Thursday, October 31, 2019

Why I Don't Make New Year's Resolutions

At the end of each year, lots of people think about next year and what they want to achieve. You probably see a lot of articles about making new year’s resolutions and the best way to succeed. But not from me.

Some statistics about new year’s resolutions

According to an article in, only about 9% of new years resolutions will be achieved.
The majority of people surveyed by recently said they were making resolutions about saving money. After that, the most popular choices were:
  • losing weight/getting in shape
  • having more sex
  • traveling more
  • reading more
  • learning a new skill/hobby
  • buying a house
  • quitting smoking
  • finding love
And I bet that a lot of these resolutions carry over from year to year—because, at a 9% success rate, they’re just not getting done!
Yet at the beginning of 2018, reported that over 2/3 of the people surveyed still said they would be making new year’s resolutions.

What’s the point in making new year’s resolutions year after year, and then never keeping them?!

I have some theories. One of them is that people feel pressure from society or their peers to make changes. Think, for example, about the resolution for losing weight/getting into shape. If there weren’t so many pictures all over the media of these fit, perfect-looking, beautiful people getting all the attention, would you care about how much you weigh? There have been times historically (and still in some cultures today) when being overweight was/is a sign of prosperity. I bet those people don’t make resolutions to lose weight every year.
Don’t get me wrong. I believe it’s important to be at a healthy weight for your health. Being overweight significantly increases the risk of many chronic conditions: heart disease, type II diabetes, arthritis, cancer, Alzheimer’s, and more. But if you are trying to lose weight because of other people’s reasons, then it won’t be enough motivation to achieve your goal.

Goal-setting tips that just don’t work for me

One thing people talk a lot about when creating goals is the SMART system:
  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound
This can be helpful, but only for some people and in certain situations. While I think all those aspects of goal-making are important, they are not enough.
If you’re like me, this has happened many, many times with a goal that you want to achieve. You have it all planned out, then something goes wrong. You get discouraged and give up because you don’t know how to re-start. You’ve lost momentum.
If you set 10-20 new year’s resolutions, then you’re just multiplying your frustration when things go south.
I also found that most of the day planners, schedulers, task managers and to-do lists don’t work for me either. I will either forget to check them or when the reminders come up on my phone I’ll swipe them away because they occur at a bad time. I find it easier to block out time on my schedule to work on a goal.
I don’t think developing more discipline works, either. Willpower fades with time. And if you had enough discipline, then reaching goals wouldn’t be a problem!
And the answer is not throwing money at it, or at least that doesn’t work all the time. Although sometimes that helps.
I don’t think accountability partners work either. Because what if your accountability partner starts flaking or losing interest?

What I do instead of New Year’s resolutions

I’ve said it before: humans are horrible at multitasking. Our brains are just not built to do it with any effectiveness. So I only worry about one goal at a time. I decide what to work on based on what is most important to me and focus on that single idea until I achieve it.
And I think that starting a goal just because it’s the new year is pretty arbitrary. It may just be my general rebellion against tradition, but why January 1st? We get ideas all year round about things we want to achieve. Waiting until the next year starts to work on them seems silly. Not to mention you might forget, or so much time has passed that you’ve lost your excitement for something that might be a good idea to pursue.
One of the best goal-setting books I’ve found is called The Healthy Habit Revolution by Derek Doepker (Amazon affiliate link). I used some, but not all, of his tips. But what I really like is breaking down goals into micro-tasks—something so easy that it’s practically impossible to not get it done.
So for example, say you’re the person who wants to read more. Your micro-task is to read one page per day, or maybe for 30 seconds to 1 minute per day. Who doesn’t have 30 seconds? Will you accomplish what you want quickly? Unlikely. But you will achieve something, and if you read for one minute per day, that’s over 6 hours of reading you’ve done that year. Which is way more than reading a couple pages on January 1st and then quitting.
Derek’s book talks about how to ramp up from there, but to always fall back to your micro-task if it’s all you have time for. That way you keep your habit going every day.
Also, sometimes planning on doing things that are due by the end of the year is a surefire path to failure. Some things take longer than a year to implement.

The real key to successfully achieving goals (or New Year’s resolutions)

No matter what it is you’re trying to do, the answer is simple. And it isn’t what you might think.
In my opinion, the only way to achieve your goals is to want the results more than you want other things.
But you may need some reminders of your goals. So have a picture related to your goal everywhere you look: on your fridge, taped to the mirror in the bathroom, as your screensaver on your computer, maybe even on your ceiling over your bed.
You have to have a really strong motivation to keep you going past the roadblocks and sidetracks. Because they will happen. You have to find your “why” and keep it in front of you.
So whether you start a new goal today, January 1st, or whenever, get really clear on your motivations first. If you want it badly enough, you will find a way to achieve it.

Is It Easier to Be a Minimalist as an Introvert?

In my last post, I talked about spending money where it matters most as a minimalist concept. But does your personality type make it easier to be a minimalist? Here’s why it might be easier to be a minimalist as an introvert, but also how to deal with minimalist challenges as an extrovert.
A study looked at more than 76,000 bank transaction records and discovered that personality type may make a difference in how happy someone is based on their spending. For example, an extrovert might be happier spending money on a social activity while an introvert would be happier spending money on something they can do by themselves. The important takeaway was to spend your money on what matters to you, which is likely in line with your personality type, and definitely matches your unique tastes.

Can an extrovert be a minimalist?

One article says that 5 common traits of extroverts are:
  • They love to talk
  • Open and willing to share
  • Often described as friendly and approachable
  • Like to solve problems through discussion
  • Getting energized by socializing
It goes on to say that extroverts are more likely to engage in risky behavior - both healthy and unhealthy risks. This could mean a tendency to do more impulsive things, like spending money on a whim. This could certainly lead to troubles with a minimalist lifestyle.
There are other ways an extrovert might have a difficult time with minimalism. For example, if they love to have people over to entertain, they might feel the need to have lots of furniture, dishes, etc. They might also want lots of different clothes so their friends don’t always see them in the same outfits.
They might also have a lot of memorabilia related to social activities—lots of photo albums, keepsakes from events, and decorations for holiday parties.
Having a busy social life could also mean spending a large amount of money and time on going out with friends.

If you’re an extrovert who wants to be more minimalist, there are plenty of ways to do it without compromising the things you enjoy.

If you want to downsize your personal space, how about having smaller get-togethers at your place? You can still have people over, just break things down into several smaller parties. When people come over, you’ll need less seating and other supplies to host a party. It will also be easier to spend more time with each person you invite.
You can also consider utilizing more outdoor space, or asking people to bring folding chairs or other furniture with them. Alternatively, you can host an event at a park, restaurant or event center.
If you feel like you have too many clothes to sift through each time you need something to wear, how about using a capsule wardrobe? This is an easy way to separate your clothes by season into usable outfits. The rest gets stored away, and suddenly it’s a lot easier to see what’s in your closet!
If you feel like your calendar is too full and you want to cut back, I recommend considering saying no more often to less valuable social activities.

How introverts handle minimalism

According to this article, 8 traits of introverts are:
  • Being around lots of people drains energy
  • Having a small group of friends
  • Prefers solitude
  • Sometimes thought of as “shy,” which is not the same thing (although you can be both). Also more reserved and perhaps seen as unapproachable
  • Good at self-reflection
  • Learns by watching
  • Prefers independent work
However, being an introvert doesn’t eliminate difficulties being minimalist. For example, an introvert might immerse themselves in things at home, which could mean buying/collecting more and more objects: books, materials for hobbies, kitchen gadgets, etc.
And being introverted does not mean that one would enjoy having lots of clothes, furniture, etc.
There are also many activities an introvert could do that could involve smaller groups of people, like visiting an art museum on a less busy day or taking a hiking or camping trip in a remote area.
And just because introverts prefer smaller groups doesn’t mean that they won’t occasionally immerse themselves in larger groups.

How to be more minimalist as an introvert

Being more self-aware means having more opportunities to examine your behavior and find the meaning behind it. So the next time you’re thinking of adding one more item to your collection, ask yourself the “why” behind it. Do you really need it? What purpose does it serve to own this item? Is it filling an emotional or physical need? Is it possible you can fulfill this need in other ways—with things you already own?
Thinking before you bring something into your home helps both with clutter and your finances. Take a moment to have gratitude for what you already have and what it brings to your life.
And if you’re like me and you get stuck in a thought loop, try time blocking. Studies show that after about 30 minutes, most people are no longer concentrating on a task at an effective level. So give time blocking a try—set a time for yourself for 30 minutes and when the timer goes off, move on.

Are there more extroverts or introverts who are minimalists?

