Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Julia's Day 72: In which I review the last few months

HOLY POOP, IT'S THE LAST DAY.

Christa, Day 72: Is This the End of Is It the Beginning?

As I said yesterday, while thinking about today, I can't believe that the project is over. Getting all the way to today from Day 1 has been an interesting journey - and sometimes a rushed one. I think I had more doubled up days that anyone else who made it all the way through. Anyone else being Julia *waves* at Jewels and Smiths. I wish I had some sort of prize to give you for walking down the Simple Living Manifesto item by item with me. And heck, I'd give everyone else who participated, whether a lot or a little, a prize, too, if I could.

Because what a great endeavor, even if in the end all one did was think about each day's simplification idea!

Today's idea? It's refreshingly simple, where other items on the list have been worryingly complex in some cases. Day 72, the last day, offers up a road map we can all use moving forward to ensure we don't allow ourselves to fall into the trap of increasing, useless complexity in the present or in the future.
Always ask: Will this simplify my life? If the answer is no, reconsider.
First, l think I'll ask did this simplify my life... I think the answer is yes. I sincerely believe that I made changes during this project that I would not have made otherwise.

For example, I made the difficult decision to walk away from a job I'd been doing more or less happily for six years because the work and the time involved were no longer worth the pay. I put in the effort to get rid of larger furniture that was taking up space in my tiny house. I started working more regularly on my business side project in the hope that it will someday allow me to spend more time with my family and less time working for someone else. With help from my Internet friends, I have started to experiment with meal planning. I'm still working on being present more when it counts and driving more slowly and spending quiet time doing nothing other than enjoying the feeling of being alive. I'm still in the process of decluttering and destressing, and I don't know if I'll ever get the hang of single-tasking...

But I'm working on it. I'm still working on everything, beginning with Day 1. I've heard it said that it takes 21 days to create a habit - which means I still have a ways to go with some of the later list items!

This may not gel with your experience, but from the beginning, my assumption was that everyone would approach the 72 Ideas in 72 Days Project differently and that everyone would walk away from it with different things.That's cool. Because that was the point. We all need to learn different things, after all. In the end, I plan to continuing applying the lessons I have learned over the past 72 days and hope everyone else will, too.

Moving forward, will that simplify my life? I think it will.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Christa, Day 70 and Day 71:

I can't believe we are one day away from the final day. When I first decided to do the 72 Ideas in 72 Days Project, 72 days seemed like such a long time. And such a lot of simplification! But I guess I'll ruminate on all of that tomorrow. Because right now, I am a day behind! Here's Day 70's voluntary simplicity idea:
Leave space around things in your day. Whether they’re appointments, or things you need to do, don’t stack them back-to-back. Leave a little space between things you need to do, so you will have room for contingencies, and you’ll go through your day much more relaxed.
I think I do this? Notice the question mark. The confusion stems from the fact that I don't lay out specific times to do specific things. So you might say that time for contingencies is built right in since overall my schedule is flexible. Then again, you might say there is not time for contingencies built in because I tend to have a lot on my to-do list. THEN THEN AGAIN, my to-do list is often for the week and not for the day, allowing me an even greater degree of flexibility. Making the whole thing entirely too complicated for a simplicity exercise. Let's just call this one done.

And on to today's idea:
Live closer to work. This might mean getting a job closer to your home, or moving to a home closer to your work. Either will do much to simplify your life.
I live eight minutes away from work by car, which includes some stop signs and traffic lights. Add daycare drop off to that, and I'm still close since P.'s daycare is just walking distance away. Biking to work took, oh, fifteen minutes or so? Compared to my husband, I live quite close to work. However, I am currently trying to convince my boss to let me work AT HOME, which would have me living as close to work as is ever possible. Working where I live, aka living at work. I am okay with that. In fact, I love working at home, in isolation. You might say it is my favorite way to work! So far, I have been allowed to do a test run of working from home on Mondays and Fridays. I think it's working out well, but also have yet to hear feedback from the bossman. We shall see.

See you tomorrow for the big finale!

Julia's Day 71: In which total upheaval causes me to succeed

It took moving nearly 3,000 miles to do it, but the family does, in fact, now live closer to work. Huzzah!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Julia's Day 70: In which the baby makes things super easy

I got really good at leaving space around things in my day when Miss K decided to be pretty much the most schedule resistant human in space. Kinda like her daddy, come to think of it.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Julia's Day 69: In which I vehemently protest

I perceive inherent flaws in minimalist zen to done that make me want to run in the other direction. AND SO I SAY NO!

Christa, Day 69: Well, THAT Was Easy!

Use a minimalist productivity system. The minimal Zen To Done is all you need. Everything else is icing.
Heh. Leo has described exactly how I keep my busy, crazy life in line!

Christa, Day 68: The Reality of Traveling With Toddlers vs. Simple Packing

Learn to pack light. Who wants to lug a bunch of luggage around on a trip? Here’s an article on using just one carry-on.
I pack light for me. I have to, because the majority of any suitcase space - carry-on or not - is taken up by toys, books, blankets, tiny clothes that take up more space than you'd expect, and toddler toiletries. Hello, traveling with toddlers. I suppose my daughter could cope with my packing light, but could I cope with her coping? Frankly, I don't want to have to find out. My child, like many toddlers, thrives on routine and familiarity. We pack her blankets so she can fall asleep with the scent of home in her wee nostrils. We pack her toys because the places we go are sometimes not stocked with toys. She can't yet handle sleeping in a regular bed or on the floor or a couch, so one piece of luggage is always the Joovy Room2. Which isn't what you'd call insubstantial. And I'm okay with all this. We won't be packing like this forever, and someday my daughter will be big enough for her own little wheelie suitcase and I'll have enough room to pack light. 

Christa, Day 67: Now That's the Kind of Simple You Can Put in the Bank

Simplify your financial life. Article from a financial planning expert here.
Hmm, looks like we don't have a problem here.

Except, I suppose, for the reality of multiple accounts. When the husband and I married, the bank for some reason would not let us consolidate our accounts, so we have two savings accounts in addition to our one checking account. Which is fine, because being able to do small auto transfers to two accounts has actually let us cut down on fees.

Then we have a higher-yield savings account where we keep our actually savings. A small account with an investment firm. (Very small, but educational.)

And then there are the accounts that are in the husband's name but managed by his family - an IRA, I think. Maybe others. He's not entirely clear on it, which I think is slightly odd since if I had an account in my name I'd want to know exactly what it was so I was aware of it. Especially an IRA, since why not add to that?

Anyway, I just took steps to find out exactly what is going on in that arena so he and I have that information. At which point we can FINALLY make a will. Yay?

Friday, October 21, 2011

Julia's Day 68: in which I am pretty sure I am getting senioritis

I could actually go on at length about why I prefer packing light, my personal strategy to make it work, how to pack light even when you are facing a long flight with a squirmy toddler, etc. But I really just don't want to, and we only have a few days left, so nyeah.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Julia's Day 67: In which I trail off

Yeah, not especially financially complicated here, even with the whole currently-carrying-two-mortgages thing.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Christa, Day 66: MONEY MONEY MONEY MONEY.... MONEY!

For the most part, I love organizational tasks, so it's kind of surprising how much I dislike things like balancing the checkbook or making a budget spreadsheet. Chalk it up to my hatred of money. No, scratch that. I adore money. I just hate the necessity of money and how obsessed everyone is with showing off how much they have of it. The obsession with money leads to people overspending to feel wealthier and so on. Do you know what would make me feel wealthy? Gobs and gobs of money in bank and retirement accounts, my stock portfolio, and so on.

Wait, where was I?
Simplify your budget. Many people skip budgeting (which is very important) because it’s too hard or too complicated. Read more here.
Yeah, budgeting. My husband was nice enough to keep a budget going for some number of months so we could have a better idea of where our money is going. And that was great. Very revealing. The thing is, we're not big spenders. Leo mentions how most people's money downfall is "fun money". Our fun money pretty much equals a couple of sodas and fries at the occasional trip to the zoo, which is essentially free since we're members and go often enough to make it worth it. It's not that we're not fun people - we're just good at making our own fun.

So honestly, I don't feel that inclined to budget. It's actually the one thing we ought to be doing that we're not, according to Dave Ramsey, as we roll our debt snowball. I'm too lazy. And I dislike money, as I said. And the husband is too busy these days to keep on top of the old spreadsheets. I want to try the zero sum budget system recommended in the Total Money Makeover, but for that to happen we both need to sit down together. Which by itself has been difficult to accomplish lately.

Our budget? Currently adds up to one simple directive: Don't spend money on stuff you don't need. The end. Pretty simple, na?

Julia's Day 66: In which I don't really budget

To be fair, it's hard to budget when you're still in the middle of moving. We don't even know what our take-home income will be yet, since taxes/benefits-related expenses are always a bit of a wildcard. Sigh.

