Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Work / Life balance?

As I was initially writing this, I was lying on the floor trying to unkink my back from sitting all day and wondering why I continue to do this to myself. Why do we continue to do it? Why do we put up with jobs we hate? Why do we give our bodies & our minds to our employer?

Is it for the paycheck or the benefits? Really, is that all? Aren’t we worth more to ourselves, our families, & our friends? When all we have left at the end of the day is anger or exhaustion or apathy, we are no longer living a quality life.

Ours is one of the most industrious nations in the world. But we aren’t one of the most productive. Recent research has shown that more hours don’t equal more productivity. Quite a few nations are starting to average down their work week – and productivity is going up. And, surprise, some of these nations are in the top 10 happiest nations in the world. The United States doesn’t make the list.

So we work crazy hours, are moderately productive, make so-so to holy cow! money, but we aren’t happy. What on earth is the point!? Why did we ever agree to this? Someone, somewhere bamboozled us into this crazy idea that more hours are better and we just swallowed it down. No more.

There has been a shift in thinking for the younger generations that we need to pay attention to. Though some of the joblessness is due to lack of jobs, I believe some of it is also due to the refusal to settle. While it can be a bit na├»ve, there is nobleness to it as well. Think right now about how your life would be if you 1) had a truly healthy balance between work and home (leaning toward home) and 2) you loved what you did earn money to do. Isn’t it beautiful?

We can make the change, especially if we do it in force. We can refuse to work late, take on extra work loads, or check email after hours. But we have to be in a position & willing to walk away from a job that won’t play. It is radical, I know. I can see dozens of heads shaking now. This isn’t a shift that will happen overnight. But it will happen if we try – a little at a time.

I am not blind, I know that some of us work to just stay alive. And my heart goes out to you. I say to you, do not give up hope – you too can break out of the cycle. Be strong.

Isn’t it time to put a job back in its place? As a money maker for necessities (and maybe a little more). Not as the main time, energy, & soul suck it has become.

Tonight & this weekend don’t check your business email. The world won’t stop. Take back a piece of your life & enjoy.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Simplification vs Minimalism

There is a lot of confusion between simplification and minimalism. More often than not, the words are used interchangeably. They are related – but, to me, they are not the same. When we don’t differentiate, it makes it difficult to articulate what we want & what we are doing.

Simplifying is a matter of reducing obligations, activities, needs, and streamlining processes. I feel that simplifying works in the realm of intangibles more than in tangible items. Simplifying is learning to define our true needs – physical, emotional, and mental.

When we over commit ourselves to clubs, organizations, parties, events, gatherings, etc – we create a go-go-go attitude. This breeds stress and doesn’t allow for down time. Simplifying is a matter of prioritizing who & what is important to us. And learning to say no to anything beyond that. When we can’t say no, simplifying obligations allows juggling room.

Simplifying is a matter of redefining our entertainment. Having a dozen hobbies, all of which require tons of equipment, only causes confusion resulting in lots of time devoted to keeping them organized. Then we end up not actually participating in any of them. Have simple entertainment or hobbies that can be done at an external location. Art shops very often have open studio hours. How often are you really going to make stained glass sun catchers anyway? Comic book stores host RPG or other board games. Share hobbies & entertainment with others, the variety is huge but the investment isn’t. It would be easy, and provide social time if each person in a group owned a different board game or equipment for different hobbies.

Streamlining processes is a matter of eliminating unnecessary steps or rules of behavior. It took me years to break the mindset that I was a failure if I didn’t cook dinner every day. Now, I cook several meals one or two times a week & we eat on leftovers for the remainder. We eat leftovers anyway, why not plan for it? I still put up a tree during the winter holidays, but I have eliminated the majority of the other decorations. Outdoor lights are an absolute no. I hated untangling them, making sure they worked, putting them up in the cold, taking them down in the cold, & trying to put them away so they wouldn’t tangle next year. I like the tree, the other stuff was just a pain. So I don’t do it. However, Halloween is an all out – decorations in every room, my socks glow in the dark, taking the day off so I can get ready for trick-or-treaters – extravaganza. That is what makes me happy, so I have eliminated other things & made space in my life for it.

Is there something that you do just because it has always been done? Consider the why & if it can be changed, shortened, or eliminated.

