Goodbye 2016, Hello Future


Original artwork by Alicia K. Brooks 2016

I think I say this every year, but I absolutely cannot stand the end of the year. I guess I should clarify. What I can’t stand about the end of the year -every year- is the looking back. The nostalgia. The tendency for people to live in the past year and pat themselves on the back for being a part of it. Well, good on ya. But I’m bored now. I lived through all those pictures the first time. You can save it. Thanks.

Social media has made every day a year in review. There is Throw Back Thursday, and Flash-Back Friday. There are daily posts about what you looked like last year, or as a kid, or during the summer. Or last month. Instagram has lost its INSTA. It’s more of a “Live in the Past-agram”. I know YOU might be enamored of what you used to look like, but it’s rather annoying for the rest of us. It reeks of desperation to be looked at and liked. Living in the past just robs you of today.

December is the worst of it. Here come all of the pictures: Here is what I’ve  accomplished! What I’ve eaten! Who I’ve loved! Where we have traveled! Here is how long my hair is now! My kid has grown this much! While the temptation towards nostalgia is great, I’d rather look forward. Not back.

And this year it is even more important to look forward. 2016 was a shit show of the stickiest shit ever. Not just for me personally, but for the world. Brexit. Big Fat Baby Trump. Bill Cosby a confirmed rapist. Gun Violence. There is no need for me to recap all of the nastiness. We lived it. We know.

For me the end of the year is a time for regrouping and figuring out the next step. Where do I want to live? What do I want to get done? Who do I want to meet? What do I want to accomplish? After I figure out the questions, it’s time to sit down and get concrete answers. New Year’s resolutions usually don’t pan out because folks don’t consider the actual “doing” of said resolution. For instance, to state that you want to lose weight is fine, but you won’t get very far. Instead why not say you will work out for an hour, five days a week? Why not make concrete goals that are not easy to wiggle out of?

So… here’s to 2017! Let’s do it right! Let’s make it about standing up for those who cannot. Let’s make it about accomplishments and the road we take daily to make them happen. Let’s make 2017 the year we say, “Look at what I’ve DONE!“,  instead of “LOOK AT ME!

Zen Habits: New Year, New Now

94150-live-in-the-now-gif-Waynes-Wor-dW2TI am not the type of person who dwells in the past. I don’t hold on to my successes or failures as badges of honour or disgrace. I just try to keep moving forward. The end of the year is always a tempting time to look back and take stock of where you are and what you’ve done. And that’s fine I guess, as long as you don’t dwell on it. Looking at what you have done is not the same as doing something. I like to look forward.

Choosing to live in the past only robs you of today. I know that sounds all “New Age”, but it isn’t. It’s really simple. The ONLY important moment is the present moment. You cannot undo the past, and you certainly cannot mold the future, therefore the only thing that truly matters is…NOW!

The idea here is to enjoy the moment. I could easily do a recount of my year and look back at all I’ve done and seen. It was a huge year and I did a lot. But looking back does nothing. Instead I want to enjoy the fruits of my labors, which is the now. I’m here in beautiful Seattle with my fella. I have a great job and I’m pretty happy. My right now is pretty great, and it would be a shame for me to waste it by looking back, or worrying about the future. A life lived in perpetual planning is not really a life. I’ve known people plan for futures that they were nowhere near to achieving. Why live a fantasy life in your head when you could live your real life instead? Hey, that rhymed!

Where ever you are in this coming year, I challenge you to live in the moment. Enjoy yourself where ever you are. Sure, you might get sick or have to do things that are not enjoyable, but that doesn’t mean you can’t fully appreciate the small moments a day holds. Sights, sounds, smells, emotions even triumphs and tragedies, all of these things are worth noticing and living through. When I am having a bad day, I ask myself How can I enjoy this? Just asking the question has a calming effect and grounds me in the now.

You only have one shot at each day so try to make the most of it. Don’t dwell on the past – good or bad. Don’t worry about the future, it is coming no matter what you do. There will always be unknowns, and for me the unknown is the fun part. I guess good ol’ Sophocles said it best, “Tomorrow is tomorrow. Future cares have future cures, And we must mind today.”

Minimalist Living: How to Start Today

messIf you’ve ever thought about chucking it all in and selling most of what you own, then you might be ready for a Minimalist lifestyle. But it’s more than less is more, and decluttering. Living a minimalist life allows you simple freedoms that you can’t have when you are drowning in possessions.

