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Posted on Oct 21, 2013 in How to simplify, Resources

Hundreds of Things You Can Rent (or borrow) Instead of Buying


Widespread access to the internet has given us all the tools to search for connections beyond our community of neighbors, family and friends.  We can even borrow or share tools and expenses with others to reduce consumption and costs.  Now, instead of buying the power washer you need once a year, you can borrow it or rent it for a low price from person in your town, and you don’t even have to know them.  The “collaborative consumption” movement is changing the way we spend money, and how we define our community.  You can find almost anything.  This is more similar to checking books out of the library than buying them at a bookstore.  Of course, you depend on others and have less control over the times you can access the tool or service and its features.

This sharing economy is liberating for some.  You don’t need to own and maintain your own car if you can walk a few blocks and pick one up for a few hours to do your shopping.  You don’t have to buy and store the tools you may only need once or twice.  Even if you are traveling to a new place, you can have the things you need only when you need them.

If You Need It, You Can Find It

Need a place to stay for your vacation? Look up Airbnb, Homeaway, Vacation Rental By Owner (vrbo), Home Exchange or Couchsurfing (free!)

Need a local guide?  Try  Vayable.

While you are gone, you can have your dog stay in a home instead of a kennel:  DogVacayRoverCity Dog Share (free dog-sitting co-op)

A car?  Thy zipcar or rent from owner: GetaroundRelayRides, Just Share it.  Need to rent a car at the airport? FlightCar Need a ride somewhere? Lyft and Sidecar.  Want to share a trip? Ridester

Heading to an event, and need a parking place? ParkAtMyHouse, Parkcirca and ParkingPanda

Need to rent designer clothes or accessories? Bag Borrow or StealWearTodayGoneTomorrowRent the Runway

Tools? Tool lending library (sometimes free!),  SnapGoods, ZilokRentabilities, Rentoid

Bike, skis, snowboard? SplinsterLiquid

Motorcycle? RentmymotorcycleJust Share it

Boat?  BoatBound

Help with chores? TaskRabbitThumbtackZaarly, (helpers are veterans)

Need Administrative help? Virtual Gal Friday, Elance or oDesk

Setting up a website? oDesk

Need shared or temporary office space? Sharedesk and Regus,

Need a small job done?  try  Fiverr (every job is only 5$)

Need Some Extra Cash?

You can make extra money on most of these sites, too.

Just be sure about your insurance.  Some states, California, Oregon and Washington have laws in place to allow car sharing, but be sure of the situation where you live.


Photo Credit:  {Guerrilla Futures | Jason Tester}



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Posted on Jul 18, 2013 in How to simplify, Resources

Making Time


The other day, I wrote about how time and space are the ultimate luxury. The next day, I put down some ideas on how you can increase the space in your home to give yourself room to relax, and to do the things you want to do.

The most difficult luxury to acquire is time.  In fact, billionaire or college student, we each have only 24 hours in the day.  You could increase your time by hiring people to do things for you like clean the house (I would love to do this).  Here are a few things that I have found to increase my time to spend with family and friends doing the things that are important to me (like this blog).

Don’t work all the time

If your hours are flexible, chances are that you are working more than 40 hours per week.  Could you increase your output in fewer hours?  Try these:

  • Organize your space.  This includes your computer desktop.  You will spend less time looking for things, and as a bonus, you will feel less stressed.
  • Check your email only periodically.  If your computer chimes every time an email comes in, you will look up even if you don’t check it.  If you’re like me, when you are doing something tedious or difficult, you want to see if something wonderful has arrived that will rescue you take you away.
  • Avoid time-wasting coworkers.
  • Set time limits on tasks during the day.  Not only will you have a goal to meet, you will be less likely to be distracted if you know you only have to work on this for 15 minutes more.

Have your schedule all in one place

This will help you avoid double-booking, and will help everyone in the house to know where they need to be and when.  You can do this with a paper calendar on the wall, or a computer calendar.  I use Google Calendar to block out time, and a page-a-day calendar on my desk for lists of calls and other small tasks.

Write down everything you have to get done

However you do it, you will forget less, and worry less about forgetting.

Be realistic about screen time

Do you spend many hours watching TV or online just surfing?  If you don’t have time to get everything done, think about reducing your screen time.

    • Use screen time as a reward for tasks done.
    • Use a timer or program to limit how much time you spend online or on social media sites (or whatever tempts you) during your peak work hours.Take a break during commercials to switch the laundry or tidy up the room.
    • Don’t watch the news when you first wake up.  I don’t know if this works for everyone, but avoiding the hype of TV news in the morning puts me in a better mood and a more productive mode all day.  I walk instead, and this is even better for productivity.

