Dining Out, Downshifter Style

Since I began my downshifting journey, I’ve read hundreds of books and articles on saving money and living below one’s means. Most of them recommend preparing meals at home and eliminating restaurant meals as a way to cut costs. I won’t deny that dining in is a great way to save. It’s a no-brainer, really, but…

I truly enjoy going out to eat. As the only person in my house who cooks, sometimes I just get sick of cooking. Seriously sick of it. For me, trying different foods and new restaurants is one of life’s greatest pleasures. So what’s a frugal downshifter to do?

Fortunately, I’ve discovered a few simple ways to save in this area, so if dining out is important to you too, read on. We really can have our cake and eat it too!

  1. I don’t do “DINNER.” Perhaps due to my early morning work schedule, I’m not a big night eater. I like to get most of my eating out of the way earlier in the day, when I’m working, moving around, and burning calories. (Also recommended for good digestion and weight loss too!) I love to go out for breakfast, brunch, lunch, and/or happy hour, then just have a light snack at home in the evening.
  2. I try to keep it light. Kind of related to # 1 above. When I go out, I usually opt for lighter fare: soups, salads, sandwiches, appetizers. Or if I get a bigger meal, I take half (or more) of it home and get another meal or two out of it. (Also another good diet tip!)
  3. I don’t eat a lot of meat. I’m not a vegetarian, but keeping my meals light and simple often means not eating much meat. Even when I cook at home, I often use half the meat and twice the veggies that most recipes call for. It’s cheaper, and again, healthier!
  4.  I take advantage of specials whenever I can. Weekdays are an especially good time to take advantage of happy hour deals, half-price appetizers, buy-one-get-one-free offers, coupons, etc.
  5. I enjoy a drink. One. Sometimes two. Not three or four. Booze is expensive — and loaded with useless calories! Have a drink, then switch to water. Your wallet and waistline will thank you.
  6. I pay with cash most of the time. I hate credit card bills even more than I hate cooking. Dining on plastic just doesn’t make sense to me.
  7. I tip well, especially at places where I’m a regular customer. When you take good care of your waitstaff and bartenders, they’ll take good care of you, sometimes with free drinks, “samples,” etc. They work hard for their money. Don’t skimp on the gratuity.

While saving money is an important component of downshifting, mindful spending is key to living life according to your priorities. For me, this means never passing up an opportunity to share a drink and a good meal with a loved one. After all, isn’t that what life’s all about?

~PEACE~

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Winning At Work-Life Balance

“Work-life balance is a subjective, internal concept, and you are the only person who can evaluate your success.” -Kaia Roman

I really enjoyed this insightful article on work-life balance by Kaia Roman on mindbodygreen.com. I hope you do too!

Forget Work-Life Balance. Here’s How To Win At Life Your Way – mindbodygreen.com

~PEACE~

Balance – Duh!

So I’ve reached the end of my month of daily blogging, and I have to admit, I’m glad it’s over! Don’t get me wrong. It was a great challenge, and I’m certainly proud of my accomplishment, but sometimes I felt like I was neglecting some other important areas of my life. Sleep, exercise, reading — all things I enjoy and need — were pushed to the back burner on more than one occasion.

Thinking about Downshifter’s Journal all the time occasionally detracted from my ability to be fully present and live in the moment. Pleasant diversions became annoying interruptions. The looming daily deadline sometimes got in the way of enjoying time with friends and family.

But it was SO worth it! I learned a lot about prioritizing. And focus. I learned that I can accomplish a lot more in a day than I previously gave myself credit for. Now I’m looking forward to relaxing for a few days and catching up on my reading. And I fully intend to maintain a regular, although probably not daily, blogging habit.

I’m hooked!

~PEACE~

In The News: Being Too Busy Makes You Sick!

Our local TV station recently ran a feature on the dangers of “busyness” and the harmful effects it can have on our health:  Being Too Busy Can Make You Sick.

According to Dr. Charles Carrier, an internist at Catholic Medical Center, stress can really do a number on us physically: chest pains, headaches, insomnia, high blood pressure, depression, digestive issues, and more. And when our lives get too stressful and busy, we often neglect the activities that help keep us healthy —  mainly sleep, exercise, and good nutrition.

What does Dr. Carrier suggest we do? Slow down. Give something up. Learn to say no. Get adequate sleep (6-8 hours). For more info, check out the full Interview w/Dr. Charles Carrier MD.

