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?

 

 

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10 Ideas for an Eco-Friendly Christmas

1. Keep it simple.

Just pick the most important traditions that have meaning for you, leave the new fads behind. When I was pregnant I babysat for a family with three kids who had the popular “Elf on the Shelf.” The kids all loved the elf but one day when I arrived the mom explained to me her kids would be upset because she forgot to move the elf. She was frantically pouring out flour onto a cutting board and trying to set the elf up so it looked like it was making a snow angel before they woke up. The holidays already have enough traditions to keep everyone happy, do we need to buy into marketing’s attempts to make more just to increase profits?

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2. Reevaluate the gift giving tradition altogether.

Gifts can be wonderful to give and receive, but often gifts may not be the right fit for the individual, or maybe they already have everything they need. The wrapping, shipping and packing materials of presents on such a large scale uses precious resources and creates a monumental amount of waste in the environment. Everyone can donate to one another’s favorite charity, volunteer together, or just spend time doing an activity like going to the movies or for a hike. Gifts can also be in the form of gift cards or certificates for experience activities such as a wildlife reserve, a playhouse or a museum. You also could simply ask your loved ones to spend time with you instead of getting gifts. You can see the letter I used this year: Dear Friends and Family.

3. Re-imagine gifts.

If you do give physical presents, select items that you know for sure the receiver will need and use. For instance if you know they drink a specific type of tea regularly, you are guaranteed to give them something they will appreciate and use. Alternatively, any gifts that are made from natural materials, or that can be used up such as homemade cookies, soap or candles are likely to be well received. Thrifting items such as vintage cookie tins or eclectic frames to use to children’s artwork can make wonderful heartfelt gifts as well.

4. Promote an existing tree to “Christmas Tree.”

 

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By using a tree (or a bush, or a plant) that’s growing instead of going out and chopping down a Christmas tree or supporting an industry that does, we’re honoring the beauty in a living tree’s ability to absorb carbon and emit oxygen.

On first glance it would seem that buying a fake tree would be eco-friendly but the truth is that these trees often are made from synthetic materials that emit harmful gases, they tend to break or become bedraggled after a few years, and eventually find their way into the landfill. Not so cheery. Alternatively, you can string up your ornaments across a threshold, mantle or wall which actually causes you to look at them more often and more closely, enjoying them every time you walk by!

 

5. Use nature, or food items as decor.

It is a wonderful thing to have heirloom ornaments you use year after year, but unfortunately the vast majority of ornaments today are the exact opposite- quite disposable. What better way to bring beauty to your home than creating ornaments from the beauty of nature? String a popcorn garland, use found pine cones, create snowflakes out of sticks, or try drying orange slices to create beautiful 100% free and biodegradable ornaments.

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6. Go out into nature.

Going out around the holidays often encourages needless consumption, whether it be buying a Styrofoam cup of hot cocoa or sparkly mass produced ornament that catches the eye. If you do go out, it’s best to have a plan that is sustainable- think a tree lighting, the ice rink, going caroling (do people still do that anymore?) or visit a friend. Though it is probably cold, bundling up and going out into nature fosters appreciation for the natural world, gives us a chance to exercise and breathe fresh air without creating waste. Snow can be very beautiful and playing in it with our family provides us with endless fun and precious memories.

7. Rethink the Christmas card.

Send an e-card or family video instead of greeting cards. If you must send greeting cards, select postcards which cut on paper used and require a cheaper stamp as well.

8. Cook and bake from scratch.

Cooking and baking as a family can be an enjoyable tradition unto itself while also being practical. Not only does making food from scratch taste way better, it also cuts down on packaging (especially when you buy bulk and bring your own bags and jars!) and is almost always cheaper in the long run. When we bake from scratch we know exactly what went in to the food we’re eating, and we don’t have to worry about toxic preservatives and artificial dyes.

9. Give back.

Go through the cabinets and donate any unwanted canned food. Also go through the closets and give any spare coats or other items to a homeless shelter or other charity shop. Host a soldier, pick an angel from a giving tree to prepare gifts for deserving children, volunteer at a soup kitchen or make baskets to give to families in need. There are so many ways to give back. Check your local library, community center or college to see what opportunities are available to serve your community. This simple act allows us to feel the magic of community, feel happiness in giving and lets us have gratitude for what we already have in our lives.

