Benefits

goldenhandcuffsLast week, I received my 2017 Personal Statement of Benefits from the US Postal Service. It seems that, whenever I start to seriously consider quitting my job, they somehow sense that, and mail these yearly reminders out to all of their employees. Damn them.

The benefits statement sums up, in numbers as well as with pretty charts and graphs, exactly what our jobs are worth, beyond the basic annual “cash compensation.” They factor in the full dollar values of our health insurance, life insurance, pension and other retirement contributions, Social Security, Medicare, and paid time off (holidays, vacation, and sick days). In the end, they make the job look pretty darn good – at least on paper – and infinitely harder to walk away from.

They also include our earliest eligibility dates for retirement. Mine is in 2027 – 10 years away. Wait. I can retire in 10 years, with a pension and health insurance?! How could I possibly be that old? Do I think I could make it that long? Right now, I don’t believe that I could.

But then again, I never thought I’d make it this far either.

I’ve been working at the post office for a little over 10 years already. I just kept telling myself, “One more year. One more year.” And here I am. This year is a little different, however. If I stay “one more year,” my house will be paid off next summer. My husband will be old enough to qualify for Medicare(!). My savings account will be that much bigger. And if I wait until next year, I’ll be able to leave my job debt-free and in a much better position to enjoy my hard-earned freedom without any big financial obligations hanging over my head.

But then again, I’ll be another year older, physically and mentally. Ugh.

I don’t know. I’m on the fence and swing back and forth at least a hundred times a day. Another year could make a huge difference in my finances. I also get a lot of paid time off, and if I use it wisely, I could minimize my 6-day workweeks for the next year and slowly ease myself into early retirement.

And what if I decide to stay even beyond that? I wonder what it would feel like to go to work every day because I want to, not because I need the money. Could the knowledge that most of my income is disposable lead to an entirely different sense of freedom: control and security, with benefits?

But then again, golden handcuffs are still handcuffs. Ouch.

I keep reminding myself of how lucky I am to be in such a predicament. It’s good to have the luxury of choice, although constantly reevaluating my options is exhausting. Either way, I know I’ll be just fine. The timeline is getting shorter. So I think, for now, my new mantra will be “One more month.”

We can do this!

~PEACE~

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The Importance of Finding Your Tribe

As I strive to embrace simplicity, turn my back on mindless consumption, and form positive habits in my daily life, I feel like I’m fighting an uphill battle every day. All around me, friends, family, coworkers, and even casual acquaintances question why I want to live this way.

Why don’t I want to eat a bag of Cheetos and a box of cookies every night?

How can I possibly be satisfied with a 3 year-old cell phone and a 5 year-old TV?

Why don’t I want to go to Wal-Mart?

How could I even consider giving up such a “good job” at the post office, when I’ll be “all set” with a pension for life if I just “hang in there” until I’m 60 years old?

Why don’t I want to make more money?  

Why am I giving away half the clothes in my closet?

Sometimes, in my darker moments, I even start to ask myself those same questions.

Then, every once in a while, I meet someone who gets it. Or I listen to the latest episode of The Minimalists’ podcast. Or I read a new blog post from Leo Babauta or Joshua Becker or Courtney Carver. And I remember that I’m not alone. I’m not crazy. I just want to do things a little differently. I want to live my life a little more deliberately.

If you’re following this blog, then chances are, you’re interested in living a simpler and more purposeful life as well. Some of the people around you probably don’t understand. But remember that there are plenty of us out here who do. Those are the people you have to surround yourself with. They are your inspiration and your allies.

Thanks for reading, and for being on my team. I hope we can continue to help and inspire each other to follow our own paths to meaningful living. It isn’t always easy, but it’s always rewarding.

~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~

 

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~

 

 

How Do You Define Downshifting?

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?

~~PEACE~~

 

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~

What Is Downshifting?

At its core, downshifting means working less and enjoying life more — slowing down the treadmill in order to find fulfillment, balance, and meaning in our lives. Most downshifters share these common goals:

  • Spending less time working and commuting to/from work.
  • Enjoying more quality time with family and friends.
  • Actively contributing to our local communities.
  • Avoiding the waste of money, time, or other valuable limited resources.

In order to accomplish these goals, downshifting often involves a conscious choice to simplify one’s life through a variety of means, including:

  • Eliminating unnecessary possessions.
  • Eliminating debt.
  • Eating simple, “real” food.
  • Living in a smaller home.
  • Saying “no” to time commitments that that do not contribute to overall life satisfaction.

While many of us probably dream of quitting our jobs, living off the grid in a cabin in the woods, growing our own food, etc., a radical lifestyle change of that magnitude simply isn’t practical or possible for many of us, at least not right away. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t make small changes in our lives right now that will bring those dreams a little closer to our realities. Downshifting should not be viewed as an end goal, but rather as an ongoing process and way of life. Downshifting is all about reclaiming our time, and our lives, by finding our own unique work/life balances. We can control the speed of the treadmill!

Through Downshifter’s Journal, I plan to chronicle the ups and downs of my own downshifting journey, while gathering together helpful resources and info, and sharing other downshifters’ tales, tips, and fears as well. I look forward to connecting with you all as we build this community together!

For more information on the Downshifting movement, please check out Wikipedia and Slow Movement.