When You Can’t Do It All

Here’s my new mantra:

If you can’t do it all, do a little.

It’s the most simple remedy for overwhelm I’ve discovered yet. I’m a person who falls into the cycle of want big things -> make big plans -> start -> no immediate results -> discouragement -> burnout.

It’s a damaging cycle that I see a lot of peers experiencing. And each time you start on a new big idea, it’s with a little less enthusiasm than the one before.

That’s why I’ve adopted this mantra.

minimography_059_orig

Photograph 059 by Ashley Schweitzer found on minimography.com

What is “doing it all”?

“Doing it all” is completing a project. It’s reaching a certain goal or life milestone, or mastering a new hobby. It’s completing every task on your to-do list.

In short, it’s reaching any point of completion.

So when you can’t do it all, that means you’re left with a feeling of incompleteness – perhaps of failure. This is where my self-kindness crusade begins.

Because I know that when I can’t “do it all” I often revert to doing nothing at all.

What is “doing a little”?

I’m so excited about this perspective: take one step to get closer to your goal. Or even a half-step.

Can’t clean the whole apartment? Just put the clean towels away. Just vacuum the hay that the rabbits have managed to spread out over most of your rug.

This approach has actually helped me become more productive. I’ll piece things together in moments between other activities, and soon I find myself riding the momentum into the evening: clean apartment, rabbits fed, tea made, lunch packed.

A little kindness goes a long way

I’ve raved about the importance of self-kindness and awareness before, but I simply can’t stress it enough. I’ve spent too many years expecting too much from myself, so I’m making up for it now with self compassion whenever I can.

By telling yourself in the most overwhelming hours that it’s okay to do just a little instead of doing it all, you’re giving yourself permission to be kind to yourself.

And by focusing on progress instead of completion, we’ll feel more accomplished along the way instead of just at the end of the hectic journey.

Where to start

My challenge to you: take a moment to think about what you want right now. I actually sat down and wrote out a long list of things (physical, mental, emotional) I wanted right now.

If you want to be a blogger but find the idea so overwhelming that you still haven’t started, just do this: grab any piece of paper, any writing utensil, and jot down three posts you’d like to write. Do the same thing if you want to read more – list three books you’d like to read.

There. You are one step closer to your goal.

I know it sounds simplistic, but this practice has really helped me make some progress on projects or hobbies that have felt stagnant.

I’ve written blog post titles instead of full posts, ran 1/3 of a mile instead of 2, put just one cup in the dishwasher instead of all the dishes in the sink. And eventually, by taking little, kind steps, all of my tasks were complete.

What is the one thing you can do today to make progress on the goals that are overwhelming you?

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More, More, More!

More!

It’s not quite the word you’d expect to see on a blog about simplifying.

But I think that it’s a core concept of what I’m trying to do here. I started to simplify when I noticed a lack of space, a lack of time, a lack of joy both in my possessions and in my lifestyle.

I needed more.

Do we always need more?

Of course not. It’s extremely important to know what to seek more of and what to avoid.

Seeking more quality, rewarding relationships is great, but seeking more acquaintances or “contacts” isn’t always best. Although if you love to network, then that’s perfect.

Adding more kitchen appliances for the sake of having a world-class kitchen isn’t productive, but adding more because you are pursuing your passion for cooking is a good start.

Basically, what I’m trying to say is this: more for the sake of more is what gets us into trouble. Intentionally choosing more (usually not physical, but sometimes it can be) is the sweet spot.

More vs. minimal

It’s time that we stop thinking of more and minimal as mutually exclusive.

Seeking more in a meaningful, intentional way is a recipe for an abundant life. The aim of minimalism and simple living is to get more of the good stuff: the stuff that isn’t necessarily stuff at all.

minimalism means more

It’s a simple opportunity cost: less of one thing means more of another, and vice versa.

So what do you want more of?

Quick practice: making a More List

Here’s a quick way to get your mind moving in the right direction. Grab a piece of paper and jot down ten things you want more of.

