Good Change, Bad Change, It’s All the Same

Photo Credit: Joe Leap

Have you ever wondered why you felt so drained even though you’ve accomplished something amazing? Maybe you’re supposed to feel elated about a career move but then suddenly you’re exhausted just thinking about it. If you express those feelings you’ll be seen as unhappy and ungrateful. It’s okay, there is nothing wrong with you, your body is just responding to stress, it’s just good stress. However, your body responds to those changes, roughly, in the same way as negative change. We go through similar hormonal responses.

Change can be good, in moderation, at the right time in your life.

If you’ve never heard of the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale Test, I recommend you take it. You should retake this test anytime you feel unexplainably stressed, you don’t know why you keep getting sick or have some unexplained health issues. Don’t forget to add things that you can recognize as stress that may not be listed or may not be as straight forward. For instance, if you’ve just graduated college make sure to add ‘end of college‘ and ‘outstanding personal achievement‘. If you’re moving back in with your parents add ‘moving‘ and ‘change in family obligations‘ as well. Thus graduating from college is incredibly stressful, even though it’s an entirely wonderful achievement.

All change is stress to your mind and body!

If you’d like to do some further research head on over to the CDC website to do an experiment on how you personally cope with stress: (https://www.cdc.gov/bam/teachers/documents/stress_body_mind.pdf).

Just know that all change is stress to your mind and body. Just got a promotion? Great, check the stress box. Just had a big disagreement with your in-laws? Sorry about that, but again, check the stress box.

So what do we do about about all this stress? Since it’s inevitable and life happens after all. Learn to recognize the things you can control and things you can’t. If you’ve just lost an important family member, now is not the time to take on optional work. MindTools states, “While this is clearly easier said than done, you can usually avoid moving house, for example, close to when you retire, or when one of your children goes off to college; you can learn conflict resolution skills to minimize conflict with other people; you can avoid taking on new obligations or engaging with new programs of study; and you can take things easy, and look after yourself.” 

Looking after yourself receives a post all on it’s own, but for now find one thing you do just for yourself (that doesn’t include internet surfing or television watching). Schedule time for this, by writing it on the calendar. Do this regularly and more often during noticeably high stress times. It’s okay not to do it all now. That’s the whole point of slowing down. There is a time in life for everything, but the time for everything is not right now.

Meditation also deserves a note here. I am in no way affiliated with 10% Happier but I’ve used their first seven guided meditations and I can happily recommend it.

I’m going to coin the term, Change Seeker, a person constantly in need of change to feel fulfilled.

Personal aside: the military has made me a Change Seeker. I look for change everywhere, I constantly rearrange my furniture, I’m always looking forward to the next place to move or new things to get involved in (or new degrees to get). But I can recognize that I’m, pretty much, chronically stressed (in both good and bad ways). I made a list of ongoing projects and I’m a little embarrassed to share it, so let’s just say it’s over 50 items long. I’m looking to slow my change seeking behaviors and hope to report to you a healthier update in the future.

 

 

How to backtrack after chasing the American Dream

Photo: inhabit.com

I recently wrote an article on how living in Italy changed my idea of minimalism and it had a lot of wonderful responses and questions. The main question: how can we live like this without actually moving to Europe? Obviously, we can’t live exactly like this because we don’t have control over billboards or shopping malls but we do have control over our homes, minds and where we choose to shop.

After we moved back to the United States we dived head first into the American dream. We bought a house that was too big for us, furnished the rooms that we didn’t have furniture for, acquired all the maintenance items ‘needed’ to upkeep the house, including a power washer, snow blower and leaf blower AND we bought a new car. What. Were. We. Thinking? Honestly, we weren’t thinking. Consumerism had taken hold of our minds and bodies. Even my eldest daughter would go into meltdowns when she couldn’t get something she saw in a store, which had been completely unlike her in Italy. I felt her pain, I wanted it all too. All the big, shiny cars, houses, clothes and furniture.

In January of this year, I started digging ourselves out of the hole we had dug. I’m still digging but I have a goal in mind and that is what pushes me forward. Europe left its mark on me, I had only just forgotten about it for a short time.

4 ways we are putting a stop to the American Dream:

1. Selling the big car for a smaller one

Europeans drive small cars. Large families cram into small cars and yes, it may be uncomfortable for the duration of the ride but they learn to work together to get where they need to go. It’s called teamwork and it takes a lot of understanding and patience but it’s a life lesson, a life lesson that we are forgetting quickly in America. So the big ole’ mini-van is on its way out and I’m back to a Prius (just like I had in Italy, ironically). We are a family of four, who fit very comfortably in a Prius, no one is complaining.