When I left Europe two years ago I worried that I would have trouble maintaining the lifestyle I had become accustom to in Prague. In my seven years there I didn’t buy any furniture, television, phone, car or major appliance. I never wanted for anything. I had hand-me-down furniture, and it suited me just fine. Minimalism isn’t really about stark, empty rooms with hardly anything to sit on. It’s more about removing from your life anything that is unnecessary or distracting. Finding alternatives to spending. It is about getting rid of excess and living with only essentials. *Essentials will vary from person to person.

I find television excessive. And expensive. So I choose not to own one. And I would never, ever have more than one. I’ve been in homes (mostly stateside) where I have seen multiple televisions. One in the living-room. One in the bedroom. One in the kitchen? Aside from the abundance of televisions, I found a desktop computer with an oversized monitor which the kids seemed to use as yet another source of televised entertainment. While some of you may think I’m old-fashioned, let me explain a few things. When you don’t own a television (or a car or a house or…) you are not only saving money on the purchase price of the item, but also on its upkeep. I don’t pay cable bills. I don’t have a mortgage. I don’t pay for gas or car maintenance. Living a Minimalist lifestyle allows me to be mindful about what I own, what I buy, and how I spend my time and money. Basically it boils down to this – My life is about experiences, not possessions.

Minimalism hasn’t really caught on here in the US, and I’m not surprised. After 9/11 our (then) President (the glorious Mr. Bush) chose not to mobilize the country or summon his fellow citizens to economic sacrifice, but rather he told us to … go shopping. Spend money. That’ll help! And we (as a country) did. And we still are. Americans seem to think it is their solemn duty to spend money on shit they don’t really need. It’s difficult to live a minimalist lifestyle in a country that doesn’t support it. But it is possible. You’ll have more time, more money, and more joy. How is that a bad thing?

  • What you need to do: Mentally prepare. This is a commitment. It doesn’t do you any good to get rid of things and then replace them with new versions a few months down the road. The idea is to take stock of your life. Go room by room and make a decision for each thing you own. Not only will you realize exactly how much “stuff” you have, you’ll realize how much time, money and energy each item requires of you.

    It won’t happen over night. It will take time, and it should take time.You’ll want to say goodbye to those ugly plates Aunt Grandma left you, and the hand me down bed your Uncle built that’s so short your feet hang off. Getting rid of things that hold sentimental value is difficult until you realize you can remember people, places and the good times without the tangible evidence. It’s kind of hard to live in the present when you are surrounded of memories from the past.

  • First step: Put a box in every room. When you come across something you haven’t used in the last six months (seasonal clothing not included) or ever, toss it in the box. Think with your brain, not with your heart. I always ask myself three questions: Do I need this? Is it usable, in good shape? When is the last time I used this? If my answers to these questions come up wanting, I toss it. No matter what it is.

    toomuchstuffIt can be overwhelming at first since, let’s face it, we like our “stuff”. But when you begin to look at your stuff not as stock-plied treasure, but in terms of time, energy and money, it becomes much easier to let go. That big house you have full of things takes time, money and energy to keep clean and maintained. Why not make it easier for yourself? Look at an item and think about how many hours you had to work, or will have to work, to pay for it. Every piece you own is a chance to regain time and/or money if you sell it or give it away. Once you’re ready to start purging, you’ll feel truly liberated.

  • Dig in: Now that you’ve thrown a few things in the box its time to step it up. Is there a closet you are afraid to open because the contents might fall out and suffocate you? How about that junk drawer that lives up to its name? Pinpoint these areas and deal with them first. No use putting it off. The time is now. Once these dragons have been slain, you’ll feel momentum to move forward. Nice clothes, household items are great choices for eBay… I hear. I don’t have the time or patience for that so I just give my things away. Yard sales are another great idea. It’s absolutely incredible the things folks will buy at a yard sale. Half a tube of toothpaste for .50? You got it!

    If this seems too scary, then start small. Keep those boxes for six months and then give them away. Another trick is to set a timer for fifteen minutes, and de-clutter until it goes off. Get rid of the easy things first, like your notebooks from Chem class… in high School. Ugly gifts you’ve received and kept “to be nice”. List those TV’s on Craigslist and sell that juicer you bought but never used. Having intent isn’t the same as doing.

  • Save for later: Once you’ve started to de-clutter, you’ll get to start on the fun part: Thinking about what to do with all of that free space, time, and money. I read of one couple that was able to pay off their home in less than seven years, and quit their days jobs in order to pursue writing full-time – all thanks to a Minimalist lifestyle. My fella and I have been able to travel across America thanks to a Minimalist lifestyle. When you don’t fritter money away on junk, you have more to put toward the essentials — and experiences.

    canuimaginedouglasfriedmanYou’ll also want to be smart about your future purchases. Let impulse buys be a thing of the past. You are better than that. Stop shopping at huge warehouse stores. Nobody needs that much of anything all at once. Shopping shouldn’t be something you do for fun or entertainment. It isn’t something “to do” like go to the movies. It is something you do when you actually need something.  Shop for multi-purpose, utility items. If you need to, inventory your home before you go to a store. Knowing that you have six black shirts at home will hopefully stop you from buying a seventh.

  • Remember it is an ongoing process: It’s not a one time purge. This is a commitment. The awesome rewards of this lifestyle only come to fruition if you stick with it. That means de-cluttering is an ongoing process. I have a one in, one out rule. For each new thing I bring in, one old thing has to go. That way I keep my personal mass of stuff to a minimum. I take books to a little sharing library. I give clothes to Goodwill.

    I’ve been doing this for two years in America and I’m super comfortable with it. Looking around my flat you’ll see dozens of books in stacks on the floor. And that’s about it. Everything else is either to sleep on, wear, or cook with. No excess. And it feels great. We live in a smaller flat than ever before and we are pretty happy. Downsizing isn’t easy, but having less space to put things definitely keeps you from buying things. And the things we do have actually matter. Each and every thing.

  • You are not your neighbor. Everyone knows that playing “Keeping Up With the Joneses” is a losing battle. But that never stopped anyone from comparing themselves to their cool friend or neighbor. Try to avoid doing this. It doesn’t help, and chances are the person you are comparing yourself with has different goals and values than you do. Make yourself happy and you win. If your friend just brought home a new flat screen TV, a new pair of shoes, and a patio set – don’t feel jealous or lacking. That’s a lot of cash to drop on non-necessery items. Use that money for a trip, or move someplace new. Or save it. Purchase art supplies or interesting ingredients to cook with. Try to infuse your daily life with your passions and hobbies and spend your money there.

    If your passion or hobby is shopping, then you’ve got bigger problems than clutter.

Minimalist Living: Home & Identity

jmbarclayMost people are proud of their homes. They manicure their lawn, create color schemes, and hang pictures. Whether it’s been two weeks or two years, folks tend to feel a sense of pride for their space and for their home. You’ll see framed pictures on the walls, shelves of books that may or may not have been read, and of course a few odds and ends that sit around gathering dust. We see our homes and the stuff we stuff into them as a projection of ourselves. Our home says, “Hey! This is who I am! This is where I’ve been! This is what my interests are! I hate doing dishes!” Or something to that effect. Each time you invite someone into your home you are presenting that person with an image of who you are. Or at least, who you think you are. Or, who you want people to think you are.

My home has been a suitcase since December 29, 2013. My fella and I set off on an adventure that began in Houston, Texas and has led us to Berkeley, California. We’ve slept in a tent, in an American Hostel, hotels, motels, floors and cottages. We’ve been lucky and skilled and courageous. We packed the Honda Civic with all we own in the world and decided to go where life takes us. We don’t have a home. We have nothing to decorate, no walls to hang pictures of our past experiences. Our lives are lived in the now. 

Not having a home has it’s pros and cons. Both of us are getting a little tired of being on the road and not having a place of our own. Living the life of a vagabond can give you a feeling of independence and freedom, but at the same time leave you feeling strangely disconnected from the world around you. If my identity is wrapped up in my home (and I don’t have a home) what does that say about me? Who am I?

One the one hand, I like not looking at pictures of my past every day. It’s hard to grow as a person when you are anchored to your past. Seeing pictures of Prague sometimes makes me sad. I have to remind myself that if I were to go back there today it wouldn’t be the same. I’ve changed and I am changing daily. I am not the same person I was in Prague, or even in Texas. I’ve changed and I allow myself the freedom to change every day.

