As a life-long minimalist, when life felt overwhelming, I would declutter my objects or my calendar to bring about more balance in my experience. Our culture is one of excess and overconsumption and I found that regular, judicious editing made life more joyful and manageable.
Four years ago, I sold the home that I had raised my children in. I was planning to travel and write in my retirement. God laughed at those plans and I have spent the past four years as caregiver to two family members. I have also moved five times.
As a minimalist, my identity is not tied to the objects I use and own. But in each of the five new spaces I have lived in these past four years, I have done what I could to make the space more functional and beautiful. Solely because it makes me happy to live in a simple and serene space.
Recently, I have felt a strong desire to create a more permanent home, a sanctuary space for myself and my son. I have bought a condo in a beautiful area of the city. It is near public transportation, shops and Forest Park.
I have not given up on my dream of creating a net-zero energy use home, but we will live here while I marshal the resources to create that dream. In the meantime, look to this space for the journey of creating a beautiful and calm space in the new home.
I am so excited to share with you that I am launching a new career as a life coach.
Since March 2020 I have been studying with the Martha Beck Wayfinding Life Coaching course. Life coaching is a short-term partnering with a coach to learn ways to get unstuck, clarify goals and remove obstacles to achieving those goals.
Most of you know me as a problem-solving, gratitude rich, compassionate, hard-worker.
Now I am offering these skills to help you and others live your best lives.
I’m one of those people who is always looking for the silver lining.
Not the minute that I get the wind knocked out of me, and not in the minutes when I am catching my breath. But after I have checked all my limbs to make sure that nothing is broken, I will evaluate what in the situation might be cause for gratitude.
I know that some people find this characteristic annoying because they call me an optimist in a tone that is intended to insult me. Like I wasn’t smart enough to realize how bad the situation is. But I am not an optimist, I am a grateful realist.
An optimist is a person who tends to be hopeful and confident about the future or the success of something. I observe the world around me, my body, my thoughts and seek the good in the present moment. Optimists are looking for a sunny future. I find a now with weather.
My four children are all adults now, but when they were little I had a strong sense that at each stage: babyhood, toddlers, elementary until …..well, even now…..at each stage there were things I loved and things I did not like.
Babies have that sweet baby smell, and there are few sounds that warm my heart as much as a baby giggling uncontrollably. However, none of my babies slept through the night until they were well past their 9 month check-up, and in my exhaustion I just slogged through the endless laundry.
Toddlers are adorable with their round little faces and curiosity and joy in discovery. The endless questions are exhausting and grocery store tantrums are a right of passage that is so common and predictable that it had me reassessing how smart I really was if I couldn’t avoid them.
What I came to understand fairly early in my parenting career was that all of these stages were transient. All of the things I loved, as well as the things I did not, would pass. I saw clearly that I could focus my attention on the things I didn’t like and be miserable or I could focus my attention on the things that were treasures and feel a well of gratitude. Either way, time passes. But I can choose how I experience the moments as they fly by.
Our language can deceive us. Take the English word balance, which can be a noun or a verb. You can own the kind of balance pictured above because it is an object. You can’t “possess” the kind of balance pictured below, as it is a moment by moment flow.
You can be in balance, but you can’t own it. And this distinction is often lost, partly due to our current culture that believes what we have bought and stored in our home is ours. We are a society of consumers and owners. We don’t do quite as well with being states. And while objects inevitably decay, a state of being can be returned to time and time again.
Being in balance, any skilled surfer will confirm, demands being in the present moment. It requires assessing the current conditions and making adjustments, large and small in response to them.
You can’t do this when your attention is focused on that hurtful thing that was said to you in fourth grade or when it is trolling forward imagining the offenses possible at the next family gathering.
It is difficult to find this kind of balance when you are overwhelmed by your to-do list, your work situation or family circumstances.
The place to find it is in a space of both effort and stillness.
Take a moment to stand up (if that is available to you) and center yourself, imagining both your feet grounding deep into the earth. Then gradually shift your weight into your left foot until you can easily lift your right foot barely off the ground. Your arms are at your side, initially. Now notice your left foot and ankle. They are in constant adjustment to keep you in balance. If you haven’t done this exercise in awhile, you will notice that every little thing throws you off: your thoughts, moving your eyes, unexpected sound. But the more you practice it, the more skilled and resilient you become. Eventually, you can stand on one foot with your eyes closed and move all the other parts of your body and even entertain distressing thoughts without falling over.
