Archives for Simple Living
I’m very likely the odd ball, but August is by far my favorite month of the year. August is celebrating my grandmother’s birthday (she’ll be 102 this year), it’s having a beer on the patio and watching the sun set, it’s long days, it’s cicadas singing, it’s getting ice cream and sitting on a bench with nothing else important to do. August is the perfect month to simply be.
My resolution for July was to evaluate and reconfigure our family’s routines, schedules, and goals. This happened without much stress or anxiety. One night my husband and I sat at our kitchen table and reviewed what routines we’d been following, identified which ones were no longer meeting our needs, and then created a new routine chart. So far, the new routines are working well and our house is back to running smoothly.
Our family routines include meal preparations, meal cleanup, meal planning, laundry, trash, yard work, exercising, getting ready for the day and bed time, general pick up around the house, room-by-room intense cleaning, paying bills, mail processing, pet care, and running errands to the grocery store, bank, and gas station. If you do not have routines in place for these recurrent activities, check out the article “Establishing routines” for some guidance.
We went through the same evaluation process with our work schedules and our family goals, and we’re back to feeling like we have a handle on our time. It’s nice to know where you want to go and how you plan to get there.
My goal for August is to get our “In case of …” files up to date. Since we moved, some of the information in my file is no longer accurate and it needs to be updated. Since no one, including me, likes to think about “in case of …” situations, it’s best that I do it during a month that I find especially cheerful.
If you do not have an “In case of …” file, let me recommend that you make one in August. If you have one, this month might be a good time to review the file’s contents to ensure they’re fully accurate. Your loved ones will feel more comfortable knowing this file exists, and so will you.
What are your resolutions and/or goals for August? How did you do with any resolutions or goals you made for July? If you have annual resolutions instead of monthly resolutions, how are these advancing? Are you on track to accomplish what you are hoping to by the year’s end? Share your experiences in the comments.
Social geographer Erika Sandow at Sweden’s Umea University has published her doctoral dissertation analysis of long-distance commutes and their impact on income and relationships in “On the road. Social aspects of commuting long distances to work.” In brief, her research found that a commute of greater than 30 kilometers (about 19 miles) typically has economic and career benefits (large paycheck, job advancement) but significantly increases the likelihood a person will divorce (40 percent), especially if the long-distance commuter is male.
The dissertation used data collected from more than two million Swedes during 1995 and 2005. The findings, although based on Swedish data, seem to be very applicable to other European and American countries.
From the university’s press release about Sandow’s dissertation:
… those who commute long distances gain access to a broader job market and often to greater career opportunities and better income development. But women and men benefit in different degrees, with income increasing more for long-distance commuting men. However, these commuters’ partners lose income, and since most long-distance commuters are men, this means that many women both take home less money and take on the responsibility for the family and children.
– It’s also common for women to take a less qualified job close to home, or to start working part time, in order to drop off and pick up the kids at day care, says Erika Sandow.
Her findings show that expanding work regions primarily benefit the careers of men, and continued increases in long-distance commuting may preserve and reinforce gender differences in the home and on the job market.
Weighing the benefits and disadvantages of a long-distance job prospect is already difficult for one’s life. Knowing that it also carries an increased likelihood for divorce and stress are just additional points to consider.
You can find the majority of the dissertation online. However, the text of four of the chapters is not included, only their abstracts.
Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to read Keeping It Straight — You, Me, and Everything Else by Patrick Rhone. It’s a digital book that is part memoir, part simple living and productivity guide, which through a collection of short essays addresses clearing clutter from your life to greater experience happiness. If you are a Mac user, you may be familiar with Patrick’s website MinimalMac.com.
It is a quick read, but an intimate look at how and why someone has embraced simple living practices. I certainly gained some wonderful insights from the text, and wanted to share a handful of excerpts with you.
I really liked his approach to smart consumerism:
… anywhere I can make a buying choice that I, with proper care and maintenance, will never have to make again for the rest of my life, I do. In those cases, I’m willing to pay far more for an item if I know it will last a lifetime and, even more importantly to me, if I will never have to spend the mental energy making a choice again. Especially because making final choices often requires far more time and research then making regular ones. In fact, I would argue that the more final the choice, the longer it should take to make it. Also, what you spend on the front end usually repays exponentially, and in many different ways, on the back end.
