Monday, January 27, 2020

Kinder Consumption

Graphic by Sarah (shared by Rebecca Somogyi on Facebook)

We are all consumers.  We must consume to meet our needs and stay alive.  We need food, shelter, medical care.  We need clothing, communication, transportation, education.  We need, so we consume.

But our culture is focused on constant consumption, 24/7, without a thought for the cost to others or our planet.  The consumer society is self-centered and individualistic, placing value on what we possess, and idolizing those who indulge themselves in luxury and waste.  We have created a short-term, throwaway culture.

We also consume time, that precious, limited, God-given resource.  We waste a ton of it, mindlessly watching TV, playing video games, and scrolling through social media.  We squeeze most of the rest of it, priding ourselves on our busyness, gaining self-esteem by imagining we are indispensable because our calendars are crammed.  We shortchange necessities like relationships, creativity, and sleep in favor of our go-go time consumption.

Our use of time has become a great divider, according to Ruth Valerio, author of L is for Lifestyle: Christian Living That Doesn't Cost the Earth.  There are those who spend time to save money, and others who spend money to save time (so they can make more money).  Our culture is heavily invested in the latter, encouraging us to buy more smart devices and even hire people to fill our grocery carts.  The fact that we become chained to our jobs in order to afford the time-savers seems to escape our notice.  With that mindset, we'll be chronically short of time forever.

How can we be more balanced consumers?  How can we be more ethical as we meet our consumption needs?

8 Tips for Kinder Consumption*

1.  Buy things for usefulness rather than status.
We all need shoes, but we don't need a closet full of high-end designer shoes.  We need transportation, but we don't need the brand-new luxury model.  In fact, if you can easily afford to drive a luxury car, choosing to purchase a pre-owned, fuel-efficient, mid-priced model makes a strong statement about your values.

2.  Stop trying to keep up with the hyper-consumption patterns of celebrities and other influencers.
This is a corollary to #1.  Be especially aware that many of the people you might emulate are being paid to promote whatever they're wearing, driving, drinking, etc.

3.  Be skeptical of advertising, which is basically propaganda.
Advertisers want you to desire and purchase something, and they don't care how they convince you to do it.  They market to little children, for goodness' sake, and try to make 2-year-olds brand-conscious.  Stop listening to them.

4.  Reject things to which you are addicted.
Distinguish between real psychological needs and your addictions.  What do I mean by that?

  • You need cheerful surroundings and beauty in your life, but be careful of HGTV makeover shows and lifestyle magazines that cause you to desire and purchase home decor and upgrades on a regular basis.
  • You need comfort and solace, but be aware of repeated or increasing indulgences.
  • You need to learn, but think twice before jumping in to purchase all the tools and paraphernalia for yet another short-term interest.

5.  Learn to enjoy things without owning them.
Public parks and libraries come to mind:  you don't need to own a beautiful lawn, a large play area, or shelves full of books in order to enjoy them.  Great art and architecture can enrich your life while remaining in the public domain.  You can rent or borrow and enjoy the use of camping or sports equipment, tools, formal clothes, and so many more items without needing to buy and keep them forever.

6.  Develop the habit of generosity rather than self-indulgence.
Remember that the ability to give is a true indication of wealth.

7.  Develop a deep appreciation and love for nature.
The natural world is essential to our mental, emotional, and physical health.  Time in nature is something we all need more of.  But we don't need to own and consume it.  We don't need to become eco-tourists.  In fact, if we all cared more for the green spaces that are near to us, even in urban settings, we would not only preserve and enlarge those spaces, but we'd be able to gain peace and refreshment from them every day.  

8.  Reject things that cause others to be oppressed.
In some way, that means that we, the privileged, need to refrain from exploiting the poor and powerless.  We need to care about equal treatment and equal opportunity.  We need to be compassionate, not greedy or self-centered.  We need to be satisfied with enough so we can share with those who don't have enough.

So we might
  • reject fast fashion.
  • look for "fair trade" labels.
  • buy from companies that have committed to worker safety and a living wage.
  • stop eating meat, or make sure that we purchase only when animals have been treated humanely.
  • buy more organic produce in order to reduce the amount of pesticides that farm workers are exposed to.
  • purchase used items more often, to prevent additional pollution and exploitation due to extraction and manufacturing processes.
  • keep items longer (especially cars and electronics) for the same reasons, and also to reduce toxic exposures due to recycling practicies.

