Mankind, left free, instinctively complicates life."
Katherine Gerould (1879 - 1944)
In our efforts to live the 'good life', we can easily find ourselves overwhelmed by seemingly endless choices, decisions and activities.
Here are a few ways to help slow down, and give ourselves time to remember who we are and what is really important in our lives.
And as we simplify, the environment also benefits.
Start... by Stopping
Each new day is a blank canvas which we fill with a checklist of tasks. But every minute need not be structured and scheduled. Try stopping from time to time, and make conscious contact with your inner self. Let go of the need for maximum daily achievement and become comfortable doing nothing, if only for a short while. Take the time to lay down on a blanket outside and watch the clouds. Bring some crumbs for the birds and watch them enjoy. Or check out the stars for a few minutes before going to sleep. An occasional dose of non-doing lets you slow down to appreciate the pleasures of the moment, however simple, and gain a fresh perspective on how your time is spent each day.
A brief daily meditation, even for just 15 minutes, is your chance to turn off the rest of the world and listen to yourself. Our fast-paced modern lifestyle delivers a steady barrage of information, obligation and responsibility. Meditation clears the mind and relaxes the body.
Meditation does not require incense, mandalas, mantras or the perfect lotus position. It only requires you to be comfortable, quiet and to try to clear your mind. A few tips:
- Consistency :: Try to meditate every day, even if only for a few minutes. The benefits are cumulative.
- Location :: Choose a quiet space where you will not be disturbed. Turn off the phone. If possible, meditate in the same spot every day.
- Breathe :: Focus on your breathing to help clear your mind and relax your body.
- Try not to think :: Listen to your heart, feel the energy in your body, let an empty breeze flow through your mind. Above all, try not to organize your day or problem solve.
- Lower your expectations :: The benefits of meditation are substantial, but subtle. Do not look for results - they will find you.
- Make it last :: As you leave your meditation space, try to extend the relaxed, focused feeling into your day. Every few hours, if you think of it, take a slow deep breath and envision your meditation space. Meditation can help you feel more relaxed and focused throughout the day.
The best things in life are not things. Clutter fills more than our shelves and closets - it permeates our lives. We work hard to be able to afford things, many of which require care, cleaning, storing, insuring, protecting... and the media and the merchants are constantly offering us the next "must have".
The cost of consumer goods goes beyond the price tag. Environmental costs come from resource extraction, manufacture, shipping, and waste management. Consumer demand drives industrial pollution. Here are a few tips to simplify and help "de-consume":
- Teach your children :: Let your children know about the direct link between consumer goods and environmental costs, then let them make their own decisions. Show them that when you make a purchase, it is for the inherent value of the item and not for social status. Remember the hidden costs of the things you consume. Sooner or later you or your children will pay those costs.
- Enjoy non-material pleasures :: Whether alone or enjoyed with others, non-material pursuits offer lasting and immeasurable benefits - music, sports, hobbies, crafts, and games contribute to personal development with little cost to you or the environment .
- Give sustainably :: Birthday and holiday gifts do not have to be the latest consumer goods. In future posts, I will offer tips for sustainable giving for non-commercial gift ideas... be sure to check back soon!
- Share, swap, trade :: Start a tool share with neighbors or family for tools which may not be used too often - lawn mower, power saw, compressor, ladder, paint sprayer, etc. Fewer things to buy and store, for everyone. Swap or trade for goods and services if possible, to save on the manufacture of new goods and packaging.. and, of course, the taxes.
- Reduce visual clutter :: Try putting things you can live without in boxes and put the boxes in the attic or basement for six months. Then re-open the boxes and keep what you missed... give the rest away as gifts, hold a garage sale, or donate to charity. Then try this formula - for every new thing that comes in, one old thing goes out.
Prepare dishes which will provide several meals. Stews, casseroles, and many recipes are just as easy to prepare in large portions. Make enough for two or three meals, and freeze the extra meals to cut your cooking chores in half. Become the master of "one-pot cooking" to simplify preparation and reduce clean-up time.
