Monday, January 31, 2011

Minimalism: Nature, Nurture, or Choice?

What leads people to living with less?


I think everyone has a bit of minimalist in them by nature due to their own personal approach to life and interests. I'm frequently surprised when I talk to some of my friends & discover hidden minimalist tendencies. One guy friend doesn't own a single CD or mp3; he's good listening to the radio. Another friend owns two pairs of jeans & hasn't gone shopping in 3-4 years. In certain respects, they're minimalists & don't even realize it (which makes me smile really). Life just happened & it didn't result in acquiring stuff in those areas of life, maybe because those areas of life just aren't on their radar.

Everyone can probably pinpoint some of these things. I'm naturally a minimalist when it comes to purses, books, jewelry, movies, magazines, sporting equipment, & hobbies I lost interest in. That stuff doesn't grab my attention & demand to be collected. There are other areas of life though that somehow explode into crazy amounts of stuff to be contended with. I'm not a natural minimalist when it comes to cooking stuff, musical instruments, cleaning supplies & swimsuits.


Other people shape our thoughts and attitudes on stuff as well. Here's a small portion of my 'people & stuff' history. The people we grew up with and hang out with shape how we view stuff, although the nurture factor can branch many ways. For example, if your family & friends are used to bonding by shopping, you might end up buying more stuff too. However, if the shopping trips often ended in hate & discontent, you might be more hesitant to head to the mall.

The people directly in our living situation also greatly affect stuff. The more stuff other people have, the less room exists for my stuff. Perk of living with people with lots of stuff- borrowing!!!


And then there's the free-will part. This is the light-bulb that happens when we're looking for the thing we knew we put somewhere around here, but we can't find it due to everything else in the way. It's the feeling of claustrophobia by being surrounded by stuff, especially stuff you never really liked in the first place. It's also the hardcore reality when the credit card statement comes or the job is lost or the unexpected happens.

Choice is probably most often the clincher for true minimalists since it's generally contrary to societal norms to live with less. Everyone has their own reasons for choosing to live with less: finances, going green, simplification, pent-up anger, wanting open space, etc. Regardless of initial intent, for most the choice is opting to kill the desire to accumulate stuff.

Side Note: I would love to meet a purely natural minimalist some day, someone who genuinely hasn't been driven by stuff or experienced the great purge because they didn't have to. I think I'm adding that to "My List of Life Goals I Probably Have No Control Over."

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The 100th Post!

Glad that keeps track of numbers, cause I woulda never known!

Having started this December 2009 with little to no expectations other than keeping some sort of online accountability for simplifying my life, it's kind of hard to determine what "success" means in the blog world. But more thoughts on "success" later.

Most popular post of all time- Simple Things to Simplify: Clothing. Interestingly enough, I didn't even write this article. It was a guest post by my sister, so congrats! She's probably starting her own blog soon, so I'll give her a plug when she can figure out what to call it. :)

Second most popular- Homemade Granola. I actually need to make some of that, but I somehow keep getting free boxes of cereal from coupon deals my mom has (breaking into the box of Cinnamon Cheerios tomorrow!)

As for success. December 2009, I was planning on heading to a full-time grad program thus halving my income. This was freaking me out considerably, thus I started down the path of simplification. However, the grad school plan changed, & I gladly embraced pursuing simplicity for its own sake rather than having it thrust upon me.

For a long time, I've thought about success as being the absolute best at something, always winning & being happy about it, and always having your plan succeed & having something to show for it. My thoughts on success have greatly changed seeing as how my previous thoughts were unrealistic at best. In the last year, I don't know if I've experienced more FAILS than before or if I've just felt them more intensely. Lots of stuff happened that just wasn't in the plan.

So that's when I decided to scrap my previous definition and take a different, hopefully more realistic look at success (and basically scrapping the plan along the way too). Somewhat unfortunately, I'm still working on my thoughts on that, so I've got no fortune-cookie answer chock full of insight & wisdom to share.

But I do know now that true success requires a bigger dose of humility than I've got right now. FAILS aren't fun & they can take a while to get through, but part of success is learning from these and taking a different approach in the future. Another part is having realistic expectations included in the plan, especially when other people are involved which is basically always. Sure, I've got ideas of what I'd like to have happen in the future, but virtually every aspect, whether professionally or personally, involves other people. Other people are a tough nut to crack. I can't control them, and they tend to make decisions that significantly affect my plan. :) That's just the way it goes I guess.

So I'm still working on my thoughts on success. And in the meantime, I'm being ok with the FAILS and celebrating the WINS of the year. One big WIN- I have simplified!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

No Soup For You!

This week, in an effort help lessen the $550 million State budget problem, the State of Kansas's House Budget Writing committee approved a proposal cutting every state employee's salary by 7.5%. That takes someone making $45,000 (my estimated average KS employee salary) down to $41,625, a difference of $3375 or $281.75 less per month.

Where would the average family carve out $300ish from their monthly expenses? Where would you carve out $300 from your monthly expenses?

A drop like that should hypothetically start the thinking process of separating necessary expenses from those that are even a tiny bit superfluous. For those of us who aren't State of Kansas employees, it might be a great idea to self-impose a reality check & examine our attitudes about spending, budgeting, and entitlement.

If you're not currently following a budget, I'd recommend starting.

If you don't know where you're spending your money, start tracking.

(If you're thinking, "But I'm so bad with money! You don't understand!" here's my suggestion- for one month, take a sheet of paper, Word doc, or Excel spreadsheet & list how much you spend & where, no cheating. If you know how to write or type, you can do this. Then do it for a second month. Don't feel overwhelmed, it's the first step in getting a handle on spending. Throughout the process, you'll start to think about money a bit more. At that point, get some budget pointers from a friend, family member, or coworker who is staying afloat financially.)

The budget aspect is really only a portion of the situation. Entitlement also rears it's ugly head. How many purchases a month do we have just because we really, really wanted something or we thought we deserved it? What was purchased that doesn't help a real need? While there's nothing wrong with the occasional superfluity, we've turned many of them into perceived needs.

So it might be a good idea to get a handle on budgeting & stop the train of entitlement before someone decides that for you.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The One Secret to Losing 80 Pounds- In ONE Day!

Being snowbound at my parent's house today, I had the time & opportunity to go through stuff. My parents were kind enough to box stuff up when they recently replaced their carpet & needed to move all three kids' stuff from the upstairs to the basement, then back upstairs again. A lot of this stuff is of the nostalgic nature, for example, every birthday card up to age 16, stuffed animals, and lots and lots of pictures from high school (some in triplicate).

So I spent a few hours going through stuff. A lot of the stuff was very special at the time, but doesn't mean much to me now. Some of the stuff is just stuff. And some of the stuff I still like and is very special to me.

I was rewarded, however, and found $10 in a high school graduation card!

After the go-through, I was inspired to weight the amount of stuff I was throwing away & donating. The total came to 80 pounds. Woo hoo! That's 80 pounds I will never have to move again. Even better, that's 80 pounds of stuff I will never have the THINK about again.

Then for my afternoon project, I decided to clean up my email. For the last 5 years, I've just been storing everything in my inbox & searching if I needed to find something. So today, I whittled 2500 emails down to about 40. That felt good.

So do your part to shed the pounds!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Cooking for 1: Use Your Friends / Relatives

Just because I am only 1, doesn't mean I always have to cook for 1. Last month, Simply Recipes published a recipe for African Chicken Peanut Stew. It looked so good, but it makes 6-8 servings. My family has long joked that 6-8 servings means 6-8 hungry lumberjacks, & I figured that for this recipe, it meant 6-8 African marathon runners.

So I invited myself over to my parent's house for dinner on MLK day & said I'd cook. It worked out quite well, & the stew is quite tasty! However, not only does this recipe make a lot of food, it also takes quite a bit of time for chopping & simmering, not a good combination for living single (unless you're a single with lots and lots of time on your hands). So sometimes, it's better to share. It's also nice to have some company during dinner.

For a picture, check out the link above.

Recipe tweaks-

I don't do raw chicken, so I used the meat from one rotisserie chicken instead of the chicken thighs. I threw a few of the chicken bones into the pot & simmered it for an hour & it turned out beautifully.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Cooking for 1: Curried Red Lentil Soup

Nothing like a ridiculous Midwestern snowstorm to start a soup craving! However, soup for one is a bit difficult. Making a pot from scratch usually has about 8 servings & I don't have enough room in my freezer to hold extras. Canned soup is one serving, but doesn't have enough calories to keep me going through the day.

