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Monday, March 30, 2015

The Less is More Project: Week 13 - Precious time

The Persistence of Memory (Salvador Dali)

On our quest to minimalism, it is essential that we examine the usage we make of our time. After all, time is one of our most precious assets. In a typical consumerist society, unfortunately, we spend most of our time either:

a) making money to buy stuff
b) spending money on stuff
c) taking care of the stuff we have acquired with our money
d) worrying about money (will we have enough for all that stuff?)
e) thinking about the stuff we'd like to buy but don't have enough money for

Unless you are struggling at making ends meet (i.e. have a hard time paying for basic shelter and food), there might be another way to go about this.

If you're like most people, you probably feel like you don't have enough time. Not enough time to do all the things that need to be done and even less time to do all the things you want to do. If you're like most people, you probably also don't know how to solve that problem. 

I know because I have been in that situation. My life is not very original: simply put, I am a full-time working mother who likes to live in a relatively tidy environment, hang out with her family and friends, engage in some hobbies and allow herself some downtime. My time management skills are okay, I think, and yet I often feel like I'm chasing my own tail. As I once told D, "How come I feel like I'm always running and yet never seem to get anywhere?" His sage answer was:

"You must not be running in the right direction."

My lack of time, just like yours, is not entirely an illusion: when I did the math, all the things I have to do simply did not add up to 24 hours a day. That's the bad news. On the bright side, they added up to maybe 25 hours a day. Enough to make one stressed, tired or frustrated, but nothing that cannot be fixed.

How do we fix it?

You will find tons of time-management and time-saving tips online. Some can be very helpful. But they are not sufficient. What I want to suggest is that we examine our time allotment more closely.

1) Set priorities: 
What are the things you are absolutely not willing to sacrifice? Call me sleep-obsessed, but there is no way I will cut down on my 8-hour nights. I also want to exercise and eat healthy on a daily basis (and have my kids do the same). 
What are your unshakable priorities?

2) Be honest with yourself: 
We all have a weakness. Mine is to read articles online. I have an insatiable thirst for information on the topics I am passionate about, but it is easy to get carried away. I have to set a time limit, otherwise I would never do anything else. 
What is your weakness?

3) Revisit perceived expectations: 
You might have seen the quote "The graveyards are full of indispensable [people]" (attributed to Charles de Gaulle). We might feel like the world will fall apart if we do not accomplish such and such task, but the truth is, if we slowed down a little bit there would probably be little consequence. If slowing down possibly means the end of a career or at least a decrease in prestige and income, not slowing down can often mean health problems (mental and/or physical). Perceived expectations can also lead us to burn ourselves out at home and in our relationships. Relax: you are not the savior of the world and occasionally bored children or a little bit of dust are okay. 
In what ways do you put too much pressure on yourself?

4) Revisit stereotypes: 
Breadwinner (making as much money as possible for the family). Superwoman (juggling with career, children, clean house, impeccable looks). Whatever our ideal, it is often best left to the utopists. Real life is not about perfection. Working less, spending less time on looks... it magically frees time to do other things that are probably more meaningful. Speaking of stereotypes, if you have a partner (and children old enough to help), this is a good opportunity to discuss the attribution of chores and make sure it's equitable. It's not okay to have one family member work while the other ones are relaxing, no matter the age and gender of the protagonists.
Do you endorse stereotypes that really do not serve you?

5) Revisit the difference between needs and wants: 
Only once you realize you need less does it become possible to consider working less. 
Any examples come to mind?



This week my temptations were children-related. I have one young consumerist in the family, and it does get tiring to say "no" all the time. She is getting more reasonable, however. After getting all excited over a stuffed animals display, she calmly observed "but I would probably play with it for just a few days, and then lose interest". (Good. The brainwashing I have been working on is beginning to show results!)

Donations (good riddance)

Clothes and books. Books and clothes. I used to get a high from acquiring them. I have simply reversed the situation and now get a high from donating them.