If nothing else, I do have an account with Mint.com now.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Christa, Day 65: A Super Mean Mode of Passive Income Generation, Right Before My Eyes

I had so much I wanted to write today about passive income streams and how I want them. How I'm always on the lookout for the perfect passive income opportunity. Obviously, I have not found it yet because I'm still dragging my tush to work three days a week and working from home the other two.

Today's simplification idea:
Strive to automate your income. This isn’t the easiest task, but it can (and has) been done. I’ve been working towards it myself. Article here.
So why am I not laying out all of my ideas for you here? Because one of the links in the article formerly linked above had a malware script built in. No need to click anything to install, it just does it automatically as soon as you visit the link. Luckily, all said malware does is mark all of the files on your computer as hidden so it can show you a super not legit looking pop up that says they'll recover your files for $85. Which they probably do, since those files were never actually gone.

What is slightly funny about all the anxiety the whole thing caused me is that since the whole process is likely automated, from "erasure" to "recovery," someone out there discovered a pretty slick mode of acquiring passive income from unsuspecting people.

Ha?

Julia's Day 65: In which I lament my lack of marketable skills

It's okay, even if a comprehensive book on miscarriage wouldn't sell, I can always fall back on the hope that people will just spontaneously throw money at me for being awesome.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Christa, Day 64: Today's Item Feels Like a Repeat, No?

Simplify your online life. If you have too much going on online, here are a few ways to simplify it all. Article here.
Is it just me, or does today's voluntary simplicity item feel like a repeat? I guess when you're less than 10 from the end of a cool 72 simplification items, you're bound to start consolidating previous ideas. Because I know for a fact we've hit email and how we use the Internet and our bulging RSS feeds and so on.

I'll just say this: My online life is about as uncomplicated as it can get. I work in online marketing. I blog. I keep up with what sometimes feels like hundreds of aunts and uncles and cousins via Facebook. I have a Twitter account for a growing business. I manage social media for clients. I have to research online every day for work. And sometimes I like to unwind by reading savings tips on r/frugal or listen to podcasts of the radio programs I missed during the day.

My online life is complicated, I suppose. It has to be because my job is essentially uncomplicating it for others. I'm in it so I can understand it so they will pay me to take it on for them. And it's a pretty fun job!

Julia's Day 64: In which I discuss falling off the inbox zero wagon

It's not that I particularly enjoy my cluttered inbox, but rather that I am afraid I'll accidentally delete something important related to the move.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Christa, Day 63: Bag Dumpin'

Carry less stuff. Are your pockets bulging. Consider carrying only the essentials. Some thoughts on that here.
Did you know that there's an Internet thing where people arrange the contents of their purses and photograph everything? As you might guess, the resultant photos are usually posted on mommy blogs and lady blogs. At least I've never seen a 'contents of my wallet' or 'contents of my messenger bag' blog posted by a dude. I suppose that women tend to carry more than men, but I'd also suggest that there's a change in that dynamic going on. It's no longer consider unmanly to wear a bag. After all, there are iPads and e-readers and work papers and so on to carry. The briefcase is out, and the man bag is in.

Consider yourself lucky that I'm not going to dump out my handbag right here in front of you. Mostly because I don't feel like having to then pick everything back up and re-organize it within my bag's five compartments. Yes, five. All of which are quite slim, though add up to a bag about six inches wide.

What's in that bag?

Diapers and a slim wipes case, of course. Various bandages and medicines and tampons and other drug store necessities that I'd rather not have to buy when they're needed on the fly. A wallet and my checkbook - because our daycare provider accepts checks but I always forgot my checkbook before it started living in my bag. A pencil case, some candy, some chocolate chips, and my cell phone. A tiny deck of cards. A few ponytail bands. Also, the notebook that I prefer over things like my cell phones calender or a tablet PC for making to-do lists, because I am old school like that. Keys, too.

Can anything be eliminated?

The deck of cards, sure. The candy and the chocolate chips, too, but these are good potty rewards. The pencil case, which is overall quite slim, could be replaced with a single pen. The drug store necessities could go, I guess, but many a time I or someone else has been saved by my small stash of tampons, bandages, decongestants, headache medicine, and so on. Diapers and wipes are non-negotiable, and I am not ready for a minimalist wallet because I need to carry business cards and insurance cards for three people, among other things. The notebook? Not a chance. Ditto on keys and celly. I do, after all, have a daughter in daycare so I need to be available at a moment's notice.

Maybe this item isn't for me or maybe my behemoth of a handbag is already fairly minimalist compared to other handbags. And I'm okay with that - it's not like I truck it everywhere all the time.

Julia's Day 63: In which I reveal the contents of my diaper bag

Considering that I move through the universe in the company of a not-yet-potty-trained toddler, I actually carry very little.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Christa, Day 62: I Can't Say I Mind a Messy Yard

My first yard is attached to my first house. Sure, I've lived in homes with yards but they belonged to other people. In one case, ducks swooped in every morning for a few handfuls of corn and in the process of eating the corn, kept the grass on the short side. Anyway, we were lucky in that the previous owner (who happens to be the midwife who caught P.) planted a whole bunch of perennials. Every spring and summer, flowers appear without our having to do anything.

The first spring, it was a lovely surprise!

Which isn't to say that our yard is maintenance free. Our backyard trees dump entire mats of brown leaves on our back lawn and garden. The wind blows all of the neighbors' leaves into our front yard, just in case we didn't have enough raking to do. We keep two food gardens - a big one in the back and half the front lawn, too. We have borders around the whole house and up against the fence. And so on, taking me to today's simplification idea:
Create an easy-to-maintain yard. If you spend too much time on your yard, here are some good tips.
Too bad the link doesn't work, because it would have been nice to see what the Unclutterer folks do to keep yard work to a minimum. Honestly, I can't say that we spend too much time on the yard. Here's why:
  • Lots of mulch. I can't be arsed to pull weeds from everywhere.
  • The aforementioned perennials make things colorful and cheerful.
  • Staggered perennials, so there is always something in bloom.
  • All the borders. They may be a hassle to trim around, but they make everything look neater without our having to do much.
  • Free mulch in the form of autumn leaves.
  • Less lawn, more food and less mowing.
  • That black plastic that goes around food plants so no weeds grow.
Also, laziness. I don't live in a gated community or have a HOA to deal with, and my neighbors are lovely people who aren't entirely obsessed with landscaping. I can let a few things go here and there without feeling the weight of neighborly judgment pressing down on me. I mow and I trim and I weed here and there, but frankly my day lilies and irises and marigolds are all out of control.

Then again, my favorite gardens are slightly messy ones that are sometimes called English gardens with lots of plants crowding close to one another. So I rather thing my yard looks kind of nice when it's a little less than neat.

Julia's Day 62: In which I admit that I want to put plants in pots

I have crazy, secret plans for a container garden once we move into the new house. I think, maybe, since it doesn't get too awfully cold here, I might even still be able to maneuver some vegetables - maybe kale and broccoli. Awesome!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Christa, Day 61: But I Just Said I Can't Do RSS!

But subscribe to Unclutterer. Probably the best blog on simplifying your stuff and routines (along with Zen Habits, of course!).


No. I sometimes read Unclutterer. I kind of prefer Becoming Minimalist. But honestly? In general, the principles behind getting uncluttered and paring down are simple. Get rid of stuff. Organize what's left. Get rid of some more stuff. Maybe mental clutter, too. Enrich yourself. Never stop practicing. 


Sounds easy, right? I don't need a feed to tell me what I already know.

Julia's Day 61: In which I opt out for reasons of keeping my RSS feed simple

It's not that I don't like the unclutterer bog. It just doesn't fit at all with how I use my RSS feed!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Christa, Day 60: Makes a BOSS Face

Since I often try to lead into my thoughts on the day's simplification idea with a little story, here's a shortie I told a friend tonight. Once upon a time I thought to myself, hey, I'm a blogger, I should get some RSS feeds in my reader and consume blogs that way. The end result was a reader that had tons of blogs added to it that never got read via the reader. At some point I realized that using a reader was just a sneaky way to put 'read blogs' on my to-do list so I could procrastinate forever. Oops!

Which brings me to today's idea:
Simplify your RSS feeds. If you’ve got dozens of feeds, or more than a hundred (as I once did), you probably have a lot of stress in trying to keep up with them all. Simplify your feed reading. See How to Drop an RSS Feed Like a Bad Habit.
I like to read high profile blogs written by thought leaders and other semi-important people. I like to read blogs written by family and friends. As for all the blogs that fall somewhere in between, I may come across them, or not. Now that I'm no longer a dedicated pro blogger, reading the "right" blogs is no longer as important. I can read the blogs I like. And the ones I really like are in my blogroll here. They're all linked up for me to check, or not, every day when I happen to have the time. If I miss a day? No problem. Nothing is left marked unread, taunting me for not checking 'read blogs' off my to-do list.

