Breaking the Tradition of Gift Giving and Recieving

We can go out into the woods, into a field, into the back yard to lay down on the lawn and fix our gaze up at the clouds rolling under the sky, we can still the mind just enough to hear the tiny whisper coming from the heart. This solitary stillness is important as a regular practice if we are to lead the lives we were meant to. There is too much business and external messages in the space of our regular lives of tasks and routines.

If we listen carefully, we will know what our heart is saying to us.

Sometimes what the heart tells is difficult to truly know. Often it just begins with an urging, or a reluctance, a joy or a sadness. This is to be expected- this is the language of the heart.

Once we receive its message, the next task is to hold it in our conscious mind and give ourselves the time and space to process it. We can always picture the message as we lay down to bed and request some guidance through our dreams or in our waking lives.

I heard something from my heart recently, and I recognized that it was a struggle that seemed silly, could be perceived as selfish and at the same time difficult to resolve. There are always matters which arise that present a challenge for us to reconcile.

My message was: I’m stressed about the upcoming slew of birthdays and Christmas that’s coming upon me. Why? I asked again. This time the answer came to me immediately. The presents. Presents are supposed to bring joy for both the gift giver and the receiver. There’s a whole slew of etiquette around gifts, and millions of entire issues of magazines dedicated to the tradition. There’s also enormous social pressure to comply with this practice.

I thought about calling this post Breaking Free from Expectations or Bowing Out of Obligation Gracefully, but the decision to decide to stop giving and receiving presents is really kind of a radical way of doing those things. It’s definitely not a simple decision to make, and unlike going vegan it’s not an easy thing to read about online. I personally am the only person I know to do this. Here is my reasoning.

I believe at a time long ago, when people didn’t have much, gifts were often desperately needed or perhaps were items that were handmade with love in a way that made them family heirlooms. The items gifted were used carefully and passed down, allowing a few to several generations of practical use. These days, most everything you can go out and buy was made in a factory or a sweatshop in China for very little pay, with cheap materials in a fast process that makes the item completely disposable and likely unsafe. This modern process has allowed people to buy many items for many people, for many occasions. What happens as a result of this? We have more stuff that we likely have no use for, we throw more of it away, more ends up in landfills, and we support cruel industries that cause destruction to the planet.

At first I thought of alternatives to this pattern. I could make everyone handmade gifts, yes, but not everyone can benefit from the same thing. Sending out little gift baskets filled with soaps and lotions made with organic ingredients and recyclable packaging would be very pleasing and useful to me, but probably would only be useful to a handful of my family members. Because of modern conveniences, people become attached to their particular brand or product for self-care, for food, for most everything that is consumed. Even their tastes in décor and fashion has become highly specific and individualized. There’s always Amazon wish lists so that you can be sure to get the person exactly what they need, or gift cards so they can pick for themselves exactly what they would like. But I had to ask myself, how is this any different than giving someone an envelope of cash in exchange for them giving you an envelope of cash? It’s completely soulless. On this level of monetary exchange I would always be the weaker party, as I have no income besides what I make from selling random things on EBay which puts me at the lowest income level of anyone else in my entire family or friend group.

Other solutions are donating to each other’s charities which is wonderful, or asking to only receive “experience gifts.” At first I thought that would be a wonderful solution, but so many “experiences” that I would want for my family had only one gift-type option: the gift of membership. These memberships to places like museums and parks were upwards of $75. I just didn’t feel comfortable asking for these in lieu of physical presents, as I realistically would only visit these places once or twice a year due to geographical distance.

“But it’s the thought that counts.” Yes I agree. So here is my thought on the practice. What I would honestly love to receive is a letter, or more preferably a phone call from anyone who cares about me on my birthday. Ditto for Christmas although I’m not Christian in the least and the holiday causes a lot of grief for me (the consumerism, hustle and bustle, going here and there and all the dang traditions that it forces). So to be honest I could care less about Christmas. In turn, I will make a commitment to calling ALL close friends and family on their birthday and Christmas to have a real conversation with them, to connect with them. If by any chance some of them are physically with me visiting, then going out and doing an activity they enjoy while we spend time together is what I will give. To me this is what is important and meaningful, the most precious gift.

So I’m announcing to everyone that I’m bowing out of the traditional form of gift receiving and giving. Not all of my family knows yet, some that do are understanding (let’s be honest- I’m already kind of weird so it’s not a huge surprise, I’m just getting more “out there” than I already was). Some are in complete denial and insist that they give me gifts anyway. That is fine. I will receive the gifts with a recognition that this person is in their own way trying to please me (though it’s strange that they would do what I asked them not to do to accomplish this) and they will get donated to a charity where they will be of use to others less fortunate than me. This may sound harsh but I know that I don’t want to add any more objects to my home, as I’ve only become happier in making the decision to let more and more items go.

From what little I could find online of people that have made this lifestyle choice, it seems like this takes a few years for your family to get used to. For me, that’s ok as I’m not trying to shove my ideas down everyone’s throat, I’m just making a change that will make my life more in line with my personal values.

As for my daughter, that’s something my husband and I will need to discuss further. I’m loving the idea of “Something they want, something they need; Something to wear, something to read” from us and a limit of one gift per family member.

This blog post has turned into a guide for bowing out of gift giving and receiving, but could also be useful as encouragement to bow out of anything that doesn’t make the heart happy. So let us continue to reflect, consider and take action to live a life filled with joy and peace.

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What I Gained When I Ditched My TV

I know I made a post a couple weeks (months?) ago about getting rid of my TV, and it’s been a process to actually do it. Gurus, Yogis, Hippies, and enthusiastic Waldorf families are among the first stereotypes of individuals that come to mind when I think about all the folks that eschew television. It was kind of hard for me to let go. There is just something that’s a bit all-American about the TV. It’s how you watch the Super bowl, the Macy’s Day Parade, the ball drop on new year’s eve, and presidential debates. It’s become an access point for the never-ending procession of “water cooler shows” as well as its currect incarnation of an endless opportunity to binge-watch Netflix. Even in children’s programming you’re up against the ever-wholesome Sesame Street.

I’d love to say that parting with my TV is a statement I’m making against our consumerist culture, but in truth I was making that statement from the time I moved out on my own 7 years ago, by not ordering cable or finding a way to even get local channels. At that point TVs were just kind of given to me, and the then-boyfriend brought along plenty of videogame consoles that allowed for DVD watching, and my long term relationship with Netflix became established.

Netflix has been a good friend to me. It has given me old shows I thought I’d never see again, has allowed me to see fascinating documentaries and weird foreign films. But when Sierra came along, and I saw how immersed her whole being became when I turned on a show, it made me uncomfortable. The situation became even more volatile when I would turn off the TV and she would spiral into a full-on meltdown. Of course it being a huge flat screen that was the focal point of our living room didn’t help.

As the popular book title suggests, I believe that TV really is a Plug In Drug. It stimulates parts of the brain where neurons connect, and this constant stimulation over time creates strong bonds in the brain that crave constant stimuli. This is the point at which the silence of an empty house can drive you insane. Having the nice big flat screen there staring at you is like a starving child sitting next to a casino buffet. It’s almost excruciating to resist partaking in the Netflix smorgasbord.

So to get down and dirty, here was my process in amputating my TV from our home:

  1. Cancelled Netflix, first the DVD subscription, then Netflix instant. This was pretty painful, although to ease the pain I started following more health-wellness-educational channels on youtube.
  2. I unplugged the TV. This part would have never happened had my husband been here, and it took several explanations over the course of the next few weeks to Sierra of why we couldn’t watch TV anymore.
  3. Selling the TV. Of course, I did this through Craigslist and found that the TV was worth WAY less than it had been when it was new (come to find out they came out with smart and HD TVs that made my simple Plasma display passé). I did begin to panic when the buyer was on his way over, but after it was gone I felt a definite shift in the atmosphere in my living room. It was a calm, simple peace. No more big black box staring at me!

