New Old Ideas: 12 Reasons To Simplify

I have something to say.  Really.  It’s crucial.  Are you ready???

Since I embraced simplicity, my life has changed.

Yes.  It. Has. Changed. Dramatically.  Radically.  Completely.  Outside of the most unexpected gift of becoming a mother, I declare that saying “NO” to consumerism and vowing to live a simpler life has been the best thing to ever happen to me.

In 2010 I started reading about simplicity.  I kept thinking I needed a change.  As a massage therapist, I had always told my clients that stress is the number one cause of over 90% of diseases in our modern-day.  Yet…I was really stressed.  Rushed.  Tired.  Unfulfilled.  Every New Years past I wrote down my goals:  This year I want PEACE.  PEACE, Dammit!!!  I NEED IT!!!  (Hmmmm….see the irony?)

Then, one night amid my lifestyle-induced insomnia, I came across a blog post by Leo Babauta. From there, I started following other bloggers like Josh Becker and Tammy Strobel. And now I follow several bloggers who, like me, are finding that ‘minimalism’ is more about simplicity…and less about living with nothing at all. Quite frankly, these people became my teachers.  I have so much gratitude for each of them for the introduction to a simpler life.

Last year I was determined to get my finances in order, take a much-needed vacation, and get my mental and emotional health back on track. Looking over the last year (even during a global pandemic) I accomplished my goals. Dare I say that this is the first year I did achieve my goals – so maybe…just maybe…I needed the forced ‘slow down’.

In 2021 I plan to focus on my physical and spiritual health. I haven’t outlined what that will look like eventually or even how I’ll measure that (Cue SMART Goals), but I’m still working through it. I know that simplifying my engagement calendar will be vital for successful goal management. For starters: Every Thursday at 7 pm, I will continue my yoga practice. Boom. Physical & Spiritual with one stone.

Let 2021 be your year.  Whether you decide to consider the concept, are ready to begin cleansing your life of clutter, or even prepared to take it to the next level and help others…Turn 2021 into a year that can change your life forever.  Make it the year to embrace simplicity; to let go; to feel free.  Say yes to relaxation and happiness.  Say yes to getting your life back.

To further convince you, here are 12 Ways (and Reasons!) to Simplify this year:
(Disclaimer:  Some will bring on immediate benefits while some will be worth the wait.  Just be open.)

1. Reduce the physical clutter in your home.  By reducing, you will have less to clean, less to maintain, less to organize, less financial burden, and less emotional distractions.  Owning less eventually gives you ‘more’ in other areas of your life. 

2. Say “No, thank you” to a commitment.  Booked-solid people have no time for rest.  And people who have no time for rest are mean.  Seriously.  They spend that spare 15 minutes folding laundry instead of reading to their children.  They take a 20-minute drive and use the ‘windshield’ time to return phone calls instead of singing silly songs with their kids or merely taking in the sights around them.

3.  Start each morning with these words:  “Thank you.”  Feeling gratitude only expands the reasons to have more of it.  With less to occupy your attention, you’ll be able to see how blessed your life is.  And, if you find it isn’t as ‘blessed’ as you’d like it to be you’ll have the time and energy to find ways to make it more blessed. 

 4.  Simplify your menu.   I mean, REALLY.  In the book, Simplicity Parenting, Kim John Payne suggests making each day the “Fill In The Blank” day, such as Monday-Pasta; Tuesday-Rice;  Wednesday-Slow Cooker, etc.  We typically eat the same twelve menu items over and over. Don’t believe me? Really? What’s your ‘go-to’ meal on hectic days?

5.  Focus on prevention.  It is so much easier to STAY well than to GET well.  You can apply these ideas to your body, soul, material possessions, and bank account. 

6.  Realize you don’t have to live your life the way you’ve been told.  You don’t have to own 2+ cars, a boat, and a 3500 square foot home with a craft room, workshop, and separate living areas.  You don’t have to work in a job you hate.  You can have, be, and do more with your life.  I’ll introduce you to this concept throughout the year, starting with this movie trailer. (Since 2013, I have watched this movie every New Year’s Day to remind me!)

