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Monday, May 25, 2015

The Less is More Project: Week 21 - Two questions, take two

Kevin Dooley, Flickr

Sitting on a long chair in the backyard with a book. Wearing shorts and t-shirt, yet not feeling cold despite the shade. Finally. I had forgotten how good this feels. 

Life can now happen both indoors and outdoors, without the need to change clothes. I have been waiting for this all winter. And in most parts of Canada, winter (i.e. freezing temperatures and the potential for snow) lasts from October to April.

I am alive again. Mother nature is alive too, as the birds and the budding leaves and our freshly planted garden all remind me. The bugs are also back, but I couldn't care less; I am happy.

It occurs to me that such weather, if it lasted year long, would make it so much easier to be a minimalist. It's perfectly acceptable to live in cramped quarters with few possessions when the outdoors can act as living space. Or if you can at least open the windows! I could thrive in a tiny house in warm weather - in the summer my favorite place to sleep is a tent, and my favorite place to eat is at a picnic table or even right on the grass or sand. But in the winter? Not quite as appealing.

How do you reconcile harsh weather with a minimalist lifestyle?

Two questions, answered

What would you do if money were no object, and if you had all the money and time in the world? Here are the answers I gathered, both on this blog and from conversations with friends:

  • do a job that's actually pleasant
  • work less
  • start a meaningful business
  • go back to school
  • spend time with loved ones
  • engage in favorite hobbies (reading, etc.)
  • do nothing at all
  • help others (less privileged people)
  • keep the house under control
  • travel
  • pursue creative goals (writing, painting, playing an instrument, etc.)
  • pursue athletic goals (training for a race, etc.)
  • buy something simple that will improve quality of life (as opposed to buying something luxurious for the sake of buying or for status boasting)

Notice that no one mentioned acquiring big, expensive things. Perhaps it's a sign that many of us are already minimalists at heart, and that stuff is not what we think of when the sky actually becomes the limit.

Also, notice how no one mentioned completely overhauling their life, like divorcing, moving to another country, or the like. Perhaps it's a sign that most of us are not miserable with our life; we might have some areas of "under-fulfillment", but a few small tweaks might do the job.

Let's go back to the list above, and to your specific answers. Is there anything you can do, in this life, to get closer to the accomplishment of those "dream goals"? Are they entirely unattainable, or can you slowly start making your way toward them? Of course, it will require thinking outside the box, getting out of your comfort zone, and perhaps some sacrifice... but it might be worth it! 

In what ways are you making room in your life for those "dream goals"?

Two new questions for this week

Decluttering is a daunting task. Simple tricks can make it more manageable. For example, looking for one object to ditch in each room (what we did last week), or tackling just one drawer at a time. To make it easier to part with your stuff from an emotional standpoint, here are two questions you should ask yourself when unsure whether to keep an object or not:

  1. do you use it on a regular basis?
  2. does it spark joy?

An object you don't use on a regular basis can probably go. (With the exception of seasonal items: if you only use your camping gear in the summer, and your fondue set in the winter, you can still keep them, provided they are used at least a couple times a year.)

An object that does not spark joy can probably go too. There is no reason to keep something that does not provide you with a significant positive feeling. It will only gather dust, or fill storage space. Say goodbye!

Look through your things and tell us what objects you got rid of based on those two questions.



No temptation this week either. However, vacation time is approaching fast, and we will be traveling, both to big cities and small, cute, historic places. Remaining focused will certainly be a challenge. Better start thinking about it now in order to come up with strategies!

Donations (good riddance)

I had a semi-formal outing, which hadn't happened since the beginning of this challenge. It took me quite a while to decide what to wear. It forced me to reassess the clothes I possess that are more "chic". I got rid of a few pieces. 

We also got rid of yet another bag of toys. The kids are moving into pre-teen years and it shows.

I tackled the bar this week. I realized we very rarely drink our strong alcohols, even when we have company: most people seem to stick to wine and beer. The unopened bottles have thus moved to my "regifting shelf", the one I browse whenever I need a hostess or teacher gift. The opened bottles have moved to a more convenient location, so that I will remember to use them (summer cocktails, anyone?) Once they are empty I will probably not replace those bottles.

Observations and cogitations

It's confirmed: I hate gardening with a passion. It's weird since I usually enjoy the outdoors very much, appreciate a pretty yard, and love harvesting from our veggie patch and berry bushes. But how I despise doing the work! 

