Last May, I made a conscious decision to take the summer off from this blog, and from writing in general. I worked at the post office as little as I could get away with. We took a few short road trips to coastal Maine and the White Mountains, walked and hiked with the dogs, and enjoyed time with friends and family. We made leisure a priority.
But as much as I enjoyed my endless summer vacation, I really missed writing. I forgot my own advice. Downshifting is all about BALANCE, making time for the things that are important to you. For me, writing is absolutely one of those things. Without it, I felt like my equilibrium was off. I carried a vague sense of dissatisfaction, like I was drifting aimlessly through my days. Another lesson learned.
In September, my second cousin passed away from ALS. She was 52 years old. Until now, I had foolishly operated under the assumption that I had unlimited time. I’m 44 now. I plan to live to be 100. Plenty of time to accomplish all the things I want to do, right? No sense of urgency. No need to rush.
My cousin’s death really made me think, what if I don’t have as much time as I thought? What if my life suddenly ended next week or next year? Would I be proud of all that I had accomplished, or regret all the things I never finished, or even started?
The term Downshifting means slowing down, but it also implies that we are still moving forward, just in a more mindful way. Even if I only write for 15 minutes a day, I still experience a deep sense of accomplishment. Making steady progress toward a goal (like writing a book, perhaps?) is a fundamental part of happiness. Striving to live up to our potential is key to the pursuit of personal fulfillment.
Don’t we all deserve that?
“To put meaning in one’s life may end in madness, but life without meaning is the torture of restlessness and vague desire. It is a boat longing for the sea and yet afraid to sail.”
-Edgar Lee Masters, Spoon River Anthology
Since I started this blog, I’ve learned from quite a few people about what downshifting means to them.
- For one friend, downshifting isn’t about cutting back on work hours, but rather streamlining his home life — selling his house now that the kids are grown, moving to a condo with his wife, decluttering, relaxing, and eliminating unnecessary time obligations.
- One of my favorite bloggers, Mr. Woodpecker at A Good Day To Live, strives to minimize his work commitments in order to have more time to travel and enjoy leisure time with his wife and young children.
- My best friend dreams of living in a camper trailer after her teenage children are on their own, with less stuff and more time to pursue her passions and hobbies.
- Another favorite blogger, Green and Thrifty, longs for a small farm where she can grow her own veggies and raise her kids, along with a few chickens and other critters.
- My husband looks forward to retiring and downsizing our home, cutting back on yard work, and possibly moving to a warmer climate where shoveling and plowing snow will be a distant memory, and daily walks on the beach with the dogs will be our new routine.
My own definition of downshifting continues to evolve. I often dream of quitting my post office job, and simply sitting on the front porch with my laptop and writing. But you know what? As much as I hate to admit it, job security is an important piece of my downshifting puzzle. Since I actually like my job, and I was recently able to cut back my work schedule from 41 hours a week to 35, I guess I’ll stick it out for now. I suppose I’d get bored sitting on the porch all the time anyway. :-)
I occasionally fantasize about doing some really radical downshifting, like selling everything, living in a tiny house on wheels, or a camper, or a yurt, growing my own food, and living off the land, and off the grid, without an income. I admire, OK envy, people who live this way. But at this stage of my life, I have to admit, that’s just not for me. I LOVE the IDEA of this kind of extreme minimalism, but I believe that my ideal balance lies somewhere between that and where I’m at now. I want less stuff, but I like clothes. And books. I appreciate reliable indoor plumbing. And high-speed wireless internet. I like to go out to eat and have a cocktail once in a while. Does that make me a hypocrite? I don’t think so.
We all have our own ideas about what downshifting really means. It’s all about finding the right BALANCE. And that balance is as unique to each of us as our fingerprints. No personal definition of downshifting is wrong. We all have different priorities and different situations. I work in the public sector, my husband is self-employed. We live in a rural area, and have a small mortgage. We have no children, just two dogs. Our goals and priorities are going to be very different from people with high-level corporate jobs or huge mortgages, who live in expensive cities, or have other dependents to factor into the equation.
