Next Month’s Challenge

Now that my post-every-day-in-May challenge is almost over (so sad, I know), I’m looking ahead to next month and thinking about what else I can do to improve my quality of life in 30 days. As I mentioned in last week’s post on decluttering, my plan for the month of June is to follow the Minimalists’ suggestion and remove 465 items from my home by June 30th. I’m already scoping out my closets, drawers, and cabinets, and tallying up all of the stray articles that have outlived their usefulness and need to be discarded/relocated. I love getting rid of stuff. It’s cheap therapy. This should be fun!

I also have an idea that I’d like to quit drinking for 30 days, but that will have to wait until June 7th, because I have a family wedding on the 6th. I can’t even begin to explain how much I really hate weddings, plus alcohol always makes my in-laws more tolerable. I don’t expect this challenge to be nearly as much fun as decluttering.

Of course, I’ll keep you all up to date on my progress. If I learned anything this month, it’s that accountability partners are an important factor in staying motivated and following through on my promises to myself. Thanks for the help!


Sorting Out What Really Matters

We all only get 24 hours in each day. Most of us are so busy just living our lives — going to work, running errands, paying the bills, making dinner, mowing the lawn — that we don’t get the opportunity to figure out what truly matters to us and what we really want to do with our time. Our lives often seem to be dictated by outside forces and obligations, rather than by our own conscious choices.

Before I committed myself to writing a blog post every day this month, I read a post by James Clear that really made me think about my priorities and how to organize my time to better reflect them. “What are the core values that drive my life?” As I thought about this question, I realized that one of my professed core values — creativity — was sadly underrepresented in how I spend my time. I quickly set out to change that.

Another resource I always turn to for guidance in addressing these “big picture” questions is Leo Babauta’s Zen Habits blog. One post I found particularly helpful was “The Anti-Bucket List,” where he reminds us that “we can do meaningful work, right where we are.” And “if you don’t know what’s meaningful to you … isn’t that what you should be pursuing instead of a bucket list?”

So think about it. What really matters to you? And how are you going to incorporate those values into your daily life? Write your list, and revisit it often to add, subtract, and see if you’re still on track.


Profile of a Downshifter: Noelle Hancock

While some of us only dream of quitting our mundane jobs and moving to the Caribbean (or Europe, Alaska, wherever), some people actually do it.

Noelle Hancock went from feeling “stressed, uninspired, and disconnected” in NYC to living “on a tiny, rustic island of 4,100 people sharing a bathroom with poultry.” Check out her story on to learn why and how she did it:

Why I Gave Up a $95,000 Dream Job to Move to the Caribbean and Scoop Ice Cream

Some of you are probably thinking that you couldn’t possibly do anything that radical. I can hear your objections:

  • “But she was young.”
  • “But she was single.”
  • “But she didn’t have a mortgage.”
  • “But she didn’t have kids.”

I know, I know. BUT, BUT, BUT, what can we learn from her? What is your dream? What do you want your life to look like? And what small steps (or BIG ones) can you take today to start moving closer to that dream life?

  • Take a class?
  • Put your house on the market?
  • Look for a new job?
  • Buy a one-way ticket to paradise?

It’s never too late. We all have choices. We aren’t as stuck as we think. According to Hancock:

“It was startlingly simple to dismantle the life I’d spent a decade building: I broke the lease on my apartment, sold my belongings, and bought a one-way plane ticket. The hardest part was convincing myself it was OK to do something for no other reason than to change the narrative of my life.”

We each only get one life to live. How will we change the narratives of our lives?


Lessons in Scheduling

In my ongoing quest (OK, obsession) to maintain balance in my life, I’ve given a lot of thought to how I use my time and schedule my days. For a number of years, I’ve perfected a method that I like to call “making the most of small increments of time.” I try to do a little bit of everything, every day. Most days consist of:

  • Work, 5-8 hours
  • Housework, 45-60 minutes
  • Nap, 20 minutes
  • Get outside for a walk, 30-40 minutes
  • Pilates, 25 minutes
  • Reading, 20-30 minutes
  • Sleep, 7-8 hours
  • Etc.

For the most part, I thought this method was serving me well. But lately, I find myself wondering if this is really the best way to arrange my days. Although I feel like I’m staying on top of my daily chores and making slow progress toward some of my fitness goals, I also feel stressed if I don’t accomplish every little thing on the daily list, or if some items take longer than their allotted times, or (God forbid!) some unexpected turn of events causes me to deviate from my carefully-planned schedule. Downshifters hate rigid schedules! How did this happen to me?!

Ironically, I also feel like I’m using this everything/everyday scheduling method to avoid some important tasks that would require me to focus for longer periods of time, “go deep,” and ultimately achieve more personal satisfaction. (Seriously, when was the last time I wrote anything?!) Checking mindless tasks off the same to-do list every day doesn’t encourage my personal growth. And, while I derive more satisfaction from a clean kitchen floor than most sane people, it doesn’t even come close to the exhilaration of hitting “Publish” on a blog post.

I’ve grown to realize that, while I thought I was mastering the domains of time-management and self-discipline, I neglected to incorporate my deeper needs and core values into the program. I know that my happiness depends on allowing ample time for creative pursuits — learning, growing, and challenging myself. For that, I’m willing to make some of the mundane tasks a lower priority.

I will keep reminding my neat-freak self, “The laundry can wait. Today I write!”


Good Enough!

Last week, I was delighted to see a new post from one of my favorite downshifting bloggers MrWoodpecker on A Good Day To Live. He raised a very important issue that I have also been struggling with for a while:

At what point does the quest for “self-optimization” cease to be positive and helpful, and start to feel like we’re constantly beating ourselves up?

When are we finally GOOD ENOUGH?

Are we there yet?

How did we cross the line from personal growth and self-improvement to addiction?

It’s easy to get hung up on fixing what we think is “wrong” with ourselves and our lives:

  • Save even more money (another one of my addictions)!
  • Eat healthier!
  • Simplify!
  • Work out for an hour every day!
  • Maximize efficiency!
  • Squeeze the most out of every minute, every hour, every day!

Oh, the guilt! Why can’t we just be happy and enjoy the here and now, just as we are? As MrWoodpecker advises, remember the middle way. It’s all about BALANCE, my friends. We can still grow and improve, but every once in a while it’s important to look back at how far we’ve come, and be thankful for where we are now. Remember how very, very lucky we are to even have the time and capacity to worry about these kinds of things.

Relax! We’re doing great.


It’s Time

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?