There are no bad ideas or wrong answers here – you might want more free time or more exercise, but it’s also okay too see things like more shoes or more ice cream. Just make sure that your list is an honest portrayal of what you want more of.

Fear less, hope more; eat less, chew more; whine less, breathe more; talk less, say more; love more, and all good things will be yours.

Swedish proverb

Next, consider each item. Why do you want more of each one? I always find that being honest with myself about my motive helps put things into perspective. You might cross off a few here if you realize your motives don’t match your current values.

Finally, break the list down even further.

What do you need less of in order to get more of each item? The obvious answer for most physical things or experiences is money. Is it worth it?

You’ll also see things that cost space, time, or energy. I’m not saying that spending these things is a bad idea, just be sure weigh the costs and benefits and work out what’s best for you.

Redefining minimalism

I’ve been thinking about this idea – of minimalism being about more – lately, and I was happy to hear that others who share my sentiment.

Brooke McAlary interviewed James Wallman on her Slow Home Podcast, and they discussed this issue of minimalism’s “branding problem” among other things. Minimalism is so commonly perceived in the negative light of denial and subtracting things from our lives that it can be unappealing and exhausting.

It doesn’t have to be!

So here’s my challenge to you: find what you want more of and start working towards it. Think about that process of having less of something in order to get more of what you want.

That’s how you define your minimalism.

My 3 Words for 2016

New Years Resolutions: I’ve made them for as long as I can remember, but I couldn’t tell you one off the top of my head. They’ve always felt important, but they’ve never been impactful.

I actually just checked back on my blog to see if I had written any of them down and found this post about an alternative way to view resolutions. It was refreshing. Thanks, past me. I don’t remember writing that, but apparently I knew what was up two years ago.

But that’s not what this post is about. I wanted to share a little look into what I’ve set up for 2016. This year, I’ve created simple new years intentions.

They’re more like guidelines anyway

I think the biggest hangup people have with resolutions is that they’re so resolute. There’s no room for error, and a simple slip up can ruin the whole project for the year.

I wanted something a little more open to interpretation. And to mistakes.

It always goes back to being kind and gentle to yourself instead of holding rigid expectations. So without further ado, here are my intentions for 2016!

Three guiding words

There is no heirarchy here. I based these on three personally important areas of my life: my relationships, my all-around health and my work. Turns out, they all ended up being relevant for all areas.

3 words

Nourishment

I chose this one specifically with my relationships in mind. I have been surrounded by some awesome support this year, and I want to make sure I keep up healthy relationships by giving more energy and commitment to them.

But beyond relationships, this hits another area of my life: my own health. I’m notorious for putting work ahead of my own well-being, and that’s something that needs to change this year.

Balance

I’m talking all sorts of balance here, folks: work-life balance, physical balance (hello, yoga) and mental/emotional balance. All of these have been out of whack lately, so I’ve been setting up gentle rules guidelines to help regain my balance.

Again, like I said, these intentions are not meant to be hard and fast rules that I’ll break and then feel bad about. Think of it like meditation – whenever you wander from these core intentions, gently bring your focus back. Self-defeat is not useful here.

Rhythm

I discovered this concept from Brooke McAlary while I was binge-listening to her Slow Home Podcast. She has a great episode about rhythm, and this blog post will help you get started creating a rhythm for your week.

I love this concept because routine is such a danger zone for people like me – if one thing goes wrong, I’m ready to scrap the whole thing until the next day when it starts over. I want to create a rhythm in my life that is kind and productive.

It also doesn’t hurt that I love the musicality of this word, and everyone can use more music in their lives, right?

Picking your own words

I started by picking three areas of my life I wanted to work on, but you don’t have to be that specific.

Chris Brogan has a clear way of explaining this concept, and really helped me get started with mine.