In a few weeks we are moving onwards to Seattle, Washington. I am excited about the possibilities of living in a new city and excited about beginning a new chapter in my life. I’m also excited about having a place to call my own, at least for a while. I guess that’s the best part about living life as a vagabond – I don’t have to stay any place. If we like Seattle and we find jobs we like, we’ll stay. If not, who knows. There is a big world out there just waiting to be explored.

For this American Vagabond home is where you just happen to be. And that is more than alright with me. I’d rather have a lot of experiences and memories than a matching bedroom set and a mortgage.

Minimalist Living: The Path

two-cabins“If you get far enough away you’ll be on your way back home.” – Tom Waits

Sometimes you have to go away in order to come back. Accordingly, I am moving back to California. It’s been almost eight years since I lived in California. My honey and I will be living in a little cabin in Cazadero, California (about three hours outside SF) for six months. The pacific ocean will be just a short thirty minute walk from the center, and I can’t wait to get reacquainted. I guess it’ll be like an updated version of the whole Thoreau thing… with wifi.

To get what you want you must be willing to take action, and you must be willing to do the work.

These days I have little desire for material possessions, but I do have the desire to feel purposeful and successful. Success for me isn’t determined by money or status or possessions, but rather by happiness and growth. My first year back in the US had very little of either. I wasn’t miserable, but I wasn’t happy either. Living in Austin was pretty depressing. I don’t own a car, so I had a severe lack of personal freedom. I had a great job and met some nice people, but I felt like I had done it before. It was no different than living in L.A. – Austin was stagnant and it made me feel stagnant. I want to live and work in a place that makes me feel happy. I want to contribute to more than just the traffic. I want to create more and consume less. Doing that will take real work.

cazadero_vacation_map2014 will be an awesome year. The first six months I will be learning about Tibetan yoga and meditation. I will be taking classes in the mornings and evenings. The classes are focused on work, developing inner potential, and filling my life with satisfying accomplishments rather than material possessions.(Topics include time, awareness, concentration, and energy, working with resistance and resentment and more.) I can’t wait. I’ll be eating vegetarian meals six days a week, and working six days a week as well. I am excited to switch gears and start a new, healthier chapter of my life.

Whenever we fail to make a decision we fail to grow.

I made the decision to change my life again because I don’t want to look back and say, “Wow, I let a lot of amazing opportunities pass me by while I watched TV and worked for someone else.” I don’t want to just hear about fascinating people and places – I want to experience them first hand. I want to lead a life that is more focused and active than what I found in Texas. I want my body to be something more than something I look at in the mirror. I want to be strong inside and out. I want to use my mind and my body for creative and fun things like running and jumping, and painting and writing. I’m ready to jump in feet first yet again.

Minimalist Living: Thanksgiving

thanksgiving-poster1Thanksgiving could be a time to strip away all of the superfluous stuff in our lives, and get to what is really necessary. It could be an opportunity to spend meaningful time with the people who mean the most to you. Eat together, talk, and laugh together. Spending three hours in the kitchen, or in front of the television watching football isn’t “meaningful time”.

These days Thanksgiving is about cooking huge meals, over-eating, and getting “good deals” on Black Friday. This is the opposite of showing “Thanks” for what you have. One doesn’t show gratitude for what they have by purchasing more things. It’s backward. I like a good Turkey as much as the next gal, but I am not about to go out and buy a 22 pound bird and all of the trimmings just because it’s a holiday. I can celebrate with less and feel better about myself in the process.

I’m not trying to get anyone to shun Thanksgiving. I’m hoping to get folks to think about the way they celebrate. Does your Thanksgiving revolve around spending money? Are you planning a new outfit? Are you buying new serving platters, food, or decorations? Are you preparing twice or three times the amount of food you really need? In order to celebrate Thanksgiving in a thoughtful way, we need to begin with ourselves.

Try starting some new traditions that support your lifestyle. Try hosting a Thanksgiving potluck. We did this in Prague a lot. People brought something to eat, and a plate and silverware! We didn’t have enough plates, bowls, spoons etc, so instead of spending money on new stuff, we asked people to bring their own. It was great fun, and there were hardly any dishes at the end of the night.

Another good idea is to eat out. Choose a nice restaurant (Sorry, Chili’s doesn’t count) that has a prix-fixe meal. Each person is responsible for their own meal, and split the cost of the booze. Doing this make the meal much more relaxing, and often times can end up costing less than hosting it at your home. The best part is there is no mess, no dishes, and no folks sticking around long past their welcome.