2. Playing the ‘We are moving’ game

I love this one. My husband and I have been playing this little game on the weekends. We will ask, “If we were moving to a 2-bedroom apartment would you take this?” We like to imagine we are moving to a 2-bedroom condo or townhouse, (eh-em no yard work), in Florida or another warm state! So far, we decided, the huge dining room table we bought is going, as is our second tv stand. Why I have two tv stands…I don’t know, seemed like a good idea at the time, so we could all watch tv separately, which never happens and is completely frivolous now that I think of it.

3. My kids will learn to share their stuff

Sharing is a fact of life. There are a few instances when you never have to share, but for the most part, we need to share our lives with others. I have to share a room with my husband (and a bathroom, sigh) but I’ve always had to share with my sisters, then with my roommates, etc. etc. We do not need two individual bathrooms for my husband and I and arguably we do not need double the amount of toys so that each of my children has one of their own. If we can learn to share we won’t have double of everything, all while teaching great life lessons to our kids. Some minimalists go as far as owning close to nothing and borrowing a lot of things they need, like a lawn mower, or blender but it’s okay to own one of these if you use it often!

4. I refuse to go into department stores or malls

Too. Many. Choices. The noise, the lights, the smells. It’s all too much for me to go into big box stores or department stores anymore. When you live without them for years, it can really make your head spin when you return. I had an actual panic attack in a mall when we returned from Italy and I had a moment of decision paralysis when I had an entire aisle of juice to choose from in the grocery store. It’s insane the number of choices offered in just about any store in America. I now limit my choices extensively. I only shop at Trader Joe’s because they only have exactly what I need and nothing else (I promise I don’t spend more than at the regular grocery). I have considered ordering my body products online, as Target has become a death bed for my wallet and I try to shop at only locally owned shops when available. I’m so looking forward to our new, specialty, in town coffee shop that doesn’t sell Starbucks or dunkin’ donuts!

What are you doing to downsize your big life?

Is this Happiness or Pleasure?

Many people talk about slowing down, getting out of the rat race, retiring to Florida, downsizing, or becoming minimalist, but why? The answer is to be happy but if we don’t define happiness we can mistakenly replace it with pleasure and find ourselves in the exact same boat we were in before we slowed down.

It should seem that giving up commitments and removing our clutter would make us feel immensely better and it does for a moment until you want that one thing you got rid of and now your life is a little more complicated. You may have to improvise or ask someone to borrow something, which makes us just a little uncomfortable or can annoyingly take us a little bit longer.

Maybe being happy doesn’t mean having everything we want.

Does being happy mean we are never uncomfortable? Resoundingly, No! We can have an incredibly happy life, content with where we are, who we are and what we have. Happiness comes from the knowledge that it’s not always going to be easy and it’s not always going to be perfect and we will still be okay. We will actually be more than okay, we will learn lessons and become a better version of ourselves because of the experience. We can even have the expectation that we will be uncomfortable and just that knowledge can make us happier when we find we aren’t as uncomfortable as we thought we would be.

Pleasure, however, is a different beast. Seeking pleasure is, by far, not the same thing as seeking happiness. Pleasure, in most cases, actually will decrease our happiness. See, the pleasure meter you experience when you get something new is off the charts, but then just days later you’re already less excited than you were when you first received it. It’s like buying a new car, or a new pair of shoes, after the first use your pleasure meter starts to go down and you can become unhappy when the car isn’t everything you thought it would be or the shoes don’t hold up as well as you expected.

There are three different variables in the happiness meter: Pleasure, expectation, and contentment. Pleasure has high-risk factors for decreasing happiness overall. If we seek only pleasures in life we will eventually come to expect them. Expectation is the root of all discontentment, we become incredibly discontented when our expectations are not met. And here is where we find unhappiness.

So the formula seems to suggest that we actually stop seeking pleasure. Which would be a pretty boring life, but what if for the sake of argument, in our overly abundant, consumerist, first world country, that we just stop seeking so many pleasures? Sure I’ll still seek the beach in the summertime and ice cream on the first day of spring but maybe I’ll stop seeking the $5,000 vacations and the brand new vehicles. And without the need for expensive houses, cars, and vacations, I may find I have to work less and that wouldn’t be too bad! What if we seek happiness right where we are, with the people we are with?