The most important things:

  • These are your words. You don’t have to share them or feel like you have to copy others’ words. Choose what speaks to you.
  • Leave room for change (a year is a long time!) and allow yourself some space to grow into the words. Mine are a little less specific than I wanted, but I loved that I had a little wiggle-room on how I interpreted them.
  • Don’t take it too seriously. Don’t let these words become negatively restrictive or impeding. The only way it will work is if you allow yourself some grace for unforseen circumstances.

With that, I wish you and yours the best new year! And I want to thank all of you readers for joining me on this blogging and simplifying journey – you truly made my 2015 extra special.

Now it’s your turn – what are your intentions for 2016?

Holiday Blues

It’s that time of year: family visits, twinkling lights, coffee & cocoa, and all sorts of schedule disruptions.

I’ve been feeling a little scrooge-y this holiday season, as you may have guessed by my absence recently. Trying to wrap up (heh, Christmas pun) the year, figure out presents (since for the first time ever, we won’t be present) and keep a regular daily work schedule has worn me out.

Holiday BluesFor anyone else out there who’s trying to keep it simple and finding it difficult: I am too. Trying to fight the commercial holiday stress brings its own stresses.

So, today’s post is as much for me as it is for you.

Keeping the holidays merry and bright

These can be applied year-round, but are always my must-haves in times of stress. Here is what I’m going to be focusing on this next month, since I’ve overlooked these for the past few weeks.

Eliminate the nonessential

Are there things you think you need to do, but that you really don’t want to do? Consider each commitment carefully and respect your time enough to say no when you feel that’s the best option.

Going with the flow can turn into getting carried away in the current, and Christmas isn’t about trying to avoid rapids and sharp rocks. Keep the holidays on your terms.

Eat, drink and be healthy

Hangovers in college were terrible. Hangovers after college are the worst – every emotion comes flooding out and piles on top of an unproductive day. Add in the holidays and…well, it’s not pretty.

If this applies to you, find the least emotionally-wrecking booze for you and drink moderately. Me + wine = sadness, so I try to steer clear of it.

But this doesn’t just apply to alcohol – eat your veggies any chance you get. I toss back a veggie-heavy smoothie or two every day to make sure I get my greens.

Progress, not perfection

This is something I see shared around the fitness community, and I find it powerfully relevant in all aspects of life. Especially as this year comes to an end.

A dear friend of mine understands the workings of my mind, and advised me to take a moment and write down all the things I have accomplished or improved upon this year. If you try this too, be generous with yourself and note that any progress is positive.

This helps me put 2015 into perspective and encourages a positive attitude for the start of 2016.

And a note on perfection: don’t let the stress of creating a perfect holiday or finding the perfect gift ruin your time with family and friends.

Kindness is key

Being kind to others goes without saying, but especially remember to be kind to yourself.

Be patient with yourself when you stray from the path you wanted to follow. Be kind to yourself so you can flourish. Allow yourself a few moments of solitude, or extra minutes of sleeping in, or skip a chore and go for a walk instead.

Or, if you’re in an area that has Stumptown Coffee, grab a little Winter Cheer. You won’t regret it.

Holiday Blues Coffee

Winter Cheer cold brew from Stumptown is actually all I want for Christmas.

So take a moment to check in on yourself: how are you doing?

If you’re struggling, pay attention to where the balance has shifted. What can you do to restore your joy this holiday season?

The Golden Grill

Note: if you are talking in public about something I find interesting, I will write about it.

On a calm Wednesday at a coffee shop I was stricken by a conversation happening next to me.  One man was showing his friend a web page on his computer. He said something like this:

“You see this? This grill is a symbol to me. I imagine my son and my wife and me cooking out with it. All of us together. I’ll teach my son to build a fire and cook with it. My wife and I will sit by it. We can talk or do something together, I don’t care what it is. But she won’t even sit with me for ten minutes, and my son won’t speak to me. This grill is a symbol of hope for what the future will be for me. The fire is a symbol of community, of us all being back together.”

My heart was in my throat.

I think we all do this, to different degrees. We all have a “golden grill” that connects us to either a real or imagined future. It’s an object (or objects) that symbolizes who and where we want to be.

