Simple in the City: Entertainment

Living in a small apartment in the city has some major perks, but entertaining can be tough when you only have a few square feet to spare.

A typical Saturday at our apartment looks like this: sitting on the floor around the coffee table tossing game dice with six other people. Sometimes we pull together all of the chairs we can find (and chairs that friends bring) and squeeze to fit around our dining table.

Most of us hold our drinks because there’s no table space available thanks to the extensive board games we like to play.

We have one of the largest apartments in our group of friends (650 square feet), so we’re most often the gathering place. For as fun as it can be, it can get overwhelming. So how do you keep it simple when it comes to entertainment outside the apartment?

Why it’s not always best to stay in

My husband and I love our evenings together in the apartment. But, since I work from home all week and don’t usually have access to the car, I need to get out at least once or twice during the weekends.

Staying in is cheaper, yes, but when you’re living in a large city there’s so many opportunities for unique and interesting entertainment. It makes “keeping it simple” a little bit difficult, but by defining what you really want in advance and creating a solid plan, you can expand your horizons without the overwhelm.

And that’s why it’s not always best to stay in: getting out and seeing different things gives me new ideas and fresh eyes. It’s a great way to kickstart a sluggish creative muscle.

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Planning makes perfect

I’m a big proponent of planning. Even if I don’t follow the plan to the letter, it always gives me clarity and direction for the week.

So start by defining clearly what you enjoy doing and what you expect from entertainment. For me, physical activity, chatting with new people and trying new beverages in interesting places are important parts of entertainment. You might like quiet spaces, ear-bursting concerts, historical education, cultural immersion, getting out of town or staying close to home.

Then, considering your budget, put together a list of general things that meet those expectations that you can reasonably do most weekends or in your spare time. Mine would be hiking, checking out coffee shops or bars, or taking a class or going to a meetup of sorts.

Then fill in the spaces! If you like hiking, spend some time each week finding a new place to hike. I scour Yelp for popular bars or cafes and plan a happy hour when I can to save a few bucks. Planning what, when, and where you are going to do in advance adds a little structure and prevents drastic impulse decisions, last-minute planning stress or defaulting to something like shopping for the sake of shopping.

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A few ideas for finding entertainment

If you’re the outdoorsy type, check out All Trails and look for good hikes in your area. I’ve been using Hiking Guy, but he’s only got a limited area of coverage. Google is your friend here – keep an eye out for tips on getting to trailheads, parking, what supplies to bring, and difficulty level.

If you’re gastronomically inclined, Yelp is the obvious choice. I’ve found that since moving to the city, there are a LOT more reviews, which makes the average rating a little more accurate. I was used to seeing 10 reviews for places in Indiana, compared to hundreds or thousands here. Where the F*** Should I Go to Eat? is a fun website when you’re feeling stuck.

Once you find a restaurant or cafe you like, check out their events calendar online for open mics, concerts or happy hours. Bar entertainment is usually cheap and more intimate than a giant concert venue.

And if you’re lucky enough to have comedy schools available (I’m looking at you, LA, Chicago and NYC), check out student teams and professional comedy groups. Stand-up and improv comedy can be inexpensive if you know where to look! The Groundlings, Second City and Upright Citizens Brigade are great places to look for solid evenings of entertainment.

I hope a few of those ideas strike a chord with you! What is your favorite way to stay entertained without all the overwhelm?

While we’re on the subject, you should check out my husband’s newest YouTube sketch that he wrote and performed for his comedy group The Swing Shift. They’re such a talented group of people who I have the pleasure of calling my friends. Victor (my husband) is pursuing his passion for comedy as a student at The Groundlings School!


Simple Daily Planning

In my last post, I discussed how living a simple life can get complicated and that planning was essential to keep it all organized.

So today I want to give you a peek into my daily planning process!

I’ve tried planners, phone calendars, white boards, you name it. My favorite planning tool so far? A notebook and colorful pens (colors are optional – it just makes it more fun for me).

Tools aren’t for everyone

Before I dive in, it’s important to note that tools are definitely good for some people, and they are definitely bad for others. For example, I can’t get into tools that are online or on mobile devices because there are infinite ways to get distracted.

I’ve also been working on getting into daily planners (my current one breaks each day down hour by hour and has space to prioritize goals). I start the day neatly, but I end up just writing all over them without actually putting anything where it’s supposed to be.

So don’t feel compelled to use a certain tool if you’re just not into it – work with yourself, not against yourself.

Make it a pleasant habit

Don’t force planning if you’re not feeling it. Allow yourself time to get into a good headspace before you start breaking down your day, or else you’ll over- or under-whelm yourself with to-dos.

I like to wait until I’ve had some breakfast and have a fresh cup of coffee poured before I even consider planning.

I broke down and bought an unnecessary package of colorful pens for that same reason – I wanted to make this a fun process, not a frustrating one. I take my time and practice my cursive (am I the only one who still loves handwriting?)

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Keep it organized and don’t overdo it

I start by listing the date (mostly just for fun), then I break my to-do list down into sections. I’m focusing on creating a balance for myself this year, so I break it down into home, work, and personal categories.

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As much as possible, I keep it to about three items per section. Work, of course, is my work goals for the day. Personal is where I put blogging, self-care, exercise, etc. Home is for housework – usually something to do with cleaning the rabbit’s cage, cooking meals, or soaking beans.

The goal for your goals is to be able to complete them all in a days time. So don’t set a full day’s worth of goals for home while also setting a full day’s worth of goals for work.

I’m starting to get into the practice of trimming the list down after I’ve made it, just so that I can be sure to complete everything. There’s nothing worse than seeing a list with only one thing crossed off of it at the end of the day.

First things first

Once you’re done with your planning, check if there’s anything you can do in a few minutes. Clearing clutter or tossing dishes into the dishwasher is usually an easy first step.

If I’ve made “read twenty pages” a goal for the day and I haven’t yet finished my coffee, I’ll pull my book out and get to work. Basically, if there’s anything easy or that fits your current situation on your list, do that first.

I’ve also started to shift the order of my planning & processing of the day’s to-dos. Instead of getting work and home stuff out of the way first, I focus on the personal category. Why?

Because that’s always the category that doesn’t get crossed off. So be kind to yourself and try to do what you can for yourself before everything else, and you’ll feel a lot more positive energy to do the rest of it.

So there’s a look at how I plan my day! Do you have a planning habit?

Celebrating the Day

Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement. ….get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually.
― Abraham Joshua Heschel

In light of all the tragedies around the world, “celebrate” might be a strange word to use, but I feel it might be the right one.

There are still so many opportunities to celebrate life as the phenomenal miracle that it is. I’m not talking about toasting to our yesterdays for a hangover tomorrow – I’m zooming in at the mini-celebrations that don’t cost a dime.

Mini-celebrations that can offer some sort of balance to each person’s unique and vast grief.

Some of these celebrations focus outward, but many focus inward on ourselves. Because the first step to being compassionate towards others is knowing how to be compassionate to ourselves. I see a lot of my peers, especially women, who fail to treat themselves with kindness.

Be kind, be gentle. And celebrate whenever you can in whatever way is best for you.

10 ways to celebrate today

Image from Minimography

Ten ways to celebrate today

  1. Share your money, resources or time. Give blood or find a charity that’s close to your heart to donate to. Volunteer – the holidays are a great time to share yourself with others.
  2. Take a walk. Walk for any reason – to boost your creative thinking, to lift your mood or just to get a few extra steps on the pedometer. This is a great time to build a mental gratitude list or to just let your thoughts work themselves out.
  3. Call a friend. And don’t just call to say hello or casually ask how they are. Ask them: how is your heart? Dive under the surface of things to make a real connection and check-in with them on a deeper level.
  4. Make a gratitude list. Thinking about what you are grateful for (without denying hardships or negative life events) impacts you more than you would think. I jot down three quick things I’m grateful for each day, and it is has become such a happy and rewarding morning exercise.
  5. Sit in silence, prayer or meditation. Whichever one of these floats your boat – just take a few moments of quiet time to recharge your heart and your mind.
  6. Do your favorite thing. What’s your favorite show? Or do you prefer cozying up with coffee or tea? Find some time in your day to do what you love doing so you can get that spark back.
  7. Spread joy. Play with your children or your pets, or say something kind to a stranger. Hug your partner like you mean it.
  8. Dance or sing. Not everyone will love this, but it helps me when I’m feeling down. I sing along to the radio or sing and dance with my rabbits at home (actually, it’s just me dancing like a fool while they look at me with judging eyes). Let your child-like, goofy self come out for a while.
  9. Tell someone you love them. This one isn’t difficult if you’ve already told them. But I challenge you to text or call a friend that you haven’t told this to. Start small by saying you appreciate them, but work your way up to regularly telling your friends you love them.
  10. Care for yourself. I’ve been on a self-care and self-compassion kick lately, and for good reason: I’m no fun when I haven’t taken care of myself. So eat some vegetables, do some yoga, take a shower or even take a nap. Be good to yourself so you can be good to others.

Why celebrate now?

This year is almost over. We’ll never get these last days of 2015 back once they’re gone, so why not celebrate?

And if you’re reading this six months from now, remember that each day is incredible and worth celebrating, even a little bit. Even in the darkest of times.

There are 43 days left in 2015. How are you going to celebrate?