From NHWN: The Magic of Small, Basic Tasks

“Simple tasks hold magic. They have the ability to untangle our thoughts. They can set us free from our doubts, giving us a chance to feel a small bit of accomplishment. The simple task grounds us, body and mind. ”

I often find inspiration in the shower, while doing the dishes (by hand in the kitchen sink, of course!), or when I’m stuffing mail into post office boxes at my day job. I hope this latest post from Suddenly Jamie on Live to Write – Write to Live inspires you to seek solace in the simple things as well!

~PEACE~

Live to Write - Write to Live

Keep things simple. Keep things simple.

When things get a little crazy (and when aren’t they a little crazy?), small, humble tasks create pockets of sanity in my day. I expect my gravitating toward these menial chores in moments of crisis is a bit like the British tendency to make tea even when (sometimes especially when) everything seems to be falling apart. There is comfort in the simple and the mundane, in purely functional activities that are what they are. These manual labors provide a sense of grounded rationality that is often otherwise hard to find.

Take for instance, mending. For months now, a small pile of clothes has been sitting high on a laundry room shelf, patiently waiting for me to repair ripped seams and broken fastenings. The job was not all that complicated, but I just never seemed to get around to it. And then new damage to my daughter’s favorite…

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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~

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~

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.

~PEACE~

Freedom From Choice

For me, the foundation of a simpler, streamlined life is built on good habits. In her new book, Better Than Before, Gretchen Rubin asserts:

“A habit requires no decision from me, because I’ve already decided. Am I going to brush my teeth when I wake up? Am I going to take this pill? I decide, then I don’t decide; mindfully, then mindlessly. I shouldn’t worry about making healthy choices. I should make one healthy choice, and then stop choosing.”

I agree with this approach, and have had some success with using habits and routines to save my time and brainpower by eliminating some of the decision-making from my day.

When I eat the same healthy breakfast or lunch every day, I have one less thing to agonize over during the course of my day.

Dressing in the same basic work “uniform” saves so much time — no more staring into the closet trying to figure out what to wear every morning!

My friend Norm starts every day by going for a run, without fail. It’s as much a part of his morning routine as showering and brushing his teeth.

Why reinvent the wheel every day when there are so many aspects of our lives that we can put on autopilot? By eliminating some of these mundane decisions, we can free up our minds, and our time, to focus on more interesting choices and opportunities.

Honestly, though, the only downside I’ve found to this method is that I do get bored sometimes. A soothing routine can start to feel like a rut after a while. I crave variety in my diet. I get sick of wearing the same old clothes all the time. So once in a while, I make the conscious decision to mix it up, at least for a day or two.

But after I get it out of my system, I usually return to my same comforting routines and good habits. What can I say? When you know what works for you, you stick with it!

~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~

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~

 

 

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~~