Now the awkward part is I have a big bulky entertainment center with a gaping hole in the middle. I’m working on getting it sold, but so far no one has gone through with buying. I’d love to say we are free from technology all together, but I know that will probably never happen. I use the computer for so many things, and my old mac lets me watch DVDs so we won’t be media free anytime soon.

What I’ve gained: I don’t feel compelled to watch every hot new show that the networks spew out (Gain: Time! also Time spent being productive, or making memories as a family). I don’t feel like I need to run out and buy any new products I see in ads (Gain: Money!). And I don’t pay for any subscriptions (Gain: More Money!) I was able to put the money from selling the TV to a worthy cause (Gain: Good VIBES!). Now if I feel boredom creeping, I have to use my brain to think of something worthwhile to do (Gain: Creativity). Also notice that keyword *do*. When you don’t rely on TV to distract your brain from real life, you find yourself moving your body to get things done more. This is good for your health and also can contribute to an exponential amount of other positive possibilities in your life (starting a small side business, selling clutter, trying new recipes, starting a garden, going on a hike, etc.) Its sort of sad but true that I used TV as an anti-depressant as well. Whenever I was feeling lonely or down, a stand up comedy special would help me smile again. But now I don’t get the quick fix, or the band-aid. Now I have to really feel my emotions, which is sometimes uncomfortable. But I know that in a way, this is important inner work, to really experience the deep feelings. It’s part of the human experience and a catalyst for introspection and reflection.

Remember: You have brains in your head, you have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. -Dr. Seuss

Turn Trash into Treasure Using Craigslist

Craigslist is an awesome ally to have in your quest to A) minimalize and B) gain wealth, two things that will increase your happiness for years to come. I also love it because it saves junk that would have gone into a landfill, or may have ended up being passed over at a thrift store, making a roundabout route to floating in the crystal blue ocean next to Free Willy. I’ve been using Craigslist so much lately  (and for a long time before that for that matter), that I’ve realized I made a lot of shitty decisions that ultimately screwed me out of cash and/or free time. On the other hand, I’ve also made a substantial chunk of change using it ($100 just in the past week!). So I’m going to give you some of my Craigslist tips so that you can sell your shit and get rich too. By the way, several of these tips can also be used on EBay, though I recommend only selling higher dollar (worth over $20) and smaller items on Ebay due to the shipping costs.

1. Post a descriptive title. When people search for items, they don’t always use the same wording that pops into your head. Sometimes people search for more broad categories as well, or they could do the opposite and search for a very specific brand. It’s best to cover all your bases.

-Don’t: “Honda Fit”

-Do: “Silver 2008 Honda Fit SE 4 cyl. Compact Hatchback with Manual Transmission, Low Miles and Clean Title”. You get the idea!

2. Act like you are a salesman when you are writing your description. Not only are you selling people on buying your old crap, you are letting them know that the item was appreciated and taken care of by you. It also lets them know that you are an enthusiastic seller and will be polite and responsive to them. If you’re not sure of what to say about the item, you can always google it and just use the item description you find!

-Don’t: Old jacket. Worn once. Text if interested.

-Do: I decided to part with my beautiful size M amber brown Michael Kors Trench coat with silk lining purchased at the Michael Kors boutique in Las Vegas. I received a similar one for my birthday and want it to go to someone who can use it! It is completely waterproof and comes from a smoke and pet free home. I will respond to all emails by the end of the day. Asking $40 but will accept lower offers after 5 days. Thank you for looking 🙂

3. Often people make the mistake of pricing an item too high and get discouraged and end up donating it. Don’t be daunted! Remember that anything used is only worth half of what it was new unless it’s a rare or very, very expensive item. Often it’s worth even less. The goal here isn’t to get back what you paid, but to recoup just some of your loss. If you are a craigslist buyer you can really luck out and sell the item you purchased on craigslist for the same price! No loss at all! Remember, it’s not about how much the item is worth but how much people are willing to pay for it. Do a craigslist search of your own to see what similar items are going for. Sometimes it’s not that you priced it too high but there’s just not anyone looking for that particular item at that time. Don’t be afraid to repost the ad, going down $5 in price each time.

