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Showing posts from 2021

Our Unexpectedly Wonderful Minimal Christmas

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What truly makes the holidays special?  Jo March in the classic Little Women says that "Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents," but is that really true?  Maybe Jo felt that way because she and her sisters were giving up so much else that might have made their Christmas merry:  their father was away serving in the Army during the Civil War, and they barely had money for everyday needs such as food, heat, and clothing, let alone anything special for a holiday.  One December I had pneumonia, and even as I began to recover, I was much too depleted to do my normal Christmas preparations.  I'd clean the bathroom or make the beds and need to rest so I could cough and breathe (the pneumonia had aggravated my asthma).  My husband worked full time, and our children were only 5 and 7 years old, too young to offer much help. How did we celebrate that year?  First of all, I made sure the radio was tuned to a station that played only Christmas music during December, an

More Magic, Less Mania

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If you've ever gotten sick or felt run down over the holidays, you've experienced the results of holiday stress.  You could blame it on cold weather, or the dehydrating effects of indoor heat, or being around other people who are sick, but at this time of the year you are likely cleaning planning spending socializing eating  drinking and doing more while resting and recharging less . If self-care isn't something you usually do, and you keep insisting on putting everything else before your own needs, you probably go into overdrive during the holidays.  You go out of your way to make sure that everything is perfect, and that everyone has "the best holiday ever."  Sound familiar? If you fall into that mode, or you're just interested in enjoying more magic and less mania during the next several weeks, try one or more of these simple tips. 25 Ways to Take Care of Yourself This Holiday Season 1.  Create a morning routine. Take a little time for yourself first thing

The 12 Days of Uselessness

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I've been becoming minimalist for many years, and yet I still acquire useless stuff. Whether it's unsolicited mail, a gift from someone who doesn't know me very well, or something I buy myself because it looks interesting or useful when I see it in the store, I just can't seem to stop adding useless stuff to my life.  It almost seems unavoidable in our culture. Most of what I own is stuff I really need or is something I enjoy having, but I'd estimate that even after all of these years of living with less I could probably part with at least one-quarter of what I own and never miss it.  I guess these items felt essential when I acquired them, but they turned out to be the opposite.  As I get older, that 25% unneeded inventory will grow and grow until the day I die, at which point 100% of my stuff will be useless, since I won't be taking it with me.  What I will do is leave my children with a few more things that are probably useless to them. It turns out even COVI

100% Off

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It's almost here!  The biggest shopping weekend of the year (Black Friday through Cyber Monday).  In the mall, crowds will be pushing and pulling to buy stuff they didn't even know they wanted until they saw the "huge sale prices."  And even if we don't go crazy at Target or in the high street, we might work at filling an online shopping cart. It's ironic and disturbing that we follow the holiday dedicated to the spiritual practice of thanksgiving with a spending orgy.  It's as if that short pause for gratitude makes us all the more determined to get back out there and grab more stuff.  We had to miss one day without our usual fix. Of course, we "have" to shop for Christmas, but we struggle to come up with gift ideas for all of the people on our list because pretty much everyone we know already has everything they need and most of what they want.  This makes us especially vulnerable to ads and sales and "must have" gift lists.  "Wh

The Nitty-Gritty of Gratitude Journaling

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Keeping a gratitude journal is the most well-known gratitude practice for good reason:  It's very simple and highly effective. But maybe you're staring at your pretty new journal and wondering how to start.  How can you make this practice as meaningful as possible? 7 Tips for Keeping a Gratitude Journal 1.  Write twice a week. I used to think that writing in my journal every day was best for cultivating thankfulness.  But Robert Emmons , the world's leading scientific expert on gratitude, suggests twice per week.  Why?  Because making daily entries seems to cause what Emmons calls "gratitude fatigue."  It becomes too routine, just one more thing to cross off a to-do list, and doesn't stimulate the desired response. I suggest you choose two specific evenings so that you don't forget – perhaps Sunday and Wednesday. 2.  Be specific and detailed. Journaling works because it takes the thoughts that flit through your brain and makes them concrete.  But you don&#

Through the Lenses of Gratitude

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Given the very real benefits of practicing gratitude, why do we so often struggle to develop the habit?  A survey done by Janice Kaplan, author of The Gratitude Diaries (paid link), found that while "more than 90% of people think gratitude makes you happier and gives you a more fulfilled life... less than half regularly express gratitude."  It's yet another case of knowing what's good for us and failing to do it. What are some of the obstacles to developing a grateful mindset? We're busy and distracted.   We may feel thankful for someone or something, but then the phone pings, or a child needs attention, or a colleague asks a question, and we move on.  We felt the impulse to say thank you, but it got buried under a to-do list. We notice the negative over the positive.  This might be an evolutionary adaptation, since our ancestors had to pay attention to potential threats in the environment in order to survive.  But in modern times it means that ten things can go

A Day in the Life of Gratitude

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My husband and I live in an apartment, which means I don't have granite countertops or shiplap on my walls.  My kitchen appliances are white, not stainless steel, and I'm never going to have hardwood floors.  I guess that means I'm out-of-date and off-trend, so I should hate my house and commence complaining about it regularly.  In fact, we should probably just move! Here's what Henry David Thoreau has to say about that in his classic, Walden :  "I say beware of all enterprises that require new clothes, and not rather a new wearer of clothes. "  Hmmm.  So it's me that needs to be renewed, not my surroundings.  I need eyes of gratitude to see how much I really have. Water I get up in the morning and walk into my bathroom.  I can turn the faucet in the shower and not only get clean water immediately, day or night, but I can get HOT water.  Women all over the world walk long distances to get a bucket of water, and if they want it hot they have to also gather