His thoughts on saving time by learning a piece of software and its associated short-cut keys:
if you use an application more than once a day you can save so much time and effort by learning the keyboard shortcuts for the features you use. Do you know how to reload a page in your browser without touching the mouse? How about opening a new window in the Finder? While those may seem like no-brainers to some, I can tell you from personal experience that it still takes me conscious effort to use my keyboard to jump into the Google search field in Safari because the muscle memory of clicking it is so strong. Bottom line, if you find yourself performing regular actions, see if there is a way to automate those.
A non-traditional perspective on creating to-do lists (especially in contrast to the Getting Things Done maybe/someday list):
Your to-do list should be a sacred place. It should be filled only with the things you really plan on doing, things you are constantly evaluating, and things you are taking active steps to move forward and to get them done.
And his humorous, yet poignant view of productivity tools:
The Three Most Important Productivity Tools — The trash can, the delete key, and the word “no.”
If you enjoy a memoir with helpful simple living and productivity advice, Patrick’s book of essays is available for sale at keepingitstraightbook.com and firsttodaypress.com. It is also available for download from Amazon for the Kindle.
These items caught my attention over the past couple weeks, and I wanted to share them with you. They weren’t large enough to stand on their own as full posts, so I gathered them together in a link roundup:
- The company Electrolux sponsored nine teams at the Domus Academy in Milan to design the kitchen of the future. The concepts are pretty impressive, especially for small space and storage design. Electrolux ReSource.
- The show Clean House is looking for cluttered homes to be made over for future episodes. The show is filming next season in the greater Los Angeles and New York City areas, and to be considered you must own your home and at least two adults must live in the place. If you want to be on the show, email your name, address, phone number, list of everyone in the house and relationship to them, photos or videos of three rooms in your home that are messy, and a brief explanation for why you want to be on the show to Rose at email@example.com for LA consideration and Amy at firstname.lastname@example.org for NYC consideration. You must submit your email by tomorrow, April 22, 2011.
- SwissMiss featured a great little product that bands your writing utensils to your favorite notebook, clipboard, or book. The pencil holders are called Clever Hands and they’re made by an artist on Etsy. I think these would be a great organizing tool for students.
- A website, hysterically named BookshelfPorn, features daily pictures of (usually) organized bookshelves from amazing libraries around the world. After our post earlier this month about keeping clutter off your bookshelf, I thought you all might enjoy seeing these (mostly) amazing solutions.
- My friend Julie Bestry, a professional organizer based in Chattanooga, Tennessee, recently wrote a post for the Metropolitan Organizing website on how to become a Certified Professional Organizer. If you’ve ever thought about a career as a professional organizer or are already a professional organizer and want to be a CPO, I highly recommend checking out her post.
- Another professional organizer friend of mine, Allison Carter based in the Atlanta area, has a quick post on uncluttered gift ideas for moms for this upcoming Mother’s Day.
- Last August, NPR featured a 40-minute segment on Fresh Air exploring “Digital Overload.” It’s a long segment, but it’s interesting as it looks at people’s addiction to multi-tasking.
March is supposed to come in like a lion but go out like a lamb. In my case, it transformed from a lion into a stampede of angry bulls. I liken this past March to the running of the bulls through the streets of Pamplona, and I am donned in a white shirt with a small, red (a little bloody) scarf tied around my neck.
My March resolution to have our entire house unpacked was a failure. Somehow, I forgot that until our previous home sells, many of our large pieces of furniture will still be in that house. For example, our more than 12 feet of bookshelves aren’t in our new home. This means we have 17 unpacked boxes of books on the living room floor where the bookcases will one day reside.
I’ve decided that I’ll revisit the unpacking resolution after we sell our previous place. In the meantime, I’m moving on to my favorite resolution each year — I’m declaring April a Super Simple Month.
To me, a Super Simple Month is defined as no travel for work, one social engagement a week or less, no shopping except for necessities, and no new large projects (craft, writing, organizations, etc.). The goal is to finish some items already in progress on my to-list, relax as much as I can with my family, and be as low-key as possible.
