The Mindfulness of Being Sick

When was I hit by a Mack truck?

This was my first thought as I stumbled out of bed at 9 this morning, 4 hours later than my usual wake up time.

At least the nausea and vomiting had stopped earlier last evening. The body aches and head throbbing were just aftershock.

Chicken soup (homemade), Greek yogurt (homemade), and now coffee (again, homemade).  Eating is getting back to normal.

There is nothing like illness to make you take a look at what is most important now.  It keeps me present to the task at hand. It keeps me mindful. It’s really hard to worry about next months bills when your stomach is doing somersaults.

Mindfulness and minimalist are the buzzwords of today. It makes sense. Minimalism isn’t just about having less, it’s about not being consumed by stuff so that you can live more in the moment (mindfulness).

Being sick jolts me into the present. What exactly can I do today besides sleep? Not much, but I can eke out what is most important–eat for nourishment and get some writing in.

The Uninspired Writer

 

Show up and get to work…and at the same time, listen to where the writing wants to take you. Dinty W. Moore

 

I’ve been published. Okay, now what? Wait for more inspiration? Ever since I was a child, I’d create a sentence in my mind and think, wow, that would make a good opening to a novel.

Or, I’d be washing dishes and an idea would pop into my head. What a great premise for a story! I told myself.

Story ideas would float in and out of consciousness my whole life, so it only seemed natural that stories come from  inspiration, right?

Well, yes and no.

Yes, the idea has to somehow form, but what do I do with it? If the formation of a story, essay, blog post, etc., ends with the last dish dried, then I’ve got nothing. I can’t call myself a writer if I’m not actually writing.

There are two things that stop me from writing:

  • Having no ideas
  • Laziness

Actually, you can probably take the no ideas excuse out and just call it plain laziness. I had no idea what I was going to write about today, yet here I am. Why? What’s the difference between today and every other day I let this blog lie dormant? Did I have more ideas today?

The truth is I had no more of a clue what I was going to do today than any other day. The only difference, and this is a big one, is that I set an intention to write.

Sure, it’s easier to write when I know beforehand what I want to write about.  But those days are not the norm. Most days I say, “I got nothin’.” Most of those days I don’t work at writing.

Today, I still said I had nothing. But I showed up to work.

And I worked.

 

The High Cost of Stuff

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27.2 billion dollars.

That’s how much Americans spent on self-storage units in 2014.  Let me repeat that number:

27.2 BILLION dollars.

A quick internet search rendered at least 20 mini-storage businesses within 10 miles of my home. According to the Self-Storage Association, the self-storage industry is one of the fastest growing segment of commercial real estate over the last 40 years.

As if this trend wasn’t alarming enough,  new homes are getting bigger as well. 

Credit card debt is on the rise.

Our waistlines are growing, too.

More stuff. Bigger houses. Ever growing debt.  Increasing waistlines. What’s happening?

Our lives have become unmanageable. We build bigger houses so we can have more room for our stuff. We buy that stuff online with our credit cards. We have too much stuff so we pay monthly for storage. We eat more to feel, what, happy? Satisfied? Fulfilled?

What desire are we trying to satiate? Is it security? Happiness? I don’t know and only each of us can figure out what’s going on for ourselves.

I can tell you this:

I am happier now than in the days when I was very active in my food addiction.

More food = more unhappiness.

I am happier now that my husband and I are actively paying down our debt and doing without.

Increasing debt = increasing anxiety.

I am happier now in our one bedroom apartment, with ZERO need for a self-storage unit, than ever. The apartment is relatively easy to maintain because we have a lot less stuff than we did even a year ago.

More stuff = more stuff to clean, more stuff to worry about (or conversely, ignore), more stuff to look at, more stuff to get rid of, more stuff to pack away, more house, more taxes (because we need a bigger place to go with all that stuff) and more debt.

More stuff = less happiness.

Less stuff = more happiness.

When Gift Giving is About Us

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We are not as generous as we think we are.  A bold statement, I know. Controversial, even. And true.