10. Consider staying home.

Of course, public transportation is the next best thing. Traveling cross-country? Take the bus for the smallest carbon footprint. Next best, a fuel-efficient vehicle, train and at the bottom of the list-air travel.

However you choose to spend the holiday season, I hope it is filled with peace, joy and simplicity!

The Only Personal Finance Blog You Need

Decluttering my bathroom a few days ago, I came across a tired looking little bottle of Burberry perfume. It was purchased roughly 4 years ago for me by my now husband. I don’t remember what the occasion was but it was some holiday. it may have been valentines day, my birthday, our anniversary or Christmas. Like most Americans we have traditionally bought each other and everyone else we know often extravagantly expensive and unnecessary presents for every occasion. That is but one leak in our huge explosive geyser of waste that has been our financial situation from the time we just met each other 7 years ago to just about 6 months ago when I discovered the Mr Money Mustache blog. since discovering that blog my life has changed so dramatically.

Not only am I more active, I’m way more practical, healthy and financially competent. I am actually way enthusiastic about making the changes I have, such as deciding to sell my car, buying a bike and bike trailer and getting really really really cheap cell phone plans. Also preparing all my meals at home from scratch and no longer buying unnecessary stuff has made my life not just more frugal but actually more enjoyable. I enjoy thinking up ways to save money and can’t wait to do even more in the future. I started this blog originally because I have so many ideas bouncing around in my head, but this concept of easy frugality has been a game changer.

I no longer care about what other people are doing with their money. Of course, deleting Facebook caused me to look more closely at my own life- my own priorities and values instead of everyone else’s. I have gone on a low-information diet, and I now see so much clearer than I did when my mind was cluttered with unnecessary information from magazines, commercials, advertisements and the regular onslaught of meaningless shit from random people, most I may barely know.

I admit, with each change I make it does feel as if I’m about to step off a cliff. In the end I usually decide to take the leap because I have assurance that there will be a wonderous net of a beautiful, simple naturalistic and free lifestyle that will catch me as I let go of all the trappings of my consumer driven life. The feeling is an intense and addicting combination of excitement and fear. the more stuff I get rid of the more stuff I want to get rid of.

A big part of me is still afraid that everyone who comes over to my house will judge me for not having all the makings expected of an average target-shopping suburban housewife home. I’m also afraid that my husband will start/continue to think I’m crazy and will be unhappy to leave his comfortable bubble of consumption. Even with all these looming possibilities, what I want is to be surrounded by the items that mean something to me. I want my dwelling to be filled with only the objects and tools that make me smile, that serve my life in a positive way and help me to become the person I believe I am meant to be.

Right now, for me, that means getting rid of my TV. Not just my TV, but also the Xbox and Netflix. I will still have my computers which I can use to get entertainment and information and watch DVDs (as I have a Mac from 2008 that still plays them.) I’m afraid that if I do this there will really be no turning back. I will no longer be able to lay back on the couch and flip on the screen and forget about my problems. I will no longer be able to keep up with all the new episodes and series that are coming out, leaving me with a little bit less to talk about with other everyday people.

The only downside is that the more I let go of the more I am becoming an outsider. I hope that one day I can find a community where I can truly learn and grow and not feel ashamed of the lifestyle I am choosing. Until then I will keep making small steps and jumping off the cliffs as they come up. Of course I will report what happens strait back to you. Thanks for coming along with me on this journey.

Why I Broke Up With Wholefoods

You know when you were a little kid and you knew a field trip was coming up? And the night before the field trip you’d toss and turn with excitement? Well, I used to think of making the journey to the Wholefoods in Sacramento with the same feeling. I had just become vegan at the time (I was a teenager living at home in the suburbs), and Wholefoods was like the golden ticket to eating all the food I was used to eating in my sinfully omnivorous days. Tofutti Break! was a popular outcry in my house, and I had several brands of soy burgers always in rotation. There was also a point a few years later when I had just finished reading Alicia Silverstone’s The Kind Diet that I spent $500 on a whole slew of macrobiotic groceries that filled up my personal mini fridge and a dedicated pantry shelf at Wholefoods. The checker did not bat an eye.

