Friday, July 31, 2020

Don't Wait to Downsize

Maybe you're like me, and you've helped a newly-widowed parent pack up and sell their home.

You've spent days (maybe even weeks) going through drawers and closets and boxes full of stuff, deciding what to do with old books, papers, paintings, furniture, towels, knickknacks, DVDs (or even VHS tapes), dishes, mementos, small appliances, tools, and more.

You've had to decide what to give away, what to sell, what to throw away, and what to remove to a new dwelling that is half or a quarter of the size of the home they're leaving.

And you've had to do all of this while your grieving parent turned their focus from the lost spouse to the often dusty and unused possessions they're losing.  Instead of using their time and energy to begin to recover and move on to what is left of their own life, they're worrying about the loss of their belongings.  My mother said she felt like she was losing everything.

And then a few years later, when that parent dies, you go through the process all over again.  This time you're dealing with your own feelings as a newly-orphaned adult, and you have a bit more understanding of how your parent felt.  All of those tangible reminders, those physical possessions, seem so poignant.

Can you part with them, or does it feel like you're losing everything?

Fortunately, by the time my mother passed away, I had a lot of minimalist habits in place, and I wasn't very tempted to keep her stuff.  I didn't need to transport or store anything.

After all, she and my dad had already given me a great legacy:  happy memories, life lessons, and plenty of love.

Decluttering has become a global trend in affluent countries, led by advocates like Marie Kondo, Peter Walsh, and Joshua Becker.  There's also the "gentle art" of Swedish death cleaning, which is the process of mindfully clearing out one's own possessions before others have to do it for you.

Many of us live in homes that hold far too much, and we find it hard to declutter unless and until something forces us to do so.  But downsizing in distress, because of illness, financial difficulty, natural disaster, or death, is even more difficult.

To me, it makes better sense to remove the excess and live in something smaller long before the inevitable happens.  I don't want to be surrounded by a bunch of useless stuff when I die. 

There are some things I need because I use them every day, week, or month.  I have to bathe and dress, after all.  I have to cook and eat.  I need a bed, a table, and a comfortable chair.  There are a few books, photos, and pieces of art that make me happy.  I have a couple of hobbies.

But I can live comfortably, lightly, enjoyably without a huge number of possessions.  And it's likely that you can too.  No matter what your age, it might be time to consider death cleaning.  

And consider your legacy.  It's not a house, or furniture, or cars, or collections, or a storage unit full of boxes.  Your legacy is your talents and accomplishments, your humor, your wisdom, your compassion and love.

What kind of life do you need to live in order for people to remember the things you want them to remember about you?

Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

Monday, July 27, 2020

A Minimalist Decorates

Some trinkets multiply.  One figurine becomes a set.  One photograph becomes a gallery wall.  People collect cameras, globes, vintage signs, ironstone pitchers, old tools, dolls – almost anything.

Even if you put together a collection over many years, and pay only a few dollars for each item at a thrift store or tag sale, you still need shelves and curios to house it all, and you'll be dusting it forever.

In traditional Japanese homes, décor is kept to a minimum.  Usually just one or two items are displayed in a small alcove called a tokonoma.

The tokonoma often holds a calligraphic scroll or painting, along with a bonsai, an orchid, or a simple flower arrangement.  The items are appropriate to the season, like spring blossoms or fall foliage, and express an appreciation for both art and nature.

You don't have to create a Japanese interior with tatami mats, translucent shoji screens, and square low-slung furniture to put the concept of a tokonoma into practice.  You don't need a special alcove, since a table or mantel shelf will do.

My style is not Japanese, but I have a coffee table in my living room.  On it, I sometimes display a pitcher holding roses or agapanthus from our garden, or a branch from a tree.  Other times I use a platter to hold a candle and some pinecones collected on a walk through the park, or shells and sea glass picked up at the beach, or some of my husband's mineral specimens.

On the wall over the couch I've hung a large painting that I love.

Except for a framed photo of our grandsons on the bookshelf, and a couple of green plants, that's the extent of our living room décor.

As a minimalist, I'm drawn to the tokonoma concept for several reasons:

  • It puts a spotlight on one or two special items, letting them shine rather than compete for attention in a crowd of knickknacks.
  • It discourages over-accumulation of decorative objects.
  • It provides an easy opportunity to celebrate the beauties of nature and the changing seasons.
  • It allows for a little change and a fresh look on a regular basis.
  • It's personal rather than mass-produced and factory-made.

Could you limit yourself to just one collection?  Could you let a single item be the focus of a wall, tabletop, or mantel?  What would you put in a tokonoma?

Photo by Oriento on Unsplash

Friday, July 24, 2020

JOMO: Make Staying In Fun

With COVID-19 cases surging once again, now is not the time to try to do more.  And haven't we learned that when we're rushed and stressed by trying to do it all, we don't do anything well, and we miss out on the little moments that bring us joy?  So really, COVID or no COVID, we need to respect the fact that our time and energy are finite.

Instead of trying to do more, we need to make the most of doing less.

The Joy of Missing Out is defined by as "a feeling of contentment with one's own pursuits and activities, without worrying over the possibility of missing out on what others may be doing."

The concept of JOMO is liberating.  It makes life more peaceful.  It frees you from the hold that social media, advertising, and celebrity lifestyles might have.  It allows you to feel positive and secure about yourself, your choices, and your beliefs. 

When you stop worrying about missing out, you can concentrate on making home more fun.  And that's a great thing to do when choices are limited by lockdown, social distancing, or finances.

30 Stay-At-Home Activities

  1. Look at old photos, reminisce, and laugh about your bad hair.
  2. Play a favorite board game.
  3. Camp in your backyard (don't forget the s'mores).
  4. Enjoy a relaxing lavender bath.
  5. Make your favorite comfort food.
  6. Plan a Pixar movie festival with films such as Toy Story, Up, Inside Out, Finding Nemo, and Wall-E.
  7. Stargaze.  Go outside on a clear evening, preferably away from city lights, and look up.  Use an app such as SkyView Free if you don't know what you're looking at.  Spread some blankets, lay on your back, and be amazed by the universe.
  8. Take a virtual museum tour (both kids and adults will love these).
  9. Have a 90s romantic comedy movie marathon.
  10. Make lemonade.
  11. Start a container garden.  Try herbs (such as mint, rosemary, basil, thyme), veggies (such as tomatoes, peas, radishes, salad greens), or flowers (try impatiens, petunias, geraniums, or miniature roses).
  12. Remove breakables and have a Nerf battle in your living room.  Use tables or cardboard boxes as bunkers.
  13. Make a scrapbook.  Possible themes include "Baby's First Year," "Family Holidays Through the Years," even "2020: Life With Coronavirus."  Print photos and place them on fancy scrapbook paper; add stickers, drawings, and journal entries.  Keep the book for yourself or give it as a gift.
  14. Join an online game like Words with Friends.
  15. Dance like no one's watching.
  16. Watch a classic musical and sing along.  Try The Sound of Music, Oklahoma, South Pacific, My Fair Lady, Oliver, Fiddler on the Roof, Mary Poppins, Chicago, or La La Land.
  17. Calm your mind and body by sitting quietly outside and using all of your senses.  What do you see, hear, and smell?  What can you feel with your hands and on your skin?  Try new herbs and spices, and pay attention to the flavors of food.
  18. Choose a new game and learn to play.
  19. Tackle some small home improvement projects, such as replacing a showerhead or the drawer pulls on your kitchen cabinets.  Paint an accent wall or your front door.  Even something as simple as moving the furniture can freshen your rooms.
  20. Write a letter to your future self.  One year, five years, or ten years from now, what do you want to remember?  What do you want to have done?  Hand write, or create a digital version to be emailed on a specific future date.
  21. Hang a hummingbird feeder from an eave near a window.  Flowers such as zinnias and salvia are easy to grow and will also appeal to hummingbirds.
  22. Have a water gun fight on a hot day.
  23. Set up a make-your-own-sundae bar.
  24. Listen to some of your favorite music from high school, and sing along.
  25. Choose an actor or actress and create a film festival of his or her work to enjoy over several evenings or on a lazy Sunday.  For a truly wide variety of entertainment, consider performers such as Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep, Christian Bale, Octavia Spencer, Leonardo DiCaprio, or Joaquin Phoenix.
  26. Do the 36 Questions.  In 2015, Mandy Len Catron published an essay in the New York Times about a study that successfully used these questions to increase romantic feelings and intimacy between two people.
  27. Watch an informative, inspirational TED talk.
  28. Get coloring!  There are many intricate adult coloring books, but why not try a Disney or superheroes coloring book to revisit a pastime you loved as a kid?
  29. Lie on a blanket in the grass and watch the clouds.
  30. Write a list of things for which you are thankful.  Try to get to 100.

I have many more suggestions like these.  If you're interested, use the Contact Form way down at the bottom of the page to request a PDF.

