A couple years ago I became very intrigued with the concept of minimalism and simplicity. I read blog after blog by people who were changing their lives in drastic ways and loving the freedom that comes with living with less.
Some of these people were very extreme and now own nothing that won’t fit in their backpack. Others were more focused on living debt free and simplifying was just a means to this goal. No matter what the reason or the outcome, all of these people are very interesting and the lessons learned are applicable to everyone.
While I have no real desire to sell all my possessions and live out of a backpack, I do appreciate the benefits to living with less and avoiding the constant feeling of need that is created when society focuses so strongly on consumerism. Simplifying, and being grateful for all you have, is beneficial to your sanity, to your wallet, to the earth…the list goes on.
I am not a hoarder, I don’t feel I have nearly as much stuff as many people I know, but I still felt the need for less. So for the last couple of years I have been mindful of my possessions. I have made an effort to shop less and donate more. I started by going room by room, donating items that I don’t really like or use. I boxed up mismatched glasses, utensils and cookware I never use. I gave away tchotchkes and decorations that I was storing, I went through my wardrobe and easily got rid of ¼ of my clothes. And, after several trips to the Volunteer of America and a large pile of stuff picked up by the Vietnam Vets, you would still not look around my house and think it looks sparse. I still have so much stuff, it’s almost ridiculous.
I did note after the first year of trying to decrease my stuff, that the energy of my home just felt better. I noticed a more serene feeling as the clutter chaos decreased. I found that the fewer clothes I own, the better I dress…because I only have clothes I love. All this was great, but I wanted to do more. Last January, I made a New Year’s Resolution to get rid of 1 thing a day. I started off with gusto, and did this until the end of March, when life got busy and I just forgot about it. However, that is still 90 things I got rid of.
As yet another new year approaches I am again reminded of how good it feels to have less. On December 1, I started a minimalist challenge. On Dec 1st, I got rid of 1 thing; on Dec 2nd I got rid of 2, and so on. I am a little behind...today is the 27th and I’m still working on day 22….but that means I removed 231 things from my house and the month isn’t even over yet. Is it noticeable? Not in the way you might think. My house is still full…you would still not walk in and say "where are this woman’s possessions?", because I still have so much more than I need. I still have so many other things I could get rid of…things that I could donate to someone that needs them or that would get more use out of them.
You might ask what did the 231 things consist of? I didn’t keep a list of every item, but I can tell you that I donated some holiday decorations. I gave away about 40-50 DVDs I’ll never watch. I again went through my wardrobe and gave away 30 items. I cleaned out my underwear drawer. I gave away a big box of cookbooks I never use and a pile of magazines that I had been saving. Again, I found some glasses and household decorations I don’t need and I gave them away.
My goal for 2014 is to continue to rid my house of everything that I don’t use or love. In the end, I desire to have a home that is my spiritual oasis…not my storage facility.
I also wanted to mention, that as I move toward my goal of simplification, I do so with a feeling of gratitude...that I live in a country with such abundance that too much stuff can actually be a problem. I am blessed with such abundance and have an opportunity to choose less, and to maybe help others as I do so.
If you are interested in simplifying your life, here are a few blogs that I highly recommend….
What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store.
What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”
-How the Grinch Stole Christmas – Dr. Seuss.
…one of the best lines from my favorite Christmas special.
We all have the tendency to go a little overboard this time of year. But what if we didn’t? What is we chose to take the focus off the presents and the shopping chaos, and instead, focused on the things that really matter to us. What does this time of year mean to you? What makes it special? Is it the religious significance? Is it seeing family that you rarely see? Is it spending quality time with your close friends and family? Is it spending alone time with a book, curled up in front of a Christmas tree or a fireplace?
Now, I am not suggesting that you have to completely forgo gift giving…that could create a family riot! Simply take the focus off it. Maybe pare down the number of people you buy for, the number of gifts you give each person, or the amount you spend. Consider giving the gift of quality time by giving tickets to an event and planning a date instead of a material item. Do whatever you desire to minimize the gift stress…but more importantly, just don’t focus on it.
Make a list of all the things you love about this time of year and focus on those. If you love hot chocolate by the fireplace, listening to Christmas music…then make sure that is on your “to do” list…prioritized way above shopping for the perfect gift for Aunt Mary.
Our lives really are what we make of them…what we focus on. If you want a happy, relaxed holiday; then focus on what makes you feel happy and relaxed. Really, it is that simple.
Relax with a nice spicy cup of Chai…listen to some seasonal music and enjoy your holiday!
Have you ever considered keeping a gratitude journal? Read any book about positive psychology and you will hear the benefits of keeping a gratitude journal. Reminding yourself daily that you have things to be grateful for, has many benefits. These benefits include things such as increased optimism, increased self-esteem, increased energy, increased productivity, increases relaxation, decreased envy, and better friendships/relationships. All of these things lead to more happiness. Who doesn’t want that?
So, consider giving it a try. It doesn’t have to be time consuming. You can use a paper journal, an online journal such as Penzu, or a word document on your computer. The process is simple, just list out 2-5 things daily that you are grateful for. If you find you are often grateful for the same things, that’s okay…but I would encourage you to focus elsewhere every now and then to appreciate the blessings you have in other areas of your life.
One thing to keep in mind is how you word your entries. We are talking positive psychology here, so it almost goes without saying that your statements should be worded in a positive form and not a negative form. Rather than write that you are grateful for no traffic jams, write that you are grateful that traffic flowed smoothly.
Now for the most important part of the gratitude journal….after each entry, write what you did to create what you are grateful for. This is important because while sometimes we feel we are just lucky, it is our decisions and actions that lead to the things we are grateful for. Taking ownership of your role in the good things in your life will help inspire you to make more positive choices and to acknowledge your own greatness.
Want a couple examples?
1) Today I am grateful that traffic flowed smoothly on the way to work, allowing me to get to work on time. I left the house 5 minutes earlier than usual, which must have allowed me to beat the large number of cars I often encounter during my usual drive time.
2) Today I am grateful for my daughter, who helped out with cleaning the house. I have been a loving and supportive mother, teaching my daughter responsibility.
3) Today I am grateful for my car, which reliably gets me where I need to go. I used consumer reports and chose the best rated car I could afford. I keep up to date with maintenance tasks.
Easy enough, right? Give it a try for a few weeks and see how it makes you feel. I promise you, it’s worth the 5-10 minutes it might take you. And it’s always a nice treat, when you are having a particularly stressful day, to go back and read what you have been blessed with in the past.
Enjoy your gratitude!
Tracy Martorana is a Nutrition & Wellness Consultant, Meditation Instructor and Herbalist...hoping to inspire you to live your life from a place of Holistic Wellness.