The Modern Minimalist

April 30, 2012 § 6 Comments

I’ve been without a cell phone for so long now that I hardly remember what it was like to have one. I’ve enjoyed the cost savings, and have found that our circumstances really only require one cell phone for our whole family – and it doesn’t have to be mine.

The problem I’ve been having lately, strictly from a minimalist perspective, is that when we hit the road, trail or beach, we cart along all of these things: A photo camera, my Flip camera for videos, one or two birding guides, George’s cell phone, an iPod for music and a GPS for geocaching. Sometimes we forget one of these items, causing much stress and anguish. Other times the batteries die, causing anger, frustration and swearing.

The upshot is that I’m thinking that my modern mode of minimalism might make me a candidate for a smartphone. A smartphone would allow me to have all of these things in one compact unit.

I bristle at the idea of sending any more of my hard-earned dollars to the House of Jobs, and I reeeallly hate the idea of a monthly fee for the dubious privilege of having a phone that seems just so consumery. But I love the idea of having just the one thing. It seems more minimal than what I’m currently doing. In fact, when I was playing with George’s sister’s iPhone at the birthday dinner, taking photos, videos and getting names for the constellations (coolest thing ever!) on one screen, I found myself really liking it for its simplicity.

I also really like the idea of Instagram. That sounds like fun, and it could be good for the blog. Right now, uploading photos is such a chore that you’ve probably noticed that I stopped doing it altogether.

So what’s a modern minimalist to do? Succumb to the consumer trappings found in iPhones, Droids, Noids or whatever phones are out there? Or be the last remaining non-smartphone user on the planet?

I would tell you to call me with your answers, but, well, I don’t have a phone.

 

 

 

…And We’re Back

April 25, 2012 § Leave a Comment

I fully subscribe to the idea put forth in that Waylon Jennings lyric: “I’ve got the right to disappear.”

But I also have the right to come back. And here I am!

I took a little unannounced hiatus from blogging because, truly, I was just so very into living my life. My fortieth birthday has come and gone. Tax season left me a bit poorer but for the most part unscathed. Family visited. Some beloved people in my life have died, others have been born and one dear friend was diagnosed with cancer. I had some minor health issues that are very close to being resolved. There’s been a a boom in my freelance business.

But through it all, I have to report that it has been such a blessing to live in a clean and uncluttered space, to be able to eat the plant-based diet that keeps me healthy (although the birthday weekend did find me chowing on four lamb momos at the local Himalayan joint – savory!) and to have the free time to run, walk, hike, bird and cook.

When I first started exploring minimalism it felt a bit gimmicky. Let’s de-clutter the closet, let’s take our own packages to the grocery, let’s eliminate plastic bags, spend less, make our own food, grow our own food, cook our own food, eat our own food, etc. and so on…

But now that I have been on dedicated path for all this time, none of it feels affected or forced. I don’t think twice about sending unused items to Goodwill. But I do think five or six times about buying things! It’s become effortless — second nature even — to research products to make sure they are safe, non-toxic and as cruelty free (to animals and humans) as possible. Exercising, sharing a meal, reading a good book, feeding my backyard birds – all have become the most rewarding ways for me to spend my time that don’t tax my anxieties, my wallet or the planet.

Life happens whether or not we’re organized, centered and serene. And I am here to provide my testimony that when a simple, deliberate life becomes your top priority, all of the difficulties, changes and challenges become much easier to manage. Wanting less, spending less, owning less has given me more than I ever imagined possible.

Namaste, minimalists!

Delightful Discoveries

March 8, 2012 § 2 Comments

I’ve stumbled upon a few things over the past few weeks that have just thrilled me to no end, and I’d like to offer them up to you…

Sandwich Solution: The kids make their lunches every morning and this usually consists of some kind of sandwich or wrap. Since we don’t use Ziploc bags at all, I’ve been stressing over the best way to contain these things for clean transport within their lunch boxes. They’ve been using wax paper (fairly acceptable, but I’m not sure if it’s recyclable), aluminum foil (totally wasteful, expensive and ridiculous and it drives me absolutely bonkers when I catch them doing it), re-usable sandwich bags (never, ever big enough and then the kids lose them anyway – another thing that sends me over the edge), and plastic wrap (I hate this option. Every time I look at plastic wrap I can only envision some poor, furry sea animal being choked to death).

So you can see why this was an issue. Apparently I have some sort of sandwich wrap mania.

It occurred to me while just sitting around one day that the kids can wrap their lunches in one of our cloth napkins, use the napkin instead of the paper ones at school and then bring the napkin home to be washed. Problem solved.