Here’s the plot twist: according to Psychology Today, anywhere from 1/2 to 2/3 of the population are considered ambiverts. These people have a unique combination of self-assertion and listening skills, which makes them successful in areas like sales that require both.
This same article seems to imply that introversion and extroversion, in addition to being exceptions to the rule, are more of a mindset. You think you are one, so you are. If this belief is harming you, then perhaps you should read the article and determine if it’s something you need to work on.
There just isn’t enough data out there to determine how many minimalists are introverts, extroverts or ambiverts. But statistically speaking, if there are that many ambiverts, they could easily make up the majority of minimalists. And since they may have attributes of both introverts and extroverts, they could encounter both the advantages and pitfalls involved in trying to be more minimalist.
I did an informal survey of minimalist blogs, and it does appear there are several self-proclaimed introverted minimalists out there. They also seem to be in agreement that introverts would be more drawn to minimalism.
However, could they actually be ambiverts with introverted leanings?
Not to mention many introverts could be hiding out from the internet altogether. They could also be shy, which would make it unlikely they would make their presence known in a blog.
Bottom line: as I’ve said before, minimalism is accessible to everyone. Anyone can find a facet of the minimalist lifestyle that could make things better for them. So no matter your personality type, you can find benefits from being more minimalist.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Spending Money Where It Matters Most

I think frugality is great for some people. But I’m not one of those minimalists that believes you need to pinch every penny. In fact, I practice spending money in the areas of my life that will have the greatest impact on my happiness. So let’s have a discussion on spending money where it matters most.

What matters most to you?

Obviously, you have to figure that out before you know where to spend, right? And this isn’t about what’s most urgent, or the things that currently take up most of your time but you don’t care for. So what makes you happiest?
For me, I enjoy tasty food. I love to travel and the experiences that go along with it. So my money goes toward quality food at home (and sometimes eating out), and travel-related activities.
Here’s how to figure out what’s most important in your life:
  • What makes you happy? And I’m not talking about something that makes you happy at the moment but then you feel bad about it later. Like buying shoes that you can’t afford and having a stomach ache when you get the credit card bill. I mean things that bring you pure joy, like a hobby, or day trips to your favorite beachside town. If you get happiness from something without negative consequences, it belongs on your important list.
  • What are activities that give you a sense of accomplishment or fulfillment? A good example would be work (paid or unpaid, such as volunteer work) that brings purpose into your life and boosts your confidence. Maybe it isn’t enjoyable for you in the typical sense, where you’re thinking about how much fun it is while you’re doing it. It could even take a lot of effort on your part. But when you see the results, you feel amazing. 
  • What are the ideas and activities that you just can’t get enough of? Maybe every time you see an article about scuba diving, you can’t wait to read it. You take a yearly scuba diving trip and you spend the rest of the year thinking about your next trip. Could spending more money in this area make you happier?
  • Here’s a simple way to get an answer: if you didn’t have to worry about money and could do anything you wanted, how would you spend your time?
  • Does it make you feel better physically? If your physical health is in poor shape, it’s that much harder to feel better emotionally. So if you’ve found something that helps with physical well-being, add it to your list of what matters most.

How to spend less money on stuff you don’t need

This thought process may cause you to realize you are spending tons of money and energy on stuff that doesn’t matter to you. But, you feel stuck. How do you cut out that stuff that doesn’t matter?
For some ideas, see my post: 13 Things To Stop Buying To Save Money. The goal is to get rid of only the things you don’t care about, or are non-essential and less important to you. I don’t miss any of the things I cut from my expenses, and I’m very thankful to have that money freed up to use for what matters most to me.
If you’re having a hard time, think about it this way. If you were happy with how things are in your life, then you probably wouldn’t be reading this article. You know that saying, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results?” If you’re not happy, then something has to change.
So give it a try, and see how it feels. If you start to feel lighter and happier, then you know you’re on the right track.

Spending money where it matters most

Now for the fun part—using your money in a way that matters to you and affects your life in positive ways. Here’s how to do it effectively:
Can spending money in one area support your ability to do it more often? Perhaps you can invest in an education that improves your skills even more. It could be the difference between a hobby or side gig and a career that you love.
Or if you have kids, how about paying for a babysitter so you can go do something for yourself? I don’t have kids, but I have a dog with high anxiety who can’t be left alone for more than a few minutes. Before we had my mom with us, we would hire a pet sitter to watch Tahoe when we had an activity that we wanted to do together. I think no matter how much you love your children (furry or otherwise), everyone needs some time away to focus on themselves. While this may not be spending money directly on what matters, it still contributes to the end result.