Most of us are fortunate enough to be in a position where we can even think about seeking balance and personal fulfillment. We have the luxury of choice. Many people in this world don’t have the options we have. I have a college education, a high credit score, and retirement savings. My income is more than enough to cover my basic needs. I’m not worried about keeping a roof over my head or wondering where my next meal will come from. I have ENOUGH. But I know plenty of people who are not so blessed. I try to remind myself of my good fortune whenever I start to get discouraged about my life path, or feel like I’m not downshifting fast enough.
We have the power to make our own choices about how we want to live our lives. Don’t take it for granted, or waste the opportunities that lie ahead. We can do whatever we want, and live however we want to live. We just have to figure out what we want. Sometimes that requires separating our true desires from what other people (parents, government officials, marketing executives) have told us we should want. It’s a challenge, but if it’s the biggest hurdle we face in the course of a day or a week or a year, then we should consider ourselves lucky.
What does your dream life look like? What are the steps required to get from where you are now to where you want to be? Your goals probably aren’t as far out of reach as you think. It wasn’t until I first heard the term “downshifting” a few years ago that I realized I’ve been on that path for over 10 years! As I continue to make mindful choices and gradual changes, I feel my life becoming more balanced, my soul more fulfilled. I have ENOUGH. And on a really good day, I think, “I’m THERE.”
If you’re looking for guidance or inspiration as you develop your own definition of downshifting, check out some of the great blogs I follow, listed here on Downshifter’s Journal. Visit my Resources page for helpful books and websites where you’ll find advice and real-life stories of people from all walks of life who have made mindful choices and found their ideal equilibrium on the downshifting scale. Why shouldn’t you join them?
“If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much.”
- Jim Rohn
Spring is a great time to clean house. Clear out those closets. Reclaim some free space in the attic, garage, or basement. Unload. Lighten up. Downsize. Simplify. Getting rid of stuff is so liberating! I feel freer just thinking about it, don’t you?
If you want to break ties with some of your baggage, but don’t know how or where to get started, here are a few suggestions and strategies I’ve picked up and perfected over the years. Trust me, once you get started, you won’t want to stop!
1. Start with one small specific area of your home, ie. the hall closet, the medicine cabinet, one bookcase, that catch-all dumping station by the front door, etc. Each small victory will drive you on to the next.
2. Decide on a short time limit, during which you will accomplish as much as you can without feeling overwhelmed. The thought of spending an entire weekend cleaning the house isn’t appealing to anyone, even a neat freak like me, but you’ll be amazed at how much you can accomplish in just an hour or two!
3. If even that seems like more than you can handle at first, try getting rid of just one or two things per day for, say, a week. Then another week. Then a month. Pull one thing out of the closet every morning that you can live without. Take one knick-knack off the living room shelf. Pass along a book or CD to a friend and tell them to do the same when they’re finished with it.
4. Once you’ve gathered together all the stuff you want to remove from your life, what do you do with it?
- Have a yard sale.
- Donate or consign newer or lightly-worn clothing.
- Donate books, useful household items.
- Sell larger or more valuable items on Craig’s List or eBay.
- Sell books, CDs, etc. on Amazon.
- And, when all else fails, simply throw away some of the old stuff. It’ll feel great, I promise!
Then, the trick is to maintain. For every new article of clothing that comes into the house, get rid of two. This really works for me! Don’t let things pile up. Do a quick daily clutter sweep, even just 5 minutes when you get home from work. Keep it up! You’ll be driven by your new sense of weightlessness — freedom from stuff!
BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE.
While clearing the space around you can be mentally liberating, you don’t have to limit the clean-out to just the tangible stuff in your life either. I started writing this blog post with the intent of giving you some tips and tricks for eliminating some of your physical baggage, but oftentimes, our mental and emotional “clutter” trips us up far more than our actual “stuff.” If you find this to be the case, perhaps some springtime spiritual cleaning is in order.
Consider freeing yourself from any negative thought patterns & bad habits that no longer serve you well. Change up your daily routines. Did you spend the winter eating unhealthy foods, drinking too much, and avoiding exercise? (Guilty.) Start fresh!
Guilt? Drop it. Anger? Let it go.
Consider cutting ties with any negative people and relationships that are keeping you down as well. Or at least limit the time you spend with certain people, even if you’re related to them. Be kind to yourself, and surround yourself with people who will do the same. You deserve that, don’t you?
