.  "After all they've been through [in 2020]," says NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz, "we think there's going to be a psychological factor that they owe it to themselves and their families to have a better-than-normal holiday." But take a look around your home.  Honestly, don't you already have everything you need?  And if there was something you needed or wanted, haven't you already purchased it yourself?  You certainly aren't waiting for someone to buy it and wrap it up for you this holiday. In other words, you don't need someone to buy something for you.  And likely they don't need you to buy anything for them.  So the stuff we're shopping for this holiday season isn't necessary.  It might be fun, but it's probably going to add to our clutter rather than our joy. Have you reached the point where enough

Where Are You, Christmas?

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I'm having a hard time finding the Christmas spirit right now.  Is it simply because of all we've gone through this year?  Quarantines, restrictions, shortages, joblessness, acrid politics, and this constantly-spreading disease are enough to bring anyone down.  It seems this situation has dragged on forever, yet it also seems like 2020 is speeding past.  December is here already, and it feels like it's come too soon. Frankly, I'm tired of my house.  I don't feel excited about putting up Christmas lights or other d├ęcor.  The thought of going shopping holds absolutely no joy at all.  Even with the bit of economizing we've had to do this year, I have everything I need, and so do most of the people I know.  My grandsons already have an abundance of toys.  And for the first time in nearly 50 years as a singer, I have no concerts to prepare for or attend.  My calendar feels empty, and I'm someone who likes to keep a bit of white space in my schedule.  Minimalism t

The No-Complaints Challenge

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2020 has been a hard year for all of us.  My husband Jon finally has students in his classroom – half the class at a time, wearing masks and socially distanced.  The third graders at his school had to go back to distance learning last week because two children tested positive for COVID, so Jon realizes that his students could be required to re-quarantine at any time.  The students with asthma and other health challenges are still at home, so he and his colleagues are trying to accommodate student learning in a variety of set-ups.  It's uncertain and stressful for everyone, but he has found that his colleagues are super hard-working, committed educators, and that most of the parents of his students are flexible and good-humored. My father-in-law recently passed away, and some family dynamics have emerged that are less than optimal.  Some hard feelings have ensued.  Lines of communication are still open, and we are doing what we can to create more understanding, but it was sad to dis

Be a Holiday Connoisseur

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I am a glutton. As long as I can remember, I have felt rewarded by eating.  Perhaps I learned the pattern in childhood, when I got dessert if I cleaned my plate.  But it really doesn't matter how I acquired the habit.  The result is that given the choice, I'll take a large serving of adequate quality over a small but exceptional meal.  To some extent, I'm not truly satisfied unless I'm a step beyond comfortably full. No one is going to argue that gluttony is a good thing.  A glutton has an excessive desire for food, drink, work, sex, TV, luxury or other things.  She doesn't just eat or shop – she binges.  A glutton is rarely satisfied for long, and is always looking for the next meal, the next drink, the next purchase, the next trip or experience.  A glutton is easily bored.  A glutton rarely says, "That's too much." I think our culture encourages gluttony in many ways.  That might explain our response to quarantine and other pandemic protocols.  How q

MINIMALIST TOOL KIT: How to Make Your Kitchen Bigger

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The holidays are coming, and we're going to spending a lot more time in the kitchen.  But crowded counters and crammed, hard-to-access cupboards make holiday cooking more difficult, and steal some of the joy from preparing your special dishes. To make your kitchen roomier before you start to cook for Thanksgiving, clear away these space-stealing items. 11 Items that Consume Kitchen Real Estate 1.  Excess serving pieces I'm talking about fish platters, tureens, novelty chip-and-dip servers, deviled egg trays, chargers, or other specialty pieces you rarely use.  Get rid of the ones you're least attached to.  The extra space might be more valuable. 2.  Extra vases Vases can accumulate and fill an entire cabinet.  If you regularly buy flowers or cut them from your garden, keep the same number of vases as your display areas (the mantel and the dining table, for example).  Either gift the remainder with some flowers or donate them. 3.  Old spices In general, keep only those that

Kids, Christmas, and Minimalism

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If you check your calendar, you'll note that Christmas is exactly five weeks away, which probably means that your holiday planning has already begun.  My five-year-old grandson is old enough to begin to understand and participate in Christmas-related activities, such as decorating the tree, making cookies, and setting up the Nativity scene.  Of course, he's also old enough to anticipate gifts, and has already requested "another battery engine," which means that this is likely in his future.  My parents didn't have a lot of money when I was growing up, yet I have some very happy Christmas memories.  Here are some suggestions on how to create a wonderful holiday for your kids while minimizing materialism and maximizing creativity. 7 Tips for a Fun Minimalist Family Christmas 1.  Don't go overboard on gifts. No matter how great the gifts are, by the time your child opens her third or fourth package the experience seems to peak.  The gifts won't be met with a

MINIMALIST TOOL KIT: How to Downsize, Part 2

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We are now entering the "tough love" section of this process.  If you think the first three steps were a challenge, prepare yourself.  These next two steps are the hardest but most necessary of all.  Remember your motto:  "Life is not measured by how much you own." (Luke 12:15) 5 Steps to Downsize 4.  Choose some keepsakes. Framed photos and documents are items you deemed worth displaying in the past.  Curate the best from this select group, and feel confident that they effectively represent your life. Include any photo albums or scrapbooks.  You've taken time and effort to put these together – they deserve to be kept and enjoyed by you and your descendants. Keep three, or at most four, collections.  Figure out which are your favorites.  (By the way, books are a collection.  So are videos and Christmas decorations.) Choose your favorite pieces of wall art.  Set a limit, such as two or three items for each room of your new home.  (Okay, okay... you don't ha

MINIMALIST TOOL KIT: How to Downsize, Part 1

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Many of us live in homes that hold far too much, and we find it hard to declutter unless and until something forces us to do so.  But downsizing in distress, because of illness, financial difficulty, natural disaster, or death is far more difficult. That's why I appreciate the "gentle art" of Swedish death cleaning described by author Margareta Magnusson (paid link).  It's the process of mindfully clearing out your own possessions before others have to do it for you.  It lightens and eases your own life as well as removing a burden from your loved ones.   Here's the motto for your lightened life.  The quote is from Jesus (Luke chapter 12, verse 15): "Life is not measured by how much you own." Whether you actually move from your current home into a smaller living space, or simply undertake a radical declutter, it's a challenge.  But it's also a chance to reinvent yourself, to carry only the essentials into your new life.  By divesting ourselves o

Most of Our Stuff is Worthless

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Have you had to settle a parent's estate?  I have.  My last surviving parent lived in a typical middle-class suburban home filled with furniture, china, crystal, art, clothing, collectibles, and more.  There were even items inherited from my father's parents that had been stored for several decades. My mother was a tidy housekeeper.  Her house didn't look cluttered.  But it was packed with stuff that was mostly unused on a daily, weekly, or even monthly basis.  Every room, every closet, every shelf, every drawer was full of a lifetime of stuff.  And something needed to be done with all of it. What do you do with a lifetime of stuff? Losing a parent is hard enough.  But deciding which belongings should be saved, which have some resale value, which can be donated, and what will have to be hauled to the landfill is gut wrenching.  And the cost of hiring a company to go through all of the stuff, separating trash from treasure, and arranging and displaying all of it in preparati