-Do: Price items at half or less of the new price, going down or saying “Or best offer” if need be.

-Don’t: Overthink it. Remove your emotions from the equation and go into it with the fail-proof idea that you’re exchanging your unwanted crap for CASH!

4. Now this is arguably the most important part. Try and post lots of pictures if you can (think different angles, show all parts, show the original box if you have it, include a photo of the item new from the manufacturer). First, make sure the item is clean and presentable. Try to “showcase” the item by using natural light and photographing it against a neutral background. If other things get in the photo, crop them out. If the item is damaged don’t try to hide it but be honest about it and take photos of the blemishes as well. Just make sure to make the best picture the first one.

-Don’t: Post anything without a picture or with unclear pictures.

-Do: Clean the item first, and make it stand out.

4. You’d think the work is over after you publish your ad, but it’s not! Next you will need to field inquiries. If you’re lucky you’ll instantly get a great buyer that offers to come buy it, shows up on time and pays you what you ask. Sometimes buyers want to meet you in a public place. I always make sure I need to go the location anyway, such as the grocery store so that it’s not a waste of time if they flake. If I’m meeting them, I make sure to get their number so I can communicate where to find me. If they’re coming over to pick it up, I always give them my number and ask them to text me when they’re leaving before sending the address. This ensures you’re not waiting around for nothing.

-Do: Respond to the first interested person. Even if they offer you less, let them know you will get back to them if you can’t sell it for your asking price.

-Don’t: Give your address until they’re ready to pick up/on their way.

A lot of folks are leery of strangers off of craigslist, but I’ve never had a bad experience. In fact, I’ve made friends with some people over shared interest alone!

I hope this empowers you to empty the dusty attic out and do some posting. Let us know how it goes!

Finding Exponential Happiness in Empty Spaces

I’m finding that the more “stuff” I get rid of and the more “activities” I actually accomplish the happier I am, and the more I crave just going even further down the rabbit hole. If you haven’t yet read or heard of it, please do yourself a huge favor and check out the Mr. Money Mustache blog. It is an exceptionally written blog that is both smart and funny, both philosophical and practical. It has been one of the major inspirations for me to make such radical changes in my own life.

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My kitchen before it was filled up with appliances on the countertops!

I don’t even know where to begin with all the changes I have/am currently making. I have deactivated my facebook account. I am getting rid of my gas lawn mower and replacing it with an old fashioned manual push mower. I just bought a hybrid bike and am selling my big Japanese boat of a car (2011 Toyota Camry). I’m getting rid of most of my living room furniture soon. I keep making more and more trips to the local homeless shelter and Goodwill to drop off donations. I’m getting rid of all the appliances, spice racks, holders and other do-hickeys on my kitchen counters (besides my Vitamix which I’m stowing in one of the cabinets). I’m listing several items on eBay. In fact, I’ve already sold more than $500 worth of my old items that no longer served a purpose in my life. Happily, I’ve also been able to save up $2000. Some of my far-off goals are becoming financially independent and curing my rheumatoid arthritis, as well as becoming 85% self sustaining, and running a zero-waste household.

The main idea I’m contemplating right now is that living with the items and in the setting that makes you happy is more important than impressing everyone else, or even meeting their expectations at all. If you find something is no longer making you happy or is causing you stress, do your very best to change it so that it can make you happy. Sometimes what that amounts to is just knowing when to graciously let something go. The immediate reward to doing so is the wonderfully freeing area of space or time that is created when you let go of things, activities, and people that drag you down and steal your energy.

This is the snowball effect that happens- because as you have more energy and space you find that you have the confidence and motivation to let go of even more. You find things in your life that you can tweak or replace so that it most perfectly fits your own needs. One of the hardest things for me to do has been to get rid of gifts that people have given me. Even if it is an ugly outdated article of clothing that never fit right, it’s still hard to say goodbye to the little part of it that reminds you of the person. The best technique I’ve used that helps me do this is to just remember that the item itself was not the gift. In fact, the real gift was that special person selecting that item and presenting it to you, with the intention of showing you they cared. That should be the special memory, and that actually has little to do with the specific memento that they chose.

