I know, I am slightly late a day late posting the second step to simplifying your life.   Last week, you should have been focusing on identifying the things you want in life, from big to small, the things that you think will make you happy.  

This week, the focus is on obligations.  We all have them.  These are the things we either think or know we cannot avoid.  In order to get to the next step and set priorities, you first have to know what you want out of life and what you have to do to get those things but you also have to recognize when there are activities that cannot be avoided that you must account for in your quest to simplify.  In a later post we will talk about how to make those obligations as simple or as enjoyable as possible.

Here is a sample list of obligations that you feel you cannot avoid.

  • Work – most of us are not fortunate enough to have been born with enough money to simply float through life doing what we want.  Generally, in order to live or survive, we have to work.
  • volunteering – whether it is with your child(ren)s school or the community, many people feel that giving back to the community is a “must”.
  • family
  • friends
  • social or adult “playdates” – these are those little things like bunko with the girls or poker with the guys.  They build community, relationships and help you unwind or even required attendance for work like cocktail parties or those awful holiday parties
  • vacations – everyone needs time off – even if you just stay at home
  • our children’s obligations – sports, theater, dance, etc.

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The economy

November 25, 2008

There is no doubt, things are scary out in the world today. The entire first world is in trouble with issues that hearken back to 1929. Are we there yet? No. Will we get there? I don’t think so but then neither did the people who experienced the Great Depression.

One thing is certain, those that have lived simply will be better prepared than those who have lived the great American tradition of spending, buying, and accumulating goods if we do experience another economic meltdown of the proportions of a depression. Why? Those who live simply don’t have as much debt because they didn’t buy as many things. They typically have smaller homes with a reasonable mortgage or no mortgage at all. They may grow their own food and therefore are prepared to provide if the economic meltdown mimics the late 1920 bank runs where money simply evaporated out of accounts.

It isn’t too late. One of the best ways to prepare for economic crisis is to choose simplicity over abundance. If you don’t know how, look for my Wednesday posts where I publish each step to guide you into the simple life.

Even if they manage to pull the economy out of this nose dive, we can all benefit by simplifying our lives and will be better prepared for any economic crisis that comes our way. 

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The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. (Economy) Walden, Henry David Thoreau

Thoreau is talking about the race of men that are born into an ideal that one must work and toil the best parts of his life away in order obtain the trappings of success.  I think this is one of the most important sentences in Walden and resonated with me as I read it while in the midst of a career crisis – 15 years into a career that I realized I hated.  While I don’t agree with everything in Walden, Thoreau is right that if we allow ourselves to  get sucked into the trappings disguised as luxuries, we will toil in desperation, worried about keeping that life going and thereby limiting our choices when by fate (bad economy) or by design (unhappiness) our current jobs are no longer an option.  By simplifying we open avenues that we never knew existed and allow us to sing in ways we never before considered.

I will quote a lot from Thoreau, after all he did go into the woods and idealized the quintessential simple life in Walden.   We can learn a lot from his experience but we should also remember that his extremism, while a goal, isn’t always obtainable.  Thoreau enjoyed a luxury most of us don’t have – friends that tolerated his philisophical minimalism, in the name of Ralph Waldo Emerson who owned a home in Concord Massachusetts in which Thoreau often lived and the land on Walden Pond on which Thoreau built his famous cabin in the woods.

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This post begins a new idea.  There is a lot of information bandied about on the net about simplifying your life but there isn’t really a “step-by-step” guide so to speak.  The sheer amount of information can be overwhelming and a life change isn’t easy, often it is hard to find a place to start.  I am going try to create one.  This will be the first post in a series on steps to simplify your life.   I will try to make these posts at least once a week because I want to keep to the new format I am creating of offering up inspirational quotes on Monday, personal experiences on Tuesday, and simple living resources on Wednesday.  I am reserving Thursday for the Simple Living Guide.  

So here goes – Simplify – Taking the first step.

The goal of simple living is shedding the unwanted and unnecessary obligations in favor of filling your life with peace, beauty and well…things you actually DO want to do.   But often, with our incredibly fast paced society and forced obligations, it is difficult to listen to that voice inside you that directs you in the way you want to go.  

Like anything, simplifying our lives is a process.  The first step in this process is to start listening to that inner voice.  But we are so conditioned to external noise.  How do we go about the task of figuring out what we want out of life?

Find a quiet place, a sheet of paper and a pen or a pencil.   Spend a few minutes picturing what you feel is the perfect life for you.  Include where you want to be, where you want to go, what you want to do and how you want to feel.  In other words, it is kind of like a bucket list – you know, from the movie – all the things you want to do before you kick the bucket.

I will share a bit of my perfect life list.

  1. Spend uninterrupted time with my husband and my son.
  2. Read a book in one day.
  3. Eat something I have never tried
  4. Learn a musical instrument.
  5. Learn a foreign language.
  6. Travel, both within the US and outside the US.
  7. Write a book.
  8. Sit in the sunshine.
  9. Cook a gourmet meal.
  10. Climb a mountain.
  11. A safe home.
  12. A garden.

Don’t worry if your list looks different than mine, we are all different people and there is no right or wrong answer, no right way to be, right things to want.  This is only a partial list and it contains small things like a day in the sunshine as well as big things like a safe home.

The only way to simplify your life is to first know what you want.  In the next post we will tackle obligations.

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Your Money or Your Life

November 19, 2008

Your Money or Your Life  is one of the best resources to changing the way you view money.  It really explains well the actual rather than initial cost of the products you own.  With maintenance, cleaning and repair, often your stuff ends up owning you because the more you own, the more you have to work. 

The authors go about changing the reader’s perceptions about money by putting costs in the form of life hours.  How many life hours will it take you to pay for something and what would you rather be doing with those life hours – working to pay for stuff or doing something on your own terms.

If you haven’t already, check out the website or get a copy of the book (from the library of course) and participate in the transformation.  Let’s face it, since we now all have to pay the bill of our consumer society so we are really not in a position to choose this transformation instead it was foisted upon us.

http://www.yourmoneyoryourlife.org/

As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler; solitude will not be solitude, poverty will not be poverty, nor weakness weakness. .  – Henry David Thoreau

The art of saying “No”

November 17, 2008

This lesson was hardest for me.  I hate saying no.  I am a doer, I get a charge out of helping people so when a call would come across for help, I would volunteer and then think “why did I do that?”.  Finally, my health forced me into a semi-recluse state.  In order to heal myself, I had to stop and let myself just be.  I didn’t have the energy to get out of bed and get my son to school – a task that my husband took on – much less be there for people totally unconnected to me. 

I am better now, after a few years of seclusion, delving into both alternative and traditional western medicine, and improving diet and exercise.  But during that time, I learned a valuable lesson.  The fine art of saying “no”.

Over the years I have been a beacon at my son’s school from preschool to elementary and at my former church.  I was over-committing with the PTA, volunteering to fill in when an officer vacated the post due to her own overcommitments, volunteering every week on a reading program, helping during field trips and class events, volunteering to feed the homeless, being on an executive board at my son’s preschool and at our church, on top of working full time and starting a new business. 

After taking a step back I can see far more clearly that that the more I try to do, the less I do well and the less I am able to truly fulfill my commitments.   I think this is universally true.  We would do better to sign up for less and commit to those projects 100% rather than spreading ourselves so thin we do many things but we do them poorly.   I am not advocating anti-volunteerism.  Just sane volunteering.

This past weekend was a great test for me and my family.  My family travelled to a neighboring city (well neighboring for Texas which is actually hours away) for a concert.   We planned our time well.  Our schedule, while busy, built in time for rest.  Our plans included meeting up with a friend from high school for dinner on Friday night, visiting an Ancient Egyptian/King Tut artifacts exhibit on Saturday morning, attending a rock concert on Saturday evening and visiting a museum on Sunday morning before heading home.  My in laws ended up in the same city, at the same time.  While we had Saturday afternoon free, my husband held firm that we were not going to plan anything with them as we would be seeing them for an extended trip at Christmas.  I felt a twing of guilt, afterall they don’t get to see their grandson very often, but my husband stood firm and for that I thank him.  So Saturday afternoon was spent lounging by the hotel indoor pool, napping and watching television to recharge our batteries for the concert and the museum on Sunday.   All went well and we came home tired but happy and relatively unstressed.  And we did see them briefly on Sunday while waiting for the museum to open. 

We could have easily gave in to the guilt of them being, normally, six hours away and not seeing them very often and spent Saturday visiting and shopping with them instead of resting but it would have made the remainder of our trip miserable.  We would have been tired at the concert Saturday night and probably would have opted to skip the Sunday museum in favor of just coming home and collapsing.

Toss the guilt, guilt is a useless exercise anyway, and choose one thing to say “no” to this week.  Whether it is the 10th child birthday party for your child’s classmates, someone visiting when it really isn’t a good time, the school desperately seeking volunteers for some project and take that time to rest, read, really look at your family or do anything that truly nurtures your spirit.  You may find you are far more able to fulfill your existing commitments.