When it comes to physical possessions, we can eliminate things before they ever become possessions or habits, if we are mindful of why we are considering purchasing something. By doing so, we are allowed the opportunity to Not have to remove it from our lives later. This is the first step toward minimalizing. Do I need that onion chopper gadget thingy? No, I have a knife. Do I need dishes for every season? No, I have a basic, general set that I love. Do I need a dozen different coats? No, I only ever wear one or two anyway. This does not mean I have no frivolous things in my house. I have coffee cups for every season – a whole set. Too many? Oh yeah, but I am working on determining which ones are truly important to me & slowly removing the others. Which is where we cross into minimalism.

Minimalism is reducing the physical stuff in our life. The average American home in 1950 was 938 sq ft. It is 2349 sq ft today. It is in our nature to fill the spaces we have. More space = more things. More things to clean, to put away, to manage, to misplace.

When we are overrun with things, we spend all of our time taking care of them. I did a count the other day. Even after everything we have purged, we still have something like 80 pieces of furniture (I lost count at the end). 80! That is tables, chairs, lamps, beds, dressers. Let me remind you that there are two of us. I could sit in a different chair / cushion every day for 3 weeks. When we aren’t managing our items, we are trying to find them. I own three pairs of sunglasses and can barely find one at any given time.

Minimalism is the movement against more. This is where, after I have decided to not add more activities or things to my life (simplifying), I get to pare down what I already have. I am reducing the number of Everything. Clothing, accessories, dishes, furniture, heavy equipment hobbies, everything. And it has been amazing.

I haven’t gone clothes shopping in over a year. No one has pulled me aside to tell me I look like a shabby bum yet, so I figure I am still doing ok. When something wears out – I get rid of it. I am evaluating what clothes I actually wear. As of Dec 21, I get to see what I haven’t worn in 6 months & get rid of it.

To help mitigate the occasional panic, I have learned a few tricks. 1) No books. I can’t do it. I just cannot let them go. I freak out every time I do. If I actually decide a book is purge worthy, I follow trick 2) Put the items to be purged in a box in a corner. If I haven’t gone looking for the items in the box in 6 months, out they go. 3) Stay alert! It is easy to start accumulating or stop purging or both. Go through the exercises every so often. Grab an empty box & do a quick run through the house. Do it again the next day, the next week, and the next month. Pause, then repeat in another month or two.

My definitions of simplicity and minimalism aren’t the end all of all. One of my favorite bloggers, Courtney Carver at Be More With Less has a different take here. The important thing is that it works for you – or it won’t work at all.

Here are some of my favorite inspiration blogs, people who helped me find my way onto the path of less. Enjoy!
Be More With Less
Becoming Minimalist
Rowdy Kittens

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Find your Happiness

I was talking to a coworker this week & she was telling me about her daughter. Her daughter is in college & is doing very well in an excellent professional program. But she is miserable. She doesn’t want to pursue this path, she would rather study art or music or something similar. But she is afraid… so is mom. She/they know that jobs are easier to find, more financially lucrative, & more stable in the professional field.

We could be discussing James & I. A few differences, but overall the story is the same. Unlike my coworker’s daughter, we followed through with the miserable career choices… all the way into the job market. Her story doesn’t have to end the same. This is not a rant against college or professional degrees. If that is what makes you happy – go for it. Happiness is important because it is a huge factor in mental health, physical health, & job satisfaction. So choose carefully but be bold in your search. Take a range of general electives if you choose college. Even if you don’t want to attend college, or can’t afford it – save a few bucks & take a smattering of different credit or non-credit courses at the local community college. Volunteer. Wonder about construction? Volunteer at Habitat for Humanity. Like to cook? Volunteer at a soup kitchen. Like art? Teach / lead art classes at a community center. You get the idea. Even if you don’t volunteer, explore different activities. Try new things.

No matter what job/career/calling you choose, remember that money doesn’t have to be the driving force if you are mindful in your spending habits. If you don’t fall into the consumerism trap, you have more freedom in your career choices… & the resulting wages. James & I have dug our hole, now we are climbing out. My coworker’s daughter hasn’t dug her hole yet. I hope she never does.

It isn’t all gloom & doom. We aren’t in as bad of shape as we could be. But we still have obligations. We currently need a certain wage to pay those obligations. Perhaps if we had worried less about having a closet full of clothing, adorable knick knacks, the latest & greatest kitchen gadgets, & a big house – we would have the flexibility to do work that was more satisfying to the soul, but not necessarily the bank account.

Lesson learned. We are changing our spending habits & paying down the obligations we have. We are exploring activities that satisfy the soul. I teach yoga part time, James enjoys “junking” (oh dear). We are finding our happiness a little bit at a time. How about you? What is your happiness?