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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Life is too Short for Holiday Stress

Two years ago, one of my friends was talking about all the stress involved in the holiday season.  It was the usual family drama, the over-booking, and the anger over having to do too much, to give too much.

The pics are from our very un-stressful Thanksgiving celebration with Rob's brother and his wife, on Sunday.

The pics are from our very un-stressful Thanksgiving celebration with Rob’s brother and his wife, on Sunday.

I rolled my eyes and said, “Christmas is a bucket of stress.”

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And I was right.  It WAS a bucket of stress.  First, I had to shop and buy presents that we could not afford.  We went so far overboard, because we wanted to make sure that our presents “matched” everyone else’s, that they gave to us.

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Then, I bought “evening up” gifts, so that one person’s gift wasn’t “bigger” than the next.  I kept some extra gifts on hand, in case someone gave us something unexpectedly.

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It was stressful, and it took all of the joy out of giving.

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Then, there was the food.  I gave everyone “food gifts” as well, because I thought they were sweet and fun.  But I went overboard, making orange cordial, breadsticks, biscotti, carmel corn, and spiced nuts for everyone on my list.  Not only did it get expensive, but it also kept me so busy that I didn’t have time to do the activities I wanted to do around our house.

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And now let’s talk about the parties.

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I worked up until December 23, at my old job, so we had one day to get ready.  We would do our Christmas, with the mountain of presents, filled stockings, and a large home-made gift for the Bean.  That same day, we would head to one of our parents’ homes to celebrate with them, before Beanie got a chance to play with her toys.  Then, within the week, we would see my parents, both of my grandmas, both of Rob’s sets of aunts, uncles, and cousins (one set living 3 hours south of us), and celebrate with Rob’s family at their home on Thunder Bay (3 hours north of us).

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We wanted to be easy to work with, so we told people any date would do.  So, once year, that had us celebrating with my grandma an hour away from us, driving 3 hours north to celebrate with Rob’s family up there, then driving back 3 hours the next day to celebrate with his aunt and uncle who lived near us.

Notice the traditional cranberry goo....

Notice the traditional cranberry goo….

And keep in mind that we had a child with GERD and autism in tow.

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While I tried to have “safe” food for Beanie with me (and “safe” food for me–too much sugar makes me feel really bad!), she inevitably got into the goodies.  Which led to misbehaving, tantrums, and screaming at night.

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We didn’t enjoy the holidays.  In fact, we were so relieved when Christmas break was over.

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Why didn’t we say anything?  Why didn’t we speak up, even a little bit?  Well…

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  • We love these people.  We honestly enjoyed spending time with every single one of them.
  • We didn’t want to cause drama.  We thought that everybody would be angry at us, if we said, “I’m sorry, we can’t do that.”

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We actually thought our solution was to buy a motor home, so that we could have a “home base” during the holidays, where we could have some consistency for the Bean, cook our meals, etc.  And that would have helped, but it became unnecessary.

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Why?  Because some difficult events in our family, led us to change our celebrations.  And everyone became more comfortable speaking up, as to what worked for them and what didn’t.

Mulled wine in the samovar.

Mulled wine in the samovar.

Now, all of our celebrations are in the same town.  (Well, except for the ones in Texas!)  Sometimes we have pizza, instead of a fancy meal.  And some relatives, we visit at other times during the year, such as our “Christmas in July.”

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The result: I’m actually looking forward to Christmas!  We’re going to have some time to ourselves during our visit back to Michigan, and I’m enjoying the preparations.

We are enjoying the season this year.  Yesterday, Beanie and I made some dough ornaments!

We are enjoying the season this year. Yesterday, Beanie and I made some dough ornaments!

Are the holidays stressful for you?  Here are some tips that might help tame down your activities:

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  • See gifts for what they are.  Gifts are not an economic exchange.  They are an expression of love and caring.  It’s perfectly all right for gifts not to match, or for someone to give you a gift, without you having anything to reciprocate.  Just be grateful.
  • Start small.  If you want to give food gifts, then choose one thing to make for everyone.  Then, if time and money allow, make something else, to add to it.

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  • Remember that they are your family, and they love you.  They just want to spend time with you.  Keeping this in mind will help when you need to set limits or make changes.
  • Say, “I’m sorry, that won’t work for us,” if it won’t.  If it causes drama, remember that the drama isn’t about you.  There is nothing wrong with refusing to run yourself ragged.  What you’re seeing is everyone else’s insecurities.  Figure out why they feel insecure, or better yet, help them to figure it out.

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  • Say, “Can we get together at another time?”  Start a new tradition, such as Christmas in July.  Really, everyone just wants to see you, and they will probably appreciate the less-hectic venue.
  • Suggest ways to pare down.  Maybe you want to draw names for the gift exchange, or do a white elephant auction.  Maybe you’d prefer pizza to a fancy dinner, or perhaps you would like to just do appetizers.

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The purpose behind all the get-togethers is for friends and family to enjoy each other.  So let that be your purpose!   Life is far too short for this time of the year to bring stress.

 Take some baby-steps now, and you will be grateful later.

Note: There is still time to buy my Advent Calendar.  In anticipation of the upcoming holiday season, I am reducing the price to $0.99.  Come and join us for a less stressful, more joyful holiday season!

Time and Understanding

Throughout this move, I have learned a wealth of information.  And I have shared it all with you.

Thank you for accepting my honesty, and for seeing what lies beneath the masks and behind the walls.

I hope I have inspired all of you to live more authentically, and I hope that you are taking off your masks and tearing down the walls as well.

I appreciate all of your kind words, as I have struggled with the direction my writing should take.  Your encouragement has meant a lot to me.

So much to me, in fact, that I have been seeking it out, rather than breaking forth into the “real” world, as I have said I would.  I have been hiding in this safe community, desperately seeking what it can no longer give me.

It’s time for the praise, the kind words, and the encouragement to come from within.

Recently, I had a wake-up call when I developed a ridiculous amount of skin hives all over my body.  I was diagnosed with an unexplainable, likely stress-related inflammatory condition, and the doctor was recommending oral steroids.  I negotiated down to a cream, but I do realize that by not managing stress, not taking care of myself, and not dealing with what needs to be dealt with, I am harming my body, as well as my mind.  I know that stress can do much worse than this, and that my physical and mental health depend on my restoring the balance.

I will keep writing.  I’m working on my book, albeit a bit behind schedule.  And I will go forward with the Advent Calendar.  I will continue to give two away each day, to subscribers (selected using a random number generator), until November 17.  Then, they will continue to be for sale, for $1.99.

But I am going to take a break from blogging and (most) e-mail, probably until Black Friday.  I have talked about such breaks, frequently, but now I see the seriousness of my situation.  I see how being constantly plugged in has increased, rather than decreased, my stress level.  I see how I have been seeking approval for myself, rather than truly sharing my life lessons.

I will be back, and I will have a lot to share with all of you.  Don’t worry about that.

But, in the meantime, please spend most of your days away from that screen. The answers are not online.

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Clearing Out the Chaos

This spring, my life has been chaotic.  I’m not talking about Fly Lady’s CHAOS (Can’t Have Anybody Over Syndrome), although that definitely has been a part of it. 

But I’m talking about complete, chaotic randomness.  The kind of randomness, where I’m scrambling to stay on top of everything.  Where we’re running to the grocery store everyday, to throw together meals.  The kind where I’m searching for clothing every morning.

The kind where I’m never caught up.

Sound familiar?  I’ve found that this kind of chaos tends to lead me toward procrastination, because I feel like I can never keep up.  I’m physically and mentally exhausted, and constantly craving a break. 

So, you guessed it.  I find myself sneaking in relaxation whenever I can, going online when I should be working, taking snack breaks, and finding other ways to try and rest my tired mind. 

In the past, my solution would have been to berate myself for lacking willpower, and try to plow forward.  Maybe if I cut out all leisure time, I would be more motivated. 

But, the problem isn’t motivation, it’s exhaustion. 

The problem is too much mental clutter.  I’m making too many decisions.  My days have too little predictability.

We all have some chaos that we need to remove from our lives. 

Here are some tips (that I am most definitely applying in my own life!):

1.  First, take a day (or days) to get everything in order.  Get caught up.  This will be drudgery and will take some willpower, but remember that, once you have some routines established, this won’t happen again.

2.  Plan ahead, if you can.  Look for things that can be grab-and-go.  I do this with the lessons in my classroom, and our meals.  I shop once a week (or every other week) and try to get everything so that it can be easily prepared, without having to think about it.  Lunches are pre-packed.

3.   Do the laundry on Saturday or Sunday.  Have it ready, so that the week’s worth of outfits are hanging up and ready to go.  By doing steps 2 and 3, you have eliminated a great deal of decisions from your day already.

4.  Plan your leisure/relaxation activities.  That’s right–schedule them first!  Wondering when you’ll finally get to relax, can cause a lot of anxiety, which is mental clutter.  Figure out what you need to do, in order to feel your best, and set up times to do it.

5.  Now, set up your rhythms for the remaining, recurring tasks.  If you do these things the same time every day, or every week, you will go on autopilot, and eliminate a few more decisions from your day.

Taking these steps, should free up your brain, so that you can stay calm and have the mental resources for making real decisions.  Living a chaotic life is nothing to brag about–with a little time spent on decluttering your day, you will be able to accomplish so much more!

March’s Project: Fix the Food Budget

I have a confession to make. Two confessions, actually.

First, I haven’t been doing so great with eating well and losing weight. Second, I’ve been doing even worse with money.

I’ve realized that these two things are somewhat related. By far, the biggest drain on my finances is the food budget. There are a number of reasons, that I’m overeating AND overspending on food:

1. Stress eating. Things have been hectic over here, and I already knew that I’m the queen of stress eating. After a rough day, I go out and buy comfort food.

2. Sloppiness. This comes back to stress as well. When things are crazy, I don’t make it out for my weekly shopping trip. We have grocery stores in our town, but they tend to be much more expensive, because our town in a resort area. I don’t want to buy a week’s worth of groceries in our town, so I just grab what I need for each night. And impulse buy some snacks. Everyday.

3. Quick fixes. When things are hectic and I don’t plan ahead, and I don’t feel like spending time cooking something.  So, when I do my daily run to the over-priced grocery store, I tend to buy prepared or processed foods. 

So, what can we do about this?  I think it all comes back to planning.  Planning ahead takes some time, but, ultimately it will cut down on stress.  At this point in our lives, we need to prioritize saving money, over nearly everything else.   So here are my goals, for fixing our food budget:

1.  Shop once, every other week.  The less I’m in the store, the less I will spend.

2.  Keep meals simple.  Single-dish meals, without processed carbs and sugar, with one source of meat per week (for example, I’ll buy a pack of chicken legs, and that will be our only meat for the two weeks), will save us time and money, and be healthy.

3.  Saving money (temporarily) comes first.  I love buying organic food–it’s better for the environment, it’s healthier, it’s more ethical.  But, right now, we need to focus on fixing the budget.  The time will come, when we go back to eating organic. 

4.  Focus on other means of stress relief.  This is a tricky one, because eating works so well!  But, I’m focusing on making time for writing and exercising, continuing to declutter and simplify, and taking an omega-3 supplement (omega 3’s lower production of cortisol, the main stress hormone).

I had my first shopping trip on this plan, over the weekend.  So far, so good!  For two weeks, I spent $91.  My goal, is to stay under $75 a week, and so far we’re making it. 

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Letting Go of Stress, The Final Step: Be Prepared for Crazy Times!

So far, we’ve worked toward reducing day-to-day stress. Hopefully you have found my tips to be helpful!

While I was writing those posts, things got crazy at work. I found myself wandering into the lounge, searching for chocolate. I found myself hitting the snooze button in the morning. I found myself falling behind on the tasks at home.

So, today, as our last part in this series, we’re going to talk about those situations that are the exception. Because even if you live a calm, zen-filled, daily life, you will still encounter stressful situations. Here are some tips for weathering those storms:

1. Force yourself to keep up with your good nutrition, getting time to yourself, and other good habits.

2. Just do the basics of your routine at home. Do the daily routine, but don’t worry about the once-a-week tasks or in-depth cleaning.

3. Work toward solving the problem that is bothering you, if you can. Otherwise, find some good, fun diversions. Watch a movie. Read a good book.

4. Remember that this, too shall pass.

Letting Go of Stress, Step 5: Bring on the Routine!

We’re been working on Letting Go of Stress. So far, we’ve decluttered, organized, started having some quiet time first thing in the morning, and silenced those perfectionist voices. Now it’s time to set up some routines.

I use Fly Lady’s ideas. For all of my experiences following Fly Lady, click here. I started out by establishing my daily routines. Then, I added in tasks for each day. Next, I will add some in-depth cleaning tasks everyday. This keeps the house running well, and being on top of things definitely reduces stress. I’ve applied the same ideas to my week at work.

It’s very important to delegate some of these tasks, so you aren’t spending all of your time working. I let my husband do the vacuuming and laundry, for example. At work, I used to volunteer to do everything, then not get it done, because it was too much. Now, I make sure to delegate quite a bit, and I’ve even had students volunteer to help out with the smaller parts of the daily routine.

Also, make sure to build some fun into your schedule. It’s important to spend time with your family, and with your significant other. We enjoy family activities on Saturday, and we’re working on getting date night up and running again.

So, get started with that routine. Today’s the day you put it all together!