A blog about health, wellness and well-being, with advice on how to achieve it... from your inner depth to your outer surface.

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Less is More Project: Week 34 - To do or not to do, that is the question

Brendan DeBrincat, Flickr

"Vacation means a change of pace, a gentleness with ourselves, a time of rest and renewal, and a time to stretch ourselves and encounter new people, new lands, new ways, and new options. The very newness opens the possibility of expanding our spirits and flushing out the stagnant particles in our blood." (Anne Wilson Schaef)

As consuming becomes less and less a temptation, and as my summer vacation is coming to an end, I am discovering a challenge I didn't know I had. I don't buy too much anymore. I don't own too much anymore either. But...

I still try to do too much.

Which can result in either two situations, depending:

  1. Either I am super productive and accomplish tons of things, which is satisfying in a way, but also stressful, frustrating and exhausting in other ways...
  2. Or I get discouraged by the amount of things to do and throw in the towel altogether, which is relieving in a way, but also stressful and frustrating in other ways.

Sometimes this struggle takes ridiculous forms, as this recent example will show.

My friend and neighbor M invited me to go pick blueberries about a kilometer from our houses. So we hoped on our bikes, pedaled for a few minutes, and found THE blueberry paradise, a whole area covered in more blue than green, all organic of course. Here was a seemingly endless supply of one of the healthiest foods on earth, usually not cheap in stores, for free! We filled a couple containers, and agreed that we would come back every single evening until the season is over. We did go back the next day. But on the third night, I did not feel like picking blueberries. For no particular reason. Just not in the mood. Instead of simply not going, and calling it a night, I briefly tortured myself with the thought that there were still free, delicious blueberries for me to pick out there, and that by my being lazy, I was going to miss on them! Suddenly the wonderful blueberry resource had become a source of stress instead of a source of happiness. 

Time to reframe!

The blueberry situation was quickly resolved, but it made me realize that we often feel forced to do things that we don't feel like doing just because we think we have to do them. 

Since time and energy are arguably more valuable resources than money, it might be a good idea to put those instances under the microscope, determine where our time and energy can be more wisely invested, and declutter our lives by ditching the rest.

Can you think of examples?

1) Do you have to clean your house to the point of immaculate before friends show up? Or can you just pick up the most obvious and relax, knowing that they won't notice?

I have been working on that one relentlessly. What's so terrible about letting your friends see an imperfect version of your house? Could it have anything to do with difficulties letting them see imperfect parts of yourself in general? Vulnerability issues, anyone? But I know that nobody likes perfect people. Plus, they know very well that it's just a facade. As I said. I'm working on it.

2) Do you have to entertain the kids on a vacation day? Or can you stick to making sure they stay safe, fed, rested and hydrated, and trust that they will be able to put their youthful energy and creativity to good use?

This one has been much less of a struggle. Every time I give some rope to my kids and let them figure out what to do with their time, I just love what they come up with so much (past the initial whining, of course). It reinforces me in the idea that they don't need my constant interventions.

3) Do you have to have to go out of your way to be friendly and bubbly with that person you don't really like, or is being polite and minimally pleasant enough?

This one was inspired by a recent conversation with a friend. Of course it's important to be nice and kind. Even to people we don't care for all that much. But we don't owe people anything more than treating them fairly. Giving yourself away to people who don't seem interested, or worse, don't show you minimal respect, is a sure way to get burned. (In the same vein: do you have to call this person who never calls you, or who monologues endlessly but never listens to your stories?)

4) Do you have to use all your potential fully? Or can you pick one career, one main hobby, and only use your other talents occasionally, without any hope of achieving anything big in those areas? Talk about relieving some pressure.

I have realized that it's not necessary, and often not even desirable, to try and reach the most advanced level in all areas I show potential for. Intermediate goals, that fit well within the rest of my life, can be perfectly acceptable. Then I can devote my time and energy to the one pursuit that really matters the most.

"Doing the best I can without too much anxiety or strain sounds like a relaxing way to live." (Anne Wilson Schaef)


After months of pretty much no purchases (with the exceptions of necessities, of course), we have had to open our wallet a little bit more often lately. After school supplies and new shoes, it was time to take a look at the kids' clothes. What had they outgrown? Did they need anything? We went through the closets and dressers, one piece at a time, and discarded all that needed to go (either too small or too damaged). Then, we wrote down the specific items they needed. We went shopping with that list in hand, and only bought what was on it. Other temptations caught some eyes, but by carrying an actual list, it was easier to quickly put everyone back on track: "Remember, we are here to get you gym pants; you don't need anything else".

The discarded items that were still wearable went to a thrift store (2 big garbage bags).

Your turn to share about your struggles and victories of the week! What did you resist? Did you donate or get rid of anything? Did you face any challenge? Please comment below! And...

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Monday, August 17, 2015

The Less is More Project: Week 33 - The unexpected effect of decluttering

JSM, 2015

If you are serious about decluttering, this might happen at some point: 

You will realize that your house is actually too big.

As you should. House sizes have increased significantly in the past decades, and we would be silly to claim that this increase stemmed from a true need. More likely, it's a change in culture that has prompted us to go for the biggest possible house. Interestingly, we then proceed to acquire stuff in order to fill said house. Maybe it's the nesting instinct. I often wonder if a smaller house could fulfill the need for a cozy, nest-like environment.

In 2007, D and I walked into our bank to discuss mortgage options on our first house. I remember a big sign at the entrance: "40-year mortgage, no down payment required!". I am no economist, but that immediately hit me as a bad idea... the kind that can only lead to a disaster. Sure enough, between 2007 and 2009, a great recession was to happen, closely linked to the American mortgage crisis. Proof that everything in life has a cost. 

As for us, we opted for the more reasonable 25-year mortgage with down payment, and started making extra payments as soon as we could to get rid of the mortgage as early as possible. It wasn't about sacrificing everything - we still "have a life" - it was about carrying as little a financial burden as we could. We also opted for a house about 15% less expensive than what the bank was willing to let us buy.

Today, after 33 weeks of decluttering coupled with a shopping ban, I am noticing more and more unused space in the house, to the point where I'm questioning whether it might be too big.

Keeping in mind that the majority of humans on this planet make do with very modest living quarters, what are the factors to consider when deciding what size of house you need?

The number of people who will inhabit it. That goes without explaining.

The number (and size) of pets who will inhabit it. Crates, litter boxes, cages, and pet food and toys take up space.

The age of the people who will inhabit it. Adults don't need that much space. Children can share a room; as for their toys, they often own too many anyway. Teenagers, on the other hand, appreciate some privacy. My godmother had 4 boys and I remember her saying, while house-hunting, "I don't mind the size but I want each of them to have their own room". As for babies, the equipment they require according to our society does take up a lot of space: strollers, full-size cribs and high chairs are not small. If you "need" bassinets, swings, changing tables and such on top of it, there's really no way you can live in a tiny house or apartment. The question might then be: do we really need all that stuff? Other cultures make without most of what we consider "baby essentials". Food for thought.

The climate you live in. When the outdoors can be used as living space most of the time, the indoors don't have to be as spacious. If, however, the temperature is below freezing point six months of the year, it might be wise to invest in indoor space. Even though I thrive in a tent or small log cabin in the summer, I know I would feel claustrophobic in a tiny house during our long Canadian winters. (Also, we need a place to store our winter tires in the summer, and vice-versa.)

Your social life. People who like to entertain mention big entrance ways, kitchens, family rooms and patios as "needs". People who often have company over from out of town appreciate having a guest room. That being said, there are alternatives: my parents had friends in Hong Kong who couldn't possibly host parties in their tiny, Hong Kong sized apartment. Solution: they would meet at cafés, restaurants or parks instead. As for guest rooms, despite being "expats", we ourselves have never had a designated one. When someone sleeps over, we lend them one of our beds. Oftentimes, the kids end up sleeping on mattresses with sleeping bags. I have yet to hear a complaint.

Your hobbies. Some hobbies are space-consuming. Examples include painting and crafts, baking, making music, listening to music (my parents had a friend who devoted a big room of his house to that), collections (the same friend also devoted a room to his rock and mineral collection), sports, outdoor activities, etc. In our house, even if we try to keep it simple, the camping equipment, the sports equipment, and the books do require extra storage. We also have a piano. That being said, we have gotten rid of anything sports/camping that we did not use, we try and store the remaining in space-efficient ways, and I am in the process of rethinking by book ownership.

Your work. If you have a home-based business, you will need space for your work supplies. Although your home office might not have to be that big and that full. 

Perfect temporary "home office" for the summer.
JSM, 2015

Your property. Whether I like it or not, I need a place to put the lawnmower and other gardening materials. Land requires a certain amount of maintenance.

Your style. Well, if you enjoy big, tall furniture, life-size statues, medieval armors and the like, you will need space to put them! A more space efficient and still aesthetic choice might be to opt for small, decluttered space, with light colors and big windows.


With school starting in less than 3 weeks, we had to go shopping for school supplies. This year, I tried to reuse everything that had been salvaged from last year: backpacks, lunch bags, some pencils/crayons/erasers are still perfectly good. Why replace them? Same for clothes. It's a trend to buy back-to-school clothes each year, but why? My children's wardrobes are overflowing with good quality items that still fit; therefore, I will only replace the occasional piece they really need.

The main purchase has been shoes. Indoor shoes, outdoor shoes (two different pairs as per school regulation), rain boots, winter boots (some companies now conveniently make boots that can be used for both). Good shoes are important and one of the rare things I will not buy used (unless it looks like it was never worn).

Your turn to share about your struggles and victories of the week! What did you resist? Did you donate or get rid of anything? Did you face any challenge? Please comment below! And...

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You might also like: Your Biggest Investment

Monday, August 10, 2015

The Less is More Project: Week 32 - Materialism VS Happiness

Davidd, Flickr

"They look happier than I've ever been. Is it living simply that I'm looking for?" 

(Levin, in Anna Karenina.)

We might know it, sometimes it doesn't hurt to remind ourselves of what does and does not foster happiness.

And what better way to do it than watch a documentary on happiness? In 75 minutes, "Happy" takes you around the world and into the offices of the big names in "happiness writing", such as Sonja Lyubomirsky, Mihaly Csikszentmihaly, Matthieu Ricard, and the Dalai Lama.

What are the first things we learn? That there are some big traps in the pursuit of happiness. They include pursuing goals such as money, fame and beauty. According to research, none of those, past an initial but ephemeral thrill, will significantly increase your happiness. Imagine: there would be no notable difference in happiness between the person who makes $50,000 a year and the one who makes $5,000,000. As long as you don't live below the poverty line (which would imply struggling to fulfill basic needs such as shelter and food), you are fine! How's that for evidence toward the relevance of minimalism. And if status and physical appearance don't really cut it either, there suddenly is a lot of room in your life for... simplicity.

Now you might wonder what has been shown to increase happiness levels! Here it is:

  • fun (to play, to laugh)
  • physical activity
  • nature
  • purpose
  • change
  • social interactions (and a strong social circle)
  • cooperation
  • helping others
  • working reasonable amounts

To this I would add creativity (any art form will do) and meditation.


I realized this week that there are a few things in the house I might never replace once they run out. Namely:

  • Traditional cleaning products. We already don't use many, I don't see why I would ever buy anything else but vinegar, lemon juice and baking soda, since they work so well.
  • Shampoo. Baking soda has been my shampoo for months now, and I am not going back. My hair is much shinier, and easier to style.
  • Scented products. And environmentally-unfriendly products in general. My soaps, detergents and such are slightly more expensive, but they keep my family and the planet healthy.

Your turn to share about your struggles and victories of the week! What did you resist? Did you donate or get rid of anything? Did you face any challenge? Please comment below! And...

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