Archive for category Simple Living
The past two weekends, my neighbors held a yard sale. Apparently my boys could smell commerce happening nearby, because within moments of awakening, they were at the window. “The neighbor has a tent on his lawn,” Ezra announced. Both boys spent most of the weekends outside asking questions and fondling nicknacks or glued to the window watching people come and go.
“We need a canoe.” “Ball next door!” “Mom, can we go look at the games again?” “My boat.” They managed to tote home a number of odd things from the free box, including a stained white plastic ball that looks like it came from the antenna of a Jeep, a telephone that would have been state-of-the-art when I was Ezra’s age, and a wide-brimmed hat that fits no one in the house.
These finds joined other relics that Ezra’s lugged home over the years, including a couple of other land-line telephones, a broken audio cassette recorder, and a microphone. Apparently our compulsion to collect stuff starts at a young age, and it only seems to escalate from there. On our recent camping trip, I was amazed by all the things people bring to “get away from it all” – super-sized motorhomes, patio furniture, dog beds and crates and yards. Of course, we toted our share of stuff back and forth from our car, although fortunately we were severely constricted by its compact size.
It’s not that I don’t love stuff. Every time I turn on my washing machine, drop into my bed at the end of the day, or turn on my computer, I am thankful for the material things that make our lives better. My goal is not necessarily to have less. I’m not on a mission to pare my belongings to 100 things as many bloggers have amazingly done. I just want to be intentional about what I bring into my life. I want to spend my money, time, and attention on things that bring me happiness and satisfaction. And I want to try to keep in mind a purchase’s entire life cycle: where did it come from and where will it end up?
In this issue of YES! Magazine (all about the “Human Cost of Stuff”) Annie Leonard says it well: “I’m neither for nor against stuff. I like stuff it’s well-made, honestly marketed, used for a long time, and at the end of its life recycled in a way that doesn’t trash the planet, poison people, or exploit workers. Our stuff should not be artifacts of indulgence and disposability, like toys that are forgotten 15 minutes after the wrapping comes off, but things that are both practical and meaningful.” (My review of Judy Wicks’ Good Morning, Beautiful Business is also in this issue. Check it out if you see a copy!)
Visiting second-hand stores helps me be more intentional about new purchases. All those cluttered shelves of hardly used, outdated appliances helps take the sheen off the marketing and shiny newness in box and department stores. Recently Ezra and I wandered through several used stores together. He’s been wanting a Leap Pad learning system, because he loves playing with his friend’s, and I heard used stores tend to have vast quantities of them. When the first three stores didn’t have one, Ezra was desperate to bring home something – anything. He insisted he would be happy with a pair of butterfly wings, a toy cash register, or a toy laptop instead of a Leap Pad. I convinced him to wait until we checked out the last store.
They had exactly what Ezra wanted, and it was just $5. “I’m so glad we waited,” Ezra beamed as he hugged his new Leap Pad. I’m hoping he learned something about being intentional about purchases. And for now, fortunately, the yard sales are over; please don’t let any of our neighbors open an ice cream cart.
Do you try to be intentional about your purchases? Do you have any tips to share? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.
“Wealth is the ability to fully experience life.” – Henry David Thoreau
“In the new good life, the point is not to have the most toys, but the most joys.” – John Robbins
I was thumbing through a gourmet cookbook the other day, and the author recommended visiting farm stores to procure the most flavorful, just-picked ingredients.
I glanced out at my garden and felt wealthy.
Here we are harvesting fresh herbs, greens, and eggs every day just a few feet from our back door. The early spring sunshine probably deserves more credit than I do for all of this abundance. But I’ve invested plenty of sweat and love into that soil over the years, and I built something that feels very much like wealth.
When I hear the word wealth, I usually think of stock portfolios, IRAs, and 401Ks – the green stuff.
But when I think about what makes me feel wealthy, my mind jumps to other green stuff: my garden, city parks, wide open spaces, and the neighborhood fig tree that gives and gives and gives.