Observations and cogitations

Minimalists come in all shapes and sizes, as I noticed at my first Minimalist Meeting. Some live ascetic lives. Some like to surround themselves with nice things. But all try to be mindful of their consumption habits.

What did you resist this week? Did you donate or get rid of anything? Did you face any challenge? Please comment below! And...

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Monday, March 23, 2015

The Less is more Project: Week 12 - Building the life you want

Storebukkebruse, Flickr

Spring cleaning time!

As you gradually become aware and get rid of superfluous possessions, activities and even relationships, you will probably want to replace them with things, pursuits and people that really matter to you. But instilling revised priorities in your life is rarely an easy task. Making new habits, just like making new connections, takes time and dedication (and some amount of trial and error).

Get running

Allowing ourselves to be defeated, however, is not an option. Obstacles are in your way? Just tackle them one by one. For as long as I can remember, for example, I wanted to be a runner. Slight problem: I suffer from asthma. As I was to discover once I started covering miles, I also have a tendency for various running injuries. It took a long time for me to finally achieve my goal of running a half-marathon. If I had focused on the difficulties, I would have abandoned early. But instead I decided to 1) get the help I needed (which could be, depending on your issues, a mentor, a trainer, a physio, a doctor, etc.) and 2) be consistent about my training (and cross training). A little bit almost every day, with a gradual increase in time, distance and intensity, eventually showed results. Spring is a great time to start running. I encourage you to give it a try!

Get writing

There is something else I have wanted to be ever since I was aware of the possibility: a writer. I have always written. Between a personal diary, a collection of pen-pals, the writing contests I participated in, my Master's degree in creative writing and this blog, I have always spent a lot of time writing, and felt great about it. When it came to publishing for money, however, I was not so confident. According to pretty much everyone who has tried, publishing is hard: no matter how good a writer you are, you need to master the art of the "pitch", which implies a very specific writing style. On top of that, your stories have to be a good fit (in contents and in timing) for the publisher... otherwise they will likely end up in the recycling bin. Rejection is common and a thick skin is a requirement. Thanks to the lessons learned from running, I knew I needed both accountability and sustained effort in order to reach my writing goals. I asked a writing friend to be my "coach" (in exchange, I would train her for a race). And I wrote. Daily. When inspiration was not there, I focused on my web presence instead - it was a form of cross training. Just like running, writing does not always go well. Some days you wonder why you even bother at all. But if you keep at it, the results are sure to show. Here is a recent published article of mine - click here (warning: it's about sex).

Now that you are eliminating what should not be part of your life, what are you replacing it with? What changes are you making? What challenges do you face, and what strategies are helpful? Please share in the comments.



Call me masochistic: I went to the shopping mall. That's where my hairdresser is located, and I needed a cut. It was hard to walk by all the stores knowing that I would not purchase anything, even if I saw something nice (which I did). Spring is here, and it's all the more tempting to "refresh" your wardrobe. I had to remind myself that I don't need anything. (This should become my new mantra.)

Donations (good riddance)

In the past week, we received over a meter (more than 40 inches) of snow. Dealing with that (shoveling) and the ensuing cancellations (school, March Break camps, etc.) means I have been running behind, work wise. This is also income tax and report cards time. Consequently, I have been very busy, and I did not donate anything this week. I will make up for it next week.


I bought a new pair of weightlifting gloves. The previous ones were disintegrating and pretty much useless. The dead lifts, the chin ups and the monkey bars (I am training for a Spartan) were very unpleasant without gloves (as if they were not challenging enough as it is). I am aware that for many people, weightlifting gloves are not a priority. This is an individual matter. There are many things I can live without that most people consider essential, but I don't want my training to be affected by a simple lack of gloves.

Limiting your purchases to real needs is a great way to discover where your priorities are.


