slow life simple life

slow down and live

the holiday season November 7, 2009

Filed under: holidays — Liz @ 4:28 am

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Believe it or not, the holidays are upon us. Before you know it you’ll be listening to Christmas music ad nauseum, you’ll be stressing over the perfect Christmas gift and you’ll overextend yourself by attempting to do too much. It’s happened to me many a time, and from a browse around the blogosphere I know it happens to plenty of other women, too.

How can we put meaning back into the season? You may notice an emerging theme in my suggestions – a theme that I continue to develop in my own search for simplicity and meaning.

First, identify your priorities. What do you really enjoy about the holidays? What family traditions do you want to establish or continue? Write these down so that you can come back to them when you feel overwhelmed. Keep the list short:

I enjoy the time with family. With all of my family in town, we’ll be sure to have a game night and a few special meals together.

I enjoy the decorations – but I prefer them to be kept simple.

I enjoy the gift-giving aspect of Christmas but I don’t want to go overboard. My family is doing a gift exchange this year.

Last but definitely not least, I enjoy the religious aspect of Christmas (and to a lesser extent, Thanksgiving). The true meaning of Christmas is in the incarnation and I will dwell on this throughout the holiday season.

Now that you have identified what IS important, identify the things that are NOT important. What stressed you out last year? Write it down so that you will remember not to do the same this year.

I won’t schedule too many events on any one day.

I won’t try to do too much – I don’t need to give every person I know a homebaked good.

Look over the two lists that you have created. Does the first list emphasize the “stuff” of the holidays – bigger and better presents, the latest gadget, the endless hours of shopping? Hopefully not!  You should see a trend towards time with family and friends in simple pleasures and away from a gluttony of material goods. In that vein of though, tackle the issue of consumerism. How can you limit (or even eliminate) its impact this year?

Some ideas:

  • Place a dollar limit on gift exchanges.
  • Exchange a different type of gift: give food, or concert tickets, or free babysitting, or an invitation for a future night out.
  • Implement a gift exchange.
  • Forgo gifts altogether and instead plan a special trip or activity. Go skiing or on a cruise. Plan a weekend getaway with friends or family.

To really get into the holiday spirit, think about others. How can you help the people in your community and beyond?

  • Consider buying a gift for a child through Angel Tree
  • Donate to your local food pantry
  • Volunteer to work in a soup kitchen

What are you doing differently this year? What will you continue to do to create a meaningful holiday season for you and your family?

 

simplicity is a mindset November 2, 2009

Filed under: contentment,simplicity — Liz @ 2:41 am

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Maybe there are people out there who are naturally content – unfortunately I am not one of them. I can always think of ways that my own life might be better – if this project was done, if my husband did more chores, if my baby was never cranky, if I could take a vacation. Those things are all well and good, but I get caught up in living in the someday portion of my life much to the detriment of the here and now version. As a result, I focus on the shortcomings of the present moment and I am far from content.

Simplicity is a mindset. Contentment is a choice. If you truly desire simple living, you must reshape the way that you view your world. Choose to be content with your surroundings. See the beauty in what you have. This is very much an ongoing exercise that will likely take a lifetime to master. Future posts will address how we can move towards this goal:

  1. Determine your priorities.
  2. Fight consumerism.
  3. Think of others.

What makes you content? What keeps you grounded?

 

this old house October 17, 2009

Filed under: contentment,home — Liz @ 3:52 pm

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Renovation shines a light on many flaws that we would like to keep hidden…

I have an older house. Built in the mid-70’s, it represents an odd in-between period of American suburbia: the time before big bathrooms and open floor plans, a time when a sunken living room was not uncommon, but yet a time when bedrooms and backyards had not yet become the size of a postage stamp. My husband and I felt drawn to the house for several reasons, most notably the basement, the ample yard and rooms that were truly roomy. We paid asking price knowing full well that almost nothing in the house had been updated in the previous 30 years.

Enter me: the obsessive procrastinating perfectionist with a touch of laziness. Enter my husband: mostly oblivious to the state of things, content to ignore certain matters of disrepair. It’s a terrible combination for renovators. We started with small changes such as new paint and minor cosmetic fixes. Two years later we (I) tackled one of the biggest home renovations I hope to ever oversee; a complete renovation of the kitchen. It was long, it was costly, and it was not without occasional tears on my part.

The slow renovation of a home teaches one many lessons. First there are the obvious lessons of prioritizing, planning and budgeting. Fortunately I haven’t had many stumbles in this area – my kitchen project happened fairly seamlessly in retrospect, and in the end we were only 10% or so over our budget. The second lesson is one that has very slowly permeated my thoughts: will I be happy when (if) my house is completely up to my standards? What will I do with my free time then? This thought process made me realize that I will never be happy if I am always living in the future. “Things will be great once x, y and z are done!” has long been the mantra I use to make it through another busy day or another busy project. But the truth is that things are not great even after z is complete. The completion of one task always coincides with the start of another. As it turns out, I never allow myself a moment of peace during a project OR while I am in-between tasks. I’ve tied my fulfillment to the idea of getting it all done – a moving target that I will never reach.

This past week I knocked a few more items off of my house to-do list. It was nothing major; we replaced some doors and a light fixture. These are things that have been on the list for quite some time and I’m glad that they are now complete (or I should say, almost complete – I still have to paint the new doors). I am already thinking about the next project; a bathroom renovation. Following that we will replace a sliding glass door and fix up the basement. These things all desperately need to happen, not to mention that I also need to fix a few lingering things in the kitchen, I need to paint the family room, we need to clean out and fix up the garage, and we are talking about replacing the deck with a porch and/or patio. I’m beginning to realize that I simply do not have the resources to do everything that I want to do when I want to do it.

It’s hard to be happy and content in the present when the very sight of your home reminds you of an eternal to-do list. I’m working on that. I want to retain a sense of peace even when I am within sight of a task undone. I fully recognize that even if my house was completely up to my specifications, I would find something else to obsess over. Instead of letting my to-do list run my life, I am trying to sit back and enjoy the process of turning this old house into my family’s home. I’m thankful for the discovery that the life I am living is often not the life that I want to live.

What are some ideas for embracing the idea that “the journey is the destination?