Clean up daily, and deep clean less often

If you clean up messes as they arise, and spend a few minutes every day tidying and wiping, you can spend less time doing the big house cleaning. This will reduce the stress of living in clutter, and could free up time on your weekend!

Don’t cook every day

I plan and prepare for the week on one day.  I spend less time shopping, and almost no time planning and cooking dinner after work.  Shopping less often saves money, too.

Get everyone involved

I have a friend who has the “hour of power” for the whole family one day per week, before they do something they all look forward to.  They put on some music, and tidy, dust, vacuum and clean surfaces in one hour.

Save the boring tasks

I have tasks that I hate to do because they are tedious and repetitive.  Recently, I have saved these tasks for after intense meetings, when my brain is fried.  I can be productive on those boring tasks when my mind has no capacity for anything else.  This strategy works for when you are on hold on the phone or waiting in line.  I keep my notes nearby when I am likely to spend time waiting.  As my mind wanders, I try to make decisions and plan for grants and manuscripts.  My body is stuck in one place, but my brain is free to think!



Photo credit: sidewalk flying

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Posted on Jul 8, 2013 in Inspiration, Resources

How Time and Space are the Ultimate Luxuries


When we see images of luxury in movies and magazines, we think of things:  Upgrades on things that many of us have, like cars and clothing, and items that are rare, like diamonds and private jets.  But really, people become adapted to their stuff pretty quickly (more about that here and here).  What is really precious and truly hard to attain is time to do the things that are most important to us, and the space around us to enjoy a less stressful life.

It is unusual to hear anyone (CEO, movie star or factory worker) say that they have enough time.  In fact, we all have the same number of hours in a day.  What defines luxury is having time to do what we love, and what brings us deeper satisfaction.  In the same way, you rarely hear anyone complaining that they have too much space in their house, and urgently need to fill it with more stuff.  More often, people feel that their home is just too small, and if they only had more space, they could live in a less cluttered, less stressful place. Think about those fancy hotel rooms and designer-created rooms in magazines.  What is really different about these places from our own homes is the amount of space that is not filled.  Free space and time are both essential for reaching possibilities and dreams.  What we need to do then, is create a life with enough time and space.

The good news is that you can think about this from the other side.  If we fill our lives first with the activities and things that are most important to us, and only allow those things and activities in that are meaningful and important in, then we will free up space and time that were previously taken up by habits and other people’s priorities.  If we resist buying the objects they are selling in those magazines, and work to have the result, that would be a simpler, happier life.

So, if we look at the glass half full/half empty question from the perspective of the glass, not the water, we can see that it has room for more.  This is luxury we can create for ourselves.


Photo credit: luxviz

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Posted on Jul 3, 2013 in How to simplify, Resources

Simplify Your Music


I love to listen to music.  It helps me to relax, focus my attention on my work and workouts, and improved my mood when I am stressed or down.  I like to have a hard copy of my music library, even though I usually listen to it through my phone.  This shows my age, but I enjoy opening a jewel box and removing the shiny CD to put into the player.  CDs take up a lot of space, and they get very dirty.  Keeping a bookshelf full of dusty CD boxes is one more example of how lots of possessions consume our time and energy to maintain them in our lives.  Fortunately, there are many ways to simplify.

Before I start, I want to point out that the examples I show are just examples.  I am not affiliated with any of these products or services, and do not receive any compensation from them.

  • If you can’t part with your CD collection, try getting rid of your boxes, and store the CDs in binders (here or here).  You can also find CD pages to fit into regular three-ring binders.  When I made this transition, I could not believe how mush space those jewel boxes took up, or how dirty they were, even though I kept them dusted.  The recycling bin was filled twice, just by throwing them away.  This was a one-day project, but it took me a few hours for my 400 CD collection, since I kept the liner notes next to the CD in the slots.  As I went through the collection, I found many CDs I had not listened to in a long time.  Some, I put back into rotation, some went to charity.  My whole collection no fits in the space of 3 large books.
  • Once I had a phone that stored MP3 files, I spent some time copying my favorite CDs to my computer.  I use itunes for this.  As I got more used to having copies of my favorite music on my laptop and phone, I got more comfortable not having a hard copy of each CD.  I like that I can buy music from anywhere and store it in one place. I still like having a whole album, rather than individual pieces, though.
  • You can store your collection in the cloud, rather than on your own equipment.  Using services like Amazon Cloud, icloud and Google Play, you can store your music, and access it anywhere from many devices.  Of course, you have to have access to the internet to do this.  You can even check out music files from the public library and listen online.
  • You can listen to your favorite music without storing your own files.  Services like Pandora and Spotify allow you to design your own radio stations that start with your favorite music, and offer you their choices of other music you night like.  You can teach the services your preferences as you listen, or create playlists.  Free services have advertising, or you can use a paid version.


