Friday, July 3, 2020

What's Important Can't Be Seen

As the fire season in California gets longer and longer, the possibility of evacuation and loss becomes more real.

So it wasn't just an intellectual exercise when my husband and I discussed what we would take if that necessity arose.

As we looked around our home, we realized how much of the stuff we own we could easily get along without.

That's not to say it wouldn't be a hassle if all of our possessions were damaged or destroyed, and it's not to say we wouldn't miss some of them.  But we agreed that we can enjoy these things while we have them and at the same time their loss wouldn't be devastating.  That's actually a liberating feeling.

We don't have to wait for a dangerous situation.  We can begin today to think about what we really need and treasure.  We can get rid of the clutter and excess, and loosen our emotional attachments to everything else.  This can be a very peaceful way to live.

Look around your house and imagine you have thirty minutes to evacuate, and the only things you can take with you are what you can fit in the back of your car.  What would you take?  If you did lose it all, and had to start all over again, how would you do it differently?

When you get right down to it, it's surprising how little we need.

Our happiness really doesn't depend on owning a houseful of stuff.  Sure we have basic needs that need to be met: food, utilities, shelter, transportation.  Financial adviser Dave Ramsey, author of The Total Money Makeover, calls these The Four Walls.  Along with basic clothing, these are the things you fund first when you're in a financial crisis, because these are the necessities for survival.  Everything else is gravy.

But if you're forced to leave your house for any reason, you're probably not worried about your furniture, your TV, or your collections.  You don't care that much about your brand-new stand mixer or your deluxe outdoor grill.  You're not worried about the items in the back of your clothes closet or the sports equipment in the garage.

In a hurry, you're grabbing your kids and your pets.  Medications, important papers, your phone and laptop, and your wallet.  You might add a change of clothes and underwear, and your pet's leash, bowls, and litter box.  If you have time, you might take some family photos or a scrapbook, and your child might want a favorite toy.  But once your family is safe, you'll realize that everything else is either replaceable or completely unimportant.

Who you are, what you really value, and what you can contribute to the world has nothing to do with the stuff you own.  The things that are really important can't be seen.

We know this, but we don't always live like we know this.

So when I get too caught up in deciding on new upholstery for my couch, or new curtains for my window, or a new outfit for a special occasion, or whether I should upgrade my phone... that's the time to remember this truth.  I need to own some things, but not many, and I certainly don't need to waste much time worrying about them.

Photo by Alexandra Gorn on Unsplash

Monday, June 29, 2020

First Things

A simple life is not seeing how little we can get by with, but how efficiently we can put first things first.

Victoria Moran 

I'm so pleased to introduce my new book Resilient: How Minimalism Helps You Cope With the Challenges of Life, available now on Amazon.  I cannot explain the problems that arose publishing this book under its original title (Everything to Gain), because for the life of me, I can't understand them myself!  I'm chalking it up to the disruptions of COVID-19, and to the apparently reduced staff at Kindle Direct Publishing.  Resilient (with a gorgeous cover photo by my husband Jon) is currently available in the Kindle edition and will soon (I HOPE!) be available in paperback as well.

Because of the issues surrounding publication, I was actually able to add more material and to reshape what I had originally planned for this book, and I'm even happier with the final result.

All of us are uncertain about the future, but minimalism can help us deal with whatever might come next.

Living at full capacity is exhausting, and it makes us less effective.  When a phone or computer gets close to its limits, it may start acting strangely.  Apps may close without notice, crashes are more frequent, the battery drains more quickly.

We are the same.  When we're overloaded and overwhelmed, our energy is drained.  We have less patience and flexibility.  We're so bogged down by what we've accumulated in the past that we have no heart for what comes next.

When we let ourselves get frazzled and distracted by too much stuff and busyness, we're left with less energy to cope, let alone find peace in adversity.  But if we choose to live with less clutter, busyness, debt, and stress, something amazing happens.  While before we could barely keep up, now we have the capacity to focus, to pay attention.  We can use our precious resources of time and energy in ways that bring us the greatest fulfillment.

The answer to lightening your physical and mental load isn't more square footage, a smart gadget, or a better organizing system.  It's found when you look closely at what takes up your space, time, and energy and offload all of the excess.

When you know your priorities, it's easier to discard the things that don't support them, whether that's clutter in your closets, bloat in your budget, or commitments on your calendar.

When you know what really matters to you, and make those things the focus of your life, you're not bogged down with minutiae.  You've gained the capacity to be resilient – to learn, adapt, and resourcefully deal with problems and setbacks.

That's true freedom.

Consider:  What are your "first things"?  Do your daily choices reflect them?  

Photo © Jon Trefzger

Friday, June 26, 2020

We Need Nature

I have to admit I was not much of a nature kid growing up.  I rode my bike and skated on the sidewalk and climbed trees and played tag, but I was not intrepid or athletic, I didn't enjoy getting dirty, and I had no one to guide me toward an interest in the natural world.  My family didn't do much camping, as my mother didn't care for it, and my dad was busy working two jobs, and grew up in the West Indies, so didn't know much about the flora and fauna, or even the stars, of the San Francisco Bay Area.  I liked trees and fog and flowers, but didn't know much about them.

My husband, however, grew up on nine acres of woods and pasture in rural Placer County, California.  He and his three brothers roamed the woods, raised cattle for 4H, and backpacked all over the Sierras with their dad, a professional geologist and avid amateur astronomer.

So Jon has taught middle school science for over 30 years, and has an informed interest in geology, astronomy, botany, birding, and several other areas.  Most of my knowledge of the natural world has come from him, and as I've learned and observed more, I've increased my appreciation.

One thing I love to do in nature, especially when away from crowds of people or sounds of vehicles, is to walk or sit in silence, simply looking, listening, smelling, and feeling the woods or mountains or ocean or wherever I am.  I don't need or want any man-made input or entertainment.  Nature itself is compelling enough.

A growing body of scientific research indicates that time spent in nature relieves anxiety and depression, helps prevent or reduce obesity, boosts the immune system, improves social bonding and reduces violent behavior, inspires creativity, and strengthens the ideals of conservation.  That's an amazing list of benefits that we should all want to enjoy.

We need to beware living in a world that is becoming increasingly mechanized.

Machines don't need anything green, but we do.  In an urban setting, parks, gardens, and other green spaces aren't just nice amenities, they aren't luxuries, they are necessities.  Rooftop gardens, window planters, and street trees are essential for sanity and humanity in cities.  More organic, multi-crop farms bordered by hedges and streams and wooded areas are essential.  And preserving the wild spaces we have left is also essential.

It is minimalist to have an interest in conservation, to spend quiet time outdoors, and to teach your children to be curious about and nurturing toward our planet – not just the spectacular wonders on so many people's bucket lists, but the small corners of green everywhere around us.  We don't have to travel far to spend time in nature.

When reminiscing about childhood memories, people seldom mention the best day they spent watching TV or playing a video game.  What they do recall, if they're lucky enough to have had such experiences with their families, are camping trips, hikes, hours spent playing in a tree house, the time it snowed on the beach in Mendocino (true story), rafting down a river, catching fireflies, or watching a meteor shower from Grandpa's pasture.  Give your children memories like this, and make them for yourself.  Take regular doses of "Vitamin N."

Photo by Christopher Jolly on Unsplash

Monday, June 22, 2020

Cultivate Self-Worth

During the coronavirus pandemic, social media use has increased significantly, according to new data from a Nielsen study.  While social distancing, we are immersing ourselves in social media as a safe way to connect with others.

And this is fine, if we control our need for external validation.

When I check and recheck the metrics on my blog to see how many page views and subscribers I have, that can be a search for information, or it can be an unhealthy need for external validation.  When I start to doubt my abilities as a writer, or to doubt the value of my message, based on how broad my readership is or on how many people choose to comment, I start losing my sense of motivation and direction.

And it's okay to be excited when one of my articles is published on No Sidebar, but I shouldn't let that rush of serotonin become something I need in order to keep writing every day.  If I'm starting to find self-worth in the opinions of people I've never met and an editorial agenda over which I have no control, I'm going to flounder.

Susie Moore, author of Stop Checking Your Likes: Shake Off the Need for Approval and Live an Incredible Life, writes "Likes have become the current measurement of external approval.  Of fitting in.  Of how good we are allowed to feel."

We acknowledge this every time we add a thumbs up or a little red heart to something a friend has posted on Facebook or Instagram.  I even feel a certain obligation to respond, because I want to let my friends know I'm paying attention and that I think their posts are moving, accurate, important, thought-provoking, funny, valuable. 

That they are valuable.

External approval, whether in the form of social media likes, compliments, or other positive feedback, boosts the levels of feel good chemicals in our brains.  Serotonin, for example, is increased by events that stir up feelings of self-worth and connectedness.

And we need those feelings of value and belonging.  But when social media likes become the measure of how accepted and welcome I feel, then a post that receives fewer or negative responses is going to make me feel ignored and unwanted.  I will soon have no sense of my own worth unless someone else gives it to me.  And that's dangerous.

5 Ways to Overcome the Need for External Approval

1.  Remember your uniqueness.
There is no one like you.  You are here for a reason, and have something to offer the world that others cannot.  But you can't do that by pretending to be someone you're not or by wishing you were someone different.

Take time to ponder your interests, and talk to a friend or mentor who can help you identify your talents and strengths.  Develop a clear sense of purpose and you'll be less likely to seek external validation.

2.  Consider reducing your presence on social media.
Social media is wonderful for staying in touch with friends and loved ones.  But it's possible to do that with email, phone calls, even good old snail mail.

When social media is twisted into a venue for comparison and competition, it quickly becomes toxic.  When you spend hours creating Pinterest boards and longing for the perfect wardrobe, home, or vacation, you're squandering the time and energy you need to craft your own life.

Examine the way you use social media, and make sure it's really a positive means of connection rather than something that increases envy or dissatisfaction.  Remove yourself if you need to.

3.  Trust your gut.
Look around at your home and your life choices.  Are the decisions you've made your own or based on someone else's influence?  Are you chasing career goals and home ownership because that's how you were raised, or are you following your own values, even if they lead to different outcomes?  Are your social media posts designed to draw approval from others, or are they a true expression of yourself?

Take time to get in touch with your inner self through prayer, meditation, or journaling.  The next time you make a decision, let it come from the real you.  Let being true to yourself be your measure of success and of how you feel about an action.

4.  Learn to live with criticism.
Journalist Julia Ubbenga reminds us "Avoiding suffering at all costs stifles our ability to take risks – and ultimately to grow.  Accept that suffering and criticism are parts of life and allow them to happen.  Realize that, although they're not fun, they always pass and you'll still be okay."

Hard moments can teach us about ourselves.  Sometimes we learn that we were wrong, that we need to change and ask forgiveness.  Other times we'll be confirmed in our convictions, and ultimately emerge stronger and more self-confident.  The people we most revere, like Jesus, Martin Luther King Jr., and Nelson Mandela have stood firm even when they were rejected.

5.  Boost serotonin in other ways.
When you notice that you're seeking approval, increase your brain's feel good chemicals.

  • Take a walk in the sun.
  • Do some yoga or ride your bike.
  • Get a massage.
  • Find at least three things to be thankful for.
  • Look at photos of past happy events.
  • Help someone else.

With social media use on the rise, it's the perfect time to overcome your need for external approval.  Realize that you are valuable, just as you are.

Photo by Aziz Acharki on Unsplash

Friday, June 19, 2020

You Are Essential

As a singer, choir director, and music educator, my career role in society has always been deemed non-essential.  With the current emphasis on STEM-based education* and the centrality of organized sports, the arts are always vulnerable to budget cuts, even at the university level.

However, the arts require focus and discipline.  They have been proven to develop critical thinking and creative problem-solving, important skills for anyone who wants to become innovative, adaptive, and resilient.  And arts such as drama, dance, opera, and performance in choirs, bands, and orchestras require a cooperative mindset, the ability to collaborate and bring out the best in each individual in order to meet a common goal.

I'd say those qualities are essential to our future on this planet.

Perhaps we don't intend to label and characterize jobs and people as "essential" or "non-essential," but we have done so in our response to COVID-19.  And it makes sense – some businesses and jobs are life-and-death vital, and some are not.

I deeply appreciate all of the health care workers, first responders, grocery clerks, delivery personnel, janitors, sanitation engineers, bus drivers, and others who have worked so hard to provide critical services during the past few months.  We could not survive without them.

But I also appreciate my hairdresser, my massage therapist, and the friendly servers at my favorite breakfast place who were all labeled non-essential and were thus unable to work.  I miss the cast and crew of Broadway Sacramento, the pastor at my church, and my town's librarians.

My husband, a 6th grade teacher, missed his students this spring, and reports that Zoom meetings and online lessons could never take the place of day-to-day contact in the classroom.  Yet he appreciates parents who stepped up to supervise and facilitate their kids' distance learning.

We are all essential to someone.

Parents are essential to their children, and those kids are essential to parents, grandparents, teachers, and the world.  All workers are essential to the people they support, whether that means other vendors who supply them, or the families who rely on their income.  My dad used to say that when you smiled at someone you were making the world better.  That's pretty darn essential too.

You are essential to me.  Thank you for reading.

*STEM is the acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.

Photo by Samuel Sianipar on Unsplash

Monday, June 15, 2020

What Do You Really Want?

I didn't know what I wanted out of life, so I'd buy a new phone or pair of shoes.
Courtney Carver 

Do you shop when you need to feel better?  When you've had a hard day at work, when a loved one has disappointed you, when you're bored or tired?  Shopping seems like a pick-me-up, and a new shirt or pair of earrings might make you feel better, at least for a few minutes.  But when that new thing isn't new anymore, or when the credit card bill arrives, or when you stand in front of your packed closet trying to decide what to wear, you might not feel so good then.