8.  Reduce the clothes in your closet.  Americans wear 20% of our wardrobe 80% of the time.  You don’t believe me?  Well, I’ll have a challenge for you in March that will prove me right.  You wait and see. 

9.  Find a creative outlet.   Hopefully, it won’t be one that encourages you to turn an entire room into a smaller version of Hobby Lobby, BUT in the event that it does you’ll be amazed how much adding creativity to your life breeds happiness.

10.  Schedule nap time.  Or just some downtime to sit in the sun.  Don’t have the time??  Not to sound judgmental, but that’s an unfortunate commentary on your life, and I want to help!  Refer back to #2, and we’ll discuss this more during the year.

11.  Limit your time on Social Media.  Seriously, the drama factor on FakeBook alone is enough to prove my point on this one.  There is no bigger time suck than Social Media. The comparison factor alone creates opportunities for you to be stressed.

12.  Have a place for everything.  Even those pesky clipped coupons and scrapbook paper need a place to rest – and your kitchen counter, isn’t it.  Many of us are working from home now, and our ‘office’ is the kitchen island. Except it isn’t. (Listen again: The kitchen counter/table/island is not your office.) So, get yourself a file box or briefcase and put all that stuff away each night as if you were working from your favorite coffee shop.

I’ll post challenges centered on reducing clutter and improving your life quality over the next year. No worries, they will be simple. (Simple…not necessarily easy.)

So, what would you like help with this coming year? Where can you simplify? Which of the twelve ideas resonates most with you?

Self-Love: Live In The Now

The Christmas holiday is behind us for 2020, and I have to admit, I am so glad. It’s not that I hate Christmas – I’m no Grinch – I just don’t like the feeling of obligations that come with the season. Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy buying gifts for my family and friends. I’m also grateful that no one expects me to drop a fortune on them, so it isn’t even that Christmas busts my budget much. It’s just that everyone seems to think that if you aren’t happy – or God forbid, you’re depressed – during the holidays, then something is wrong with you.

But 2020 hasn’t been a fun time, although I can admit to having walked away this year with some feelings of gratitude about the lessons I’ve learned. One of those is merely trusting the process no matter how utterly fucked up it all seems to be in the moment. However, I’ve also learned that to trust the process I have to surrender to the idea of living in the moment.

Living in the present isn’t something that comes naturally to me. I battle with my demons of the past, and I constantly wrestle with my fears regarding the future. Some say that depression is caused by living in the past, while anxiety is a by-product of living too much in the future. I agree with this to an extent, although I also don’t want to negate the fact that both depression and anxiety are mental health issues caused by messed-up brain chemicals. So, there is that.

BUT…having taken a nine-day trip to the coast all by myself to search my soul and lay some things to rest…I admit to myself and you, dear reader, that there is something to be said for living in the present. And this, my friends, is where we are in our journey of Self Love today: Living in the present.

So, what does that mean?

Living in the present moment means letting go of the past and not waiting for the future. It means living your life consciously, aware that each moment you breathe is a gift. In other words, don’t take today for granted. Time, if I’ve learned anything, is not to be squandered.

In doing a bit of research for this post, I came across a post by my favorite blogger/minimalist Josh Becker, who outlined his list of ways you can develop a practice of living in the moment. You can see Josh’s list here, if you’d like. I’ve been practicing a few of these things myself since my nine-day trip. So, consequently, I’m going to share with you my five favorites.

I hope they help you, and if you find yourself reading Josh’s post, maybe you can give me some insight on some of the things I don’t mention here you have employed in your own life. After all, if you are expecting me to give you all your life advice, well, hate to say it: You’re up shit creek, friend. I do not have all the answers. Hell, half the time, I barely have any at all. But, for today, let’s pretend I do.

Here goes my best attempt at being insightful on your behalf.

