Saturday, July 23, 2011

I am a minimalist!

I am a minimalist! There, I said it.

Does that mean that I'm weird? Does it mean I am part of a cult, a hippie, or maybe even a fruitcake? Nah.

What it does mean, quite simply, is that I am (and will forever choose to be) in the daily process of looking at the stuff I own, and the time commitments I make, and asking myself if I truly enjoy it. Is it something that I value? Does it bring me great pleasure? Do I love it?

If I cannot say "Yes" to each of those questions, then the fact is that IT (the item, object, or activity) will only serve to steal my precious time away from those other things that I was able to say "Yes" to. Which means that the ultimate goal of life enjoyment gets diminished; whittled away little by little by those little "time hogs."

At first it may not seem logical that acquiring possessions, or saying yes to invitations, would ever be a bad thing. Your schedule is filled and your house is full; but without intentional decisions soon enough your closets are overstuffed, your drawers are overflowing and so is every nook and cranny in your life: underneath your bed, in your car, and especially in your attic or basement; and let's talk about that garage.....can you fit a car, or dare I ask....two, in it? Didn't think so. Do you have any time in your busy schedule to just relax and breathe and enjoy life? Not if you’ve been accepting every offer that comes to you.

There is absolutely nothing fundamentally wrong with living this way!

But the real question here is this: are you spending your time doing exactly what you want to do?

If not, is there the slightest chance that you find yourself spending (as in with a credit card here....visualize it) your precious, limited minutes each day searching through all your crap for things when you need them? Are you spending (again.....visualize the swiping of a piece of plastic here, with a whopping 35% interest tacked on!) your time picking up, putting away, cleaning, dusting, sweeping, vacuuming, mowing, and otherwise maintaining the things you own? Now, which of those things that you are maintaining have you used this week to bring value, happiness and joy to your life? All of them. Some of them. One or two of them.

Congratulations! You've just taken the first step towards the self-realization of what you value most in life.

Next, take a look at your day yesterday and identify just one thing you did that didn't bring you very much real joy or happiness. Was it a necessary task (like taking out the garbage) or was it something you could have opted not to do (like going to the neighbor's for a get-together, when you really can't say that you love your neighbors and you've really been longing for some one on one time with your spouse)?

If it was a chore like taking out the trash, try finding the simple joys in that chore (because someone in your house has to do it!). Were the birds chirping when you went out to the trash can? Did you unexpectedly see a squirrel or rabbit? Was there a slight breeze that reminded you of being at the beach? Was there a stunning sunrise or sunset that at that exact moment only you were enjoying, in peace and harmony? Never thought about taking out the trash that way before? Try it, and see if your perspective starts to change a little.

If it was an activity like the neighborhood get-together example; while it may have been a fun time spent hanging out with some friends and acquaintances, was it ultimately more important than nurturing your relationship with your partner in this life? Would the world have crashed down if you had just declined this time? I can tell you from personal experience that it really would be just fine. I used to be the center location of my street's activities, the house where everybody on my street hung out. Now, I rarely attend any community events. And it is NOT because I don't like my neighbors, it is because I am being much more intentional and selective with my 168 hours each week. And more often than not, I have missed out on family or personal time more than I preferred to when those community offers came up. So I politely explained that I am already tied up on a date night with my husband or movie night with my children. And I get on with enjoying what brings me the most pleasure in my life – spending time with those I love.

And therefore I am living more intentionally. A little bit more, day by day.

The same philosophy goes for possessions, buying stuff, consumerism….whatever you want to call it. If you begin to think more intentionally about whether or not you really need, or love, that new gadget or outfit; you find that you don’t as often as you once thought you did.

The next step: Going through all of your crap and getting rid of things you don’t love.

Pick a room, a closet, a drawer, the space under just one bed in your house. Then take everything out of it. Go through it intentionally and put it into 3 piles (this suggestion comes from minimalists who have been doing this much longer than I have – check out Leo Babauta, for one). The first pile is the trash can: for things that are broke or no longer work or are truly just garbage (can you say, “too many McDonald’s Happy Meal Toys!”?). Put them in the trash can and don’t give them a second thought. They have taken too much of your precious time by either requiring maintenance (constantly cleaning them, or moving them around because they were in the way when you were looking for the stuff you really did need/want!). The second pile is the stuff you absolutely want to keep. You enjoy it. You love it. It brings joy and happiness to your life. There are no doubts here about “What if…?” What if I need it next month, or next summer, or if company comes, or if I have another baby or if my grandchildren come to visit, etc? DO NOT PUT THOSE ITEMS IN THIS PILE. They go in the third pile. The third pile is for any item that you couldn’t say you love, you completely enjoy, you use regularly, you know you will miss if it was not in that drawer or closet. The third pile is the “What if?” or the “Just in case” pile. Anything you couldn’t put in the second pile goes in the third pile. Simply. Just do it. Don’t over-think it.

Not that you’ve sorted your stuff into the three piles what do you do? Take the trash can out of the room and empty it into the bigger trash can – get it out of the house, NOW. Put the stuff you love back, neatly. Look at how much space there is. Now you can see, easily, at a glance the things you chose to keep and you can find them when you need them. What a wonderful feeling. Feel the weight of too much crap starting to dissipate. It is so fabulous! What do you do with the “What if” pile? Put it in a box or bag. Write the date on it. Choose a time (30 days, 90 days, 6 months) and if you haven’t gone back to that box to get something out that you needed, give it all away. Take it out of the house. Do NOT put it back inside the walls of your new, sacred minimalist home. Do not even open it!

Enjoy the freedom that this first minimalist activity brings you. Then feel the fire burning inside of you to do it again in another room, closet, or drawer. One space at a time…..become a minimalist. You’ll find that it truly isn’t a scary experience and removing the stress from your life of having too much stuff is a renewing, reenergizing activity.

Don’t forget the most important step!

Do not use this exercise as an excuse to accumulate more crap, I mean, stuff. What good did that do you? Each time you are shopping (insert a bad, negative connotation here – don’t do recreational shopping. Window shopping is evil. The devil uses idle hands….never forget it!)….where was I? Oh yes, each time you are shopping, if you find something you want that was not on your shopping list, WRITE IT DOWN – do not buy it right then. Make a 30 day list. Think about it for 30 days. Just the name of the item, the date you wrote it down, and the store name. 30 days later, if you still are pinning for it, still can’t live without it, and have the CASH to purchase it. Then do! It is obviously something that you will love and that will bring joy into your life. So get it. Love it. Use it. And when it no longer brings you joy….get rid of it. Do not put it in a drawer or closet. Ick! That area has been cleaned and we wouldn’t want to defile it with junk that doesn’t fulfill our lives, would we?

So, let’s say you kind of like where this article is going and you think you want to try being a minimalist. What can you expect? Peace, tranquility, happiness…..sometimes. Being a minimalist won’t solve all of your problems in life. You will still encounter headaches and things that don’t go as planned. That’s not what this is all about. It is simply about being more intentional when looking at the stuff you own and the time commitments you make so that you can say at the end of each day that you did the things you wanted to do, that you loved your day, that your life was fulfilled, full, and satisfied because of your choices today. That’s all. Enjoy!


Fragments, Part 7 (Minimalist Piano Suite)

Thursday, July 21, 2011

What's keeping you up at night?

It's 2:38 am, you're tossing and turning, unable to sleep; knowing that you need your rest or you won't be any good to anyone the next morning, especially yourself.

Here's the rub - What is it, exactly, that is preventing you from enjoying your Z's?

The reason could be so many different things. That's the frustrating part, and it just makes those cogs and wheels in your head spin even more. How do you remedy the situation, whether or not you are even consciously aware of what is keeping you awake?