To create this same kind of equilibrium in life requires you to create gaps and to pay attention. You don’t learn balance careening down the advanced skier slope, you learn it on a very slight incline. Likewise, if you are so busy with activities that you have no time for reflection, you don’t have anyway to assess if what you are doing is in line with your values.
There was a time in my life when I was working 65 hours per week and raising three teenagers. This is kind of the equivalent of standing on one leg, holding a chair by one of its legs with one hand and a wiggling toddler with the other. There were few moments of balance. The only gaps in my life at that time were when I was waiting in line at the grocery store or when someone put me on hold on the phone. Also, a couple times when I locked myself out of my car and I had to wait for someone to bring me the spare key. I realized how unhealthy my busyness had become and I leveraged these moments to figure out a way to give myself twenty minutes of quiet time at 5 am. That morphed into designing a work schedule that benefited my employer and co-workers and reduced my hours to 45 per week. A million more adjustments, large and small, and I am in balance most days now. I still get thrown off. But I don’t shame myself about it. I get still and centered and try again.
How about you? Where can you find a couple of gaps to begin to practice being present and test your balance.
Abundance! Who does not want abundance? More than enough! Your cup flowing over. You can feel it. Never being in need. Having more than enough to share. The ability to just relax, because all your needs are met. And will be met.
Do you know what that looks like? I mean, could you describe the exact moment that you know you do not have to stockpile for the next social upheaval and can share with your neighbors? Or someone on the other side of the world?
Do you ever wonder if Bill and Melinda Gates ever said to each other after the lights were out, “We can’t possibility spend all this money in our lifetimes. Even if we buy 20 gold-plated private jets. What should we do with it?”
Or what was the tipping point for Andrew Carnegie? Born a poor weaver’s son in Scotland, he became an American industrialist, one of the richest men in the 20th century United States. He then proceeded to give away the largest portion of his fortune to fund 3 thousand public libraries and other cultural endeavors.
Or for Dolly Parton, who seems to almost solely support the economy of eastern Tennessee?
I do not know what their tipping points were. But I can teach you to find your own personal tipping point. And for most of us it does not require billions of dollars. Are you curious?
What is enough?
The first description of enough that rang true to me was in the book Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin. Joe describes being really, really, hungry and going out for hamburger. For political correctness (because this is NOT the place we want to lose readers…) you and I are going out for a bowl of mac and cheese…. or maybe vegan lasagna……or maybe raw carrot juice. Please work with me here. Whatever your favorite food may be….you have not eaten for a bit and your animal body is hungry.
There is the scenario. You are hungry. Your favorite food is now available. You eat the delicious burger, or mac and cheese, or vegan lasagna or carrot juice. Whatever delicious thing you eat, your taste buds are jazzed! Your belly is content! It was soooo good! And here you are, still at the restaurant. The company is good, and you are not in a hurry, so you decide to order another of that delicious thing. And you eat the next one, the whole thing. The first was so yummy! But you are kinda full. So it is not as delicious as the first one was. But it was still pretty good. So, you order another one. And eat that one too. And now you are nauseous, sick to your stomach.
So where is “Not Enough?” It is when you are hungry. And where is “Too Much?” It is when you are throwing up. You can’t take it all in.
And where is “Enough?” It is somewhere in between.
And here is the key: enough is different in each person and each situation. How many saris does each of Mother Theresa’s nuns need? According to a 1990’s documentary- three: one to wear, one to wash and one to mend.
Let’s consider the generous Dolly Parton, how many saris does she need? Zero. How many sparkly, sequined, full-length gowns does she need? Probably in the hundreds. How many sparkly, sequined gowns to I need? Zero. Where would I wear it? To the library? To the grocery store? To the Social Security Office?
We begin to see that “Enough” varies from person to person and varies for the same person over the course of a lifetime. It pertains to how much food we eat, how much and what kind of clothing we maintain, how many social groups we interact with and just about every aspect of our lives.
Discovering your own personal “Enough” is a kind of meditation on quality of life. You discover your closet is full of clothes that you don’t wear–that is information about what is enough clothing for you. You notice that you feel energized going for a walk with your friend in the morning and are unspeakably lethargic making a dish for an evening potluck gathering at same friend’s home. Hmmmm. That’s interesting.
And here is where the magic occurs: Once you know your “Enough,” just one unit more is abundance. And two units more begins to feel like too much. Like clutter. Like a burden.
You love horses? You have a 200 acre farm? How many horses can you ride in a day? Are they all rescues, that don’t need to be exercised? Are you creating a therapy program with the working horses? How many volunteers can you supervise? Exactly how many horses and how many volunteers is too many?
