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Posted on Mar 24, 2015 in How to simplify, My Journey

Let it Be

 

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Maybe it was a different era, or maybe my family was really different.

Wait, both of those are definitely true.

Growing up, it seemed that everything had a value attached to it.

Nothing happened that did not get a “good” or “bad” label. Every event, every report card, every choice had to be categorized.

This week, I have a cold.  And a we are having yet another winter storm.

This gave me an opportunity to read a book (more on that topic later) over an enforced three-day weekend. This wasn’t even the topic of the book, but it crystallized one very important thing that I am working on simplifying in my life.

Most things don’t need to be labelled.

That is one huge thing off my to do list every day.

Good thing for the cold and the storm.

 

Wait, what?

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photo credits: Richard WestAriel Grimm

 

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Posted on Jan 26, 2015 in How to simplify, Resources

Book Review: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

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I remember a discussion in a college class, a long time ago. We were talking about cognitive assonance, an experience when new information fits nicely with your own beliefs. The opposite experience is cognitive dissonance, when new information contradicts or challenges your beliefs. Dissonance is uncomfortable for most people, because it is so difficult to hold two opposing ideas at the same time (Here is a nice description). The point of that ancient discussion was that it is very difficult to convince someone in an argument if their fundamental understanding of the world is different from yours. There is just too much to get past from their life. This book is a little of both for me.

In my own life, I have experienced a lot of joy from de-cluttering. Not just reducing possessions to those that I regularly use and love to look at, but removing activities and social obligations that take up my time and bring me nothing positive. In my experience, de-cluttering has brought only empowerment, increased happiness, more time and clearer thinking: real life-changing magic.

You can probably guess that I expected a nice dose of cognitive assonance when I checked this book out of the library. If this were a podcast, now would be the time to play the sound of a needle dragging across the vinyl record (why do they still use that sound when things go awry?  Most people these days have never scratched the arm of a turntable across a record).

One one level, this book is sort of a tough-love version of de-cluttering 101:

  1. Decide to do it and do it.
  2. Keep only what brings you joy.
  3. You can expect to confront your reasons for collecting clutter in the process.
  4. Afterwards, your life will be better.

The book repeats the message over and over, which might be helpful for those just starting out. It only talks about possessions, which for most people is only one part of their clutter. But there were some other messages that are unique to this book:

  1. Do it all at once
  2. Do it all in one place
  3. Start with the categories that have the easiest (least emotional) decisions.
  4. Do it my way because any other way is just an excuse to fail.

The author spent her life organizing and re-organizing her home, and as a child, her family allowed her to discard their possessions during her organizing sweeps if she decided they were not worth keeping. This would increase stress in most households, unless everyone in the house was in agreement on each decision, and working together (I hear that record-scratching sound again).

There is some good advice in the book. Keep your goal in mind as you go through the process, don’t exempt anything from the process, use your own intuition, don’t let anyone tell you what you should keep of your own things. There are some insightful thoughts about why we have trouble letting go of things. On the other hand, a lot of pages were devoted to how to fold things correctly, based on how the clothing wants to rest. For me, spending a lot of time folding my weekly laundry would be a barrier to keeping it up. It makes sense to have a process that is sustainable (simple) than to stroke the clothes until they tell me what they want.

It seems that the core of this process is making decisions. Should the object stay, or should it go? Establishing clear criteria to make this decision over and over is a good idea before you start the process. Finishing the whole job in one clean sweep is satisfying, because it does not allow the objects to migrate to another place while you are progressing from room to room. Surveying your tidy house will fill you with pride. Difficulty with making decisions is a major source of accumulating clutter, though. It is easier to just put something down or hide it in a closet to decide what to do about it. Like most things, addressing the cause of the problem is the key to the solution.  Cleaning house may not be enough.

A lot of people have reported success when using this authoritative do-it-now, you-can-do-it-if-you-do-it-my-way method. It’s kind of like your Mom telling you to clean your room before you can go out to play. You find a way to do it if the motivation is strong enough. I ask myself where the joy and empowerment will come in.

My silliest self keeps picturing her as Niecy Nash coming in with her team and making things fabulous, but this is not the author’s intention.  She tells us that you must do the process yourself for it to stick, and this is likely true for most people. The author says that after implementing her process, most of her customers keep their houses tidy without having to periodically de-clutter. Maybe the thought of doing it again is enough motivation to keep things tidy. And for some, this may be truly magical and life-changing.

It is hard for me to accept that there is one best way that will work for everyone. I will have to hold onto these opposing thoughts for now.

The book is: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo

Have you read this book? What did you think?

What is your experience of de-cluttering your life?

 Picture credit: Eirik Solheim

 

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Posted on Dec 16, 2014 in How to simplify

Sleep better at work

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It sounds kind of crazy, but I have stumbled on something big, you guys.