Don’t get into spending habits that take the fun out of your experience.

I wrote first about cutting back on other spending because if your money is already stretched thin, then spending more is unlikely to make you happier. Refer back to the bullet point about things that make you happy without negative consequences.
Spend strategically. Instead of blowing all your funds on a single experience, can you break it up into smaller activities? That way you can stretch them out over a longer period, and have a constant influx of happiness.
One final thought. Make sure that you are spending money on things that actually matter to you, and not just what you think matters, or what other people tell you should be important, or what you feel obligated to spend money on. The things that matter most should be your decision alone, independent of the wants and needs of everyone else around you.
If you use this advice to change your spending habits, let me know how it goes!

Catharsis: How To Be An Emotional Minimalist

Are your emotions holding you hostage? Maybe they’re preventing you from earning more money or having the close relationships you want. Maybe you just aren’t happy. Catharsis is the process of releasing strong emotions. Here’s how to get rid of those negative thoughts and get on track for the life you want.

Discover your negative emotions and where they’re coming from

Strong, negative emotions come from a lot of different places. They can be related to job stress, financial stress, personal relationships, self-esteem and more.
The first and the best thing you can do is to name your feeling. Is it anger? Resentment? Anxiety? Sorrow? If you don’t know what it is you need to work on, then how can you work on it?
If you’re having trouble figuring out what you’re feeling, here are some ideas:
  • Get help. More and more employers these days have employee wellness programs, which offer free or discounted services. Your employer may offer things like free counseling through the EAP (Employee Assistance Program), or classes on stress management or meditation. And if your employer is the cause of your stress, it’s only fair that they contribute to the solution as well.
  • Start a journal. Do some stream-of-consciousness writing. Don’t worry about punctuation, grammar or spelling. Just take whatever is in your brain and dump it onto a sheet of paper (or a word document). After a while, you may see a pattern emerging that leads you to some answers.
  • Ask yourself a series of “why” questions surrounding something that you notice bothers you. Keep asking why until you get to the core reason. Here’s an example: Q: “Why do I get upset every time Jane at work emails me?” A: “Because she’s annoying.” Q: “Why do I find Jane annoying?” A: “Because she always asks stupid questions.” Q: “Why do I think her questions are stupid?” A: “Because she’s been told the same answer over and over again.” And so on. So maybe the feeling, in this case, is annoyance, or frustration, or resentment that you have to deal with someone who’s wasting your time.

Once you know what you’re feeling, see if you can reduce or eliminate external stressors

The ultimate change will have to come from within, but sometimes outside forces are so strong that they overwhelm any possibility of you making change inside yourself. Here are ways to cut back on some of that pressure so you have room for cathartic change.
  • If you feel your stress is due to inappropriate workplace behavior, such as harassment or a hostile work environment, then speak up. HR is meant to be a neutral party that must investigate these claims.
  • Build a support team. If you have a friend or family member who is also under a lot of stress, set up a buddy system to vent to each other. Sometimes just getting those negative feelings out with someone who is an active listener and on your side is enough to make you feel better. You can take turns, set timers, talk while taking a walk together.
  • Cut people or things out from your life that trigger these feelings. If possible, take a couple days off away from everyone and everything that cause you problems. If you can’t do that, give yourself some time each day when you turn off your phone, don’t check email, and get in some “me time.” Do something you enjoy, like taking a hot bath or reading a good book.
  • When you feel the stress building up during the day, take a break and walk or jog around the block as quickly as you can. Exercise floods your system with endorphins, which create positive feelings.

Only you can change how you think or feel about something

Always remember this: the power lies with you. I know it won’t always feel like it, but I guarantee that if you work at it, you will have more control over your reaction to things. Here are some ways to do that.
  • Think about your money story. What are your beliefs about money, and what’s the earliest time you can remember thinking this way? What triggered this belief? I recommend writing out your story, just letting the words flow without thinking about punctuation, spelling, or grammar. Then read it over. Do those thoughts have any connection to your current reality or are they part of your past? If you can eliminate negative thoughts about money, you will likely be able to improve your financial situation.
  • Stop the tape. Think of negative thoughts as a tape that’s playing in your head. When you notice harmful thinking, tell yourself STOP! in your head. Erase the tape and record over it with something more positive.
  • Let go of the past. If you are going over and over something that happened, what you did wrong or how you could do it better, make peace with it. Nobody does everything right. You can’t change it, so look to the present for opportunities to do better.
  • Accept that you decide how you react to any situation. Own your feelings and your responsibility for them. Then decide that you will not let your feelings control you anymore.