Minimalist Living: Gifts

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAThe Holiday season is right around the corner, and that means The Gift Giving Season is upon us. Giving and getting gifts can be a fun and rewarding experience for both the giver and receiver. It feels good to give someone a gift, and we all know it is pretty awesome to get one. But how do you deal with gifts as a Minimalist? How do you approach The Holiday Season? Our culture pressures us to buy the biggest, best or most gifts in order to show our love for friends and family. For some people giving gifts is equivalent to giving love. The more you spend, the more you love. How does a Minimalist deal with gift giving/receiving and still maintain their lifestyle?

Gift Giving

Minimalists tend to not give gifts, but when they do it will probably be something hand-made, or single use like tickets or gift cards. It’s not that we don’t like giving gifts, but rather we’d like to give you an experience rather than a physical item. I haven’t purchased Christmas gifts for people in over seven years. I make gifts. I give books that I find at used bookstores, or that I have finished. As a Minimalist it seems contradictory for me to spend money on a gift just because it is Christmas. I’d rather take you to a museum, or a concert. I’d rather paint something for you. It means more to me that you have a life enriching experience than something from a list or registry.

Here are some ideas for gift giving as a Minimalist:

  1. Tickets (Concert, play, festival, art show, movie…)
  2. A nice meal (Either at home or a nice restaurant)
  3. Something you made (poem, painting, scarf, mix CD, photo…)
  4. Books (look for nice editions of classics, or find interesting used books)
  5. Gift card (Movies, books, food)

Gift Getting

This is the hard part. It is really difficult for people to understand that you don’t want a gift. You don’t want to come off as ungrateful or cold, but you also don’t want a pile of stuff (that you neither want or need, nor asked for) on your living-room floor come December 26. The best way to approach the holiday season as a Minimalist is to be proactive. Set the expectation with family and friends that you don’t want, need or expect a gift. Ask them to please respect your wishes, and if they insist on giving you something, ask that it be an experience rather than a physical gift. Going to a dinner together will mean much more to both of you than a new sweater.

If you have stubborn family members who don’t care about your lifestyle and insist on giving you a mound of gifts, the holidays can become stressful. Most of us don’t want to piss off our family members by seeming ungrateful. We don’t want to offend anyone. My advice is to say “Thank you” and then move on. Most people won’t notice or care what you do with the item after the fact. The people that do will be offended, and that’s okay. You can’t let that bother you. You can’t be expected to keep things that are not adding value to your life. Especially if you were upfront and honest about your expectations. If people can’t understand that, it’s their problem – not yours.

To sum up: The holiday season shouldn’t be about who gets/gives the most. It should be about spending time with the people you care about. Don’t buy gifts, give experiences.

Minimalist Living: Moving

iStock_000015548544XSmallNobody looks forward to moving. Sure, you might be excited about being someplace new, but nobody likes the actual moving part. Packing sucks, cleaning sucks, driving a UHaul sucks… it just isn’t fun. I’ve moved more times than I can count. I’ve moved internationally, cross country and locally. I’m good at it. Moving doesn’t have to be difficult, but it will be stressful no matter how much you plan. Picking up your life and carrying it to someplace new (sometimes sight unseen) can be really, really hard. Here’s how to make it a little easier.

  1. Memories don’t live in items. Say goodbye to dishes, books, that high chair your kid is too big for – all of it. While those items may spark precious memories, you don’t need them. The memories won’t disappear, I promise. Take time to walk through your place and remember all the good times you had. Remind yourself that you will be having more good times – in a new place. Keep looking forward, and don’t get bogged down in sentimentality.
  2. Consider where you are going. Right now, I’m moving from Texas to Northern California. I’ll be living in a cabin in the mountains for six months so I gave away most of my summer clothes, and all of my furniture. I won’t need any of it. If you are moving to a different climate consider getting rid of clothing that you’ll never wear.
  3. Sell, donate, give away! This should be your mantra when you are moving. Get rid of as much as you can prior to packing. If you have things in your home that are not being used – get rid of them. Give that treadmill to someone who likes running. Take clothes you don’t wear to Goodwill. Donate toys and books to local schools, day care centers, libraries, or churches. Remember the words of William Morris, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”
  4. Pack a “First Night” box – Have toilet paper, toothbrushes, pajamas, cell phones, chargers, dish soap, cleaning supplies, and sponges. Travel with this box in the car so it will be first in your new place. This eliminates looking for the things you’ll need right away.
  5. When packing seasonal clothing make sure it will last another season. If not, have a donation bag ready. You don’t want to hold-on to a winter coat that won’t last another winter. You’ll be much happier (and warmer) in a new coat which you can buy once you get there.
  6. Plan ahead. Minimalist or not, planning ahead can make a huge difference to your move. If you need car, van or truck – reserve now. Ask friends for assistance if they have a vehicle you could use. Start going through drawers, cupboards and closets – a few months in advance. Don’t let the moving date sneak up on you. If you pack and clean a little each day leading up to your move, you will have far less to do come moving day. And less stress, too!
  7. Downsize. It’s amazing how little space you actually need. We just went from a one bedroom flat to three suitcases, and some boxes. When we decide on where to land next we won’t have a ton of stuff to bring, and we won’t have to pay a huge rent. Use the little money you got from selling all of those old clothes, books and furniture and invest in something that will fit in your new space. Finding a home to accommodate your furniture is absurd.