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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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Less is More Project: Week 20 - Two questions

Money, Flickr

I mentioned to my preteen students that I am on a "no buy" challenge. The best way to describe their reaction is to say "jaw drop". They could not fathom living a life where you buy nothing but necessities (i.e. groceries, gas for the car, and the occasional present when my kids are invited to a friend's birthday party). 

The preteens' reaction says a lot about the relationship we, as a society, have with possessions and money.

One of my students asked "But why? Are you poor?" (gotta love children's bluntness). As if the only reason one should limit their spending and acquisition of stuff was out of necessity. I did not go on for too long on the mindfulness-related reasons. I will let the idea simmer in their young heads. 

Now for you, young and not-so-young dear readers, two questions to ponder (and to answer in the comments below, of course): What would you do...

...if money was no object?

...if you had all the money and time in the world?

Next week, we will explore and discuss the answers we have gathered. In the meantime, I invite you to watch the following video:



None. I seem to be cured of the consumerist syndrome for good. I might have to drop the "Temptations" rubric altogether. It does help, of course, that the weather has been warm and sunny: I'd rather spend all of my time outdoors than in stores.

Donations (good riddance)

I decided to find one object, in each room of the house, that I don't really need or want anymore. The result: I found one or two things to let go of in each room... until I tackled the playroom. There, with the help of the children, I sorted through the whole contents of the toy chest and the bookshelves. We ended up filling two big garbage bags!

Observations and cogitations

Every time I think I am finally done with my decluttering, I find new things to get rid of. How far will this take me? Some family members are already calling me an extremist (which is an extreme comment in itself, I think). It should be a reminder that minimalism has a thousand faces, and that each person should do it in their own unique way.

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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Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Less is More Project: Week 19 - Minimalist Midlife Crisis

AndreasS, Flickr

Over the past 15 years, D and I graduated from university, entered the workforce, got married, had kids, bought a house... and so "real life" began. As the years passed, we saw our purchasing power increase, and with it the amount and value of things we owned.

During that same period, our parents, now in their fifties and sixties, were beginning to either get rid of their belongings or replace them with more luxurious options (as their purchasing power was also increasing toward the end of their career).

Meanwhile, our grandparents, in their eighties and nineties, moved into assisted living residences and could not keep all their belongings - guess who "inherited" most of it.

The consequence? We ended up with a lot of stuff. I was pretty happy about it. But the truth is, it was too much stuff for our own good. 

In my mid-thirties, I gradually realized that all that stuff was weighing me down. I appreciated some of it, but definitely not all. I also realized that acquiring new stuff only had a very ephemeral positive effect on my mood, followed by a more enduring negative effect on the clutter in the house. I also realized that each dollar I spent shopping was a dollar I could not use for more rewarding activities such as travelling. Finally, I realized that I was not so comfortable with the idea of contributing to the inevitable pollution that comes with the manufacturing, transportation and, later on, disposal of goods.

And so, gradually, the shift occurred. I hopped off the consumerist bandwagon just when it was beginning to get really interesting. Having money to buy things was no longer a sufficient reason to buy such things. I decreased my consumption to the point of deciding to buy nothing new for a year (this year). Already owning things was also no longer a sufficient reason to keep them. I started getting rid of stuff. Finally, I made other lifestyle changes with the hope of minimizing both our footprint and potential health issues.

I did not completely renounce the freedom, comfort and pleasure that comes with money and nice things, but I became more mindful of my relationship to the the material sphere.

How has that all felt? Pretty darn good, if you want to know.



None that I can think of. Isn't that wonderful?

Donations (good riddance)

More clothes. More books. More kitchenware.

Observations and cogitations

In the category "I don't know where my money is going", eating out wins hands down. As an acquaintance of mine recently remarked: if you've been cutting down on your spending but still have the nagging feeling that a big chunk of your paycheck disappears in a pipeline, look into your consumption of food and drinks outside of the house. You could be surprised!

Speaking of food and drinks, our kitchen is beginning to look pretty minimal. Lots of counter top space has magically appeared. Another perk of minimalism for sure!

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, May 4, 2015

The Less is More Project: Week 18 - How clean is too clean?

DanBrady, Flickr

Have you ever felt like by the time the house/car/garden is finally "clean enough", the day is done and it's time to go to bed? Worse, do you never really reach the point of "clean enough", no matter how hard you work?

This is yet another manifestation of our obsession with stuff: we want everything to be spotless. 

Decluttering is good, as is keeping relatively clean surroundings. Spending endless hours dusting, wiping, scrubbing and polishing? Not so good. 

In addition, there are a variety of things that do not need to be cleaned at any point in time; in those cases, cleaning can even be harmful. Random examples include power cleaning your driveway, removing fallen leaves from your lawn, wiping your baby's face in between each spoonful of puree, giving a bath to your cat, or using scented wipes on your genitals. Don't do it!

By no means do I consider myself a clean freak, yet I have pressured myself into making sure my house immaculate before I let anyone show up. I know it has sometimes gotten in the way of spontaneity: on a random Friday night, feeling like having some friends over, I will hesitate because I haven't had time to clean. Or I will get in a cleaning frenzy instead of relaxing while I wait for them to show up. Foolish of me. When your friends show up and exclaim "wow, your house is so clean", it might be a sign you overdid it (note to myself here).

Last summer, I became very resentful toward all the weeding work that kept me away from the beach. Eventually I went on a multi-week strike, left the flowerbeds to fend for themselves and allowed myself to fully enjoy the true pleasures of summer. I never regretted it, but I did feel the need to apologize for the state of my garden to impromptu visitors. Why?

When it's not us worrying about the state of our house and property, it's others: I have heard countless stories of well-intentioned parents and in-laws showing up and ending up cleaning their grown children's house while the latter would prefer just enjoying each other's presence. Offering help to young parents is definitely commendable, but it will probably make them feel like they have to join in the hard work when in fact they might simply want to chat with you.

Our obsession with cleanliness not only robs us of our precious time (and money, thanks to all those unnecessary cleaning products we feel compelled to buy, or thanks to the people we hire to do the work), it is also bad for our health and for the environment. The types of products we use and the frequency at which we use them deserves to be questioned. 

Some questions to ponder:

  • Does cleaning get in the way of other more meaningful activities? For example, do you refrain from inviting friends over, from playing with you kids, from going on a little trip - or from resting - because the house or garden is not quite up to your standards?

  • How often does one really need to wash their hair or their clothes (with the exception of underwear of course) if they do not show signs of dirt and in the absence of significant sweating?

  • Are our bodies and houses so dirty that we need to use the strongest detergents, disinfectants and abrasives on them? Really? Or are we destroying our skin's protective oils and useful bacteria, and breathing toxic fumes?

  • At what point do we cross the line between preventing common colds and minor odors and giving ourselves cancer?

  • What impact does all that cleaning have on the environment? How much water and harmful products do we use, and how much trash do we create (e.g. disposable wipes and other such horrors)?

  • Do you sometimes "cover up" problems with strong products instead of actually tackling the underlying issue? For example, do you keep swirling the mouthwash (a useless product) instead of seeing your dentist about that recurring bad breath?

  • Do we want to be the "victims" of marketing, which creates a false need for cleaning and beauty products that we could in fact live without?

What is your relationship to cleaning?

For more on alternatives to "traditional cleaning", click here.



I succumbed! I bought one piece of clothing I did not really need. It was right next to the one piece of clothing I actually needed. In a moment of weakness, I took both. The price was good, it won't take up that much space, and I truly love it and will wear it a lot... but I still broke my rule, and I'm not proud to report it. I won't bring it back to the store, but I will make an extra effort to get rid of other clothes in an effort to "compensate". Lesson of the week: you can still have relapses five months into a new habit. Vigilance is essential!

What is your weakest area, and what do you do to prevent relapses?

Donations (good riddance)

On the bright side, I am very happy to report that I finally pulled up my sleeves and took care of the one room I was apprehensive about: my home office. Paper is the worst, when it comes to decluttering, because you need to look at every single sheet and read it to assess where it belongs. This is probably where the "touch it once" rule came from: if you file or discard your papers as soon as you receive them, they don't accumulate in piles everywhere! The office now looks like a place where organized thoughts can happen. And I can quickly access any document I need now that I know where everything is.

What room, cupboard or drawer are you tackling this week?

Observations and cogitations

This ongoing reflection on my consumption habits and their impact on my health and well-being, the environment and the economy has me question my intake of animal products. I have been a vegetarian in the past (although not at the moment). From an ethical perspective, being a vegan sounds even more appealing. But it all seems so complicated in a society that gives meat (and dairy) such an important place. 

Any advice?

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