Featured in

Featured in: Tiny Buddha, Halifax Media Coop, Fine Fit Day, Simplify the Season, La Presse, Filles, Le Canada-Français

Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Less is More Project: Week 43 - Electronics

Martin Voltri, Flickr

When I bought my car, the sales consultant spent as much time (if not more time) explaining how to set up and use Bluetooth than he did explaining the "traditional" car characteristics. 

He never mentioned anything about cylinders, torque and horsepower. I'll give it to him that he did not point out which mirror I could use to refresh my makeup either. 

But I now know how to call my mother hands-free while driving, by just saying her name out loud (he helped me set that up, arguing it could come in handy). I don't even have to touch my flip phone to be in immediate communication with whoever I want. How convenient! (And how dangerous, according to recent studies that show talking on the phone, even hands-free, increases your risk of an accident.) Never mind that I do not make phone calls from my car, and that I only use said flip phone for emergencies (i.e., almost never).

More and more people are expressing astonishment at the fact that I don't own a smart phone. Admittedly, everyone but the kitchen table owns one, so I guess I'm the weirdo. Still, I can't help but wonder: How could an inessential gadget become mainstream so fast? Ten years ago, smart phones were few and far between in North America. Now they are everywhere. I understand how such a phenomenon could apply to, say, washing machines: they did make a huge difference for the better in the life of the North American homemaker when they were first put on the market. But smart phones? Are they that useful?

Despite being a big fan of technology, a daily user (arguably an excessive user) of the Internet, and an "ex-video gamer", I haven't hopped on the portable device bandwagon yet, and I don't know when or if I will. Up to now, the main pressure to get a smart phone has come from friends who tell me I need one, not from me actually feeling the need. 

Not having a smart phone "forces" me to call people or write them an email instead of texting them. Not having a smart phone forces me to check directions before I leave on a trip, and to carry a road map in my car (I don't have a GPS either). Interestingly, I enjoy reading maps, and it has never caused any issue. The same applies to calculators: since I do not carry one with me, I have the pleasure of doing mental math on a regular basis, which is probably good for my almost 40-year-old brain. Other than that I don't see what not having a smart phone changes in my life.

But wait! Here is what it changes:

  • When I'm with my friends or with my family, I actually focus on them, as opposed to looking down at a screen or jumping whenever I hear a buzz.
  • When I drive I am not distracted.
  • When I have to wait somewhere, I get lost in my thoughts, which often prove to be rather creative provided I allow them to go in whatever direction they want to take. Or, if the scenery is nice, I get lost in its beauty reaching my five senses.
  • When on vacation I completely "disconnect" from the rest of the world.
  • I never feel distressed about forgetting or losing my phone.
  • I don't contribute to polluting the environment with one of the worst "planned-obsolescence-infused" items there is.

Think I'm a freak? Wait, I haven't even told you that I don't own a tablet or another portable device either (except a dinosaur of a laptop that I only use very occasionally). Nor do my children, by the way. Which means that, poor them, they have to find another way to occupy themselves whenever

  • We go on long drives
  • We go to a restaurant
  • We watch their sibling play sports
  • We go to the dentist's, the doctor's, or any other specialist's office
  • We go camping
  • They are at a friend's house
  • We are home, doing nothing
  • I need to get some work done without their constant interruptions
  • Etc.

What do they do then? Honestly, I don't care as long as they remain safe and respectful of their surroundings. Sometimes they read. Sometimes they write. Sometimes they draw. Sometimes they build things. Sometimes they listen to music. Sometimes (if the space and setting allows for it) they move around, dance, run, jump, climb, throw balls, do cartwheels. Sometimes they find a friend and/or a game to play with. Sometimes they just stare in the distance, and I know for a fact that some of their most fascinating reflections on life and the world are taking place at that exact moment.

Sometimes they chat with me. How sad would it be if there was a screen between us (literally) during those moments.

Whenever I advocate for minimal use of portable electronic devices for children (and I wouldn't be the only one, since specialists everywhere are saying the same), I am often told that "children need to know how to use them". May I reassure everyone that children do NOT need to spend 10+ hours a week in front of a screen to learn how to use it? With their occasional witnessing or use of other people's games electronic devices, my children already know more than enough about "the new technologies". Plus, schools themselves are increasingly incorporating iPads and such in the classroom. It suffices.

May I also reassure everyone that children ARE capable of waiting, occupying themselves and remaining well-behaved without the help of a screen? The fact that "times are changing" doesn't mean all of our ways have to. I strongly believe that my children actually benefit from being bored/having to wait on a regular basis, as I might have mentioned once or twice on this blog already. And don't tell me it's because my kids are angels: they are not. As I write this I just had to kick them out of the house ("Go play outdoors!") because they were becoming too rambunctious.

Children are very adaptable creatures (with the possible exception of two year-olds, who can be quite inflexible - but screens are even worst for toddlers, so we'll have to suck it up like every other parent has since the dawn of time). Let's trust that if they don't have access to screens every time things get boring or uncomfortable, they will figure out a way to deal with it.

How do you manage portable electronic devices in your life? Do you feel they bring you more than they take away from you?


Turns out that apple cider vinegar actually works as a conditioner. I just wasn't diluting it properly. 1-2 tablespoons in a cup of water work pretty well, and don't smell too bad.

I haven't used my new car to go to work yet. It sits there but I will only use it when it's a need. I have, however, used it to go to the library with the kids on the recent PD day, while D was gone with the other car. We live in the woods and other means of transportation are rarely an option as there pretty much is nothing (except for schools) in the area.

A salesperson showed up at my door trying to sell me an Internet/TV/phone bundle. We already have a service provider and are happy with it, but the young man wouldn't take "I'm not interested" for an answer, and argued that I had to give him a reason why. He seemed personally offended that I wouldn't listen to his sales pitch, even if I told him very politely that I didn't want to waste his or my precious time. By the time he said "I can come back if you're busy right now", I couldn't help but respond "Please don't". The whole interaction was uncomfortable for both of us. He wanted my money, I was not gonna give it to him. Why not stop there? Why does it have to turn into harassment? Why is this practice deemed acceptable in the world of door-to-door (or telephone) selling? As with physical encounters: no means no. Period.

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...

Become a follower of the blog/subscribe by email (top left corner of this page)!

Follow me on Facebook (click here)!

Follow me on Twitter (click here)!

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Less is More Project: Week 42 - Beautiful things

Blosterblu, Flickr

La beauté n'est que la promesse du bonheur.
Beauty is nothing other but the promise of happiness

A question that has been haunting me: How does one reconcile frugal living with beauty? Especially when you know that in some aspects:

  • Beauty is not a basic need (some even consider it a very superficial thing)
  • Beauty can cost a lot of money (fashion, home decoration, nice cars)
  • Beauty can have an impact on the environment (buying new things not because you need them, but because they look good)

Even the minimalist trend in architecture is everything but frugal: luxurious materials, costly design. The end product looks pared down, but a lot of thought, time, and money is put into it.

Human beings, that being said, do seem to get a lot from beauty, no matter which one of the five senses they experience it through: presented with nice music, nice food and wine, nice perfume, nice spa treatments, nice art... few of us can claim to remain indifferent! I myself had a hard time resisting a feeling of awe while visiting a nice boutique recently: so many beautiful objects! I did resist actually buying any of them, based on the facts that 1) I didn't need anything; 2) they would take up space in my house; and 3) they would take up money from my wallet, but I cannot say I didn't mind. I felt torn between the positive effect beautiful things have on me and the desire to transcend material objects.

I'm not the only one. My friend S and I had a written conversation about it recently. Here is what she said (quoted with her permission): 

"[If I purchased the beautiful things I see in stores], I think I would be valuing my material objects too much and basing too much of my identity and personal expression through those items. I am going to stick to good quality functional items that I will take good care and appreciate, but that I do not derive any sense of "style" or "chic" from. I need a certain level of comfort in my home - house plants, nice furniture layout, proper lighting and some art on the walls, but I do not need to go overboard. But would be surrounded by beautiful artistic things make you more creative and artistic yourself? I noticed when I listen to lots of great music, I am more creative."

As it turns out, we might be hardwired for beauty. In a 2014 article, The Atlantic explored how and why. It seems like looking at beautiful things and people does indeed make us feel better; for example, those who live in an aesthetically pleasing city were shown to be happier. In the same vein, the moments that people recorded as their happiest were when they were surrounded by beauty: while at a concert or an art exhibit, for example.

Minimalists, who care about preserving both the environment, their finances and the space in their houses, might feel they are limited in their access to beauty. Unless they follow Richard Proenneke's wisdom and find it in nature and simple things: 

About nature:

"The sun shining on the green lake ice was so beautiful I had to stop work now and then to just look at it."

About the relativity of pleasure:

"Most people don't work hard enough physically anymore, and comfort is not easy to find. It is surprising how comfortable a hard bunk can be after you come down off a mountain."

"I see grown men pick at food. They can't be hungry in the first place. Or maybe their food has been too fancy and with all the choices they've had, they don't really know what they enjoy anymore."

And my favourite, about simple things:

"I have found that some of the simplest things have given me the most pleasure. They didn't cost me a lot of money either. They just worked on my senses. Did you ever pick large blueberries after a summer rain? Walked through a grove of cottonwoods, open like a park, and see the blue sky beyond the shimmering gold of the leaves? Pull on dry woolen socks after you've peeled off the wet ones? Come in out of the subzero and shiver yourself warm in front of a wood fire? The world is full of such things."

How do you find and keep beauty in your life?


This week I feel like I might have "cheated", especially considering the cost of the item I purchased, but it did fulfill a need. For the first time in our relationship, D and I will own two cars. Not bad when you consider we have been together for 17 years, and that our oldest child will soon turn 12! Speaking of children, they were the main reason we had to acquire a second car. They both play organized basketball, and both made Tier 1 in their respective category, which means numerous practices, games and tournaments, usually in different places at sensibly the same time, which already proved complicated and frustrating enough last year with only one car. Two cars will mean less waiting time, but also less wasting gas going in all kinds of directions. It will also be nice to not need to constantly ask for a ride when I go out with my friends, and I do plan to use the car to go to work on those hurricane/heavy rain or minus 20 ° days (up to now I always walked).

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...

Become a follower of the blog/subscribe by email (top left corner of this page)!

Follow me on Facebook (click here)!

Follow me on Twitter (click here)!

The Less is More Project: Week 41 - Simplifying holidays and get-togethers

JSM, 2014

This weekend was Thanksgiving weekend for us Canadians, eager-people-who-cannot-wait-any-longer-to-stuff-themselves-with-turkey-and-pie.

And with special holidays come special challenges to simplicity. 

What are the traps? They are laid out before your company even shows up:

  • You clean too much
  • You decorate too much
  • You buy too much
  • You cook too much
  • You stress too much

Once family and friends arrive, you already feel exhausted. You nonetheless keep doing too much:

  • You haste too much
  • You serve too  much
  • You (still) clean too much
  • You talk too much
  • You eat (and drink) too much
  • You worry too much

If you are the guest instead of the host, don't rest on your laurels! You face the same traps:

  • You groom too much
  • You buy too much
  • You talk too much
  • You eat (and drink) too much

No matter what side you're on, host or guest, chances are you will overdo something. It's all too much! What are you going to do in order to simplify this year?

This Canadian Thanksgiving has given me a foretaste of the holiday season to come. This will be the first time ever that I go through the holidays during a Less is More Challenge, which is sure to prove interesting. It will also mark my first contribution to the Simplify the Season calendar, an initiative by Bethany Rosselit, who kindly asked me to write a piece. I was delighted to accept, and will be writing alongside some "bigger names" than me, such as Seth Godin, Tara Brach, Joshua Becker and Leo Babauta, among others. For an early peek, click below:

Simplify the Season


I made an early Christmas present purchase (buying early lowers stress!) Because yes, I will still give presents to my loved ones - presents were the one exception I had allowed for (although I will be more mindful in my choices, keeping everything reasonable). 

I also bought a throw blanket, for myself. It is now freezing at night here, and I get cold reading a book on the living room sofa. Instead of turning up the heat, I will use that wonderful blanket. Better for the environment.

Baking soda is my hair's new best friend. After using it for weeks (months?), I can testify that it works wonderfully instead of shampoo. However, my new experimentation with apple cider vinegar as conditioner proved far less conclusive. For one thing, it stinks! And I'm not sure it really conditions that well. I will have to give it a few more tries before I renounce though.

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...

Become a follower of the blog/subscribe by email (top left corner of this page)!

Follow me on Facebook (click here)!

Follow me on Twitter (click here)!

Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Less is More Project: Week 40 - Children and minimalism

Sam Nasim, Flickr

"Of the many people I've met who are not good at tidying, 
most had parents who cleaned their room for them." 
(Marie Kondo)

Minimalist wannabes with children often face the challenges of simplifying not only their life, but the life of others who may or may not be cooperative in the process. In fact, many will say that you just cannot be a minimalist while you have kids at home.

Here are some of the obstacles you might face when trying to simplify, downsize and declutter with children on board:


Consumerism is all around, and children are not immune to it. Oftentimes, they do not have the perspective required to question it either. Which makes them easy targets. Marketing reaches our kids, who in turn reach out to us, who eventually reach for our wallet. Not all kids are into "stuff", but if you have one that is, you know what a daily struggle it can be to constantly say "no, we are not going to buy this".

If you have children, you might also have well-intentioned relatives (and even friends) who enjoy showering them with presents. Which might help cut down on costs, but which also means more stuff in the house.

Add to this the fact that children don't usually have a natural tendency to pick after themselves, and you find yourself with a cluttered living space.

My personal solution is a very big serving of patience and persistence: I trust that with time, my example, and maturity, my kids will gradually learn to distinguish between "just the right amount" and "way too many" possessions. In the meantime, I help them:

  • make the connection between work, money and purchases;
  • figure out their priorities (if you get this, you cannot get that);
  • feel grateful for what they already have;
  • go through their belongings and donate what they don't use.

What are your strategies?


Many will argue that it's impossible, based on the amount of stuff that comes with children, and based on the need of parents for some level of intimacy, to live in small quarters with a family. A tiny house might be nice for one or two adults, but add kids to the mix and it suddenly feels like a recipe for disaster.

Interestingly, a certain number of families opt for very small house nonetheless (or to live on a boat, which is equivalent). I invite anyone who wants to learn more about how to make this possible to google "children+minimalism" and even "children+tiny house".

In our case, what I find the most interesting these days is that despite each of them having their own individual bedroom, my daughters often insist on sleeping in the same bed. I expect this to come to an end at some point during their teenage years, but it goes to show that children might not always have the needs that we attribute to them: right now, one bedroom would suffice.

Any realizations regarding children and space?


We live in a culture of individual growth and fulfillment. If you are a parent, chances are you want just that for your children. Of all the ways to spend your money, experiences have been shown to be the most conducive to happiness. By sending your children to camp or having them participate in organized activities, for example, you are providing them with experiences. What we often forget, however, is that experiences do not all come in the "highly structured and organized form". Some of the best experiences are spontaneous, disconcertingly simple, and free. A sunset. A hummingbird. The sound of the rain. But of course our children won't notice if they are incessantly taxied back and forth to activities or sitting in front of a screen.

I want to suggest that we simplify. Believe it or not, children do not enjoy being rushed all the time: "Hurry, we're gonna be late for your [fill in the blank] practice/lesson!" Who hasn't heard their kid ask "Can we just stay home and do nothing for a change?" I think it says it all.

Have your kids ever showed appreciation or even asked for some alone time/doing nothing?

Work/life balance

If nothing else does, having children will force you to reassess the role you give to work, the time and space it takes in your life. Caring for little ones on top of yourself, your living space and your career can exhaust you on good days. In my neighborhood, a large number of women (if not the majority) have work arrangements that allow them to work part-time, from home, or both. There's no reason why we should rush through life and not have time to watch our children grow up. There is no easy decision, and there is no perfect situation, but unless you are dealing with crippling poverty, there are options (and they apply to dads, too).

How do you balance it all?


After the last of three blog posts on "duties", a reader asked: "Is it your duty to have children?" I do not want to get too deep into that argument, but here is what I have to offer for now. Once they have become adults, today's children will be the ones to support the economy. That is one argument. On the other hand, with each new human being comes more environmental footprint. That is another (opposed) argument. I am no expert in demographics, but something tells me that a slow, gradual decrease in natality might be our best solution from a global standpoint. The economy will adapt. There are too many people on Earth for it to remain a healthy planet... unless we change our ways drastically, of course.

What are you willing to do to ensure future generations a place to live?

For more on the benefits of simplifying with children, you can click on the following links:

Do less 

Simplify everything  


It's becoming obvious that I won't be able to quit sugar cold turkey. After two pretty good weeks, I fell for it again. There are so many occasions to consume sugar, and I might not really want to skip them all. Perhaps it will be more realistic to lower my consumption without making it completely taboo. On the other hand, I have begun to cut down on another substance: caffeine. I was not consuming that much - 1 cup of coffee in the morning and 1 cup of tea in the afternoon - but I realized it was still too much on some days.

Big news regarding my absence of spending:

First, it's official that I have completely lost the habit to buy - especially since I'm not even the one who does the groceries: last week, I did go to the grocery store for a couple items, and when came the time to pay with my card, I completely blanked out on how to actually use the card. I looked at the machine, hesitated, tried to swipe, and the patient cashier had to remind me to "put the chip in the bottom" for me to regain my consciousness. Crazy!

Second, less crazy but definitely more exciting, is the fact that I have saved enough, in those past 10 months, to make a significant extra payment on the mortgage, hence shortening its term. Woohoo!

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...

Become a follower of the blog/subscribe by email (top left corner of this page)!

Follow me on Facebook (click here)!

Follow me on Twitter (click here)!