Change How You Talk About Change

One of the hardest things I’ve ever done is give up processed sugar entirely. Which, for me, meant pretty much giving up all sugar, as I’m not super into fruit. 

This was maybe 15 years ago now. I remember it vividly. I was stressed out about my weight and health. Also, I didn’t admit till later, I felt really out of control with sweets. I was so confused about conflicting “best diet” information, and the one thing all authorities seemed to agree on was, “processed sugar is bad.”

So I decided to take action on the one thing I knew for sure. I gave up all processed sugar. I mean, I checked the labels of pasta sauces. 

No! None! Not sugar! It was so hard. I loved sweets so much, and I thought about them all the time. I thought after a month or so, the cravings would go away. Uh uh. It wasn’t until 9 months later that I realized I’d gone through a whole day and pretty much not thought about sugar once. 

It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself. There was an intensive period of deprivation, followed by (most of) the rest of my life lived free of the pull of sweets. 

Anyway there was something I learned in this process that was really important. It was how much other people can’t stand it when you consciously abstain from something. 
I don’t know if it’s that they think they should abstain too, or if they think you think they should, or if their pleasure is diminished if they think you are salivating over their dessert, or what. But they hate it. 

A small change in my own language made a BIG difference in how people responded to me. 

At first, when dessert time rolled around, I said “I’ve given up sugar.” Big mistake. The most common response I got was something like, “Oh, come on! Treat yourself!”

Did I secretly want to treat myself and desire their permission? Did I at minimum want their sympathy? Or did I just think since that was the truth, that was what I should say?

I don’t know. But one day I hit on what turned out to be the most brilliant solution. I started saying, “I don’t eat sweets.” This is remarkably different from “I’ve given up sugar.” It lacks that wistful quality, whereas “given up” just always carries the notion of your own sacrifice, even if you aren’t feeling it. 

“I don’t” is owning it. It’s a choice. It’s firm and it’s final. You don’t never get cajoled when using this line, but it’s more rare. And if you do, just repeat it. By the way, I found the word “sugar” would often spark debate about how “there’s sugar in fruit, and even vegetables…” So switching to “sweets” helped with that. It also clarified that I didn’t want them to make me artificial sweetener cake, either. 

Maybe it’s mean, but it actually became a lot of fun to watch this all unfold. Especially when I really had gotten past the pull to cave. People don’t know what to do! They want dessert! They don’t understand that they can eat it – nay, savor it – in front of you without being rude! But, “I don’t” helps them past that a lot better than “I gave up.”

By the way, there’s another brilliant answer! It’s “no thanks, I don’t want any/feel like dessert.” This one may feel more dangerous because it’s so in the moment. It’s actually even better in terms of making your companions feel comfortable eating theirs – but they still WILL try to get you to try a bite, and may even try to get “an extra fork just in case.”

You can always go with “I don’t like sweets,” if you’re with people who haven’t known you long and your truthfulness gene is flexible. 

Abstaining from sweets is really good for me. I’m so clear on that. And I am so solid in the habit now, and my friends and family so used to it, that this issue doesn’t come up much. But, in the beginning, my habit was fragile. I needed to protect it, and even if I felt shaky, speaking firmly about it really helped. 

Why I Deleted over 100 Kindle Books

When I first began minimizing my possessions, I had a hard time getting rid of books. They seemed, I don’t know, sacred somehow. Then I realized that almost none of the books I had brought me happiness.

The ones I had read? On very rare occasions (“Pride and Prejudice”) I would re-read them. The ones I hadn’t read? I felt bad about not having read yet. The ones I thought I had around for reference? Kidding myself. And the ones that were somehow “important?” First editions or gifts or books really intelligent people read? Not something that brought me any pleasure.

So where I thought I was this person who “loved books,” it turned out I’m not. I like reading books. But I don’t love owning books. I know people who do – I know people who derive serious joy from their enormous libraries, even if they won’t ever read a tiny fraction of their books. That’s fine – but it’s not me.

Over time I got rid of almost all my books, except a small number I did still want to read. Right now I have about 4 physical books, all of which I will give away once I’m done reading them – or maybe earlier, if having them feels bad.

For reading, I transitioned almost exclusively to Kindle. I like reading books on my phone when I have odd moments – those unexpected times you have nothing else to do. When I came across a book I thought sounded great, I’d buy it on Kindle so I could read it when the mood struck.

Well, dontcha know, sooner or later I had maybe 150 books on my Kindle. Some I’d read, and liked. MANY I had never read – the mood never struck. The books just piled up, and I had to scroll and scroll and scroll through them, not even really remembering what I had. And I don’t know if you ever tried organizing your Kindle library, but it doesn’t really work like I needed it to.

