I’m intrigued by the minimalist movement. (If you aren’t, please don’t stop reading yet…I’m not going the direction you might think.) I’ve read multiple books and articles on the topic, checked out the Netflix documentaries, and even joined an online discussion group headed by Joshua Becker. And in my opinion, the best minimalist advice that has stayed with me over the years is this: use EVERYTHING (no matter how much or how little I have), and enjoy it “today.”
Let me explain a little further.
I have items in my home that have not been used and enjoyed, because I’m completely guilty of waiting for some vague, special occasion. And I know I’m not the only one. Why do we save Grandma’s antique china for only extraordinary dinners? Why do we buy the specially illustrated books and just have them sit on the shelf? Why do we keep a pristine sitting area that (ironically) people rarely sit in?
My friend who deals in Moroccan goods picked out a beautiful dish set* for me and had her husband carefully wrap them in his clothing and bring them in this suitcase to Egypt, where I was living at the time. She couldn’t come with him, so he was the courier, and it was such a huge treat! These well-traveled beauties arrived in great condition, and I was in awe of them. So much so that I barely used them. They were “too special.”
But why? Why not make my everyday special? And this is the question many minimalists are asking. And I decided to join in.
As a result, I started using the Moroccan dishes for my usual cereals and salads. I’ve also started wearing my white shirts and blouses (I had always saved them back in case I got spills on them. For what though?) I’ve been wearing my “good” jewelry, even around the house during this year’s lockdown. I’ve been putting my favorite and best towels out in the bathroom. I’ve even indulged in my daily teas. I used to save back my favorite teabags. But for what? A significant morning? Why not make today’s morning significant?
I guess I thought I was being frugal because I was being “careful” with my favorite things. But I was often just being wasteful. I was like a snail just hauling around a heavy shell of stuff. And I wasn’t using my items for the purpose they were created for. Now that I am, I’m happy to report that my life definitely feels richer; and while I’m following minimalist advice, I’m actually maximizing my enjoyment.
*See in photo above.
Simple truth: COVID has severely limited our ability to go on any relaxing vacations this year. But according to writer Karen Trefzger, we don’t need to completely miss out. In her blog article from No Sidebar, titled "Una Bella Vita," she beautifully illustrates how we can bring a holiday to our own home.
First, Trefzger wants us to identify a dream trip that cannot happen:
Maybe a trip to Tuscany is part of your dream. So wherever you are, you’re longing for Tuscany. Maybe you feel cheated by the fact that you can’t go.
Then she urges us to dissect the dream and learn what it is that we are longing for:
What does Tuscany offer that my hometown doesn’t? Perhaps the appeal is the warm climate, the rural vineyards and olive groves, the slower pace of life, the wine and the food, the language, the colors, the art, or the ancient buildings.
She rightfully points out that even if we took a trip to Tuscany, we would eventually have to leave. So, what can we do? And here’s the gem in her article: we can seek to make our home “the environment we yearn to be in.”
Trefzger continues with the Tuscany example, giving a list of things we can do around our house to, in essence, bring what we crave about Tuscany to our own home. And these are doable activities. Maybe for you it's not Tuscany, but Mexico or the UK or Asia. No matter the area, our ideas do not need to be incredibly elaborate or very costly:
Can we watch a foreign opera or documentary on TV?
Have coffee outside on the deck?
Listen to Irish songs?
Make flour tortillas by hand?
Finally learn to use chopsticks?
Light our own Chinese lanterns?
Just. Slow. Down. (Like we would on a vacation, when we are away from work?)
And, once more, I’m discovering the importance of living life intentionally, and therefore, living life richly. Trefgzer wisely urges us to get to the bare bones of what we desire concerning our dream trips and then to purposefully add these elements into our daily lives. No passport required. This beautiful, encouraging article offers such a positive outlook, and I highly recommend reading it if you have the chance.
I really wanted to be a plant lady. I would see these amazing pictures on Pinterest of lush living rooms and kitchens that have an elegant, jungle feel to them. I even loved the minimalist blogs that show a desk with just that one darling succulent. So, somewhat giddy, I finally dove in one day, and I got myself my own posse of plants.