And sometimes we just feel dissatisfied, we may not even know why.  We just know we want a change, and that restlessness pushes us toward the mall or the online store, toward travel, even toward a new job or a new partner.

There may be real reasons why you need to feel better, but taking a weekend trip you can't afford, buying a new electronic gadget, or going out with your friends to a bar might not be the best way to help yourself.  There are better methods of self-care when you don't feel well, or when you're sad, frustrated, or feeling lost.  You don't need to ignore those emotions, or make light of them.  Just find better ways to address them.

It's amazing how much a walk through the woods or a park, a nap, some good music, even a cup of tea can do for your outlook.  Some yoga, a good laugh, a scented bath, or doing something kind for someone else can also turn your feelings around.

Marketers want us to believe that what they're offering can make our lives better.  Happiness is just a purchase away!  And you might go that route for a while – I certainly did, for far too long.  But eventually you recognize that more stuff just leaves you feeling bloated and burdened.  When you do get around to clearing some of it out, you notice at once that you feel lighter and more free.

Feng shui practitioners tell us that possessions we don't use, that merely fill our closets and drawers and under the bed, create stagnant energy in our lives.  This is logical, whether you believe in feng shui or not.  When our homes and lives are full of clutter, we have no room for change.  I think we really do stunt our emotional and spiritual growth, and stymie our creativity and openness to new possibilities.  We actually make ourselves lethargic and dull.

If you're feeling stuck in your life, with no clear idea of what you want to learn or do next, with a sense that you're in a rut and there's nothing to look forward to, please don't try to shop yourself out of the feeling.  The next purchase won't fix your life, or fulfill something that you're lacking.

Be still for a moment; listen to your heart.  Take care of yourself: eat a juicy piece of fruit, dance to your favorite tune, call a friend.  Remove some of the excess stuff in your home or on your calendar.  When you give yourself space and time to breathe, you may just remember who you are and what really matters to you.

15 No-Shop Self-Care Tips to Restore Your Sense of Self

  1. Take a walk in the woods or through a park.
  2. Take a nap.
  3. Listen to some soothing or energizing music.
  4. Relax with a cup of coffee or tea.
  5. Do some yoga or stretching.
  6. Write in a journal.
  7. Find something that makes you laugh.
  8. Soak in a bath scented with lavender or eucalyptus.
  9. Cuddle with someone you love.
  10. Eat a piece of fresh, juicy fruit.
  11. Dance to your favorite tunes.
  12. Get lost in a good book.
  13. Call a supportive friend.
  14. Help someone else.
  15. Do some decluttering.

Photo by Fey Marin on Unsplash

Friday, June 12, 2020

MINIMALIST TOOL KIT: The Secret of Contentment

Contentment is impossible when you continually hunger for more.  Advertising, social media comparisons, and awareness of the Joneses keep you longing for whatever the next purchase promises to provide.  Even a bucket list of desired experiences can keep you from fully savoring the current event, since it's only one in a long line.

Contentment only comes when you realize the blessings you already possess, and when you appreciate the opportunities and experiences you've already enjoyed.

Contentment allows you to be fully present for your life, ready to find value in the here and now.

Ambition can push us toward achievement, but unbridled desire eventually makes us unhappy.  It's a hunger that is never satisfied.  Achievements ultimately don't provide contentment, because the next hill is always there to be conquered.

Wise people from all eras and cultures have warned us about this.

  • Chinese sage Lao Tzu, the founder of Taoism, said "Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are.  When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you."
  • The Greek philosopher Socrates taught that "He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have."
  • Jesus of Nazareth said, "Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions."
  • Lev Grossman, author of The Magicians, warns us "For just one second, look at your life and see how perfect it is.  Stop looking for the next secret door that is going to lead you to your real life.  Stop waiting.  This is it: there's nothing else.  It's here, and you'd better decide to enjoy it or you're going to be miserable wherever you go, for the rest of your life, forever."
  • Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, has said, "At some point, you gotta let go, and sit still, and allow contentment to come to you."

10 Ways to Find Contentment

1.  Be thankful for health, food, and shelter.

2.  Learn to enjoy things without owning them: books in the library, art in the museum, the playground in the park, the scenic highway.

3.  Appreciate the change of seasons, sunrise and sunset, the phases of the moon, the heat and the frost.

4.  Learn to like fields and trees, long walks, and the beauties of nature that are within your reach (even dandelions in your lawn, or the doves nesting in your eaves).

5.  Be thankful for work,and relish the satisfaction of doing a job as well as it can be done.

6.  Learn to do for yourself.  Make something, grow something, and learn to fix things.

7.  Appreciate the people you love who love you too.  Learn to like people, even those who are different from you.

8.  Celebrate the fact that you have enough by sharing with those who are in need.

9.  Learn to savor special treats, and to keep them special by keeping them rare.  Enjoy perfect peaches in season, one wear-it-forever piece of jewelry, that long-awaited trip, or those just-right jeans.

10.  Keep your wants simple, and refuse to be controlled by the likes and dislikes of others.

Photo by Frederik Sikkema on Unsplash

Monday, June 8, 2020

It's Not Shopping We Miss

A recent Twitter survey asked "What do you most look forward to doing when shelter-in-place guidelines are lifted?"

Does it surprise you to know that almost no one answered "Go shopping"?

The most common answers were "Hang out with friends," "Visit family members," "Take my family out for dinner," "Go to a concert," "Go to the library," "Use our city parks," and "Hit the gym."

Amazingly, we seem to have learned that shopping for new stuff isn't something we've been missing during the COVID-19 quarantine.  Sure, we've bought food, and cleaning supplies, and toilet paper.  Maybe we've downloaded some movies or books, or ordered some hobby supplies online so we could spend our free time creating something.

But when it comes to quality of life, it turns out that shopping for clothes, furniture, electronics, and cars is not essential.  Accumulating more physical stuff doesn't really matter all that much.

What we're really longing for is personal connection, social activities, and enriching experiences.

Retail sales are down, yet life goes on.  And it will get even better when we can hug our friends again, attend gatherings, or travel and meet new people.

Of course, this doesn't mean we will never go shopping again.  The pursuit of minimalism doesn't require us to stop spending money, it simply encourages us to spend thoughtfully.

The occasional purchase of something just because I like it, even if I don't strictly need it, isn't bad or wrong.  But as a minimalist, I know that there are things far more rewarding than material possessions.

I look forward to cuddling a friend's baby due in August.  I look forward to taking my grandchildren to the playground and the public swimming pool.  I look forward to getting a massage and a haircut.  Maybe you look forward to going to church or visiting your mother in assisted living.  You might miss relaxing with your friends at the neighborhood bar, but you don't miss the mall.

