Minimalism, Philosophy

25 Day Countdown to a Happy 2019

I have always loved Advent calendars!  In the past, I have collaborated with other bloggers, to write a series of posts to countdown through the holidays (our “calendar” always counted down until New Year’s).  Maybe next year, I will bring back Simplify the Season.

In the meantime, I was very excited this year to see that Sue from Sizzling Toward 60 & Beyond  is doing her own advent calendar, a “25 Day Countdown to a Happy Christmas.”  Every day she will post a writing prompt from her own advent calendar.

I do realize that I am over a week behind, but I have never been one to do things on their exact dates.  My last Christmas in Michigan, Santa came to our house on the 27th, so we would have more time to prepare.  And so it will be with my advent calendar!  I am calling mine a “Countdown to a Happy 2019,” and it will take us somewhere into January.

I will post a prompt everyday, interrupting occasionally for posts about our family and other such things.

So let us begin with Day 1…

“Re-assess to Reduce the Stress”

This prompt is about reducing committments, so that the holidays (and the rest of the year) are less stressful.  This is a practice that I have been doing continually, so I thought that I would share some of the ways that I have pared down my committments.

 1.  Working Part-Time

I have written about my choice to quit my full-time teaching job and switch to substitute teaching.  This has allowed me to spend more time with my family, spend more time on my home, and even spend more time getting ready for the holidays!  I rarely have to drive in rush hour anymore, so my stress level is significantly reduced.

2.  Working Four Days a Week

I immediately realized that working five days a week was more stressful than I wanted it to be.  I did not have the time to keep our home, and I felt like my self-care was suffering.  I realize that a four day work week is not an option for everyone, but since it is for me, why not do it?  Our budget can handle it, and we are able to be self-sufficient, now that I am receiving regular paychecks.

3.  Paring Down on Close Friendships

Over the summer, I made the difficult realization that I had grown apart from my closest friends, with whom I was spending most of my time.  It was hard and painful for us to go in our separate directions, but doing so did allow me to focus on self-care and nurturing some of my other relationships.

4.  Being Mindful about Where I Work

When I first began substitute teaching, I worked in two school districts and at a two-campus charter school.  I absolutely loved the charter school and felt very energized when I worked there.  I loved one of the school districts as well, except for one campus.

I went to that campus one time, and immediately felt a negative vibe.  It looked…tired.  And so did the staff members.  I decided to keep an open mind and set forth to teach my math classes.  My last period of the day, I had a very challenging group of students, with a ringleader who was using inappropriate language and being very disrespectful.  I knew he needed to be removed from the room, so I called the number that the office had given me for disciplinary issues.

The students watched as I called, received no answer, and left a voice mail message.  I tried calling the principal and was also directed to voice mail.  At that point, I had lost the students.  They knew there would be no follow-through with their behavior.

I mulled it over and thought, “I could learn to be successful here.”  And then I wondered why I would want to, when I have the choice to work somewhere else.  So I stopped accepting assignments at that campus.

When I started working at the other school district, I immediately noticed the tired look at many of their schools.  And again, working on those campuses was always a battle.  Even when I worked at nice schools, the drive home had road construction, and I always got home later than I wanted.  I came home in a negative mood.  Eventually, I decided to stop working in that district.

5.  I Don’t Do Everything I Want to Do

This has been the hardest one for me.  It’s become easy for me to say “no” to things I don’t want to do, but what about the things I do want to do?  There are so many opportunities for fun, especially during the holidays, but doing them all will simply become too stressful.

So I don’t meet up with my friends as much as I would like to, but when we do get together, it is very special.

Yoga is a priority for me, but I do miss class if I already have something going on that afternoon or evening.

Sometimes we decline an invitation to get together with friends, if we would rather spend a night at home.

And while I sometimes feel guilty for saying “no” to something I would like to do, I have found that my saying “no,” has allowed my friends to do the same, without worrying that I will judge them.

Now It’s Your Turn

What ways have you found, to re-assess and reduce the stress?  Are there some things you would like to say “no” to?