Being a minimalist doesn’t mean living without, it means living with less. It means living with what you truly need. Moving house provides you with a perfect opportunity to start fresh. You’ll be happier in a smaller space – less maintenance, less expensive, less time cleaning, smaller environmental footprint, less temptation to accumulate more stuff. That means you have more free time, more money, more chances to get out of your home and DO something with your friends and family.

Because life is about experiences and people, not matching furniture and massive televisions. Remember, everything you own demands some of your time, energy and money. Less is definitely more. Especially when it comes to moving.

My Favorite Life Hacks

10404334_9fd6238b8bA “Life Hack” is something that simplifies your life, or makes it easier in some way. It could be a tip to save you time or money, or even peace of mind. I’ve written a few life hack posts, but I keep getting requests for more. So here you go – my favorite tips to simplify life.

Money Saving Tips

  1. Get rid of cable – In this day and age you can watch all of your favorite shows without paying tons of cash each month for cable. Hook your computer up to your TV and stream shows. Use Hulu or Netflix. One of my favorite websites for TV shows has this handy guide to “cutting the cord” and getting rid of cable for good. Why pay for internet AND cable?
  2. Cook your own meals -Nothing new here. It is way cheaper to eat at home. This includes morning coffee.
  3. Use cash – When you pay with cash it forces you to handle actual money. You can’t over spend, or buy stuff you don’t need when you have cash. You’ll pay more attention to how and why you spend, and where you spend it.
  4. Stay home – Going out to the movies can end up costing upwards of $50, and that’s just for two people! Find ways to entertain yourself for free at home. You could bond with your family, play games, read, have a movie night, BBQ or indulge in that new hobby.
  5. Exercise – Hate spending money on the doctor? Hate getting sick? Exercise can reduce your chances of getting sick and keep you from costly medical bills later. And don’t go to a gym unless you have to. Exercising at home or in your neighborhood is FREE.
  6. Pay monthly – If you MUST use a credit card for a purchase, make sure you pay the entire amount at the end of the month. If you can’t afford to pay the whole amount at once, you shouldn’t buy it. Don’t live beyond your means. Period.
  7. Find happiness in life, not shopping – I know many people think of shopping as a sport, or a hobby. It isn’t either. Many people buy things because they think it will make them happy. And maybe it does … for an hour or two. But after the rush of having a new thing wears off, they are left feeling even emptier than before. Then they go out and buy something else. It’s a never ending cycle. Instead, teach yourself to love life. Go for a walk and take pictures of interesting things in your neighborhood. Find joy in your friends and family or in nature. Meditate! Exercise! Paint! Spending money does not equal happiness.