1) I’ve started removing unneeded possessions. This isn’t a new thing for me, but having moved a few times rather quickly in the past few years, I haven’t ‘sorted’ out my possessions before throwing them into a box. That said, I do try to live a minimalist lifestyle, which forces me to live in the moment. How? Because I can’t just delay action to the future. I have four plates, two coffee mugs, six forks/knives/spoons, and four bowls. I can’t let my dishes pile up for a week, or I’ll be eating, literally, out of my hand. The same goes for clothing. I don’t have a lot of clothing I enjoy wearing. I get teased a lot for doing laundry so much. I do laundry once or twice a week because I’d be naked or stinky if I didn’t.

2) I fully appreciate the moments of today. I’ve started thanking my ‘customers’ for the opportunity to help them each day at work. My day job consists of fixing people’s small issues and granting them access to various technology systems. My job isn’t hard, and it’s arrogant of me to say they can’t do their job without my role. But it’s true: They can’t – and, knowing this, I can still be thankful for the opportunity to be part of easing their workday.

3) I’ve forgiven past hurts. This one was a doozy. My divorce was hard on me, and I was angry for a very long time. One day, though, I just woke up and said I wasn’t going to give this any more of my energy. When I learned my ex had remarried, I honestly didn’t care. Some thought I would come unglued – maybe some folks even wanted me to – but I really was, like, “Hmm. Meh.” And that was that. I am a Virgo, which might mean zero to you, but Virgos can hold a grudge and boy, I am no exception. However, this behavior really does nothing to serve my highest good and it took me nearly 50 years to get this.

4) I love my job. I touched on this a bit in point number two, but I can’t give eight hours a day to someone just to collect a paycheck. I’m not constantly waiting for the weekend because I have found a job that I enjoy that pays my bills and allows me time in the evening to be with my son. I’ve had harder jobs, jobs that paid more, jobs that paid less, and jobs I’ve hated. In the end, when I love my job – I am more present with my customers and with the Universe.

5) I’m doing my best to stop worrying. Some folks in my life get fed up with me saying, “You need to trust the process.”  And I get it. It’s a challenging thing to do – especially when the present situation is painful or frightening. I would never say “Everything happens for a reason” because, well, I don’t believe that at all. People are stupid sometimes, and the ‘reason’ is because they made a foolish decision. But…I do believe that the Universe has a way of auto-correcting our choices and that everything that happens doesn’t happen to us…it happens for us. If that is going to be my belief, then worrying about the future or the past isn’t going to be advantageous for me.

Learning to live in the present moment is a vital ingredient for practicing self-love. And being mindful is part of that process. I will write, eventually, about how mindfulness has played a role in my recent life changes. My own journey toward embracing self-love is firmly rooted in developing the practice of mindfulness. But for today, I will close, and as always, I’ll leave you with a song and ask you this:

  • What do you do that keeps you fixated on the past?
  • What causes you to worry about the future?
  • A friend used to say, “That absolutely could happen…but it probably won’t.” So – what are you stressed about that could happen…but probably won’t?

Self-Love: Patience

I have been working my tail off preparing for the holiday coming up this week. I wish I had a few more hours in the day, but I know I’d stuff them full of tasks that leave me feeling even more ragged than I already am.

As we continue down the road on our journey of Self-Love, we find ourselves facing down a virtue I’m not sure many have anymore: Patience. Or, maybe I’m projecting a bit because I know I certainly lack in the area of patience.

But, the thing is…this isn’t about patience for or with others. This journey is about having patience with ourselves. I know, right? I feel the sting of this already, yet I haven’t even gotten started on the epiphany portion of this prose today.

I have an eight-year-old son, and I can tend to lose my patience with him at times. My day job is as an applications support tech on a help desk. Trust me – that gives me ample opportunities to lose my patience. And I, an INTJ, am dating a former radio personality who is an INTP, so I absolutely know what it’s like to have my patience tested. But I can be more patient with others when I’m well-rested and fed adequately.

You know, though, who I have little to no patience with? Yep. You guessed it. Myself.