Problem solved. Blogs read. Everyone is happy!

Rebecca's Challenge: Make Your Own Simple Living Manifesto

Here we are at Day 60 of the 72 Ideas in 72 Days Project. Over the past two months, some items in the original Simple Living Manifesto have been relevant to me, some not. Either way, it's been valuable to at least reflect--however briefly--on each one.

I would like to pose a challenge to my fellow 72-Days-Project participants: On Day 73, take a look back at the 72 ideas and your posts here. Note which ideas have worked for you, think of anything that you might add to that list, and write your manifesto--one that is an actual manifesto (i.e., a declaration of principles and intentions, in the first person).*

In other words, synthesize what you've learned during the project and make it your own.

Here's my draft so far. Sixty items--some repetitive, some non-applicable--boiled down to just 15. (And I bet I can edit some of these down even further.) How's that for simplification?
  1. I will pause to remind myself each morning of my priorities--my most important things.
  2. I will proceed carefully on new commitments, making sure they align with my priorities (see #1), ensuring ample free time to spend doing what I love, with the people I love.
  3. Every day, I will use my time in ways aligned with my priorities (see #1).
  4. At the beginning of each week, I will create an organized to-do list (for work and home projects alike) of most important tasks. With this list, I will direct myself to the most important projects to focus on each day.
  5. I will continue to work on limiting my communications, taking periodic email vacations, etc.
  6. When tempted to shop, I will continue to remember that less is more.
  7. I will edit rooms, closets, drawers, etc. regularly.
  8. I will spend time each week organizing my computer files to minimize digital clutter.
  9. I will remind myself to slow down.
  10. I will remind myself to be present, to live deliberately.
  11. I will remember to clear my desk once a week.
  12. I will remember to delete emails when I am done with them. (More to come on this... I'm still catching up on posts here, but did figure out some successful strategies for my inbox.)
  13. I will work with my partner on planning and prepping some meals in advance.
  14. I will make time to exercise. (Sigh... I have not been doing a great job with this.)
  15. I will remember to aim for equanimity.
So, what do you think? If you were to simplify the items from the last 60 days into a true manifesto that is meaningful to you personally, what would it look like?

--

*Did it bug anyone but me that the original Simple Living Manifesto is misnamed--that it's not actually a manifesto?

Julia's Day 60: I totally have this RSS thing in the bag

For me, handling my RSS feeds is all about treating it like a newspaper and not like email - if I don't feel an absurd need to read every single post, then it doesn't bother me to mark unviewed things as read when I miss a few days. As a result, I have very little guilt or stress associated with my feeds. Hooray!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Christa, Day 59: Simple Pleasures, I Have Them. When I Can Remember Them

Fill your day with simple pleasures. Make a list of your favorite simple pleasures, and sprinkle them throughout your day. List here.
Sometimes I feel like I need to put simple pleasures on my to-do list. Isn't that sad? Right before 'Create blog post for client' I could jot down 'Savor homemade jam on crunchy toast'. After crossing off 'Pay water and sewer bill' perhaps I'd 'Sit outside and gaze up at the trees and sky'. The truth is I sometimes do put reminders on my many lists so I don't forget the simple pleasures. It's easy to forget that there is homemade jam and to fill my lunch hours with something other than nibbling toast and jam on the porch.

Now that summer has ended, so many of my personal simple pleasures will be put on hold for some months. Walking on the beach, letting the ocean lap my toes, for instance. Family bike rides on sweaty hot days. Fresh berries. The warmth of the sun on my face. Fall brings other pleasures, I suppose. Kicking through leaves snuggled up tight in a jacket. Pumpkin fare. Winter? For me, not so much. We have no fireplace and wintertime foods are what exactly? Snow bites my toes and the short days make me sad. I can't say I'm looking forward to much simple pleasure in the coming months.

Lately, my most consistent pleasure has been waking up a few minutes early to sip my coffee and read whatever I'm reading before hopping in the shower - the official start of my day. I think I need to find more accessible simple pleasures. Things I can do every day, not just when money or time or the weather permits. My simple pleasure used to be lounging about with the P. or taking a slow walk to the playground, but now my schedule and the demands of mealtimes and potty training have kind of eroded that.

I like all of the simple pleasures in the linked article, but they're not necessarily the ones that speak to me. Maybe I'll try not to feel so rushed tomorrow, to savor something. Maybe not - it's going to be a busy day. Hope I do, though!

Christa, Day 57: Great Idea, Not Always Simple in Practice

Go for quality, not quantity. Try not to have a ton of stuff in your life … instead, have just a few possessions, but ones that you really love, and that will last for a long time.
Right now, I am wearing rain boots. The price of these rain boots made my friend gasp. The thing is, though, that prior to buying these rain boots, I spent at least $75 for three pairs of cheap rain boots that all cracked after a year of light use. That's $75 total, over the course of three years. I figure if I get six years out of the boots that are on my feet as I type this, I've come out on top. More years? Even better, and the brand is known for lasting a good long time. Knock on wood.

Truth be told, I don't have a lot of money to my name, but it would only have taken a few more pairs of cheap rain boots to equal the price of the ones I'm wearing now. It made sense to go for something a little nicer. It's my birthday present, I'd just finished up a side job that paid for the boots in full, and I was sick of getting soaked feet every time my daughter wanted to wear her rain boots in the wet.

The thing about embracing quality over quantity is that you have to be able to afford quality in the first place. My guess is that most people who appear to be embracing quantity on paper are actually opting for a lower degree of quality because that's what they can afford, and having to buy more often because they are replacing broken, worn out stuff. Getting to quality assumes that you don't actually need quality X right now and that the price of quality X is even within your reach via long-term scrimping and saving. Sometimes it isn't.

Which is too bad. The equation doesn't work for everything, of course, but it works for a lot. The third-hand handbag from a Parisian leather company I carry every day has taken a beating and stayed (mostly) beautiful, whereas plastic purses from the Target would have long since disintegrated. Nice clothing fits better. Nice sheets feel softer and last longer. Great shoes can hold up to years and years of wear. Amazing cookware will last a lifetime. And so on. If I could - and I suppose when I can - afford to, I'd gladly choose quality over quantity. Fewer shoes, but better ones. A couple of great pairs of jeans that fit like they were made just for me. Dresses for work that will last more than a few years.

If you happen to follow me on Facebook, you know that right now we're embarking on a little debt busting experiment, so it may be that in the coming months I'm choosing neither quantity nor quality. Instead, we'll make do or do without, as the old saying goes. Where doing so won't utterly UNsimplify our lives, that is. I'm no masochist when it comes to frugality.

Christa, Day 56 and Day 58: Um...Nah

Read Walden, by Thoreau. The quintessential text on simplifying. Available on Wikisources for free.

Read Simplify Your Life, by Elaine St. James. One of my favorite all-time authors on simplicity. Read my review here.
Too busy, moving on. Seriously. I read, and it's awesome. I just finished The Total Money Makeover and before that, Game of Thrones. I keep writing down the titles of books I want to read and then losing the wee scraps of paper on which those titles are written. The way I look at it, adding required texts to my reading list is the opposite of simplifying. I don't think I need any more to-dos on my list.

Christa, Day 55: I'm Doing Nothing! Better Than Anyone Else! Let's Make a Spreadsheet, Log It, Practice! Prepare for It!

Learn to do nothing. Doing nothing can be an art form, and it should be a part of every life. Read the Art of Doing Nothing.
Here's the truth: I suck at this. I am probably worse at doing nothing than most people. I may actually be THE worst nothing doing in the whole entire world. Five minutes of just sitting around? My brain is in a tizzy, making lists of everything I can do when I am finally allowed to stand up! I actually think that the closest I ever get to doing nothing is exercising - and that's because my body may be doing something but my mind is just wandering doing nothing much of anything. How does that work? Beats me!

Oh, exercise and waiting in line - something specifically mentioned in the referenced article - so I have that going for me. I don't check my phone after queuing up. I just stand there and look around and think. Provided, of course, I'm not trying to wrangle a toddler. Though why I'd bring a toddler to a line up if I could avoid it is beyond me.

Does exercise and standing in line represent enough time spent doing nothing? I have no answer for that. I'd kind of like to try doing nothing at work (har har) not just for the relaxation that could result, but also because it would really freak my coworkers out to see me sitting there, immobile, lost in my own head. Freaky!

What's the takeaway? As much as I joke, I suppose it would be to stop. Just stop. NOT have a look at my email the second the P. is otherwise occupied or feeling like my lunch hour absolutely must be devoted to chores. (Today I threw out some basement stuff that cats peed on, ew.) A little downtime would probably do me good, so as much as I joke about how I can't be still, I should probably devote a little more energy to trying.

Rebecca, Day 49 (still catching up!)