I also think of my close, connected neighborhood; my friends; and walking and riding my bike every day. I think of my kids and our unhurried mornings reading books, watching snails, and counting spiders’ legs.
Wealth is usually defined as an “abundance of items of economic value or material possessions.” But I wonder if it’s time for us to redefine wealth, at least in our own lives.
I’m not knocking savings accounts, retirement plans, or consumer goods. These things are important; they’re just not the whole story.
When we reflect on what makes us feel wealthy, we expand beyond our culture’s emphasis on property, assets, and commodities. We might think about good health, breathing clean air, living in a safe neighborhood, and having access to fresh produce. We might think about having more time.
And by redefining wealth for ourselves, we can ensure that we’re building the kind of lives and communities that make us feel wealthy. They might look a lot different than the ones we see on advertisements and on TV.
What makes you feel wealthy? I’d love to hear about it in the comments section.
[Note: Do you read New Urban Habitat on Google Reader? It will be shut down soon. You can sign up on my blog to have my weekly posts delivered to your inbox.]
It’s the time of year when we prune the rosebushes in our backyard down to a few stalks. For several weeks afterward, they look stark, straggly, and half-dead.
Then an amazing thing happens. By May, they transform into vibrant, healthy bushes overflowing with blossoms.
It’s life-changing to witness this process time and again, because it exemplifies how powerful it is to get rid of what you don’t need.
So around this time of the year, I inevitably find myself taking inventory of all of the stuff in our lives — and feeling a tad buried.
For much of January, I feared I’d never see the floor in Ezra’s room again. I’m in a never-ending battle with the end table in our kitchen, which magnetically attracts loose toy parts, tools, and scraps of paper. And I avoid our garage altogether, because I fear I won’t make it through the piles of detritus without spelunking gear.
But I also can’t help but peek back at where we’ve been and celebrate some successes in our quest to live better with less stuff.
Over the years, I’ve discovered a secret to simplifying. It’s not about having less. It’s about figuring out who you are and what you love. Then you can keep and celebrate the things that make you feel alive and happy — and donate or discard the rest.
It’s tempting to think if you have the space to store extra clothes, there’s no harm in keeping them around. But rifling through the stuff littering our lives takes a daily toll. Last year I got rid of more than half of my clothes and all but five pairs of shoes, and every day I feel lighter and happier because of it. Less laundry. Less stress. More space.
Here are a few tips if you’re thinking of dramatically paring down your wardrobe:
1. Your motto is, “If in doubt, throw it out.” Repeat it often.
2. Take the time to figure out what kind of clothes and shoes you really like. You can learn more about what colors look good on you here. And you can explore what styles look good on you here (women) or here (men).
3. Get rid of anything that doesn’t fit right, isn’t flattering, or is damaged.
4. Be aware of emotional attachments to certain clothing items, which make it harder to part with them.
5. Never welcome new clothes into your wardrobe without saying goodbye to some first.
6. Be gracious but judicious about gifts. I’m thankful that my sister gifts me lots of slightly-used clothes. But I’ve had to learn to be a little bit picky about which ones I keep and which ones I pass on to somebody else.
- Personal care items
Over the years, we’ve traded all of our costly, chemical-laden, heavily-packaged personal care items for simple, safe, inexpensive alternatives. In every single case, the alternatives work better. But the real pay off is how much lighter our lives are without half-empty plastic bottles and tubes cluttering our bathroom drawers and counters.
If you’re on a mission to downsize your personal care items, here are a few of our favorite swaps:
1. Baking soda and vinegar for shampoo and conditioner.
2. Castile soap for face and bar soap.
3. Castile soap or homemade tooth powder for toothpaste. (Scared to give up commercial toothpaste? So was I. Then I did, and I was amazed. I have cleaner teeth, healthier gums, and no more tooth sensitivity.)
4. A mix of 50/50 baking soda and cornstarch for deodorant.
6. Salt water for mouthwash.
7. Coconut or olive oil for lotion.
Tip: If it feels drab to swap colorful sweet-smelling products for simple alternatives, consider packaging your homemade personal care items in jars, making beautiful labels, and using essential oils to jazz them up.