Arguably, our culture sets us up for unhappiness. Expectations in the U.S. are unreasonable. We see ads everywhere that include the perfect (but outrageously expensive) vacations, perfect hair, flawless skin, the fastest cars with heated and cooled seats, and bigger and bigger and bigger houses (though cheaply built). While, Instagram and facebook surely, don’t help us set lower our expectations either. We are set up for failure and that sucks. But we have the option to see through the smoke screens and remind ourselves of what makes us happy not what is purely pleasurable.

What pleasures have you sought because you thought they would increase your happiness?

Some of mine are: a new minivan (we are the only country in the world where every parent drives a minivan, no matter the number of kids), a bigger house than I really need, perfectly renovated bathrooms, expensive shoes for a theoretical career, and a Caribbean vacation. I’m sure that list could go on. When I really think about it, those things have not brought me happiness, just short, intense pleasure. I would have been just as happy (or happier), in the long run, going to the Outer Banks with my family, wearing shoes from TJ Maxx, a bathroom that functioned but wasn’t super pretty (so I had more money to give, or to take my family to the beach), and I would have been way happier with a used, smaller car that I didn’t’ feel worried my kids would ruin with their lollipops or chocolate milk!

For my downshifted life, I’ll be taking steps this year to recognize what is happiness in my life and what is simply pleasure.

Minimalist Gifts for Your Love Language

There are five love languages and it’s not hard to figure out which one you are by taking a simple test. The five languages are Acts of Service, Quality Time, Words of Affirmation, Physical Touch, and Receiving Gifts.  It can be difficult to know someone else’s love language and give them a gift that truly speaks to them unless you ask them to take the test.

If you know the person really well, such as your spouse, child or good friend, you can usually guess one of their top love languages. Furthermore, it can be difficult to buy gifts for minimalists who view physical objects as obtrusive to their lifestyle and happiness. Here’s a short guide to overcoming gifting problems.

1. Everyone has a secondary love language; utilize it.

My love language is Quality Time but my secondary language is Words of Affirmation. If you aren’t able to offer me quality time, because you live too far away or are too busy, then please write me a beautifully written note or letter about how you feel about me.  If you MUST buy me a physical gift then I would prefer something useful (like a specialty tea) or something that’s ‘just so me’!

Gifts for the Words of Affirmation type: a letter or note, a list of things you love about the person, a book you made especially for them, a homemade meme about them (here’s an app for this), have a cartoon drawn of them, a CD or iTunes combination that they would like. The key to this language: being creative and knowing their best qualities.

Gifts for the Quality Time type: Invite them to wander around a city or town together, tickets to a show or play, a night with no phones and no screens – just the two of you, a pass to take a class together, or as a big gesture take the whole day off of work just to spend with them. The key to this language: no phones. This person feels really hurt when you look at a screen instead of them.

Gifts for the Acts of Service type: Take the kids and allow them some personal time, buy them a car wash or house cleaning service, plan out a trip to take them on or make a list of things to do in their area, make them dinner (that’s freezable), make them a calendar and take the time to write in all the important family birthdates and holidays. The key to this language: know what they do often and find a way to do it for them.

2. When we don’t know the person well enough to know their love language. 

When we don’t know the gift receiver well enough then Quality Time, Physical Touch and even Words of Affirmation are really off the table because let’s be real, that could get awkward. As a minimalist it’s hard to buy this person just random junk we know will be trashed or donated. What a waste.

Focus on their occupation: for a gift for an acquaintance or friend, figure out what they do all day. Teachers love gift cards and fun school/art supplies and they will never go to waste, bonus points if you can put it in a super durable, useful organizer. Stay-at-home moms can always use coffee or tea, a nice sweater or leggings (gift receipt please) and if you’re really ambitious, a home-cooked meal they can freeze or free babysitting. If the receiver has a long commute buy them a book on audible, a subscription to a magazine or newspaper, or make a CD/iTunes mix just for them. The key to finding the right gift that won’t go to waste: utility and ways to make their life easier.

3. The hardest love language to please when you’re a minimalist: Receiving Gifts

Receiving Gifts, as a love language, is usually hard for minimalists to follow through on. Why buy something they aren’t going to keep or that will clutter their lives? But Receiving Gifts is a real love language and lots of people actually view love in this way; arguably, this is how most people express love in our culture. How can you do this in a productive, non-wasteful way?