So maybe spending three months at home has brought you face to face with how many possessions you already own.  And maybe it's given you a desire to live with less.  Why not take on a Declutter Dare?  You can freshen your home, increase your freedom, and turn your focus toward what really adds value to your life.

Photo by Dollar Gill on Unsplash

Friday, June 5, 2020

Why Less is More

My voice teacher (I trained to be an opera singer) loved to say it:  Less is more.  That always annoyed me, until I finally figured out at least some of what she meant.

I have always had a powerful voice, but when I internalized some of that power – when I sang less – I had more focus, more breath, more resonance, more color in my voice.  When I stopped pushing, my voice was more free, more agile, I had more control and more dynamic range.  I could still be powerful, but I could also use the power of an intense pianissimo.

How does this work in other areas of life?

  • If I own less, each item I own needs to be more useful, more suitable to my needs and wants.
  • If I own a 33-item wardrobe, each piece needs to coordinate with several other pieces.  Each item needs to be of high quality.  Each item needs to fit and flatter.  There isn't room for something that isn't well made, doesn't go with anything else, or doesn't make me feel good when I'm wearing it.
  • If I own less of everything, each item needs to add more value to my life.  There's no place for a chair no one sits in because it's uncomfortable (even if it was an expensive purchase), no room for a chunky block of knives if all I ever use is the ultra-versatile chef's knife, no need for stuff that clutters every surface when what's really important to me is the beautifully framed photo of my children.  In fact, that lovely photo is more noticeable because it sits alone on a side table.
  • If my schedule is less cluttered, I have more energy for the things I choose to do.  I can give each activity more attention.  I have more free time, which both requires and enables me to be more creative.  I have more space in my life for spontaneity.  Most importantly, I have more time for people.  Less social obligation, more deep relationships!  It's a wonderful paradox.

It's possible to go on and on.  How about less processed and junky food, more health, energy, and general well-being?  Less TV, more conversation, long walks, and sleep?  Not to mention less exposure to advertising, more contentment and more savings.

Having less leaves room for more of what matters.

Minimalism is the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the remove of anything that distracts us from it.
Joshua Becker 

Photo by Casey Horner on Unsplash


Wednesday, June 3, 2020

95 Ways to Simplify Your Life - Black Belt Simplicity

I realize that these final suggestions are not for everyone, but if you've considered or implemented the previous ideas, you might be ready to go a bit deeper.

Part 7 – Black Belt Simplicity

88.  Live smaller.
A smaller home generally costs less, uses less energy, and takes less effort to clean and maintain.  How much space do you really need?

89.  Try a Buy Nothing experiment.
Be an anti-consumer!  For 30 days, 90 days, or even a year, buy nothing except necessities:  food, toiletries, cleaning/maintenance supplies, medications, replacements for things that break or tear.  If you must buy a gift for someone, make it consumable (flowers, food, or concert tickets, for example), donate to their favorite charity, or pass along something of value that you own (such as jewelry or a book).

90.  Drive less.
If you can walk, bike, or take public transit, you can leave the car at home.  Can you go car-free one day a week?  Do you really need a second (or third) vehicle?

91.  Travel closer to home.
Nothing that we do pumps carbon dioxide into the atmosphere faster than air travel.  Perhaps you should ditch your bucket list and travel by rail or auto closer to home (say within 250 miles).  Aren't there amazing places in your own state or country that you've never visited?

92.  Go meatless.
Methane emissions from cattle and other livestock are a threat to global climate, and these animals and their feed also require enormous amounts of water and land.  One easy way to help the environment, improve your health, and save money is to eat more plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and whole grains.  Why not avoid meat and dairy for one or more days a week, or for one meal a day?

93.  Eat the same foods every day.
For a period of time (or forever), limit your food choices.  Stick to oatmeal or eggs for breakfast, a big green salad or a bowl of vegetable soup for lunch (or PB&J on whole grain bread), a piece of fruit for a snack, and beans, rice, and veggies for dinner.  Drink only water, coffee, and tea.  See if you don't feel lighter, clearer, and more healthy.

94.  Don't shop unless you have to.
Shopping isn't a hobby or a source of entertainment.  Don't browse stores, catalogs, or websites looking for something to want or "need."

95.  Redefine success.
We don't have to measure success with material accumulation.  Consider raising a happy family, excelling at your job, or acts of kindness your status symbols.

"Success has nothing to do with what you gain in life or accomplish for yourself.  It's what you do for others."
Danny Thomas

Photo by Alondra Olivas on Unsplash

Monday, June 1, 2020

95 Ways to Simplify Your Life - Mindset

A change in mindset can bring about a desire to simplify, but simplifying can in turn change your mindset.  These changes will bring more serenity and satisfaction every day.

Part 6 – Mindset

76.  Be present.
Don't pine for the past or fret about the future.  Today is all you have.  Be here now.

77.  Be open.
We live in an era of polarization, because we so often believe there's only one way to look at an issue.  Be willing to consider ideas and viewpoints that differ from your own.

78.  Be true to yourself.
Keep an open mind, but don't be afraid to listen to your own intuition and moral compass.  Don't feel obligated to live according to others' expectations.

79.  Offer grace.
You don't know the details of others' circumstances, and you have no idea how well you'd react to their situations.  Try to see the good in other people; don't be too quick to condemn.

80.  Offer forgiveness.
A grudge is a heavy burden.  You don't have to condone bad behavior, but you can move on from it, and free your thoughts and energy for something more worthwhile.

81.  Forget perfection.
It doesn't exist!  Do good work, but ease up on your unrealistic expectations.  Reduce rigidity, stress, and disappointment, and increase flexibility, acceptance, and appreciation.

82.  Choose your battles.
There are thousands of little things that aren't as earth-shattering as we think they are.  Let them go.

83.  Ignore the Joneses.
Advertisers want us to believe that if we only had this or that our lives would improve.  Happiness is just one purchase away!  But the goal keeps moving, and comparing and competing will only keep us anxious and dissatisfied.

84.  Be grateful.
Compared to billions in the world, you are wealthy and privileged.  Be thankful for what you have, instead of worrying about what you don't.

85.  Be generous.
Being able to give is a sure sign that you have enough for your needs, and then some.

86.  No one is looking at you – really!
People are too wrapped up in their own lives to pay much attention to what you wear, own, or look like.  You're not a superstar, so stop worrying what "everyone" will think about you.

87.  Enjoy without owning.
Admire the objects in a shop window, the art in a gallery, or the roses in a garden.  Appreciate public libraries, public parks, and public celebrations.  You can get a lot of pleasure from things without the responsibilities of ownership.

"It is the heart that makes a man rich.  He is rich according to what he is, not according to what he has."
Henry Ward Beecher

The final installment is coming....