- Toys and kids’ clothes
I’ve heard of four-year-olds who clean their rooms, but Ezra is allergic to cleanliness. He delights in transferring all of his toys and books from the tubs, drawers, and shelves I use to try to maintain order in his little corner of our house to the floor.
The other day as I was muttering about the disorder, Ezra diagnosed the problem. “I like it messy, Mom. Then I can find everything.” It was a huge breakthrough. I realized that I’m not going to keep his room clean no matter what I do. So I let it go.
Of course, we still need to get inside his little kingdom, so I decided to try an idea I’ve heard about. I packed up a couple of boxes of his toys and put them in the garage with plans to pull them out in a few weeks in exchange for different toys. The goal is to keep a revolving carousal of toys. That way even when every single toy in the room is on the floor, we can still open the door and move around. So far it’s working great.
We’ve also been purging clothes, books, and toys as Ira outgrows them, and I stumbled onto a brilliant idea to make that easier. An acquaintance of ours throws an annual children’s toy, book, and clothes swap. Parents bring what their kids have outgrown and trade them for things their kids can use now. It’s amazing! You can pare down, hang out with friends, and save money all at the same time. And they’re casual and informal affairs, so it would be easy to organize one yourself.
As the weather warms, we’ll need to sharpen our clippers and tackle some areas desperately in need of pruning, like, ahem, the garage. It’s nice that we can arm ourselves with the glow of a few past successes.
Are you trying to live better with less stuff? Do you have tips, successes, and ideas to share? I’d love to read about it in the comments.
At the end of 2010, I shared 10 magic moments when someone said or wrote something that surprised or inspired me. Moments that made me say, “aha.” Now, as we say so long to 2012, I have 12 more for you:
I unsubscribed from the clock. Dropped my watch right into the garbage. Shut off the glowing green-blue digital clocks that seem to piggyback on every appliance known to man – microwave, stove, VCR. … I’m less stressed. I don’t worry about how long things take or even bother considering how long they should take. … I’m no longer chained to the clock. I measure my life in heartbeats and years, the only significant units to me. – Steven Corona, Living Without Time
Plants, it turns out, possess a sensory vocabulary far wider than our perception of them as static, near-inanimate objects might suggest: They can smell their own fruits’ ripeness, distinguish between different touches, tell up from down, and retain information about past events; they “see” when you’re approaching them and even “know” whether you’re wearing a red or blue shirt; like us, they have unique genes that detect light and darkness to wind up their internal clock. – Maria Popova, What a Plant Knows
Micro-publishing means that every person is a publisher. It takes away the whole idea of “us” vs. “them” that comes part and parcel with indie publishing and establishes that there is only Us, all of the people in the world, and we are all publishers. – Christina Katz, “What is What Is Micro-Publishing? A Thorough Definition By Christina Katz”
Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets. The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done. – Tim Kreider, “The Busy Trap,” New York Times
Pushing our children toward adulthood takes us (and them) away from seeing that each of us are whole people exactly as we are. A baby is not an unformed child, a child is not an ungrown adult, an elder is not an age-ruined version of a once younger self. … We don’t have to paddle away from the moment we live in toward some ideal age. Doing so doesn’t just wish away right now, it also condemns every other age we live in to be something less. – Laura Grace Weldon, What’s the Perfect Age?