Then last weekend in the health food aisle at my local grocery store, I found a carton of Pacific Natural Curried Red Lentil soup. Although still light on the calories, I figured it'd be easy enough to add a protein & side items to fill it out. Plus, lentils have fiber!

The first evening, I cooked up a tilapia fillet with olive oil, salt, & pepper, put it in a bowl, & poured my soup over it. Deliciousness in less than 15 minutes! Ok, I actually cooked up two fillets & had the same combo for lunch the next day.

Since I still had some soup leftover, I got some chicken poppers from the local convenience store (baked not fried!) & enjoyed those with my soup for two more lunches. And now it's all gone.

I'm excited to try more flavors of soup this brand has!

Monday, January 10, 2011

He Giveth & Taketh Away

Whether the hand of God, karma or fate, life has an interesting way of dispersing resources.

This saga begins in the mid-20th century. I was very blessed to have grandparents & great-grandparents start a "future fund" for their grandchildren to help out with college expenses and such. They invested in varied stocks & mutual funds for all their offspring. For my fund, one of the chosen investments was Enron.

And then 2001 happened. CRASH!! Fortunately, I still got to go to college.

In the years since, various class-action lawsuits have taken place against Enron & every so often, a settlement check shows up in the mail. It's hardly recouping what was lost, but, hey, surprise money! Surprise money definitely comes in handy since every now & then, surprise expenses happen.

I believe myself to be a safe, conscientious driver; however, roughly once a year, law enforcement disagrees. Strangely enough, for the last three violations, the traffic ticket has arrived within mere days of receiving an Enron check.

My annual encounter with local law enforcement came again this last weekend. Following a friend's wedding in a rural town, I was pulled over for not coming to a complete stop at a stop sign. I guess the "hesitate-at-the-sign" technique doesn't fly in a small town when the cop sees you leaving the wedding venue in a sparkly dress and get into your car with out-of-county plates & is looking for any reason to see if you could be slapped with a DUI. Sorry to disappoint sir, I know how to enjoy myself responsibly, thank you very much.

Warning: complaining ahead- After the substantial time and financial investment of being a bridesmaid, I was none too happy to receive a $186 ticket for a moving traffic violation. To have the ticket transferred into a non-moving violation thus not affecting my insurance rates, it will cost $296. No point in trying to fight the ticket since especially in rural towns, the local cop always wins those "he said, she said" battles. ARG!!!

Sunday afternoon, my mom calls & says she has some mail to drop off. I tell her my sad, sad story then glance at my mail. And what do you know? Another Enron check showed up that covers the fine with a bit left over. Sigh, I can think of a lot better ways to spend $296, but at least it's not cutting into my normal budget! The money comes, the money goes.

However, I am now slightly paranoid if a check shows up. It's almost a guarantee that some sort of surprise expense will soon be happening. He giveth & taketh away...

But on another note, my friend's wedding was beautiful, I had a great time sharing the day with her, & I'm so happy she gets to skip this Midwestern snow to enjoy a week in Jamaica!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Cooking for 1: 20 Tortillas

Cooking for one is neither fun nor economical.

The last few months of food preparation have been difficult since I have very limited refrigerator/freezer space (4 girls, 1 fridge) & don't want to spend lots of time cooking. Typically, I have a few goals for meal planning.
  • Have a food variety
  • Stay economical
  • Don't waste food
In the next few months, I'll be randomly exploring various ways to accomplish ways to successfully cook for one.

About a month ago, I was seriously craving burritos, so I bought a package of tortillas. Without thinking, I picked up a package of 20 tortillas. Heh, not the best idea ever. I have learned many ways to use tortillas. Also, freezing tortillas works well but remember to pre-separate them before putting them in a freezer bag.



Optional Fillings
Refried beans, ground meat flavored with taco seasoning, leftover veggies, whatever else might be in the fridge that would taste good in a burrito

As needed, dump ingredients in a tortilla & warm up in the microwave. Top with salsa!

Fake-adillas (cause I don't eat cheese)


Optional Fillings
Refried beans, lunch meat, leftover veggies

Make it like a quesadilla. Top with salsa!

Chicken Wrap

Pre-cooked chicken
Small portion of sprouts, carrots, whatever veggies from the grocery store salad bar
Ranch dressing

Microwave the chicken & tortilla if you want. Add veggies & ranch.