And I slowly watched them die off.
Because as much as I adored my plants (probably smothered them), I wasn’t the best plant mama. I’d overwater and then subsequently underwater them. I repotted one incorrectly. I accidentally closed a window blind on one of them (heart stopping). My affection for plants, as strong as it is, was not helping them thrive.
After giving some of plants away (I think they breathed a sigh of relief) and getting help for my remaining plant family, I now have five plants that seem to be thriving.
Why am I telling you this? Because all this prompted me to whine and ask myself the age-old question: Why can’t I excel at something I love? Especially as an adult capable of researching, learning, and making sound decisions.
Instead, I needed to ask myself a different question: Since I can’t currently get what I want (a blossoming kitchen with little branches that reach out to me as I make pancakes), what can I do, using the resources I have, to get myself closer to my dream? And I didn’t give up. Instead, I looked at what was doable, and I started with that. In my case, that was five plants.
In a culture that loves microwaves, next-day delivery, and instant beverages, it’s beneficial to remind ourselves that our dreams are much more complex and precious. They involve steps, and that’s a good thing. Think of the quality of a hot drink that takes time to morph in the hands of a careful barista. It’s worth the wait.
I think we should work toward our goals gradually and enjoy the process of reaching them; by doing this, we learn it’s okay to slow down. It’s okay for our dreams, no matter how small, to take years to achieve.
We all want to live “the good life”, no matter our types of dreams, but as Carl Rogers wisely reminds us: “The good life is a process, not a state of being. It is a direction not a destination.” So, I enjoy my five plants that represent my attempt to slow down, my attempt to head toward my dream, and my attempt to not stress so much about completing the process. And I am content.
My phone and all its beloved apps really add to the noise in my mind. So, to better calm myself at night, I’ve started going to bed with it way out of reach. Maybe many of you have been doing this all along, and I’m late to the party.
Here’s where I’m bad: WhatsApp. Especially during the quarantine times this year, WhatsApp has been wonderful. I still feel connected with others via the texts and little pictures and videos. I heart WhatsApp. But at night I say no to it, and I’ve started plugging my phone in the hallway, totally out of my room and away from my sleeping area.
It has been incredible for these three reasons:
I have a calmer mind at night. Throughout the day, WhatsApp keeps me constantly multi-tasking. I’m doing my usual tasks, but a part of my brain is focused on the multiple messages between friends and family; and I enjoy this. But as a result, even when I’m not looking directly at my phone, I’m thinking about those ongoing conversations. And they can make my mind just spin. And this can cause anxiety.
I’ve noticed a sense of freedom. Maybe it’s the JOMO – Joy Of Missing Out – but I have one task at night: to calm my mind and go to sleep. And I think for years, I have taken this for granted with last minute article searches and final texts before falling asleep. Why have I insisted on my phone? Is it always so important that I get those last few chats in? Mindlessly scroll Pinterest? See what the latest is on Instagram? No. It’s not. At least not for me.
Lastly, I’ve noticed a hunger for more peace. That peaceful feeling I’m enjoying at night? I’m starting to want it through the day. And I’ve found that when I’m at home, I like to plug my phone in that same spot in my hall and leave it for a time period. I’ll check the messages later and instead focus on other aspects of life. My phone will be waiting for me, and it’s fun to wonder what the latest message is instead of grabbing my device the exact moment it chimes.
Have I perfected my new routine? No way. One time I was heading to the bathroom in the middle of the night, and I made eye contact with my charging phone (if this is even possible…I feel like it is). And oh, it tugged on my heartstrings. What if my Mom texted that she got the package I mailed? Or my friend sent me new pictures of her baby? I had so many “good” reasons to pick that thing up.
Instead, I mentally told myself no, walked past it, and slipped back into the bedroom and under the covers. It felt good.
I’m not denying myself. I’m discipling myself, and as a result, I’m giving myself more power along with all those other benefits I listed: a calmer mind, a sense of freedom, and more peace. I’m finally saying yes to what is important in life and not just blindly following my habits.