I can’t believe it took me this long to think of it.

Cereal Solution: If it wasn’t for the kids I would never, ever buy boxed cereal. It’s expensive, marginally nutritious (even the “healthy” ones are suspect) and the packaging is ever so wasteful. In fact, I don’t usually buy the cereal, their dad does, and I bite my tongue every time he walks into the house with nine boxes of pandapoop puffs or whatever it is that was on sale.

I decided to combat this cereal menace head on, and I found these two marvelous recipes:

Vegan Skinny Bitch Granola: A bit time consuming to make, but it is SO delicious. I have been quadrupling the recipe (takes the same amount of time, really) and there’s usually enough to last for about a week and a half. They eat less because it is so much more dense and filled with goodies than their cereal and I don’t have to toss out five cardboard boxes a week – which makes me happy.

Vegan Overnight Oats: This takes three minutes to whip up and the kids nearly lost their minds over how good this dish is. Big score. Just make a batch before you go to bed, stick it in the fridge and voila! Breakfast.

So we still have some cereal in the house, but we’ve cut waaaay back, and I am feeling all the more relieved for it.

Bread Machine: I had a United mileage plus credit card with a bunch of miles on it. It cost me $60 a year for the privilege of earning miles that are in no way useful for air travel, so I decided to shut it down.  But before I did, I spent the balance of my miles on a Cuisinart Bread Machine and it’s the best thing ever.

The kids, with their crazy sandwich needs, were going through at least two bags of bread per week. We never had enough bread, were always on the verge of running out of bread, buying bread, thinking about bread, needing bread… Enough! Now that I have the bread machine I spend about 5 minutes every other day baking a fresh loaf of whole grain bread and we always have bread! I haven’t really crunched the numbers to determine the total cost savings we’ve enjoyed, but we sure love not having to run out to buy bread all the time. Plus, it’s just a few less plastic baggies out there murdering otters, or whatever other mayhem plastic baggies seem to cause.

My Yoga Online: I love me some yoga. I love yoga classes, yoga clothes, pretty pictures of yoga, yoga, yoga, yoga! But since we’ve been on lockdown to pay off the mortgage, I haven’t wanted to spend the $15 per yoga session at my favorite local studio.

In January, I signed up for myyogaonline.com at a special “New Year” rate. Now I have access to hundreds of yoga classes, yoga tips, wellness articles and more for about $5.80 per month. Admittedly it’s not quite the same as being in a room full of people with an instructor, but I can do as much or as little yoga as I want on my schedule. It’s been a wonderful experience to be able to come home from a hike and pop in a 20 minute cool down, or to spend a free hour brushing up on my raven – whenever I feel like it.

That’s the news that’s fit to print from Type A Minimalist! I’d love to hear about the delighful things you’ve recently discovered.

Treating Blues like the Flu

February 29, 2012 § 2 Comments

I’ve been feeling a bit blue lately.

This isn’t unusual for me. I’ve suffered from depression and generalized anxiety disorder for most of my adult life (who doesn’t, I always wonder), so I occasionally find myself in the doldrums, the horse latitudes, under the weather…

I have learned to master these hiccups mostly without medication over the years through a combination of exercise, relaxation techniques, hypnosis, organization and, of late, through diet and de-cluttering.

But the pillar of my depression and anxiety management has always been exercise. I must move by body every day in order to maintain a level of calm, vitality and motivation. Unfortunately, I injured my knee while skating last month, and then I continued to run on it because it doesn’t hurt while I am moving, it hurts after. So now I have this knee problem that keeps me from being as active as I need to be to feel my best.

Combine this with a pretty hefty tax bill due in April that ensures that all of my family’s extra income for the next two months is already spent on something decidedly un-fun, and you have yourself a recipe for the Type-A blues.

When you have a chronic condition like depression or anxiety, it’s important to remember that it is, in fact, an illness. When I have a blues blowup I treat it as such and I adhere to a regimen very close to what I would do if I had the flu.  I highly recommend this course of action when you are dealing with any sort of situation that has you feeling down in the dumps.

The Type-A Blues Prescription* is as follows:

Get lots of rest. I don’t mean loll around in bed all day feeling sorry for yourself (although one day of this is absolutely allowed). I mean set a reasonable bedtime every night and stick to it. I like to be asleep by 10 p.m., so I start winding down around 8, dimming lights, cutting out the liquids, reading, taking a hot bath. Without adequate rest, the blues can really do a number on my ability to get even the most minor things done.