Photo by Chang Duong on Unsplash

Friday, May 29, 2020

95 Ways to Simplify Your Life - Unbusy

If there's one thing many of us have learned from the Covid-19 quarantine and social distancing, it's that having more space on our calendars for relationships, creativity, and rest has been a blessing.  Maybe we didn't realize the toxic effects of constant commitments, appointments, and giant to-do lists, but in hindsight they are easy to see.  We have an opportunity to make different choices going forward.

Part 5 - Unbusy

67.  Learn to say no.
This can be a challenge, but you'll be happier if you have enough time and energy for what really matters to you.  If your heart doesn't say "Hell yes!" then just say no.

68.  Create white space.
Don't cram your calendar – limit your commitments.  Let go of what has become a burden, and make space for serenity and serendipity.

69.  Delegate.
You don't have to do everything yourself.  Get employees to help with projects, and your spouse and kids to help with chores.

70.  Slow down.
Our society has become very pushy and impatient.  Buck the trend.  With a more open schedule, you don't have to rush and be rude.  Don't increase productivity so you can do more; practice being calm and collected instead.

71.  Fix little problems before they become big ones.
A little effort now can save a lot of trouble later.

72.  Single-task.
It's more efficient to pay your bills, answer you emails, or complete the next step in any project in one sitting than in bits and pieces.  Close your browser, turn off notifications, and figuratively shut your door so you can focus on the task at hand.

73.  Consolidate your errands.
Plan your visits to the post office, library, drug store, grocery store, etc. so you can take care of it all in one trip.  Designate one or two days a week as errand and appointment days to avoid multiple (and wasteful) journeys.

74.  Optimize rest.
Sleep is not the enemy of productivity; it is not what you do when there's nothing good on TV.  It's as necessary to life as food, water, and exercise.  Sleep is when the body repairs itself and makes long-term memories, and adults need seven to nine hours per night (kids need more).

75.  Try an earlier bedtime.
Turn off your devices and go to bed so you can wake up 30 to 60 minutes sooner than you do now.  Treat yourself to leisurely mornings.

"Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished."
Lao Tzu

Photo by Glen Carrie on Unsplash

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

95 Ways to Simplify Your Life - Office and Tech

If there is any area of our modern lives that is supposed to bring freedom and ease, yet often wastes so much time and creates frustrating complications, it is technology.  We can't live without it, but we need to make sure it is serving us, not commandeering our energy and attention.  I hope this list inspires a positive change, however small.

Part 4 – Office and Tech

50.  Stop as much incoming paper as possible.
Get off mailing lists, cancel catalogs, and sign up for online billing and statements.  Don't accept flyers, handouts, or freebie newspapers.

51.  Sort mail now.
Don't set it down somewhere it doesn't belong.  Piles grow when you neglect them, so take a few minutes right away.

  • Junk mail can go straight into recycling (shred anything with personal information).
  • File important papers (like a new investment statement or insurance declarations page) immediately; remove and shred what's outdated.
  • Keep an "action file" for bills to pay or items that require a response.
  • Read and enjoy "real" mail (like a birthday card).  Display it for a few days on a bulletin board.

52.  Keep a family calendar.
Notes and invitations for school, church, or social activities do not need to be kept once the date and time are entered on the calendar.

53.  Print as little as possible.
Don't give yourself unnecessary stuff to file or recycle.

54.  Automate as many bills as you can, and pay the rest online.
Save time and postage, and maybe do without checks altogether.

55.  Bank online.
Transfer money and even deposit checks without going to the bank or standing in a line.

56.  Organize your digital files.
Develop a logical system of folders, so you won't have to wade through hundreds of random files to find what you're looking for.

57.  Backup your digital files.
Some people will prefer a USB flash drive or an external hard drive for this; others will feel more comfortable with an online storage service.

58.  Purge bookmarks regularly.
The stuff you found interesting last month may be of no use to you today.  Don't waste time scrolling through the excess.

59.  Limit the number of blogs you read.
When you subscribe to a new one, drop an old one so you don't increase your time commitment.

60.  Quit social media (or don't join).
Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and all the rest can be major time sinks, and can become something you feel obligated to participate in.  At the very least, limit the time you spend on it, limit the number of people or organizations you follow, and keep "friends" limited to people you actually know.

61.  Check and answer email during defined periods.
When you're distracted by constant incoming messages, it takes longer to complete any task.

62.  After a certain hour, put cell phones in a charging station.
You can still access your phone if you want, but you're forced to be more mindful about when and why you reach for tech.  Do you need to check for an important message, or are you just going to mindlessly scroll through social media?

63.  Create a tech-free zone.
The bedroom works particularly well for this.

64.  Take digital sabbaticals.
Whether it's every evening after dinner, one day a week, or one weekend a month, periods of digital disconnection let you focus on the people, activities, and surroundings of the real world.

65.  Stay out of debt.
Life is much simpler when you don't have to use current earnings to pay for past purchases.

66.  Telecommute.
If you can work from home one or two days a week, you'll save time and money, pollute less, and maybe find yourself more peaceful and productive.

"Knowledge is a process of piling up facts; wisdom lies in their simplification."
Martin H. Fischer

There's more to come!

Photo by Kari Shea on Unsplash

Monday, May 25, 2020


I'm so excited to announce the publication of the Kindle edition of my newest book, Everything to Gain: Finding Purpose and Contentment Amid Life's Ups and Downs, available now on Amazon!

This new book has practical action tips, but it is also about mindset, and the power we humans have to learn and adapt to new situations.  During these challenging times, and when we encounter any of life's difficulties, hope and resilience are our allies.  Since it's hard to be flexible when you're locked into a frantic schedule and hemmed in by clutter, simplifying is the way to move forward.  In order to find the energy and freedom to cope, you need a life filled with more of what you love, and less of what you don't.  That's what minimalism offers!

Everything to Gain is currently only available in the Kindle edition, but the paperback won't be far behind (it will hopefully appear by the end of this week).  If you want to be able to read the book right now, Kindle is the way to go.  But even if you're a paperback fan, you can get the Kindle sample to start – it's here on Amazon.

Thank you for your support, and I wish you all to be well and be happy!


P.S.  Thank you to my dear husband Jon for the fantastic cover photo!  The incense cedar is located on the property of Shady Creek Outdoor School, near Nevada City, California.

Photo by Jon Trefzger © 2020

95 Ways to Simplify Your Life - In the Kitchen

Moving on today to one of the busiest rooms in anyone's home – the kitchen.  This is where we gather for nourishment and connection, yet it is also often the place where clutter gathers and sticks.  But little changes can truly have a big impact.

Part 3 – In the Kitchen

37.  Plan meals in advance.
You'll spend less time staring into the refrigerator, wondering what to make, and be less likely to give up and call for takeout.

38.  Shop with a grocery list.
Avoid making extra trips for forgotten items, and control impulse purchases too.  It could be worth the effort to create a master list of items you use regularly.  Print copies and check off items as you run out.