By considering what we really need and evaluating our consumption habits, we can not only keep ourselves from debt and clutter, but we can "vote with our dollars" for a more just and equitable world.

* Richard Foster's Freedom of Simplicity: Finding Harmony in a Complex World, suggested some of these ideas.

Monday, January 20, 2020


Photo by Sahin Yesilyaprak on Unsplash

Open your closet door, dig past the first items you see, and look at ten things you've shoved toward the back.  Out of those ten things, how many of them fill you with buyer's remorse?  How many of them had you completely forgotten you owned?

Look at the last ten purchases on your Amazon account.  How many of them fill you with buyer's remorse?  How many of them had you completely forgotten?

Find an old grocery store or Target receipt.  How many items on that receipt fill you with buyer's remorse?  How many of them had you completely forgotten?

Look at your credit card statement.  Ask yourself the same two questions about the first ten purchases.

Don't despair.  No one is perfect at this test.  I'm certainly not.  Whenever I dig into closets or drawers or look at my Amazon history, I usually find at least a couple of items I've forgotten or feel that I wasted money on.  Why on earth did I buy this?

This kind of assessment can be painful, but it also provides insight into the quality of my buying decisions.  Honestly, they're not as good as they should be.  But they're better than they were before I started thinking like a minimalist.

It's good to feel that buyer's remorse.

I want to see the items I've forgotten about or wish I'd never spent money on.  I want to know how I messed up.  Why?  For me, those feelings are an excellent reminder that I'm nowhere close to perfect, and that I want to continue to improve.  I don't mean that I will never purchase anything again, just that I want to get better at controlling impulse spending that leads to waste and clutter.

By figuring out the ways in which I'm tempted and where I'm making mistakes, I can pinpoint specific areas I want to improve.

For example, I might notice when I examine the credit card statement that we ate in restaurants thirteen times last month.  We need to keep such meals to less than half that number.  Why did we go out so much?  What can I change to get where I want to be?

Maybe I notice that I bought four books one month (not for gifts).  What was the reason for that?  Am I really making sensible book purchases, or should I be using the library more often?  How can I be better at determining which books I want to own for the long term as opposed to books I simply want to be able to read?

How can I be more intentional about my purchases?

If I'm finding forgotten and barely-worn clothes and shoes in my closet, I don't need to buy clothes again for a long while.  Ditto books, hobby supplies, downloaded music and movies, or anything else.  Maybe a spending fast in in order, at least for a month or two, and maybe even longer.

If I'm finding "extra" items on grocery store receipts, it's a sure sign that I need to be shopping with a grocery list.  I have far fewer unplanned purchases when I use a list.

If I'm finding too many meals out, or too many visits to Starbucks, I need to think about which behaviors I can adjust in order to change that outcome.  Maybe

  • I need to plan meals that are very easy and quick to make at home.
  • I need to use my slow cooker more often.
  • I need to cook more double batches so I can have ready-made meals in the freezer.
  • I need to carve out a cozy nook where I can sit and read and enjoy my coffee, the way I do when I visit the shop.

If I'm finding forgotten or regretful purchases in my Amazon order history, I definitely need to visit Amazon less often and make purchases less convenient.  Maybe

  • I need to add items that interest me to my shopping cart and then leave the site.
  • I need to give myself a "cooling off" period to keep me from purchasing things that are just an impulsive interest, rather than something I really need or want.
  • I need to cancel my Prime membership and decide if an item is worth the added shipping cost.
  • I need to remove credit card information from my account so that the purchasing process becomes slower and more thoughtful.

Mindful, intelligent spending helps me avoid clutter, debt, and stress.  When I examine forgotten purchases, and I feel that buyer's remorse, I start asking these questions and searching for answers.

It's the only way to make a change.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Why Minimalism is Better for Kids

Photo by Bruno Nascimento on Unsplash

The typical American family is drowning in stuff:  toys, clothes, electronics, trophies, paper, plastic.  It's a privilege to be able to afford this abundance, but when it comes to our kids, we're a nation of hyper-consumers.  Perhaps you've seen this statistic:  the US is home to just 3% of the world's children, but consumes 40% of the world's toys.

I'm going to let that sink in for just a moment....

Cut the toys in half, and the number would remain overabundant.  Cut the number in half again, and it's still more than enough!