49. Develop equanimity. If every little thing that happens to you sends you into anger or stress, your life might never be simple. Learn to detach yourself, and be more at peace.
I've been reading The power of now : a guide to spiritual enlightenment (Eckhart Tolle), which is an odd but somehow brilliant book. I definitely understand why it's been critiqued as being a bunch of mumbo-jumbo. But from what I've read so far, one of its major arguments is that we should all develop detachment from emotional stressors (though Tolle doesn't phrase it that way). I've been mulling this over and using modifying some of his strategies to be a bit more peaceful about things.

For example, Tolle argues that your mind is not yourself, but we all get tricked into thinking that we are our minds. Okaaay, whatever. But his point is that sometimes, we can look critically at the course our thoughts are taking and take note of unhealthy ruts -- eg., being prompted by X to dwell on Y and feel Z.

The general idea self-awareness and stopping to recognize stress triggers seems a good way to develop equanimity.

Rebecca, Day 52 (catching up!)

52: Make a Most Important Tasks (MITs) list each day. Set just 3 very important things you want to accomplish each day. Don’t start with a long list of things you probably won’t get done by the end of the day. A simple list of 3 things, ones that would make you feel like you accomplished something.
I am a big fan of to-do lists. I've always got a running list of tasks I need to accomplish. For about a year, I used a GTD Moleskine Hack and liked it; then, when I found myself the owner of an iPhone (thanks, honey!) and therefore an always-connected calendar app, carrying a Moleskine somehow became less appealing. And I switched to a single sheet of paper, labeled TO DO, that I'd hang onto for a week (or more, or less) at a time.

One of the advantages of the Moleskine hack was its organization. On my single sheet of paper, I tried to maintain similar categories, and I'd list tasks in different categories ("phone calls," "emails to send," "errands," etc.). It functioned, but inelegantly.

Last week, I tried the "MITs" system described above, writing at the start of the week a to-do list organized by day. Dividing the tasks I had to do according to day helped me ensure time-sensitive items got done earlier in the week. In a couple of important cases, I subdivided by time of day (e.g., "Wed. a.m." vs. "Wed p.m."), according to timing needs.

Verdict: This worked well! I could maintain my routine of jotting down everything I wanted to do in a week, but essentially saved time on a daily basis by having my main priorities for each specific day listed. No thinking "Hm, what should I do next?" -- just "Ah, okay, I'll do that next."

Julia's Day 59: In which I admit to pretending to be a dinosaur

Look, I just find great joy in being goofy to entertain my kid, all right? And so what if that means that each day, at some point, I will end up hopping around pretending to be a bunny in public?!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Monday, October 10, 2011

Julia's day 57: In which I lament the untimely death of my couch

Focusing on quality over quantity is funny when it comes to spending. You might spend more initially, but you end up spending less over the long run because you don't have to replace things as often. True story!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Julia's Day 56: In which I briefly discuss my reading habits

I'm perpetually behind on my reading list. I suppose it might be one of those things I will regret on my death bed, never finishing Moby Dick or what-have-you.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Julia's Day 55: Leo has funny ideas about "nothing"

I consider myself a bit of an epicure, and the idea of treating a fine meal as doing nothing bothers me. A lot.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Christa, Day 53 and Day 54: Routines and Ritual, I Have 'Em Covered

Day 53 is all about routines... have I even mentioned I am pro routine?
Create morning and evening routines. A great way to simplify your life is to create routines at the start and end of your day. Read more on morning routines and evening routines.
When you work and you have a child, morning and evening routines are a must.

There's the a.m. routine: I shower and dress, then ready P.'s breakfast. Next, I wake her, and set her right down to eat and drink. Eventually the potty will come first, but not yet. While she dines, I do my hair and makeup, then get her things ready if I've forgotten to lay them out the night before. At that point, I might sit and read while she watches some little cartoon, or we'll try a little German. Then she's gives the potty a go, gets dressed, and we're off.

There's also the p.m. (aka bedtime) routine: P. may have a bath or not, but at some point, jams are put on, vitamins are taken, and teeth are brushed and flossed. After which I read one story, her papa reads one story, and then it's lights out. Unless she "needs" some toy or another and her papa is willing to fetch it. Sometimes he holds for a while if she's feeling insecure, but mostly she falls asleep with little or no fuss. For which I'm grateful.

Do I have my own nighttime routine? Not so much, but there's a list of things I do at night and it seldom changes. Tuesdays and Thursdays are Tedd's days to have alone time, and on those days I do aerobics in the kitchen instead of riding the stationary bike in the family room. The end.

Day 54's simplification idea strikes me as only applicable to a niche group of people who both feel driven to write and also find consider writing a relaxation activity rather than a work activity:
Create a morning writing ritual. If you enjoy writing, like I do, make it a peaceful, productive ritual. Article here.
This assumes you like writing. I like writing, true. On the other hand, I write all day at work, I blog about life, I manage some social media for myself and others, and the last thing I want to do in the a.m. when I'm facing a long day of writing stuff for other people is to wake up extra early to write. I think about writing more fiction, and I want to. I do. But the fact is that I'm kind of swamped by life right now.

Fiction will wait. Sleep, not so much. Time with my toddler, not so much. Someday I'll run out of silly home projects and the P. will want to do anything but spend time with me, and that's when I'll sit down and write stories. Maybe take a class (something I'd like to do but don't have the money for at the mo'.)

I do have a morning ritual, though. For the past few weeks, inspired by some item in the 72 Ideas list though I can't remember which, I've been waking up 20 minutes early to read. This morning, I put on lots of warm layers, poured myself a cup of coffee and then another, and sat down with Game of Thrones. By the time my small period of reading is up, I'm nearly fully awake and just about ready to hit the showers. It's a nice peaceful start to my day - an effortless gift I give myself. Writing, on the other hand, would be work. And while I am a morning person in general, I'd rather the first thing I do each day be relaxing.

And speaking of relaxing, I'll be taking a few days off - as in off the computer - so you won't be hearing from me again until at least Monday!

Julia's Day 54: In which I grow increasingly suspicious of Leo

Look, all I am saying is that the dude has six kids and is implying that every morning he finds a quiet, secluded spot in which to write, uninterrupted, and then give himself a congratulatory coffee or vegan bagel or whatever. I'm just wondering whether his wife enjoys the same luxury!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Julia's Day 53: In which I once again whine that I have no time

In spite of the whining, I actually have a pretty consistent set of morning and evening rituals, one of which involves taking a bath, and the other of which involves visiting a shih-tzu.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Christa, Day 52: Make a To-Do List? Twist My Arm, Why Dontcha?

Create a to-do list? NAILED IT.
Make a Most Important Tasks (MITs) list each day. Set just 3 very important things you want to accomplish each day. Don’t start with a long list of things you probably won’t get done by the end of the day. A simple list of 3 things, ones that would make you feel like you accomplished something. See this article for more.
As long as it's okay that I fudge the numbers a bit. See, I make my week's to-do list on Sunday evenings, so technically that means I can put 21 items on the list. Right? 21 most important tasks. Like fun. And calling Ashley (sorry, Ashley).

Yes, I have to put fun and calling friends on my to-do list so I can make time for it. Stop laughing or the next most important task I add to my to-do list will be beating your butt.

Addendum: I guess I can work on crossing more list items off in the a.m. There, happy now?

Julia's Day 52: In which I discuss convergent evolution

As it happens, I've been making a 3-4 item Most Important Tasks list for, like, a GAZILLION YEARS. Except I just called it a to-do list. You know. Simple.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Christa, Day 50 and Day 51: Sometimes Peace Means Saying Screw Advertising

Day 50? Nailed.
Reduce your consumption of advertising. Advertising makes us want things. That’s what it’s designed to do, and it works. Find ways to reduce your exposure of advertising, whether that’s in print, online, broadcast, or elsewhere. You’ll want much less.
One of my coworkers, upon seeing that I use AdBlock Plus, asked me why. He said "What's the big deal?" And I get it - advertising makes things less expensive because advertisers pay so we don't have to. Viewing advertising is a way we pay for TV, magazines, and so on. Without advertising, the cost of so many things would go up, up, and up. But still. When I answered my coworker I said "I don't look at ads because I don't want to be forced to listen to anyone's message." Not listening is an option. A dastardly one, since it means that sometimes I'm not supporting stuff I like.

But you know what? Since I decided to limit my consumption of ads years ago - it began with not wanting to pay for cable TV - I have found myself wanting less. Wanting fewer upgrades. Being satisfied with what I already have. And I see it working in my child. She has never asked to bring home anything from the grocery outside of fruit. No one has told her she is supposed to covet certain toys and certain brands. I plan to keep her in this bubble for as long as I can. Would that I could put myself in a more perfect bubble, since advertising still creeps in.