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Minimalism, Philosophy

Thoughts on Minimalism

I identify as a minimalist.

I recently had my third post published on Miss Minimalist.  I wrote a minimalist blog for four years and developed a small but tight-knit community.  I have before and after pictures of our house when we completed the first Great Purge of possessions.  At one point my entire family of 3 owned 75 possessions.

Early in my journey, a well-natured relative joked that we sucked as minimalists.  This led to more manic purging of items.  “Minimalist” was a label I wanted.  It was a clique I wanted to join.  In those early days, I worried about whether various things I did were “minimalist” enough.

As I became minimalist, I also became more “crunchy.”  I became obsessed with my daughter owning a few, non-plastic toys.  And absolutely no electronics or cartoon characters!   (Except for her v-tech piano toy, which magically kept her occupied for hours!)

I had a capsule wardrobe.  But mine consisted of 14 items.  When I started working out, I bought 3 tank tops and 3 pair of shorts.  For the two years at the gym and my first year at Moonlight, I refused to buy separate clothing for yoga.   All of my books were electronic.

Fast forward to today.  I am now an “old” minimalist.  I have no idea how many items I own, although I do know that it is time to get better about decluttering 15 minutes everyday.  I own lots of yoga pants, because sometimes I go twice a day and don’t want to be stinky.  (And I work out in yoga pants too).  I have a weird 1970’s chips and salsa tray, because it’s weird and someone gave it to me.

Image result for 1970's chips and salsa tray avocado

And speaking of the 1970’s, I have a collection of vintage cookbooks from all decades, as well as the Good Housekeeping Housekeeping book from 1947!

Image result for the good housekeeping housekeeping book 1947

I have a full bookshelf and enjoy exchanging books with my friends.

So what does minimalism mean to me, after 8-9 years of practicing it?  And what lessons have I learned through those years?

Here are a few random thoughts about my minimalist experience:

1.  Question everything.

When you embrace minimalism, you question the amount of possessions we should own and the pursuit of the “American Dream.”  When you continue in this lifestyle, the questioning continues.  I have questioned and redefined my identity, my assumptions about myself, my living arrangement, my career, etc.  There is no reason to do ANYTHING, just because everyone else does it.

Image result for question mark

 

2.  Minimalism is a mindset, not a doctrine.

Minimalism is not a religion. I don’t do or not do something, just because it is “more minimalist.”  If I want to own a gazillion old cookbooks, I will!  It is not about counting possessions.  It’s not a clique that you need to get into.  Minimalism is about simplifying, so that your possessions, your home, your committments, and your relationships are all in alignment with what YOU want out of life.  It is about having the minimum that you need, of all of these things, in order to live a life that best suits you.

 

3.  There is no “graduation.”

I’ve been done decluttering before.  That “done” lasted until we needed to get rid of most of our possessions in order to move to Texas.  I never decluttered our apartment, because we didn’t live there long enough to accumulate clutter.  This boat, however, is in dire need to decluttering.  Because decluttering is a process you keep coming back to.  Examining your possessions, as well as your home, committments, and relationships, is a lifelong process.

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4.  Minimalism leads to other changes.

Ya gotta put something where the stuff used to be!  I have found that making one major life change eventually leads to more changes.  We decluttered our house, and in doing so, we questioned a lot of what society was telling us we needed to have and do.  Which led to me leaving my job and moving to Houston.  Which led to us moving onto a boat.  Which led to me quitting another job.  And so on.  Once you get brave enough to go against the grain, you become brave enough to take it a step further.  And another step further.

5.  Eventually people stop giving unsolicited advice.

Because eventually you stop behaving in a way that communicates that you are asking for permission.  Living counter-culturally becomes routine, and you no longer feel like you need to make a big deal out of it or defend it.  It has been years since anyone has given us advice or voiced disapproval.

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6.  You meet like-minded people.

