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.

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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!

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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.

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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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Frugal Living

How to Have More Fun Flying

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I flew for the first time in 2009.  Iliana was 22 months old, and I was 31.

For our annual spring break trip to Florida that year, Rob’s parents had generously used their United miles to book all three of us on a flight.

Per TSA’s recommendation, we arrived two hours early, to the small airport in Freeland, Michigan.  There was no line for security, so we made it through in 10 minutes.  Ili delighted the agent with her cuteness.

My first flying experience was on a small connector plane that took us to Detroit.  Our flight attendant was a delightful man who was very excited when we told him that this was Iliana’s and my first time flying.  Right before we landed, he awarded both of us with printed certificates and stick on wings.

Four years later, we moved to Texas.  I have since lost count of the number of times that we have flown.

And yet, it has never stopped being fun for me.  And it should be fun for you, as well!  My mission today is to prevent you from becoming one of those downtrodden, stressed-out zombie-people in the airport.

So without further adieu, here is my list of tips for making air travel actually fun!

1.  Book like a true tightwad.

I used to think that flying was prohibitively expensive, but that was just because I was doing it wrong!  With a little bit of legwork, I can always find tickets to Michigan, that cost about the same as driving.

I start with Priceline.  This lets me know right away if any of the major airlines are having a special.  Then I check that against Google Flights, the airline’s website, and Spirit’s website to see if there are any better deals to be found.

If there are no special deals to be found, we can almost always get a good price on Spirit.   (That is what we are doing on this trip).  However, in the past we have flown on American and Delta for lower prices than what Spirit was offering.

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2.  Pack light.  (Ridiculously light, if you are flying on Spirit!)

There are many minimalist blog posts about the virtues of packing light.  I don’t buy it, for road trips.  Loading up the car is easy, and bringing things instead of buying them saves money.  When we drive, we pack everything but the kitchen sink!

On a plane, however, being less encumbered saves time, money, and hassle.  I detest having to deal with a lot of luggage at the airport, especially if there is a layover.  In fact, I only bring a carry-on bag if there is not a layover.  Otherwise, we check our baggage or pack everything in our “personal item” bags.

On the major airlines, you can bring a lot as personal items.  One time when we flew, we were allowed a bag, a purse, and a laptop bag.  We didn’t bring that much, because we didn’t want to be carrying it during the layover, but it did give us ample room for packing!

Another time, we did not pack any clothing.  Instead, I ordered lots of clothing for all of us from ebay, and had it shipped my relatives’ house.  This cost $25, so it was cheaper than checking a bag.

This time, we are each bringing one bag that fits the specs for a personal item on Spirit.  Since Michigan can get cold at night, we will be wearing our long pants on the plane.  Rob is wearing shorts and a t-shirt under his outfit, and Iliana and I are wearing pants under our dresses.

We have each packed three outfits, rolled up in our bags.  Other than that, our bags are packed with entertainment items and snacks. We did not pack any toiletries, other than a hair brush, Rob’s mustache wax, and an extra set of contacts for me.  It is easy enough to pick up shampoo, soap, toothbrushes, razors, etc. from the dollar store.  And much cheaper than checking a bag or a carry-on!

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3.  Get to the TSA line early.

Going through security stresses me out.  Not because I am afraid we will not be cleared, but because I am afraid that we will miss our flight, no matter what time it leaves.  So my trick is to get to that line ASAP.

If our flight leaves in the morning, we will have someone drop us off at a hotel with a shuttle the night before.  (Priceline is a great place to find a hotel.)  Otherwise, we try to get there 3 hours early.  We check-in online and print our boarding passes at home or in the kiosk, then get our butts into that line!

Then we plan on eating at the airport.  If the line went fast, we will sit down for a burger and a beer.  If things took longer than expected, we grab some fast food.  Usually, we get the sit-down dinner, which is very relaxed, because we know we will make it to our gate on time.

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4.  Don’t be in such a hurry to get on the plane!

Seriously, why is priority boarding a perk?  When you’re at the airport, you can use the wifi and walk around.  Once you are on the plane, you can not.  You don’t have to get on the plane until 20 minutes before it leaves.  We usually wait until the final boarding call, then wait to get in line.

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5.  Dress for the occasion!

You are riding a flying machine!  So dress up, already!

Be sure to take a lot of pictures and talk about how exciting that it is that you are riding a flying machine.  In fact, the dorkier you can act, the better.

Trust me on that one.

Note:  Iliana had a dress to wear, but it was PJ day at her day camp, and we forgot to have her change.  Pajamas are also an excellent option at the airport!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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?