And now for today's voluntary simplicity idea:
Live life more deliberately. Do every task slowly, with ease, paying full attention to what you’re doing. For more, see Peaceful Simplicity: How to Live a Life of Contentment.
Oh, how I struggle with this. Being American and none too fond of cooking, food is a definitely point of possible improvement. As is driving. Hey, welcome to America! Where the lunch breaks are short, the commutes are tedious, and the workday is long. Doing every task slowly and with care isn't exactly easy-peasy when your workload is overwhelming and there never seem to be enough hours in the day. I'm not saying that's MY situation, but it is generally true among U.S. citizens. Or so it seems.

Having read the referenced blog post, I can say that when it comes to Day 51, I'm winning some and I'm losing some. I do try to enjoy simple pleasures throughout the day, but I'm sometimes so immersed in other things that it's easy to forget or to go overboard. Solitude? No can do, but I try to stop and just be at least once a day. Not easy with a little kiddo hanging on me though. I'm working on doing less and leaving space, and frugality is right up my alley for so many reasons.

But I can't say that downsizing my to-do list is for me. Every time I try to limit my list to the essentials, I never end up doing anything fun. Fun, for me, is a to-do list item.

Julia's Day 51: I would like to let go

Slowing down is super extra relevant in my life right now, so I'm going to try to do it. Not my usual paradigm, to be sure, but hey, my usual paradigm is wildly flawed!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Julia's Day 50: Why living in the capitol is awesome

Yeah, so we really don't have billboards, and I don't have cable. It's funny, I think I see the most ads when I ride the metro. Or, you know, check email on someone else's computer.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Christa, Day 48 and Day 49: Miles and Miles of Files and the Unpossibility of Detachment

Yesterday's voluntary simplicity idea made this suggestion:
Simplify your filing system. Stacking a bunch of papers just doesn’t work. But a filing system doesn’t have to be complicated to be useful. Create a simple system.
I just now put away the last of my pending files. After reading the referenced blog post, I can honestly say that what I am good at is having all of my pertinent paper in one drawer (putting aside what's in the fire safe) and what I am bad at is filing those papers immediately. Yes, I have stacks. Or had, since today I took those stacks, recycled what was unnecessary, and actually filed the stacks. I know for a fact that new stacks will grow. Oh well. Overall, there are so many people who are worse at this than I am. Hopefully my filing system is clear enough for my husband to find what he'd need in the event that I died or was in a coma or decided to run away to Mars.

And on that cheery note, onto today's simplification idea!
Develop equanimity. If every little thing that happens to you sends you into anger or stress, your life might never be simple. Learn to detach yourself, and be more at peace. Read more.
The really really big bad things? I cope with those with a calm, almost zombie-like attachment. (In my world, zombies get the giggles.) The driver who turns without signaling? Sends me into a fit of rage that can stick with me throughout my commute. I am not sure what wires got crossed in my brain to make me this way, but it's part of why I'm better at working alone than with others.

Little things at work drive me CRAZY. People asking me to edit their work, as if my having an English degree means I have nothing better to do than proofread the world's writing. Sometimes my husband's chewing drives me crazy. Really low volume music drives me crazy. LOTS of things drive me crazy. Not good, right?

But I try to achieve upeksa. I have these weird little tricks I use. Like when someone is driving badly, I tell myself a story that explains it. They're rushing to the hospital where their hurt child is being treated. They were just let go from their job. They're feeling sick and need to poo badly. Or I breath deeply and remind myself that there are people who are actually suffering real injustices in that moment. Or I just tell myself that I need to stop getting so emotional over first world problems. I practice empathy and understanding. (Okay, I try.)

And so on. My husband is, 99% of the time, an absolute pillar of upesksa, and that helps, too, since he does not hesitate to tell me to quit getting so angry over nothing. Which is good, but also ANGER INDUCING. What a catch 22 that is, right? What's my homework for today... let's see... how about starting with the road and the drivers and the delays. This week, I will try to achieve upeksa while driving to and from work. Wish me luck!

Julia's Day 49: Feelings...nothing more than feelings

I have a serious lack of equanimity mainly because I take everything personally. And that's bad. But I am trying to change.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Julia's Day 48: Filing schmiling

I am so very glad that my husband takes care of filing. Although, if recent events are any indication, perhaps I ought not be so trusting.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Christa, Day 47: I Am Totally Doing Something Else Right Now

Since I'm busy reading blogs and my brain is desperately trying to get me to go downstairs to decoupage a label that reads CINNAMON SUGAR onto an old jam jar, I'll make this short. Today's simplification idea:
Single-task. Multi-tasking is more complicated, more stressful, and generally less productive. Instead, do one task at a time.
Admission: I so have to force myself to do this at work.

Luckily, up until just today when I agreed to take on a megadonic project without realizing the hugeocity of it, all my work could be done in small chunks. Do task A. Check email. Do task B. Get a coffee, read a blog post. Do task C. Complain about state of company with coworker. Do task D, if task D even exists. Which is a part of why I took on the aforementioned project. It's finite, though irritating. But in the long term, it should hopefully eliminate the roadblocks that are causing my downtime.

How does this project relate to the subject of multitasking? It involves a lot of running reports (borrrrrring) and so I end up poking around in between hitting COMPILE and actually saving the results.

Which is a fine illustration of me and my relationship to certain tasks. I can stay focused - or singletask, as Leo calls it - while doing certain things. Sewing. Washing the dishes. Walking to the park. I'm not the sort of person who checks the Internet on their phone every 15 seconds because I usually just leave my phone in my bag because I don't want anyone calling me anyway, much less sending me emails that come straight to my phone! BUT put me in front of a computer and my focus goes out the window.

Perfect example: As I typed the previous sentence my brain said CHECKFACEBOOKEMAILFACEBOOKEMAIL(1)SOMEONE
LIEKSMECHECKITCHECKIT!

And then for real, I refreshed my blog to update my roll. Bad habits, I know. I occasionally use site blockers to keep me plugging away toward various goals because I do want to get my work done. Checking items off a to-do list sends me into near-orgasmic spasms of joy, no joke. So my homework for Day 47 will be to continue to force myself (if necessary, kicking and screaming) to be more disciplined while working on the computer. I'll, er, let you know how that goes.

Julia's Day 47: I am Jack's inability to multitask

True story: The scientific evidence for how hard multitasking is? My fault.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Christa, Day 46: Adonis DNA

Here's a list of some of my current goals: Convince my boss to let me work from home. Coordinate the conception and live birth of a second child. Find more freelance clients via my website. Uh, actually finish my website. Paint and number my first-to-second floor stairs. Toilet train my toddler. Various around the house projects. Make a tutu for the P. Make a t-shirt dress for the P. And so on.

None of which is in line with today's voluntary simplicity idea:
Simplify your goals. Instead of having half a dozen goals or more, simplify it to one goal. Not only will this make you less stressed, it will make you more successful. You’ll be able to focus on that One Goal, and give it all of your energy. That gives you much better chances for success.
One goal... one. This is a toughie. Does Leo mean choose only one? In that case, I'd say it would be a toss up between more clients and toilet training. Or does he mean use the AMAZING POWER OF SIMPLICITY to boil it all down into one fully compressed mega goal that is the amalgamation of all other goals? Because I can do that. As suggested in today's idea, here is my one goal:

EPIC WINNING.

And I get to define what that means. There you go. Easy, right?

Julia's Day 46: I can DO simple goals!

Basic summary: My goal is to try to do the things that result in me being happier.

What do you think about when you're alone?

Christa's recent post got me thinking, who am I? But the answer doesn't matter. How you ponder the question is what matters. You need time to be alone with your thoughts.

I haven't been doing that recently. I mean I'll have time but I won't spend it thinking about the meaning of life, my place in the universe, etc. I need to make time for that.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Christa, Day 45: I Can Still Feel a Little Cool

Poke around the blogging world, and you'll see the homemaking is IN. Hipsters are out there in whatever cities are now deemed super cool having fun creating their own definition of adult and immersing themselves in old school pursuits that twenty years ago would have been the purview of grannies. And thank goodness for that since yours truly hasn't written a short story or painted a proper picture for years now.

Back in the day when I was a young adult (as opposed to the old adult I am now) writing serious fiction and painting serious pictures were the hip things to do. Now it's cupcakes and knitting and sewing tutus and doing stuff with craft paper, which is a darn good thing because it means I still feel at least a little cool. You know, because that's all the creative energy I can muster up these days.

Bringing me neatly to today's voluntary simplicity idea:
Find a creative outlet for self-expression. Whether that’s writing, poetry, painting, drawing, creating movies, designing websites, dance, skateboarding, whatever. We have a need for self-expression, and finding a way to do that makes your life much more fulfilling. Allow this to replace much of the busy-work you’re eliminating from your life.
The verdict? Done-ish. I do indeed have some number of creative outlets for self-expression. Many of which are DIY crafts for moms. Like so:


DIY crafts for moms


And really, the fact that most of what I make involves pursuits that have traditionally fallen into the realm of woman's work is not a problem for me. There's no logical reason that painting a picture on a canvas should be any more valuable than painting a chair. Only one of which you can sit on, I'd like to add.