Every lifestyle change we have made, has brought us closer to our tribe.  Our marina is full of live-aboard, who also own few possessions, out of necessity.  In my yoga class, I have also met a large number of friends who choose voluntary simplicity as a lifestyle.  At my Weight Watchers meeting, we talked about decluttering our homes, and I said that I spend 15 minutes a day decluttering.  The lady next to me said, “Yup!  That’s what Fly Lady recommends!”  Your journey will inevitably lead you to other people who are on the same journey.

7.  Possessions become less of a focus.

When we first embraced minimalism, our live was very focused on possessions: counting them and, more importantly, getting rid of them!  Even though decluttering is an ongoing process, we don’t think about being minimalists much anymore.  We just live it.  Our life is more centered around experiences and doing the things that we enjoy.  Minimalism is just more of a guiding idea that has become a habit.

So now it is your turn!  What surprising lessons and observations have you discovered on your minimalist journey?

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Health, Minimalism

The Great Facebook Divorce

facebook

In my last post, I told you about how getting rid of my Smartphone changed my life, in a positive way.  And one of the largest positives was that it led me to spend less time on Facebook.

My relationship with Facebook was already complicated.  In November 2012, I deleted my account, and did not have another account for a year.  I found that my life was less stressful and I wasted less time online, in pointless arguments, once I deleted Facebook.

I kept in touch with many people in the minimalist blogging community through email.  I did spend way too much time writing emails, as I used email as my substitute for social networking.  It was enjoyable and addictive at first, but eventually the emails fizzled.

A year later, many of the bloggers I had connected with were either ending their blogs or moving forward and trying to expand and monetize.  I had moved to Texas, and my blog was more of a photo-sharing site for my family at that time.  I communicated with my relatives across the country through mass e-mails and pictures on my blog.  I found that Facebook was a much simpler way to do this, so I created a new account.

Facebook was incredibly helpful as I settled into my new community when we moved into the marina.  I connected with a Moms’ group and two special needs parenting groups.  I connected with friends from yoga.  Through Facebook I arranged play dates, found out about local events, and participated in a “Freecycle” type group.  It really helped me to get settled in here.

Throughout that time, however, I was learned and changing, rapidly.  I was developing a new view of myself and of life in general.  I was learning to value myself.  There were popularily-held ideas that I was beginning to question.

Strike One

mental health
I get nervous in social situations and have antique rifles. Not much of a threat here.

The first sign that my Facebook days were limited came after the Santa Fe school shooting.  This was practically in my back yard, and I know people who were personally affected.

I found out about the tragedy on Facebook, from my friends marking themselves and their children “safe.”  I got no housework done that morning, and spent hours on Facebook, learning what was known about what happened, and making sure the people I knew were all right.

Then, as I binged on blueberries and plain Greek yogurt (I got a gold star for that at my next Weight Watchers meeting!), I realized with dread, where the conversation was going to go next.  It was going to turn into a heated political debate, and then a subgroup of people would be scapegoated.

I remembered that in past school shootings, people with autism were blamed.  And after Parkland, it was people with mental health diagnoses.  That seemed to be the most popular group to turn into “others”.  Because we can’t believe that a “normal” person like us, could ever do such a thing.

Unfortunately, we all have issues, and if you are actually working on yours, you are probably going to have a mental health diagnosis, or many, in your lifetime.  And I am no exception.  I have been told that I have no mental health diagnosis now, but at various points in my journey I have been placed in many different categories within the DSM.  It’s just how it is.  Like everyone else, I had a lot of crap to work through.  But if you know me at all, you know that there has never been a point in my life where I was at any risk of becoming a mass-murderer.

But you can also imagine that seeing people who have received a diagnosis, being marginalized and scapegoated, is a wee bit upsetting for me.

At first I asked questions and even argued with people.  Then I saw that, without commenting on anything, one of my friends turned her profile picture to, “Closed for spiritual maintenance” as soon as she heard about the shooting.

A lightbulb went off in my head, and I refrained from logging in for a few days.  I decided that people were just talking nonsense, because they would never say any of those thing to me in person.  And if they did want to talk about how incredibly dangerous I was when I was having social anxiety, they could be my guest, in person.

This break was lovely, and my mind settled rather quickly.  I started going out and seeing friends more.  But Facebook was still right there, and it pulled me in after a couple days.