Cancel social events and appointments. Even though being around others can sometimes lift my spirits, I more often find that the blues make me very anxious about bringing my best self to interactions. At parties, this sometimes makes me drink too much or say something I regret (those two often go hand in hand). In meetings, my mind wanders or I just don’t feel on. I have found that by just saying I’m not feeling well or postponing an important meeting for a later date, I give myself a little space to feel calm and, in the case of meetings, prepare myself to be fully functional the next time.

Drink lots of hot liquids. A psychologist once explained to me that we drink hot beverages in the morning not only to give ourselves a caffeine boost, but also because humans crave a warm feeling around our hearts. I like this idea. When I’m blue, I drink lots of warm tea to elevate my spirit and warm my heart. It’s like a moment of therapy in a mug.

Wear comfy clothes. I subscribe to this most of the time, but especially when I’m down. Comfy clothes make it easy to move, bend and breathe, and are especially nice when cuddling on the couch.

Watch movies or read books that make you smile. One of my go-to blues books is An Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life by Amy Krouse Rosenthal. It’s not a front-to-back read, so when my attention span is compromised it’s nice to be able to flip to a random page and read her warm, sweet observations about normal life. For movies, I love I Capture the Castle (Free on Netflix! It’s based on a book written by the same woman who wrote 101 Dalmations. How cool is that?), Role Models (my favorite raunchy comedy of all time) and re-runs of Friends (sentimental entry).

Stop drinking. I must cut out all alcohol when I have the blues or I will spiral down into oblivion. There’s no negotiating this for me. Alcohol affects my ability to get a good night’s sleep, it makes me feel anxious and jittery, and, despite the calming effect one or two glasses of wine seems to have on my system, it’s actually just depressing me more. You wouldn’t have a cocktail when you have the flu, so trade it for a mug of chamomile tea instead.

Walk meditatively. Being a bit of an exercise junkie, my normal walking speed is faster than many people jog. When I am feeling down and out, I remind myself to slow down, breathe deeply, and take in the images around me. This week, I was delighted by the beauty of the Western Bluebirds flitting around in the pink blossoms of the cherry trees, and I was charmed by the bright red English phone booth outside of our local pub. I normally zoom past these things, but in my slower state I was able to really enjoy the pleasures of my small town. My heart felt happy again.

Treat yourself like you would treat a friend who feels the same way. If your friend had a case of the sads, you wouldn’t berate her for not getting through that pile of laundry. You wouldn’t scold her for oversalting the pasta. You would never tell her to “pull herself up by her bootstraps” and jump back into life. You’d pour her a cup of tea, tuck her into bed and tell her that you’ll call her 3:00 and say she’s not feeling well enough to meet. Do this for yourself.

What about can’t-get-out-of obligations? Many of us have things that we must do every day: Go to work, get the kids ready for school, fight the galactic menace… These things can’t be put off, but you can take it easy on yourself. Have your tea while you’re doing these things. Stop for 15 seconds when things get hectic and breathe deeply. When you finally get your time, baby yourself mercilessly and unconditionally to re-charge your batteries for the next day. Also, don’t be afraid to ask your spouse or friends for help.

Our society rewards those of us who buck up, get on with it and soldier on. I certainly agree that there is a time and a place for this type of attitude, but for now, if life has you feeling down, it’s probably because you need a short time out. Take it. Make yourself feel better. The best way to chase the blues away is to take excellent care of yourself today.

 

*For mild blues take a few of these and call a friend in the morning. If you’re experiencing panic attacks or a major depressive episode, contact your physician as soon as possible. There’s no need to suffer in silence.

Things Every New Minimalist Tries at Least Once

February 2, 2012 § 10 Comments

I have joyfully embraced my status as a nobody, and now, friends, I am also ready to embrace my status as a total cliché.

I have suspected this for months. I visit a lot of simplicity, minimalist and green blogs and I’m finding that my fellow bloggers are beating me to the punch on several topics. (I’m lookin’ at you minhus! I was SO going to write about coconut oil…)

This isn’t a bad thing! In fact, it reinforces a lot of my decisions and also helps me feel connected to a community of like-minded souls when I often feel like I’m on an island surrounded consumer-infested waters.

I also had my fair share of belly laughs when I watched Portlandia for the first time and realized, yep, I do all of that, too. (I did stop at asking for the chicken’s name when I ordered it, but I have asked about the farm. I also may have screamed “bike rights” once or twice while pedaling to the store. There may be a bird or two on some of my things.)

