Rethinking the Value of Busy-ness

Originally posted February 2013

In Western culture, we value productivity. We think quite highly of the person who uses their incredible energy to get something done. And we really, really frown upon laziness.

This is all good. But the way we’ve applied it to our own lives is not.

In order to not appear lazy, we’ve all become very busy. We work extra hours, volunteer for extra projects, take on numerous leadership roles. We sign our kids up for every activity that peaks their interest, and drive them around town, after hours. We volunteer and offer to help out whenever someone asks us to. If we have any free time, we spend it trying desperately to get some housework done.

And we’re stressed. We don’t have time for leisure activities, such as entertaining or pursuing our hobbies. We say, “I need to learn to say ‘no,'” or “I need to get my life in balance.”

But we don’t mean it.

Because the busy life is something that our culture values. Stress is stylish. If we’re busy, it means that we’re doing something meaningful. That our time here is not a waste.

But does it really?

We live intentionally, because we realize that every choice we make is a trade-off. We pare down on possessions, because we realize that when we own too much–even if they are all good things—our lives become so cluttered that we can’t enjoy any of them. So it is with time.

So many times, we have been involved in fun, meaningful activities with friends. These get-togethers always stopped, eventually, because we got too busy. We really need to think: are the activities we are choosing to use, to fill up our time, more important than cultivating friendships?

I’ve met a lot of people who want to pursue their passions. They want to write, possibly, or do some adventuring of their own, but they don’t have time. In reality, we make trade-offs. There is time. We just need to decide what is more valuable–our current obligations or spending time developing skills that really can give us something to contribute to the world.

Simple living is about quality over quantity. After I left Facebook, I’ve had more in-depth conversations with fewer people. Since I’ve pared down my schedule and–yes–I do say “no,” often, I’ve been able to focus my efforts on the activities that I have chosen, rather than do a poor job trying to do everything.

It takes courage to live this way. Living intentionally with time is more counter-cultural than living simply with possessions. But we need to do it anyway.

Are you working toward a simpler lifestyle?  Then I would love to share your story!  Please submit your original (not published anywhere else) story about how you are simplifying your life.  You don’t have to be an extreme minimalist–I would love to share stories of people who are just starting out of their journey.  If your story is selected to be featured, you will receive 50% off the the Simple Living Basics E-Course, after any other discounts.  Send your story to brosselit@gmail.com . 

New to Simple Living?  Then check out our Simple Living Basics e-course.  There are plenty of discounts available, and it will be an investment in a lower-stress more focused lifestyle!

Something We Do Without: Electric Cooking Appliances

Originally posted February 2013

When we first got married, we had a very well-stocked kitchen. In included an electric can opener, a toaster with inserts so it could actually cook entire sandwiches, a pizza cooker, a deep fryer, a coffee maker with a timer, two slow cookers, an ice cream maker, a toaster oven, an electric coffee grinder, two popcorn poppers, two electric mixers, a blender, and a smoothie maker.

Now we have none of that.

Let me explain each item’s demise, and how we still eat wonderful meals without it:

Electric Can Opener: OK, do they ever actually work? I’ve never seen one that didn’t sometimes chew things up, rather than doing its job. We always had cheap manual openers, which failed about as well as the electric. Then my friend got us a Good Cook brand manual opener that does the trick perfectly every time, with no rough edges on the cans. AND, it doesn’t use fossil fuels to do it! We’ve had this can opener for over 6 years, and it still works as well as it did when it was new.

Toaster: Well, the sandwich toaster was always having cheese and butter dripping down into it, so it became a fire hazard. Then, we decided we really didn’t need an appliance specifically for the purpose of burning bread. When we want to eat toast, we fry it up in butter, in our skillet. It tastes infinitely better that way. Trust me.

Pizza Cooker: Really? Putting pizza dough in a pan and cooking it in the oven or on the grill really isn’t that big of a deal. We always thought this was frivolous, anyway. We only owned it because our power wasn’t hooked up, we wanted to eat, and it was at the Salvation Army store, waiting for us. So it served its purpose.

Deep Fryer: Well, we put the plastic lid on it while it was frying, and the lid melted into the fryer. So that was that. We didn’t replace it, because, the few times we actually deep fry something, a saucepan full of fat suffices.

Coffee Maker: We love coffee. We really love coffee. We’ve got coffee making down to a science, actually. And we’ve been through our share of electric coffee makers. The fancy ones with the timers don’t last long. The electronics always seem to get fried. We had a wonderful DeLongi that didn’t make it a year. We thought it was defective and called the company, but there was nothing wrong with it. Our Cuisinart only made it a few months as well. We liked our Bunn, but we didn’t like the fact that it was always drawing electricity. The cheap Proctor-Silox machines last, but the coffee didn’t taste as good. Finally, we switched to the French press and a tea kettle, and they have never let us down.

Slow Cookers: Slow cookers are wonderful. I think you probably should only have one, but I won’t fault you for keeping it. They use very little energy and make cooking much simpler. We just found that we preferred cooking on the stove or grill, and that we didn’t use ours much. When we want to slow cook, we use the cast iron saucepan over low heat. It does the same thing.

Ice Cream Maker: If you make ice cream as a hobby, go for it! However, this was a purchased dream that we had. We owned it, and never once made ice cream. We try to limit sweets anyway.

Toaster Oven: We have an oven. So having another one is a bit redundant. It was great for toasting bagels and sandwiches, but it really didn’t justify the cupboard space that this device occupied.

Coffee Grinder: We thought we were sophisticated, grinding our own beans. Except they didn’t taste much different from store-ground. Sometimes it even tasted worse. Why? Because those cheap grinders demolish the beans. For good coffee, you need a burr mill grinder. And those aren’t cheap, if you go electric. Our Spong hand grinder is lovely, and it grinds the beans to perfection.

Popcorn Poppers: The air poppers had to go. Face it, popcorn needs oil. We pop it in butter now, which is way better than air-popped. We do allow ourselves one electric Stir Crazy popper in our house, and it gets used a lot. Popcorn is a low-cal, filling snack. We’re addicted. Maybe someday I’ll master popping corn on the stove.

Electric Mixers: If you make lots of pastries, cookies, and cakes, maybe you need one. I can’t get meringues to fluff without it. But, we don’t bake lots of sweets. And hand mixing has worked just fine for us.

Blender: If you’re really into smoothies, by all means get one! We just don’t blend much.

Smoothie Maker: OK, get the blender. But do you really need a separate blender for making smoothies?

So, there you have it! A little inspiration to help you on your decluttering adventure.

Are you working toward a simpler lifestyle?  Then I would love to share your story!  Please submit your original (not published anywhere else) story about how you are simplifying your life.  You don’t have to be an extreme minimalist–I would love to share stories of people who are just starting out of their journey.  If your story is selected to be featured, you will receive 50% off the the Simple Living Basics E-Course, after any other discounts.  Send your story to brosselit@gmail.com . 

New to Simple Living?  Then check out our Simple Living Basics e-course.  There are plenty of discounts available, and it will be an investment in a lower-stress more focused lifestyle!

Let Go of Survival Mode!

Originally published May 2013

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We live in tough times.  So, we do whatever we can, to keep the “security” of a steady income.

We’re in survival mode.

Survival mode justifies a dog-eat-dog mentality, that puts what we perceive to be necessary for our family’s survival, above the common good.

Survival mode justifies throwing innocent people under the bus, so that we might draw attention away from ourselves.

When we’re in survival mode, we compromise what we believe to be right, because it might cause us to lose that income.

We think we’re protecting our children.  We think we’re being sensible and doing what must be done.  We think we have no choice.

But we do have a choice.

The notion of survival mode is fake.

What happens if we lose that income?  Is our family really going to starve?  Do we not have it within ourselves to find a way, to meet the challenge?  Are we really in danger of not surviving?

And if we’re not being true to ourselves, if we’re deliberately doing what we know to be wrong, in order to “survive,” are we really living?  If we’re sacrificing our dreams and passions, for “security” that really isn’t there, is that a life?

We need to have more faith in ourselves, in our place, and our purpose.  We need to believe that we were put on this earth to do more than sell-out, be miserable, in order to have some level of material security.

The right thing to do is to do right things.

We need to believe that if we do what is right, the rest will be there.  That there is more to life than “earning a living” and looking out for number one.  It is NOT the human “race,” and we have a much larger role to play, than survival.

Are you working toward a simpler lifestyle?  Then I would love to share your story!  Please submit your original (not published anywhere else) story about how you are simplifying your life.  You don’t have to be an extreme minimalist–I would love to share stories of people who are just starting out of their journey.  If your story is selected to be featured, you will receive 50% off the the Simple Living Basics E-Course, after any other discounts.  Send your story to brosselit@gmail.com . 

New to Simple Living?  Then check out our Simple Living Basics e-course.  There are plenty of discounts available, and it will be an investment in a lower-stress more focused lifestyle!

My 7-Year-Old Minimalist

Playing children clip art

Slightly revised and re-posted from April 2013

It’s hard to find writing done by people who have raised their children minimalistically.  I remember searching through articles and blogs, looking for success stories.  What I mainly found, at that time, were pointers for getting your children used to the idea that you were adopting a simpler lifestyle.  I wondered if we were doing the right thing, by actually raising our child counter-culturally, from birth.

My research led me to write this post, about the benefits of simplicity, for everyone.  Throughout my minimalist journey, I have corresponded with many minimalists who have successfully raised their children this way, “before it was cool.”  It was heartening to hear so many success stories, and not one negative.

So, here we are.  My daughter is 7 years old.  She has attended public school for 4 years.  And she doesn’t own a television (although she does watch Netflix when she is sick,we occasionally have a family movie night, and she loves her Wii), has rarely watched a Disney movie, has been given equal access to “boys'” and “girls'” toys, and enjoys a hot, homemade dinner every night.

What surprises have we seen?  Plenty!

  • Beanie does know all the names of the Disney princesses, through osmossis.
  • She has a VERY strong love of reading.
  • Beanie has excellent problem-solving skills, and tries to find solutions on her own, before coming to us.
  • She hates it when people are doing anything threatening to children in movies (She especially hated “Brave” when she saw it at a friend’s house–she couldn’t finish it!).
  • She also gets mad when characters in movies talk back to adults.
  • She does not really recognize ownership–and she prefers other children to toys.
  • Beanie definitely prefers living on the boat, and talks about it frequently.
  • Her play is 50/50, as far as “boy” activities and “girl” activities.  She’ll play with toy trucks, while wearing a princess costume.
  • She is comfortable entertaining herself.

I would say, at this point, raising our daughter minimalistically is working out well.  What have your experiences been?

Are you working toward a simpler lifestyle?  Then I would love to share your story!  Please submit your original (not published anywhere else) story about how you are simplifying your life.  You don’t have to be an extreme minimalist–I would love to share stories of people who are just starting out of their journey.  If your story is selected to be featured, you will receive 50% off the the Simple Living Basics E-Course, after any other discounts.  Send your story to brosselit@gmail.com . 

New to Simple Living?  Then check out our Simple Living Basics e-course.  There are plenty of discounts available, and it will be an investment in a lower-stress more focused lifestyle!

How to Have Clutter-Free Hobbies

A room of clutter

As we began to declutter, I had the wonderful surprise of actually having free time.  Suddenly, I was no longer spending every waking hour either at work or cleaning the house!  

And there I sat, wondering what to do.

It was time to find a hobby.  I experimented with a number of hobbies.  I designated one room in the house as my hobby room, where I collected paints and brushes, cross stitch kits, and a mountain of scrapbooking supplies.  I cropped, cut, and pasted and found that room growing more and more cluttered.  

Every Christmas, my scrapbooking supplies increased, until simply getting them all out and putting them away wasn’t worth the time.  I found myself losing interest in this hobby, so my supplies were relegated to the back of the closet, where they sat neatly tucked away in their fancy containers.  Right next to the paints and brushes, the cross stitch kits, and a pile of board games.

How much hobby equipment do you store?  What could you do with the space where it sits, gathering dust?

Today I am going to give you some suggestions for clearing up that space, while still finding plenty of fun to have during your leisure time.

1.  Keep no more than one clutter-inducing hobby.

I have a friend who loves pottery.  It is her passion.  So of course she has a room designated to contain the tools of her trade.  The same goes if you love cooking, or even scrapbooking.  The rule of thumb is, if your tools are out more than they are in, this is a hobby you should consider keeping.

But go into that closet or attic, and free up the space that is being occupied by all those unused hobby tools.  I found a wonderful home for my scrapbooking supplies, and we have recently donated our board games.

2.  If it’s something you want to keep doing, pare down.

Scrapbooking was fun for me.  But I enjoyed getting together with friends and cropping.  That just wasn’t feasible with my multiple rolly bags of supplies.  So, for awhile, I got it down to one hand-held bag.  I kept some hand-selected papers in my book, and put my scissors, glue, and pictures in the bag.  I just had the basics, and I found that the convenience allowed me to use them more.

We did the same thing with cooking.  I loved cooking when I had a full kitchen.  But I didn’t need a million mixing bowls or a full set of pots and pans.  I happily created with one good knife, one mixing bowl, and three pans.

3.  Fill your day with clutter-free activities.

Moving onto the sailboat, we have realized that the most fun activities don’t involve any clutter at all.  Here are some ways that we spend out time now:

  • Get a museum or zoo membership.  Beanie loves the Children’s Museum, where she can play with toys that don’t clutter our home.
  • Join a gym for clutter-free fitness and classes.
  • Explore the trails at a nature center or park.
  • Have fun on the water!  Canoing or kayaking don’t involve a lot of clutter.
  • Take a walk to an interesting site in town, and pack a picnic lunch.
  • Photography and writing are great low-clutter hobbies for those who love to create.
  • On rainy days, consider a social video game system.  We have a Nintendo Wii and love it.  It does not replace outdoor activities on nice days, but a lot of the games available are designed for groups to play and socially interact.

The possibilities are really endless!  It definitely is easy to find activities to fill your day once you gain the free time that comes with decluttering your home.

Are you working toward a simpler lifestyle?  Then I would love to share your story!  Please submit your original (not published anywhere else) story about how you are simplifying your life.  You don’t have to be an extreme minimalist–I would love to share stories of people who are just starting out of their journey.  If your story is selected to be featured, you will receive 50% off the the Simple Living Basics E-Course, after any other discounts.  Send your story to brosselit@gmail.com . 

New to Simple Living?  Then check out our Simple Living Basics e-course.  There are plenty of discounts available, and it will be an investment in a lower-stress more focused lifestyle!

Simplifying the Season

 roflbot

I used to describe the holidays as a “bucket of stress.”

I worked right up to the day before Christmas eve, I spent more powder than I could afford on plundering, I spent my week off marauding all over the state, from one gathering to another, and got scurvy from eating nothing but sugar. Me crew was feeling mutinous, and I couldn’t wait to get back to high seas!

Then, as I embraced simple living, I began to think, “There must be a better way.”

Of course, there was.  Over time, we began to stop trying to do it all and create a Norman Rockwell holiday.  Instead, we found traditions that worked for us.

And as I talked to other minimalists, I learned that I was certainly not alone in my efforts to rethink the holidays.  In hearing other people’s ideas, we were able to create a holiday season that was not just low-stress, but actually fun.

It is in that spirit that I am offering you our first Simplify the Season calendar.  From Black Friday until New Year’s Day, you will receive daily e-mail tips on:

  • Routines and Organization
  • Holiday Preparations
  • Family Fun
  • Minimalism/Decluttering
  • Mental Decluttering
  • Gratitude
  • Giving Back

A group of us have been working together to offer you a variety of ideas.  You will be receiving posts from me, but you will also be hearing from these bloggers:

Interested?  For only $1.50, you will receive the daily e-mail tips as well as a PDF version of the calendar with your last post.  The profits will all be donated to a charity, which will be unveiled later this week.

Let’s make this a simple, stress-free, and FUN season this year!

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A Tale of Two Kitchens

Three months ago, this was my kitchen:

The kitchen has a window into the living room.

 

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Notice the double sink with hot water, the dishwasher, the oven, and all the floor and cupboard space?  While the apartment kitchen was certainly small, it was an adjustment to move from that to this:

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You can imagine what an adjustment this was!

And around the same time that I moved, Lois from The Eco-Grandma moved from a 300 square foot apartment into a house.  This, too, was an adjustment.

As we settled into our new homes, I began to notice the changes that I was making in my kitchen, and I began to wonder what changes Lois was making.  What lessons had she learned from simplicity?  What luxuries was she choosing to indulge in, now that she can?

As a result of the changes we have made, Lois and I decided to co-ordinate our posts and invite you into our kitchens today.  I will show you how things work in my kitchen, and then you can head over to The Eco-Grandma to visit Lois’s kitchen.  (And we will both be sharing a recipe with you!)

Living in less than 200 square feet has been interesting, and our biggest adjustment has been the galley.  First off, the companionway, aka our DOOR, is right above the counter.  In fact, the countertop is a step that must be used in order to enter the cabin without falling down.  Below the counter is a small ladder, which we refer to as “the steps.”  Both Beanie and the cat like to perch on the steps, especially when I am cooking.

So where do I stand when I cook?  In a teeny, tiny corner, next to the steps!  Our kitchen is equipped with a single-basin RV sink.  While we have a knob for both hot and cold water, only the cold water knob will turn on the faucet.  The water temperature is quite cold in the winter, but hot in the summer.  This is due to the fact that we use shore water, which sits in an RV hose for great periods of time.

Our range is a luxury for a sailboat–it’s dual-powered.  We run it on electricity in our slip, but we can run it on alcohol when we’re anchored out.  We have a bottle Everclear for this purpose!  The range has a stainless cover that turns it into additional counter space when we’re not using it.

We also have a gas grill mounted on the stern rail–it doubles as our oven.  When we feel like picnicking, we have access to communal gas and charcoal grills.  We have a medium-sized dorm fridge and a small amount of cupboard space.

Having such a small kitchen has led me to learn to do without some amenities.  This hasn’t been a huge adjustment, since we were already living rather minimalistically.  We already had service for 3, 3 pans, no toaster, and limited appliances.  But what have we gotten rid of since we moved here?

  • Our blender.  Yes, I used to love making smoothies.  But it isn’t worth the effort to unstow the blender, and then to clean up afterwards.
  • Our plates.  This isn’t permanent, but they broke in the move.  After a month of using bowls, we missed them and bought some Thanksgiving-themed paper plates.  We will soon return to Goodwill and find some plates for our family!
  • Our pressure cooker.  It was too big to store, so it’s gone.  We’re on the lookout, eventually, for a higher-end unit that is small.  But for now, we do without.  We’re down to 2 pans.
  • Our popcorn popper.  All right, so we still have it!  And we’re going to use it next week, when we stay in a rental cottage.  But it takes up so much space that we have is stowed and never gets taken out.  And Rob is learning to pop corn in our saucepan.

And what unexpected luxuries have we kept?

  • Stemware.  Mason jars don’t cut it for us.  We keep this bit of elegance.  Of course, we’re constantly breaking glasses, so they never match.
  •  The slow cooker.  I love it.  It’s wonderful to set it, head to work, and have a lovely roast waiting when I get home!
  • A coffee maker.  We did the French press thing for awhile, but we drink too much coffee!  I love to set the coffee pot, then have it wake me up in the morning.
  • A tea kettle.  It boils water.  Fast.  And it doesn’t make it taste like anything else.

So what do we cook in my kitchen?  Normally, we eat very simple meals.  I’ll buy pre-cooked meat, which we’ll eat with a salad.  When it’s nice out, we have burgers and a salad.  When it’s cold, I cook.  When it’s not, we eat salad.  I make sure to eat a lot of protein, with a few carbs and lots of veggies.

But sometimes, we like to do something special.  Here is a fancy dinner we prepared in my kitchen:

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First up is this low-carb lasagna recipe I found.   I browned the beef on the stove, then assembled everything in the slow cooker.  Notice the door above me.

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While the slow cooker did its magic, I simmered the mulled wine on the stove.  In place of brandy, we used our homemade orange liquor.

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There was some zucchini left over, and Beanie decided this was her new favorite snack.  She is standing on the steps.

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It was a crazy, fun night for mother and daughter alike!