You got this.

If you can move your emotions in a more positive direction, you can improve all other areas of your life. All things begin with your thoughts.

Holiday Gifts and Debt

When I was in my 20s and didn’t know any better, I bought people presents with my credit card and then took a couple of months to pay the money back. It was incredibly stupid. Not only did I buy more than I could afford, but then I racked up interest charges while paying off the balance.
You can celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, or any other holiday without going into debt. This is gonna be a tough-love post, and it may make you angry. But it’s for your own good.
That’s because on average, Americans added over $1230 to their total debt from the holiday season in 2018. That's up from $1054 in 2017. That is just crazy. So I want to offer some real alternatives to breaking the bank with your spending this season.
Also, know that I’m not affiliated with any of the links mentioned here; I have nothing to gain.

Excuse #1: But I have to give presents to kids!

So, you think that a kid won’t understand if you don’t give them lots of presents. Where did they learn that behavior from? If an adult taught them that presents are a requirement at certain holidays, then that same adult can teach them there’s a better way.
If it’s your child, then ask yourself whether you’d rather have them upset about not receiving presents, or upset when you have to sell off what they already have or even move them out of their home because you have so much debt you can’t pay the bills. Telling yourself that you’ll take on more debt and worry about it later, especially when you have children to support, is extremely irresponsible in my opinion.
Not only that, but it’s teaching your children the wrong ideas about money. That instant gratification is more important than financial responsibility, and material things in the present hold more weight than saving to buy a house, or go to college, or retire someday.
Also, giving gifts at Christmas to children (or anyone else) has no established link to the Christian faith. The first Christmas in recorded history is in 336, but giving presents didn’t become popular until the early 1800s, thanks to Moore’s “A Night Before Christmas” poem.
I’m not saying this will be an easy conversation—and definitely, don’t spring it all on them on the day they are expecting presents. If you feel like you HAVE to get them something, make it no-cost or low-cost. Here are a few ideas.
  • Participate in a “swap.” The website TOYCYCLE is a non-profit that allows members to swap toys for free. You can try it at no cost for 30 days and cancel at any time. If you decide to join, it’s just $1.99 per month. You could also organize a swap in your community. The Spruce has an instructional article about how to do it.
  • Look for free or cheap items on sites like Craigslist or Freecycle. You can also post ads on there asking for certain things - just don’t get too crazy with your expectations.
  • Thrift stores: you can find used kids’ books and clothes for as little as a quarter apiece. Sometimes, you can find toys and other items brand new, still in the box.
  • The gift of an experience and your presence. Near my hometown, there was a neighborhood that’s famous for holiday decorations. During the holidays there’s a long line of cars driving through at night, and the sidewalks are full of people walking through to admire the lights and music. All it cost was the gas to drive through, and everyone from my grandmother to my younger brother enjoyed it. If it snows where you are, you could spend the day with them building snowmen and having a snowball fight. You could stay inside and watch holiday movies and bake together. Or, you could go as a family to volunteer at a shelter, to help them understand the value of everything they have.

Excuse #2: But my friend/family/co-worker always gets me something. I have to give something back.

No, you don’t. First of all, make an announcement that you don’t want to exchange presents this year. You don’t have to give any reason, but if you want to give one, be honest. “I can’t afford it.” Anyone who gives you a hard time over that statement isn’t worth your worry.
People who care about you should want what’s best for you, and that means supporting you in making smart financial decisions. If they complain they already got you a gift, tell them to please give it to someone else or return it.
Not only that, but people may secretly be relieved when you tell them you don’t want to exchange gifts. They, too, may struggle with their finances and be too embarrassed to say anything. Your admission can lead to honesty on their part.

Excuse # 3: It makes me feel good to give to other people.