39.  Eat real food.
Simple, unmodified, unprocessed foods are healthier, cheaper, and delicious.

40.  Quit bottled drinks... 
...including bottled water.  Install a water filter, or buy a filtering pitcher.  And soft drinks have absolutely no redeeming qualities.  They're either full of sugar, high fructose corn syrup, or artificial sweeteners.  Give them a hard pass.

41.  Love leftovers.
Cook a double or triple batch, and have ready-made lunches or dinners for later.

42.  Make one-pot meals.
Save cooking and cleanup time.

43.  Pare dishes, cups, and cookware to what you use regularly.
Make it easier to get things out and put them away by not over-stuffing cupboards.

44.  Purge seldom-used gadgets and equipment.
Save kitchen real estate for the things you use to prepare daily meals.  The best chefs create amazing food with basic pots and implements.

45.  Keep countertops clutter-free.
Cooking is so much easier when you're not moving stuff out of the way to do it.  Declutter to make room in the drawers and cupboards for what you use and love.

46.  Don't clutter the refrigerator door.
Items stuck on the refrigerator always look chaotic, but an uncluttered refrigerator door immediately calms the kitchen.  If you love having photos, invitations, or kids' drawings where you can see them, hang a magnetic board inside a pantry door or in the family room.

47.  Organize food storage.
Clear the pantry and refrigerator of foods past their expiration date, and foods you're never going to eat.  Group foods into categories to make it easier to locate items and to prevent over-buying.

48.  Don't use the dinner table as a dumping ground.
Clear the surface to facilitate easy gathering, and make room for nourishment and connection.

49.  Clean the kitchen completely after dinner.
It doesn't really take that long.  You will really appreciate it in the morning, when you enter a kitchen that is already clean and ready for use.

Photo by LUM3N on Unsplash

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Build a Hedge

This is a chapter from my upcoming book, Everything to Gain: Finding Purpose and Contentment Amid Life's Ups and Downs.

Hedging, in finance, is a risk management strategy.  It deals with reducing or eliminating uncertainty.  For example, if you buy homeowner's insurance, you're hedging yourself against fires, break-ins or other calamities.  Generally, when people hedge, they try to protect themselves against a negative event.

If you live in tornado, hurricane, or blizzard territory, you likely keep at least a few days' worth of non-perishable food, water, batteries, a radio, and other supplies on hand.  Some hedgers adopt a prepper mentality.  They stockpile large amounts of survival necessities, along with guns, cash, gasoline, and more.

Having a few extra essentials on hand is probably a good idea, and certainly a means of reducing anxiety in the event of a likely scenario, such as a power outage or an illness.  The zombie apocalypse is pretty improbable, but as we've seen during the COVID-19 pandemic, job loss, food and toilet paper shortages, and the disruption of international supply chains are all too possible.

I think there are additional ways we should prepare ourselves to deal with the difficulties life can bring.  Even during a record snowfall or an unexpected injury, we need more resources in hand than food, water, and blankets.

6 Hedges Against Hard Times

1.  An emergency fund.
Life without an emergency fund is risky.  If your car breaks down or your furnace quits, you need money fast.  If you don't have an emergency fund, you're forced to borrow or use credit.  You'll gain so much peace of mind if you have $1,000 or so saved in case your refrigerator needs repair or your child damages a tooth playing basketball.

2.  Zero debt.
Debt is the enemy of peace.  It requires you to use money you earn today to pay for things you bought last month, last year, or even longer ago than that.  Once you're out of debt (except for your home loan), you will be amazed at your feelings of freedom and hope for the future.  Suddenly you, and not your creditors, control your money.  You can save, invest, give more, or work less.

3.  An understanding of needs vs. wants.
You need food, but you can live on rice, beans, and veggies.  You need shelter, but you don't need major upgrades or renovations.  You need clothing, but you probably already own plenty.  You need transportation, but you don't need foreign travel.  You need to communicate, but you don't need the latest iPhone or multiple streaming services.  In hard times, it helps to know what you need in order to survive, and what you can live without.

4.  Strong relationships.
Even in an era of social distancing, we still need connections.  We need relationships that offer unconditional support.  Build those relationships with your time and attention, your kindness, your generosity, and your listening ear.  Family, friends, neighbors, your church or synagogue, and other clubs and organizations to which you belong and contribute are going to be your lifelines when a crisis hits.

5.  Resilience and resourcefulness.
Resilience allows us to bounce back when things don't go the way we planned.  It helps us learn and adapt rather than giving up under stress.  Resourcefulness allows us to use our skills and strengths to cope with and overcome our problems.

6.  An attitude of hope.
It's normal in times of hardship and uncertainty to feel worried.  It takes self-control to choose to be positive, but it's so much more rewarding than sinking under your fears.

How can you strengthen hope?

  • Arm yourself with facts about your situation, not gossip, conjecture, or fear-mongering.
  • Don't waste energy looking for someone to blame.
  • Control what you can control, rather than fighting the things you can't.
  • Encourage yourself.  Speak to yourself as you would to a friend.
  • Intentionally look for and focus on things that are going right, no matter how small.  Write them down in a journal so you can reread them and remind yourself of your blessings.
  • Do something to help someone else.  Being generous will remind you that you are not without resources.

We can't always prevent bad things from happening, but we can decide how to meet those circumstances.  If you don't already have these hedges in place, you can start now to develop them.

P.S. The Kindle version of my newest book, Everything to Gain: Finding Purpose and Contentment Amid Life's Ups and Downs, will be available by the middle of this week.  Watch for a link which I will provide!

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Friday, May 22, 2020

A New Book for Times Like These

I'm working on a new book that will be published very soon:  EVERYTHING TO GAIN: FINDING PURPOSE AND CONTENTMENT AMID LIFE'S UPS AND DOWNS.

We all live with the good and the bad, the joy and the sadness.  Covid-19 is not the first challenge we've faced, nor will it be the last.  But we let ourselves get frazzled and distracted by too much stuff and busyness, which leaves us with less energy to cope, let alone find peace in adversity.

If we choose to live with less clutter, busyness, debt, and stress, we can make room for what really matters.  We can realize that contentment isn't found by pursuing more, but by appreciating what we already have.

When we simplify, we're not depriving ourselves.  We're choosing more freedom, more ease, more clarity, and more satisfaction.

We truly have everything to gain.

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

95 Ways to Simplify Your Life - Wardrobe and Grooming

Continuing my list of ways to simplify, saving time, space, energy, or money, and bringing more serenity and satisfaction every day.

Part 2 – Wardrobe and Grooming

25.  Hang up clothes, or put them in a laundry hamper, as soon as you take them off.
Keep re-wearable clothing fresher and wrinkle-free, and your room more spacious and restful.  Use chairs for sitting, not piling.

26.  Organize your clothes by category.
Hang all your trousers, skirts, or shirts together so you can quickly find what you need.

27.  Corral accessories.
Use a drawer for scarves, a rack for necklaces, or a box for rings and earrings, rather than scattering them about.