I have several – a yoga mat, a clarinet, a sewing machine. All things that I imagine myself picking up at some point in the future. But I used to have a lot more.

Letting go of the future

A lot of what I’ve done so far has focused on letting go of the past – elementary school track ribbons, notes from my mythology class (why did I keep those for so long?) and last year’s planner. Minimizing, for me so far, has been about letting go of things I’ve held onto for too long.

But what about letting go of things that contain hope? Do we let go? Do we hold on?

flowersIt gets tricky. Let’s talk about my yoga mat.

I hold on to my yoga mat because, while I only use it occasionally, I am so enticed by the lifestyle it promises. I want to do a handstand. I want to be like the incredible yogis on Instagram. I hold onto it in hopes that someday I’ll wake up, get to a class, and start a daily routine. Maybe someday I can be an instructor.

Someday.

But the idea of a thing is not the thing itself. So, when you’re evaluating things that connect you to the future, ask yourself the following:

  • Is this an expensive item to replace? (Think of the great 20/20 theory from The Minimalists)
  • If it’s easily replaceable, does it take up a lot of space? If yes, ditch it.
  • Is the emotion stronger than the item? By that, I mean would you feel the same with or without the item? Is it truly relevant to what is at stake?
  • The honest question: Does intention follow the hope? Is it truly something that you can see in your future?

Is a golden grill a good idea?

Yes. I do think that if an item has a positive connection to the future, you should keep it around. However, if it serves more harm than good by taking up physical, mental and emotional space, then it’s time to move it out of your life.

Psychologically, it’s best for us to maintain a proper balance between our stuff and our relationships. While our stuff does connect us to our identity, it shouldn’t be at the sake of interpersonal interaction or of healthy goals. A post called “Self, Society, and Our Stuff” over on Psychology Today had a great line about this balance:

It seems that finding a middle ground in which objects help us learn about and express our selves while also linking us to others and the cosmos is a foundational step in navigating our relationships to objects and things.

I hope that man in the coffee shop realizes that the grill is not the real reunification of his family. The grill is not the goal.

So what’s your “golden grill”? Do you see it serving an important part in your future, or does it drag you down?

 

One Day At A Time

Don’t wish away your time. Take everything one day at a time.

The stubborn part of me always snickers at these cliche bits of advice, but since I’ve started working entirely at home and on my own terms (and having time for more hobbies), I’ve been taking these more seriously.

One Day at a Time

Why? Because lately (as you can probably tell by my silence on the blog these past weeks), my to-do list looks like this:

  • Be a millionaire
  • Be a marathoner
  • Keep the apartment pristine – always, and no matter what
  • Be an ultra-minimalist
  • Be a famous writer (in what? I don’t even know)
  • Crochet something the size of the continental US
  • Discover the cure for sleep (who needs it?)

And, if you’re anything like me you probably understand this desire to do all the things, and the feeling of failure when all of the things don’t get done. (Also, clearly this is not my actual to-do list, but it is a good representation of how I like to overschedule myself).

Our standards, while sometimes helpful, can often be our downfall. It’s time to grab that cliche advice in our hands and read it, recite it, hug it dearly until we understand it. One day at a time. 

No such thing as overnight success

Isn’t that the truth? However, we’re constantly presented with people and stories that seem to be just that – it’s like they woke up and were suddenly more awesome than they ever dreamed they could be. I have to be honest with myself: I can’t go out and run a marathon tomorrow.

I think this is a source of frustration for a lot of us – expecting greater results (and faster!) than we actually get. So what is it – is it us just not meeting some standards that practically everyone else in the world is meeting? No, and I’m going to say something that might drive some people crazy, but it’s true:

It’s all in our head.

It’s a mental thing! Nothing more. Starting from there, you can start to readjust your expectations and mold them to fit a more agreeable and achievable reality. I’m not saying to settle for less – I’m saying to avoid frustration and burnout, you need to set reasonable expectations for your progress. It’s not easy.

How I’m revamping my to-do list

So, instead of the above to-do list, I’ve been focusing on making things a little more tame. For example, I’m nearing my two-week mark of running (or other similar activity) every day. My old high school successes in cross country (that came to a painful end with hip fracture and surgery) have been coming back to haunt me lately, so I decided to get back in the game.

Am I running 7-minute miles and knocking out 5k’s like they’re nothing? Hell. No. I want this to be a lasting habit, so my goal each day is a leisurely 1 mile run around my apartment complex and a bit of walking. Some days I feel like I could run for hours, and some days even half a mile is painful, but I always make sure to get just 1 mile and train my mind to think of running shoes as an everyday accessory.

Here’s what the rest of my to-do list might look like, keeping in mind the one day at a time rule:

  • Pursue a daily average income goal; when I reach it, I can start reaching higher if I have more time
  • Put away my dishes when I’m done with them and clean one area of the apartment every other day
  • Spend an hour each week considering what I need to get rid of before the big move
  • Write a blog post once or twice a week
  • Crochet if I find myself in front of the television
  • There’s no way around this one: actually sleep and don’t feel bad about it

It’s time we all slow down a bit and allow for a bit of sanity. I’ve already started with the running habit, but can I make the rest of these habits as well? Yes. Yes I can. It’s never too late to pursue one of those high-level goals (like becoming a marathoner), but they require small steps at first. What’s more, they require any steps at all – getting started can be one of the biggest challenges (and there, my friends, is another true cliche for you).

As for the rest of my evening, I have one more work goal to meet and then I’ll happily fall asleep and rest up – tomorrow’s a brand new day.

Any tips you have for slowing things down and getting more done?

 

“The best time to start was last year. Failing that, today will do.”

– Chris Guillebeau

The Confident Minimalist

Remember that wherever your heart is, there you will find your treasure.

– Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

There is an inextricable link between confidence and minimalism.

You don’t have to be a minimalist to be confident, although you do have to be confident to be a minimalist. But it’s not something that has to happen all at once. As I began to rid myself of four college years worth of junk, I started to feel more confident and comfortable with myself. Like a block of marble that’s slowly being reduced and shaped into its final form. I was getting there.

The confidence grew, and the conviction to live simply grew alongside it.

Then recently (and quite suddenly), my confidence left the building and went to wallow somewhere without me – leaving me frequently frustrated and complaining. I began cooking less, cleaning less and buying more. I started to feel that without the proper duvet cover I would somehow lose my place in society (I did get a duvet cover and it actually is wonderful, although the time I spent worrying – yes, worrying about a duvet cover – I will never get back).

I felt the need to start “keeping up with the Joneses” and looked at my unpolished fingernails and old couch with disdain. I bought a coffeemaker (which, okay, I don’t entirely regret) and a new dress or two. And believe it or not, the more I started to purchase and whine over things I didn’t have, the less I felt in control. I felt less like myself.

Simple living room

But a few good conversations about goals started getting me back on the right path. Introducing structure back into my life and beginning again on simplifying has cleared my head. A minimalist lifestyle isn’t for everyone, but I do know that this feeling of confidence and fulfillment has grown for me and my loved ones who have even slightly simplified their lives.

Owning a large and ever-growing quantity of stuff doesn’t necessarily make you confident – and it certainly doesn’t make you a minimalist. It’s owning only the right things you need to get by in your lifestyle at its simplest. There’s more “you” and less clutter to distract you from yourself and your goals.

As I’ve become more confident throughout the recent months, I’m seeing that I have less fear of public speaking, of one-on-one meetings with my manager or clients, of engaging strangers in a friendly conversation. And if there’s one thing I love doing, it’s being friendly. So never be afraid to get in touch with me socially. I love hearing from you all – your experiences bring me so much joy and motivation to move forward with confidence.

Hopefully you’ve seen the confidence grow in yourself as you’ve simplified as well. And, where there’s confidence, there’s happiness. Check out this great story by Joshua Fields Millburn meeting a man who was unapologetically himself, and share your experiences in the comments below.