Thai Chicken Wraps

Pre-cooked chicken
Veggies from the salad bar
Peanut sauce

Peanut sauce- In a small saucepan, combine 1/4 cup sugar, 1/4 cup peanut butter, 3 tablespoons soy sauce, 3 tablespoons water, 2 tablespoons cooking out, 1 teaspoon minced garlic, & ginger if you like it. Heat until sugar is dissolved, stirring frequently. (it's seriously good)

Assemble like a wrap.

Tortilla Dessert

Spread butter/margarine on a tortilla. Sprinkle on white sugar or Dutch chocolate sprinkles, roll up & enjoy.

Any other good ways to use tortillas?

Monday, January 3, 2011

Rockin' Resources for Resolutions

I'll be honest, I don't really make New Years Resolutions. There is one thing I try to do at the beginning of each year though: everyone gets a clean slate in my mind. In a way, it's a massive forgive-and-forget cleansing. Instead of holding on to things that people did & said that I took offense to, it's time for me to move on.

So I do recognize that the turn of a calendar can prompt thoughts on life, purpose, goals, and the ever-quickly-passing TIME. Here's a collection of resources I've found lately that can help out some of the most common New Years Resolutions.

Fitness- This website gives great reviews on fitness videos, nutrition (Nosh), & apparel/beauty/travel (Posh). Their philosophy is that fitness doesn't have to be hours on cardio machines at the gym, but instead it should be part of a fun, healthy lifestyle. Plus, they have an awesome tagline- "Keeping a lid on the junk in the trunk."

Finances- None of these are get-rich-quick schemes. Here are a few articles from TheStreet about being wise with money.
Refreshing the Mind- I firmly believe that if more people worked on having fresh, positive minds, the world would be a better place. Let 2011 be the year you forgive someone, stop worrying about everything, get over a grudge, ignore an offense, let it go, or just relax.
  • Clean Your Slate from the Everyday Minimalist
  • Peace from Becoming Minimalist (it's a Christmas post, but applicable year-round)
Getting Things Done- Need some motivation to get projects done? New Nostalgia hosts an Anti-Procrastination link party on Tuesdays. It's a great way to see how others are combating procrastination & ideas for more projects (just in case your to-do wasn't long enough already...)

Quit Smoking- Check out the CDC article.

And read the article on the 10 Commandments for Frugal Living. It's quite good.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The History of Mantras

Jumping back a few days to the 2011 Mantra, I was asked how the Mantras started & any past ones. Dad isn't entirely sure how the tradition started, but attributes it to the normal "dadisms" that were floating around that eventually turned into a yearly theme.

And here is the complete list of Dad's Mantras:

  • 2006- "If it were easy, everyone would do it."
  • 2007- "No more guilt trips."
  • 2008- "Press the easy button."
  • 2009- "If it's not delicious, throw it away."
  • 2010- "Live positively."
  • 2011- "Take time to recognize & appreciate beauty."

The 2011 Mantra

Some people do New Year's resolutions; my Dad has a yearly mantra. Here are some of his thoughts-

'The 2011 mantra is:

'Take time to recognize and appreciate beauty.'

The seed for this thought goes way back, probably 15 years or more, to a message at church on “10 things that Christians ought to be characterized by” or something like that. One of his points was that we should be looking for and appreciating beauty.

This year’s thought has various components, such as “take time” – which means that I should not just focus on the project at hand, but, when appropriate, I should “stop and smell the roses.” As Mom has heard before, “push the pause button”.

It also means that I should make it a point to recognize beauty in every place, no matter what I am doing. It may be an elegant design of a product, or a well-written paragraph in business correspondence or in a book I am reading, or something that someone says or does, or a beautiful work of art. It may be a sunrise, or a sunset, or a mountain range, or a desert. I should stop and take time to appreciate the beauty – not just say, “that’s nice” and move on quickly.

It is also my desire that if I can focus on and appreciate the beautiful, I will be less critical and judgmental. This is a link to the 2010 thought, “Live positively.”

This year’s thought may mostly have moment-by-moment applications, but this can also be planned, such as a trip to an art museum, or a vacation to the mountains, etc."

So here's to looking for the beautiful things in 2011!