So I’m a nobody and a cliché, and that’s fine with me. If you’re looking to dip a toe into minimalism, here are some things you’ll probably find yourself doing at least once:

  • You’ll run the numbers to see if you can get rid of one car.
  • You’ll make your own toothpaste
  • You’ll make your own laundry detergent.
  • You’ll clean, and clean, and de-clutter and clean. Then you’ll start all over again. 
  • You’ll bake your own bread.
  • You’ll attempt to minimize your wardrobe by “Garanimal-izing” all of your basic pieces.
  • You’ll walk or bike to the grocery store.
  • You’ll take a yoga class.
  • You’ll meditate.
  • You’ll create a plan to eliminate all of your debt, including having a yard sale where you decide to sell everything in your home. 
  • You’ll shop at the farmer’s market.
  • You’ll silently judge others as (insert sneer here) consumers. Then, you’ll chide yourself for not being more compassionate. 
  • You’ll go meat free on Mondays. Then you’ll go veg. Then you’ll go vegan. You’ll swoon over homemade hummus.
  • You’ll obsess over tiny homes.
  • You’ll start a blog.
  • You’ll write an e-book about something.
  • You’ll consider living with just 100 things, wearing the same dress every day for a year, or eliminating all unnecessary shopping forever.
  • You’ll try to repurpose everything you bring home.
  • You’ll read labels on everything to make sure it’s natural, local and not made in a sweatshop. You’ll forgive all or one of these offenses if the item you want is especially a) delicious b) unique or c) adorable. You’ll beat yourself up about it later. Then you’ll forgive yourself because you’re doing “so well” in other areas.
  • You’ll freak out over thezerowastehome.com. No one in your circle will share your enthusiasm.
  • You’ll compost. This may or may not include worms.
  • You’ll re-asses all of your beauty products and eliminate everything but soap and eyeliner. Then you’ll go out and find a bunch of all-natural alternatives that may or may not work as well as your original stash.
  • You’ll read Walden, The Story of Stuff, Your Money or Your Life, Born to Run, The Four Hour Body, and every post by Leo Babauta at zenhabits.net. (You should read The Freedom Manifesto, by Tom Hodgkinson.)
  • You’ll watch Forks Over Knives, Maxed Out, The Story of Stuff, Supersize Me, Who Killed the Electric Car, Zero Impact Man and Dive!
  • You’ll seriously consider dumpster diving for a meal. (See Dive! above). Someone will talk you out of it. Thank them.
  • You’ll breathe more, panic less, find beauty in small things, discover your own path to health and wellness, spend less time shopping and generally just feel more in control of your destiny. (Hopefully this last one will stick).

It’s OK to be cliché! Those of us who seek a more peaceful existence will try all of these things because many wise people who have gone before us have done the same — and some of these things really work.

If being a cliché means that I work less and live more, that I waste less and appreciate more and spend less but have more, then slap a sticker on me and call me a cliché. I’ll proudly wear it on the one organic cotton T-shirt (with a bird on it) I still own as I ride my bike to the farmers market.

 

My Problem with Paula Deen

January 20, 2012 § 7 Comments

I never paid that much attention to Paula Deen. It’s clear that we’re on different sides of the culture spectrum, so I never had any reason to read her recipes or watch her show. All of my Paula Deen knowledge could be boiled down to just one of her creations: a doughnut, beef, bacon and egg sandwich known as the Lady’s Brunch Burger. Reading that recipe was enough for me to know that Ms. Deen and I have nary a thing in common.

Her announcement that she has Type 2 Diabetes was hardly a surprise to me, although I did feel a twinge of sympathy. Having been a smoker myself for several years, it’s pretty difficult for me to muster up the sanctimony required to call someone out when their own bad choices lead to a disease. Every time I get a cough I secretly wonder if my foolish choices have resulted in a disastrous consequence.

The problem I’m having is that she has known about her illness – an illness widely believed in the medical community to be directly linked to a high fat, high sugar, high grossness diet* – for three years. And for those three years she has continued to amass a fortune peddling her food to her viewers and readers. AND she only disclosed her diagnosis after inking a lucrative deal with a pharmaceutical company that makes diabetes medication. To me, this is the height of cynical, money-grubbing consumerism. Ms. Deen has now officially made a career of getting you coming and going. What’s next, Paula Deen brand extra-wide coffins?

Ms. Deen’s handling of her illness is a prime example of just how sick our consumer culture has made us. She knows that her product is dangerous. She has probably become afflicted by her own product. Yet rather than destroy her precious brand, she hides the truth until she finds a way to profit from it. It’s like a cigarette company announcing their new chemotherapy division.