Obviously, we all want our children and grandchildren to be happy.  That's the impetus for buying all of the toys, clothes, and other items.  But the avalanche of stuff is doing more harm than good.

Attachment to a toy or a blanket is a natural stage of child development.  Psychologists call these "transitional objects" -- items that help comfort a child as he transitions from being emotionally dependent on parents and caregivers to having a bit more independence.  The "mine!" stage begins at about age 2, and by the age of 6 kids place special value on the things they own.

But while attachment to one or two special toys is healthy, the idea that it's necessary to have a lot of possessions is learned from us.

We know that advertisers want to create desire.  When we are exposed to advertising (or to other people who have been exposed to advertising), we may come to believe that certain products will make us happier or more popular and acceptable to others.  Our ad-fueled insecurities might cause us to buy designer clothes, electronic gadgets, cars, trips, houses and more so that we can establish ourselves as valuable and worthwhile.

This really becomes a problem when it spills over onto our kids.  We buy the toys, the clothes, the classes, and more so that they won't be odd or left out.  They see other kids whose parents do the same, they interact with ad-filled media, and their sense of personal worth becomes skewed as well.

Minimalism creates the space, the time, and the freedom for family relationships to stop revolving around physical possessions.  As Peter Bregman, author of Leading With Emotional Courage, explains:  "When we set out to simplify, what we're really saying is 'I want to focus on the things that matter most to me.'"

For those of us with children, that definitely includes them.

5 Reasons to Raise a Minimalist

1.  Clutter can overwhelm children and increase their stress.
Kim John Payne, a family counselor and author of Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier and More Secure Kids, says that it's better to teach children to own less, and to keep those few belongings organized.  "Keeping a room or house orderly can make your life feel more orderly," he writes.  Peaceful, tidy surroundings can help your child stay calm and focused.

2.  Owning less saves time and reduces arguments.
We've all become frustrated with toys scattered all over the house.  It can cause some unpleasant interactions with our kids.  Yet the glut of belongings may be impossible for them to deal with.  They may not be able to clean up their rooms and play areas because they are overwhelmed.  Owning fewer items means that each item can have a home, and that cleaning up can become a matter of a few focused minutes rather than a time-consuming impossibility.

3.  Learning to consume less is a way to practice discipline.
We all want our children to grow into responsible adults, and self-discipline is a part of that.  "Kids who don't learn to exist within boundaries may become adults who don't set them," says blogger Joshua Becker, author of The Minimalist Home: A Room-by-Room Guide to a Decluttered, Refocused Life.  This doesn't mean you have to limit your child to three toys on a white shelf.  Give him control over a clearly defined space, such as a container or a closet where he can keep anything he wants, as long as it fits within that physical boundary.

4.  Your child will feel more secure with less emphasis on consumerism.
It's hard for a child to learn she is a worthwhile human being when we have taught her, from babyhood, that she is what she owns.  If one of the main ways we show our kids that we love them, or that we think they are good or special, is to buy them things, kids will certainly equate acceptance and happiness with stuff.  Start trying to limit that stuff, and you may uncover some worry and insecurity in your child, a lack of self-worth fostered by repeated trips to the mall.

5.  Less shopping enables you to teach other values.
Let's be honest.  When we continually shop for ourselves and our children, it doesn't matter how many sermons on selflessness, sharing, justice, gratitude, and eco-awareness we or others preach.  The stronger message is that stuff will make us happy, and that self-gratification is always okay.  We set an example of always needing more, and of perpetual spending.  We model a style of living that exceeds what our planet can sustain.  Even when the constant purchases are experiences rather than things, the repeated lesson is one of entitlement and greed.

A simpler lifestyle reduces clutter and anxiety, obviously.  But it also creates time for family play and conversation, and leaves room for a healthier self-image and more positive values to bloom.  And isn't that what you really want for your kids?

P.S.  If you liked this post, you'll be interested in the new book I'm working on.  It's called The Minimalist Family, and I'll be sharing more information as we get closer to the publication date!

Monday, January 13, 2020

Do Your Own Death Cleaning

"Do not ever imagine that anyone will wish -- or be able -- to schedule time off to take care of what you didn't bother to take care of yourself.  No matter how much they love you, don't leave this burden to them."
Margareta Magnusson The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning 

My mother passed away last February, and I'm glad for her sake that she suffered from dementia.  She never knew how much care she needed during the last two years of her life, and especially during the last six months, when she could no longer do anything for herself.  She would never have wanted to require that level of care; she would have felt that it made her a burden.

None of us wants to be a burden on our loved ones, either at the end of our life or afterward.  And yet that is what we may be without even realizing it.

Don't believe me?  Here's a simple question:  What will happen to all of your stuff when you die?  I don't mean your property or other assets that may be covered by your will.  I'm talking about your stuff -- the stuff in your house right now.  Your clothes and shoes and furniture and kitchenware and books and mementos.

Of course, some of that is stuff you need, because you use it every day, week, or month.  Other stuff is just sitting in cupboards and closets and under the bed and in the basement.  Once you die, all of that stuff has to go somewhere.  And if you leave it, that means someone you love -- your surviving spouse, your sibling, or your child -- has to go through all of it and decide what to do with each item.  Imagine it, or if you've had to do that chore for someone else, remember what it was like and how you felt about it.

Maybe you were lucky and there wasn't the clutter and accumulation of decades.  Maybe your loved one left clear instructions, or at least suggestions, about what to do with everything.  Maybe you had a lovely time reminiscing with other family members as you cleared out a house in a matter of a day or two.

Or maybe you walked into a typical home, a home with many thousands of items, most of them unused for a long time.  Maybe you felt overwhelmed, frustrated, annoyed, burdened, even a bit angry as you were forced to spend weeks sorting through the detritus of a lifetime.

In Sweden there's a custom called death cleaning, described by Margareta Magnusson in her book The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family From a Lifetime of Clutter.  Magnusson writes that death cleaning is when you "remove unnecessary things and make your home nice and orderly when you think the time is coming closer for you to leave the planet."

When you declutter, you remove excess belongings in order to make room and time for the things that have value to you.  You unburden yourself so that you're free to pursue the goals and activities that bring you joy and fulfillment.  Death cleaning goes a step further, since it removes the burden from others of deciding what to do with your possessions.

Life becomes more pleasant and comfortable if we get rid of some of the abundance.

It's a little like staging your home for sale.  When you stage a home, you keep only the essentials so that prospective buyers get a feel for the space and amenities your home has to offer.  You're still living there, so the house isn't empty, but it's neat, clean, uncrowded, and inviting.  It's suggested that you reduce your personal items to 1/2 or 1/3 of what you had in each room before you decided to list the house.  Sometimes homeowners go through the staging process and decide they like their home better than they did before!

6 Death Cleaning Tasks

1.  Declutter down to your essential needs and wants.
Create a home for each item you keep.

2.  Decide which remaining items have special significance.
Leave details about your wishes for these heirlooms, whether furniture, musical instruments, art, wedding rings, photographs, or other mementos.  Your loved ones will appreciate the story behind these items, so write it now!

Now is the time to have conversations about whether or not your loved ones want certain items at all.  Their decision is not a reflection of their feelings for you, so do not make anyone feel an obligation.  Remember you are trying to remove burdens, not create them.

3.  Create an inventory to explain where you want everything else to go.
The majority of your belongings are not items you expect your loved ones to keep after your death, so make a list by category, explaining where you want things to be donated.  Consider your:
  • auto
  • furniture
  • clothing and shoes
  • jewelry and accessories
  • kitchenware
  • linens
  • books
  • artwork and decorative items

4.  Get your financial affairs in order.
If you do not have a will, decide where you want your assets to go after you die, and invest a little money to have one made.  Buy a small fireproof safe to store your important documents and a list of user names and passwords for access to banking, investments, life insurance, and other accounts.  Make sure that one or two of your loved ones is authorized to deal with these if you become seriously ill or pass away.

5.  Make a keepsake box of things to be thrown away after your death.
Magnusson writes that she kept a box with "things that have absolutely no value to anyone else, but enormous value for me."  Only you know what might belong in this box.

6.  Plan your funeral.
Create a document that describes your specific wishes for a memorial service and burial.  Share this information with a loved one.  List your preferences for:
  • location
  • officiant
  • music 
  • readings
  • flowers
  • attendees

Death is a reality, and we might as well prepare for it.  Whether you are 40, 60, 80, or more, healthy or not, think about your legacy.  Write your three sentence eulogy.  You know how you want to be remembered, and it isn't for piles of unused and disorganized junk that has to be waded through and dealt with after you're gone.

Photo by Todd Cravens on Unsplash

Friday, January 10, 2020

We Have Something In Common

Photo by Thom Holmes on Unsplash

Dear Readers,

When I was growing up, I sometimes imagined the year 2000, but I never ever thought of 2020.  It sounds a bit like science fiction, doesn't it?

Sometimes, when you listen to the news of unrest and violence in the world, the escalating effects of climate change, the widening gap between rich and poor, the increasing reliance on technology instead of our own memories, intelligence, and physical abilities... it's easy to worry and fear the future.

Fear of the unknown is a natural human response.  We all have that "fight or flight" instinct, and we all probably lean more to one side or the other.  In the face of a challenging unknown, my brother is likely to become aggressive and take risks.  His "fight" instinct is stronger than mine.  I'm more likely to fret and hang back, to try and assess all possibilities before committing myself.

I want to be a person of faith and hope.  I want to take care of real life difficulties with patience, humor, energy, and positive feelings about the eventual outcome.  I want to remember that beauty and kindness and blessings are also daily realities.  But I must admit that I rarely come close to this ideal.

That's the trouble with trust.  It's always needed when we can't see the final outcome of our circumstances.  The nature of faith is hope when we can't see, and peace when we don't know.  But we want to see, and we want to know.

There is a story that applies to this in the New Testament of the Bible, in the book of Mark, chapter 9.  A man brings his (possibly) epileptic son to Jesus, hopeful that Jesus can heal the boy.  Obviously, the father has heard about Jesus healing other people, but believing in miracles is difficult.  The desperate man wants to believe, he's trying to believe, and he says to Jesus, with great honesty, "Lord, I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!" (verse 24)

This is the foundation prayer of faith.  It acknowledges our human inability to completely trust what we cannot understand or anticipate or control, and it expresses our longing to rest in God's care.

We have something in common.  When I look at the audience stats for this blog, I can see that a great many of you live in the United States, as I do.  Thousands of you are from Canada, the UK, Australia.  Even more are from Germany, the Netherlands, France, Spain, and other European nations.  And there are hundreds of readers from China, Japan, Israel, Hong Kong, Indonesia, South Africa, and other countries around our world.  Yet we all share an interest in minimalism, which tells me we're all aware that we have an abundance of possessions and responsibilities, many of which we're grateful for, and some which weigh us down.

And we all wonder what the future will bring.  We may feel excited by it, or fearful of it, or somewhere in between, but all of us have reason to expect difficulties and challenges as well as blessings and accomplishments in the future.

So this is my prayer for all of us:  that we will have hope, optimism, gratitude, enthusiasm, contentment, and "the peace of God, which transcends all understanding." (Philippians 4:7)

Happy New Year!

Monday, January 6, 2020

What Gets You Out Of Bed?

Photo by Alexandra Gorn on Unsplash

What makes you get out of bed, excited to begin the day?  I'm willing to bet it isn't a new outfit or doodad for your home, or even a new car.  Isn't it more likely to be

  • a long-anticipated event, such as a trip you've planned?
  • a challenge, such as opening night of the play you're in?
  • a visit with a much-missed loved one?
  • the beginning of a new project, or the long-awaited completion of a project?

Some of those things don't cost money.  They don't involve shopping at all.  A pleasure that quickly fades, like buying a new phone or eating another meal out, will never cause you to jump out of bed in the morning.

Bertrand Russell, one of the most influential philosophers of the 20th century, struggled with depression -- even contemplated suicide -- as a teen.  As an adult, he sought to discover the root causes of happiness and unhappiness -- the factors that would either make you excited to get out of bed in the morning or not.

In his 1930 classic, The Conquest of Happiness, Russell wrote that "zest" was the common attribute of happy people.  "Zest" is synonymous with enthusiasm, eagerness, and energy.  To Russell, having zest for life meant being active, creative, interested in the world around you, and ready to learn new things.  A sense of wonder and appreciation would add zest to a person's life.

Does social media increase my zest for life?  If not, then why should I spend so much time on it?

Does having 100 pieces of clothing in my closet increase my zest for life, or might I feel even better if I simply owned 10 flattering and comfortable outfits?  If that is so, why am I spending time and money shopping for more?

Does a weekend slouched in front of televised sports increase anyone's zest for life, or might a hike in the woods, a pick-up basketball game, a bike ride, or even the accomplishment of a few garden chores do a better job?

Does good coffee increase my zest for life?  Okay, maybe.  It might make sense to seek out the best cup of coffee for a reasonable price.

Minimalism can help you discover what really brings value to your life.  You will realize that an uncluttered home, a more open schedule, and victory over debt leave you with energy, time, and money to pursue what matters to you.  You'll spend less time living through a screen and more time appreciating the beauties of the real world.  You may uncover talents and interests you didn't even notice before.

You will increase your zest.

Those activities, events, and challenges that make you excited to get up in the morning will have more room to flourish because of minimalism.  You will stop passively consuming retail goods or prepackaged entertainment and become actively engaged.  In fact, you'll have more freedom to give your complete attention to the things that bring you joy.

You may even experience what psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls flow.  One is completely immersed in an activity, loses track of time, and forgets her problems.  This state of happiness is triggered by concentration, and is rarely possible until distractions and non-essential things are reduced or eliminated.

It sounds like minimalism facilitates flow.

The activities that enable us to experience flow will bring long-lasting satisfaction, unlike following social media, watching another football game, or buying new shoes.  We should certainly enjoy the little bursts of pleasure available from drinking ice water on a hot day, laughing with our kids, curling up with a good book and a cup of tea on a rainy afternoon, watching the sunset, or kissing the people we love.  But having one or two activities that enable us to use and increase our enthusiasm, talent, attention, craftsmanship, patience, and problem-solving creativity will also increase our life's happiness.

Which activities do those things for you?


Friday, January 3, 2020

Choose Joy

This is a reprint of an article I wrote as a guest author for, originally published on December 20, 2019.  I think it's worth starting the New Year with this message.

Photo by Andreas Kretschmer on Unsplash

Self-talk is the voice inside your head.  It makes no sound, but it's a constant narrator.  It controls your decisions, your actions, and your attitude toward yourself and your experience of the world.  And for most of us, self-talk is negative.

We may put on a good show, but many of us are mired in negative self-talk.  Have you noticed?  That insistent voice has added to your stress and anxiety for years, maybe even decades.  It has magnified your worries and lessened your happiness.  It turns small problems into big ones, and overlooks or plays down all that is lovely and praiseworthy.  It steals your joy.

Stop it!  Stop giving negative self-talk the upper hand.  We all have the power to choose:  Fear or faith?  Anxiety or peace?  I know what I want.  Don't you want it too?

Is is possible to be happy all of the time?  Probably not.  Is it possible to be miserable all of the time?  Definitely.  A negative mindset can ruin every single day.

The world isn't perfect, and troubles and disappointments will come.  But don't let yourself sink under negative chatter.  Make the positive choice.

5 Practices to Help You Choose Joy Every Day

1.  Be mindful.
In order to stand guard and stop negative self-talk in its tracks, you have to be aware of it.  You may not have the habit of noticing your inner chatter.  Take two minutes each morning or evening to sit quietly, eyes closed, looking inward.  Listen, and don't judge.

You may hear a barrage of criticism:  "I'm not good enough.  I'm not smart enough.  I'm too old.  Too fat.  Too tired.  This is too hard.  Too boring.  My life isn't going anywhere.  I don't want to.  I can't.  He doesn't care about me.  No one really appreciates me.  I have nothing to look forward to."  On and on and on.

2.  Speak the truth.
Don't argue with your inner voice, simply speak the truth.  Say it out loud, if it helps.  "That's not true."  None of it is true.

If a friend spoke those hopeless words about herself to you, your response would be, "That's not true.  None of those things are true."  And you would go on to remind her of her strengths, her talents, her opportunities.  She's not perfect -- no one is -- but she's growing and learning and accomplishing much day by day.

Be as kind to yourself as you would be to a friend.  Sure, you've had troubles and setbacks, and maybe you're in the middle of dealing with some of them right now, but you're dealing with them.  You have so much to offer, and your negative voice is a liar.

3.  Resist excuses.
Sometimes (and I write this kindly, because I've done it too), it's easier to let the negative voice be in charge.  It's easier to say, "Well, it hasn't worked before, so I can't do anything to change."  Resist that.  Push back against inertia.  Change is hard, but the reward is great.  You are capable of creating a worthwhile, contented life for yourself, regardless of your circumstances.

4.  Journal your gratitude.
The practice of gratitude changes you.  When you focus on what you're grateful for, you essentially crowd out your more negative thoughts.  And since the brain constantly looks for things that prove what you already believe (it's called confirmation bias), by regularly scanning your life for what's good, your mind will start finding even more good things for you to appreciate.

Most of us have a lot to be happy about, even if we don't think so.  And if we spend more time focusing on those good things -- cultivating gratitude -- we will feel happier.  Gratefulness leads to happiness.  It's an essential part of a quality life.

We need to break the habit of negativity.  That defeated, pessimistic attitude has gotten easier with practice.  So we need to make a conscious effort to develop a habit of gratitude.

This is where a journal can be so beneficial.  Actually writing down what you're thankful for forces you to slow down, be more mindful, and really pay attention to the goodness in your life.

Buy a notebook, and establish a two minute morning or evening routine.

5.  Listen to Mr. Rogers.
Take a minute to think about those who have helped you become who you are today.  Fred Rogers said:

Anyone who has ever been able to sustain a good work has had at least one person, and often many, who have believed in him or her.  We just don't get to be competent human beings without a lot of different investments from others.... 
Wherever they are, if they've loved you, and encouraged you, and wanted what was best in life for you, they're right inside yourself.  And I feel that you deserve quiet time... to devote some thought to them.  So, let's just take a minute, in honor of those that have cared about us all along the way.  One silent minute. 

I dare you to do this and not end up feeling blessed, guided, and nurtured.  There may be tears.  People will come to your remembrance, some you have not thought of for a long time.

Mr. Rogers also said that "the greatest thing we can do is to let people know that they are loved and capable of loving."

So I'm going to say it:  You deserve joy, and what is good in the deepest part of you is so valuable.  Don't let it be smothered by a negative inner voice.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Are You Ready For a Reset?

Photo by Danielle Macinnes on Unsplash

It's January 1:  a new year, a new decade, and a time when many people are thinking of a new start.

Now, I don't mean that your past needs to be dumped, or that you must leave your loved ones and launch into the world with nothing but a backpack.  I'm not saying you need to move house, change careers, or end relationships.

When my husband and I had to give up our house after the 2008 economic downturn, we could have decided to blame others and become bitter and mired in our own mistakes.  Instead, we chose to be thankful for the opportunity to start over and to find out how little our happiness depended on where we lived or what we owned.  We decided to reset, and it brought freedom, peace, and hope in place of the entrapment, stress, and regret we had lived with for too long.

A reset lets you get back to basics, to challenge assumptions and habits that have crept into your life.  It lets you notice and give thanks for all of the good stuff, and to start to free yourself from some not-so-good stuff.

Does your life need a reset?  One of the most wonderful things we possess is the freedom to change.  Just because you've made certain choices in the past doesn't mean you can't change your future.  Yes, there are consequences that may need to be faced, and it may sometimes be hard to see a new way forward, but rarely is there no hope at all.

If you're feeling discouraged about your diet, your fitness, your budget, the clutter in your home, or some other facet of your life, you  may not realize the strength and positive energy you possess.  It may have lain dormant for a while, overwhelmed by busyness, social media addictions, or a desire to keep up with whichever influencer you favor.

But it's there, that core of durability and your human capacity to grow and adapt.  You just need to access it.

What will you learn about yourself as you practice making changes?

  • If you live on a tighter budget, you'll discover how resourceful you can be, and how to have fun and satisfaction without spending much money.
  • If you stop using credit cards and begin to dig yourself out of debt, you'll find out how much determination you have, and experience lightness and hope as you free up resources.
  • If you take control of your health, either to exercise more, to improve your diet, or to get more sleep, you'll discover that you can, in fact, control your body and your mindset while creating more energy and vigor.
  • If you choose to give up alcohol, or cigarettes, or sugar, you'll realize that you don't need to be under the influence of anything to have -- or to be -- fun, relaxed, or lively.
  • If you control your shopping and stop the unregulated inflow of stuff, you'll demonstrate willpower and self-reliance.  You'll find that you're happier when you're no longer focused on what you can acquire.
  • If you reevaluate your time commitments, you can overcome your fear of missing out, rediscover a sense of purpose, and put your energy toward those pursuits that fulfill your talents and your calling.
  • If you focus on your most important relationships, you may realize that social media is sometimes helpful and often a hindrance to a happy social life, and that eye contact, touch, and trust are indispensable.

It's 2020.  Are you ready for a reset?  Minimalism can help.

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