I raised four children, just the right amount for me. Because I did it on a nurse’s salary and wanted them all to go to university (if they desired it), I had to be very, very efficient in how I allocated our resources. We did not go out to eat, except maybe for Mother’s Day. We lived in a modest home. Everybody had a week’s worth of clothes, until they stopped growing. Then the clothes stockpiled a bit. Ha! Abundance!
We have navigated “too many activities” and “too many Christmas celebrations” and “not enough money for the college I want to go to” and “how many cars does one household need?” And what is the most facile and economical way to have 3 meals a day for 4-5 people, every single day?
I know that your personal “Enough” will be mitigated by your culture, and your family, and the length of the cycles of plenty and scarcity that occur in your region. If you have walked on foot out of a war-torn region, I dare-say, material “Enough” is what you carry on your person. And personal safety “Enough” is something that you will describe to me.
But I am confident in this–want to have abundance? Find your “Enough” first. Abundance is in the close shadow of “Enough.”
The last three times I have refinished a piece of furniture, I vowed to myself that it was the last time. You all are my witnesses. This IS the last time. The above dresser has been in son Mike’s room (where ever that was) for the last 21 years. Before that, it belonged to his father. So I estimate it to be 1960’s vintage. The majority of the piece is yellow pine, a soft, inexpensive wood. The rest is melamine and a bit of plastic for the drawer slides. So it is not precious. I was hoping to send it to the charity shop, but son Mike stated that “he liked it.” And I found it hideous. So it was upon me to effect the change as Mike was content with the status quo.
So the proportions are okay, but I hate the pseudo-Early American handles and the shiny (and lets be real here,) dripped varnish.
I hauled all of this outside and sanded it with both a flat sander and by hand. I calculate it took about 18 hours. Plus I got a bad case of chiggers–don’t ask.
Where I could not sand out the old stain, it looked grey. So that was my choice for the new stain. I thought it would blend. I spent a longish time selecting the new stain at the stain aisle at the home improvement store, and selected a stain color that the samples showed as grey, and was named “Slate.”
Turns out that “Slate” is way more blue than grey. Not a color that I would have consciously chosen. But here we are and I do not absolutely hate it….as I did the previous finish.
Working clockwise, starting at the top: Blender, coffee maker, water kettle, skillet with lid, casserole with lid, 5 glass food storage containers (4 in photo-1 in fridge with food in it,) 4 mugs, 4 glasses, in one of the mugs are: [4 forks, 4 butter knives, 4 soup spoons, 3 serving spoons,] 6 plates, 5 bowls, saucepan w/ lid, 13 various cooking utensils, a measuring cup, 2 sauce dishes, stainless steel mixing bowl, colander, tower grater, fruit bowl, jelly roll pan, 3 dish clothes and the cutting board. #70 items.
Bathroom (#5 items)
No photos beyond what I have already posted. Items: shower liner, trash can, soap dispenser, (fake) plant, jade Buddha statute.
Common Spaces Furniture & Décor (#13 items)
The red chairs (2), rug, black mirror cabinet, mirror, plants (that have lived so far….) x3, jade toad, framed photo, crystal, table, lamp.
Oh, and I forgot the trash can in the kitchen that is semi-attached. so #89 common household items. What a curious game this is…..
Long-time readers know that I count my items each year around my birthday as a mindfulness tool. Many of you have told me that it is your favorite post of the year. Let’s get started.
Miscellaneous items not pictured: cell phone, car, umbrella, the bed. Total miscellaneous items #21.
Clothing (total clothing items #61)
Personal care items #7. Just for transparency, I stopped counting the consumables, but if you are wanting to keep track: I use a natural bar soap which also works as a shampoo and shaving lubricant, a hair conditioner, tooth paste, floss, foundation, eyebrow pencil and mascara.
I’ve started a new category called business which currently has 3 items: the file cabinet and a shredder and a bin for office supplies.
That is a total of 92 objects for myself alone. It does not include household and kitchen items shared with my son. I will do a post later in the summer listing those objects.
Since retirement from paid employment 2 years ago, my meditation practice has become more regular. And due to my yoga practice, my knees have become more flexible.
In the past, I meditated in a nice comfy chair. Lately, I have been assuming the more traditional posture of half lotus position. I thought about creating a more structured meditation space with a floating shelf with flowers and a candle on it.
But the minimalist in me loves for spaces to be mostly empty and flexible and (let’s be real here) easy to clean. So I have created this meditation corner out of objects that also serve at least one other purpose in my home.