How incredible would it have been if Ms. Deen had instead used her unfortunate diagnosis as an opportunity to encourage us to change our eating habits? She once famously said, “I’m your cook, not your doctor.” What a revelation it would have been for her to step away from the money trough for long enough to realize that our food is our medicine. What we put into our bodies not only affects our health, but it ripples out into our communities, our politics, our spirituality – everything. Instead, she continues to make herself sick, she’s making her fans sick and her magic bullet solution is for them to send dollars to big Pharma. Pop these pills or inject yourself with this and you’ll erase years of unhealthy eating. Let’s hope you don’t go blind or lose a limb. Here, have a cookie.

What Paula Deen’s hypocritical brand of entertainment eating combined with chemical solutions overlooks is that we eat to nourish our bodies and prevent disease. We eat to build energy to accomplish great things throughout the day. We eat together to grow relationships. The food choices we make directly contribute (or show that we choose not to contribute) to the suffering of others. Our food can heal us. Or our food can make us very, very sick.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: Feeding yourself is the most important thing you do all day. The food choices you make can lead to health and prosperity or listlessness and disease. I find it unbearably tragic (and so blatantly consumerist) that someone who makes their living feeding others is fine with making her clientele fat, unhealthy and sick while she herself is riddled with a diet-related disease. It seems almost too greedy to be true. But there it is. And here we are.

I wish Paula Deen the best with her illness, and I know that she has the money and the resources to secure the ultimate in medical care. I just hope that those who, from her example, find it to be giddy fun to stuff themselves with fat, sugar, lard, cellulose, and other poisons have the same access to the life saving medications they’re going to eventually need. In the meantime, I’m going to eat more kale.

 

*Disclaimer: I have read some articles that claim there is no causal link between a diet of disgustingness and Type 2 Diabetes, and I am willing to concede that I am not a doctor and therefore do not know for sure. However, there is no dissension in the medical community that continuing to eat this way after your diagnosis will probably kill you.

New Year’s Realizations

January 10, 2012 § 7 Comments

I hope that you had a delightful holiday season and that you and yours are settling in to 2012 with peace and happiness.

Like everyone else, my holiday was a frenzy of travel, guests, activities and gifts. My routine went completely out the window, of course, and I was only able to exercise sporadically. My vegan diet was a joke, not so much because I was tempted — I wasn’t  — but more because Christmas foods apparently consist of meat wrapped in cheese dipped in an egg-and-milk batter, fried and then dusted with sprinkles. I was a guest in people’s homes and away from my own kitchen, so whaddaryagonnado? (I didn’t eat any meat, though…)

I’m a big fan of New Year’s resolutions. I never would have started figure skating three years ago unless I had resolved to do so after several glasses of wine on New Year’s Eve. It is still one of the great joys of my life and I skate every single week. But I don’t really have one this year. What I have instead is a realization.

I’ve realized that it’s okay to be nobody.

As a classic Type-A automatron, I have spent the vast majority of my life doing things that will be seen, appreciated and applauded. I was a theater geek, a public speaker, a performer – all things that would draw attention to me, me, me. And I loved to bask in accolades. In my career, same thing. I always put myself front and center to get the praise. My ego was on fire and praise was its fuel.

But over the past few years I’ve found myself pursuing more internal pursuits. My journey has led me away from the shiny spotlights and directed my focus inward. I can’t pinpoint when the shift actually occurred. It’s been a slow evolution, a gradual sloughing off of the things that no longer seem to serve me.

The things that interest me now are learning to prepare meals that nourish my body and my family, not starting a restaurant, catering business or online food source. Just cooking for cooking’s sake. I love to skate, but only two people I know, other than my coach and the people who are already at the rink, have ever seen me do it. In fact a full 95% of my friends and relatives don’t even know that I own skates, much less that I know how to use them. I’ve recently taken up running, and far from winning any races, I’m just enjoying the time with myself to get some exercise and check in with how I’m really feeling about what’s going on with me.

I’m also much less interested in making an impact on the people around me with my wit, charm and cleverness, and more interested in making less of an impact on the earth by creatively managing the waste in my home, eliminating superfluous spending habits and re-using the things I have. I don’t care so much how my body looks, as opposed to how it feels and what I can teach it to do. I don’t want to win any more awards, but I do want to make sure my neighborhood is trash-free.

As J.D. Salinger famously noted, it takes courage to be an absolute nobody. So it is with great courage that in 2012 I am embracing my own status as a nobody. And so far, it feels like one of the most freeing things I’ve ever done.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 48 other followers

%d bloggers like this: