Do you see the trap?

Have you ever heard anyone sigh and say, “I wish I had more stuff cluttering up my life!”

Sure, you will hear people wish for individual things – new towels, a rice cooker maybe, an iPad -but more clutter?

Not likely.

Most people I know want to simplify.  They want to downsize.  They want to dig out.  They want to be free of the mess, the dust bunnies, the crowding, the spill-over, the time- wasting, the constant moving of things in the way, the perpetual putting away of things out of place.
Continue reading Do you see the trap?

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Sometimes less is …not more

The word minimal is an adjective, describing a small amount, quantity, or degree of something. It can be defined as the least amount possible (yourdictionary.com).

In the current minimalist movement, the term minimalism is usually assumed to refer to a minimal amount of “stuff.” But minimal can refer to amounts of anything. You may, for instance, prefer to strive for minimal spending, minimal working hours, minimal interaction with other people, minimal physical exertion, minimal environmental damage, minimal stress, or minimal time away from your family.

These examples show the intersection of minimalism with other important lifestyle practices that also focus on downsizing, streamlining, and reducing consumption.

• Environmentalists hope to minimize the carbon footprints of humans on the earth.
• Advocates of frugality try to minimize the amount of cash they need/spend.
• Followers of Voluntary Simplicity attempt to minimize the quantity of their unfulfilling life demands in order to maximize life’s quality.

What is your goal?

Continue reading Sometimes less is …not more

When you die, it all stays here

“You can’t take it with you” is one of those phrases that has become so tired from overuse that it has lost its punch – which is unfortunate, because it’s one of those adages we would do well to keep in mind. George Carlin gave it a much-needed lift when he rephrased it as “Nobody ‘owns’ anything. When you die, it all stays here.”

These quotes remind me of what the Buddha said about our lives being full of pain because we allow ourselves to get attached to things in this life … including this life. As one who is always trying to detach from things, I decided I would try to wrap my mind around Buddhism’s four noble truths.

My distilled version of these concepts goes something like this:

1. Life is full of pain. You may be fine right now, but if you look around, you will find plenty of others who are suffering. And one day you too will grow old, get sick, and die. Life is a painful journey because it is filled with loss.

2. We try to escape, or at least dull, the inevitable pain of the journey by “attaching” to people and things. Once we attach to things, we form expectations of them as a form of controlling them. Basically, we expect them to make us happy.

3. We can end a lot of our suffering if we just abandon all of our expectations and simply experience what happens along the journey.

4. The way to abandon expectations is to become mindful of them for what they are – and then try to let them go. This will allow us to become more aware of – and more able to accept – reality.

Time pushes us forward, toward the end of our journey. We can’t stop it – or even slow it – by trying to become anchored or tethered to things. Buddhism warns against attachment because we come to depend on a false sense of stability and safety. In reality, it’s just an illusion that keeps us shackled, grounded, stuck to – and ultimately disappointed by – our expectations.

I think the advice of the Buddha is to go through life as if in a bubble – similar to Glinda, the good witch in Oz.

On our journey, the wind takes us where we are meant to go so that we can see what we are meant to see, and we should give up the notion that we can control its direction. We should observe life as objectively as we can, without judgment. Others will try to judge us, but what they actually see when they look at us is just their own distorted reflection in the bubble. It shouldn’t mean anything to us. Likewise, wrongs that we felt were done to us in the past were only done to someone else’s distorted reflection. We should not take anything personally.

But most importantly, we should not try to attach to anything.

This quote by Antoine de St. Exupery is also apt: “He who would travel happily must travel light.”

Life is a journey. “Putting down roots” is an illusion. All the possessions and commitments and responsibilities in the world won’t create a safe haven where you can escape and hide from the progression of time. So travel as lightly as you comfortably can, and be suspicious of anything that seems to promise safety or stability.

Your personal journey may require that you explore the other side of the world – or move across the street. Don’t let attachments, expectations, or excess baggage deter you. They are all just part of the illusion that is this life.

And, as George said – when you die, all that stays here.

Knowing When to Say “When”

How many improvements have been made to the toothbrush in the past 20 years? Ergonomic rubber grips, bent necks, flexible necks, multi-colored & multi-level bristles – oh, and don’t forget the little rubber pick at the bottom of that one toothbrush handle…

Then we had to have electric toothbrushes so that we could add pulsating-oscillating-rotating bristles, massage settings, quadrant timers, color-changing heads, and gum care pressure sensors.

NOW we have the Rinser! The Rinser toothbrush “features a built-in scoop that funnels the water into a small hole in the handle, instantly transforming your toothbrush into a water fountain!”

Seriously??

Will the poor toothbrush ever be good enough? Isn’t it possible that we may have already passed that standard long ago? That maybe we should just let it go and turn our attention to something that actually needs attention – like world hunger, climate change, terrorism?