Focus on your masterpiece. Whatever you focus on, you’ll create. Think your project is crappy? Then it will be crappy. Think you’ll get it done no matter the odds? Then you’ll finish it even if you get hit by a bus. – Joshua Fields Millburn, Create Your Masterpiece, a 16-Step Guide
So began my year of living the shareable life, which I chronicled on shareable.net. … I hadn’t thought my blog would make a difference, but I was wrong. My story was picked up by Fast Company, Sunset, and NBC Nightly News, reaching tens of millions of people with the message that sharing is both good for the soul and a savvy financial move. At the end of the day, I reaped the personal reward of sharing with my neighbors. And I have an extra $17,000 in my pocket. - Neal Gorenflo, How I saved $17,000 in one year by sharing
I remember hearing about a book called “How to Parent without Bribes, Threats and Punishments,” and I laughed because those were all my discipline tools, and I believed in them. But, 2 years later, I’m orbiting a more peaceful planet and making an occasional smooth landing. … I still value compliance, but not the kind that comes from threats or promise of a reward, because in the long run, I want my children to be motivated to make choices from their intrinsic desire to add to the peace and harmony of our family (and the planet). – Rachel Turiel, orbiting a more peaceful planet
I learned a little trick while practicing meditation that helped me, not only with meditation, but with just about everything I do. I noticed I was reluctant to start the meditation, and paused to wonder why that is. What I noticed was a kind of tightness, in my chest and shoulders and neck, but also in my mind. … I chose to let go of the tightness. – Leo Babauta, The Little Trick to Make Any Moment Better
What if we stopped labeling our children, criticizing our children, fretting over our children, and instead just loved them unconditionally and let them be themselves? I have a theory about this: If we stop trying to change and mold our children and start loving them just the way they are then we have to extend the same courtesy to ourselves. – Jennifer Margulis, Mismatched: When Your Child’s Personality Clashes With Your Own
I looked in the other pocket. I looked in my bag. And then I remembered, with dull thud to the gut—I changed trousers before leaving my room. The Fitbit was back at the hotel, clipped to my jeans, motionless, recording nothing. … Part of me wanted to cab it back to the hotel. Cab it back and clip on the Fitbit and do the walk again. … Smiling, I looked out over a Paris glowing golden—caught in a long summer twilight—and enjoyed the day for what it was: a beautiful walk, existing only in my mind, to be forgotten, unrecorded and fleeting, just as it’s always been.” – Craig Mod, Paris and the Data Mind
Our children don’t need us to play with them all the time. It only seems like that because we keep running away from them. … Child development experts say preschoolers need one hour of undistracted play with a parent each day. … But this means one hour when you sit on the floor and don’t get up. You don’t leave to fold the laundry or start supper. You don’t abandon the game to do something more interesting or important. You don’t check your email or fiddle on your phone. And the game is one they choose, not something you think is worthwhile or educational for them.” – Karen Maezen Miller, momma time
We were inspired by Tricia at Little Eco Footprints to make our own version of her “calm and creative” natural advent calendar, so last week we gathered leaves from around our neighborhood, numbered them, and strung them on a piece of twine. Tricia shares all sorts of wonderful “quick and simple activities” to do in the evenings each day. However, I took a quicker and even simpler approach (read: scrapped together at the last minute) and told Ezra that we would “sing a Christmas song, tell a Christmas story, or make a Christmas craft” each day.
He was thrilled at that idea. So the first evening, as we untied our leaf, I asked, “What would you like to do tonight to celebrate?”
“Make a Christmas raft,” Ezra exclaimed.
“You mean a Christmas craft?”
He gave me a funny look.
And that, future house guests, is why we have the oddly strung together chopstick contraption in our bathtub.
I hope you too are finding delight in unexpected places this holiday season.
Here are a few more inspiring ideas for simple and joyful December celebrations:
- 35 Meaningful December Traditions for Families by Dr. Laura Markham
- 8 Tips to De-Stress the Holidays by Dr. Laura Markham
- Gift Experiences, Not Stuff by The Minimalists
- 15 Simple Christmas Gift Ideas by Shalom Mama
Tell me to what you pay attention and I will tell you who you are. – Jose Ortega y Gasset
Sometimes my four-year-old son Ezra asks me, “Where are you, Mama?” when he’s sitting on my lap.
“I’m right here,” I say. But I know he’s caught me. I’m really miles away, my mind flitting from what we will have for dinner tonight, to the article I’m writing, to the garbage cans that I forgot to drag out to the curb this morning.
Sometimes I lift one-year-old Ira onto my lap while I’m working and rub his back, thinking I can multitask parenting and work for at least a few minutes. But the moment I glance over his fine white curls at the computer monitor, he senses my inattention like a drone detecting heat. He spins around, wrapping his fingers in my hair, his giggles echoing through my office.
