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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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  1. As you said, categories one and two would seem to be the toughest times in life. I suppose the lesson is these times will pass, and you can be whole again.

    1. Resilience, it's called. :-) But minimizing unpleasant stuff in the first place is also a good idea. Thank you for commenting.

  2. Health issues have been some of my biggest challenges. My own, and my partners. Of the two, my partner's health issues were hardest. I am a control freak, and when things happen over which I have no control I freak.
    This week? Donating time in volunteer work. And shortly I am heading off for more training so I can continue to give. I will have to go through the shops to get to the training and have no intention of buying anything.
    And how right you are for the reasons for that 'free gift'.

    1. We are so vulnerable without our health. It really puts a damper on life. When it doesn't downright threaten it. I celebrate health every day that I have it.

  3. I cleared out my computer and online websites. I cleaned out my unk drawer and my purse :-)

  4. I DID get rid of some more stuff last week....yippee!!!!

  5. If I'm a bit short of time or really not in the mood to put things away, well that happens sometimes! I have 'my corner' where 'stuff' is neatly put until I do have time and energy to put things away properly. I always feel good when that pile has been cleared away, as it should have been done in the first place, ..... but hey I never said I was perfect!

    Have a good week

    All the best Jan

    1. Good strategy! A little bit of decluttering is better than none at all.

  6. Friends that you can hang out with while in PJs are the best kind.
    I agree on the free drinks - we don't always claim things like that for the reason you mentioned (buying all the extra drinks).

    1. I have a certain number of friends with whom I hang out in PJs once in a while. They are all wonderful. :-)

  7. What did I resist? Doughnuts. I'd missed lunch today (forgot to take my sandwich from the fridge when I went out) so thought about getting a doughnut from my favourite shop on the way home. Changed my mind and came straight home instead to eat an apple.
    The toughest time of my life is a tricky question. I've had a pretty easy, happy life. I'd have to say the night I asked my second husband to leave would be a tough situation. I couldn't live with his depressions and paranoias any longer. I realised I hadn't been truly happy for several years of listening to him worrying about anything and everything needlessly and bringing me down to his misery levels.

    1. Good for you! :-)

      Mental health is so important. We want to be there for loved ones, but sometimes, it becomes too much to handle.

  8. I cleaned out the two drawers in my computer desk!! They'd been untouched for many years but now only what I need is in them.

    Toughest time of my life? I'm lucky that I've never had to face illness, nor have I had to face death of a child. When my mother died that was a hard time but I think the toughest was being a single mother of two children and worrying constantly about the future - especially how to make the money go far enough. Financial stress coupled with being on my own was the worst memory I have. Memories of that time are still incredibly dark.

    1. It does sound like it was hard. Financial stress and being alone certainly contribute to tough times. Glad to hear you are happier now (re your other comment).

  9. oh
    that phrase gives me a bit of clarity.