Oh sure, there are those times when you know exactly what is racing through your mind; and even then you can't stop thinking about it and just Go-To-Sleep (no matter how hard you try to convince yourself to just stop thinking about IT and go to sleep already!). You may have an important decision to make (i.e., new job opportunity, new relationship, or even the impending end of a current job or current relationship).

You may be excited about an upcoming move or, more likely, obsessing and stressing about a conversation you need to have and therefore worrying yourself about how it will go; replaying the conversation over and over in your head until you have thought through every possible scenario.

These are all good exercises for your brain; and truth be told, something you should be embracing instead of fighting just so you can get some sleep.

What should you do? Get up! Jot down some notes on what you're thinking. Work through what your brain is processing, write it down so you can review it the next morning with fresh eyes. Once you have allowed your mind to play out these scenarios, validated that they are more important than sleep, made notes so you can remember these (very important) thoughts the next day, chances are your mind will let you go to sleep when you put down the pen and paper and once again turn out the lights.

But what do you do when your brain isn't giving you clear signals of why you can't snooze and you have no conscious reason for not being able to fall asleep?

Exercising, meditation and yoga are all excellent remedies in this case. Don't lay there and fight it. Sit up, get up, do something, DO ANYTHING! If you take the time; be it 30 minutes, an hour, or longer, to understand that it may not be your brain, but rather your body, that is preventing you from sleeping then you could very well find that you have effectively "fed" the problem so you can once again count sheep. It is important to note here that watching TV at this point may not be the best solution. It may work for some of you, but if you truly have a bout of insomnia, turning on the TV will NOT help solve the root cause of your problem here, it will only mask it or delay it’s revelation to you (denial is not your sub-conscious’s friend).

Some physical causes of sleeplessness can be:

-          illness; if you are sick or recently injured and have spent quite a bit of time in bed recuperating, you may just be out of kilter on your normal sleep cycle. The only thing to do here is to try and stay awake as long as possible until it is time for your regular bed time that evening. And stay in bed as long as you can until morning. Then get up and start the day slowly, doing your best to stay on a normal sleep pattern for that one day. The next day you may just be back to your old sleeping patterns again!

-          lack of exercise; causing your body to be out of balance. The release of vital endorphins aid in the overall feeling of well-being and are important to good health. You don’t have to go out and run a marathon – just some light stretching or a walk around the block will do your body, and your mind, a tremendous amount of good.

-          lack of water, potassium, melatonin or a myriad of other vital nutrients and hormones; if left out of whack long enough this can cause leg cramps, insomnia or other symptoms. It is important to eat a well-balanced diet, or at least take supplements containing all of the recommended nutrients that your body needs for your age, gender, and overall health situation. And never forget that the human body is made up of about 60% water – so drink up!

-          depression; if you are clinically depressed, while you may not feel like physically doing much of anything at all, you may just not be able to fall asleep naturally without medicinal aids. Seek qualified medical assistance, if not for you then do it for those who love you.

Balance is the key!

So what are you going to do the next time you find yourself counting untold amounts of sheep until you feel like you are in a commercial for a mattress company? Recognize that there is a good reason, your brain and body are not working against you. They do know what is best and have tremendous power to educate you in the most inconvenient ways and at the most inconvenient times. Roll with it.

If your mind is whirling, appease it. Humor it. Get up. Write down what you are thinking. Eventually your brain will quit "talking" to you and then you can put down the pen, turn out the lights and let your head hit the pillow without the whirlwind of chaos and commotion.

If your mind isn’t talking to you but your body still won’t let you sleep. It is likely just out of balance or “out of sorts”. It’s time for you to recognize what is truly going on in your life and adjust accordingly. If you’ve been sick or injured, give it a day or two, work to get back into a normal sleep routine again, and you’ll be back to your old self in no time! It could be as simple as needing to get a little more exercise during the day; or maybe you need be eating healthier, taking supplements or drinking more water; but possibly you may need to reach deep within yourself and honestly assess if your body is trying to tell you that it is time for you to seek medical assistance. If so, please seek it. The long-term rewards and benefits could give you your life back, the life you want to lead!