For a long time, I have been a fan of sleeping. Getting enough sleep, and getting up early enough to have some enjoyable, productive time before heading off to work is my favorite path to happiness. For the past several months, work has been a major source of stress and general unhappiness for me.  I know that this happens to almost everyone at one time or another. The worst part for me is that moment when you are just drifting off to sleep and those nagging thoughts creep into your head. You know, all those decisions that need to be made, the things you forgot to do, and the most stressful tasks coming up in the next days. Normally, I jot these down and try to go back to sleep, but wouldn’t it be better to avoid them and just go straight to sleep?

Do it at work.

At the end of the day, leave 20 minutes to try to go to sleep. I don’t actually nap at work, but you can. Maybe set an alarm so you don’t sleep too much and mess up you sleep time later.

Just relax and let those thoughts come up. Then, you can put real actions into your calendar to address in the coming days. It’s easier to prioritize and put things into perspective when you can focus on them before you go home. If you don’t have a private place to put your feet up, put on you earphones and just zone out for a while or set aside some time when you get home. You can do it with intention, or just let your thoughts wander.

I know this sounds like a simple mindfulness exercise, and I guess it is sort of. But don’t just notice you thoughts, do something about them.

Then go home without them.

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Posted on Dec 11, 2014 in How to simplify, My Journey

Lunch Hour

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I discovered something this week:

Lunch Hour

 

My job is not the classic 9-5/5 days a week.  I have a lot of flexibility in my schedule, and spend well over 40 hours working most weeks.

Normally when I’m in, I leave my office door open in case someone in my group needs help or has some progress to share.  This means, I am often interrupted.  Even when I’m eating lunch. Lately, when I need to concentrate on a task, I close my door with instructions outside about when I will be available, or how to contact me in an emergency.  I have made a point to be available when I’m not actively working, though.

Fortunately, I can schedule grocery shopping, dentist appointments, vet visits and haircuts before or after work hours.  I’m lucky most offices accommodate my work habits.

This week, I had to make an appointment during the regular work day.  I made the 10 minute appointment for noon, and did several personal errands on my way back to work.  I even stopped for a quick lunch.

Amazing.

The world did not stop, and no one at work even noticed.  I could easily have been in a meeting anyway.

But, I worked efficiently all morning to make sure I was on time, and I got back to my desk with more energy than usual after lunch.  Maybe it was the bit of physical activity, or maybe the sense of accomplishment of getting to the post office and library without having to wait in long lines.

But, it feels more like relaxation.  Could it be that a break in the work day is a good thing?  I got just as much work done, and felt better at the end of the day.

I have to try this again.

 

Photo credit: photophilde

 

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Posted on May 5, 2014 in How to simplify

89 Ways to Take Care of Yourself (without buying any stuff)

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Sometimes things get out of hand.  We get a bunch of deadlines, or get caught up in everyone else’s schedules.  We get sick and fall behind at work, with shopping, cleaning, laundry, emails.  Then we get grumpy, overwhelmed and frantic.  Now is not the time to stop for fast food and sit in front of the screen.  Now is the time to take a breath and get back where you can think clearly.

Take one step first, then worry about the rest.  Taking care of yourself for even a few minutes can help bring you back to center.  Then you can take on the world.  Better yet, plan to do something nice for yourself every day.  You don’t have to buy anything to be nice to yourself, most of these are free:

Do yourself a favor

Have a piece of dark chocolate

Pack lunch for tomorrow

Ask for (or give) a hug

Make one decision (what to wear to that wedding, what to have for dinner, what today’s most important goal is)

Set the table for breakfast while cleaning up from dinner

Ask for help with something

Take one thing off your to-do list (decide what you don’t want to or don’t need to do)

Make a double batch for dinner tonight to freeze for that inevitable crazy day next month

Give yourself a pardon for having dinner at the drive through and staring at a screen to relax all last week

Eat a piece of fruit

Give someone a genuine compliment, then give yourself one

Go to bed 30 minutes earlier

Get up 15 minutes earlier

Laugh (I like to check herehere and here when I’m stressed)

Give out one traffic pardon per day.  Give it in good will.  Give it a name. Give it to yourself only if necessary

Do a 5-minute mindfulness exercise

Surround yourself with happy colors (looking at red may boost energy levels, blues may be calming)

Draw a doodle about a current problem

Take a moment

Stop what you are doing and take 3 deep breaths. In for a count of 5 and then out for 5

Close your eyes and imagine where you would most like to be

Do nothing for two minutes.  Need help?

Stretch.  Loosen up your shoulders, and you might prevent that headache

Drink a glass of water (this can stop some headaches, too!)

