Monday, October 26, 2020

Free to Fly

tiny bird on a wire


When I moved from one house to another

there were many things I had no room for.

What does one do?  I rented a storage

space.  And filled it.  Years passed.

Occasionally I went there and looked in,

but nothing happened, not a single

twinge of the heart...  Things!

Burn them, burn them!  Make a beautiful

fire!  More room in your heart for love,

for the trees!  For the birds who who own

nothing –  the reason they can fly.

Mary Oliver, "Storage" 

Sometimes it seems that the longer I've had something, the harder it is to let go, even if I no longer have a use for it.  There are books I haven't read in a long time, and probably won't read again... but they once held a special place in my heart, so there they sit on my shelf.  There's art that I bought years ago and probably wouldn't choose today... but it's been on my wall for so long that it seems grown there.  It's hard to imagine something new.  Music that I once performed, cookbooks that I once consulted, a tea set that I once used quite often.  They still sit in my cupboards and closets, even though I've decluttered so much already.

Is it the same for you?  Maybe you hang on to clothing, or sports gear, or Grandma's Victorian dining table with 12 chairs (even though you don't have a formal dining room).

The U.S. Department of Energy reports that 25% of Americans with two-car garages have so much stuff in them that they can't park a car.  I think that number must be higher in northern California – most of our residential streets are choked with parked cars.

And in spite of clutter in our garages (and attics, basements, and backyard storage sheds), almost 10% of American households rent additional storage space.  There are more self-storage facilities than there are high schools in the U.S.  There are more self-storage facilities than there are Starbucks, McDonald's, and Subway locations combined.  And the self-storage industry has grown by more than 7% every year since 2012.

To cap it off, the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals reports that 80% of the items we own are never used.  It's the Pareto Principle showing up in our day-to-day life.  But if we use 20% of our stuff 80% of the time, that means that the vast majority of our possessions aren't that special or important.  Our lives would probably go on just as well without them.

In fact, neuroscientists at Princeton University have found that physical clutter in our surroundings reduces our ability to focus, making it harder to do well at anything, from work to relationships.

Imagine how our lives would improve if we only kept the things we use!  Imagine how much time, energy, and money we might save, and in what other more fulfilling ways we might use those finite resources.

Jesus taught that we should consider the flowers, and pay attention to the birds, who do not plant or reap or spin or sew, and yet are clothed in beauty and provided with food.  They are not busy trying to acquire more and more, and they don't worry about things outside of their control (Matthew chapter 6, verses 26-30).

If you feel weighed down with stuff, with tasks, with worries, it's possible to live differently.  That's what minimalism is all about.

Minimalism lets you identify what is most valuable to you so that you can prune away what crowds or distracts from it.

It's a golden opportunity to let go and live a bit lighter.

P.S.  Thinking about adding some seasonal touches to your home?    You don't have to buy any plastic décor.  A few large pumpkins are going on my porch today, and I'm using this easy pattern to crochet a couple of spider webs.  (This pattern uses U.S. terminology, but there are lots of others online if you look).  This post contains a few other ideas for consumable Halloween decorating.  Have fun!

Photo by Suzanne D. Williams on Unsplash

Friday, October 23, 2020

How to Get More Done

Several situations have conspired lately to give me a longer-than-usual to-do list.  My husband, too, is extra-busy planning lessons for online teaching (his students are all still learning from home).  Deadlines loom and they must be met, and it feels a bit overwhelming.

I'm sure you can relate.  Lots of people have this problem.

I'm fairly organized, so I usually have EVERYTHING I need to accomplish on my to-do list, and right now it's getting longer and longer.  But at least I have a list (however long) of tasks in front of me.  Plenty of people don't have everything on a list.  Their tasks might be scattered across different organizational systems, in email inboxes, in browser tabs, on Post-It notes and random pieces of paper, and in their heads.

Either way, it can feel overwhelming.  We need to deal with the stress, the fear (of forgetting, of failing), and the lack of ability to focus.

4 Ways to Handle a Long To-Do List

1.  Become clear about priorities.

If you don't know what matters, if everything seems urgent and important, you'll be scattered and stressed.

If you know what's essential, you can focus.  The rest can wait.  It's as if you're a doctor performing triage, and the person having the heart attack gets cared for before the dozens of people with ankle sprains, sore throats, and weird rashes.  Eventually you'll get to those others, but the person who can't survive without your attention gets it first.

So get clear on what matters to you.  Think about why, and make a list.  It's worth spending some time on this.  You might even decide that some of your tasks and commitments should be given up completely.

If you can do this, you'll be so much more effective (and calm) that if you try to do everything.

2.  Change your attitude toward your tasks.

This is an idea from Leo Babauta of Zen Habits.  He points out that when you feel overwhelmed and stressed by your list of tasks, this is a sign that you think of them as burdens.  You're letting your fear that you're going to let people down, or fail, or look incompetent or stupid get the better of you.

I've often felt this way when faced with a task.  I do fear being unable to perform, or producing something that is less than what people expect of me.  It's a little like stage fright, which as a long-time professional singer, I know something about.  As a performer, there are ways to deal with stage fright that I've found pretty effective.  Maybe some of those methods can empower us to take on other tasks.  For example:

  • Think of the task as a challenge: a way to grow, discover, and create.
  • Recall your successes and failures of the past.  They have prepared you for this task, because you've learned from all of them.  Appreciate and rely on your past experience.
  • Just do it!  Rather than spending time in fear and doubt, simply begin.  You may find that breaking free of inertia gives you access to energy and forward momentum.  Simply settling to the task may be half the battle.
  • When you encounter a difficult section of your work, slow down.  Stop and consider different ways to approach the problem.  Don't let yourself give up and move on to something else, because you'll just keep delaying and procrastinating and never reach a solution.  Even five minutes' focus on a detail can make a big difference, perhaps even leading to a breakthrough.

These are examples from my life, but you may have other methods that empower you.  Find them and put them to practice.

3.  "Shortlist" your tasks.

You may have a long list of jobs to do: some for work, some for family, some for finances, some that are personal.  But this long list can't all be accomplished today.

So, as with an award, create a shortlist.  This is the stuff you plan to do today, reduced from that long list of candidates for your time and attention.  I try to keep my shortlist to four or five things, but more or less may work best for you.  Sometimes I group several very short tasks together (like phone calls) as one "chunk."

If you have meetings or appointments, those need to be on the list, so you'll want to add fewer tasks.

Think about what must be done today.  What would be a powerful use of your time and energy today?  Focus on those things, and let the rest come later.

4.  Single-task.

You know your priorities, you've improved your mindset and approach to dealing with tasks, and you've created your shortlist.  The final piece of the puzzle is to focus on one thing at a time.  If you can practice this regularly, you'll feel less overwhelmed.

I've had jobs where I had bookkeeping tasks to accomplish, clients to greet and serve, and a boss who might hand me a new task at any time.  I've met the needs of two young children while managing household tasks and honoring volunteer commitments.  I felt rushed, would lose focus and have to backtrack, trying to remember where I left off.  I didn't always give my full attention to one thing at a time, so everything took longer.

We're told we can accomplish more if we just learn to multi-task more efficiently.  But if our attention is diffused, we actually accomplish less while feeling more frazzled.  What we call multi-tasking is really our brains frantically switching back and forth between jobs.  Multi-tasking is actually a practice of constant interruption and distraction.

When you single-task, you pick something important to work on and clear everything else away.  You decide to be immersed in your task.  It's the only thing in front of you for 15 or 30 or 60 minutes.  You may feel the urge to do something else, but you're simply going to acknowledge the urge and then bring your focus back to the task.

It's ironic, but we get more done when we focus on fewer things.

Can you try this today?


Photo by Donald Giannatti on Unsplash

Monday, October 19, 2020

How to Inspire Change

A fanatic is one who can't change his mind and won't change the subject.

Winston Churchill 

I might be a fanatic about minimalism.

And I would add to Sir Winston's definition the warning that it's easy for a fanatic to alienate people from the very point of view he wants them to embrace.  We see it often in discussions of religion and politics, but it can happen any time people have firm opinions about a subject.

