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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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  1. Thanks for an interesting discussion! This is one area where perhaps an impartial outsider can give the best opinion for us. Bring too close to the situation can be blinding.

    What we are is life's gift to us; what we do with it is our gift to life.

    1. Agree that a step back (or better, another pair of yes) can make everything clearer! :-)

  2. Number 3 really struck a chord with me. Being Irish, I've grown up with the notion that it's important to be liked, but now living in France I see that the French have the "being pleasant and minimally polite" thing down to a tee! It is hilarious to observe sometimes and then other times it's very beneficial to see how it's done!

  3. Good idea to go shopping with a list and stick to what is on the list.

    Love the picture of those blueberries, such a lovely fruit - especially with a helping of double / heavy cream.

    Have a good week.

    All the best Jan

    1. Ah, I eat my blueberries fresh from the bush, nothing added. But my "ancestors" certainly did add cream! :-)

  4. YES
    I am right there with you as I head into my second act.
    My second life.