28.  Don't be a fashion victim.
Chasing trends is a waste of time and money.

29.  Know what flatters you.
Avoid accumulating a closet full of wardrobe mistakes.

30.  Choose a base color for your wardrobe.
It's so much easier to create outfits when all of your clothes go with a neutral base.  This doesn't mean your wardrobe is monochromatic, simply that everything you own goes with black, or brown, navy, khaki, denim, etc.  You could choose a different base color for each season, if you desire, but it's not necessary.

31.  Don't buy "fantasy" clothes.
If you're not a socialite, you don't need a bunch of gowns or cocktail dresses.  Reserve your closet space for stuff you actually wear.

32.  Get a simple, no-fuss haircut.
Save tons of time and aggravation every morning.

33.  Embrace your natural hair.
Straight, curly, brown, gray – accept who you really are.

34.  Keep makeup minimal, or go without.
Most of us don't need to look like supermodels.  Pare the products you use to the essentials.  You may even find that your skin improves when you put less on it.

35.  Avoid unhealthy habits.
Smoking, drugs, excessive drinking, and constant sitting will age you and ruin your health.

36.  Remember that beauty doesn't come in a bottle.
Avoid the clutter and expense of half-used "miracle" potions.  The best recipe for a fresh, healthy appearance is adequate sleep, healthy food, plenty of water, and a positive outlook.

"Cheerfulness and contentment are great beautifiers, and famous preservers of good looks."
Charles Dickens

Photo by Junko Nakase on Unsplash

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

95 Ways to Simplify Your Life - Around the House

I've been striving to simplify my life for more than 20 years, and for the last 18 months I've been writing about it.  I've learned that little changes in our environment, habits, and attitudes can have a big impact.

So I thought I'd compile a list of ways to simplify.  Of course, not every item on this list will work for every person who reads it.  But I hope that you will find something that inspires a change, however small.  I'd love to help you save time, space, energy, or money, and to show you ways to find more serenity and satisfaction every day.

Part 1 - Around the House

1.  Ditch the TV (or simply turn it off).
If you're like the average viewer, you could save well over 100 hours every month, leaving you with time to do things that add value to your life.  And as a bonus, less exposure to commercials makes it easier to buy less, leaving you with more money and less clutter.

2.  If you do watch TV, save it for after dinner.
Don't turn it on as background noise or "for company," and give your family time for distraction-free dining.

3.  Cancel magazine subscriptions.
Read the content online, and avoid accumulating a pile of reading material.

4.  Read news online.
Ignore the sensationalism of TV news, choose a trusted source, and save time and trees by reading only the articles that interest you.

5.  Stream music and movies.
Eliminate clutter and have easier access to entertainment.

6.  Use the library.
Whether you borrow physical books or e-books, you can learn, relax, connect, and be inspired every day without increasing your belongings.

7.  Get rid of excess furniture.
Give yourself more room, and get more use and enjoyment from the pieces you keep.

8.  Get rid of excess d├ęcor.
Save time dusting, and put space around each item so it gets the attention it deserves, rather than going unnoticed in a crowd.

9.  Don't start collecting.
A collection is like an organism – it grows.  Don't feed this habit!  Save money, avoid clutter, and put your time and imagination toward something more worthwhile.  Remember that one high quality item can stand in for a multitude of dust-catching knickknacks.

10.  Go green.
You may be fortunate enough to have a tree right outside your window, but it's a good idea to bring some nature inside as well.  Many studies show that indoor plants reduce stress, CO₂ levels, and airborne dust.  Don't create an indoor jungle, but a few easy-care plants such as sansevieria, aloe, pothos, dieffenbachia, peace lily, or English ivy will calm and beautify your home.

11.  Don't just put it down, put it away.
A lot of clutter represents procrastination.  Put things away when you're finished with them – it takes a lot less effort than cleaning up piles of stuff later on.

12.  Make a place for everything.
Save time finding things and putting them away.

13.  Clean as you go.
Wipe up spills, take care of little messes before they become big ones, and live in a cleaner home every day.

14.  Practice "one in, one out."
When you purchase something new, don't keep the item you're replacing.

15.  Do regular purges.
Take 15 minutes every week for every family member to remove clutter.  Make it a light-hearted ritual rather than a heavy-handed punishment.

16.  If you don't remember it, it can go.
As a rule of thumb, if you "discover" something you forgot you had, donate or toss it.  If you were able to live without it before, it's safe to say you don't need it.

17.  Store hobby items in designated containers.
Keep all supplies together so they're on hand when you need them, and easy to clean up and store.

18.  If you start a new hobby, drop an old one.
You time is finite.  If you're putting your efforts toward something new, remove equipment and supplies that will otherwise sit in a closet.

19.  Place a limit on toys.
Reduce arguments, stress, and overwhelm and increase peace, contentment, and creativity by limiting the number of toys your children own.  Keep favorites and items that are transformative and open ended (such as art supplies, building toys, and pretend/role play items).  Remove the rest.

20.  Figure out your best laundry schedule.
Save time, water, and energy by washing full (but not jam-packed) loads, but don't leave yourself with huge piles to do all in one day.  Better to run a load every day or two, if needed.

21.  Wash towels less often.
Don't just use a towel once and then put it in the laundry.  You're clean when you use it, after all.  Always hang towels between uses so they dry properly and don't get musty.

22.  Keep everything off the floor.
This is an easy cleaning rule – nothing belongs on the floor except rugs and furniture.  It's so much easier to vacuum, too.

23.  Create a working entry.
Ditch the morning ritual of a frenzied search for your keys or sunglasses.  Consider a hook for keys, a tray for the mail, a small bulletin board for a calendar or reminders, a mirror for last-minute appearance checks, and a table to anchor it all.

24.  Make your bed.
It's the focal point of your bedroom, and it can either be a mess that says you don't care, or a neat and pretty spot that sets the tone for your house and your day.

"Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful."
William Morris

to be continued...

Photo by Minette Hand on Apartment Therapy

Monday, May 18, 2020


Most of us face an endless barrage of choices, one after the other, all day.  What should I wear?  What should I eat?  What should I do first?  What should I do after that?  Should I answer this text or email now, or should I finish what I'm working on?

When we go to a store or a restaurant, we wonder Should I order the cheeseburger or the turkey wrap?  Should I buy the green skirt or the floral one?  Will I be happy with this car or that one?  

This can be exhausting.

And whatever we select, we may fear that another option would have been better.  Although we may think that more choice is a good thing, too many alternatives can slow us down, make every decision harder, and even make us question our competence.  As Barry Schwartz, a professor of psychology at Swarthmore College and author of The Paradox of Choice, writes, "It's not clear that more choice gives you more freedom.  It could decrease our freedom if we spend so much time trying to make choices."