Write a thank you note

Make a cup of tea and drink it while looking out the window

Write down three things you are grateful for

Give yourself a hand massage with nice-smelling lotion

Pet your pet

Look at the photos on the wall or desk (or here)

Turn off all the media for 5 minutes.  Relish the silence

Sit in the sun for 10 minutes

Put on some rain boots and stomp in some puddles

Think about what it would be like to achieve the goal for your most stressful project

Listen to a podcast or read your favorite blog (or try here, here and here)

Do a crossword puzzle or sudoku

Try this Naam yoga hand trick to reduce stress, increase confidence or solve a problem (Let me know if these work for you)

Try something new to eat (something spicy)

Knit or do another craft with repetitive motions

Watch a video with puppies playing

Watch a video with kittens playing

Watch a video with puppies playing with kittens

Get a back rub, or give yourself a tennis ball massage

Exercise

Go for a brisk walk or run for 30 minutes.

Take a 5 minute walk around the building

Walk the dog

Walk anywhere

Ride your bike to work

Chase the kids around at the park

Do some yoga (try these or these at work) or try eagle pose

Take a new class at the gym

Do a few quick balance exercises

Do a pool noodle back stretch (you don’t need to buy a special one)

Take a mini vacation

Go outside for lunch, hopefully, someplace green

Imagine a relaxing afternoon of pampering. (When I was under a stressful deadline, I spent 10 minutes each day looking up the lunch menu and afternoon spa treatments at the most expensive spa in the country.  I have never been there, but just thinking about the fancy, healthy foods and floating massage treatments relaxed me.)

Water the plants and imagine being where they came from (try spider plants, ivy or orchids)

Imagine doing something awesome for 5 minutes

Meditate (try this free guided 8 minute meditation from the Mayo Clinic)

Take a 20 minute nap (not too long!)

Take a bubble bath

Blow some bubbles (soap or gum)

Call that friend who always makes you laugh

Put on a facial mask and drink a glass of wine while it dries

Plan a vacation, even if you don’t take it

Take a webcam vacation from your desk (Try these nature webcams, or these awesome ones)

Try self hypnosis

Play a board game with the kids

Throw a potluck or barbecue

Get crazy for a few minutes

Sing your favorite song really loud with the car stereo

Talk back to the commercials on the car radio (try “No, thank you” or “When pigs fly!”)

Try the above with an accent

Say a few swear words to release your frustration (Be careful where you do this one)

Smile and wave at someone you don’t know

Dance around the house to an Abba song.  Provide the singing, if necessary

Try a new route home

Spin around in your desk chair, then spin the other way

Take one step towards a tidy space

(don’t use this to feel guilty about what is left to do-just do one thing!)

Make your bed

Tidy up the bathroom counter and use the dirty towels to wipe it before putting them in the hamper

Put one load of laundry on to wash

Fold and put away one load of laundry

Pick up a bag and collect all of the trash, recycling or dirty dishes (choose one), and put them where they belong

Throw away everything in the refrigerator that is too old to eat

Write a shopping list and put it where you will remember to take it with you

Take out the garbage

Brush the dog (do it outside so you don’t have to clean up afterwards)

Delete all the unused apps from your phone

Clean out one drawer in you home or office

Do one of the Flylady’s baby steps

Wash the car

Shred that stack of receipts

 

Photo Credit: CoCreatr

 

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Posted on Feb 12, 2014 in How to simplify

Try it Backwards

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When I was young, I was always trying out new stuff.  I guess most stuff was new to me then, so this seemed normal.  I think I may have made a few adults a little crazy with it, though.

Adult: “Why are you (eating, writing, cleaning) with your left hand?  It is slower and messier that way.”

Me: “What happens if I lose my right hand?  I need to practice with my left, just in case.”

Adult: “Why are you sitting with your head hanging off the seat of the couch and your feet in the air?

Me: “I wanted to see how the world looks upside down.”

Like most people who look for a simpler life, I have been thinking about getting rid of the things I don’t want (clutter, wasted time, energy sinks). But really, I simply want to fill my life with more of the things I do want (happiness, nature and people I care about).  Maybe this is true of most people, but I have the habit of being more clear about what I don’t like than what I want more of.

With that in mind, I would like to challenge you to join me in acquiring a new habit.  Yes, developing a NEW habit, not getting rid of one.  Let’s try to think about want we want more of in our lives.  Then, we can make room for these things by simplifying.  We can ask:  If I want more of this, what am I willing to trade for it?

Here is what I came up with this morning:

1.  I would like to get plenty of sleep so I can stay healthy this winter (two colds already!)

The easiest thing to trade for sleep is what I usually do before bedtime.  This is watching a movie or playing Candy Crush.     Since my dog is my alarm clock in the morning, I can look at when he goes to sleep as well: sort of a reverse alarm clock.

2.  I would like to eat more vegetables.

Strangely, this turns out to be a time issue as well.  I can add cleaning and chopping veggies for lunches and dinners to my weekly cooking list.  Steamed fresh veggies with my normal lunch will make me less hungry by the time I go home for dinner.

3.  I would like to get more exercise this winter with my dog.

We might have to move to Florida.  OK, for him, it would be back to Florida. He will need snow boots this year, at least.

OK, we’ll keep working on how to manage this one.

What would you like more of in your life?

 

 

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