Living to Work

May 14, 2009

This past weekend one of my husband’s co-workers passed away.  He was in his 50’s, in seemingly good health and fit.  It made me think of all the professionals I know that spend 10 or more hours a day, not including their commute, in the prime of their lives (their 30’s) and the youth of their children’s lives, at an office away from their families.  Many miss important milestones hoping that some day, all their hard work will pay off and some day they will have time to relax, travel and experience fun.  Some day typically means retirement.

I have to ask…… why?  At the end of the day, the golden years often aren’t very golden.   In fact, if we are lucky enough to make it to retirement, not having been stopped by the two biggest killers in the US  heart disease or cancer, we will likely not have the energy or the money to just do what we want.    Why wait until our kids have kids to enjoy spending time with a child? 

I say work less now, pare down expenses to live on less, take time out for our children now while they are young and developing, take time to travel now while you can enjoy the experience without fear of health issues and fixed incomes weighing on your minds. 

I hate to break the bad news but you can’t bank time and experiences to be saved up and used when you are ready for them.  You either live now….or you don’t.

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The third step in simplifying your life is to look at your obligations and prioritize them.   Once you have prioritized your list, eliminate anything that isn’t a required obligation.  For instance volunteering, book clubs, bunko groups, birthday parties, etc. etc.   You won’t have to eliminate these things forever, just long enough to regain control over your life. Once you have freed up time and money, you can bring back the things that are most important to you.

Below is a look at some of my obligations and the changes I made:

Most of us have to work in order to feed and cloth ourselves so obviously work goes to the top of the priority list.  But you will find that as you simplify your life, you need less money and you may be able to work less in the future.   However, there may be things you can do today to lessen the burden of a stressful job.  Can you work from home, eliminating a commute and possibly reclaiming two or more hours a day?   Can you work part time, freeing up more of the day to put toward the wants in your life?

Volunteering is important but it can be put off until you have achieved balance and simplicity in your life.   I have always volunteered.  In the past I was on a homeless feeding group, I was on the board of my son’s daycare center, I was on the board at church to establish a mobile homeless food canteen and I volunteered at my son’s elementary school.   In the end, I had to drop every single one of those until I had gotten my life where I felt I needed to be.   Today, I have a saner volunteer schedule.  I volunteer weekly in my son’s school on a program that early identifies and early intervenes in dyslexia and other learning disorders but don’t volunteer for things like parties.  I do try to make one class trip a year because it makes my son happy for me to be there.   I am slowly getting back into my homeless causes, something that is very important to me.  I will realign those and re-volunteer because now I have the time to devote to it without feeling overwhelmed and pushed.

Family and friends.  I used to be involved, along with  my crazy volunteering schedule, in many neighborhood activities like a book club and a bunko group as well as sitting on several committees for our neighborhood association.   Many women in my neighborhood enjoy this time out.  But I found it became mostly an opportunity to complain about their lives, their husbands and their children.  I wasn’t comfortable in that environment because my husband has always been my refuge so, after deciding I wasn’t getting anything out of it and spending money on hosting or providing entry fees, buying books and the obligatory holiday white elephant gift exchange, I dropped them all.   We try to spend more time on what really matters,  family members and close friends.   We have a standing Friday  night date with our son for dinner and a movie – we cook at home and watch a family movie from Netflix.   We reserve Sunday as a time for just us and our son because it is easier to do without interrupting his time with friends.   Most importantly, we remain flexible and if he has a Friday night sleepover with friends, my  husband and I lock the door, light candles and enjoy being together.

Incessant child parties, and adult parties for that matter…We completely eliminated these.  We don’t even go anymore.  With 22 kids in our son’s class, we could be having at least two parties a month (and sometimes we did).   This costs money for gifts that the kid probably doesn’t need and won’t play with more than once, money that you could be saving for something far more worthwhile.   It also takes time and lets face it, with a large, rambunctious party the kids aren’t really attending to developing meaningful relationships.   We usually RSVP with regrets that we have a conflict that cannot be avoided.   That conflict may be us staying home and riding bikes together, the host doesn’t have to know and I don’t feel I have to explain.  I haven’t seen where this as unduly affected our son’s friendships.  We make sure to organize meaningful time together with friends so he  can build relationships and spend meaningful time on friendships that are very important to him.

Grocery shopping.  Many of us live in areas that have grocery delivery.   If you do, take advantage.  Shop on the internet and let the groceries come to you.   If you can’t, plan well in advance what you need and minimize your stress level by going at an ‘off peak’ shopping time – I used to leave my husband and son home and shop at 9 pm because I knew the crowds would be at home getting ready for bed.

Kids activities.  These need to go right now.  Yes, extracurricular activities are important but in America we have over scheduled our kids to the point they need their own daily planners.   Our child actually did this for us when he broke his arm so spectacularly that he couldn’t participate in anything for three months, it was during this time we realized how crazy his life had gotten.   Once he was able to rejoin extracurricular activities we decided to limit it to one a semester.  Instead of robot club and chess club after school, music lesson and baseball – most of which he didn’t care about, we now focus on one activity.  If he really wants to join a second we probably wouldn’t stop him but we encourage him to rationally choose what he wants to join, keeping a balance between activities and school work as well as prioritizing free play.   He chose to drop everything except music lessons.  We have one music lesson weekly — for 1/2 hour plus his daily practice sessions.  The rest of the time he spends time with friends and free play activities like riding his bike or scooter around the neighborhood or playing legos or games indoors.   There is nothing quite like the shock on your drum instructors face when he shamefully asks if we can accommodate a schedule change and we happily say “Dave, we are at your disposal, you are our only obligation on Saturdays….”   There is also nothing quite like the beauty of waking up and knowing we don’t have anywhere to be on any given Saturday or Sunday with the exception of our one half hour commitment.  Again, we have freed up more money by not being involved in many organizations that each require a fee and support throughout the season.  Kids don’t need a host of activities to be happy and healthy or have strong sense of self and accomplishment.  That is an adult creation and a fairly modern one at that.  I believe kids need far more free time, down time and opportunities for free play than they need soccer three times a week.

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/