Desire is a strong emotion that can pull at us mentally, emotionally – even physically. As living, breathing creatures we are often at the mercy of our wants and needs, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
In our hyper connected society we are often spoon fed the things we should want or need in order to be happy, productive individuals in this world. A curious thing happens when you follow the crowd and allow yourself to be tricked into believing the advertisers and corporations. You become more and more unhappy each day.
The sheer act of trying to keep up with everyone around you is exhausting. And it’s not just the stuff you must accumulate to keep up. Now you must also have meaningful, Instagram worthy experiences to feel normal. You are judged by the vacations you take, the concerts you attend, the innovative couple weekends you contrive – it is never ending.
One of the best things I have ever done was sit down and make a list of the things I truly desired in my life. Then I worked toward the things in life that would bring those desires to me the quickest. Here are a few of the things on my list:
Have happy, healthy, well-adjusted children
Be financially comfortable
Have fewer responsibilities
Take more family vacations that are simple and relaxing
I took specific steps for each desire and felt energized because my time and efforts were being laser focused on the desired outcome.
When I looked at the list I made I realized the person who achieves those desires is a happy, calm person – and isn’t that what we all crave?
All the material things and accomplishments we all chase are trying to achieve that perceived happiness at the end, right? Why not take a shortcut on the road to happiness and pursue the quickest route to true joy?
Our desires define us, whether we like it or not. Do we want to be people who chase materialism or meaningful things in life?
If you asked most adults in the United States about their biggest source of stress, I would the wager the most frequent answer to be overwhelm.
The number of things to do on most people’s “to do” list is staggering and it seems most people add more things to it than they accomplish on a daily basis. In fact, the dreaded “to do” list has become an affliction that weighs us down and steals our joy, year in and year out.
There are even rules now about how many things you need to have on a “to do” list on any given day, along with arguments about how large a task has to be in order to be written down. People are literally stressing over the lists that are supposed to eliminate stress!
I, too, am one of the many people who suffer from this affliction. If my list gets too long, then I get anxious. If it is too short, then I feel sure I am leaving out something important. One way to overcome this is to focus on your most important task (MIT) each day. There are lots of books and websites that touch on this concept. Here is an article by Leo Babauta that I really like.
With this being said, here are some other suggestions on how to stop feeling overwhelmed:
You Don’t Have To Keep Score Anymore
Sometimes we need to be reminded of even the most basic things in life. I read this quote today on Courtney Carver’s blog Be More With Less. She had posted an article about feeling overwhelmed that made several wonderful points, but this one especially stood out to me. (Read the whole article here.)
Although no one ever comes straight out and says “You are in competition with ever other individual on the planet” we all know that we are, or are expected to be.
Our well-meaning parents set us up for this when we begin school, or sometimes even before that. After all, academics are important, right? Then there’s sports, sibling rivalry, college entrance exams, job interviews, salaries, house size, retirement accounts, etc.
What’s even worse is that people now even keep score on social media. Who has taken the most lavish vacation or had the most elaborate wedding or baby shower?
And what’s worse still, we often compete through our children as well. It’s all about whose child makes better grades, is a better athlete, got into a better school, etc.
Well, guess what? You don’t have to keep score anymore. And we all do it to some extent, whether we realize it or not.
But we can all recognize it as something we do and then make the conscious decision to stop right now.
Is all competition bad? Of course not. Be we need to keep it in perspective. Then we can better allocate our time, energy and finances accordingly.
Working Part Time (Or Not At All) Does Not Make You Lazy
In the United States, we live in a society that is very accomplishment driven. People who do not possess the killer instinct to work excessive hours and ruthlessly climb the ladder of success are often deemed lazy in the eyes of others. Stay at home mothers catch a great deal of this judgement, but tell someone you are a stay at home wife with no children and people go nuts!
Why would one family’s personal lifestyle decision matter to anyone else? Especially f it doesn’t affect them at all?
As of February 27, 2019, there is a documentary on Netflix called Happy that I highly recommend everyone watch. It details what makes people happy in various walks of life, and it turns many conventional ideas upside down. It will literally change the way you think about everything in life.
But back to working – it is okay not to work full time, just like it is okay to want less possessions and more free time in your life. These things usually come together as a package deal for most people.
Never allow the judgments of other people rule your life. Your happiness matters, not their opinions.
It’s Okay To Be You
I know this one sounds simplistic, but most of us have still not learned this lesson no matter how many times it is taught. You should make the decision today that you will be yourself no matter what it takes. You should always:
spend time with just you
believe in you
be kind to you
see the beauty in you
take care of you
Until we all learn to do these things, we will never be truly happy. You must be happy in your own skin and your own head. Stop trying to do so much and spend some time just being.
Do Something For Someone Else
Nothing puts life in perspective so much as helping someone else. Many times this brings real issues to the forefront and allows insignificant things to fade to the background of our lives, allowing us to focus our time and attention on what truly matters.
Selfless acts of love and generosity are the root of many wonderful things in life. This happens because we are thinking of someone else instead of ourselves. Just think what would happen if everyone on the planet did that for one whole day!!!
Mother Teresa was quoted as saying:
Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.
Not so very long ago people who practiced mediation in the United States were considered to be a little “out there” in many ways. Thankfully, those days are long gone since people of all ages and walks of life have discovered the wondrous benefits of turning everything off for a few minutes each day and learning shut out all the noise.
It can literally change the structure of your brain.
If you have never tried mediation, here is a guide on Zen Habits to get you started. Also, there is a resource by Bob Proctor that I use virtually everyday, somethings multiple times a day. I often listen to it in the background using headphones while I am working at the computer during the day. It is a guided meditation that I absolutely love!
And last, but not least:
You knew this would be on the list, right? Because it is on every list of everything that makes our life better. Your brain actually changes when you practice habitual gratitude for an ongoing period of time (much like meditation, which makes these two a winning combination).
Begin each and every morning by thinking of all the good things in your life and saying “thank you” for all of them. Be sure to include small things in your list as well as the big things. Right now I am thinking how grateful I am for my sight, so I can see to type this blog post. I am also grateful for my computer, my internet and electricity, my desk and chair, the heater at my feet, the time to do this, etc.
It is especially helpful to practice gratitude when things are going wrong in life or when you feel discouraged or down. Gratitude can turn your disposition around in a matter of seconds if you allow it.
We have all heard that minimalism is only for single guys, right? Living a simple, uncluttered life might be easier with less stuff and fewer people under one roof, but when minimalism becomes a state of mind it can work for anyone – even families.
According to these Spare Foot Statistics, the self storage industry had a whopping $38 billion in revenue in 2018. And that’s just in the United States (we are surely not the only hoarders in the world). That’s a lot of money just to store some things we probably forgot we even had and will likely never use again.
But we don’t want all that in our homes, right?
Enter the Family
Going from a single person, to a married person, to a family with with kids can bring your clutter factor to scary proportions. Add in a couple pets and it is the perfect storm for chaos and disorder. But minimalism with a family is definitely possible.
Although clutter affects some individuals more than others, it is fair to say it disrupts productivity for everyone. Children are especially prone to the pitfalls of clutter since they are learning the habits they will carry into adulthood. It is important to model good organizational behavior for your children, but it can also help you live a less complicated life in the present.
Let’s assume you have decluttered your home. (If not, start with Marie Kondo’s book.) How do you keep it that way? Here are some practical ways to keep your home sweet home peaceful and tidy.
One Thing In, One Thing Out
This should be a way of life for all minimalist enthusiasts. Every time you bring a new pair of shoes into your home, an old pair goes out. Same goes for any other item in your house. This is one of the easiest ways to keep clutter down. Since you know something has to leave your house for something new to come in, you will begin bargaining with yourself each time you consider a new purchase. Sometimes just taking that moment to consider which item to throw out will be enough to talk you out of a new item.
Give Every Item a Home
Items that do not have a home can never be put away. Simple, right?
Yet, so many items end up in the “plop spot”. Every home has a plop spot. It is where everyone drops everything the minute they come through the door. It can easily become a jumble of shoes, backpacks, lunchboxes, sports equipment and dog leashes. Spend a weekend organizing items that don’t have a designated spot. This includes the items mentioned above. Amazon and IKEA are good places to look for organization items and Pinterest is always teeming with ideas.
If you do not have enough room for all of your stuff to be put away, either you still have too much stuff or you need better organization. Be honest with yourself about this and take appropriate measures.
Don’t Let Papers Pile Up
This is one of my worst categories. It seems I am always so busy in the afternoons when the mail and school papers come home that I often make a stack to look through later. The problem is that stack keeps growing everyday and so the task of going through it keeps growing as well.
I have helped myself to a certain degree by purchasing a file crate that I keep by the front door. (I bought a pretty one so it looks nice with my decor.) I also keep a trash can close so I can sort mail as soon as it comes through the door. I use the file crate to file away some things immediately, like bills that will automatically be paid online. I also designated one file for receipts called “possible returns”. Any receipt that has an item I am not sure about yet goes into that file. Or anything that has a limited warranty. I clean it out at the end of each year when I do my taxes and go through everything.
Any papers that need action of some kind are placed on top of the file crate. They are in my way each day when I file new papers, so that keeps them constantly on my mind until I follow through with them.
One person cannot keep a house tidy when multiple people live there. One of the best lessons you can teach your children is a good work ethic. This begins in the home. All the people who live in your home make up a team and each team member should do his or her part. It can take time to train both your children and your partner to do this on a daily basis, but once the training is over you will all benefit for years to come.
Besides learning to clean up behind themselves as they go through their day, they should each have designated chores that are done daily and/or weekly. I always tell my children that chores build character, and I completely believe that.
Make It a Habit
All of the above steps only work if you implement them consistently. According to John Assaraf (who I follow and greatly admire) it can take at least 90 days to form a new habit. This can increase greatly according to which habit you are trying to establish, of course. However, your goal should be to make these steps habits, and thereby put them on autopilot.
When you have done that, you have developed new lifestyle!
Quick – What’s the best free thing in the world that most people usually refuse to accept? That’s right, it’s good advice. We have all been there. Heck, sometimes we ignore our own selves when it comes to good advice. Since I absorb every self help and motivational book, video, and podcast I can find, I decided to set down a list of things I would tell my best friend – and then follow that list myself. Feel free to come along.
Do Something Today That Your Future Self Will Thank You For
I have not been able to trace down the author of that quote, but it is quite powerful. Every single day of your life, do something that will bring you more knowledge, improve your skills, move you towards a goal, etc. If you do a little bit each and every day, that effort will begin to add up in your life and bring you a happier and more fruitful future.
This could also be thought of as planting a seed each day. Take that cooking class. Open that business you are passionate about. Learn to code a new computer program. Go on that vacation with your family or your best friend. Spend that extra time with your loved ones. You are essentially investing in a happier you.
Start Saving and Investing Today
Compound interest is your friend. And who doesn’t want to earn interest on their interest? The earlier you get started saving and investing, the more independence and freedom you will have in life. While money doesn’t necessarily lead to happiness, the freedom and independence it provides actually does. Saving and investing money can be confusing and, therefore, scary. The best way is to automate the funds to go to various places so you never miss the money from your paycheck. Here are some good ways to get started:
If you have access to a retirement plan at work, utilize it now. If not, start an IRA. Then increase the amount you contribute to it every year. You will never miss the increases if you automate the deductions, and you will be building an impressive net worth. (Be sure to use an experienced financial planner or do your own homework before allocating those funds.)
Open an online savings account and set money to automatically transfer to it each month. (We opened up a Marcus online account and have been happily stashing money in it every month for a while now. We are saving money every month with absolutely no effort on our part.)
If you would like to go further, index funds are recommended by virtually all investment gurus. The Vanguard 500 Index is generally considered a good investment because it covers 500 of the biggest and best established companies around. It also has extremely low fees and can easily be bought through your own personal brokerage account. You can purchase EFTs one share at a time or you can buy directly into the fund for an investment of $3000 or more. You can open a Vanguard account here. To learn more about the Vanguard 500 Index click here.
Be Who You Really Are
Remember: “If I want to be free, I’ve gotta be me.”
This quote was originally by Bill Gove, but is frequently repeated by Bob Proctor, who was one of his disciples. It reminds us to always live the most original version of us. Don’t settle for just okay in your life when you can be extraordinary instead. Never think about the things you can’t accomplish, but focus on what you CAN accomplish instead. Another famous man (Henry Ford) said, “Whether you think you can or you can’t – Either way you are right.” Every day people accomplish things that were not possible, which tells me that almost anything is possible if you want it badly enough. Don’t stop growing and improving yourself every day.
Read Think and Grow Rich Every Year of Your Life
Most super successful people read as many books as possible each year. Some actually read a book each week. However, the quality of each book matters. Think and Grow Rich has become the bible of success for many people around the world because is has proved its worth over the decades since it was first published.
There are many other classic books out there to help you along your journey. I personally like anything by John Assaraf or Bob Proctor. You can also find tons of videos by them and many others on YouTube that are inspirational and life changing.
Forgive Everyone for Everything
We humans are a grudge holding bunch. Secretly, we love to revel in the terrible things that bad people do to us. Only, there’s really no such thing as a “bad person” but only bad things done by imperfect humans. You have already heard the spiel about forgiving others so you can feel better yourself. Forgiveness is for you, not them. That is completely true. But the best and most unselfish thing to do is forgive them for both of you. We are all in this together, so sometimes you have to forgive others for being human. While you are at it, extend that same courtesy to yourself.
You Don’t Need To Be Perfect
Sometimes it is easier to forgive others than ourselves. Mistakes happen to everyone and no one can ever be perfect everyday in every way. Enough said.
Live in the Present, Not the Past or the Future
This is also known as mindfulness and it has been one of my personal downfalls. It took me years to learn how to do this. I literally used to spend around 90 percent of my waking hours worrying about things in the past I couldn’t change or imagined things in the future that mostly never happened. It takes some time to retrain your brain, but you can learn to enjoy your present moment in life. And what a difference it makes!
Exercise and meditation are two of the best ways to accomplish mindfulness, as well as monitoring your thoughts and redirecting back to the present when your thoughts slip to the past or future. Of course, you can always revisit the past and plan for the future sometimes, just don’t miss the beautiful moments of the life you are living today.
Begin and End Every Single Day with Gratitude
Science has shown that positive and negative thoughts cannot exist in the brain at the same time. It is literally not physically possible. This means every time you choose to have a positive thought you are literally blocking out a potentially negative thought. Think about how powerful that can be in your life. When you start each day with gratitude, you prime your mind to think about happy, positive things all day long. Also, when you end your day with gratitude, you prime your unconscious mind for your hours of sleep. (Yes, we all know our unconscious mind keeps working even while we sleep.)
So pick three things to be grateful for when you wake up each morning and three different things when you go to bed. Writing these down in a journal is even better because you can revisit previous entries from time to time and celebrate the accumulation of good things in your life.
Exercise and Meditate Every Day
Your body needs more activity and your mind needs a break! That is true of the majority of the population anyway. When your body gets both of these things everyday (or at least most days) it balances both your body and your mind because you are feeding both exactly what they need. Stress will literally begin to melt away and your true self will begin to emerge. Your health will likely improve as well.
This one trips up a lot of people, including myself. We (I) sometimes feel like we have no right to want financial success and happiness in our lives when there’s so much poverty and misery in the world. That’s like saying some people are starving so I must starve too. That makes no sense. There must be entrepreneurs to help create jobs for others. There must be authors to inspire others. This world requires creators and developers to give the world joy and fill its needs. Without that, we would become stagnant.
The trick is to be as successful as possible, but be generous with what you have. That’s a win/win situation for everyone.
Set Detailed Goals and Write Them Down
There is a HUGE difference between “I want to retire early” and “I will retire at age 50 with a net worth of $1 million and $15,000 of monthly income.” Science has proven that people who write down their goals and make them very specific are much more likely to achieve them. It also helps to read over your goals everyday and maybe even post them on your bathroom mirror.
Everyday is a new opportunity to achieve something wonderful in your life, so don’t spend time on things unless they make you happy or get you closer to your goals.
Keep Your Eye On the Prize
Always remember what success looks like. Lots of money with no close relationships would be misery. So would being broke with lots of friends. Balance is what we all need in life, so make sure to pay attention to your health, wealth, and happiness at all times.
I have chosen this list as the most basic things to make the most of life. Feel free to add to it as needed.
Today I was in a school and saw some children interacting. It was immediately clear which students “fit in” and which ones did not. You could tell by the conversations and body language of the whole class that everyone there understood that as well.
This led me to think about the value of fitting in with others in our society. Most all of us work hard at this for the duration of our lives. It starts when we begin our schooling, or sometimes even before. It is safe to say that a large amount of our life energy is spent trying to attain the goal of acceptance, while fearing that any slight provocation or slip will result in all that hard work going down the drain.
Why do we invest so much of ourselves into fitting in? I believe it is mostly fear.
No one wants be feel left out in life. So we fear not having friends, or a network of support when something goes wrong in our lives. We also want to know that others approve of us and our way of life. The need to belong to a group or a family is so strong that sometimes we swallow our principles and allow ourselves to be put in positions that are uncomfortable.
But what would happen if we allowed ourselves to just be?
What if there was never an agenda to any interaction we had had with anyone? Could life just unfold in a more peaceful, relaxed way? Maybe everyday could be more pleasant if we didn’t expend so much energy trying to force things to unfold in certain ways.
Because in the end, does it really make that much difference? I would wager that being a completely genuine person who is confident would gain us all more acceptance than any amount of extra effort could ever could. Who isn’t attracted to the company of a smiling, pleasant person? And in essence, isn’t that really who we all strive to be anyway?
So I challenge you (as well as myself) to become that person as this year unfolds.
Forget trying to impress anyone or sell yourself to anyone. Just be your normal, awesome self and see what happens.
Let me clarify – I feel like all things around me need to be perfect all the time. Or at least I did.
As the only child of a mother who cleaned everything with a toothbrush, I learned the way to happiness is for everything to be perfect. And by perfect I mean clean, well organized, and well…..perfect.
The two of us saw eye to eye on this lifestyle choice. Floors were always clean. Drawers were organized. The frig was always wiped down, inside and out.
Then my father would come home.
He should have had a mug that read “World’s Biggest Slob”.
My dad was the king of misplaced items, disorganization, and borderline hoarding. He was also happy with his lifestyle choice.
I listened to years of arguments over cabinet doors being left open (my mom often hit her head on them) and dirty clothes being left in the floor.
So what is the point here?
Mainly this: Life CANNOT be perfect.
That’s just how it is.
The universe was not designed to be perfect. It was designed to be functional and productive and beautiful.
And so are we. Let me say that in a straightforward way. We were designed to be functional and productive and beautiful.
Minimalism can bring you a little closer to perfection in life, but never quite on target. Because we were never meant to be that.
And some of us live years (or our whole lives) trying to attain perfection in our lives in all ways while thinking we will be happy when we get there.
But the fact is we will NEVER GET THERE.
I had to tell myself that, just like I am telling you right now.
So tonight when my husband helps with dinner but doesn’t clean up behind himself, and my kids unpack their backpacks on the kitchen table and leave a stray item there when it’s time to eat, and my dogs dig in the yard before pouncing across my white duvet – I will choose to appreciate that I have a husband and kids and dogs instead of sweating the small stuff.
After all, my life will never be perfect, but it will always be happy. Because I choose for it to be so. And I find perfection in that alone.