Yet it has struck me as sort of odd that I've just sort of slipped into creative pursuits that revolve around house, home, and family whereas once upon a time my creative pursuits most definitely were not associated directly with those realms. I'm sure some of the more militant feminists would have a field day with it all. The fact is, though, that DIY crafts for moms type projects are good for those with:
  • Limited time (like I tried to comment on Julia's Day 45 post, any creative pursuit I want to engage in has to fit into the hours between 9 and 11 p.m.)
  • Children who might want to enjoy the fruits of one's labors
  • A house or apartment that they'd rather look a certain way
  • A limited budget because, hey, craft paper and Mod Podge are pretty cheap
And there you have it... my creative outlet. It's not cool, except right now it's kind of cool. Making cupcakes, sewing stuff, and takin' names. That's me, not going postal.

Julia's Day 45: In which I reveal that having no creative outlet is killing my brains

Continuing the underlying theme of Julia is terrible at putting down her clingy toddler long enough to keep her house clean, in this episode, I discuss the fact that even my change in job status has not allowed me enough free time to, for example, shower daily.

I'm stinky, yo.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Christa, Day 44: No Can Do

Here's some information about my car: It gets P. and us to the doctor, though we have walked her to the ER once before. It gets us to New York to see my mom and my grandparents. It gets me to work in a town with very limited local public transportation. It allows me to pick up free toddler clothes and gear from Freecycle. It makes doing things like buying groceries and seeing other people possible in our terrible white winters.

All of which brings me to today's simplification idea:
Try living without a car. OK, this isn’t something I’ve done, but many others have. It’s something I would do if I didn’t have kids. Walk, bike, or take public transportation. It reduces expenses and gives you time to think. A car is also very complicating, needing not only car payments, but insurance, registration, safety inspections, maintenance, repairs, gas and more.
Well, Leo, it IS something I've done. I had no car in Brooklyn for some time and even no car in Queens for a little while. This was doable because I was a hip single gal living in Brooklyn and then Queens where there were plenty of Asian markets and, later, a supermarket down the block and great 24-hour public transportation and also everything I needed at all hours because I was in New York City. Carless in Boston might be possible, but everything closes at what feels like 9 p.m. - including the public transportation!

Carless in the north shore? Ahaha.

Could I do it? Yes. I'd have to find new doctors for all of us and while we do have a grocery and bank and post office within walking distance, it would be a cold horrible experience to get to them from December to March, so I'd probably just feed my family un-cashed checks and unsent mail all winter. I'd have to quit my job, or give my reluctant boss a telecommuting ultimatum. We could still visit our New York family, but getting there would be a day's worth of train rides (commuter rail, 1 hr w/ walking, to Amtrak, 4+ hrs, to LIRR, 2 hrs) and a lot more expensive. No more free stuff pick ups.

Yes, owning a car is more expensive than taking a bike everywhere or using public transportation. Provided there even is reliable public transportation. Look, we walk. A lot. And bike.


carless living


Weekend shopping is often a by foot affair that includes the whole family. I like to use my car as little as possible. But life without a car where we live? Would be downright complicated. Figuring out something simple like how to visit with a friend would be such a pain in the butt that I'd become a hermit. I would not make the effort or spend the money to see my family. And I'd be shopping every day for things since I'd be limited to however much I could carry home in a wheely basket. Which was perfectly fine in New York when the stores I frequented were a block away. Not so much here.

Call me whiny, if you will. But this is an idea for city dwellers, not us current suburbanites.

Julia's Day 44: Does barely using the car I have count?

Today I went to the zoo. It was the first time I had driven the car in over a week! I think she needs oil.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Christa, Day 42 and Day 43: Epic Fail!

Outer simplicity? Can do. Voluntarily simplifying my inner turmoil? Well, that's where you've got me. I'm calm. I'm freaking out. Or am I...

See I am one of those weirdos for whom freaking out is inextricably linked from working it out. Panic is my way of occupying the unpleasant energy coursing through my person so I can work out a solution to the problem at hand using my brain. Without a little therapeutic panic, my brain is too busy doing a frantic lambada dance with all of the physical sensations that come with bottled up stress. Letting it out gives my brain the room it needs to really think. My husband cannot stand this. But it works for me.

Here's yesterday's voluntary simplicity idea:
Find inner simplicity. I’m not much of a spiritual person, but I have found that spending a little time with my inner self creates a peaceful simplicity rather than a chaotic confusion. This could be time praying or communing with God, or time spent meditating or journaling or getting to know yourself, or time spent in nature. However you do it, working on your inner self is worth the time.
My inner world? NOT simple. Chaotic confusion is my resting state, 95% of the time. I stress about the little things. Remain calm through the big things. Actually, I giggle through the bad things. Do not try to have a serious conversation with me ever because I will invariably want to laugh and trying not to laugh will cause me to look like a gargoyle. Long story short: I know myself well enough to know that my inner self is anything but peaceful or simple. Note that I am not twirling my hair around my finger like a 15 year old and saying "I'm, like' really deep." Because, baby, I am as shallow as a puddle. What you see is what you get.

Maybe I should be working on that. I don't know. What I do know: I suck at meditating, but I've never given it a really good go and I hear there is a learning curve. I like to spend time out of doors, and nature is okay when it's not mosquito season or chainsaw psycho season. My daily prayers are usually of the panicked variety, and I'll leave you to figure out what that means. I sort of journal. But, heh, even as I write this, I'm spiraling into inner turmoil caused by my own tendency to feel envy, worry, fear, and so on. Like Julia, I am much too good at imagining the worst case outcome of ANYTHING.

That said, my homework is to find an effective way to not only get to know myself, but also to help myself change.

Which brings me to today's voluntary simplicity idea:
Learn to decompress from stress. Every life is filled with stress — no matter how much you simplify your life, you’ll still have stress (except in the case of the ultimate simplifier, death). So after you go through stress, find ways to decompress. Here are some ideas.
My stress relievers: deep breathing in stressful moments, reading in the calm before the storm, and exercising every day. I figured out way before it was trendy or medically indicated that getting a good sweat on was pretty much the best way to control my manic mind and my pessimistic heart. Am I a low-stress person? Far from it. But I think I at least have a handle on my stress levels and my reaction to stress. (Though I doubt my husband would agree!)

Julia's Day 43: inhale....exhale

In light of yesterday's revelation that I am terrible at remaining calm, I don't know whether it is surprising or not surprising at all that I actually do have a knack for letting go of most kinds of stress. Good thing, too, as today I woke up to discover that my phone is currently about 3,000 miles away from my present location!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Julia's Day 42: Creativity's got me down

In contrast with what Leo suggests, it seems to me like the key to inner simplicity, in my case, is to stay as far away from the inside of my own head as possible.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Christa, Day 41: This Goes Here, That Goes There

Have a place for everything. Age-old advice, but it’s the best advice on keeping things organized. After you declutter. Read more here.
Or don't since the link is borked. Maybe Leo originally linked to this article, which was then at a different URL? It seems as good as any for making clear the benefits of having a place for every little thing. Which is easy, I suppose, when you're a minimalist. But when you're not, trying to find a, as in one, place for everything could very well require a spreadsheet. In the article I linked, I could name the location of everything except for my 2009 tax docs. Most likely, they're in the filing cabinet. Most likely. But everything in the post falls into the category "essentials." There's the minimalism again. If you asked me to pinpoint the location of, say, the glue sticks for my hot glue gun, the spray paint for my daughter's outdoor chair project, my rollerblades, and my wedding guestbook, I don't know if I'd be so sure of my answers.

I think that as one pares down and gets closer to living in a household that is focused on mostly essentials followed by a few things of beauty followed by toys (for the parents among you), it becomes easier to find a place for everything and put everything in its place.

It's something I was thinking about today as I washed a few dinner dishes and wiped down my stove. Specifically, how clean my kitchen has been lately, and my living room, too. Tidying up before a gathering of friends was easy last week, and the laundry is getting put away faster than every before. There has simply been less to clean and organize since I began the 72 Ideas in 72 Days Project, and I'm loving the change. I think I feel lighter, maybe even happier. Less stuff has translated into less to worry about - less to find a permanent place for somewhere under my tiny roof.

We're not perfect, by any stretch. There's still plenty in the house that has no place and plenty that still needs to be purged. I'm rather jealous of all the people who can give away or consign their baby gear without a second thought - we'd like to have another baby someday and so have kept everything from gear to clothes and it takes up a lot of space. It will be sad when my baby-making days are over, but on the other hand it will be awesome to slowly give away all the wee onesies when we don't need them anymore.

