On Simplicity

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 7, 2008

Decluttering: Good for Your Marriage

Filed under: House & Home,Relationships — Serendipity @ 3:10 pm

Last week, The Simple Marriage Project had a great post on “12 Ways to Have an Unhappy Marriage.” Right at the top of the list at #2 was “Have a cluttered home.” The idea is that clutter leads to chaos, and chaos isn’t the stuff great marriages are made of.

Obviously, I agree 100 percent. But let’s get down to some of the nuts and bolts of simplifying to improve your marriage.

1. Everything in its place means everyone can help with chores. If the way the dishes are stacked is so complex that only one person can put them away correctly, only one person is going to get stuck with this chore. Simplify things that go with chores, like laundry, washing the dishes, and cleaning the bathroom. Decluttering makes it easier to complete chores and find the items needed to do them (laundry soap, cleaning supplies, etc.). After all, sharing the load is sharing the love. ūüôā

2. Your home can be a haven. Lots of clutter requires lots of visual attention. For a lot of people, this makes it hard to relax and just enjoy downtime with their partner. In a cluttered space, it’s easy to feel like there’s always something more important to do than hang out with your partner. Clean up the clutter (or just get it out of sight), so that you can be your best, most relaxed, most enjoyable self at home.

3. Make communication easier. He forgot to pick up milk… again? She didn’t get your note that you would be home late and was upset all night? Marriage is all about communication. Too much clutter makes it hard–if not impossible–to leave each other messages. The same is true even if you rely on phone messages, not written notes. If you call and leave five messages on your spouse’s phone, they’re probably not going to fully listen to each one, leaving a huge chance that something important will be missed. Limit your messages to only vital ones to ensure that the important stuff get across loud and clear–consider it another form of inbox decluttering.

In the interests of simplicity, I’ll cap this list there. There are many, many more ways that decluttering can be good for your marriage but these are perhaps the biggest in my opinion. Give ’em a try and let me know how it goes.

A Simple Wardrobe Packed with Style

Filed under: Style — Serendipity @ 3:55 am

As those who know me are aware, I’m a wannabe fashionista and always have been.¬† I mean, I’m the child who was copying Oscar de la Renta fashions for her paper dolls at three years old.¬† In fifth grade, I was convinced that lime green, red, and leopard were neutrals. However, being a simplifier as well, my fashion urges tend to get squashed, simply because I can’t stand to be fussy. Still, I love to stand out and this is my way of dressing in a way that’s fun for me while keeping the daily question of “what to wear” easy and straightforward.

Everyone’s got their own take on style, this is just one strategy: the solid color strategy.¬† It’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like: just about everything in my closet is a solid color.¬† Shirts, tops, blouses, pants, and jackets–they’re almost all in my favorite solid colors.¬† Why?

Because I can grab just about any two items, throw them together, and look cool.¬† I don’t fuss about finding a shirt to match the color of the flowers in a particular skirt, because that involves a significant time investment and commitment to doing laundry on a regular basis.¬† (I may do laundry, but I refuse to commit to it. )¬† And usually, I can look bright and energetic and stylish, just by mixing contrasting solids. Brown pants and red shirt: awesome.¬† Lime top with coral cartigan: awesome.¬† Orange skirt and maroon top? Surprisingly cool.

This doesn’t mean I don’t wear prints, because I do.¬† Nearly all of my dresses are bold graphic prints, as are a few of my skirts.¬† But once I realized that my closet was full of solid pieces (not on purpose, I just tend to buy what I like and it happened to play out that way), I knew why I was having fewer problems picking outfits than in the past.

For me, the trick to keeping it interested lies in bold color matches and fun accessories.¬† Choose pieces that you wouldn’t automatically pair, like different bright colors.¬† Also, this works way better if you layer tops and have mostly neutral bottoms.¬† When I do wear non-neutral bottoms, they’re usually still pretty subdued shades, like brown, maroon, navy, light yellow and rust.¬† As for accessories, go for the gusto.¬† Necklaces with large colored pendants, chunky turquoise, multicolored beads on metalllic chains, and oversized metallic chains are my favorites.¬† Look for pieces in your favorite colors (mine are lime, coral, blue, brown, an aqua) so that they’ll go with a range of pieces. Metallic shoes are also a great way to add punch to your non-print outfits.

Have fun mixing and matching–you’ll never have to work hard to stand out again.

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 25, 2008

The Revenge of the Lonely Pencil

Filed under: Starting Out — Serendipity @ 12:04 am

Okay, last post on this for awhile, I promise.¬† But I had to share this; this mini-series about the one-pencil philosophy totally jinxed me.¬† Yeah.¬† Not only did I lose my one pen that was out, the next two I grabbed didn’t work.¬† Freakin’ awesome, huh?¬† The good news is that the solution is simple: find another pen that works and hang on to it for dear life.¬†

Seriously, what I personally learned from this is to never be too smug about anything, because things will always go wrong. I also learned that one true test of a good system or idea is whether¬†it still works when a piece of that system falls apart.¬† I’m happy to report that the world did not come to crashing end¬†even though¬†I didn’t have¬†a dozen backup pens sitting directly on my desk.¬†

I went to my backup storage area (a set of plastic drawers directly behind my desk on a work table), grabbed cousin of daughter-in-law of son of Favorite But Now Lost Pen and was back in business.  The true beauty of simple systems is that they have simple solutions. Have a great Thursday!

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.

The “On Simplicity” Pledge

Filed under: Blogging,Uncategorized — Serendipity @ 9:17 am

In the spirit of simplicity, I make the following pledge:

I will not post unless I have something of value to say. “Today I cut my toenails” is not valuable information for anyone, so I’ll refrain from updating just for the sake of updating.

I pledge that each post will be written with care, and not dashed off at the last minute just to have something for people to read.

Since the goal of many simplifiers is to take back their time, I pledge that I will not waste your time or energy with vacuous posts.

I pledge to not take this blog too seriously.¬† You will not find highfalutin’ posts, just friendly ideas and inspiration.

I pledge not to clutter up your RSS reader.¬† You’ll just have to find some other way to waste time at work.


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