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Now that I live an hour from the nearest Wholefoods, I’ve learned to completely live happily without it, and have grown to respect the many ways in which taking Wholefoods out of my grocery equation has saved me time, money, and a whole lot of empty calories from my diet. First I started with the organic options at my nearby HEB, which I’ve found you really can get by with most of the basics such as spinach apples, and all kinds of pantry staples. In the produce department I graduated to using Bountiful Baskets, a more direct supplier-to-customer type of group that has spread nearly everywhere.

They have the regular basket and also the organic basket, which is regrettably quite a bit smaller than the regular basket at while a full $10 more is tacked on to the price tag. Now I am so happy with a strait up CSA (community supported agriculture) program brought to me by Austin’s own Johnson’s Backyard Garden. Not only is the organic produce so much more fresher, it is very local and a farm that is actually a family business that cares about its customers. There is no huge line to wait in either! I just pick up my basket at my local organic restaurant So Natural.

I have been very excited in stocking up on most of my bulk dried items (such as beans and grains) at In.Gredients, the FABULOUS zero-waste market in Austin. But because of the distance I only go by when I have other activities that call me that direction. Otherwise, it’s the organic options for these one-ingredient packaged foods at HEB. I also use SAM’s Club for their surprising offerings like organic agave nectar, almond butter, bananas and Chia seeds.

Melluvia Babe enjoying organic whole rolled oats for brekkie

Nowadays, most of the food I eat is very simple, and made of extremely basic ingredients, such as oatmeal with raisins for breakfast, a simple salad with leftover veggie soup for lunch, and a flavorful asian stir fry with rice for dinner. As you stop buying packaged, frozen, canned and otherwise processed foods you really begin to stop craving them. As you only have the basic items in your arsenal, you are forced to get creative in the kitchen. I’ve started to love cooking again, and really knowing that the food I’m eating and feeding my family is not only completely healthy but didn’t cost me an arm and a leg.

I still have many friends that continue to shop at Wholefoods and love it. One friend on the Dr. McDougall diet fills her cart with frozen fruit. Another is an overweight vegan who stocks up on the wildest of novel concoctions of foodstuffs like lemon bar flavored sugar free raw paleo dessert morsels. While I do think Wholefoods can be an exciting place with a world of flavor possibilities, it is so easy to spend a WHOLE lot of money on (when it comes down to it) what is simply energy for your body.

I look forward to posting my next blog about other new changes going on in my life right now!

Wishing for Less

Sometimes all we need is a little less. There is a huge and profound connection between owning less, having less stress, spending less money and having less health problems. When we let go of the things in our life that don’t serve us by either being of practical use or pleasing to our senses, we actually begin to highlight the things in our life that really do serve us by making us more happy and productive.

The more we let go of, the more gratifying it is to live our lives amongst the treasured and trusted objects that we have carefully selected to be a part of our day to day routines. We begin to notice the way we feel more, we have space for quiet contemplation and tranquility in our day. When we own less it also forces us to think creatively. Instead of going to the store so we can buy all the latest technology, we can spend our time exploring the potential of the nifty things we already own- such as all the settings of our digital camera or rediscovering our collection of CDs from college (Radiohead, anyone?). When we own less there is less to worry about, manage and maintain. Even if it is as simple as a big assortment of totes with random bits and bobs taking up space in the attic, it still causes us mental clutter when we are reminded of these items and we expend mental energy trying to remember what is stored there and if those things are still useful to us, and even thinking about decisions of what to do with the items. When we surround ourselves with only the things that we truly love and care for, we feel less compelled to purchase new items on a whim or because everyone else has it. This saves us loads of money over time- money that we can use to pay off debt, invest, or donate to a great cause. When we become less stressed, we have the mental energy to pursue our interests instead of parking it on the couch for a night of TV watching. Even better- when we cut out TV all together, we automatically will find other exciting activities to pursue that don’t involve sitting in front of a screen. Naturally this will help to burn calories as we spend our time having fun and being active.

These are just some of the many ways that owning less opens up doors to exuberant happiness in our lives. There are no rules or time limits to how one should go about minimizing, and the journey to owning less will be as unique as the person taking it.

10 Things You Can Stop Buying Now

Over the years, I have picked up many different ideas for how to become more sustainable, how to save money, and how to live a healthier life. Many of these ideas are a perfect union of those three attributes, and even though some of these may require a small investment up front, the items can be used for years to come.

1. Notecards/Thank You Cards/ Stationary / Birthday cards

You don’t have to be a master scrapbooking hobbyist to make your own notecards. It can be as simple as using the back of your children’s artwork, or cutting out pictures from old cards and pasting them on the blank spaces behind the front of old cards.

2. Wrapping Paper and Gift Bags

When I think of all the Christmases as a child where we overloaded our trash can with heaps of crumpled wrapping paper, tissue paper and ripped up gift bags I cringe. I’ve been saving my gift bags and tissue paper for years, and have a stash of about a dozen or so to choose from at any given time. I keep ribbons and bows, and a variety of small boxes as well. My dad always used the funnies from the newspaper as wrapping paper, and my aunt always sewed simple gift bags from discount fabrics. She also made reusable cross stitched gift tags to accompany the bags, and they’ve had decades of use with zero waste! Ingenious!

3. Cleaning Products

With a few very inexpensive household products (think vinegar, and baking soda) you can make very dependable and eco-friendly cleaning products that get the job done. You can make fancier recipes using alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, lemon juice and essential oils as well, but I’ve found most things can be easily cleaned using just those two ingredients.

4. Paper Towels and Napkins

Start stocking up on dish towels (keep a drawer or basket of them in the kitchen) and you will never again need to buy paper towels. Same for cloth napkins and disposable napkins. To make it easier on myself I put a small bucket on the counter to throw the dirty ones into, then I just throw them in the wash when the bucket gets full.

5. Herbs

It is so simple and easy to grow your own herbs. If you live in a cold climate, you can always find an empty windowsill to use. Herbs grow relatively quickly and take up very little space. Right now I’m growing oregano, mint, dill, rosemary, sage and basil, but you can grow virtually any herb you can think of. For an even cheaper option, you can order organic herb seeds online. Many herbs are perennial meaning they will continue to grow, giving you a limitless supply of fresh herbs! You can even grow rosemary just by taking a sprig off and putting it in the dirt. So easy!

6. Bottled Water

This one is kind of a no-brainer. I think the key to this is thinking ahead. For one, you will need several high quality water bottles (think stainless steel or these glass ones I love) for multiple members of your family, and also for when some are in the dishwasher or lost. Plastic ones are cheaper, but they may release nasty chemicals into your water when they get hot or sit for a long time. Keep some in the fridge so they are cold and ready to grab and go when you’re headed out the door. Then when you get back home, make sure to bring your water bottle back inside. It starts to become second-nature when you do it consistently.

7. Disposable Diapers

Cloth diapers are not the cotton fabric and safety pins that your grandma used. Today they come in many different kinds that are so easy to put on with snaps and Velcro, and come in many cute patterns. They are also much easier to store and wash then you’d think. All you need is a large wet bag for home, and a small wet bag for on the go. It zips completely closed and keeps them nice and contained. About half of the diapers my daughter uses now are the same ones we bought before she was born (she’s now 2!). I think I will write another blog post just on cloth diapering soon!

8. Pads or Tampons

Cloth pads are infinitely more comfortable than disposables, and all you need is enough for a few days as you can just throw them in the washer. On the other hand, there are many reusable menstrual cups such as the Mooncup that can be easily rinsed off each time.

9. Tupperware

I actually can’t believe that I’ve just started doing this, it is so obvious and easy. Just save all the glass jars when you use up your pantry items such as all-natural peanut butter, pasta sauce, jam and pickles. You can use them to store dry goods like beans, grains, loose herbs and teas, and also to store leftovers in the fridge. Just rinse them out and run them through the dishwasher to use again and again.

10. Toothpaste

There are many recipes floating around out there for home-made toothpaste, and most of them involve baking soda, charcoal, and mint essential oils. Infinitely cheaper, infinitely less waste, and much healthier for you as they don’t contain dangerous chemicals like fluoride.

There are so many other things you can stop buying now if you think outside the box. Oftentimes when I feel the need to buy something, I just wait a few days and I usually think of something I already have to use instead. What have you stopped buying?