Then how about giving things to people who really need it? Volunteer, or donate things you don’t need anymore to charity. If you don’t have anything to donate or don’t have time to volunteer, then use your social media accounts or contacts in the community to ask others to donate.
Sometimes, employers will match donations for fundraisers. You could get permission to start a collection for your charity at work, then send an email to everyone in the office. Tell them why you believe in the charity and ask people to give $5. Give them a link to the charity’s website so they can give the money directly.
If you have 30 people in your office, that’s $150 this charity didn’t have before. I remember when I worked in an office, every year I’d get emails from co-workers about their kids’ girl scout cookies, or a school fundraiser where you’d buy chocolate for way above retail to raise money for the school. Just think how much better it is to just donate money without getting anything material in return. It’s more money for the cause, healthier for your waistline and just good karma.

Start some new, better traditions this year.

The retail industry has been profiting from holiday gift-giving for about a century now. I think 100 years is long enough. It’s time for us to take the holidays back to what they should be: a time for love and family.

How Minimalism Made Me a Better Person

There are lots of articles out there about how minimalism can make your life better. You can have more time, more money, and more happiness. But can minimalism make you a better person? I think so. Here’s how it’s made me a better person with my health, my outlook on life, my freedom, and much more. I'm also including tips on how it can do the same for you.

Some quick tips…

I want to give some context about how even a little bit of minimalism can change your life for the better.

If you haven’t already, check out 3 Lifesaving Ways Minimalism Can Change You. This post is about 3 key areas someone’s life can be ruined: health, money, and relationships. I go through the ways that life with “too much” can make things worse, and how minimalism can help you be better.

If you’re interested in how minimalism has changed my life personally, take a minute to read 6 Ways Minimalism Changed My Life. Then, come on back here to see how being more minimalist can make you a better person.

My life before minimalism

I think I was a pretty typical American. I worked a lot, and my goals were always to make more money so I could better pay for the lifestyle I wanted. I wanted to own a big house, a nice car, and lots of stuff that I thought would make me happy.

I’m (now) embarrassed to say that I often shopped for the cheapest clothes possible at the big box stores, AKA “fast fashion” outlets like Forever 21, PayLess Shoes, and Old Navy. Places where the materials are flimsy and they’re usually made overseas by underpaid factory workers.

I thought I was getting the biggest bang for my buck because I could buy lots of clothing and shoes cheaply. But they weren’t built to last—they’d be falling apart by the end of the season.

As a lover of cooking, I also wanted all the kitchen gadgets. We had a food processor, blender, electric oil fryer, bread maker, panini maker, etc. Not to mention we had 2 sets of all the normal kitchen stuff from when Ryan and I combined households.

When we bought the house we upgraded everything: cabinets, flooring, appliances, and landscaping. Of course, with a bigger house, we also needed more furniture. We furnished and decorated every room completely, even though we barely used most of the space.

Ryan was the collector of knick-knacks, artwork, and furniture. There were never enough display cases for all his little treasures.

Meanwhile, besides the kitchen and clothing, my collections were of creative projects. A sewing machine, fabric, and patterns I was going to use someday when I had the time. Arts and crafts supplies that sat collecting dust; containers of acrylic and oil paints that dried up from years of sitting partially used.

We both had long commutes and busy schedules. I also had a lot of health problems, which were mostly undiagnosed at that point. So it often felt like our whole lives were about going to work so we could make money, then coming home exhausted to a place we barely saw but spent all our time paying for.

And although I worked in healthcare, I often felt like I wasn’t doing enough to make a positive change in the world. But I had no extra money to give to anyone else, and no time or energy to participate in any volunteer work. So the extent of our charity was donating old stuff to thrift stores (after we were sure we couldn’t sell it). Our attitude was often “We can barely take care of ourselves. How can we help anyone else?”

We also never saw family or friends, because we’d moved away from all of them to be able to afford a nicer house. They rarely came to see us, and visiting them wasn’t often in the budget. Our guest bedroom got used 3 times in 4+ years.

Looking back, I feel pretty annoyed and disgusted about my old life. So much money was spent on stuff that we didn’t even have time to enjoy. I barely saw my husband because we both worked so much and had opposite schedules. The whole thing just didn’t make any sense.

I realize what I did was in ignorance, and we were just trying to get by the best way we knew how. But I also feel like we should have known better. We should have been better.

Something had to change, and minimalism was the way

It wasn’t until my health problems got really bad that we changed things. Ryan and I leveraged every last cent we had to buy an RV and a truck to tow it. We ruthlessly sold off everything we didn’t need through Craigslist ads and garage sales every weekend for months to help pay for our new life.

This was a big change and something my husband had resisted for a long time because he thought he needed his stuff. I was less resistant, but I still had way too much stuff. It took us a long time to get rid of everything.