Gifts for the Receiving Gifts type: a basket of consumables (think jam, candy, flowers, wine), a book you know they’ve been wanting to read, a gift card or catalog telling them to circle what they want, a photo album of your favorite memories with them, a journal with prompts, a kindle, iTunes gift card (for apps or music), something related to their birthday month (ex. birthstone earrings). The key to this language: buy them a gift that reminds you of them or you know is their favorite. It doesn’t have to be expensive but it has to be about them and not junk!

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4. Kids and the never ending Legos.

Children receive so much STUFF, between holidays, birthdays and general visits to the grandparents, it seems to never end. You would think a child’s love language is always Receiving Gifts, but I urge you to think about why children love receiving gifts so much. Does your kid ask you to build legos with them all the time or do art projects with you constantly? I’d say their real love language is Quality Time. Is your child super happy when you’ve cleaned their bedroom for them or made them their favorite meal? Maybe your little one’s love language is Acts of Service. I don’t know a child that doesn’t love to hear Words of Affirmation. How can we limit the amount of junk that comes into our homes through these other love languages?

Ask grandparents to take just the birthday girl/boy on a day just for them; they could take them to the movies or out to dinner and really get to know them one-on-one. Try to emphasize how important days like this are over physical objects.

Here are some presents we all wish you would buy for our kids but never do: museum passes, zoo passes, movie tickets, amusement park passes, jump or play zone passes, musical instrument lessons or money towards any lessons, and subscriptions of any type. Live far away? Buy them a personalized stationary set and ask them to be your penpal. Snail mail is so fun and the world is quickly losing good writers!

For kids birthday parties: Gift cards to kid-oriented restaurants or ice cream shops are always fun. Project boxes that kids can do on their own are a blessing to parents and kids alike (I have a stack all ready for when they are ‘bored’ this summer). Think outside the box, we all have enough Legos already. Some great building projects are kiwi crate and Creativity for Kids. Outdoor equipment is also a pretty safe bet, like roller blades, scooters, beach toys, or gardening sets. If all else fails, gift cards are always welcome!

5. Physical Touch as a love language should be saved for your immediate family. Enough said. 

There isn’t much need for explanation in this category but if your spouse’s love language is Physical Touch make sure you’re extra loving on their birthday and throughout the year. A cuddle here, a kiss there, make sure you pay extra attention. Again, put down the phone and hold their hand! This type of person will also love a massage gift certificate or mani-pedi.

Why I Don’t Rotate Toys

As parents, we have lofty goals of giving our kids the best of everything. Most times, this equates to a complete excess of everything! In truth, it’s unhealthy for kids to have 200+ toys, even if they are the best quality. If you haven’t read the book Simplicity Parenting, by Kim John Payne, then rent a copy because it will change the way you look at toys, activities, and media for your kiddos.

If you want to do what is BEST for your kids, have less toys, less clothes, less commitments and less noise around them!

I often get asked which toys should be kept, which should be donated and what can be ‘rotated’?

First off, you’re the parent, and you know what your kid’s favorite toys are. They are the ones that they drag around the house and ask you to play with ALL. THE. TIME. So box up the rest! Secondly, I don’t rotate toys. I tried to rotate toys and you know what happened? I boxed up all the ‘rotatable’ toys and put them in the attic and they never came down again, except one stuffed animal.

Reasons those toys didn’t come down:

  1. They weren’t asked for.
  2. They don’t require creativity or imagination.
  3. They are, in reality, junk.

It’s hard to be honest with ourselves when toys are really just junk. Here are some questions to help decide if it’s junk or not. How much plastic is involved? Can your child engage their imagination with the toy? Do you already have multiple of the same toy? Was it a gift that they never really asked for in the first place?

Want to know what made the list of toys we keep?

  • Dress up clothes (limited to three dresses each and a small basket of accessories)
  • Blankets (used for forts, baby dolls, capes, etc. – Montessori practitioners use play silks for the same thing)
  • Play kitchen and play food
  • Baby dolls and baby doll bed
  • Art supplies
  • A few board games
  • Favorite Stuffed Animals (stays in their bedrooms)

I have two girls, and so we don’t have trains or cars. But if I had a boy we would have his favorites, which would be more boy oriented.

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(although this is plastic, ‘pretend play’ toys tend to stick around!)

Sometimes I worry when friends come to visit that we won’t have enough toys for everyone to play with. However, I’ve never had a problem and not one child has ever said they are bored when they come over. Since all the toys are new to the visiting child they always find something exciting.