I don't have any real actionable item to speak of today. Just more of the same: decluttering, organizing, purging, and reorganizing!

Julia's Day 41: Why I love my kitchen

Oh, my beautiful kitchen, which is so well-organized for the manner in which I spend my time while in that room. Too bad I haven't yet been able to manifest similar functional focus throughout my home. I suppose the fact that it works well in one space should serve as an indicator that it could work elsewhere, as well.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Julia's Day 40: I can't handle the mid-process clutter

I'll admit it, sometimes I do organize the clutter, but mainly because if I didn't, I would go COMPLETELY INSANE.

Christa, Day 40: My Decluttering Crutch

I can't believe that we've already reached Day 40 of the 72 Ideas in 72 Days Project! We're more than half over and I feel like there's still so much to do and so much to explore in the realm of voluntary simplicity. And, yes, still so much decluttering left to do! Which brings me to today's idea:
Declutter before organizing. Many people make the mistake of taking a cluttered desk or filing cabinet or closet or drawer, and trying to organize it. Unfortunately, that’s not only hard to do, it keeps things complicated. Simplify the process by getting rid of as much of the junk as possible, and then organizing. If you declutter enough, you won’t need to organize at all.
This brings me right back to the Basement of Dorian Gray - which I talked about on Day 9 - and our household's bad habit of putting clutter out of sight. Eventually, it's out of mind, too. Until it gets bad enough to drive me absolutely out of my head, that is. I suppose not letting it get to that point is what today's simplification idea is all about.Organized clutter is probably my decluttering clutch. Why should I get rid of X, Y, or Z? Look at how organized it all is!

I actually just this second was forced to look at some organized clutter. In a lidded khokhloma bowl on the piano I've mentioned once or twice, my daughter found all manner of things: tiny shells, a wee hook, old Star Trek Barbie accessories, beach glass, etc. She's two, so none of these things were really appropriate playthings and none serves any actual purpose. Why did I stow them in the bowl? The quick answer is that I really have no idea. Might need the hook some day? The toys had memories attached? Who can say.

The point is that as good as I am at getting rid of the big things, the small things are my crutch. It's so easy to keep papers or tiny bits of sea glass or anything else that can be stashed in a corner or stowed in a beautiful lidded bowl from old Mother Russia. I'm not sure what my action item from here on should be... suck it up and learn to throw stuff out better? Small scale decluttering? Create a system for dealing with one type of organized clutter, like paper? All of the above?  I've been working on my kitchen drawers, still, and have encountered a lot of organized clutter. But I'm working on it, so it's all good.

Natalie: Minimalism. (32&33 of 72)

I am not a minimalist. I am probably closer to a clutterist. I wish there was some kind of term for a lifestyle that was mid-way between the two. Maybe by the end of my post, I will have discovered the right label for someone who enjoys stuff but not too much stuff. Who likes things cozy and comfortable. I guess I associate the qualities stark, sterile and quiet with minimalism kind of like a room on a psychiatric ward or a Tibetan monk's cell. For me these environments are about healing, solitude, and rest so that you can manage the pace of the modern cluttered lifestyle.

I do understand that clutter both physical and mental causes a great deal of anxiety and confusion. I experience both of these sensations quite a bit actually especially lately as I have been trying to make my home more minimalist-like. One of the ideas from Zen Habits is to have clear floors and clear surfaces except for necessities (like a toaster oven or coffee pot in your kitchen) or a few choice decorative pieces. This is one aspect of minimalism that I really want to achieve.

I actually have achieved a 95% state of minimalism in my kitchen. I find it challenging to maintain but not impossible since I de-cluttered my kitchen several weeks ago. This process in the kitchen has been quite revealing. It's amazing that once you have an actual spot for something how easy it is to put away in that spot. Also that if you have less of something, for instance, plates they are easier to clean up. The 5% of clutter that remains in the kitchen are small things that don't seem to have a proper spot. I just haven't decided where I want them to go so for now they are on the counter.

I need to work on the other surfaces in my home such as my fireplace mantle. It's just a mish-mosh of frames and miscellaneous knick-knacks that looks very cluttered. Some knick knacks that I own have sentimental value and I have trouble getting rid of them but I don't like them either. I need to figure out what the emotional value is in me holding onto them. I know its more about an intangible quality or relationship that the object represents. It's hard for me to accept that the object is NOT what it represents.

For instance, I have these 4 porcelain bunnies that were given to me when I was a child by someone important. The relationship to that person is one that is - for lack of a better word "damaged." The bunnies are worth a little bit of money but I hold onto them more as if I am holding onto the relationship. It's as if I give up on the bunnies then I'm giving up on the relationship even though I'd like the relationship to end. It saddens me to have this relationship come to an end so I hold onto the bunnies instead.

I don't think I have ever lived anywhere where the floors didn't have clutter on them. Mine at the moment have lots of toys on the floor. I am working on that though. I have been going through my son's toys and only holding onto the ones that he truly enjoys playing with. I would love not to have stuff on my floors. I also need to start putting our shoes away in the front closet instead of how they are now - scattered outside the front door.

When I think about achieving minimalism in my home. The floors and surfaces take on different meaning to me. The floors seem to have clutter that are items that are used often so why put them away? Things like shoes and toys are used on a daily basis so if they are on the floor, they are convenient to find. Getting the floors de-cluttered is about me being less lazy and more pro-active. The stuff that seems to accumulate on surfaces, I seem to have some weird deep emotional attachment to that I will continue to work on.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Christa, Day 39: I (Mostly) Got This One

Today's voluntary simplicity idea needs no introduction:
Exercise. This goes along the same lines as eating healthy, as it simplifies your life in the long run, but it goes even further: exercise helps burn off stress and makes you feel better. It’s great. Here’s how to create the exercise habit.
Why? Because I've got this one nailed. Or just about nailed. Could I exercise more? Sure, I am blown away by some of my marathon running relatives and this chick makes me feel like a lump. She's still running, biking, and doing workout videos while pregnant. Me? I ride my stationary bike once a day for about 45 minutes to an hour, do some light lifting every few days, and do sit-ups when the mood strikes. Frankly, if I really applied myself to exercise, I could probably be quite slim.

But, meh. My blood profile is awesome, I have energy, I'm generally not suicidal, and I can shop in the upper range of the juniors section of most stores.

Really now, I'm a married woman and I'm 31 years old and I'm probably never going to be on TV, so how much time do I need to devote to fitness, anyway? (Though I still maintain that the only reason I would want to be a famous actress is because exercise would be a part of my job. I may do the bare minimum at the mo', but that's a time thing. When I had more free time, I exercised more. What's not to love about exercise!)

Julia's Day 39: Incidentally, I exercise

I used to be a gym rat. Now I am a walk-around-with-a-baby rat!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Christa, Day 38: Being a Vegetarian Is Hard!

I like to think we eat well. Not well as in delightfully fancy plates of the sort I would eat daily if I had a personal chef, but rather well as in fairly healthy and possibly above average where Americans are concerned. Sorry, America! We eat vegetables every day and steer clear of ready meals. Our main utterly gross vice is boxed macaroni and cheese, to which we add real cheese, and the only reason it has become a fixture is because once P. tasted the box stuff once in Florida, she didn't want to switch back to homemade. And we do buy veggie sausages and our sauce is jarred unless it's pesto in the summertime or we get red sauce as a present.

Is that healthy? I feel like the older I get, the less sure I am. Fresh fruits and veggies, definitely healthy. Bread and pasta, though... healthy? Or going to kill you? Sometimes I long for the days when we ate the flesh of other living beings and dinner could be vegetables and meat, all roasted up nicely. That seemed pretty healthy. And easy, too. Being a vegetarian is hard!

Today's voluntary simplicity idea is as follows:
Eat healthy. It might not be obvious how eating healthy relates to simplicity, but think about the opposite: if you eat fatty, greasy, salty, sugary, fried foods all the time, you are sure to have higher medical needs over the long term. We could be talking years from now, but imagine frequent doctor visits, hospitalization, going to the pharmacist, getting therapy, having surgery, taking insulin shots … you get the idea. Being unhealthy is complicated. Eating healthy simplifies all of that greatly, over the long term. Read about how to simplify your eating habits.
So since I'm so befuddled, let's take a look at what ol' Leo deems unhealthy and talk about that. I've commented on each item.
  1. Junk food. Most of the junk food we eat is still on the healthy or has-some-redeeming-value side. Our diet isn't perfect but we're not chowing down on chips and so on. It's also not raw macro-biotic vegan and all organic/local.
  2. Processed food. This is one I'm confused on... granola is processed, but the good stuff isn't terrible for you. Bread is processed, but it also serves as a peanut butter delivery system. Pasta sauce is processed... We eat raw, whole foods aplenty, but I guess we do eat plenty of processed foods.
  3. Fast food. Every now and then we'll lose our minds and grab veggie burgers and fries from Burger King, but fast food for us is usually veggie subs from Subway. Could be worse, right? Hello, vegetables.
  4. Red meat. We're vegetarians, so no red meat in our houses or in our bodies!
  5. Fried food. I love fried food. Can't help it. Fried is yummy. And we'll even fry at home because we're gross like that. But it's not like we're sucking down fries every night, and that's why I exercise daily. Cholesterol levels are a-ok. Bring on the fried!
Overall, though, like I said we're doing pretty okay on the eating healthy front, and I just had a checkup confirming that all my levels are within mid average range for a healthy adult. And we eat lots of olive oil, so there's that, too. Heh. I guess the whole process of expanding my cooking repertoire, as per yesterday's idea, will help with our little family eating even better. I'll let you know how it goes.

Julia's Day 38: Cooking everything makes it easy to eat healthy

I love these food-related assignments, it makes my life so much easier!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Rebecca, Day 37: Meal Planning

I have been wanting to simplify meal times for a while now. The reason? If we start making dinner at 6 p.m., anything particularly nice to eat (or, rather, more complex than a simple pasta dish, salad, or sandwich) won't be ready till close to 7 p.m.

If we start our preschooler on his bedtime routine around 7:30, that means that life after a full day of work can consist of:
  1. day care pick up
  2. food prep and cooking while struggling to occupy toddler (often resorting to playing videos for him)
  3. eating
  4. starting bed time routine
In other words, no quality after-work time with my child until the stories and snuggles that put him to sleep. Considering my priorities, the situation is really disagreeable to me.

Enter my new gadget: the slow cooker I requested for my birthday earlier this month. That plus recipes from A Year of Slow Cooking and a couple vegetarian slow cooker books have been making quite the difference.

Slow cooker recipes require advanced planning. I'm sure some people who use slow cookers a lot get to the point where they can just throw stuff in it and hope it comes out well; but I need to follow recipes. Therefore, I need to shop with specific recipes in mind, and think about what will make sense for that week.

We've been prepping the ingredients for our slow-cooked meals after our son is asleep, refrigerating them, and then beginning the slow cooking process in the morning. This means that at 6 p.m., we're not starting the process of cooking; we're sitting down to eat a nice, warm, high-quality meal.

And what a huge difference this makes! It may not save tons of time--prepping a good slow cooker recipe takes as much time as prepping any recipe, and I've always felt that food prep work is the long boring part--but it is reorganizing our time in a way that makes sense for our family.

And I'm really happy about that.

Note: I've also checked out a couple library books on pressure cooking. We got a pressure cooker for our wedding in 2000 that we've used, maybe, twice? If I can get comfortable using it, I think we could use this pressure cooker to similar advantage. We'd prep food in advance, but instead of having it cook all day, throw the ingredients when we get home and see it ready to eat in only a few minutes. So far, I'm more drawn to the idea of food ready to eat as soon as we get home, freeing up the evening for walks and playing and other fun stuff--but I think the pressure cooker may have its place, too.

Christa, Day 37: This Is the Post Where I Ask for Your Help!

I wrote briefly on Day 5 about my dislike of cooking. That hasn't changed, even though I made amazing crepes tonight. It's not that I can't cook and cook well, it's that I dislike the drudgery of cooking and the cleanup and how fast the fruits of one's labors are thanklessly consumed. It's like every meal is Thanksgiving where someone is pouring their soul into the food and it's sucked off the bone in five minutes flat, after which everyone wants to go watch football. No thanks!

Which brings me to today's voluntary simplicity idea:
Create a simple weekly dinner menu. If figuring out what’s for dinner is a nightly stressor for you or your family, consider creating a weekly menu. Decide on a week’s worth of simple dinners, set a specific dinner for each night of the week, go grocery shopping for the ingredients. Now you know what’s for dinner each night, and you have all the ingredients necessary. No need for difficult recipes — find ones that can be done in 10-15 minutes (or less).

I tried this. Really, I did. Somewhere in one of my old, entirely filled to the brim to do notebooks with all the old items crossed off there is a list of six meals corresponding to Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, with Sunday being a wildcard day. It seemed like a great idea at the time, but from a grocery shopping perspective... not so much. It just didn't seem to work as far as perishables went. And then summertime came and I wanted different foods every day. I guess this is silly and picky of me, but if I say that on Thursday I'm going to eat X, invariably I want Y. So I kept cheating and then threw my weekly meal plan out the window.

Only the fates could know that the idea would be presented to me again as part of this project!

It's hard to get jazzed about simplifying in the kitchen when the chore is one I don't like - and don't like a lot - but of course there have been other days and other posts in which my fellow contributors have encountered a chore or responsibility that vexes them. I assume they handled it with grace and fortitude and also sucked it up and dealt. Which is what I ought to be doing. The logical part of my brain says that simplifying a chore that one doesn't like can only make that chore easier. The emotional part of my brain says something like "COOKING CAN GO TO HELL RAWR RAWR FOOD PILLS BRING 'EM ON, NASA!" For indeed, I would be the first in line to purchase nutritionally balanced food in easy-to-swallow, utterly non-messy pill form.

Where was I? Oh, right, meal planning. I did a week-long meal plan around Day 16, and it worked well for one week, by which I mean I tolerated it. And I know I ought to do it again, but I think I need some help. Amy's Day 37 was inspiring, but I think I need some very specific ideas for foodstuffs that don't require much cooking or prep time since I get home at 4 p.m. and I want to spend as much time at that point in the day with my child, not doing a lot of chopping and mixing and so on. Does anyone know any easy foods besides crepes and omelets and lentil soup and roasted broccoli that I will start me down the road to a broader mealtime repertoire? Like I said, I can cook. I just don't want it to usurp the time I have so precious little of!

Julia's Day 37: Meal planning for people who love markets

I prefer to have the market drive my meal plan rather than vice versa, but that might be a function of the fact that I'm really more of a farmer's market person than a supermarket person.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Christa, Day 36: It's About Spending, But Made Me Think About Saving

I've mentioned in at least one previous post that I like to keep track of how many days I can go in a row without buying anything directly. Once upon a time, I could maybe go a couple of weeks because I was single and had access to laundry and didn't mind eating the weird food that somehow ends up in everyone's pantry even though no one in their right mind would buy it. Now, I have a child and a job and a house and a car and so must maintain some standard of comfort less the child rebel and the house fall down around my head and the car decide not to go anymore. As for the job, every now and then I do buy a piece of clothing or two - but I'm lucky enough to live close enough to come home for lunch.

Today's simplification idea:
Learn what “enough” is. Our materialistic society today is about getting more and more, with no end in sight. Sure, you can get the latest gadget, and more clothes and shoes. More stuff. But when will you have enough? Most people don’t know, and thus they keep buying more. It’s a neverending cycle. Get off the cycle by figuring out how much is enough. And then stop when you get there.
Not to toot my own horn or anything - toot toot! - but I feel like the mister and I are fairly good at living with enough. There have been times a plenty when we could have bought on credit or splurged on shiny or whatever else it is people are into these days, but we always stop, sometimes on the brink, and ask ourselves why and whether we need the thing we're lusting after and what the point of it all is. We're very introspective people, I guess.

What's the old saying? Make do or do without? As it turns out, there are plenty of things one can do without just fine. Two items conspicuously absent in our own kitchen come to mind: a dishwasher and a microwave. Thanks to the 72 Ideas Project, we've actually been staying on top of the dishes so there's no longer dish drying overflow on the counter adjoining the sink. And the only time I ever really miss a microwave is when I need to melt chocolate and I'm standing over a double boiler. Because I melt chocolate all the time, I tell you.

But what is enough, anyway? Let's look at and then critique my shopping list of what I bought today:
  • Heavy duty floor glue
  • Shoe Goo (a home use shoe repair glue)
  • Prescription migraine medication
  • Sunglasses for the P.
  • A diet root beer
  • Bobby pins
Three of the items were necessary. We have some flooring coming up. We each have a pair of shoes that needs fixing. And I can't function with a migraine. Or I do function, but I do it badly and bitchely. Three of the items were not. The P. could wear a hat with a brim (though I have uber sensitive eyes and can't live without sunglasses so I'm not going to make her live without them). I could drink water. And I could do my hair differently or cut it short.

I'm not sure how any of these items fits into the enough philosophy, really. I suppose my own cross to bear when it comes to understanding what enough is isn't spending but rather saving. No, we don't have oodles in the bank, but I would rather save than do just about anything. When is there enough money to feel safe and not worry about having to bag at the supermarket at 95 years old to keep from having to eat cat food? My guess is for me, never. My challenge to myself with regard to today's simplification idea is this: For the rest of the week, stop worrying about having enough money in the future and start being grateful that we have enough money right now.