Thanks and Giving

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There's a reason this blog is called Maximum Gratitude Minimal Stuff.  I spend a lot of time writing about minimalism and decluttering, but it's the habit of giving thanks that changed my life and started me down a simpler path. I was taught from a young age to aspire to greatness.  My parents thought me capable of straight A's and starring roles.  And I worked hard to meet those expectations.  Success gave me a measure of confidence, but it also made me a perfectionist who was secretly afraid to try new things.  And I was kind of a snob. For most people, excellence, achievement, winning, and plenty of money and possessions are considered not just desirable, but the purpose of life.  Backseat roles and "getting by" are not what we wish for.  And with all the best intentions, our parents, teachers, and coaches want us to find our "passion" so we can distinguish ourselves in some way. We pay lip service to the idea that "everyone matters," but w

The Absolutely Sure-Fire Holiday Diet

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Holiday diet plans are definitely a thing, but they don't always deliver as promised, so I thought I'd contribute one that I know from past experience really works!  There is no better way to celebrate the season than to bulk up (and I don't mean muscle) during the next couple of months.  Follow this diet and the results are 100% guaranteed. 5 Ways to Gain 5-10 Pounds (Or More!) by the New Year 1.  Cancel exercise. This first step should be pretty easy – after all, it's cold and probably wet outside, and who wants to go to the gym?  And there's really no way to get any exercise at home, even though studies show that just 10 minutes of intense daily activity  (whatever gets you breathing heavily and your heart rate up) improves fitness and metabolism.  Yes, I know you can do that in your living room, but before long you'll put up the Christmas tree, and you haven't decluttered that unused chair in the corner yet, so it's going to be pretty crowded. If you

Fairhaven Christmas Eve

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I never thought I'd do this, but I'm publishing a children's book for the Christmas season!  It's still in preparation, but should go live by later today or tomorrow.  What's really exciting is that I'm publishing in a Kindle edition (which can be read on any device with Amazon's free Kindle app), a paperback edition, and a hardcover edition (a brand new option). The book is called Fairhaven Christmas Eve ( here is the link , which has just gone live as I'm writing), and this is how it begins: It was the morning of Christmas Eve, and everyone in the city of Fairhaven was very busy. The bakers, who had stoked their fires early, were taking delicate cakes from their ovens and placing them on marble counters to cool.  The icers were mixing their colors and forming sugar roses, getting ready to decorate the cakes.  The grocers were building pyramids of their ripest fruits and vegetables, the butchers hung fat pheasants and geese, and the dairymen were bring

Have Yourself a Merry Little Holiday

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I don't know about "merry," and I don't know about "little," but the holidays can be a crazy time, that's for sure.  Up till 2:00 a.m. wrapping gifts?  Squeezing in extra rehearsals for the Christmas program?  Eating way too many cookies because you missed dinner – again?  Sure, we've all done it.  The holidays can inspire a feeling of overwhelm, the fear of missing out, and the frantic pursuit of perfection.  We fight traffic, crowds, and our own feelings of inadequacy. Holiday celebrations have become a juggernaut – a large, overpowering force requiring blind devotion and sacrifice.  When you consider opting out of any of the endless activities available, you feel like a Scrooge.  When you jump in with both feet, you feel like a leaf caught in a whirlwind.  Forget any notions of balance. It doesn't help that advertising plays on our nostalgia for a holiday complete with a loving family and friends, surprise packages heaped under a gorgeous tree

Conquer Toy Clutter

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Okay – here's the truth. It's pretty much impossible to make your house look like children don't live there when, in fact, children do .  Maybe it's because you've put away your breakables, you have every outlet plugged with covers, there's a high chair in the dining room, or the family room boasts a bulletin board covered with amazingly colored scribbles – I mean (ahem) drawings by your gifted child. Of course you don't want to hide the fact that you have children, but that doesn't mean you want your house to look like some crazy clown went berserk in a toy store.  You are fine with the fact that your house looks like kids live there, but you don't want it to look like the home of hoarders-in-training. Right now is a great time to reduce toy clutter, with the holidays (and new toys) just around the corner.  Here's a process you can repeat a couple of times a year. 12 Steps to Tame the Toys 1.  Block out a couple of hours for the task, especially

Live Large in a Small Space

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Anne, a reader from England, recently sent an email saying that she was surprised by my idea of photographing outfits to post on a closet inspiration board .  "This won't apply to many people in England," she wrote.  "Our houses have become very much smaller over the years. . . because housing is so expensive over here." I was interested to hear how Anne and her husband live comfortably in their small home (53 square meters/570 square feet).  Here in the U.S. the average size of houses keeps growing , and of course bigger houses cost much more.  People seem willing to accept a huge mortgage, literally signing their lives away ("mortgage" originally meant "death pledge") in order to purchase and furnish as large a home as possible. Why do we carry such a heavy debt?  What are we looking for? Living in a smaller home forces us to think about what we own and how we use the space.  My husband and I live in about 700 square feet (65 square meters)