I need time to recuperate from all 2011 has thrown at me so far. I have to get my feet back under me. I’m ready for the lamb that March promised me.
Can April also be a Super Simple Month for you? What rules would you impose to achieve this goal? If not a Super Simple Month, what resolutions do you have on tap for April?
One of the downsides of owning a lot of things is you have to care for a lot of things. Caring for copious possessions is simple if you have a team of people to do it for you — cleaning, maintenance, security — but not so simple when you’re the one with all the responsibilities.
I’m not an ascetic. I have stuff. My son has toys, and our family has a car. I’m not an advocate for a possession-free lifestyle. Rather, I adhere to smart consumer practices (spending less than you earn, researching products before your buy them, buying the best quality you can afford, only buying products you need or help you pursue the remarkable life you desire, and trying your best to refrain from acquiring clutter).
Another thing smart consumers acknowledge is that stuff is more than physical objects. Stuff is storage space in your home. Stuff is protecting your things from theft, pests, mold, mildew, and the elements. Stuff is taking time for dusting, cleaning, and returning things after you use them. Stuff is shipping costs, taxes, upgrades, accessories, and energy to power. Stuff is the tradeoff of time, energy, money, and space that you could have used for something else — something you might want more in your life.
Before making a purchase or acquiring a new object, pause and ask yourself if you are willing to accept all the responsibilities that accompany the object. When sorting through the things in your home, ask yourself the same questions. Recognize how the things in your life will impact your future. Don’t get caught off guard by the responsibilities of ownership.
Guilt and regret are powerful forms of clutter. They can be small, but continuously present at the back of your mind, weighing on you for years. Or, they can overwhelm all of your thoughts and be the ultimate distraction.
Obviously, if we could find a way to avoid guilt and regret completely, we would. This is an impossible feat, though, as we’re human. We aren’t perfect. We do things that disappoint others and ourselves, and we simply strive to keep these disappointments to a minimum.
How we handle the guilt and regret in our lives can play a large part in how much they clutter up our thoughts. Large regrets may never disappear completely. Even after apologies have been given and wrongs rectified the best they can, you still might carry some guilt with you the rest of your life. Conversely, and thankfully, most small regrets can be alleviated by taking actions to rectify the situation.
The following plan of action will not work in every situation, but in many situations it can help to assuage the guilt and regret that comes with unintentionally saying something hurtful or acting in a hurtful way:
- Stop being defensive. When we have done something wrong, it can be easy to turn to the defense. Being defensive, however, isn’t helpful when we’ve actually done something wrong. Fight this reaction, and try your best not to make the regret worse.
- Acknowledge your mistake. As quickly after you recognize you’ve done something to disappoint others or yourself, acknowledge this mistake.
- If appropriate, apologize. Not all guilt-inducing situations call for an apology, but many do. If your situation would be improved with a heartfelt apology, step up and give one. Even if the apology should have come years ago, an apology is almost always welcome. Don’t apologize, though, if you’re not sincere. An insincere apology will only exacerbate a problem.
- If appropriate, provide restitution. Similar to an apology, not all guilt-inducing situations require restitution. However, if your situation would be improved through an act of righting the wrong, do it. If you borrowed a friend’s car and got in a fender bender, paying for the repairs and a rental car while her car is in the shop are good places to start to provide restitution.
- Do what you need to do. Not all guilt and regret comes from wronging someone else. If you are carrying guilt because you have failed to act in some way or procrastinated on something that is important to you, now is the time to act. Schedule time to do the thing you need to do. Stop making excuses and take care of what needs to get done.
Stop guilt and regret from cluttering up your mental space: say the thing you need to say, and do the thing you need to do.
Scott Adams, the artist behind the Dilbert cartoon, wrote on his blog back in August about his desire to live in a more simple world — a world without so many options that he can stop wasting time and energy trying to make a decision. He rants about too many choices when booking travel reservations, too many features on his digital watch, and movie theaters with special seats and meals. From his post “The Less Feature,” discussing his travel preparations:
Over the next several hours [trying to find an airline ticket on Orbitz] I tried sorting by flight time, shortest route, and price. Then I tried JetBlue’s site because it’s not included in Orbitz. Then I tried United Airlines’ site because I didn’t know if they would have extra options, and I needed to check my miles. The flight I picked had all sorts of seating options and levels of travel that I needed to research. Then I needed to arrange the rental car, the hotel, and the airport pickup. Then I took all of the information and reformatted it in a way I could read. At some point in the process I crossed a line: The time to plan and book the trip took longer than it will take to fly across the entire country.
Adams continues on to talk about Apple, and how he believes they’re one company that is more in-line with his “Less Feature” desire:
Apple often gets the less features thing right. The iPad didn’t add a fast boot-up speed, it subtracted a hard disk. It didn’t add a touch screen, it subtracted a keyboard. You want to print? Forget it. The iPad is awesome precisely because it has fewer options. If I want more complexity I can purchase apps.
With an endless supply of applications you can download from their app store and the numerous models of computers, I’m not so certain Apple has the “Less Feature” perfected. However, I agree that they’re better at uncluttering their product lines than many other companies.
Where do you stand? Do you believe that too many options clutters up your daily experience? Would you prefer fewer options, or do more options mean you are able to find exactly what you need for your clutter-free life?
Thanks to MinimalMac for leading us to this interesting Scott Adams blog post.
My fourth and final set of 2010 resolutions started the first of October, but have been delayed a bit as I’ve been trying to wrap up my third quarter “Finish It!” goals. My son’s baby book is almost finished, and then I’ll have worked through a page and a half of previously unfinished tasks.
In the third quarter, I’ve had my house’s electrical box rewired, the clothes dryer fixed, the garbage disposal repaired, I sold my spinning wheel and roving, went through a home re-uncluttering effort, and finished my next book proposal (though I haven’t had the courage to send it on to my agent yet). I also passed along all of my son’s baby clothes to my nephew and dozens of other small tasks that had been hanging out on my to-do list for far too long (some unfinished items had been there for a few years). For those who are new to Unclutterer, so far this year I’ve also worked on increasing my energy levels during the first quarter of 2010 and embarking on new adventures during the second quarter.
My fourth quarter resolutions for 2010 are all about nurturing the things that matter to me most.
Like most of you, my friends and family are at the top of my list of what is most important in life. I’ve cleared the clutter so I can spend more time with those I love and laugh with them and let them know how much I appreciate them — but I still don’t feel like I’m doing enough. Actually, I know I’m not doing enough.
I have nine things on my list of what truly matters to me in this world. Over the next two and a half months, I’m going to focus all of my energy on nurturing these nine things. I have very specific goals related to my nurturing theme, but since most of them are extremely specific (naming friends and family members outright), I’ll post just a few here to give you a general idea of my actions:
- Make a care package for my mother-in-law for her to enjoy after her surgery in November. (Nurturing family.)
- Acquire a treadmill so I can continue to run four times a week even when the weather is nasty cold. (Nurturing my health.)
- Take a music class with my son. (Nurturing my son.)
After clearing the clutter, have you invested in the things that matter most to you? Or, are you still letting not-so-important matters clutter up your time? During the fourth quarter, consider creating resolutions that are focused on nurturing the things that really matter and enjoying the benefits of an uncluttered life.
Interesting articles and services relating to uncluttering, organizing, and simple living:
- Patrick at Minimal Mac asks “A Most Important Question.” If you don’t know where something belongs, it may “… not have a place in your home, in your relationships, in your job, or or in your life,” and, “perhaps it should not be there.”
- Alton Brown, the celebrity chef who is the inspiration behind our Unitasker Wednesday posts, wrote a diary about his (bizarre?) minimalist eating practices when he travels in last week’s New York magazine: “Alton Brown Makes His Own Avocado Ice Cream, Does Shots With John Hodgman.”
- Learning Express Library is an online resource for practice tests on hundreds of topics. The free and digital tests range from the U.S. Citizenship exam to college entrance tests. Save your money and some trees with these helpful resources.
- Lose the equipment and your gym membership, and get an uncluttered workout using only your body weight. From Nerd Fitness, “Beginner Body Weight Workout.”
- The Art of Manliness has a tribute to all things minimalist in “Go Small Or Go Home: In Praise of Minimalism.”
- Clean up your iTunes digital music collection with Tagalicious — a simple and easy to use application that gets rid of all of those “Track 01″ files you have in your directory.