Choice becomes easier when we rely on habits that smooth the way.  Just as we don't need to dither about whether we should brush our teeth before bed, or wash our hands after visiting the restroom, we can remove questions about when to get up in the morning, when to check email, what to eat for dinner, or whether we should go out for a drink.

In fact, if we intentionally build a routine, and practice it daily, it creates a framework that takes care of necessities so that we have energy and creativity to spare for work, leisure, parenting, and relationships.

You could have habitual food choices (oatmeal with fruit on weekdays, bacon and eggs on weekends, for example), clothing choices (black pants and skirts with jewel-tone tops, or navy suits, white shirts, and eye-catching socks and ties), and shopping choices (limit your search to three web sites when contemplating a purchase, say, or only patronize one grocery store that generally has excellent prices, rather than driving all over town to save a few pennies).  You might check email or social media at certain times of the day for a limited time period, exercise at a certain time, or pray at a specific time.  You might always single-task, only watch movies on Friday nights, and only buy toys for your kids at Christmas and birthdays.

The psychologist William James wrote about the way that habits could enhance life, even though at first glance they might seem to limit it.

The more of the details of our daily life we can hand over to the effortless custody of [habit], the more our higher powers of mind will be set free for their own proper work.  There is no more miserable human being than one in whom nothing is habitual but indecision, and for whom... the time of rising and going to bed every day, and the beginning of every bit of work, are subjects of express volitional deliberation.

So build a routine.  Schedule your day, limit distractions, and limit the number of choices you need to ponder.  Gain stability, and even comfort, by freeing your mind of mundane thoughts and decisions.  Save your willpower and attention for more important tasks.

Especially during this time of Covid-19 social distancing, and work and school from home, you may find much more peace and accomplishment when you follow a routine.  You may feel a more positive outlook when you rise and dress and eat at the same time every day, and set specific times for tasks and relaxation.  Rather than living in pajamas and bingeing on everything from news and TV to snacks and online purchases, establish a routine and live with it.  I think you'll find yourself happier and more focused.

Photo by

Friday, May 15, 2020

Other People's Clutter

This is a chapter from my new book, Uncluttered.

My husband came home one Friday at the end of a busy week, took his shoes off, and left them sitting by the front door.  He took his backpack over to the dining table and left it on the floor behind his chair.  Then he asked what plans I had for the evening.

How did I greet him?

  • Did I give him a kiss and say, "Hi, honey, I'm glad you're home"?
  • Did I tell him I'd been thinking we could try a new restaurant for dinner?
  • Did I notice the shoes and backpack and ask him to please put them away?  (After all, it would only take a minute.)
  • Did I notice the shoes and backpack and simply put them away for him myself?  (Only a minute, remember.)

Unfortunately, my choice was "none of the above."

I immediately launched into a tirade about the fact that his shoes didn't belong on the floor by the front door and his backpack didn't belong in the dining room.

Of course, he got a bit huffy when I berated him, and so we began our evening with an argument.

To explain a bit (since he is usually very good about putting things away), it's been raining lately, and when it rains I keep a mat near the door where we place our shoes to dry before putting them away.  It wasn't raining on that Friday, but I suppose he was still operating in that mode.

Additionally, one of the reasons it had been such a busy week is that report cards had just come out.  My husband teaches middle school language arts and science, so recently the dining table had been stacked with student essays, journals, and exams he had been grading for the end of the trimester.  His backpack and computer had lived in the dining room since the previous weekend.  It was a bit of temporary chaos that he had only cleared away on Thursday morning.

But I "needed" my newly-cleaned house to be "just so," and I reacted badly.

"What can I do about my spouse's/roommate's clutter?"

It's a common question when people begin decluttering and living a simpler life.

Once you've started to pare down your own belongings, and you're able to organize, create tidiness, and enjoy a bit of calm and open space, Other People's Clutter (OPC) can seem more irksome than ever.

I can tell you from experience what you shouldn't do.  Sadly, I have at times had all of these reactions:

  • I have complained about "some people's junk."
  • I have signed audibly while moving their stuff out of my way.
  • I have asked how they can stand to live with so many piles, or told them that if I weren't around to pick up after them they'd just "live in squalor."
  • I have decluttered their things for them.

These reactions don't make me popular, and they don't make minimalism or decluttering a popular option either.

So what can we do instead?

6 Ways to Cope with OPC

1.  Focus on your own clutter.
Continue to curate your own closet, drawers, personal care items, books, etc.  If you do most of the cooking, focus on decluttering the kitchen (but don't touch his favorite sports team mugs).  If you do most of the home repairs, donate duplicate tools.  Clear your own spaces.

2.  Have a conversation.
Talk to your housemates about what is important to you in a home, and ask them what is important to them.  Maybe together you can agree on certain principles, such as keeping hallways unobstructed and cleaning up the kitchen and bathroom after using them.  Perhaps you can agree to keep one area clutter-free, such as the dining table, entry hall, or bedroom.

3.  Set a limit.
If your wife's side of the closet is chaotic, let it be.  It's hers, after all.  But you can ask that she respect your space by not letting her stuff spill over into it.  You can ask that clean laundry not be piled on "your" living room chair.  Your husband's storage shed might be piled to the rafters, but it shouldn't overflow into the yard.

With your children you can develop firmer guidelines.  You can insist on certain standards, such as no clothes, towels, coats, backpacks, or sports equipment on the floor.  You can expect them to make their beds each morning (they don't have to be up to boot camp standards), and to place their dirty dishes in the dishwasher rather than on the counter or in the sink.  You can set up a toy rotation (or even help them reduce the number of toys they own) so that they have fewer to put away each evening before bed.  You can do all of this while allowing them to keep their closets and personal spaces in whatever condition they prefer.

4.  Do it yourself.
If you don't like a cluttered car, get rid of the garbage and return scattered items to their homes yourself.  Deal with the junk mail yourself.  Return grooming items and wipe up the bathroom counter yourself.  Don't complain about it.  Most of these jobs only take a few minutes, after all, and who knows?  Maybe your habits will rub off on your roommate.

5.  Make it a game.
Francine Jay, author of The Joy of Less and Lightly, suggests a Family Decluttering Day.  Challenge each member of the household to purge their own things, and declare the person with the biggest pile of castoffs the decluttering champion.  Offer a prize, like a movie or restaurant gift card, if you need more incentive, or make a little money with a yard sale. 

6.  Be happy.
Is living clutter-free a chore or a relief?  Are the habits that keep clutter at bay simple or onerous?  Are you generally more relaxed and peaceful since you simplified your life, or are you on uptight clutter patrol?  If minimalism doesn't look attractive on you, no one will see it as a positive lifestyle.  If you can show that your days are smoother, your chores fewer, your energy greater, and your outlook brighter, the changes you've made will look appealing to others.

Remember that minimalism is not about being meager or obsessive.  It's about handling your belongings in such a way that the energy of your home and your life is vibrant and flowing rather than dull and stagnant.

Photo by Taylor Hernandez on Unsplash