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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I have always believed you get more from an experience than you do from an object.  Turns out a study published in 2003 supports my theory.

Assistant professor of psychology Leaf Van Boven at the University of Colorado at Boulder concluded from a series of experiments and surveys over the course of several years that people receive more pleasure and satisfaction from an experience.  The researchers believe it is because people can internalize experience and their feelings during the experience.  For instance, my sister and I took our children camping.  Over the course of the trip and being novices, we didn’t sleep well due to the oppressive heat, had to swim across the lake to rescue our children and the canoe they were attempting to steer and had an encounter with a venomous snake and ax wielding neighbors determined to save the “little women next door.”  We ended up cutting the trip short and leaving after dinner on the second evening of our trip.   We all concluded, as we fell into our respective beds exhausted and disillusioned from the experience, that we were not cut out for camping.  However, we all look back on that trip now as a wonderful experience.  We overcame obstacles and realized we could do it all without the “men” and we have hilarious stories to tell especially the one of our kids sitting in the middle of the lake paddling in circles. 

The research suggests that perceptions of experiences change overtime making the memories more enjoyable.  According to Van Boven, the perceptions of an object never change, an object remains just an object. 

So when you write your wish list to Santa this year remember that you may get far enjoyment more from a pair tickets than a pair of shoes. 

Some experience ideas:

Arrange a family picnic

Attend a music concert

Take a trip you have been longing to take

Learn a musical instrument

Learn a foreign language

Visit a museum

Take a hike, literally, with your family through a nature preserve

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This should be obvious but I am going to mention it anyway – it fits green living, minimalist lifestyles and frugality.

One way to reduce resource waste is to visit your public library rather than purchasing books or videos.  Since the library is free, it is also a big money saver.  Most public libraries now have Internet search and reservation options in which you can search for and reserve a title.  Once the title has been secured, you will be notified of its reservation and location, as well as how long they will hold it in your name.   The Internet search and reserve function saves a great deal of time and resources in fewer trips to the library.

If your library does not have a title you are interested in you can usually search and reserve through the inter-library loan program.  Most libraries participate in this option in which you can borrow titles literally from libraries all over the United States.  Odds are if your local library doesn’t have a specific title, a library somewhere else does.  

Libraries don’t just stock books.   They subscribe to newspapers from across the globe, monthly magazines, and resource materials.  If you wish to learn a foreign language they often have language tapes or cds.  For the sight or reading challenged, they often stock books on tape/cd as well as large print additions.  Videos and music cds, including classics, new releases and how-to videos, are another big commodity.  Finally, they often host community programs including story times, book clubs, author lectures, and writing workshops.  Thanks to governmental grants, all libraries have high-speed Internet stations available to the general public.

All of these resources are available to you free because of your already contributed tax dollars.

Living Cheaper

October 24, 2008

With talk of a global recession, everyone is understandably nervous and looking for opportunities to cut back on every day expenses.   Here is a tip.  Live lightly.  Be a conscientious consumer.  Don’t fall in the marketing trap.  

Making conscientious choices can lower your carbon footprint thereby helping the earth but also lessen the wallet squeeze, helping yourself. 

  1. Install a clothes line. Your clothes drier is the second largest energy consumer in your home.  
  2. Unplug unused appliances.   Appliances produce what is called a phantom load.  This is energy used while it is plugged in and idle waiting use.  Research shows that unplugging televisions and appliances when not in use will reduce energy bills by up to 40%.
  3. Invest in LED lights at Christmas.  To decorate for the holidays, use LEDs that consume up to 90% less energy that traditional Christmas lights.
  4. Invest in florescent. Florescent lights consume up to 80% less energy than their incandescent counterparts. 
  5. When you save energy you are shrinking your carbon foot print but also SAVING MONEY!
  6. Rethink conventional household cleaners.   Common house hold cleaners are full of synthetic and possibly toxic chemicals.  Switch to baking soda, vinegar and soap and water.   You will significantly reduce the amount of resources used in packaging by choosing not to consume these products in plastic bottles.  You will also keep far more money in your wallet as the cost of a few products is far cheaper than many separate cleaners.
  7. Switch from paper to cloth.  Invest in quality cloth napkins (preferably made with organic cotton).  These last far longer, use far fewer resources and are FAR CHEAPER than their paper counterparts when used over time.
  8. Don’t drive unless you need to and then combine errands for maximum fuel efficiency.  Not only will you reduce the amount of ozone depleting emissions you contribute to the environment, you will also reduce the amount of money depleting trips to the gas station.
  9. Ride your bike on errands within 2 miles of  your home.  Again saving emissions released into the environment but also saving money on gym membership fees and health care costs by being fit.
  10. Lower your thermostat in the winter and raise it in the summer.  Again you will save energy which will in turn save money on energy costs.
  11. Eat locally grown food whenever possible.  Locally produced, organic foods, contain more nutrients and are better for you than store bought foods that have to be shipped from long distances.  This results in saving money in health care costs.
  12. Exercise, play with your kids, and laugh….this all reduces stress which in turn will reduce your health care costs.  Happy, healthy people visit the doctor far less than overweight, unhappy people.