My foot is so swollen from the RA right now that sometimes it is painful to walk. People keep telling me I should get on disability but in all honesty I feel more excited than ever to get things done for myself. I know I can heal my disease, though I’m not sure how long it will take. I know I’ll keep trying to do it by creating a stress-free (or stress-minimized) environment for my mind and body to exist in. Even if I don’t heal my RA, I am happy to take this journey and am looking forward to seeing the results that come about.

4 Steps to a Calm your Clutter

We all have been there at one time or another in our lives. Life gets busy, the job gets demanding, the social life gets full, and before you know it there’s a pile of clothes here, a paper laden countertop there. When you live in your house, it’s easy to allow clutter to build up and then sink into the background where it just becomes part of the scenery. If you ever look at model homes, or homes on pinterest or in magazines, it seems so clean and organized, in a way that is almost unattainable for those of us normal folk who don’t have professional organizers, interior designers or housekeepers dropping by any time soon. Even though we are just one person who is likely knee deep in everything else that is going on in our lives, there are still a few things we can do to create a beautiful, peaceful and organized home for ourselves. After all, what is the point of being at home if we cannot relax and feel tranquil while there?

1. Find ONE place for everything.

I’m sure by now you’ve heard the old motto “A place for everything and everything in its place” likely spoken in your mind by a sixties housewife with a blonde bob and freshly pressed white cotton sundress. But one way to make that more attainable in reality is to have all items of the same type in one place together, instead of spread out around the house. For instance, keep all linens in the hall closet, all towels in the main bathroom (except the one for your child or guests in the extra bathroom), All baking stuff on one shelf in the kitchen, all mail in one designated spot. This makes it so much easier to find things and also encourages you to go put it back.

2. No Duplicates

I’m going to throw myself under the bus here and admit that at one time we had three different board games of Monopoly. No, they were not different themed monopoly boards, just good ol’ classic monopoly. Why? There is no real reason and they were just taking up mores space. Of course there are exceptions such as coffee mugs and other eatery, pens and other dispensables. But don’t go too crazy with stockpiling those either!

3. Keep Only What is Practical

There is no set list for this, as what’s practical to one person may be completely unnecessary or useless to another. The other day I read a blog that insisted one doesn’t need a rice cooker or a bread machine in their kitchen. Well, maybe some people. But I believe no matter what items you have, as long as you use them regularly then that’s what matters. For seasonal items, they should be stowed away. For items that you haven’t used in over a year… you know where I’m going with this, don’t you?

“But what about my great grandmas antique silk paintaquiltdoily from the 30s?” you ask. That brings me to…

4. Keep Only What You LOVE

This one is probably the hardest of all. When we get gifts, especially from people we care about, it is hard to let go of those things when we really just don’t want or need them. Sometimes we might spend a lot of money on an item that we absolutely were obsessed with at the time. Other things we may have used a lot or identified with in the past, but just don’t serve us any more. It’s important to constantly reevaluate what you have in your home as it’s definitely affecting your energy and the vibes you are surrounding yourself with. Now is the time to let go of anything that is slightly less than what you are happy about.

There you have 4 simple ways to declutter your space. Really about 90% of it is donating or throwing away everything that’s keeping you from a beautiful, organized and happy environment. For a great read that elaborates on this idea, check out The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

Achieving True Greatness

I used to think I wanted to go out in life and do great things. I wanted to have accomplished something noteworthy, or be known by a lot of people. What I’ve come to find now is that I really want to be an intelligent, magnetic, multifaceted person to myself. Impressing myself! What a strange idea. This doesn’t mean I’m egotistical (though everybody is to an extent); just that I want to be the kind of person that I would admire.

I used to think that material possessions would make me happy: beautiful designer clothes, a brand new house, a flashy car. At this point (and I think having a daughter has helped be become way more humble) I would be more impressed with myself the LESS I have. Also my mind is starting to expand. My scope of consciousness is becoming so much wider. Learning what really is important, and staying focused on that has become in the forefront of my mind.