Finally I realized I felt the same about the Kindle books as I had about the ones on my shelf. But I had an even harder time bringing myself to delete them from my account. Something about them being digital and not taking up space, combined with the fact there’s no way to really give them away, made me feel even more “bound” to them (pardon the pun).

Then I remembered my policy about getting rid of things I’ve spent money on: If a thing makes you feel bad, the fact that you spent money on it will only make it worse. Let the thing go and you will soon forget it AND the money spent on it.

So I started deleting….and deleting, and deleting. I left more books on the Kindle than I would have on my shelf, those I really still want to read. If I want to read any of the others, I can just buy them at that time.

In “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” Marie Kondo says that books are all about timing – and I couldn’t agree more! If I don’t read a book pretty soon after acquiring it, there is a good chance I’ll never get to it. Ms. Kondo also suggests that the role of these long-unread books in our lives is to teach us we didn’t need to read them, or at least not then.

My books weighed me down, both my physical ones and my digital ones. I feel better without them. And if I need to re-read “Pride and Prejudice,” I can grab it for free on my Kindle – and re-delete it when I’m done.

What Minimalism Is and Isn’t

When some people learn about minimalism, it can seem like a very extreme thing. Or, like you have to be a certain type of person or live a certain type of lifestyle to be considered a minimalist.

I don’t think everyone needs to be a minimalist, but I do think that the concept is more appealing when you realize your minimalism doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s.

Minimalism is living with the least amount necessary. And I’ll add an important qualifier, in my opinion – the least amount necessary to be happy.

I’ve learned that I can live pretty well with one pan in the kitchen. However, I find I’m happier when I have a few different cooking vessels to accommodate different situations or for when I’d like to cook more than one thing at once.

One pan is the minimum I need, whereas 4 pots/pans are the minimum I need to suit my current lifestyle.

There are many approaches and characteristics that often go hand in hand with minimalism, and sometimes get mixed up in the definition of it. For me, it’s important to separate these things, and understand my motivations for living with less.

It can start to feel really restrictive to me if I feel like I have to have “all the reasons” for being minimalist. When my sole reason is that I feel better the less I own. I feel light and free and at peace when I don’t have excess.

I do enjoy some of the below as benefits of minimalism, but they are side benefits to me.

So here goes, What Minimalism is Not, to Me:

Minimalism is not self-deprivation. Quite the contrary, people are minimalists because of how great it feels. And if there’s something you really want, you have it. Though if self-deprivation sounds like fun, then go for it! For example, my minimalist kitchen challenge was a little self-depriving….but it was a really fun challenge and I loved doing it just to test out what I really needed and what I didn’t.

Minimalism is not frugality. Frugality is spending as little as possible. The specific aim is economy with finances. While minimalism is certainly compatible with frugality, minimalism does not dictate that less money is spent. Only that less stuff is owned.

Minimalism is not tidiness. It can be easier to be tidy with less stuff, but by no means required!

Minimalism is not eco-friendliness. It often ends up causing a more eco-friendly lifestyle, and some people do that on purpose. But not everyone.

Minimalism is not never buying things. But minimalism as a mindset can really help home in on what is most important to bring into your life. Placing a value and priority on having less stuff is like creating a filter for things that might try to find their way into your life.

Minimalism is not working for yourself, traveling full time, or being a blogger. Plenty of minimalists have jobs, stay put, and keep it to themselves.

The fact is, minimalism has the potential to completely change how much money you think you need to live, thereby making it possible to work for yourself, travel as much as you want, etc. Minimalism helps many people to make the choices they prefer with respect to money, the environment, tidiness, and all the rest of it.

But it doesn’t have to. You can be a minimalist and wear $900 shoes. You can be a minimalist and have a Porsche. You can be a minimalist and never buy anything second-hand. You can be a minimalist and buy new clothes every season.

Are you inspired to live with less? Maybe a lot less? Then you might be a minimalist. That’s all it takes.

Professional Minimalist Fashion: My 10 Hanger Outfit Challenge

Years ago, I worked for a company with an office in Belgium. I remember so vividly when some of our Belgian colleagues came to visit for a week, how put together and fashionable they looked every day. Every day was a complete “outfit,” something clearly arranged to be worn together, like jeans and a matching jacket embellished in a funky way. I remember them having different shoes with these outfits as well, and wondering how huge their suitcases must have been. And, I wondered what all was left in their closets at home!

They looked impeccable every day, even though it wasn’t an uber-professional environment (see above, the jeans and jeans jacket). Obviously I was impressed by this, to remember it so well over a decade later.

But here’s what I remember even better: When they came back to visit a year later, they still looked wonderful every day — in the exact same outfits.