99% of our excess stuff got sold or donated. And once we started RVing, we realized we didn’t miss any of it.

And yes, we still had to make money, but having an RV meant our expenses went way down. Our first year of RV park rent cost less than 2 months’ worth of mortgage in our old house!

Plus, our house was out in the boonies because it was cheaper to live there. It was far away from the “good” jobs in the bigger cities. Having an RV with cheap space rent was possible to live right next to our jobs. Suddenly, commutes went from 90 minutes (one-way) to 20 minutes. We were also much closer to better healthcare, and I finally started getting the help I needed to get better.

With better healthcare, it was discovered I needed surgery. It helped a lot with some of my symptoms and made me realize how much my lifestyle had contributed to my deterioration. Before the surgery I was in so much pain I could only walk a few feet at a time, and very slowly. My body had literally forced me to stop working and slow down.

How being minimalist changed me

My illness made me realize I needed to not only take better care of myself but contribute more to the rest of the world. I knew I wasn’t the only person out there who was suffering emotionally, physically and financially from the consumerist lifestyle.

Six weeks after surgery, I walked a 5K for the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer fundraiser in Tempe, AZ in 2011. I did it in honor of friends and family members diagnosed with breast cancer. It was a great feeling not only to be physically able to walk but also to raise money for a good cause.

Those 6 weeks recovering from surgery were not idle, either. While I was resting I was also busy on another project. By the end of my recovery, I’d crocheted 6 blankets to donate to Project Linus.

My volunteerism was fulfilling in so many ways. There was nothing like seeing the impact that my service made on other people. The more people I was able to help, the more I wanted to do. Since then I’ve kept up the tradition of volunteering and/or donating to charities that I believe in every year.

But it wasn’t just about helping people I’d never met. In 2012 we moved back to California. Our low-cost RV lifestyle meant we could finally afford to live in the bay area again, close to my family and friends. My brother and his wife just had their first child, and we spent lots of time helping to take care of her and watch her grow up. We were also around for the birth of my nephew a few years later. They only know us as well as they do because we were willing to downsize our stuff and financial responsibilities.

At work, I felt like I was more compassionate with my patients because I had less to worry about myself. Having fewer responsibilities and financial issues over my head allowed me to focus on what was right in front of me—people who had it worse than me and needed my help.

Then starting in 2017, my mom’s health took a turn for the worse. Thanks to our nomadic lifestyle we were able to spend 4 months with her that summer, then another 4 months in 2018.

Since then she had to move in with us, and it means we took some pretty big financial and emotional risks to make it happen. While it was stressful, I’m grateful that we were in a place that we could help her at all.

I know for a fact that if we still owned a house in Arizona, we would not be able to help her. We would both have to be at work all day to pay our mortgage, and she would not get the care or companionship she needs.

If we had an apartment, we might be able to make it work. But it would still cost more than our RV lifestyle and she might still be left alone for a good portion of the day.

So the bottom line is that by releasing our attachments to traditional ideas about housing, possessions, and money in general, we have more room in our lives for compassion, volunteerism, and love.

It’s more fulfilling because the gifts you receive from giving to others are worth so much more. Earning money at a job, owning a nice house and buying things for myself never gave me this sense of purpose.

How can you be better?

As I’ve said many times, being more minimalist is accessible to everyone, regardless of your level of wellness or income. You can take small steps in any area of your life. By removing excess, you can eliminate emotional emptiness and replace it with fullness in your heart.

To make it easier on yourself, I recommend picking an area of your life that you know is too complicated, but you don’t have a huge emotional attachment to it. For example, maybe you recently lost weight and have a bunch of clothes that don’t fit anymore, but you haven’t gotten around to doing something with them. Pack them up and donate them. Be done with it. I guarantee you will feel lighter for it.

Or maybe you’re paying for a subscription to a magazine that you never have time to read. Take a few minutes right now and cancel it.

Maybe your commute takes a bunch of time. Can you take public transportation instead of driving? That way, at least you can spend your commute time doing something better than staring at tail lights in front of you. You could use the time to read or learn a new language through an audio program.

You could even use the time to work on a side hustle to get you out of debt, and eventually, leave your job so you don’t have to commute anymore! Think about how many hours each week you could devote to more productive endeavors if you didn’t have to drive to and from work.

Just think about all the things you could do to improve yourself and your life if you broke the shackles that your possessions and financial responsibilities have on you.

If you're stuck and need more help making life simpler…

I’m also here to help with any questions you have. Feel free to contact me!

5 Tips for a Quiet, Simple Holiday Season

The holidays are upon us. How is it that stores start stocking Christmas decorations before Halloween even happens? To me, this is madness that just adds to the stress and pressure of the holidays.
But the holidays don’t have to be so stressful. Here are my 5 tips for a quiet, simple holiday season.
1. Avoid shopping in stores
Shop only for necessities, and do it at off-times, like early in the morning on a weekday or weeknight. Don’t set foot in ANY stores on Black Friday. See my reasons why in this post: 4 Little-Known Facts About Black Friday (and how to sidestep Black Friday madness).
If you have presents to buy, there are tons of great presents you can get that don’t require you to set foot into a store that could be overrun by other shoppers. In case you missed it, read my last post, 13 Best Gifts for Minimalists (which has great gift ideas for anyone really).
2. Don’t do the cooking
For years, Ryan and I have found an Indian restaurant that’s open on Thanksgiving and that’s where we’ve eaten. We started doing the same thing at Christmas, too. They usually have delicious buffets at reasonable prices, and all we have to do is show up. We often see large families there, and they are having a great time. Nobody is getting up to serve others like commonly happens with home-cooked meals. Everyone is present to enjoy each other’s company.
There are plenty of options besides Indian food if that isn’t your thing. You may have to make reservations in advance, but many restaurants have special holiday menus.
If you’d really rather be at home, there’s no shame in getting some help. Order the whole meal, pre-cooked from a grocery store. Or, have a potluck so you only have to cook one or two things.
Years ago, when I lived in a big house, I routinely cooked large meals for both holidays and dinner parties. I enjoyed the cooking, but the serving, the dishes, and the clean-up were exhausting. If you’re having a big event at home, it might be worth the money to hire servers or a cleaning service for the next day.

3. Make holiday travel easy

According to a Forbes article, the best time to buy plane tickets for this holiday season is 62 days in advance, with the optimal period being 21-110 days from your travel date. Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the cheapest days to fly, but of course, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving is not a good day. While holiday travel will still be busy and expensive, avoiding travel on these days should help a little.
The holidays are horrible for commuter traffic as well. When I had to commute to San Francisco for work, I learned my lesson the first year when it took nearly 3 hours to get home on the day before Thanksgiving. After that, I took a bus to and from work on that day every year. It still took a long time but at least I didn’t have to concentrate on traffic. I listened to music or read a book.
If you’re an RVer, booking campgrounds during the holidays is especially difficult because they are usually full of travelers and charge higher holiday prices. To avoid this problem, we were either in a campground for the month or off the grid (boondocking) when any holiday came around. Our secret weapon was free casino parking.

4. Try meditation

Perhaps you need to quiet your mind so it can translate into peace around you. There are plenty of free apps out there that can help if you’re a newbie, or you can sign up for a class if you want some extra guidance and accountability.
I find that traditional meditation makes me very relaxed—so relaxed, in fact, that I fall asleep. Which is great, but not really the point. So I use a free guided recording that also combines gratitude, forgiveness, and visualization (all in 15 minutes). I talk more about it in my post: How I Use a Morning Routine to Reduce Stress.

5. Don’t celebrate the holidays when everybody else does

The shopping, the cooking, the travel…if you really want to do it, does it have to be at the same time everyone else does it?
Self-improvement guru Jon Butcher has a great tradition with his family. They live all over the place, and he, his wife and kids live in other countries for half of the year. So instead of trying to get together over multiple holidays, they decided to combine it all in a single event they call “Alladay.”
They get together (I think during the summer) in one place with the whole family. Easter egg hunts are done in Halloween costumes, and birthday cakes and Christmas presents are combined. That sounds like fun!
There is, of course, a less popular route, but one Ryan and I prefer. We don’t routinely celebrate holidays in the traditional way. We don’t exchange gifts or plan elaborate meals. We’re not near family or friends, so it isn’t time spent with anyone but each other and mom (who lives with us).
I’m also not good with large groups. It’s very tiring. I’d much rather see people as individuals or couples. Trying to pick and choose which people we see during the holidays would get too complicated. So instead, we forego the holidays and just see people when we can for more casual get-togethers. The pressure is off on everyone to provide gifts, make special meals, or wade through large crowds.
I hope this holiday season is peaceful for you, no matter what you choose.