In this fast-paced world in which we live, we could all use a little more patience. So, as we walk together today, I’m going to hand you some tips on how to have more patience for yourself that have worked (are working?) for me on this journey of self-love:

1) I make myself wait. Sometimes, I can be a bit impulsive, so I make myself wait for certain things like purchases, paint choices, and essential items like my new car. Since doing this, I have also found I spend less while subsequently getting better quality.

2) I’ve stopped doing things that aren’t important. I know this doesn’t sound like a point of reference for building patience, but it is. Because I don’t spend time doing unimportant tasks, I have more time to invest in essential things. As it turns out, this keeps me from feeling rushed, and when I don’t feel rushed, I don’t lose my patience.

3) I’m mindful of the things that make me impatient. I’ve already mentioned that I tend to be a little more impatient if I’m hungry or tired. But I also know that standing in line at the grocery store is a source of irritation. So, I’m now an Instacart convert. And, according to Instacart, I’ve saved 37 hours of my life since March 2020 lockdown, NOT navigating through aisles and waiting in line. In other words, 37 hours of sheer frustration gone from my life. Thank. You. Instacart.

4) I breathe more deeply and more often. When I feel myself losing patience with myself, I close my eyes, inhale to a slow count of four, suspend the breath for four counts, then exhale for another slow count of four. I do this until I can come back into a space of mindfulness and begin again. I started doing this because I’m a ‘thrower’. For example, when I last tried to hang curtains, I lost my patience and threw the rod across the room. I’ve been known to kick things, hit things, and throw things when doing ‘home improvement’ projects that test my patience. The good news is that I don’t throw items at other people.

As we leave each other today, as always, I’m leaving you with a song which is a remake of an “oldie but a goody” and I ask that you have a bit of patience with everyone, including yourself, this week. People are tired and weary of 2020. Even though this pandemic isn’t going to magically disappear in January, I think folks are looking for a new year. A bit of grace and mercy may go a long way this week.

Self-Love: Connection

It’s a cold day here in the Ozarks. It feels like winter might settle in, adding to the intolerable feeling of isolation we’ve all felt over the ‘season of COVID’. A good bit of Ozarks snow is coming down and as winter makes its nest, everyone will stay in a bit more. This is good for slowing the spread of The Rona, but is it good for us as a collective whole?

Today, we continue our journey through the list of ways to practice self-love with “connection”. I’ve been gone a few weeks – practicing a little self-care as I wrote about previously. I’ve been sleeping more and stretching my body while also permitting myself to simply ‘be.’ But, I found I missed my connection to you, dear reader, and to myself. Writing always brings the thoughts swirling in my head back full circle.

I thought about skipping over this bullet point because I wrote about connection – or the lack thereof – back in the fall. But, it felt like it needed to be addressed again for a few reasons.

Some of you know, I also am a massage therapist. It just so happens that I’ve been booked solid for several weeks because people are longing for a sense of connection. Touch is so powerful in many ways – increasing oxytocin and the sense of belonging – and I believe people are missing this right now. I feel good when someone tells me that they feel loved and safe in my space. But, I also feel sad for them. Does this mean they are not feeling loved and secure in the majority of other spaces they inhabit?

Another reminder this week transpired from a quick call from a friend. We hadn’t talked for a bit, and she isn’t the type to simply reach out unless there’s a reason. We used to be in a virtual book club (albeit, that’s a loose definition. There was a lack of books and a lot of wine, so maybe we should have called it a ‘wine club’ but I digress…) and she said: “So, um, I’m missing the book club.” Since, again, there wasn’t much book-reading involved in our little book club, I’m guessing what she truly meant was that she was missing a sense of connection.

Connection is so powerful. It’s more than just being part of a group. It’s about belonging and feeling as if your presence matters in the grand scheme of things. We can think we are connected when, in reality, we are simply a member of a group. I was married for nine years – and they were the loneliest nine years of my life. You can be in a room full of people and still be lonely. Just as you can be part of several groups or part of a big family unit and not feel connected to another soul. 