Strike Two

depression
Yes, but with work you can recover.

The second sign that it was time to leave Facebook happened a little less close to home.  It was when Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain died.

Now, I can’t afford designer accessories, and I don’t have cable television.  So I had absolutely no idea who either of these people were, or what struggles they faced in their journies.

But I did see everybody’s response on my newsfeed.

Just like the school shooting, we don’t want to believe that a “normal” person like us could die by suicide.  So of course, we have to establish that they are “others.”

And you guessed it.  They were “others” because they had mental health diagnoses.  Depression, specifically.  I lost interest in knowing what labels I had and when, since it has just been a continuous journey for me, but I do know that it was “depression” at least once.

I had learned that depression–or whatever emotional struggle was a part of my journey at any given time–had physical and cognitive components, and for that reason, there was a lot I could do.  In yoga I learned breathing exercises and stretches to calm my central nervous system.  With my dietician, I learned which foods would help settle my mind.  I knew that walking and listening to uplifting music would do a lot for my mood.  I knew that I needed daily exercise and eight hours of sleep.  I had an entire toolbox of cognitive strategies that I could use when my thoughts were spiralling.

I knew that if all of these tools weren’t enough, I could see a doctor and get medication to help.  And I knew that if, God forbid, I had persistant suicidal thoughts, I could seek help through crisis resources.  I never needed to pursue either of these avenues, but they were there in my toolbox nonetheless.

But this is not how “depression” was portrayed on Facebook.

First, there were “awareness” posts about how people struggle with depression everyday, and it is a physical illness just like diabetes.  Then, there were people who had a diagnosis of depression, who posted that this purely physical illness could flare up anytime, and they could be the next to die.

My thought was that if they are actually getting proper treatment, they should know they do not have to be the next to die.  Drugs alone are rarely enough.

I felt horrible reading these posts, and I talked to one of my friends about how negative Facebook had become.  She recommended some positive pages to follow.  I did, and I put them at the top of my newsfeed.  But then one of these pages joined the “it’s going to be me next” conversation.

I tried joining the conversation, sharing my experience.  But my voice was just one of many in a very destructive echo chamber.  People believed they were ill, that they had no hope or control, and they would only hear other voices confirming that.  I did my best to leave the conversation.

At the same time, I noticed a number of my relationships were changing, as I was changing and growing.  A lot of my friendships were based on the notion that we were both ill, “broken,” or “crazy.”  The difference in our paths became obvious in the prevailing conversations on Facebook.  It became clear that we had very little in common, other than our diagnoses.

They could not understand or support my new direction and achievements, and I could no longer give them the validation or co-misseration that they needed.  I realized I needed some distance, and that I needed to spend more time interacting with people who were supportive of the course my life was now taking.

As I agonized over this, one of my friends urged me to deactivate my account for 48 hours, to give myself some breathing room.  I did, without telling anyone I was going to do it, and my mind immediately calmed down.  I gained some clarity about what I needed to do next.

Strike Three

voice

By the end of 48 hours, my next course of action was obvious.

Facebook was convenient, but the cons far outweighed the pros.

  • It was sucking up hours of my day.
  • It was an echo chamber for negativity.
  • People said things on Facebook that they would never say in real life, not in a good way.
  • I was never happier after spending time reading my newsfeed, no matter how many people I unfollowed.
  • The negativity on Facebook spread, while the positive messages just seemed to fizzle away.
  • On Facebook I felt pulled toward slactivism.  I wasn’t going to change any lives by posting about my positive experience in overcoming my challenges.  In real life, I at least stand a chance of making someone’s day brighter.

So I pulled the plug.  I messaged the friends I wanted to stay in contact with, and gave them my information.  I downloaded all of my photos and videos (as well as the recipes that my friends had posted!).

Someone recently asked me if I missed it.  The answer is easy: not at all.  I am more present in my daily life.  I am more mindful about the people I choose to spend my time with.  And I am finding my voice.