Listening to the vibration of your heart instead of the loud messages we get from ads and magazines and movies would free us up so much to follow our true passions and to live authentically. I’ve only just begun trying to undo all the messages I have received from this society I’m in: how to live, how to dress, how to eat, how to spend my time and money. I’ve decided to take the road less traveled instead of the busy highway. It’s rocky and can get lonely at times, but it’s more beautiful and peaceful here. I’ve realized that greatness isn’t all about the accomplishments on my resume, but the space of peace and fulfillment that exists in my own soul.

Getting Minimalist with Toddlers

Often times people will walk into my house and say “I love the energy in here,” or “this feels so zen.” To me, that is the biggest compliment they could give to my home. My life is already so stressful just because I have a husband in the army, I watch six small children during the day and one 24/7, I live in a high traffic area, and life just takes so much time. Preparing healthy meals, doing laundry, cleaning, cloth diapering, meeting with friends, grocery shopping and taking care of myself on top of that just jam packs my days for the most part. One of the major things that keeps me sane and grounded is that my house (for the most part!) is pretty orderly and peaceful.

To say that this is “just the person I am” as the reason my home is this way would be the biggest lie I’ve ever told. In all honesty I’d rather leave my grungy jammies on the floor, I’d rather swing my towel over the top of the door than hang it neatly on the towel rack. I’d rather leave my jewelry on the bathroom counter! The problem is the convenience and lackadaisicalness of these things is very similar to racking up debt on a credit card- it’s just something you will have to deal with later, and probably when you have even LESS time than you do now! What minimalism does to help you in your battle for peace in your home is it allows you space and clarity so it is easy to see what is important. It makes it easy to find what you’re looking for. It makes it so simple to put your items back where they belong. It makes taking care of your possessions a joy rather than a burden.

I hear a lot of folks talk about how they need to block out a date to organize and get rid of junk, some even hire a professional to step in and do it for them! The best way (coincidentally my way) is really to just do it all the time. Think of every spare increment of time you have in your day as a time to look around and see what you don’t need anymore. Notice all the little things that have been bothering you (that cobweb up in the corner) and take care of it then. Think of the act of getting rid of things you don’t need like a spiral dance, one which you do constantly. You would think that not buying more things is an easy solution, but even that isn’t enough. Especially if your children have a few pairs of adoring grandparents, it might seem impossible to stay minimalist with the constant influx of toys.

One way to sort out what is important is to look out for what your children enjoy playing with. Give away any toys that your child has stopped playing with. Designate an area in your home for toys, and do not allow any more toys than what will fit. You can even explain this limit to your child so they understand why they can’t keep all the toys on the planet! Throw away broken toys (unless you will repair it today). Look out for toys that may be too advanced for your child, or those which are too complex or intricate for their age range. I am definitely not a fan of bins for toys, as bins seem to encourage children to dump the contents out. Instead, I prefer to display the most used, loved, high quality, and beautiful toys on open shelving. If a toy has too many loose parts, it’s ok to remove many and only enough to capture interest.

playroomHere is my playroom before.

playroom2Here is my playroom after.

As you can see, they are pretty similar. Some of the changes and reasons:

– Bins are gone! Too much dumping of bins and standing on baskets which was ruining them!

– Curtains removed! They pulled them down.

– Painting removed! They kept taking it down.

-Dollhouse removed! They mostly wanted to stand on it!

– Bookshelf removed! They kept throwing the books and small toys behind it, and kept trying to climb it which was unsafe.

+Step bridge added! This was a great purchase as it allows them a safe place to climb and jump!

+Unit blocks added! These are very high quality, heavy, durable, precise blocks. I removed about half of the set to make them easier to manage. Great for open-ended play!

+Line with clothespins added! If you look you will see it on the top right. It is out of their reach but allows them to see their own art on display! Beautiful and practical.

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So there you have it! Some of the reasons I started my minimalist journey and ways I’ve found to implement minimalism with my kiddos.