I was struck by this, at how they had clearly invested in beautiful clothing but probably didn’t have the kind of abundance of pieces that Americans are wont to collect. They committed when they bought something nice, and they committed to their outfits.

Something seemed very free about this, though I remained stuck in my usual mix-n-match mode. But now, inspired by all types of minimalist fashion ideas and especially a resurgence of interest in the more European idea of a smaller number of high quality clothing pieces, I’m making changes. And, because it was too stressful to try to ensure that everything in my closet matched everything else (tough to do even though almost everything is black and gray!), I’m taking a twist on the uniform approach:

  • One outfit for each day of the week, each on one hanger.
  • Weekends included.
  • Three extra hangers for extra outfits and an odd mix-in piece or two
  • No jeans (or pants, actually) in the core 7 outfits – but a pair of jeans on one of the spare hangers

Because I am stepping up my style at the same time, I had to fill in a lot of pieces, but I’ve arrived at 7 days worth of complete outfits. Yes, the Tuesday jacket would also look great on the Wednesday dress. But the Wednesday dress is an outfit with the Wednesday sweater.

I’ve done this for just about a week now, and so far I’m excited and thrilled with the result. Each morning I grab that day’s hanger and don’t even have to think about it! Cleaning is definitely going to be an interesting process, especially a little more dry cleaning than I’m used to, and I’m on the alert for potential boredom. Right now lots is new so boredom isn’t an issue — though, I feel pretty confident that it won’t be later either. I’m loving feeling put together each day and going with that for the moment.

More updates later as things progress, and I’ll get some pictures of my closet and outfits soon. One thing I’m still working on is choosing what I want on my “extra” three hangers and figuring out what I can part with for the winter. I figure that my current set of outfits can get me easily through February, and I can revisit and swap in some warmer weather pieces at the beginning of March.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments!

On Solitude: A Minimalist Approach to Social Life

Today’s post is a guest post from my good friend, Alice W. Hutmacher, who is a wonderful creative writer and inspires me with her approach to alone time. I hope you enjoy it!

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‘So you’re keeping a low profile?’ she asked me. She didn’t sound very convinced. I could hear she was worried that there might be something horribly, horribly wrong. I was checking in with my favorite Auntie, letting her know that I was, indeed, alive and well and settling in. I was settling in to not only a new city and flat, but this time I had decided to settle into my Self.

A lot of people share my Auntie’s reaction towards my opting for solitude at this stage of my life. And a lot of people have all kinds of ideas about what I should be doing: having babies, climbing the corporate ladder in a grey suit, saving lots of money to buy a car and a house and maybe even a summer house, living in this country or that country. All that is exhausting for me to even begin to think about, and I am reminded of Aesop’s fable of The Man, the Boy, and the Donkey. So I just politely smile and nod, and know inside of myself, that my choice for the time being stands: to be my Self, to develop a deep and intimate understanding and relationship with my Self, to simply be, and to be ok with my being!

I’m not really a social butterfly. On the contrary, I love spending quality time on my own. Looking back, I realize that this is the first time I’m living alone. Ever. In my whole life. I’ve always shared my space with family or housemates. I even lived in a commune for four years.

There’s something about constantly having people around that can provide a sense of comfort. Or a sense of self-validation. Or a method of distraction.

About two years ago, I moved out of the commune and to a city where I knew absolutely no one. Not a soul. And I had no ambition to go out and meet new people or grow my network. After the constant commotion of communal life, I felt tired. Tired in my being and tired of having to suit other people’s whims and moods 24/7. I was aching for a strong dose of solitude where I could just drop all that heaviness of social expectation. Where I could just be.

I needed to be able to cry when I felt like crying, without someone prodding at me for an explanation of what’s wrong. I needed to be able to laugh when I felt like laughing, without someone tutting at me for laughing at what they deemed an inappropriate moment. I needed to have space to go round with my head in a daydream for as long or as short as I fancied without anyone pulling me out of it, demanding my attention.

I needed to learn how to take off the mask. I needed to feel in a safe place to know what it’s like to take it off, and to leave it off for a while. A place free from prying looks and subtle judgement.

The thing about mask-wearing is, aside from it being draining, that it’s so habitualized and deeply ingrained in us, and we sometimes identify with our masks so strongly, that we often can’t even tell if it’s on or off.

So since November 1st, 2012, I’ve been living this life of solitude that I was so desperately thirsty for. I practice meditation daily, I do my work, I buy my groceries and keep my flat clean, I do my thing. I keep in touch with friends and family by e-mail, Facebook, Skype. They are all far away. I have no social obligations here. No gatherings where I feel like I really ought to turn up to show my face or else someone might take it the wrong way, but actually I’m not at all up for going out. None of that.