Photo by K. Trefzger

Monday, July 20, 2020

Be Kind, Be Smart, and Stay Safe

Here we go again – and it's really our own fault.

The majority of states in the US are showing a marked upswing in cases of COVID-19.  Due to this resurgence, the State of California has once again closed restaurants, bars, movie theaters, museums, and more.  In some counties (including mine), fitness centers, churches, and personal services like hair salons and my son's massage therapy facility have also been closed.

Most of the spike in illness represents more community transmission.  In other words, many of us have become complacent about the disease, tired of restrictions, and lax about wearing face masks, social distancing, and hand washing.  Too many people are ignoring the guidelines, even though individual behavior is so important in controlling the virus.

And since so many people who test positive for COVID-19 are asymptomatic (they get tested because they were exposed to someone who is sick), there could be a lot of people out there spreading the disease without even knowing it.

Apparently, we started thinking "I've been stuck inside for months, and it's time to go out.  I'm bored and it's my right!"  Starting on Memorial Day weekend at the end of May, many people went back to their routines of shopping, dining out, and having large social events.  This might be fine if everyone wore masks and kept their distance.  But many people have not (I've seen it), and there's even been a rise in mask-free "pandemic parties" (here's how to party safely).

Since when have "our rights" come to mean complete disregard for other people?  Without common courtesy, societies fall apart.  It is common courtesy to think about other people, not just yourself.

Teachers may be returning to school with fewer students on alternate days, or no students at all and the unsatisfactory alternative of online lessons.  Musicians, actors, stage crews, and other entertainment sector workers are looking at gigs postponed until 2021.  Businesses which offer services we want face closure and bankruptcy.  And just telling these people to "find something new" isn't going to solve the problems they face today.  Many, many people want to work, but cannot.

So be kind, be smart, and stay safe.  Wear that mask or face shield.  Smile, but keep your distance.  Don't get lazy or in a hurry about washing your hands.  Stay home as much as you can.  And if your income is secure, be thankful, and consider how you might help someone else in a less stable situation.

Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash

Friday, July 17, 2020

One True Need

We interact with machines all day, every day.  I'm currently writing on my computer while streaming classical radio online.  My phone is charging on the table next to me.  I'm waiting for the cycle on my washing machine to end so I can put the towels and jeans into the dryer.  I'm enjoying cool air from a fan, and drinking tea cooled in my refrigerator with ice produced in my freezer.  My husband is driving our car to the bank and the grocery store.

We rely on these machines.  They truly make our modern lives possible.  I wouldn't want to do without them, but obviously people have.  If I had to, I'd adapt.

What none of us can do without is nature.  We can't live without sun and rain, healthy soil, and the plants that grow in it.

We need birds and bees and insects.  And who hasn't felt joy on hearing a robin in spring, or a meadowlark singing as it rises into the air?

We need trees to absorb carbon dioxide and produce oxygen, for shade and cooling, and to provide beauty, solace, and retreat.

We need mountains to provide a watershed and to support entire ecosystems, and the oceans, which regulate climate and make it possible for the Earth to support life.  Both provide adventure and inspire awe and wonder.

We are part of nature.  Everything that we require comes from nature.

I've written before that I'm not naturally athletic and outdoorsy.  But my love of nature has grown.  Now I can't understand why everyone doesn't care about the Earth.

We might think we care because we recycle, drive a hybrid, or have some solar panels on the roof.  But otherwise we unthinkingly buy so much cheap clothing, factory-produced food, air travel, and lots of stuff we don't need.

I live in a country where most people enjoy a lifestyle that would have been unimaginable to people of the past.  According to the Global Footprint Network, if everyone lived like the average American, we would need five planet Earths to supply our desires.

That's simply impossible.  Unsustainable.  No matter what story we tell ourselves about untapped sources of oil or higher-yield crops or improved energy efficiency, the Earth is finite.  That means its resources – even if some currently remain undiscovered – are finite.

Yet our desires seem to be infinite.

How is it possible for us to think that our lifestyle can continue as it is?  Why are we so unaware of reality?

Maybe it's because we spend so much time with machines, so much time inside buildings and cars, so much time surrounded by asphalt and cement.  We breathe mechanically heated and cooled air, and most of the sounds we hear each day come from a computer, TV, or radio.

While surrounded by our machines, living in man-made environments, it's hard to believe in our dependence on nature.  When we go to the grocery store, and see produce from all over the world, and aisles full of highly processed and packaged foods, we seem to forget where it all comes from.  When we enter Target or Walmart, or shop online, we look only at the millions of products available, and never think about the natural resources that go into making them, or even more natural resources expended in shipping them to our doors.