Psychologist Dr. Denise Moquin hits the nail on the head: “You can’t underestimate the importance of quality of life.” She urges us to evaluate our activities and the demands on our time and make sure that they are in alignment with our values and priorities. For more info and helpful suggestions to take back your time, watch the entire Interview w/Dr. Denise Moquin.

We have a choice. We don’t have to live this way. Downtime is important!  I can’t say it enough. I’ve always felt like I require more downtime than most people, to the point where I thought there must be something wrong with me. Now I’m learning that I’m just human. We all are. Get some rest!

~PEACE~

My Mission

When I committed myself to posting every day this month, I felt like I needed to revisit and clarify the goals and direction for Downshifter’s Journal (DSJ). Since its inception, the blog’s purpose has been to promote “the conscious pursuit of fulfillment, balance, and simplicity…” If you’re reading DSJ, then I hope this mission statement reflects your goals as well.

My own concept of downshifting continues to evolve, as I try to incorporate my passions for simplicity, balance, and saving time & money into my everyday life. It isn’t always easy. I struggle with my share of excuses, conflicts, and setbacks. Through Downshifter’s Journal, I want to share what I’ve learned so far, and what works for me: shortcuts, tips, life hacks, inspirational stories & quotes, observations, book recommendations, and other resources to help you make the most of your valuable time and money. I hope you’ll find some useful tidbits here that you can apply in your own lives.

I’ll also try to be honest about my shortcomings — the times when I lose my balance and let stress, clutter, consumerism, laziness, pettiness, etc. get the better of me. After all, this is my “journal,” and writing is the best form of therapy I know. I hope I can inspire you a little, make you laugh once in a while, and guide you toward your own equilibrium.

We’re all in this together, and we’re moving in the right direction. Thanks for reading!

~PEACE~

 

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.

~PEACE~

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?

~Peace~

 

 

A Different Kind of Spring Cleaning

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!

STUFF!

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.
  • Re-gift.
  • 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!

~~PEACE~~

 

 

 

Slow Down!

For the past week, I’ve been reading Ernie Zelinski’s book The Joy of Not Working. The title says it all, I thought. But does the concept of finding joy in not working really need further clarification? For a lot of people, apparently, it does.

Unfortunately, according to Zelinski, most working folks just don’t know what to do with ourselves when we’re not working. Our work-life balances are weighted so heavily on the work side, that we don’t know how to enjoy our leisure time, if we even allow ourselves to have any. For many, the prospect of being unemployed or retiring is terrifying. Some of us are so afraid to be alone with our own thoughts, it seems, that we just keep running on the treadmill to escape them. We’re sick, we’re exhausted, we’re bored, and we’re boring.

Instead of using our rare leisure time wisely, we waste it on “passive leisure” activities to distract us from our misery: watching TV, hanging out in bars, and wandering around shopping malls. So many of the things we think we want — bigger homes, new clothes, the latest electronic gadgets, expensive cars, etc. — are dictated by the media, our “friends” and relatives, and most of all, the people who are going to profit from selling us all of these things. So we keep chasing the money. To buy the things. To fill the empty holes in our boring lives, in our souls. Is this living?

I know, however, that there are plenty of people out there who are tired of the “live to work” mentality that has ruled our culture for so long. The tide is turning. Change is in the air; I can smell it, like springtime. Forget about trying to keep up with the Kardashians. We want time to think. Time to live well-rounded lives. We don’t want to be overworked zombies anymore. And we don’t need to clutter up our homes with more shit from Walmart either!

Do you feel like your work-life balance needs an adjustment? Then take a few days off from work, or even a week or two if you can, and dedicate yourself to reclaiming your time and your life. I mean it! Take the time to really think about the things that are important to you. Meditate on it. Don’t be afraid to dream. Think BIG. Forget about what everyone else says you should want or need or have or be. What kind of life do you want? How much money, how much stuff, do you really need? How do you define happiness, and what’s it worth to you? Come up with a plan, and implement it like your life depends on it, because it does.

Zelinski actually recommends making a list of at least 300 “Get-A-Life” activities, and offers his own list of 300 for inspiration. So climb a mountain if you want to. Quit your job. Write a book. Get a better job. Walk in the woods. Start your own business. Learn to play an instrument or speak a new language. Volunteer. Take a road trip. Work for free. Buy a hammock. Take a class. Clean out your closets. Chew your food. Play with your dog. Plant a tree.