Here’s to good dreams!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

What have I been up to since May?!

Well, I started this blog a couple of months ago and then went dark. Bad, bad me. Let me tell you what I've been up to since I fired this blog up and then disappeared.

The Habit Course:

I took a four week Habit Course led by the fabulous Leo Babauta, with help from the wonderful and talented Barrie Davenport and Katie Tallo (no money was received for these accolades, they just happen to be true statements of my perception of these three bloggers' awesomeness! - Leo and Batie (as Leo affectionately calls Barrie and Katie J). There were also several terrific guest speakers.

The course was tremendously educational and inspirational; and it had a profound impact on my habits and behaviors. The course ran for four weeks beginning on May 23rd. We had weekly webinars, mostly hosted by Leo himself. We had weekly course material to review, and there were fabulous forums that were loaded with terrific people to keep you both motivated and accountable (darn it).

Leo teaches what is called The Simple Method for building a habit. We're not talking about New Year's Resolutions here. The course taught us how to approach the creation of a habit from a very different approach that, while it seemed common sense after Leo explained it, goes against what everyone from all walks of life does when trying to build a habit.

For starters, if you truly want to build a habit into your life you don't just decide one day that you are going to start the habit of (let's take mine, for example) doing Yoga every morning. And then you start the next morning, or you don't because you were too tired so you slept in and now you are rushing to get ready for work or school; so maybe you’ll just do it when you get home, but you're too tired then as well. So you vow to do it tomorrow morning. And maybe you do, for a week or more. But then one day you get sick, go on vacation, have company, change jobs, travel for work, break your toe (whilst doing your most awesome-ist Tree pose, I might add), etc. You sort of ‘fall off the wagon.’ Then what do you do? Do you give up? Do you try again later, when you once again feel like, “Hey, I think I want to start doing yoga every day?”

Let's be honest with ourselves here folks. Is that how you do anything successful that you have ever done in your entire life? You just decide one day to do it and so, that's it, you just do it every day without fail, ever - forever and ever.

Nope - in the Simple Method Leo teaches that if you want to build a habit you should mark a start day on your calendar to begin the habit --------- are you ready for it? Wait for it.....OK, here it comes. At least a week away from that magical day that you are sitting there thinking, I'm going to start doing yoga every day.

What??!!?? What in the world good does that do, you might ask? What are you supposed to do for the next week? Why? What kind of plan is that? EXACTLY THE POINT, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN - you spend the next week building a plan for what you are going to do when you get sick, have company, go on vacation, break your toe, forget to do it, get too tired, are too cranky, are too "I just don't feel like doing YOGA today, arghhhhh???!!!”

That's right, folks. You spend that week focusing on a couple of things:
1) Building up anticipation for the event - the start date! The more you see that date coming, the more excited you get about starting the habit. It really is so simple of a motivator (it's scary how good Leo is at this stuff).
2) Thinking through all of the things that might happen to prevent you from doing your habit, and how you will respond to them.
a.      Will you do it no matter what?
b.      Will you allow yourself a little slip of missing one day without beating yourself up and feeling like a ‘habit loser’?
c.      Will you make yourself start all over from step one if you miss just one day, two days in a row, a week, fall off the wagon completely?
d.      Will you figure out a way to do Yoga from the hotel room if you have to travel for work or pleasure?
e.      If you get sick, will you give yourself a break from doing Yoga, or will you try to do even one or two minutes, just to say you did it?

There are no wrong answers here, the important thing is to plan ahead of time what you will do when life, inevitably, gets in the way of doing your new, lovely, fabulous habit!

There’s more to the course; much, much more to the course. If you want to read another blogger's summation of the course, please click here. Tess hits it dead on. Leo and his Simple Method are well worth looking into. The next Habit Course begins on October 3rd. Check it out if you want to.

Or….wait until New Year’s, make some resolutions, don’t keep them, and then decide to do something wonderful for yourself and learn how to do it the easy way!