And it’s incredibly worth it.
When little, I wrung out a soppy washcloth in front of my grandma. She looked at me and said with a smile, “Good for you! You did it correctly.” Because wringing a washcloth is different than just squeezing it to get the water out. You know… you hold each end and twist the fabric in opposite directions when wringing. As me and my grandma knew, this releases more water.
Can I just tell you that little me puffed up with such pride? OH. YES. I was incredibly pleased with my grandma’s praise. Since I knew the most effective way to get water out of cloth, I felt both knowledgeable and wise. I also felt great affection between me and my grandma.
Let’s just say that to this day, when I wring out my washcloth, my grandma (who has passed away) will often flit back through my mind. It’s such a sweet little memory.
Can you believe that? Words of praise, years ago, about an insignificant washcloth, still give me all the happy feels. Wow. We humans have such incredible power to give timeless encouragement, just by opening our mouth.
Let’s use compliments like we would our favorite ice-cream topping: generously and lovingly. (Oh yes, I put my ice-cream toppings on lovingly…don’t you?) Think of what an impact we will make in the mental well-being of others, no matter their age! And possibly over and over, for years to come. Just like my Grandma did for me.
I’ve written a few blog posts about taking time to celebrate. I can’t stress enough that I feel we should do more of it. Here’s one thing I (and apparently many others) love to celebrate: Birthday Eves!*
I don’t know how it officially came about, but I personally remember joking with my family about the day before our birthday being our “Birthday Eve.” (Yes, I’m giving it capitalization!) The whole concept made logical sense in my young mind. We had Christmas Eve, and frankly, it could be a lot of fun. Why not have more eves on the calendar?
And now that I’m older, and I hope to pour into the lives of my friends and family, I really enjoy sending them a “Happy Birthday Eve” message the day before their birthday. I’m not talking anything over the top: it can be a cute little picture, a gif, or even a recorded message. The purpose is to reach out.
I’m not sharing this to make myself look like a great friend. In fact, I know some people will think my celebrating is a little out of control, and I won’t be winning any favors. I’m sharing this because I hope you will at least consider joining me in recognizing Birthday Eves. I believe in the simple gestures that make someone feel loved. To me, such actions show others I am thinking of them and not just because Facebook sent me a notice.
Life is tough as it is. And 2020 has been incredibly hard for many of us. I think we could all benefit from feeling special…especially around our birthdays.
If you experience anxiety, you may have seen how it has a cruel way of creating a whirlwind of emotions that come and go throughout the day. It can get to the point where you are tired of ALL THE FEELS. You crave peace. Simplicity.
A port in the storm for me has been to boldly take a step toward the emotion I want to have, not the one that just happens to be present. In essence, I’m learning to get ahead of my emotions and dictate to myself how I will feel. I call it “framing the situation." (Note: there is probably a more professional term.) Because I believe we can be storytellers of our own life. We don’t have to be so darn passive. It’s basically self-talk, and it goes something like this:
“Once I clean up after dinner, I will feel so good having a fresh kitchen.”
I find it’s even more effective to take this a step further and voice your narration to someone. Speak positive:
“It will be so relaxing to curl up in bed tonight.”
“The commute from work might be rough, but I’ll be so relieved when I get home.”
Even mundane comments about the weather can work. I had a friend who delighted in walking into work, dripping from the rain. He’d smile at us serenely while saying, “What a lovely day it is.” And he meant it.
Did I agree? Well, to be honest, no, I didn’t. I’m just not that smitten with rainy days where I can’t stay inside with my tea. But just his positive narration lifted the atmosphere in our workplace. It was, at the very least, nice to know someone found the climate enjoyable.
I would like to leave you with three helpful reminders:
Creator of Love, Auntie.
About LOVE, AUNTIE
Welcome! My blog is a journal of sorts as I seek what makes "older" worth celebrating in a world that tends to glorify "younger." I hope it's a place you will find encouragement and positive words.