My favorite article on why kids need less stuff is by Denaye Barahona over at Becoming Minimalist: Why Kids Need Minimalism

Personally, I have a goal, similar to The Minimal Mom, to buy one toy organizer from IKEA and anything that doesn’t fit in that goes. It works for her and her 4 kids actually thrive using the system. The Minimal Mom – Toy Storage

A Guide to Saying ‘No’

Saying ‘no’ is so hard to do. I haven’t perfected it but in the past few years I’ve really learned some tactics that help limit my use of ‘yes’.

  • When someone asks you to do something, no matter how tempting it is, give yourself some time to think about it.
  • Use responses like: ‘I have to check my calendar’, ‘I’ll get back to you when I know’, or ‘Let me talk to my husband(partner) first’.
  • These phrases aren’t giving a direct ‘no’, but they are allowing you time to decide what’s right before committing to anything.

These tactics allow you to truly check your schedule and check in with yourself! Ask yourself these questions:

  • Is this something I truly want to do?
  • Do I have the money to do this?
  • Will this enrich my life or someone else’s?
  • Does this align with my goals?
  • What will I be giving up in order to say ‘yes’ to this?

Everything is a trade off. You may be saying yes to an opportunity but at the expense of making dinner for your family that night, spending time with your kids, or even something enjoyable that you like to do – like reading, running, or painting.

I even try to teach my children this trade off. For example, my oldest girl may say, ‘I want to go to Target and buy Pokemon cards with my birthday money’. My response is usually, ‘If we go buy those Pokemon cards we won’t be able to go to the jump zone on a rainy afternoon or go to the movies next weekend because you don’t have enough money to do both’. They get to decide and whatever they decide is met with positivity but when the weekend rolls around and they don’t have money for something fun then they learn a good lesson. It’s not cruel, it’s realistic, they are learning the trade off and frankly, so am I. Sometimes I regret my decision and have to live with it, but the next time I definitely make a better choice!

What would you rather be doing than going to an ‘opportunity’ that you could have said ‘no’ to?

Time to Get Dirty

Photo Credit: Clean and Scentsible (www.cleanandscentsible.com)

Do you want to know my decluttering secret? Clean, and I mean deep clean. It’s not glamorous,  and I don’t get all sentimental and ask questions about how things make me feel. I just get down on my hands and knees and clean, it’s hard labor and I try to do it more often than just during spring cleaning. Instead of once a year, my suggestion is to do it once a month, choosing a different room in your house each month.

The key to deep cleaning is to remove everything first. This is seriously so important, otherwise, it will never be clean and it will never be uncluttered and you will always feel swallowed by your stuff. Get some boxes from the grocery store, old amazon boxes, etc. Put everything in those! I mean everything but the kitchen sink.

I chose the kitchen for January. The kitchen is probably the most difficult in terms of numbers of things. However, very little, if anything holds sentimental value so there will be no big decisions to make.

With everything boxed up, even the refrigerator items, I clean. There is no magic to this. I clean just like everyone else but if you need help see the link at the bottom of this post. I have Windex, vinegar, and baking soda to scrub stuck on messes and a wood cleaning solution to clean the cabinets. Bleach for the sink!

I’ll give you a little sneak peak of what’s going on with the fridge:

As you can see, I removed all the papers, pictures and calendar from the outside as well. I have a different plan for it all. I have a secretary that holds all our papers, calendars, bills, etc., right outside the kitchen. From now on that will be the home of all paperwork, I call it the Command Center. As for the photos: I have a digital picture frame, where I will scan the photos on the fridge of friends and family and load them onto my digital frame. If you don’t have a digital frame, you could make a pinboard and add all photos and postcards to that.

After it’s all scrubbed down, only replace those things you’ve used in the last 6 months. If you have items you use once a year for Christmas, make an entertaining box and put that labeled in the garage, basement or attic. No need to fill up our daily space with items you use only one time a year. I’ve had clients who entertain so many people that we make a ‘catering corner’ in their basement or storage space, all organized and ready for the next event.

All those items you haven’t used in 6 months and won’t use for holidays, leave them in a box and donate it! Can’t bare to donate it yet? Leave them in the boxed labeled, ‘kitchen extras’, and today’s date. If one year from now you haven’t touched that box, DONATE IT!

I can’t stress enough how having an organized and clean kitchen will make you feel way more relaxed. Like most moms, I spend about 95% of my time in the kitchen when I am home, and I’ve noticed most other people do too. It’s important not to have anything in the kitchen that doesn’t need to be there. You’ll feel like you can breathe again as you drink your morning coffee, instead of stressing about everything last thing you need to do this month.

If you need info on how to clean read: http://www.cleanandscentsible.com/2015/02/deep-clean-kitchen.html