Connection to others is so important. More important than you might think. Social connection can lower anxiety and depression, help regulate emotions, increase self-esteem and empathy for others. Several studies show that feeling a sense of connection can even strengthen our immune systems. In this day and age, we applaud self-sufficiency while we view the seeking of closeness as weak. But, neglecting our need to connect actually puts our health at risk. In other words, we are hard-wired for connection. I’m not great at reaching out to others, but I’m getting better. I’ve learned that my single-most toxic trait is refusing to ask for help when I need it, followed closely by the ability to isolate completely when I need people the most. Again, I’m a work in progress, but here are some things I’ve done to improve connections with others, and I hope they help you:

  1. Recognize connection needs vary. Everyone has their own sensitivities to feeling a connection or lack thereof. I like it when people remember little things about me (Milk Duds are my favorite snack, Skrewball is my favorite whiskey, May is a shitty month for me, I don’t like loud people, places, or events, etc.). Because of my own experience and needs, I tend to pick up on the little details about others. I may not remember your children’s names, but I know that you are afraid of fireplaces. I may not remember your birthday, but I will remember the date your beloved grandmother died. Other people might find that creepy, so I try to be mindful of this. I realize it could be construed as stalkerish, but really, it’s just my INTJ personality in play. People also respond differently to actions in terms of whether or not it makes them feel connected. I hate hugs; my significant other lives for them. We make this work; it’s called ‘balance’.
  2. Be present in conversations. It has been said that attention is oxygen for relationships. When meeting with people, get in the habit of being present by giving them your full attention. I have a good friend who is witty and extroverted and just an all-around fun guy. When he speaks to me about his life, I can always tell when we hit on something that hurts. He’ll look down and shrug – and with a soft smile – say, “But whatcha gonna do?” Suppose you listen carefully, observing facial expressions and body cues. People will often “tell” you when they are hurting with their “tells”. In those moments, I beg you: Don’t break the connection by checking your phone, looking around the room, or letting your mind wander. In fact, a squeeze of a hand means more at that moment than any words you could voice.
  3. Develop the ability to empathize. Mutual empathy is a robust connector made possible by mirror neurons in our brains. Mirror neurons act like an emotional Wi-Fi system. When we feel the emotions of others, it makes them feel connected to us. When we feel their positive emotion, it enhances positive feelings. When we feel their pain, it diminishes the pain they feel. If someone expresses emotion, it’s OK and natural for you to feel it too.
  4. Develop the habit of emphasizing positives. Psychologist John Gottman first observed that marriages were less likely to survive when the positive/negative interactions dipped below 5-to-1 (or five positive interactions to every negative interaction). People need affirmation and recognition, so get in the habit of looking for ways to affirm and serve others. 
  5. Learn and apply the five languages of appreciation. Some know these a ‘love languages’ but that seems a bit weird in a work setting. The thing is, though, everyone responds to their love language, no matter where you are. I used to be a “words of affirmation” and “acts of service” kind of gal. But as I’ve grown, I’ve learned to affirm myself, so affirmation from others isn’t quite as important now. However, surprisingly for an aspiring minimalist, I have realized that gifts (simple ones – not $8,000 diamond rings – although…never mind.) tend to increase my sense of connection. Yesterday my guy said, “Speaking of love, check the overhead cabinet.” as he pointed to the kitchen cabinet above the sink. I opened it and saw four boxes of Milk Duds. I felt so loved. He also knows I don’t like to cook, don’t have time to cook, and really don’t want to cook. He loves to cook, so he makes extra of just about everything and brings me perfectly portioned meals. It’s like my own personal ‘Blue Apron’ subscription but with sex. I love that guy.

So, I linked to this song in my original post about connection, so I won’t expect you to listen to it. However, I think it’s essential to stress during this holiday season and this season of COVID (my phrase for the months of isolation and stress) that we embrace the simple things. So, I leave you with this old song by Jim Brickman, and I ask…

Are you feeling a loss of connection? What makes you feel connected with others? How do you show others you want / need connection? Please drop a comment or two. I love to hear from you. Until next time…hug more, yell less.