Time Saving Tips

  1. Learn to say no – The easiest way to give yourself more time is to stop giving it to others. You don’t have to say yes to every client, friend or project that comes your way. People will understand and it will leave you more time for yourself.
  2. Consolidate errands – At my house we go shopping about once a week. We decide on what we need and where would be the best place to get it. Driving to one store every day is ridiculous. Plan all of your trips for one day.
  3. Don’t multitask – That’s right, I said DON’T. If you concentrate on one thing at a time and finish it you won’t be left with a house full of half completed projects. If you start washing the dishes, finish washing the dishes. This also helps for staying in the present moment and lets you concentrate completely on the task at hand.
  4. Use your kids – If your kids don’t have chores … Shame on you! Children learn (or should learn) responsibility at home. They should be responsible for cleaning up after themselves and keeping their rooms tidy. At a minimum have them pick up their room before bed, and lay out their clothes for the next day. This helps save time in the morning also.
  5. Make your own mixes – I guess this could have gone in the Money Tips as well, but here it is. Make your own pancake, muffin, cake and biscuit mixes. Make your own spice mixes. You can find recipes for just about any mix you need online. Prepare large batches of the mix, and add wet ingredients when you’re ready to prepare the food. Store dry mixes in seal tight containers or jars until you’re ready to use them.
  6. Do major chores once a week – Schedule your major chores as part of a routine and they will get easier to do. Cleaning that tub once a week is way easier than once a month. Trust me. And don’t make more work for yourself either. There is no need to mop the kitchen floor EVERY DAY. Once a week is fine. Relax. Smile. It’s just a floor.

Sanity Saving Tips

  1. Don’t procrastinate – Let’s be honest, when we procrastinate, it is usually because we don’t like doing whatever it is we are putting off. Procrastination is a pretty bad habit. It keeps you focused of the things you hate thinking about. Just get it out of the way, then you don’t have to think about it anymore. How often do you put off going to the dentist? How about washing your car? Get it done. You’ll feel relieved.
  2. Put public pressure on yourself – Do you have a deadline? Do you often start projects and don’t finish? Then post about it on FaceBook. Tell your friends and family to keep you in line. If your boss, or husband, wife or partner expects something finished by a certain date, you’ll be more likely to finish.
  3. No TV in the bedroom – You shouldn’t have more than one TV. Think about it. Are you so lazy you can’t walk into the other room to watch your shows? If you only get rid of one TV, then make it the one in the bedroom. The bedroom should be your sanctuary. Have a book by your bed, but no computer or TV. This should be a place that is calm and relaxing and well suited for sleep.
  4. Go paperless – If you haven’t already, stop getting catalogs, bills, and crap in the mail. It wastes your time to deal with it. Instead set aside one time a month to deal with online bills. Easy!
  5. 3 Task Rule – If your “To-Do” list is never ending, then you might be a control freak. Instead of just making that list longer, and making yourself crazy, try doing just three tasks and do them to completion. Choose the tasks that are most urgent. The rest can wait til tomorrow. Nothing feels better than getting stuff done!
  6. Eat healthy! – Stop the soda (even diet. Guilty.) Eat fruits and veggies. Eating healthy does more for you than give you a rockin’ body. It keeps you healthy which keeps you from costly medical bills in the future. There are zero reasons that you should be overweight or unhealthy.

10 Minimalist Habits

2219482836_5cb11df36aI’ve been living a small version of a Minimalist Life for a long time, I just didn’t know it. I didn’t know there was a name for it, and I didn’t know that there were folks out there in the world who were passionate about it. Boy was I wrong! There are many people who embrace a minimalist lifestyle in some way. I consider myself a Minimalist. Does that mean everything I do is Minimalist? No. But, I bet a few odd little things I do might fit the bill.

Most of these habits won’t seem like much. In fact, they just might seem “cheap” to some of you and “impossible” to others. I ask you to look at these things with an open mind and look at them as ideas. I keep an uncluttered home and I try not to have excess. I don’t have a dining room table and chairs – we eat sitting on the couch. I don’t keep a ton of kitchen appliances – I make toast in the oven and reheat things on the stove since we don’t have a microwave. These are just small things that help me keep clutter out of my home, and it saves me from spending money needlessly. Consider these ten little habits and picture what your life might be like. More peaceful. Less cluttered. Less stress. Remember, everything you bring into your home needs your space and your attention.