At first glance, it can be easy to assume that the echo chamber of social media would help me to find my voice and articulate my thoughts.  But it always led me to seek validation, and, as was the case with the mental health issues, it led me to feel crushed and intimidated by the echo chamber.  Just having the space to think clearly and begin to speak my truth, has been amazing.  It’s increased my confidence significantly.

The first time, I left Facebook, my reasons were more universal, almost political.  This time, they are all personal.  Someday, I might create an account again, and be very careful about the people I connect with.

But for now, I’m just enjoying real life.

 

Frugal Living, Minimalism

Lovin’ the Flip Phone Lifestyle!

rotary phone

When cell phones first started to become a thing early in our marriage, Rob and I weren’t too sure about it.  It was bad enough having a land line that could ring at any time when we were home (unless we were online!), and we couldn’t afford caller ID.  Why on earth would we want people to be able to bother us when we were away from home?

All of that changed when Rob’s parents had the opportunity to add us to their contract for $10 a month.  That was much less expensive than the $80 we were paying for our landline!  We inherited a hand-me-down Razr and were in business.

Motorola-RAZR-V3m

But that didn’t mean we actually took it with us anywhere.

Nope.  We velcroed our cell phone to the wall, right where the land line had been.  It was a perfect place for it, and much less bulky.  And did I mention it was cheaper?

Eventually, the price went up and we had to get our own contract.  And even more eventually, we heeded the siren call of Smartphones.  First it was just one between the two of us.  Then my car left me stranded on the way to work, with no phone, so we acquired a second one.

We continued this way, chatting on Messenger while in line and checking Facebook and Reddit obsessively.  And it was okay.  We went on this way for a couple years.

messenger

Then it happened.  As I was walking down the dock at night, my phone slipped out of my hand.  I heard that haunting ker-plop! in the water below.  In the morning we saw it washed up on the beach, but it was too late.  The damage was done.

This event excited Rob a little too much.  Sick of constantly breaking Smartphones at work, he had already bought himself a heavy-duty flip phone.  He decided it was time for my conversion.

For a week, I had no phone.  No Facebook on the go, no Messenger, nada.  Then my Alcatel Go Flip arrived!  I now enjoy music, texting, and the occasional phone call.  And I actually do like it–a lot.

alcatel

Here are some of the reasons I love my flip phone:

1.  It’s cheaper.

Any phones on Sprint’s network that don’t require data, are eligible for Sister Mobile, which is $5 a month for unlimited calling and 200 texts.

2.  I am not distracted by chats.

I had a love/hate relationship with Messenger.  I preferred chatting to calling, but being distracted by non-urgent, idle chit-chat took my attention from other things.  I spent a lot of time out in the world, not seeing the world, due to my Messenger conversation.

3.  I am overall more present.

Yes, checking Facebook is a choice.  And Messenger can be turned off.  But I do better not having those there at all.  It was strange not being able to reach for my phone the instant something became slightly boring.  But now I’ve found that downtime has become time to rest my mind and observe the world around me.

4.  I am happier.

Be honest.  Social media is filled with negativity.  Having less exposure to it had the surprising effect of improving my mood.  I had spent so much time glued to Facebook on my phone, and my mood was never improved after doing this.  I thought it was relaxing and stress-relieving, but it really was not.

5.  I don’t write texts that should be emails.

Like Messenger, it’s easy to get sucked into texting.  However, when you have to text using a number pad, it is much more time consuming to write long texts.  If I can’t get to the point quickly, I will ask the recipient for their email and write them back at my convenience.  And my convenience is not when I am out, doing some thing with someone else.

6.  I live less of my life through a filter.

Don’t get me wrong.  I still take pictures.  My flip phone has a nice little camera app.  But I have found that I experience more events without worrying about constantly taking and uploading pictures.  When there is no option to instantly upload, I am more mindful about what I do put online.  Because of this, I am living my life, rather than constructing it as some sort of reality show.

Getting rid of my Smartphone was a nice, small step that ultimately led to me deleting my Facebook account.  I will tell you about that in my next post.

What pieces of technology have you found that you are happier without?