Here and here are some other resources with comparisons and detailed instructions.


Photo credit: hugochisholm

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Posted on Jun 28, 2013 in How to simplify, Resources

Book Review: The Plateau Effect


Have you ever noticed that when you start out something new, you seem to improve every time you work on it, but as you make more and more progress, you meet with diminishing returns for your efforts?  A book came out recently, that really surprised me.  The Plateau Effect: Getting from Stuck to Success, by Bob Sullivan and Hugh Thompson really focused on this effect, and made some very perceptive observations about our lives.

 Most of the book was devoted to describing the problem in all of its facets:  Learning to play golf, losing weight driving our careers forward, starting a business, for example.  We are too impatient to wait for the long-term payoff, or we get stuck because we are either acclimated to our situation, or it is changing too slowly toward the worse for us to notice.  They used many scientific studies and stories illustrating the point, in fact.  The first half of the book had me wondering if there was any solution possible to this “Law of Nature.”

 Then they made a few more observations.  They pointed out that most of the time, there is a huge amount of information swirling around us, and that we are not paying attention to what could benefit our cause. Even worse, they point out that while we are constantly bombarded with information, we have trouble screening out the noise.  We multitask even when we are performing difficult tasks.  We want to look at the text messages and emails as soon as they arrive on the screen. They point out that incorporating the important information that others miss could give us a competitive edge.

And finally, they suggest some actions:

  • Pay attention to what is important, and turn off what is not.  This means focusing our full attention on important tasks as long as necessary, and not giving in to distractions or trying to do two things at once.  This doesn’t mean that we should work until we drop, the strategic timing of rest and change of perspective can also help us effectively move forward.
  • Listen to each other, without distractions or interrupting (even if it is very quietly, in our own minds).  This will help us see the key details in our business and jobs that others are missing, and help us strengthen our personal relationships.
  • Get things finished, not perfected.  They give a set of characteristics of perfectionists, and show how we get overwhelmed with our own and others’ expectations, and then give up because it is impossible.  We perfectionists are unwilling to expose ourselves to criticism, but if we hide our (perceived) weaknesses, we don’t get things done, and we will never improve.

What surprised me about this book, was that it was not the usual get-ahead-in-business-and-in-life self-help book, but it tells us to decide what is important to us, to focus on those things and people who are important, listen to what they tell us, do our best, and show it to others.

This sounds like a happier, simpler life.


Photo credit:  OregonDOT

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Posted on Jun 19, 2013 in How to simplify, Resources

Simplicity on the Road


Early summer is scientific symposium time.  We climb onto airplanes with our Powerpoint files and rolled-up posters, travel all over, and compare notes on our research progress.

I love these meetings for the geeky excitement, and look forward to connecting with old friends. However, none of us look forward to the vendor exhibits that are always located between the entrance and the presentation, the late nights and early mornings, the inevitable travel messes.  This year, I planned to have a less hectic travel experience.  Here is what I tried.

  • Make plans in advance.  Get flights, hotel and meeting registration done early.  This saves money on flights and early registration. Results: I planned for this month’s trips two months in advance, and still had to stay in a remote hotel.  This worked out pretty well, since I am used to walking every morning and evening with my dog.  Next year, I might do this on purpose. I had to limit what was in my bag to the bare minimum, since I had to carry it around with my all day.
  • I had great seats on the flights, but this last trip, the airline had to replace the plane (twice!).  I guess there are no guarantees, but I did learn one thing. If you are delayed significantly, and the airline is at fault, you can ask for compensation. In my case, the airline was not able to find me another flight, and we passengers were sent running around the airport, eventually leaving after the third plane was fixed.  When I called and asked, the airline offered me a choice of cash or frequent flier miles.  You can find information about this here.
  • Get a direct flight, if possible. Results: I might still be in transit if I had a connection to make.
  • When you get to the meeting, you do not have to participate in every event.  You can get a coffee with a friend or go for a walk. Results: Spending some time outdoors saved a lot of stress at more than one event this month.
  • You do not have to accept the free items that the commercial exhibits give away, unless the item is something you would have bought. Results: I did pick up a dog toy…
  • It’s OK to get enough sleep, eat healthy food, avoid the morning pastries. Results: I was about 50% successful at all of these.  The big breakthrough was finding a fruit stand during my morning walk.
  • The hardest part for me is to avoid actively managing my lab during the day while keeping up with the conference. Results: I discovered that either I normally spend a lot of time troubleshooting, or my lab has extraordinary numbers of problems while I am away.

Aside from seeing exciting advances, I love one other thing about scientific meetings.  While I am listening to the talks, I know I am only required to do one thing: Learn.  This is the best part.



Photo credit: quinn.anya

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