Think about who or what is stressing you out, draining your batteries, wearing you out, taking up valuable real estate–in your mind, in your body, in your home, in your schedule? De-clutter your mind, heart, soul, and body while you de-clutter your physical environment. You’ll add years to your life. And they’ll be happier ones.
But above all else, try not to take anything or anyone too seriously. Ditch the darkness and drama. Un-complicate. Don’t forget to laugh. Life is too short, and it’s the only one you’ve got!
“There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.” – Nelson Mandela
For the past two weeks, I’ve been immersed in Marianne Cantwell’s book Be a Free Range Human: Escape the 9-5, Create a Life You Love and Still Pay the Bills.
I’ve read quite a few of the “Discover Your Passion, Follow Your Dream, and Live a Life You Love”-type books over the years, but most of them left me flat. They encourage you to dream big, offer exercises to help you figure out your strengths and passions, but fall short when it comes time to develop and implement the plan to take you from where you are now to where you need to be.
THIS BOOK IS DIFFERENT!
Cantwell dares us to dream the dream, but follows through with the concrete strategies to make those dreams a reality. As a life coach and former Career Cage Human herself, she draws on her own experiences, as well of those of her clients, to guide us all down the not-so-scary path to earning a living on our own terms. She offers dozens of case studies in order to help us come up with our own ideas, test them, and put them into action.
“Employment is risky,” she cautions. Real job security comes from being in control of your own time and income, not from being at the mercy of a single employer. Her Free Range lifestyle seeks the less-risky middle road between employment and entrepreneurialism.
Cantwell’s unique coaching strategy emphasizes:
- Differentiating your product or service by playing to your own unique individual strengths, experiences, and knowledge.
- Getting started, QUICKLY, and for little-to-no money.
- Optimizing your limited resources for maximum impact in development, marketing, etc.
- Working wherever, whenever, and however YOU choose.
Once you read the book and adopt the Free Range Human mindset, you’ll never be willing to settle for a regular job again!
The main goal of downshifting, for most of us, is to reduce the amount of time we spend on the job in order to devote more of our precious time to actually living and enjoying our lives. However, once we do manage to disengage from our work and gain more free time, many of us are at a loss as to what exactly we want to do with it. We’re so used to feeling the need to be productive 24/7 and not “waste time,” that we don’t know how to shift gears, slow down, and use our spare time to figure out (and do) the things that are really important to us.
This year, I’ve resolved to use up as much of my vacation time from work as I possibly can. I’ve also resolved to call in sick when I’m sick, and take an occasional mental health day if I feel the need! It’s time to get serious about my life outside of work, and focus on doing the things that are truly important to me, especially writing. My long-term goal? Ditch the “day job,” live the life of my dreams, and generate a decent income for myself. Sounds pretty cool, huh? Unfortunately, I can be my own worst enemy when it comes to pursuing my dreams, because, well, they’re just dreams, right?
One of my favorite features of Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project blog is her Secrets of Adulthood series. The Secret that really hit home for me recently?
Guilty! How much cleaner can my floors possibly be? Do I really need to be checking Facebook right now? Quick, easy, and mindless tasks are my forte! They are so much easier than overcoming fear and self-doubt, and sitting down to write.
From John Cleese on Creativity, at approx. 15:30 (but please watch the whole thing if you have time!): “It’s easier to do trivial things that are urgent, than it is to do important things that are not urgent, like THINKING. And it’s also easier to do little things we know we can do, than to start on big things that we’re not so sure about.” He uses the example of “sorting out my paperclips,” among others, to point out the ridiculous lengths we go to in order to distract ourselves and avoid doing the important work that we know deep down really needs to be done.
In the book that inspired me to start writing this blog, The War of Art, Steven Pressfield describes our inner Resistance as follows:
“Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance… Late at night have you experienced a vision of the person you might become, the work you could accomplish, the realized being you were meant to be? Are you a writer who doesn’t write, a painter who doesn’t paint, an entrepreneur who never starts a venture? Then you know what Resistance is.”
Distraction. Resistance. Busyness. Call it what you like. It is what keeps us from being our best selves. From finding true happiness and fulfillment. It is the unfinished business hanging over our heads. It is the dread in the pits of our stomachs. Until we learn to confront that Resistance and overcome it, day after day, personal fulfillment will continue to elude us.