How to Make Decisions (Uncomplicated)

When I describe the KonMari method to people it is so simple it seems stupid at first. “Make a pile of like-objects, hold each one in your hands and as yourself, ‘does this bring me joy?’ Discard the nos and keep the yesses.”

This is as basic as addition (subtraction?) and is a method that has proven effective for both me and millions of others around the world.

I would never attempt to say that I have an idea as amazing as the KonMari method, but I can’t help but wonder, “what if there were a similar method, not for objects, but for making decisions on how we spend our time?”

 

With that thought, I created this diagram a long time ago, when I was at the height of my Mustachian fandom. I wanted to illustrate the idea that making educated, controlled decisions, no matter how minor they may seem, add up to a more meaningful life over time. A great example of what a best choice might be is probably the most Mustachian activity imaginable: riding a bike. It saves you money by not using gas or increasing the wear and tear on your car (Increases Wealth) it gives you an opportunity to exercise (increases endorphins=Increases Happiness) (increases heart health and muscle tone= Increases Health). Some examples, such as riding a bike, are universally obvious. Others are more personal and depend greatly upon your specific situation, personal values and circumstances.How to Make DecisionsStarting a side business, for instance, could easily end up costing you money if you’re not careful. On the other hand, if your business requires little in the way of overhead and is flexible enough for you to keep your job, it would end up satisfying the goals of increasing health, wealth and happiness- making it a best choice for you. Off the top of my head the idea of walking dogs could be perfect for someone who loves dogs. You would get outside, get exercise, spend time with fluffy animals who are always happy to see you, and increase your wealth by making some extra money. Even if your side business does not satisfy all of these requirements, it is still worthwhile even if there’s only a chance it could meet all the requirements in the future.

Selling jewelry, for instance, may not increase your health and it may cost you a lot to buy supplies, meaning you’d just break even. If the happiness it brings you is worth it however, it might be something to stick with because it is quite possible in the future to have enough business to increase your wealth through it. Overall, I’d say even if your choice only includes two out of three criteria, it is worth pursuing if it’s not possible or practical to make a choice that includes all three.

If the choice meets one requirement, it’s a “good choice.” If it meets 2, it’s a “better choice,” and if it meets three, that it’s the “best choice.”

Though it may seem obvious at this point, if a prospective choice doesn’t enhance your health, wealth or happiness it should no longer be something for we should consider at all. Like the possessions you need to ‘let go’ when you’re tidying, there are choices in life that we have to decide for ourselves to walk away from. Leaving a time commitment, hobby, job or relationship can be a painful decision- especially if we have invested a great deal of time, money and energy on the endeavor. If the choice affects someone else, it can be downright scary to even consider abandoning the commitment. As a motivating thought there is a fundamental defect in staying in these scenarios that are solely for the benefit of other people.

The problem is that all the little choices we make for other people will slowly accumulate into a life that doesn’t advance us to our true destiny.

On the flip side, the more we examine each choice we make in the present moment and evaluate its potential to propel us forward, the closer we come to living to our true potential. No one else can decide for us what it means to be healthy, wealthy, and happy- although there is a great deal of research that points to what can statistically contribute to a higher quality of life for most people. If you’d like to learn more about this topic, I’d highly recommend the documentary “Happy” on Netflix instant. It is a captivating film that I am positive will be worth your time.

To give a quick recap in case I lost you:

We make choices at almost every minute of every day.

The choices we make affect our mood, our health, and our financial freedom (or bondage).

When we make choices that increase our health, wealth, and happiness we generally become better people over time.

We can think of it like a software program that mandatorily updates to the newest version every day. Do you want your newest version to work well, to be fluid and run at optimal performance or do you want your newest version to run slow, have kinks and crash all the time? Of course you want it to be better than before! This philosophy and diagram is simply an external cue for being present in every moment; having awareness of our own free will and life force.

Simply trying to feel happy in the moment actually can backfire, but as this wonderful article points out, we can make an effort to plan our time out in a way that incorporates our most rewarding activities.

I’m currently choosing to use mine to spend time with my family and close friends, to make art and music, to learn web development, garden, eat well and move closer to a more minimal, intentional and eco-friendly environment in my home.

How will you use yours?

 

 

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.

Claiming A Creative Life

“Remember to stay inside the lines” said the spinsterly teacher abruptly, making me jump in my short plastic chair. Looking up, I saw the black pits of her nostrils as she peered down at my work through the  impossibly small glasses propped on the end of her nose. Sitting there under the fluorescent lights, at the woodgrain laminate table with my peeled and broken crayons scattered around my stark white Xeroxed worksheet, I felt a hot flash of anger rush straight up from my stomach to the skin of my cheeks. As I burned with the rage of an angry boar, I swallowed hard, gritted my teeth and forced my head to jerk down in a quick nod, dismissing the intruder that interfered with my artistic flow.

That was the beginning of my rebellion. I was in second grade summer school because I couldn’t pass math. I remember sobbing over my miniature primary colored counting bears as my Dad would try to demonstrate the simple concepts over and over and over. I was able to pass, and eventually went on to take all the math that was required to get into college, and miraculously, to cobble together enough algebra and statistics courses to get a bachelor’s degree. At each and every gradual level, I struggled and worried and sweated over my assignments and exams. At the end of each semester, I sighed in relief when my grades confirmed I had made it by the skin of my teeth.

Of course it isn’t remotely uncommon to struggle with math in an academic setting, but I’ve really never been cut out for any type of activity that depends on exact and precise maneuvers. When a very strict process of completion is required I become extremely tense and agitated. After second grade, I slowly began to detest school more and more as the years went on. Art class, and art activities offered a space where I found peace. I also took respite in a few other places at school- anywhere that granted me freedom- to write, to cut wood, to play music, to perform a poem, to do anything the way I wanted to do it, really.

a chalk drawing from high school.
a chalk drawing from high school.

Sierra gasps in surprise and points, shouting happily, “Look, Mooom, an American Flag!” every time she discovers one when driving through town. Our city, being home to the biggest army post in the country, is extremely patriotic, and somehow at the age of 2 she is already buying into the concept that that piece of fabric is revered and celebrated by everyone. Despite all the pitfalls of this country- my biggest gripe being over-consumption (by our citizens AND our government), I love this freedom that has been granted to us. I have an understanding and gratitude for how precious and protected this freedom is and must be. But what good is this freedom that we have if as a society we are put in a position where we aren’t encouraged, or even allowed in some cases, to use it the way we want to, the way our souls were meant to?

A little over ten years later, I found myself once again under the fluorescent lights of a public school classroom, this time standing next to a professor peering at my art work through her black frame glasses.

“The composition of your piece on the right is much better” she asserted.

“I kind of prefer the left one’s composition, myself.”

“Why are you here? Why do you come to class if you don’t want to learn?” she snapped. She continued on a diatribe about art theory that I again forced myself to nod along too. She never again approached me to critique my work.

It is extremely easy for conscious and creative people like us to stumble upon and conjure up thoughts, ideas, plans and dreams throughout our waking and sleeping hours. But how can we stake a claim outwardly in our practical lives so that these stirrings and impulses can become a full expression, a living fruition?

We do it by ignoring the critics, the naysayers, the “professionals,” the detractors, and most frequently, those who use the excuse of “having our best interest at heart.” We must block the negative energies and the poison arrows from flying into the camp of our deeper feeling. We must look out for the trojan horses- the advice that on the surface promises safety and comfort, but inside is full of all manner of chains and cages designed to cripple our creative forces. We fight for the time, the space, the resources to do our creative work- not just for a a half hour on Sundays but as a regular routine in our lives. We must consider our creative work with the same non negotiable priority that we apply to practicing personal hygiene and eating regular meals. Going to work, keeping clothes on our backs and a roof over our head allows us to survive in this world, no doubt about it. But what good is survival for the human body when the soul of the person is suppressed, banished and exiled?

Of course many of us are completely happy with the types of lifestyles and activities that can effortlessly be acquired and maintained in our society- for some of us the choices we wish to make happen to be those that are widely agreed upon by the popular culture, and we will face little to no adversity. But if you’re reading this blog, it’s more than likely that you are like me. We aren’t made to color inside the lines. We weren’t made to blindly be lead by people that happen to assume positions of authority. We were made with eyes that see beauty and light, with ears that hear to the call of the wild, with hearts that feel the pang of deep emotion, with instincts that smell the rancid breath of those that use fancy words to attempt to manipulate us into submission. I promise you that we have the power within ourselves to overcome anyone who would try and stand between us and our creative work. All that’s needed is a recognition that the power is there, and the conscious awareness to use that power.

When we begin to express our innermost soul urgings outwardly, people start to spot us from a mile away. We begin to stand out like a beet stuck in a bundle of carrots. We probably won’t fit in so well, if at all, and people will innocently start to ask us to please just maybe be a little less red, a little more orange, less rough, a little thinner, a little sweeter. It is then and there that we must immediately use that power, that trust and strength of conviction that courses through our veins. All that is left is to keep doing the work that we’re doing, the work that we’re loving- the way only we can do it, and not stop until WE are satisfied- when we know we have successfully brought our soul baby from the ovaries of our spirit into the earthly realm.

I can assure you, it won’t be easy to do. but I promise that for the artists, the musicians, the writers, the activists, the philosophers, the poets, the witches, the dancers, the builders, the designers, the gardeners, the scholars, the cooks, the adventurers that we are- it’s as essential to our soul lives as oxygen is to our physical bodies.