I've been guilty of all of the following behaviors from time to time.  I try hard not to fall into them, but as you may have discovered during this election season, it is sometimes hard to keep your opinions to yourself.  So these are simply words to the wise.

5 Alienation Techniques

1.  Offer your opinion when no one has asked for it.

Enter a family member's cluttered kitchen or encounter a co-worker's cluttered desk, and you may be tempted to offer tips that would help them clear the excess.  You may sincerely want to help them, but it's likely they won't see it that way.  If you want to increase the likelihood that they won't pay attention to your ideas, go ahead and share even if you have to interrupt your previous conversation.

2.  Offer to help them "clean up."

Unless you're talking to a child under the age of 8 or so, offers like this will be taken as an insult, no matter how carefully worded or how much you sincerely want to help.  If the fact that you have to move a pile of papers or a load of unfolded laundry in order to sit down doesn't bother them, try not to let it bother you.

3.  Share statistics about how much clutter the average person lives with, or how much it hampers their everyday lives.

The average American home contains 300,000 items, and I've been in a few that make it easy to believe that number.  Clutter makes it harder to clean our living spaces.  It increases the time we spend looking for things we've mislaid and the likelihood we won't find them.  It makes daily life more difficult.  But inserting that information into a conversation isn't going to make your listener suddenly anxious to declutter.  It's more likely to make them roll their eyes and dismiss you as a fanatic.  (After all, who else walks around with obscure statistics at their fingertips?)

4.  Nag them into decluttering.

This is the most common method used by roommates and spouses.  Be the squeaky wheel that gets a response by complaining regularly about their stuff being in the way.  Make sure to use words like "junk" and "garbage" when referring to their belongings.  If you faithfully use this technique, not only will they stop paying attention to your ideas, they'll be openly antagonistic toward them.

5.  Adopt a superior attitude.

Making clutter or its lack a matter of virtue or morality rather than habit or mindset is a sure strategy for driving a wedge between you and another person.  If you truly believe that dealing with clutter can help your friend rise above stress, fatigue, depression, fear, and other issues, behaving as if they're some poor slob who just needs to get it together is sure to keep them from ever seeking your advice or assistance.

I've described techniques that won't help you win friends and influence people.  As much as I hate to say it, the most likely way you can help someone close to you who has a problem with clutter is not to give them a copy of my book Uncluttered (paid link).

Instead, the best thing you can do is to be the example of someone whose life is better because you've dealt with clutter in your own home, office, and schedule.  When you exhibit energy, resilience (paid link), and peace, friends and family may ask your secret.  That's your opening to share what the pursuit of minimalism has done for you.

I presume you're here at Maximum Gratitude Minimal Stuff because you're ready to find out if minimalism can benefit you.  You are why I write this blog and my books.  Thank you for reading.

Photo by Stephanie Harvey on Unsplash

Friday, October 16, 2020

Don't Let Your Diet Define You

One day we step on the scale and the number we see there shocks us.  It has crossed some threshold we may not even have known we had, and we're galvanized.  "That's it!  I'm going on a diet!"

In the early stages, we cut out everything: sugar, carbs, processed food, whatever we have to in order to lose weight fast.  We might even cut too much in order to achieve our goal as quickly as possible.  I've done the starvation liquid diet thing.  I've done the no-more-than-20-carbs-a-day thing.

However, at some point we start to feel deprived (and perhaps we really are).  We start eating all of those things again, and we end up right back where we started in the first place (or maybe we're even heavier).  I've done that too.

Maybe the problem is that when we try to cut out everything we think will make us fat, we start spending all of our time thinking about food!  What we can have, what we can't have, how soon we can have something, how we'll deal with the food at our cousin's wedding, our husband's birthday, or the holiday that's right around the corner. 

My mother was a serial dieter, and she talked about food all the time!  I've done it too.  It doesn't help that it's been primarily my responsibility to plan meals, do the grocery shopping, and do the cooking.  That's already a big chunk of time and effort to spend thinking about food, without adding any deprivation-fueled thoughts to the mix.