Then after you’ve made your own list, and crossed off a few things, sip a glass of wine (or other beverage of your choice) on the front porch in the early evening and watch all your stressed-out neighbors race by on the way home from their miserable all-consuming jobs. Poor bastards.

We all have so much potential. Don’t waste it all on work. We are so much better than that, and we deserve so much more than that. Let other people run in the rat race. Smile and wave and cheer them on from your front porch, glass of wine in hand. We know better. The fast track is so yesterday!

Downshifting: Are You Ready?

     “That’s it, I’ve had it! I’m quitting my job and living in a yurt!”

How many times have I said this to myself?

Although I often fantasize about not having to “go to work” anymore, I’m not really sure what I would do with all that spare time if I quit. I’m a little worried that if I didn’t have a job to go to every day, I would become a hermit. I know that would NOT be good for me. What would I write about if I didn’t have a job? And what about health insurance? And little things like heat, food, and electricity?

As much as I resent the idea of “working for the man,” I must admit that, for the most part, I actually like my job. I don’t always like my schedule. My alarm clock goes off at 3:50 a.m. Monday through Saturday. And while I don’t like working 6 days a week, I do like getting home by noon on most days. I make more money than I need to live on, and I’m able to save a reasonable percentage of my income. I have great health insurance and retirement benefits. Most days, the pluses outweigh the minuses.

Ideally, I would like to keep the job I have (for now), but ultimately cut back my hours to about 30-32 per week (right now I’m averaging 38-40). That would allow me to keep my benefits, give me enough income to live off of comfortably, and enough time for all the things that are important to me: daily walks, maintaining order on the home front, cooking good food, reading, and of course, working on my blog. I am closer to this goal now than I have ever been before, so my prospects are encouraging!

What about you? What do you really want? What does “downshifting” mean to you? What would be your ideal work/life balance? Are you ready to make some changes?

If you spent less time on the job, how would you spend your new free time? With family and friends? Volunteering? Pursuing creative endeavors? Starting your own business? Promoting the social good? Cooking? Exercising? Your time is your most valuable resource. Think carefully about how you want to allocate it to maximize your happiness and minimize your stress.

In their book Downshifting: A Guide to Happier, Simpler Living, Polly Ghazi and Judy Jones offer a series of questions to ask yourself to determine if downshifting is right for you.

  1. Do you constantly wish you could spend more time with your partner/family/friends?
  2. Do you feel you never have any/enough time for yourself, to spend on hobbies, gardening and leisure or just to relax?
  3. Do you feel that your work is taking so much out of you that you don’t have time to enjoy the money you earn, spend it or invest it prudently?
  4. Do you believe your pattern of work is giving you health or stress problems?
  5. Are you chronically or permanently tired?
  6. Do you dread going into work in the mornings?
  7. Do you feel your work doesn’t truly reflect your values?
  8. Are you unhappy with the contribution you’re making to society?
  9. Do you think you would be happier if your career changed direction completely?
  10. Do you have so many commitments that other people — cleaner, nanny, babysitter, gardener — are impinging too much into your personal life?
  11. Do you spend much of your time fantasizing about your next holiday and then collapse when you get there?

Obviously, if you answered YES to all these questions, then get out, and get out NOW! However, if you’re like most people, your answers are probably mixed. Maybe you already have a fulfilling job that you love, but the amount of time you spend working at it leaves you little time to enjoy the rest of your life. Maybe you’re not physically exhausted, but you’re mentally stymied by a job that just doesn’t challenge or interest you. Maybe the only thing you like about your present employment is the paycheck.

So what can you do now to start moving in the direction of a more well-rounded and fulfilling life? How can you achieve your ideal work/life equilibrium? Can you cut back your work schedule? Work from home one or two days a week? Delegate some of your responsibilities so that you can get out of the office at a reasonable time every night? Start turning one of your hobbies into an income stream? Consider all the options. Don’t limit yourself. Everyone’s situation, and solution, is unique. Do your research. Seek out advice from people who’ve done it. And of course, continue to follow this blog!

Making small changes, one at a time, can be much less traumatic than taking a drastic leap, and will help you recognize when you’ve achieved the level of downshifting that’s right for you (and your family) before you’ve stretched too far. Maybe you really don’t have so far to go after all. Your dream life could be closer than you think.

~PEACE~