Instead of thinking about dinner in terms of what you want to eat, try to be creative with what you have in the refrigerator and cupboards. Resist the urge to run out to the store for more cooking ingredients. Go to allrecipes.com for some great meal ideas... you can even search for meals by the ingredients you have (or do not have)!
Cut TV Time
TV time is not as relaxing as it may appear - our senses are being bombarded constantly and the underlying commercial message is always the same: you need more and more "things" to be happy. We are at the mercy of the marketers.
Statistics have shown that children get very little time of direct interaction with their parents, especially with their fathers. In contrast, the average child spends hours each day in front of the television. TV makes children and adults, want "more" to feel good about themselves.
Try reducing TV time and replace it with books, music, or educational videos which are commercial-free. If you have children, try replacing an hour of TV each evening with a parent/child activity. At first it may seem like more for you to do... after all, TV is a convenient babysitter! Having an on-going project is good, as it is easier to start and stop the activity in short blocks of time. For more ideas, check out tvturnoff.org.
Most of the dirt in your home is brought in on shoes. Save time and cleaning expenses by starting a no-shoes policy in your home. Keep slippers at the door for guests to use.
Next time you are at the library, look for "Confessions of an Organized Homemaker" by Denice Schofield. This book offers ways to simplify, organize, and schedule household systems in order to help reduce the need for housecleaning. Another great resource is flylady.net... they make housecleaning simple with 15 minute daily cleaning tasks!
Consolidate Trips to the Store
Approximately 50% of car use is for trips within 3 miles of the home. This distance is within the range for easy biking, so it makes sense to try to use your bike for some of these short hops. You will be saving fuel and reducing pollution... and you can also save on trips to the gym with this added exercise.
Whether you live in the heart of the city or have to drive to town or the mall to shop, try consolidating your trips. With a little organization, you can group your "town tasks" into fewer trips, saving you time and fuel expense. The environment also benefits from the fuel and energy savings.
Buying goods online can be an environmentally friendly and time-saving way to shop. Online shopping is also a nice contrast to the over-stimulation one often feels at the mall. As the trend to online shopping grows, more and more goods become available with a wider range of choices than you may find locally. Here are a few environmental tips to consider when shopping online:
- Do not choose overnight delivery :: Shipping by air freight generates up to five times the fuel emissions as ground delivery.
- Combine orders :: You can reduce packaging and deliveries by consolidating your orders when shopping online. Wait until you have a full list of items you will need from an online store, then put in just one order. You can also combine orders with a friend or co-worker shopping for similar products, as a way of further reducing the environmental (and actual) costs of shipping.
- Ship orders to your place of work :: If courier services regularly ship to your place of work, your order will be combined with others. This saves individual home deliveries.
- Save order information on your computer :: Print-outs of order information use paper and ink, and require filing and storing. Save the information on your computer and delete when you have received the products in good order.
The cell phone has become an integral part of our fast-paced culture. It is almost a symbol of self-importance: unless our schedules are as busy as the person next to us, we are less important or somehow not living up to the norm. As long as we carry along our cell phones, we are always "on task"... especially for those of us with SmartPhones!
There is another side to ubiquitous cell phone use. It distracts our focus from other activities, at home, shopping, driving, and even during movies or meetings. It adds another level of complexity to our daily living and is often an unwelcome interruption to our time spent with others.
Get to know the "off" switch of your cell phone, especially when enjoying quality time with your family, friends or by yourself.
Try to put some silence into each day. Our ears are not designed for the constant stimulation of noise, which is an unfortunate by-product of modern life. There are very few loud sounds in nature. Studies have shown that stress hormones rise in response to noise. Concentration and energy levels are reduced, and the rates of hearing loss among young people has risen dramatically in recent years.
Simply being aware of the effects of noise is a good start. Small foam ear protectors cost just pennies apiece and screen out the high decibal aspects of noise. Wear ear protectors at home when operating loud equipment such as lawn mowers, leaf blowers, blenders and vacuum cleaners. Turn off the TV and stereo if you're not paying full attention to them.
Silence helps us stay focused and centered, and provides a welcome oasis in a sea of overstimulation. (Related article: The Death of Stillness by Richard Mahler).
"Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication."