On Simplicity

May 17, 2008

Two Ways to Understand Enjoyment

Filed under: Simple Living — Serendipity @ 5:00 am
Tags: , ,

Part of living simply is being able to truly enjoy things.  Without sincere enjoyment, you can never be satiated, and you’ll likely want more. And more. And more.  One of the greatest lessons in enjoyment is one I’ve learned from my husband, and it involves chocolate.

Method #1:The Nibble Savor

Now, I’m the kind of woman who loves to spread out the enjoyment. I want it to last as long as humanly possible. So I nibble. And I savor.  If I get a chocolate bar, I’ll take the tiniest bites possible and roll each little bit over my tongue to fully experience it.  This process takes a long time and helps me to enjoy things mentally as well as on a sensory level.

Method #2: The Shovel

My better half is a shoveler. If given a chocolate bar, he’ll do his absolute best to get all of it in his mouth at once.  A look of bliss crosses his face, and in a flash, the chocolate’s gone.

Trying the Shovel Method of Pleasure

This behavior used to drive me crazy. “We’re trying to be frugal and stretch things out, hon,” I’d say. “Why don’t you take smaller bites and take the time to really enjoy treats?”  His response?  “I enjoy it most when my mouth is absolutely full of it and it takes over all my senses.”

I still didn’t get it.  Finally, I tried it.  Hey, we had a lot of Easter clearance candy given to us, so what could it hurt to “waste” a few items, right?  So I shoveled.  He gave me a shout of approval, a huge smile, and I thoroughly enjoyed the moment.  It felt good to be so reckless with a rare treat.

Experience Abundance

In our efforts to be frugal, sometimes we try too hard to eke enjoyment out of well, anything.  Once in a while, it can feel great to just shovel. You can shovel food, drink, parties, social occasions, books, fun projects, your favorite shows on DVD—lots of things.  In the shovel moment, you’re giving yourself over completely to pleasure—there’s no saving it, or measuring it, or worrying about when it will be gone.  In this sense, an occasional shovel is a great way to feel like you’re surrounded by abundance. 

The next time you’re feeling deprived (or you’d simple like a moment of bliss), try the shovel method.  No counting, measuring, or thinking: just pure sensory overload.  It makes you feel like a kid who’s getting an indulgent wish, and isn’t that the richest feeling of all?

May 16, 2008

The True Key to Lifelong Happiness Is… Country Music?

Filed under: Happiness,Simple Living — Serendipity @ 5:00 am
Tags: , ,

Country music: it’s much maligned, constantly stereotyped, and it’s the secret to true contentment. Say what? How can cheesy music that’s only about heartbreak and lost love (and dogs) make you anything but miserable? Read on for the full scoop.

It’s well-documented that music has deep, resonating effects on the human psyche. In fact, “the mood of a piece of music tends to induce the same mood in the listener,” according to a study by Lewis, Dember, Schefft and Radenhausen (Curr. Psychol.: Devel., Learn., Person., Social., 14, 29-41.). In addition, each genre of music conjures different feelings for each of us. While these will vary for all people, the underlying lyrical themes of different genres play as much a role as personal taste in this.

I’m going to seriously generalize here, but R&B focuses on themes of love and sexuality, hip-hop focuses on a glamorous lifestyle and street life, pop’s emphasis is on love and heartbreak, and rock lyrics cover everything from disillusionment and alienation to love and loss. So what’s the focus of country music? Being happy with what you have, imperfections and all.

Consider the following lyrics:

“Real love and real life doesn’t have to be perfect/…Love can be rough around the edges, tattered at the seams/Honey if it’s good enough for you, it’s good enough for me”

“Life’s a dance; you learn as you go/Sometimes you lead, sometimes you follow/Don’t worry about what you don’t know/Life’s a dance; you learn as you go”

“I never had a dollar that could buy me what I’m feelin’/But I’m feelin’ ’bout as good as I can be”

“When the party’s over and the glitter starts to fade/It’s all about your piece of mind at the end of every day… /It’s only the simple things I believe that matter most in life/I’m more than satisfied, all that I have is all I need”

“I got no money in my pockets/I got a hole in my jeans/I had a job and I lost it/But it won’t get to me… I got the one I love beside me/My troubles behind me/I’m alive and I’m free/Who wouldn’t wanna be me?”

“I’ve got supper in the oven, a good woman’s lovin and one more day to be my little kids’ dad/Lord knows I’m a lucky man”

I could go on for quite some time, since the list is gigantic and ever-growing. The common denominator is the sense of being happy with and grateful for what you have. Seriously, modern country (unlike old school, traditional country which is also awesome in very different ways) is very much about dreaming big dreams while appreciating every moment in the meantime. And it can be quite affecting, too.

When you listen to country music on a regular basis, you’re surrounding yourself with the message that not quite enough is plenty and that time-weathered, unglamorous love is beautiful. Listen long enough–even just in the background–and those messages can really start to sink in. I know it happened for me a few years ago. I love *lots* of genres, but tend to cycle through one main one regularly that will account for about 75% of what I listen to. When that cycle finally went back to country after years of R&B, alternative rock and pop, it clicked. And my level of contentment rose when I turned on the music.

So, why not take control of the messages you’re hearing in the music as an experiment? If we don’t want our values to be shaped by TV and movies, then the music we hear deserves a second consideration as well. Who knows? You just may find yourself feeling like it’s okay to be just who you are, right now in this moment.

If you’re interested in checking out some of country’s best feel-good songs, try the following list out for starters:

  1. No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems: Kenny Chesney
  2. My Front Porch Looking In: Lonestar
  3. Perfect: Sara Evans
  4. Another Day in Paradise: Phil Vassar
  5. Who Wouldn’t Want to Be Me: Keith Urban
  6. Perfect Love: Trisha Yearwood
  7. Life’s a Dance: John Michael Montgomery
  8. Ain’t No Crime: Joe Nichols
  9. I Feel Lucky: Mary Chapin Carpenter
  10. Isn’t That Everything: Danielle Peck

May 15, 2008

Am I Just Faking It?

In reading other blogs, I come across quite a few items that make me question whether I’m truly a simplifier or not. After all, Xin Lu at Wise Bread, in a great post on living in small spaces, is willing to forgo a sectional for a beanbag. I, on the other hand, am not willing to ditch my sofa for a beanbag at this point. Am I just providing lip service to the idea of simplicity? After all, if you’ve read a few posts here, you know that I love clothing, I live in a big house, will probably never get rid of my television (dude, no MXC?), and so on… Does this mean I’m just faking it?

What Simplicity Means to Me

When it comes down to it, I don’t think I’m just faking it. This isn’t just a cosmetic choice for me. In my own life, simplicity isn’t a race to the bottom to see who can live with less. It’s about making conscious choices, being thoughtful in what I bring into my home and into the world, and focusing on relationships and experiences instead of stuff.

How do I accomplish this? What do I focus on? Here are my top priorities:

Not buying crap. I do a pretty damn good job of not buying things “just because.” Things I buy aren’t just bargains, they’re things that either promote health, bring me or someone else joy, or are really going to be useful.

Keeping media to a minimum. I don’t eschew television, but I also don’t watch that much of it. I stay away from sensationalistic news and gossip. For wimpy news, I stick to headlines instead of reading fluffy article after article after article.

Keeping my personal spaces clean and minimalist. I can breathe in a clean home. I can create. I can dream. I’d prefer an empty room in a beautiful color than a fully furnished room full of useless accessories. It still comes down to pure aesthetics, but it’s also about feeling like things have purpose.

Time commitments and lifestyle. I try to keep my time as my own to give myself freedom and peace of mind. With a job that’s essentially a community service, I can feel good keeping a good portion of my time off to myself to spend with family and friends.

Is Champagne Ever Simple?

I’ll agree–I’m not the traditional voluntary simplicist. While I do have a persistent and weird desire to be a survivalist, I always picture celebrating the first successful potato crop with a champagne toast. (I know.) However, simplicity isn’t just about cutting stuff out of your life. It’s about stripping life down to the bare essentials, throwing out all assumptions, and rebuilding the world around you to fit the dream you have, not the one you’re told to want or raised to believe in. After all, life should be rich. It just doesn’t have to be rich in money, or stuff, or accolades.

Big, Fat Faker

The verdict? I am a faker. A big one. Because in my eyes, simplicity is about having as much as possible. As much time as possible. As much love as possible. As much joy as possible. As much fun as possible. As much honesty as possible. As much thoughtfulness as possible. As much freedom as possible. I don’t want just a little, just enough to get by. No, I want a ton! Perhaps I should look into the availability of “onabundance”….

May 8, 2008

The Pleasures of Unplugging

Filed under: Productivity,Simple Living — Serendipity @ 5:00 am

Take a moment and imagine a relaxing getaway. No phones, no stress–just sunsets, days of breathing deeply, plenty of good food and drink, and great company. Have you ever wished you had a vacation house where you could just relax and unwind like this? Well, you do–you just need to unplug a few things to get there.

A lot of us are guilty of not letting ourselves truly relax on our time off. There’s always something to be done or checked up on, after all. Or is there? For a brief period before my husband and I merged households and switched states, we had just such a vacation house. Well… it wasn’t so much a vacation house as his house with all the utilities but water and power turned off and most of the “stuff” already shipped off. We stayed the week at my place in the city to cut down on commuting and would spend the weekends at the “vacation house” an hour away.

There was no phone and incredibly limited cell reception. No TV. No Internet. It. Was. Awesome. We cooked wonderful meals, watched movies together on the one couch left, stayed up late playing games and slept in equally late in the mornings. With no news or communication with the outside world, we were able to truly leave our stress behind and enjoy our time together. Plus, friends and family soon learned that those problems that used to be so urgent they’d require five phone calls a day, could be handled later or not at all. We were own happy island for two days and two nights a week and it’s still one of the most enjoyable memories we have.

Why not turn your home into a vacation house for one weekend (or more!) a month? It’s easy: unplug your computer, put your phone on “do not disturb” mode, only check your cell once a day, and keep your TV on DVD-playing mode to prevent the urge to “just check on” MSNBC or ESPN (or, oh hell, Lifetime).

How will you fill the quiet? Try pulling out a deck of cards, just listening to the radio, or simply enjoying a long, lingering conversation over a bottle of wine. Do some gardening, or just sit on the porch or balcony and watch the world go by. Enjoy small splurges to the max, like a long bath or a warm cup of coffee (our indulgence was getting White Mochas in the morning–drool…). Even if you don’t “accomplish” anything, consider it a mental health break. The laundry will get done later, and the toilets can be cleaned tomorrow. When you’re unplugged, you’ve got no choice but to enjoy the moment and just breathe.

May 6, 2008

Finding Satisfaction in Small Things

Filed under: Simple Living — Serendipity @ 2:36 am

A large part of finding pleasure in a simple lifestyle is finding satisfaction in small things. Like Pablo Neruda and his odes to socks and lemons and whatnot, we all have the capacity to take pleasure in the everyday. The trick? Trying things and letting yourself truly experience them.

My latest thrill is pulling weeds in the garden. At first, I did it just to help my husband. Our first effort was not fun. The ground was hard, the roots didn’t want to come out, and I was exasperated after just a few minutes. In all, it was not a promising start. (We ending up spraying everything in sight with weed killer and hoping for the best.)

But then I tried it again. I wanted to help and I wanted our yard to look less, um… crappy. (Dead weeds are so unattractive…) So I tried again. This time, I had low expectations. I prepped ahead of time, making sure that the soil would be softer after a little watering. I also plugged in some good music, found some gardening gloves, and went to work. Three hours later, I was hooked. The fresh and crunchy sound weeds make as they’re coming free, the visible results, the challenge and conquest, the variety of sizes and shapes to experiment with, it all contributed to a wonderful day. Now, I can’t resist heading to the yard each day and snagging whatever nasties have popped up. (Seriously, cashmere, snow flurries and freshly painted fingernails have yet to stop me.)

What changed? A few key things:

  • Expectations: I knew I didn’t have to do it, but was willing to try anyway. Having to do something almost always sucks the enjoyment out of it.
  • Environment: The problem was ready to be attacked–the looser soil gave me a much greater possibility of success.
  • Experience: I paid attention to the entire experience: the sights, sounds, smells, and enjoyed all of them as a result.
  • Reward: The music elevated my mood in a big way, as did the promise of hot chocolate when I was done.
  • Freedom: I let myself attack whatever part of the problem caught my fancy and stop whenever I wanted, not at some predetermined goal. I was highly inefficient, hopping from one side of the yard to another and back again, but the motivation I gained from this freedom more than made up for that, and I got a ton accomplished that second time out.

So, if you’re looking to enjoy some of what your everyday life has to offer (think cooking, gardening, cleaning, childcare), try keeping these habits in mind. If you set yourself up for success, you may by surprised at how much pleasure lies in the seemingly mundane.

May 4, 2008

Image and Affluenza

Filed under: Blogging,Simple Living — Serendipity @ 3:28 am

I just finished watching Affluenza (checked out from the local library, of course), the DVD battle cry of voluntary simplicity fans and anti-consumerists. It’s been lauded by many and it makes some fabulous points. However, I walked away with one giant criticism: virtually everyone shown living is simple life is, well… less than attractive. This film was first shown in 1997, so part of that lies in the fact that everything shown is dated by a decade. Still, the vast majority of those shown living a simple life looked like they were pulled out of 1982. So, this brings up a big question: does the simplicity movement need to market itself better?

My answer is a nearly unqualified “yes.” “Voluntary simplicity” and “hippie” are not synonyms, nor should they be. Yet in Affluenza, what group is highlighted? A group of “revolutionary” young people in, of course, Santa Cruz, California. They were tie-dye and not one has what could even remotely qualify as a hairstyle. Should these young people be our role models and spokespeople? If the “It sickens me” commentary of one youth is indicative of their regular attitude, then hopefully not.

Simplicity–for the majority, for the everyday, for the average–isn’t about anger with society, or rebelling against style, or even about not shopping. It’s about living with a bit less, not nothing. It’s about being yourself, not a mall clone, or a dated stereotype. So when the voluntary simplicity movement brands itself with people who seem to refuse makeup and dismiss personal style and pleasure as frivolity, then it’s no wonder that more people are far more interested in staying consumers.

May 1, 2008

Sexy Simplicity

Filed under: Simple Living — Serendipity @ 8:11 am

Sexy simplicity–oxymoron?  Isn’t bigger, faster, and more expensive always sexier? Not when it comes to lots of everyday situations. If you’ve got a significant other, living more simply can feel like you’re constantly turning down the romance, which definitely doesn’t feel very sexy.

To turn simplicity into something sexy, just take the things you do everyday and cut the gesture or action down to the core.  Get the past the bells and whistles and rediscover the original sentiment.  You might find that without all the extra touches to get in the way, your raw emotions and pleasures shine through all the more strongly.

Here are a few ways you can enjoy simplicity and still feel sexy:

1.  Share your shower. Not only will you save energy and water, you’re sure to get in some quality time.

2.  Candlelight dinner. Everyone looks better and candlelight and it doesn’t take any extra effort to light a few candle.  Save on power and amp up the ambience.

3.  The single flower serenade. If one rose is good, a dozen are better, right?  Not always.  A single, perfect flower is long on sentiment and short on cost.  Bring home one beautiful bloom and use it to give your partner the softest massage ever.

4.  Fingers only. Who needs fancy four-course meals with two forks when you’ve got chocolate and strawberries?  Bread and oil?  Milk and cookies?  Save the cooking and dishwashing for another night.  Finger food is a simple and sexy change of pace.

5.  Sensuous snuggle. There’s nothing more decadent than a mid-afternoon nap, so indulge yourself and cuddle up together with a blanket.  It doesn’t more simple or more satisfying than that.

6.  Bed in the buff. Don’t waste money and closet space on fancy little nothings.  Enjoy the feel of fresh sheets and let your body’s largest organ–your skin–take a breather.

April 30, 2008

Lessons Learned from StuffWhitePeopleLike

Filed under: House & Home,Simple Living — Serendipity @ 10:16 am

The secret you may not know, is that deep down, all white people are desperately trying to make their life seem like an ad for a Sub Zero refrigerator, or an article in Gourmet/Bon Appetit magazine. To achieve either of these goals will set white people at ease.

So, I’m probably not the first person to stumble into Stuff White People Like. However, I just might be the first to have gleaned some seriously valuable insight from it–like the above quote.

Too many of us strive for perfection without realizing where our vision of perfection comes from.  If our lives are spent in search of something, we all need to spend significant time considering just that: where our ideals come from. Some possibilities:

  • Books you’ve read
  • Films and TV you’ve seen
  • The way you grew up
  • The way you didn’t grow up
  • The people you surround yourself with
  • Your education
  • Commercials and marketing

None of these on their own are good or bad, but it’s worth thinking about.  In thinking about my own ideals and lifestyle, I have to admit that part of my vision does come from those damn home improvement store ads, where everything is clean, it’s always sunny, and there are always fresh flowers somewhere in the picture.  Realizing this helps me simplify and let go of some of that lifestyle envy because it’s absolutely not real.  I’m letting advertisers tweak my goals.

There’s one more valuable thing I took from the above quote: “white people are desperately trying to make their life seem like an ad for a Sub Zero refrigerator.”  We can all simplify our goals by realizing that lots of what we see is people trying, often successfully, to make their lifestyles seem like something other than what it truly is.  When you’re feeling stressed or like you can’t keep up with everyone else, remember that the image you see is often a snapshot, an ad for what they’re trying to portray, just as much as a Sub-Zero brochure.  Then, do your best to let go of any envy or insecurities and just embrace the reality of your life.  Trust me, it’s way better than a refrigerator ad, imperfections and all.

April 23, 2008

The Two Faces of Book Lust

Filed under: House & Home,Simple Living — Serendipity @ 11:08 pm

Hi, I’m Sara, and I have BookLust. (Hi Sara…)  I adore books.  I love to collect books, surround myself with books, look at walls of books, visit bookstores and drool on books… You get the idea.  Lots of bibliophiles know what I’m talking about, as does anybody who collects something.

But… there’s another part of me that hates collecting books.  I hate the boxes of books taking up half the space in my not insignificant closets (yep, plural boxes in plural closets).  I hate dusting bookcases full of books.  I hate the guilt and overwhelm of seeing lots of books I haven’t read.  I hate that I have secret urges to impress anyone who visits my house with my awesome collection of intelligent, quirky, and highly attractive books.

I don’t have a solid answer for reconciling these two sides of myself, but lately small purges have been a big help.  While I still have a hard time letting go of books that are “important” (even if I didn’t particularly care for them) or just plain pretty, I’m losing the fanatic acquisitiveness.  For the most part, I look for quality and memorability instead of books that seem cute but forgettable.  And it feels good.  I like looking at my books (I only have bookcases in two rooms of the house) and feeling like it’s a cohesive collection, not just a selection designed to make me look cool.  If you’re a fellow clutter-hating bibliophile, here’s what’s been working for me:

  • Always keep books you love.  A Room with a View stays, as does My Love Affair with Jewelry and Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus.
  • Books that were “okay” should be loaned out or let go, no matter how nice they are.  Nice books that don’t get a visceral reaction are clutter in disguise.
  • Just a few at a time.  A full-force clutter raid just might launch an existential crisis in a BookLuster.  Tossing a book or two from the shelf to the “get rid of” pile when the mood strikes or the timing seems right works well enough.
  • Use the mantra, “You’re not losing a book.  You’re gaining a spot on your lifetime reading list.”

I’d love to know how other people manage to balance the collecting urge and the clutter busting urge.  Let me know if you’ve got any brilliant (or just above average) ideas.

April 21, 2008

The One Pencil Philosophy: Long-Term Results

Filed under: Productivity,Simple Living,Starting Out — Serendipity @ 5:24 am

Previously, I discussed the simple change in my life that led to big change: limiting my pencil cup to just one writing implement. I mentioned that this one life edit brought me numerous rewards. These big picture rewards are what I’d like to discuss today.

1. If you give yourself half a chance, you really can get by with less. Do I need twenty wine glasses? Or 35 pairs of socks? I really started to question my “But I need them as backups” excuse in many other areas of my home. The trick is weighing the benefit of having an endless supply of something with the cost of having to store and riffle through that collection to get to what you really need on a daily basis. As for me, I’m heavily leaning toward having less and just making do if I run out.

2. When you get rid of the crap, you make more room for quality. I loved working with something I truly liked each and every time I needed to write. I wondered what it would be like if my closet was organized in the same way, so I took out a lot of stuff that was just “okay” (for example, stuff that didn’t quite fit perfectly anymore, or that was getting worn out, or that had been purchased because it was such a bargain…) and shelved it for awhile. (I’ll touch on my method for “trying on” decluttering in a later post.) I ended up loving the fact that my closet was filled only with things I truly loved wearing, and I’ve rarely missed any item that I took out. (I think I’ve brought just two items back.) This point definitely translated well to many points in my life.

3. The time you waste looking for “stuff” cancels out the productivity benefits of having everything within reach. Being able to reach for a pen and always know it would be there ended up giving me some great insight into simplified productivity. I started filing more items away, and found that I didn’t spend much time looking for them or needing them. For my job, very little stuff needs to be truly within reach. And without some of these extra piles around, I’ve been feeling less bogged down. It’s another great benefit that has spread into multiple areas of my life, all starting with the simple pencil cup.

4. Have less, value more. Even though the pen I use isn’t fancy or even really cute, I’ve learned to really value it. I protect it, I keep it safe, I put it back where it belongs. And I like that. I like valuing something more, even if it’s just a basic utility item. Because of the scarcity of pens on my desk, something largely worthless became precious to me. And if simple scarcity can make things seem wonderfully valuable, think of how much value you can add to your possessions simply by trimming them down. Keep in mind that I’m not talking about monetary value, but your underlying appreciation of things. As research has been showing that appreciation and gratitude are key components of happiness, this is likely a good thing. The other bonus? Taking better care of what you have means that you replace items less often–this is fab for both your wallet and the environment.

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