- Are you on Twitter? Does it bother you when someone attends a conference and floods your stream with messages that don’t interest you in the least? Use DeClutter to remove specific keywords from your timeline. (via Swiss-Miss)
It’s Monday, and a week’s worth of possibilities are in front of you. Do you:
- Drag your feet, groan, and wish it were Friday already?
- Excitedly jump out of bed, sing in the shower, and rejoice that it is Monday?
- Fall somewhere in between option #1 and #2, where you’re glad to have a new week ahead of you but wouldn’t mind crawling back into bed (at least for a few more minutes)?
Even if you chose option #1 this morning, it doesn’t mean you’ll never have a Monday where you feel like option #2. I woke up feeling like option #3 today (fall has come to the Mid-Atlantic and there was a crispness in the air that made me want to stay curled up under the comforter), but am now on track to feeling more like option #2. In addition to all the ways we’ve written about in the past to help you start your week on an organized footing (Plan your perfect week, Streamlining your morning routines, Preparing on Friday for Monday’s workday, to name a few), there are even more strategies you can implement to be excited about your new week. Here are some ideas for you:
- Fake it. I’m usually the world’s biggest supporter of being authentic in your actions, but when it comes to Monday mornings I don’t see much harm in pretending to be excited for the week ahead. Acting as if you are in a good mood can often put you in a good mood. Your feelings change to match your behavior, and you end up having a positive outlook on your week.
- Embrace your morning routine. Organize and plan your mornings so they include something you love. I love coffee and a few minutes each morning to sit in silence and enjoy my brew. So, I wake up 20 minutes before my son so I can have that much-needed jolt of caffeine and time to myself. If you love to run, try adding this exercise to your morning routine. If video games are your thing, set a timer for 20 minutes and play your favorite game. Your morning doesn’t have to be filled with getting ready and nothing else.
- Take the scenic route. Travel to work on a route that takes you past turning leaves (in the northern hemisphere) or budding flowers (for those of you in the southern half of our planet). The different path might help you to see a work problem in a new perspective.
- Make a list. Take a few minutes to list all of the things you like about your job or whatever you have on your schedule this week. Even if your list is extremely short, refer to it when your mood starts to turn south. You may also find you have more items to add to the list over the course of the week. Keep the list and reference it next Monday, too.
The more organized you are and the less clutter you have in your way, the easier it is to feel excited about Mondays. Keep working on your uncluttering efforts, and give one or more of these positive mood-boosters a try. The happier you are, the more productive you’ll likely be. I wish all of you a wonderful week.
On Monday, the BBC published the article “Cult of less: Living out of a hard drive” about a group of 20-something hipsters who claim digital technologies have replaced all but a few of their possessions.
One of the men interviewed for the article says he only owns “his laptop, an iPad, an Amazon Kindle, two external hard drives, a ‘few’ articles of clothing and bed sheets.” Another says he only has “a backpack full of designer clothing, a laptop, an external hard drive, a small piano keyboard and a bicycle – an armful of goods that totals over $3,000 (£1,890) in value.”
Owning just a few electronics and pieces of fabric is an interesting take on extreme minimalism. In contrast to most ascetics who eschew the conveniences of the modern world, it’s current technologies that make these hyper-digital ascetics’ lifestyles possible.
[Kelly Sutton of Brooklyn, New York] … says he got rid of much of his clutter because he felt the ever-increasing number of available digital goods have provided adequate replacements for his former physical possessions.
“I think cutting down on physical commodities in general might be a trend of my generation – cutting down on physical commodities that can be replaced by digital counterparts will be a fact,” said Mr Sutton.
The tech-savvy Los Angeles “transplant” credits his external hard drives and online services like iTunes, Hulu, Flickr, Facebook, Skype and Google Maps for allowing him to lead a minimalist life.
However, the tech-savvy minimalists are quick to point out that their decisions have made some aspects of their lives difficult:
Mr Klein says the lifestyle can become loathsome because “you never know where you will sleep”. And Mr Yurista says he frequently worries he may lose his new digital life to a hard drive crash or downed server.
What do you think of these modern minimalists? Discuss your reactions in the comments.