  1. No Keys – Ok, I have a set of keys but I don’t use them. And, there are only two keys on there: my post box key, and the key to my flat. That’s it. If I go for a walk, I’ll take em. But I never worry about them. If you feel you couldn’t live without all of your keys, consider downsizing them to just the essentials. Do you really need to carry around those work keys? How about that one which opens the lock on the gate no one ever uses?
  2. No watch – When I was in grade school I loved watches. Actually, I loved Swatches. I had one and wore it for a while, but eventually abandoned it because it made my wrist sweaty. I haven’t worn one since. I feel more free sans watch and it makes me far less conscious of time. This let’s me focus on the people and tasks in the present. I also don’t have an alarm clock. I wake up (whether I want to or not) at 7:15 sharp. Every morning. It’s a blessing and a curse.
  3. No smartphone – I would love to write “no cell” but I do have one. Sort of. No one ever calls me on it, and I’m pretty sure it is at least five years old. I use it to text my sweetie silly things when I am bored at work. My phone is usually off. If someone needs to get in touch with me they will have better luck sending me an email. I hate talking on the phone anyway. I know some of you think you couldn’t live with out a cell phone, but I promise you can. And don’t use “I have kids” as an excuse. Plenty of people have been parents without the luxury of a mobil phone. If you feel you need it as a security blanket “in case something happens” try leaving it off when your kids are with you.
  4. No mobil internet – While were at it, I don’t play on the internet unless I am sitting down at a computer. Like I said above, my phone only makes calls and texts, takes calls and texts. That’s it. It doesn’t have WiFi and it doesn’t play music. I can’t look up the weather or check my FaceBook. When I am out in the world and I have to wait two minutes for something, I just wait. I look at the world around me and I people watch. Let me tell you, people watching in Austin is excellent. I like to play Fatty Vs. Hipster (so far I have seen way more of the former than the latter) or dogs Vs. owner. (Dogs are way cuter than their owners in this city) It’s fun. If I have to wait longer than a few minutes I always have a book in my bag for just that occasion. I like the feeling of being disconnected. It’s very liberating.
  5. No T.V.tumblr_ldachzWKlm1qa5699o1_500I’ve mentioned this before but it bears repeating: I don’t own a television. I haven’t owned a television in over a decade. I don’t pay for cable and I still watch the shows that are interesting to me. There is so much crap on TV these days that it’s hard not to get sucked in. Getting rid of cable and TV helps. I am very conscious of what I watch and how it will make me feel. TV isn’t just “on” at my house. If a show or movie is on, it was because of intent. I learned a lot of great tips living in Prague. If you want to know the best sites for streaming movies or tv shows, just ask an expat. They know what’s up.
  6. No car – I know for some of you, this seems crazy. My household has a car, but I don’t own it, or drive it. Or, I try not to. I hate driving. My boyfriend drives me to and from work every day, and we go to the market together. We use the car as needed. And unfortunately, it is needed in Austin. It’s not a great city for bikes or for public transportation. Not to mention nobody wants to walk 3.5 miles home after work in 100 degree heat. If you can’t do without a car, try doing with it LESS. Walk to the store. Ride a bike someplace. Take the bus or Metro.
  7. No ipod – again, I have one – but it is close to death. It’s pretty old. It has one of those clicky wheel things that you spin to find a song you like. I got it as a gift in 2005. I only use it when I’m working out in the gym. And since I don’t go to the gym here… it just sits in a drawer. It annoys me to see people walking around with those things stuck in their ears. (You all look like zombies. Hipster-sheep zombies.) I enjoy listening to the world around me, and seeing nature. You never know what you might hear!
  8. No credit cards – I have one credit card that is used for travel. I buy tickets online and then pay off the bill asap. I don’t “shop” with it, I don’t pay bills with it, and I don’t have another one. I have one credit card which is used solely for travel purchases. If I don’t have the money, I don’t buy it. It’s pretty simple. Use cash, debit or Paypal before using a credit card. And, stop shopping so much. Do you really need all of that stuff?
  9. Share – I share a lot. I share meals with my boyfriend when we go out to eat. The portion sizes in America are overwhelming, as is the fat content and prices. Sharing a meal let’s us go out to eat and enjoy good food without being wasteful and over spending. Buying food just to “save it for later” is the same as hoarding. Take only what you need, and share. In Prague I would share my books. Finding good books in english is expensive in Prague. When I finished a book (or ten) I would let people have them, or take them to a book exchange with friends. That way I got new books while making room for them!
  10. One in, one out – One way I keep down clutter is by having the “one in – one out” rule. For example, I recently lost some weight. More than some. I lost about fifteen pounds, enough so that none of my clothes fit right. I needed new clothes. (I try not to buy clothes unless I actually need them. I was really excited I finally needed a new bikini!) I ordered a super cute new bikini online and as soon as it arrived, the old ones went out. I don’t keep things around that are unnecessary. If you shop at Wal-Mart or Target and end up coming home with more than just that mop head you went there for – this rule is for you. If you bring a new item into you home, get rid of something.