We have a problem knowing when to say when. This means we don’t yet understand the concept of having “enough” (quantity) or of being “good enough” (quality).

• Do we really need chicken-and-waffle-flavored potato chips? Wouldn’t it be preferable just to eat chicken and waffles if that’s what we’re craving?

• Is it really necessary to put “puddle lights” on cars? Aren’t we smart enough to wear water-proof shoes or boots if it’s raining?

• Why is call-waiting a good idea? Does anyone really like this better than an old-fashioned busy signal?

• Have you had a good look at women’s high heels these days? (Even the original ones were pretty stupid, weren’t they?)

“Enough” means “a sufficient amount – or degree – to meet a specified need.” It’s a measure of quantity or quality, yes – but it’s also a measure of satisfaction. When we believe we have enough – or what we have is good enough – we are content.

When we believe nothing to be good enough as it is, we live in a state of perpetual dissatisfaction. What we have … or are … or do … may very well be sufficient – but for some reason, we’re not happy with it. We always want new and improved, bigger and better, the latest upgrade, the widest bandwidth. We want more! We want more!

We. Are. Never. Satisfied. But isn’t that the object of the game – to be satisfied with our life, our self, our situation, our possessions, our position? Isn’t that what we’re all working towards? Isn’t that where we all think we’re headed? Do we still believe it’s possible to get there someday…somehow?

And – the real question – for you – is this: are you willing to be unhappy until everything meets your satisfaction standards (which, of course, will never happen)?

Maybe it’s really quite simple. Maybe we just need to stop thinking everything needs to be improved. Maybe we could somehow learn to be grateful that things are as good as they are – which, in the grand scheme of things on the planet, is pretty damned fantastic. Why don’t we just try to eliminate the phrase “not good enough” from our vocabulary, realize that everything we have is probably already more than good enough, and see what happens?

Could it be that simple?

Headaches Are Not Caused By a Lack of Aspirin

When you have a headache, the obvious quick fix is to take a couple of aspirins. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. But if your headaches are chronic, wouldn’t it be better to try to cure the underlying cause of them rather than just trying to make the symptoms go away? Headaches are NOT the result of an aspirin deficiency in your body. They’re caused by dehydration or tight muscles or caffeine withdrawal maybe – but not a lack of aspirin.

Likewise, unhappiness is rarely caused by a lack of stuff.

It probably doesn’t surprise you to hear that study after study supports the theory that the parents of baby boomers are typically happier than their kids – and have been throughout their lives – despite the fact that baby boomers have a whole lot more “stuff” than their parents ever had.

There are obviously a lot of reasons this could be true besides just the difference in material overload. Baby boomers tend to have more stress and less downtime, more debt and less job security, more expenses and fewer savings, more health care and worse health…well, the list goes on and on. The trouble is that boomers tend to console themselves for all these problems by – you guessed it – shopping.

Shopping has become our solution for everything from boredom to anxiety to depression. It’s the aspirin for our existential headache. And while it might distract us from our pain for a little while, it’s certainly not a long-term cure for what ails us.

But what is? Have you ever left the house because you just have to get out, started down the street, and then thought “Where the hell am I gonna go that doesn’t involve shopping?”

I have.

This is the challenge of the simplifier and the minimalist – not just the epiphany that less really is more, but breaking the addiction to shopping as entertainment. Especially since there isn’t much else out there.

So how do we escape the pull of the magical, mystical, magnetic mall?

We have to leave the paved roads and head into the weeds. We have to forget about what we “should” be doing, and what everyone else is doing. We have to find and embrace the eccentric, idiosyncratic, out-in-left-field peculiarities that make each one of us unique and then have some fun playing with them. They’re not out there. They’re in here.

On the surface, we may be paper pushers, retail clerks, cubicle dwellers, or factory workers. We’re taught from a very young age to conform to what society needs because that’s what makes society work. But what’s best for society may not be what’s best for us.

Way down deep inside, we may actually want to be faucet designers, square-dance callers, or greeting card poets. Maybe we really want to be cruise ship dancers, voice-over actors, rodeo clowns, rug braiders, professional bowlers, or clam diggers.

We don’t have to give up our day jobs to explore our individuality. Outside the confines of 9-to-5, we waste a lot of time trying to fill the emptiness we feel because we haven’t met the interesting person we really are yet. So we sit on the sidelines of life where there is nothing to do but crawl the strip-malls…and we shop. But once we discover that life isn’t powered by the energy of “batteries” bought at a big-box store, we’ll never have to mindlessly push shopping carts around like Stepford Wives again. We’ll be able to create our own entertainment.

Our shopping compulsion will be cured – and so will that nagging headache. No aspirins required.