One of the main reasons I embarked on this Less is More project was to become more mindful of my consumption habits. I felt like I was not fully appreciating the things I owned and acquired anymore. 

If life has been reasonably good to you from a material point of view, you have the ability, even if it is occasional, to splurge. Whether you splurge on inexpensive things (like filling your shopping cart at the dollar store), on moderately priced items (such as clothes/accessories when you buy for no other reason than "feeling like it") or on high-end items (e.g. regularly adding to a sports car collection), whenever you go on a shopping frenzy you experience mindless consumption. You are giving yourself a high, but you are also robbing yourself of the real appreciation of acquiring one new item that you have dreamed about for a long time. By shopping less, you will make the act special again.

Or... maybe, after refraining from buying anything for an extended period, you will feel less tempted to go shopping altogether? This might be happening to me. 

What did you resist this week? Did you donate or get rid of anything? Did you face any challenge? Please comment below! And...

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Monday, March 16, 2015

The Less is More Project: Week 11 - The toughest time of your life

Diloz, Flickr

After last week's post on the happiest time of your life, it occurred to me that reflecting back on our toughest times could also have enlightening effects. And so I started asking people around me: "When was the toughest time of your life?"

The answers fell into 2 main categories: 

1) big life transitions

2) relationship issues

3) unfulfilled basic needs

Whether it's a long-distance move, a change in jobs, a change in income, a big exam (D listed the weeks leading his pre-doctoral comprehensive exam as being particularly unpleasant, and I have to admit putting the final touches to my Master's thesis was not a highlight of my life), life transitions - even positive ones - are the source of significant stress. As for relationships, they are at the core of our well-being: a healthy social circle has innumerable benefits, whereas conflict and disrespect can drag down the happiest person. 

Unfulfilled basic needs: although it was not a common answer (this is privileged North America, after all), some of the people I talked to evoked unfulfilled basic needs as a source of great stress. Whether it's your health failing, or another type of "collapse", this confirms what we all knew about the importance of food, water, shelter and safety. Like many others, I felt very stressed during the big ice storm of 1998: we had no power for 3 weeks under freezing conditions. Staying warm and fed and safe had become a challenge.

What I have learned is that hardship has to be worth it: if the effort and stress eventually lead to a significant improvement in your well-being, then by all means go for it. Getting out of our comfort zone is the only way to move forward. As long as we keep in mind that we will not reap the benefits immediately. As for relationships, I have learned to stay away from drama, and invest in the ones that are healthy and mostly pleasant. There should be no room in your life for people who don't treat you right, whoever they are. Finally, I have learned to protect my basic needs and those of the people I care about. Sometimes, being fed and warm and dry and well-rested is all that really matters.

Have you noticed those trends in your life? What lessons have you learned from the difficult times you might have experienced?



A few weeks ago, after a big snow storm and the ensuing shoveling, I took the kids to the nearest coffee shop for a well-deserved hot chocolate and doughnuts. This is not something we do more than, maybe, twice a year, mostly for health reasons. It felt like a real treat. As my youngest daughter "rolled up the rim" of her disposable cup (another reason I don't like those places), she discovered with great excitement that she had won another hot beverage. 

Since then, she has been asking when we would go back to claim our "prize". 

We finally went this week. And what had to happen happened: there were 3 of us, so I purchased 3 drinks. Meaning I had to pay for 2 of them. I resisted the doughnuts, and the total amount was very reasonable. Still, it was a blatant example of how marketing gets you to spend more than you were initially planning. We are not regular patrons of that coffee shop. We were not going to go. Winning a free drink is what took us there.

I made sure to make the kids aware of that phenomenon. After all, they are the consumers of tomorrow. We had a very interesting conversation on the way back.

Donations (good riddance)

I took a look at the top of my dresser and what I saw didn't please me: piles of books, old receipts, jewelry of all sorts. I decided to tackle it. Interesting how a couple square feet of junk can keep you busy for a while. This must be why the experts of decluttering usually recommend focusing on one drawer at a time. Planning for more would be sure to leave you overwhelmed. In any case, the top of my dresser is now wonderfully bare, and I will make some people very happy with the books and necklaces I discarded. As for the receipts, except for the most expensive purchases, they are gone. Another perk of not shopping: no receipts to get rid of!


The smallest things have the power to drag us down. Cleaning only one small area of my house made me realize what a difference a little bit of decluttering can make, and that small objects (books, papers, jewelry, cosmetics, pens, etc.) do become invasive.

Your turn! Pick one drawer or shelf to clear this week. 
Tell us how it went.


My friend and neighbor M called me in the late afternoon on Saturday. Would I like to come over for a glass of wine after supper, she asked. "I'm in my PJs", I shamelessly replied. I had just come back from a run with oldest daughter, taken a shower, and decreed it PJ time: I was not planning on going anywhere that night. "Not a problem", M replied. "I am also wearing my PJs". That sealed it. A few hours later, I was happily walking over to her place in my fleece drawstring pants. She greeted me dressed similarly. We sat on her couch and chatted the evening away like two teenagers. It was great.

It's all in the small things...

What did you resist this week? Did you donate or get rid of anything? Did you face any challenge? Please comment below! And...

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Monday, March 9, 2015

The Less is More project: Week 10 - The happiest time of your life

Stop and smell the oleander - JSM, 2012

If I asked you the following question:

"What was the happiest time of your life?"

... what would you respond?


And if you had to come up with two or three different periods of your life that made you the happiest?


Now what if I suggested you take a few of those "happy periods", and examine them closely to try and figure out what they had in common? 


What you will come up with likely constitutes the key to your happiness. No matter what your life has become now, and the underlying reasons for it, there is something to be learned from the common characteristics of your happy times.


"What should I try and instill to my current life in order to maximize my well-being?"

Here's my example.

Happiest times of my life:

  1. The 3 years I lived in Senegal (Western Africa) as a child
  2. The summers spent working as a lifeguard/canoe-kayak instructor in my late teens
  3. Studying for my Master's - the first year (my father passed away during the second)
  4. Going on wilderness camping trips
  5. Traveling with my family as a child, then traveling alone, with friends or with my own family now that I have kids

What do those "happy times" have in common? 

When I stopped to think about it, I made some interesting findings:

Those were all times when very little emphasis was put on the material sphere: whether it was a) living in Sub-Saharan Africa of the 1980s, b) working at a summer camp by a lake deep in the woods, c) camping in a National Park or d) living the "poor" student life...

... those situations all offered very few opportunities for shopping and indulging materialistically.

As for traveling, no matter if you do it "in style" or on a shoe string (I have done both), it usually implies living with less: the contents of your suitcase or backpack are all you have. I, for example, took a 65-liter backpack - sleeping bag included - for a 3-month trip all over Europe, and I try to fit everything I need in a carry-on whenever I travel for a week or less. (My friends have - kindly - made fun of me for traveling light.)

Therefore, the common denominator seems to be a simple life involving few possessions.

Even more interesting, I realized that whenever I stepped away from the material sphere, it was either the cause or the consequence of focusing instead on other, more fulfilling things; indeed, all of the situations above involved:

  • Less time spent inside, more time spent outside (either in nature or walking my way through cities)
  • (Partly arising from the above): More physical activity
  • Deep, meaningful connections with people (whether you are "taking the time" with your family members/friends or meeting new people with common interests and values)
  • A slower pace of life (with time to talk, read, write, listen to music, contemplate, meditate)

In my current situation (living "in the woods" in a province that has a total population under a million), I notice that the above criteria are at least partly met... as long as I remain vigilant. 

Your turn to "do the exercise". What were your happiest times? What did they have in common? Can you try and implement some of those things in your current life in order to increase your well-being?



Finishing a workout at the gym, I knew I had another thirty minutes or so before I had to go pick-up my daughter at her play date (They went snowshoeing. How cool!) I really didn't want to exercise anymore, having already done a full hour of strength training, a half-hour of cardio and about ten minutes of stretching. The gym being located in a commercial neighborhood, I felt tempted, for a moment, to pass the time by doing a little bit of shopping. This is something I would have done without a thought in the past (i.e. before this project), whether I actually needed to buy something or not.

Of course, the Less is More project kept me on track: instead of going shopping, I found an empty group activity room at the gym, rolled a mat, sat on it, and meditated. Needless to say, the benefits of a meditation session far outweigh the benefits of a shopping outing.

Donations (good riddance)

This weekend we rearranged some furniture in the children's bedrooms. While we were at it, I asked them to hand me any toy or item of clothing that they have not used recently and are not planning on using again. D and I also got rid of a few clothes. 

We then tackled the "reading nook". This is a small room with a large window on the second level, above the entrance, that I had envisioned as a yoga/meditation room when we moved in. Soon enough, however, it was invaded by bookshelves, a desk, a chair, and some toys. This weekend, R, who is in Grade 5 and getting an increasing amount of homework, "inherited" the desk and chair. The toys are gone. The nook is empty again. Hello, yoga/meditation spot!


We went to the Museum of Natural History. Apart from dinosaurs (the current temporary exhibit), we also learned about the Aboriginal and the Acadians' past way of life. The simplicity of it all was a great reminder that we need very little: a shelter, food and water, some clothing, feeling safe and connected to others. Everything else is a luxury. Medical discoveries and technology have simplified our lives in some ways, and have made them less "painful"... but it is nice to be reminded of the basics.


The fact that I considered shopping (see above) just because I had a little bit of time on my hands says a lot about our careless approach to consuming: Bored? Early for an appointment? In need for a little pick-me-up? Go shopping! 

Errr... no thank you.

Later on, I was talking to another mom, T, who remarked that her kids rarely wear (or need) the back to school clothes she buys every year. We buy back-to-school clothes for the sake of it, she said. Another mindless habit, for sure. We will both ditch it this coming fall (unless there is a real need, of course).

What did you resist this week? Did you donate or get rid of anything? Did you face any challenge? Please comment below! And...

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Monday, March 2, 2015

The Less is More Project: Week 9 - What I have learned in 2 months

kern.justin, Flickr

"Simplicity is not about deprivation. Simplicity is about greater appreciation for things that really matter." (Becoming Minimalist)

As it was to be expected, in the midst of a lot of enthusiasm, this project has also generated a little bit of healthy skepticism. Some readers have questioned the whys, the hows, and the scope of this project. 

I am fine with that reaction. Such a project is bound to provoke debate! You will elicit similar reactions if you become a vegetarian, train for a marathon, or make any other uncommon choice. (Click here for a food and fitness-related example.)

In addition to referring you back to my first post of the project, which offers some insight as to why I embarked on it in the first place (click here), today I want to revisit the various reasons why people are drawn to minimalism: 

Clutter: feeling overwhelmed by the amount and/or size of the stuff we own, including real estate, vehicles, and objects of all types

Debt: (self-explanatory)

Social/environmental awareness: the realization that our day to day lifestyle has a significant, harmful impact on both the planet in general and its inhabitants in particular

Lack of purpose/meaningfulness: feeling that our life is a whirlwind of acquiring money (through work) and spending money (through shopping and entertainment) without much consideration for what really "speaks" to us, such as relationships we cherish and hobbies we are passionate about

Stress: created by some or all of the above

In my case, the main reason I embarked on this project was to develop mindfulness and intentionality. I wanted to regain full consciousness of what I spend my time, energy, space and money on. I wanted to determine whether it fits my values and priorities and whether it is conducive to my (and others') well-being. 

I do not want to be the automaton of consumerism.

If the planet was doing just fine, and if all humans were treated fairly, I would still embark on this project.

If I had all the space in the world, I would still embark on this project. (As of now I am realizing that my house is indeed too big for my needs, and offers too much storage.)

If I was extremely wealthy, I would still embark on this project. Saving money, as I have said before, is NOT the main goal of this project. (Interestingly, some well-intentioned readers have been kindly suggesting ways for me to acquire stuff at a good price. I appreciate, and thank you, but this is not why I'm doing it.)

It is once I had more that I became interested in having less. 

Sometimes you have to fulfill the "material dream" to realize its absurdity:

  • I have noticed that accumulating stuff does not make me happier (it actually can make me LESS happy).
  • I have noticed that the high I get from acquiring stuff does not last.
  • I have noticed that I am perfectly content with very little (in situations such as wilderness camping, for example).
  • I have noticed that sometimes, I'd rather work a little bit less, have a little bit less money... and gain a little bit more time instead.
  • I have realized that we cannot keep on blaming "others" for the state of the planet: each of us has to make some changes. We are not big companies. But we can vote with our wallet, and force big companies to revisit their approaches.

I don't think my approach quite qualifies as ascetic. I still own way more than one outfit, one bowl and one cot. I still value pleasure (and, in some instances, I still want to indulge in luxury). For the most part, I think I am an adept of Epicureanism in its most classical sense: I want to avoid pain and emotional disturbance; the pursuit of pleasure is fine as long as it respects the criterion of moderation.

When you allow yourself treats in moderation, you avoid potential noxious side effects (think overspending, overeating, overdrinking and the like) and you maximize the enjoyment (occasional treats are more enjoyable that constant, mindless indulgences). 

As a dietitian once told me: there is nothing wrong with having chocolate ice cream once in a while. But if you are going to do it, make sure you fully appreciate it: sit down, take your time, focus on the taste and texture. Do nothing else. Give it your full attention.

I have a feeling that too often, we are on autopilot: we consume things that don't really provide us with significant enjoyment. If we become aware of that, we will be able to refocus our resources (again, in time, energy, space and money) on the things that we truly, highly enjoy, while cutting down on the things that don't make such a positive difference in our lives.



Saturday morning, I get a phone call. It's D. He's been running some errands, has some extra time ahead of him before R's next basketball game, and wants to know if there's anything else I need. "I don't think so", I say. "I already gave you my little list" (which consisted of a receipt book for my business, and a new phone because ours, after years of loyal service, just died). I am pretty sure we don't need anything else. Yet I hesitate. Here I am trying to come up with something we might "need". Enough already! We don't need anything at all.

Donations (good riddance)

Have you seen the link to "Let's Play a Minimalism Game" I posted on HappinessSavouredHot' Facebook page? If you are a "beginner", this is a superb ideas by The Minimalists to get you started on decluttering. The idea is to get rid of one item on the first of the month, two items on the second, three items on the third, and so on. March is a great month to go for it as it has 31 days!!! If you follow the plan, by the end of this month you should be 496 items lighter (or an average of 16 discarded items per day). Scary? For sure. Useful? You bet.

This week I got rid of:

a very old T-shirt, a couple of pens that don't work, a dozen of small toys that my kids don't use, and another pile of books.


Turns out that baking soda is indeed a panacea! I was already using it to clean the house, but had yet to use it on myself. I tried it as an alternative to shampoo, deodorant and body scrub. Verdict: it works as a charm. I particularly like it as shampoo because it leaves my hair shinier and easier to comb than regular shampoo (I use a pea-size amount of conditioner and it suffices). Try it!


I was thinking about my post on houses. I kind of idealize smaller houses, but there is one big limitation: I really want my kids to each have their own bedroom - especially now that they are both in their preteen years. If you have any experience or insight on this, please share! 

What did you resist this week? Did you donate or get rid of anything? Did you face any challenge? Please comment below! And...

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