It's not enough to declutter our homes and streamline our schedules.  We have to go further, and change our thinking.

We have to start thinking like people who really believe there is only one Earth.

We have one true need:  a healthy planet with intact ecosystems where we and our children and grandchildren can live.  A healthy planet that we can share with the other 7.5 billion people who live here.

It isn't enough to intellectually accept the facts and then go on with life as usual.  And whether we start by cutting meat from our diets, buying more unprocessed food that is grown closer to where we live, driving much less and walking or bicycling more, moving to a smaller house, using less heat and air conditioning, buying fewer clothes, shoes, and household goods, planting trees, or avoiding air travel, we must start.

Photo by Connor Simonson on Unsplash

Monday, July 13, 2020

Happier Without

If you think about it, there are a lot of things we own simply because almost everyone we know owns those things, or because someone gave them to us or convinced us we needed them.  

Unless you live in a large city, you probably own at least one car.  You might own a set of fancy dinnerware that only comes out at Thanksgiving and Christmas.  You might own knickknacks or books or sporting goods that simply gather dust.  Maybe you have chairs that no one ever sits in, or heirloom silverware that you have no time to polish.

Even though we're all constantly bombarded with the message to buy, buy, buy, it's hardly ever suggested that we might find greater satisfaction in not owning something.  But as a minimalist, I've learned that some of those "must have" items aren't, at least not for me.

1.  Television

When my husband happens to mention to his 6th grade students that we don't watch TV,  the response is always, "What do you DO at night?"  It's that lack of imagination we wanted to overcome when we decided to experiment with giving up television.

In 1996, our TV broke and we didn't replace it.  Five years later, we had read countless books aloud, played board games on hundreds of evenings, taken a lot of after-dinner walks, and pursued various hobbies.  In 2001, we bought a TV with a DVD player so we could occasionally watch movies.

I find that our home is more peaceful without constant voices, news, and commercials.  We read our news, remain focused on creative and learning pursuits and each other, and have more time than the average American who watches TV.  This is what works for us.

2.  Desk

I used to have a desk, but spent more time working at the dining table, which has a view of trees and grass.  My husband and I set up our laptops there, and put them and any other materials we're working with away before dinner every evening.  Since my desk used to stay covered with stuff, this new situation is much less cluttered.

If you want some instant decluttering gratification, I recommend ditching a piece or two of furniture, especially if, like my desk, the piece has simply become a place to pile clutter.

3.  Collectibles

When I was a kid, I collected coins and Holly Hobbie items (figurines, plates, pictures, dolls, a lunch box).  Later I collected antique quilts.  I don't remember what happened to the coins, I gave the Holly Hobbie collection to the Goodwill, and I eventually sold the quilts.

There are entire books dedicated to how to decorate your home with collectibles, but aside from the large amounts of money it is possible to spend acquiring them, there's also the cost of insuring and displaying these items.  They're no fun to pack up and move, and you're going to be dusting them forever.

I prefer the freedom of not owning.  I enjoy visiting museums, but I don't want to live in one.

4.  Hobby supplies

I'd rather not have a closetful (or roomful, or garageful) of hobby and/or sports equipment.  Therefore, I try to focus on minimalist hobbies – leisure and creative pursuits that don't involve the acquisition or storage of a lot of stuff.

I take walks.  I read books from the library and on my phone using Kindle Unlimited.  I write on my laptop.  I buy consumable books of extra-hard crossword puzzles.  I enjoy crochet and counted cross-stitch, and since I only buy what I need for each project I want to do, I only need to store a few essential tools.

My husband rides a bicycle, plays chess online, enjoys birding with binoculars and a field guide, and in non-COVID years listens to sports on the radio.

We both enjoy going to plays and musicals when possible.

Other minimalist hobbies could include:
  • meditation
  • yoga
  • container gardening
  • digital scrapbooking
  • running
  • visiting museums
  • going to movies
  • martial arts
  • going to the gym
  • drawing
  • skateboarding
  • sudoku
  • pick-up basketball at the park
  • knitting
  • journaling
  • volunteering

5.  Specialty kitchenware

I admit it – I'm not a fan of multi-step cooking.  The most involved dish I make is lasagna, maybe once a month.  I use fresh vegetables, so all I need is a cutting board, knife, and a large skillet to cook the veggies in.  A 9x13 baking dish, a mixing bowl, a cheese grater, a measuring cup and spoons, a slotted cooking spoon, and a spatula complete the equipment list (I use no-boil noodles).  The same equipment lets me bake a fruit crisp, tamale pie, and many other dishes.

I use my slow cooker often for chili, stew, spicy chicken with rice, even banana cake.  I have a large saucepan, a colander, a two-slice toaster, a teakettle, and a few other tools and utensils.  I've pared my dishware, glassware, and silverware to six place settings (which means we can host our family for a meal), plus a couple of sets of plastic dishes for our grandsons.

These few versatile pieces wouldn't be enough for a true chef (but then again, they might be).  Of course, if you love to bake, do your own canning, or regularly host more people for multi-course dinners, you'll need more equipment.  In that sense, having a minimalist kitchen requires some minor adjustments based on priorities, lifestyle, and family size.

6.  Perfume, nail polish, and makeup

I always thought I was allergic to perfume until I read that my headaches and asthma-like reactions were actually signs of chemical injury.  Fragrances are made with synthetic substances largely derived from petroleum products.  Many contain known carcinogens, neurotoxins, and endocrine disruptors.  I no longer use scented body products or detergents, except for Dr. Bronner's lavender bar soap.  Scented candles, too, are loaded with chemicals.  If I burn a candle, I prefer natural beeswax.

The chemical issues are also true of nail polish, remover, and makeup; and makeup is often tested on animals who endure appalling conditions.  I file and buff my nails and leave them naturally pale pink.

When I used to perform in operas and musicals I wore stage makeup – under bright stage lights you need makeup.  But most of us aren't onstage, and we really can do without makeup!  (Note:  I sometimes use Burt's Bees tinted lip balm.)  If you have a good haircut and clean hair, dress simply in clothes that suit your body type and coloring, and most importantly smile and radiate friendliness, practically no one will notice that you're not wearing makeup.  I'm almost 60, and I often get compliments on my good skin.

7.  Large wardrobe

I used to have a large walk-in closet packed full of clothing, and eventually pared down to about 12-15 pieces per season, plus sleepwear and a couple of winter coats.  Last year, as part of my ABCs of Minimalism series, I wrote about capsule wardrobes.

Incidentally, it's a great a idea to go through your closet and remove items you don't love or wear regularly right after returning from a trip.  When you live for a week with a small selection of clothes, you're reminded of how little you actually need.  You probably traveled with your favorite, most flattering, most comfortable and easy-care mix-and-match items – a perfect capsule wardrobe.

So tell me – what are you happier without?

Photo by Alla Hetman on Unsplash

Friday, July 10, 2020

MINIMALIST TOOL KIT: Action is the Key

"If wishes were horses, beggars would ride."

It's an old, old proverb, and unfortunately, it's true.  We can't wish our way to thinness, fitness, or a clutter-free home.  We can't simply push a button and get a world that provides a decent life for all without fossil fuel consumption or plastic waste.  We can't just buy a cure for all diseases or display a bumper sticker that will end all discrimination.

Change is never so easy.  It takes time.  Motivation.  Determination.  And hundreds, if not thousands, of small actions, repeated over and over.

I've been working on a counted cross-stitch Christmas stocking for my younger grandson.  When my children were very little, I made such stockings for each of them.  My daughter Elizabeth was happy to have me unpick the stitches of part of her name and change it to Elliot for my older grandson, so he's been using her vintage stocking (with my initials and the year – 1990 – stitched on the toe).  But my son Arthur wants to keep his stocking (created in 1993), so I decided to stitch a new one for Elliot's little brother Damien.  I found a pattern and bought the materials, but the design is very intricate, and so far I've put in about 90 hours on the project.

One stitch at a time, stitch after stitch after stitch.

This is my 200th blog post.  I've also written and published six books since I started blogging.  I can't count how many hours I've spent thinking, planning, researching, writing, rewriting, proofreading, formatting, and more in order to accomplish this.

Idea by idea, word by word, essay by essay.

I've had less success at losing weight.  I have many pounds to lose, 30 of which I've lost and regained several times.  So I know HOW to lose weight.  What I haven't succeeded at is the maintenance required to keep it off.  So food and exercise choices have to be made, not once or twice or even 50 or 100 times, but over and over forever.

Maybe you've wanted to declutter, and you've cleaned out a drawer or a closet or a room or more.  You've removed bags of stuff from your home.  You know HOW to declutter, but maintaining that decluttered state is what gives you problems.  You keep buying more clothes or more housewares or more stuff for your collections, and the clutter creeps in once again.  Decluttering is an event, but minimalist is a lifestyle you must choose every day.

One of the ways that advertisers keep us buying is by creating the feeling that we could be the people we want to be if only we had a new exercise bike, a sporty car, more stylish clothing, a remodeled home, or an exotic vacation.

How many purchases have we made to fulfill a wish of being different?

  • Cookbooks and diet plans we bought to help us lose weight
  • Gym memberships and fitness apps we bought to help us get in shape
  • Cosmetics we bought to make us look more desirable or more successful
  • Home entertainment systems we bought to create more family togetherness
  • All those eco-friendly products we bought to save the planet

I'm not saying these things are bad.  Some of them could be valuable tools, but only if we actually put them to use.

Change only happens when we figure out the motivations and habits that got us where we are, and create new beliefs and practices that will get us where we want to be.  We can't change by wishing for it, and we can't buy change in any store.

The good news is that we can make changes if we choose.  I don't need special diet food or a stack of cookbooks to get thinner – I know that eating more fruits and vegetables while cutting out desserts and processed foods will result in weight loss.  I don't need more tools.  I have the ability within myself to make a change.

There are a million excuses for avoiding change, because change is hard work.  Change is all of those stitches and all of those words.  Change is me saying no to all of those snacks, and you removing all of those excess items without bringing new clutter in.

Change requires us to leave our comfort zone, and even to risk failure.  It's easier to make excuses:  "I don't have time to write every day."  "Most of my family is obese.  It's in my genes."  "I'm just a clutterbug."  "I can never remember to bring my reusable bags/straw/water bottle."

But if we never try, we've already failed.

Start by establishing a small action to complete every day – something that, over the course of a few weeks, has the potential to become a strong habit.

  • Make oatmeal with fruit your regular breakfast and a big green salad or some vegetable soup your go-to lunch.
  • Jog in place or do some stretches at the top of every hour.
  • Read a book for 20 minutes.
  • Declutter for 5 minutes.
  • Stop buying bottled water and soda.
  • Refuse to bring your phone to the dinner table.
  • Pleasantly greet that problematic colleague every morning.
  • Spend 10 minutes quietly outside.
  • Create one clutter-free area such as a counter or tabletop.  Keep it that way.
  • Bring your own reusable beverage cup, straw, utensils, to-go food containers, cloth napkins (keep them all together in a reusable tote).
  • Set a bedtime that allows you to get 7 to 9 hours sleep every night.

You may think that such a small action won't make much difference.  But if you keep taking those tiny steps, you will move closer to your goal.  Like thousands of stitches, they add up to something substantial.

"Action is the foundational key to all success."          
Pablo Picasso

Photo by K. Trefzger


Monday, July 6, 2020

What Do You Miss?

My daughter texted after our video chat the other day, and said that our 4-year-old grandson had cried a bit after we ended our call.  His complaint was "I miss Grandma and Papa!"

I really miss him too, and I'm sorry he cried, but I'd rather have him cry about missing us or any other family member than about not getting a new toy or something else he wants.

The same is true for me, or anyone else who might express longing for something they miss.  

We should miss people, not possessions.

As we settle into the "new normal," what is it you miss about your old life?

  • The freedom to call a friend and meet for coffee or lunch?
  • The freedom to enter a store without a mask?
  • The freedom to attend a movie, concert, play, or sporting event in a theater or arena?

You might be missing steady employment, and if you're in that uncertain situation, I truly feel sorry for you.  My son, a massage therapist, has been unable to see clients for three months.  Another friend, a musician, has had all of his engagements cancelled until September.  They and many others are struggling right now.

However, do you really miss the busyness?  The constant rushing?  The endless consumerism?  The sense of entitlement and ingratitude that comes with certainty and comfort?

We need health, safety, and secure employment (which was not even assured in the "old normal").  And we really need each other.  We need uninterrupted family time.  We need to reach out to loved ones for connection and interaction.  And we need time to rest, think, read, and grow.

It would be fantastic if our current situation has taught us appreciation for all of the little things.  In the "new normal," I hope we treasure

  • Hugs
  • Dinner with friends
  • Children playing in the park
  • Teens playing sports or hanging out with friends
  • Seeing colleagues at work, instead of meeting on a screen
  • Time spent creating, not because we have no place to go, but because we realize that life is more than work and shopping
  • Physical presence more than physical possessions

Photo by Humphrey Muleba on Unsplash

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