Many childhood development experts say that connected parenting requires thirty minutes a day of undivided attention. Thirty minutes playing whatever your kids want to play, talking about whatever they want to talk about. No trying to peak at the newspaper; no trying to teach them the alphabet. Sounds easy, right? But sometimes it’s not, and I’m tempted to skip it. I’m home with my kids all the time, I tell myself. They see plenty of me. But it’s like Ezra has a score card tucked away in his pocket. “We never play together,” he moans if more than a couple of days pass without my undivided attention.
My kids just seem to naturally get something I so often forget: focusing on something transforms it. Of course, it’s not just parenting that requires our attention. So does writing, reading, art, marriage. Those things just often aren’t as good about reminding us.
Recently I started a gigantic editing project. Work towered in front of me like a canyon wall. “I’ll never finish,” I told my husband after I spent most of my first day procrastinating.
“Just commit to it for one hour a day, and see what happens,” my husband advised.
So I did, and a couple of months later I was done.
When something is decaying, be it our aspirations or health or friendships, it’s easy to say we don’t have time for it even if we have time for other things, like Facebook, Twitter, and television. There’s nothing wrong with any of it, of course, as long as that’s what we want in our lives.
But we can never forget that what we attend to flourishes. And what we neglect decays.
I seem to need to remind myself again and again about the astonishing power of my attention. So as we grow closer to a new year, and everyone is talking about resolutions, I’m shifting my thoughts to attention.
What are my highest priorities this year? What do I want to flourish? Where do I need to shift my attention?
What do you plan to pay attention to in the new year? I’d love to hear about it.
The holiday season is here! Honestly, I’m excited. Having a four-year-old helps make this time of the year fun and wonder-filled.
We used to buy and ship a lot of stuff around the country, and it was incredibly expensive and stressful. So for the past few years, we’ve been on a mission to make our celebrations joyful, memorable . . . and slow. We’ve established a few traditions, like tree decorating, cookie making, and a solstice celebration. But we try not to get too frenzied with making, baking, or gift giving. We leave lots of time for taking walks, reading aloud, telling stories, and just being together.
I’m excited about the handmade gifts we have planned for our close friends and family members, but I can’t say very much about that here, at least until after the big day. So I thought I’d offer you a roundup of some helpful resources for making this holiday season simpler, greener, and more meaningful:
Ideas for do-it-yourself recycled gift bags, green gift bows, meaningful gifts, and plenty of food for thought on focusing more on people than things this holiday season.
A fantastic list of resources for making the holidays simple and stress-free. Also worth checking out: 35 Gifts Your Children Will Never Forget.
A beautiful natural advent calendar and simple gift-giving strategy.
Twenty-eight ideas for clutter-free gifts, including gift certificates, cooking or yoga lessons, and homemade edibles.
And finally, here’s a roundup of my past posts about simple, natural, and slow ways to celebrate this time of the year:
- 10 Ways to Take Back the Holidays
- 5 Tension Tamers for Your Holiday Gathering
- Celebrate the First Day of Winter
- 6 Fun Ways to Spend a Cold, Dark Night
As a gift to myself and my family, I’m embracing slow blogging this holiday season, so you may notice fewer posts than usual.
Are you planning a slow, simple holiday celebration this year? I’d love to hear about it.
Full confession: I’m not the craftiest person.
As much as I love the idea of crafting and am convinced that it improves our creative, cognitive, and emotional health, I am a bit challenged in the area of actually, you know, crafting. (Just thinking about it works, right?)
That’s why I’m grateful that Ezra attends a sweet nature-based preschool for a few hours a week, where craftiness abounds. This week he made these beautiful (and wonderful-smelling) beeswax-dipped leaves. And it’s such an easy project; I think I could probably even master it.
Here’s a how-to from Martha Stewart herself, if you are in a crafty mood and still have some fall leaves to preserve.
Wishing you a happy Halloween!