Over the course of the past year, I’ve made one friend, one true blue soul sister of a friend, and sometimes meet up for tea and a chat. She tells me I help her keep her sanity. Earlier this week, though, she left the country.

‘Don’t you get bored?’ my friend Seán asked me once on Skype. He had just come out of a two year long retreat in India. ‘No,’ I tell him. ‘I never feel bored. I can easily keep myself busy with all kinds of things… But I do, at times, feel lonely.’

‘Yeah,’ he nods. ‘I get that.’

When that feeling of lonliness sneaks up on me, sometimes quietly, sometimes violently, I remind myself about why I made this choice in the first place. I remind myself that this is, indeed, my choice, and that I am free to hit the ‘Re-select’ button at any point in time. If, at some stage, I fancy coming out of my cocoon and social-butterflying about, I can do that; I’ll get there when I get there, and that’s just dandy. And I remind myself of all the wonderful things inside this funky little microcosm of my Self that I’d be missing out on were my life any other way.

In the calm and quiet of solitude, a lot of magic has the time and space to happen. I am forced to drop my projections of blaming someone else for my misfortune, because there is simply no one else there to point the finger at.

I used to happily get irritated if my housemates were occupying the living room thus preventing me from getting my yoga practice in. Now I live alone and have full control over my time and space. Do I practice yoga? More often than not, my own laziness gets the better of me. There’s no one else here to whom I can outsource the responsibility of my own shortcomings.

Having become aware of this, I can slowly, slowly feel my way towards transformation. I observe in myself a greater sense of joy and gratitude when a total stranger is kind towards me in passing by. I have the quiet I need for deeper introspection, in which I realize that there a number of old wounds that I thought I had healed, but it turns out that actually, they need more love. I know where in my Self I need to shine a bit more light. I have the time and the space to practice honoring my Self and my being with kindness and self care.

In solitude, it becomes very clear very quickly that my life is entirely my own doing. And there’s gentle power and quiet liberation in knowing that.

 

About the author:

Alice W. Hutmacher is a 30-something globetrotting-nomad-child of the universe. Her goals in life are to master the craft of writing, take good care of her soul, and to be at home in her Self. She is secretly (or, rather, not-so-secretly) proud of having visited Edgar Allen Poe’s Philadelphia home, Ibsen’s place in Oslo, Kafka’s Prague, Hamlet’s castle in Denmark, and of sharing an Alma Mater with James Joyce and romping ground with Goethe and Martin Luther. Visit her at www.alicewhutmacher.com.

 

Journaling and Morning Routine (with 5 Reminders about Routine and Life)

Journal Picture

My new journal and fave pens

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my morning routine, or lack thereof, and how a steady, reliable morning routine or practice would be very desirable. I know that a grounding ritual that I can count on would both set me up for the day and help me carry through  my intention to live purposefully.

And yet there is a very loooooong list of things that I think could go into this routine, and it is both overwhelming and probably impossible without literally using the entire morning. So I have not implemented any list at all. Until….

Enter: Journaling

I began a journaling course recently. I have only journaled occasionally in my life, though I’ve always wanted to be an avid journaler (there’s some nice pressure to put on myself!). But the idea of starting now, with this course, really grabbed me and so I went for it.

I have been loving my journal. Loving writing in it in the morning. Loving just writing anything with a pen. Loving the idea that this is what I get to do when I wake up in the morning. So now I have a morning routine, which evolved out of a practice that just felt great.

My New Morning Routine:

  1. Get out of bed, make my way downstairs
  2. Make coffee (optional, but typically desired. Sometimes I program my coffee maker the night before)
  3. Light incense (also optional, but helps to create a space and remind me that this is “my time”)
  4. Write in my journal

One of the things that makes this possible is that I have been able to drop – or at least suspend – some of my old beliefs about what journaling is or should be. A month ago, this same routine may have felt oppressive or depressing or undoable. Now I just enjoy writing, and sometimes that means writing “what to write, what to write, what to write……” But I like that I’m writing something, with a pen, and that’s all I expect when I open my journal.

Other morning things (getting dressed, brushing teeth, etc.) still happen of course (later) but the list above is what means something to me. Now I feel like I do something for myself first thing every day and it matters.

Five Reminders about Routine (and Life):

  1. A routine can be a grounding, nourishing, nurturing gift you give yourself
  2. “Requirements” and heavy expectations can get in the way
  3. Go towards what feels like fun and freedom
  4. You can start a new practice any time. And stop it. And start it again.
  5. It’s all good.

Do you have a morning routine? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!