Is this how naturally thin people think about food?  I have a feeling it's not.  Naturally thin people surely have foods that they really enjoy, but they probably don't fixate on them.  When they're hungry, they eat, and when they're sated, they don't wonder how long it is until they can put some more calories into their mouths.

And we may choose to be vegetarian, or vegan, or Paleo, or whatever, but aren't we all fortunate to have those choices?  We aren't required to think about food during every waking minute just so we can be sure to have enough.  We aren't hunter-gatherers, and anyone who's reading this isn't on the edge of poverty.  We have plenty of opportunity to think and talk about something other than food.

One thing I've noticed about those of us who eat too much and too often is that we may not discriminate against foods.  I've been guilty of eating a pile of Oreo cookies, which I don't even much like, simply because I wanted a sugar fix.  What I really craved might have been one exceptional chocolate chip coconut cookie like my mom used to make.  But I ate the Oreos, and was still unsatisfied.

It would be good to banish all of the foods that I personally don't care for – Oreos, potato chips, most candy bars.  Just give up all of those things that don't really matter to me, and don't ever let them stand in for something I might really crave, like pumpkin pudding or pizza.

As for the things I miss, like a chai tea latte with a shot of espresso, perhaps I should joyfully and without guilt bring them back into my life.  Rather than feeling bad because a diet says I should never again have something I like, I should feel free to have it whenever I want, and feel a little bit of pride whenever I make the choice to skip that splurge.  That way I haven't made something I enjoy into a "never ever" thing.  I have no reason to rebel against my diet, and instead of feeling shame over sharing a piece of fresh blackberry cobbler with my husband, I can be proud that I chose to share it instead of getting a piece all for myself.

Unfortunately, "overweight" and "proud" don't seem to be words that go together in the minds of most people.  So be sure to remember all of the things you offer to the world, no matter what you weigh:

  • your humor
  • your compassion
  • your intelligence
  • your skills
  • your kindness
  • your honesty
  • your generosity
  • your talents
  • your creativity
  • your energy
  • your optimism
  • your courage
  • your open mind

Your diet may be important for your continued health and well-being, but it's far from the most notable thing about you.  I need to remember this too, and strive always to be a multi-dimensional person with much more to think and talk about than food!

P.S.  I'm offering the Kindle edition of my book Resilient: How Minimalism Helps You Cope With the Challenges of Life for only $1.99 until midnight this Sunday, October 18.  We're all dealing with the stresses of COVID-19, schooling at home, the acrid U.S. election season, busier schedules, and/or regular everyday difficulties.  Resilient can help you (or a loved one) find more freedom, ease, and clarity.

Photo by Jason Dent on Unsplash

Monday, October 12, 2020

Beware the Season of Excess

Halloween in America – October 31 – is the beginning of our Season of Excess.

Don't get me wrong.  Halloween is a fun evening.  It's fun to carve jack-o-lanterns.  Fun to make or thrift a creative costume.  Fun to go out after dark (even if it's cold) to trick-or-treat through your neighborhood.  No tricks, really, unless it's trying to scare your little brother by sneaking up behind him and yelling "Boo!"  Just treats from the neighbors.

Even teens and adults like to dress up and go to a party, which is also fun, as long as it's not excessive.

What do I mean, "excessive" and "season of excess?"

  • Pillowcases full of candy because you went door to door in six neighborhoods – EXCESSIVE.
  • $490 million spent on costumes for pets – EXCESSIVE.
  • Drinking too much at a party, especially if you drive – REALLY EXCESSIVE.

And that's just the beginning.  After Halloween comes Thanksgiving, the season of football and overeating.  Then Black Friday, Cyber Monday, "the holiday shopping season," tons of presents, cookies, eggnog lattes, and more overeating for Christmas.  Then binges on alcohol, snack food, and football over the New Year holiday, ending with another candy-fest on Valentine's Day.


Keep Halloween simple, for your kids' sake and for your own.

4 Steps to a Simpler Halloween

1.  Buy enough candy for your expected trick-or-treaters no earlier than the day before Halloween.

Too many people buy candy at the beginning of the month, and wind up needing to buy it again (and maybe again) because they've eaten it themselves.

Humans are not meant to eat so much sweet food all the time.  Our ancestors probably gorged on fresh fruit when it was in season, or on honey if they could procure it, but it wasn't a regular feature of their diet.  Our metabolisms are not designed for the constant onslaught of sugar.  Just keep it out of your house.

2.  Encourage and help your kids to be inventive with their costumes.

Don't run to the Halloween store unless you need something specific, like a cheap wig.  It's so much more fun and memorable to craft your outfit.  My grown kids still sometimes talk about pirate, fairy queen, fortune teller, and other costumes that they made with my help.  You can also check at thrift stores for items that can be adapted for a costume.

In my opinion, kids shouldn't dress in a way that glorifies murder, death, or evil.  There are enough more innocent alternatives to choose from, and I'd far rather see a princess, an astronaut, a cowgirl, a robot, a cat, a doctor, or even a branded character like a Jedi knight or Captain America than something more sinister.

3.  Keep Halloween décor minimalist and ghoul-free.

  • Hay bales, corn stalks, and pumpkins can grace your porch until Thanksgiving.  Carve a family of jack-o-lanterns to ascend the steps to your front door on Halloween night.
  • Use some twine to hang a leafless tree branch, drape it with cobwebs made from cotton batting, and add a few plastic spiders.
  • Scoop out mini pumpkins and nestle votive candles inside.  Add spiders' legs made of black pipe cleaners.

  • Decorate a table with a length of black lace fabric and a tall glass jar holding curly willow branches spray-painted black (use bone-white pebbles to anchor the branches).  Add three or four white pillar candles of varying heights and several knobby warted gourds.
  • Hang a stream of construction paper bats on the the wall.  You could also hot glue a few bats on a grapevine or twig wreath and hang it with some black ribbon.

4.  Celebrate All Saints' Day.

Halloween is properly called "All Hallows' Eve," that is, the Eve of All Saints' Day.  In Catholic tradition, All Saints' Day (November 1) honors all Christian martyrs, known and unknown.  Protestants celebrate all faithful Christians who have died, believing that the Bible calls all people who follow Jesus "saints."

While the American version of Halloween often emphasizes scariness, horror, and gore, and the original pagan traditions honored death and demons, All Saints' Day is a time to remember the promise of eternal life, the triumph of good over evil, and the love and example of those who have gone before us.

With your children, look at pictures of grandparents, friends, and others who have died, and share stories and memories about them.  Talk about the ways these people helped you.  Say a prayer of thanks for all of the people who have done good in the world and in your lives.  Write thank you notes to some relatives, pastors, or teachers who are currently having a positive influence on you or your children.

If you like, delve a bit deeper into the lives of some of the saints, such as Francis, Patrick, or Nicholas (the real Santa Claus), Mother Teresa, the Christian naturalist John Muir, or Harriet Tubman, whose faith and reliance on God helped her lead so many slaves to freedom.

P.S.  I'm offering the Kindle edition of my book Resilient: How Minimalism Helps You Cope With the Challenges of Life for only $1.99 from now until midnight on Sunday, October 18.  We're all dealing with the stresses of COVID-19, schooling at home, the acrid U.S. election season, job loss, and/or regular everyday difficulties.  Resilient can help you (or a loved one) find more freedom, ease, and clarity. 

Photo by Ralph Ravi Kayden on Unsplash

Friday, October 9, 2020

Turn Off HGTV

The first house I remember living in, where I have many happy memories that took place before I was in third grade, was in a large neighborhood of post-war houses, a little like Levittown.

They were smallish houses with boxy rooms.  Most had one bathroom and a low-slope roof called a flat top, covered with white rocks.  They were nothing fancy.  But the first owners, those returning soldiers and their brides, must have felt happy and fortunate to move their few belongings into those little rooms.  Home ownership was an honor, especially for those who had come of age during the Great Depression.  There was a severe housing shortage after World War II, and these unassuming houses were the response to that problem.  They were usually affordable on one income, and many of those young couples were content to grow old together in those homes, never moving again.

The real estate shows on HGTV portray the exact opposite of that mindset of gratitude and contentment.  (For those of you who don't live in the US, that's Home and Garden Television, an American pay channel.)  I'm especially annoyed by the shows that display the shocking entitlement that Americans feel when looking at homes and property in Europe or other parts of the world.  The reactions are always, "Oh, I wanted hardwood floors, an open concept, stainless steel appliances, granite countertops, at least two bathrooms, bigger bedrooms, a private backyard with a pool, a great view, close to where I work, and all for $600 a month!"

Of course, the shows exist to make you dissatisfied with your own home.  They're like infomercials, pretending to tell you a story or give you information while selling you something.  And some of them are addictive.  I'll admit, I can sit and watch reruns of Fixer Upper, even though I know that after all of the over-dramatized snags in the renovation, the final reveal will be another variation on Joanna Gaines' signature farmhouse style.

But these shows plant seeds of doubt about my own simple home and the way we live in it.  They're very good at doing exactly what they're designed to do, which is to get viewers to start making long mental lists of home improvements they "need."

Now I'm not saying we should never paint, or replace a floor, or buy a house that's been neglected and do the repairs and renovations that are necessary to make it a comfortable home.  I'm certainly not averse to beauty or craftsmanship or putting some of your own personality into your living space.

But HGTV intends to make you unhappy with what you have so you will go out and buy buy buy.  Home styles are like clothing styles, and change almost as quickly.  It's fast fashion all over again, only what we're constantly discarding and replacing in our homes entails far greater volume and expense than a few jeans and tee shirts.

So I'm turning off HGTV.  I don't need the temptation toward discontent or the invitation to take on debt.  When the young client on one show lamented that she and her husband wanted to move out of their 2500 square foot house because she was having a baby and they "needed more room," I wanted to shout at the television, "Have you ever seen a baby?  They don't take much space!"

Most of us don't need more room; we need less stuff.

We need to pay attention to what we already have.  We need to take care of it and be grateful for it so we can be happier and more contented every day.  And when we do make a repair or an upgrade, it needs to be for a reason greater than, "I saw it on HGTV," or "No one who's anyone has Formica anymore," or "Jonathan Scott on Property Brothers says it's the next big thing."

And remember:  Even an older, little, boxy, flat top house can be the scene of a happy life.

Photo part of the public record (40398 Condon Street)

Monday, October 5, 2020

Visual Noise

We all know that loud noises can mess up our concentration, even make us feel stressed and on edge.  Think of a busy street corner or a construction site in New York City, Chicago, or San Francisco.  Imagine a packed crowd at a ballgame (don't forget to add the constant loud music and announcements, as well as the cheers and jeers of the spectators).  While it may be fun to join in with a noisy group once in a while, you probably wouldn't want to plant yourself in the middle of one every day.  That might lead to:

  • ringing in your ears (even hearing loss);
  • a headache;
  • a sore throat, from shouted conversations with your companions;
  • the inability to focus on anything except the noise, the traffic, the crowds, or the game. 

Many of the same things happen when our senses are assaulted by a lot of visual noise.  The more items in our immediate vicinity, the more our eyes take in, and the more signals are sent to our brains.  Then our brains need to understand, categorize, and filter out the things that don't need our immediate attention so that we can focus on what we need to do.

It makes sense that the more we ask our brains to process and interpret, the more scattered our attention will be.

More of us are spending more time at home this year due to COVID-19.  If your home is even remotely like the average American home, there are 300,000 items in it, from combs to coffee mugs to comforters.  This crowded space is where you're trying to work.  It's where your children are trying to learn.  It's where you're trying to forge intimate connections with the people you love.

All of the clutter – the stuff on the kitchen counters, the stuff on the dining table, the knickknacks, the pictures, the toys – adds to the weight and volume of visual noise.  Your brain struggles to tune it out so you can tune in to important tasks, and that leads to anxiety, fatigue, and headaches.  It makes it harder to get work done, and the added distractions can even impair learning.

There's only one way to reduce visual noise.  You have to own less.

This doesn't mean you have to live in austere, all-white rooms completely devoid of decoration.  But it does mean:

  • You need to remove enough duplicates and unneeded items from kitchen cupboards and drawers so you can put away the items that cover the countertops.
  • You need to clear junk out of desk and dresser drawers so you have room to store the supplies and clothing that you actually need and use.
  • You need to declutter closets so you can use them to store the linens, coats, and other items that are essential, rather than accumulated things you shoved in and forgot about.
  • You need to help your child remove broken and unwanted toys so she can successfully put away the toys she actually likes and plays with.
  • You need to remove the chairs you never sit in and the tables that only collect clutter in order to create less crowded living spaces.
  • You need to nix half of your wall art and knickknacks to create a more peaceful background that lets your truly treasured items shine.
  • You need to consider calmer decorating choices, such as walls, sofas, and bedding in more neutral tones, with small bursts of color and pattern for interest.

In the same way that gazing at the uncluttered vista of an ocean or a forest uplifts and relaxes us, a peaceful, visually quiet home reduces stress.  It's also easier to keep clean, and can improve relationships, learning, and productivity.  

Your home can become such a haven.  Get started here or here.  Or zero in on clothes, toys, or your kitchen.

Photo by Robert Bye on Unsplash 

Friday, October 2, 2020

Minimalism for the Holidays, Revised and EXPANDED!

2020 will live in all of our memories as "that year."  

The year of COVID-19.  The year of quarantine and social distancing, of cancelled gatherings, cancelled concerts, cancelled sports events, and cancelled trips.  The year of struggle and loss.

In May, a Twitter survey asked "What do you most look forward to doing when shelter-in-place guidelines are lifted?"  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."

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

Shopping for new stuff is apparently not something we missed during the COVID-19 crisis.  Sure, we bought food, and cleaning supplies, and toilet paper.  Maybe we 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 increasing quality of life, it turns out that shopping for clothes, furniture, electronics, cars, and all manner of inessential tchotchkes isn't necessary.  Accumulating more physical stuff doesn't really matter all that much.

What we're really longing for is personal connection and enriching experiences.  What we really miss is people, not possessions.

Of course, this doesn't mean we will never go shopping again.  As the holidays approach, there will be relentless advertising and pressure to spend more than ever for gifts, décor, food, travel, and entertainment.  It will be considered a patriotic duty to overspend.  And if we think that buying something will make up for the disappointments of this past year, or that it will at least make us feel better about them, we might be tempted to go crazy for Christmas.  But we know in our hearts that there are things far more rewarding than a bunch of new stuff.

What have you been missing about pre-COVID life?

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

Perhaps you've missed steady employment, and if so my heart goes out to you.  My son, a massage therapist, has been unable to see clients for most of the last six months.  Another friend, a musician, has had all of his engagements cancelled until next year.  They and many others are struggling right now.

But for those of you who have been able to continue working, perhaps you've been a little less rushed.  Maybe you've had fewer appointments and obligations.  Maybe you've found some time to rest, think, read, and grow.  You may have missed going to church, visiting your mother in her assisted living facility, or relaxing with your friends at the neighborhood pub, but you've likely not missed the mall.

It would be fantastic if the events of 2020 have taught us appreciation for all of the little things.  What a blessing it would be to celebrate those things that really matter this holiday season.  In the "new normal," I hope we treasure:

  • Hugs
  • Laughter
  • Kindness
  • Dinner with friends
  • Children playing in the park
  • Teens playing sports or hanging out together
  • Meeting with colleagues at work, instead of interacting 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.

The revised and expanded edition of my book, Minimalism for the Holidays (paid link), helps you identify the traditions that hold the most value for you and learn to say no to the rest.  It arms you with practical strategies that help you focus on what brings you joy.  It can be your guide to remove clutter and prepare your home for Christmas, budget money and time for maximum satisfaction, deal gracefully with difficult relationships and sad memories, discover that the most wonderful parts of the season have nothing to do with gifts, and so much more.

Minimalism for the Holidays is full of ideas and inspiration for a simpler, more meaningful celebration.  It's available now on Amazon in both a Kindle edition (paid link) and a beautiful paperback (paid link).

Photo by Lingchor on Unsplash