A gift is something that is freely given, no strings attached. Even the expectation of a thank you diminishes the generosity of the giver.

How often did I expect something in return for the gifts I gave this Christmas? More than I care to admit. For example, this year I gave my husband gift certificates to a local movie theater. He can choose to take me, or to take his friends. It’s his gift, he can do with it as he pleases. Or so I’d like to think. However, yesterday, he was uncomfortable in his seat.  This is what I said:

“Don’t complain.”

Here is what was in my head:

Don’t complain because I gave this to you as a Christmas present. You should be grateful.

Pow! There it is, the invisible string!

Thankfully, I did some self-editing and didn’t say that. Still, it severely diminished the generosity of the gift, even if my husband never experienced the full tug of the string attached to the gift.

True gift-giving, which has absolutely no strings attached, is a really tough practice, but is ultimately very freeing. It frees us from resentment, expectation, and disappointment.

It also frees the recipient from obligation.

Wait, what?

If we give a gift to someone shouldn’t we expect a thank you? And if they don’t like/can’t use it,shouldn’t we expect them to at least return it for store credit?

Nope.

Even the expectation of a thank you or a gift exchanged for something they like/can use/fits better, etc. is a string attached. I like to call these attitudes “no strings that are actually strings.”

Here are some examples:

Expectation of thanks (already mentioned). Of course we should always give thanks for a gift received. And teach children to write thank-yous.

Expectation of use, including gift cards. Even gift cards are becoming increasingly exchangeable.

Expectation of an exchange for something they like/can use (already mentioned). Well, if they don’t like what I bought I hope they return it to get something they like.

Expectation of no complaints (ahem!) See above

Expectation that they will think you  are awesome because of this fabulous gift you gave them. We want them to like us.

And ultimately, the expectation that they will love and keep the item because you have given it to them. Period.  No matter what we say to the recipient, we still want them to keep the gift. We’ll think less of them if they don’t keep it.

All of this brings me to my next point:

Invisible strings make receiving gifts much harder than it should be.  A gift, freely given, is never a burden, and should never come with restraints. I put a condition on my husband yesterday when I told him not to complain about the theater seats. This is wrong.

This year, I really didn’t want much for Christmas, but I know my family wants me to open up presents for Christmas, so I suggested gift cards to yoga and knitting classes, some consumable items like luxury soap and gourmet olive oil and balsamic vinegar. These are things that I love and will use. Some family members told me very simply they don’t like to give gift cards, even if the recipient loves them.

Okay, so, in addition to getting the gifts I already suggested, I also received some beautiful sweaters. None of which I needed. Rather than returning them to the store to get something else I did not need (true, I could return them and get store credit toward a future purchase) I decided that I would donate them to a local parish outreach. Why shouldn’t poor women wear beautiful clothing that also keeps them warm?

This decision was not without it’s controversy in my house. While I have absolutely no desire to hurt my family’s feelings, I do want to extend their generosity. They have so generously given to me that I want to pay it forward and perhaps brighten the day of someone who only gets secondhand clothing.

And should they so desire, they can throw the clothing away, no strings attached.

The Year of Saying “No.”

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The daylight fades and a gray pall is cast upon the earth. It’s the first evening of the first day of the new year. What have I to say for myself?

Nothing.

I search for words to convey my exact meaning, and still, something is lost in translation.

Wisdom Himself, Christ, once said, “Let what you say be simply, “yes” or “no;” anything more than this comes from evil.” (Mt. 5:37)

Isn’t it enough that I remove the clutter from my home? Do I really have to remove it from my speech, too?

If I want to be understood, yes.

If I want to be taken seriously, yes.

If I want to continue living with a minimum of things so that I can get the maximum out of life, then absolutely yes.

Which is why I need to say No.

No to buying stuff I want but don’t need.

No to going out with the girls if it means I lose valuable time with my family.

No to distraction.

No to everything which takes me away from ultimate happiness.

What a tall order! But, as I’ve often heard it said, I can do something for fifteen minutes that would appall me if I had to do it for a lifetime.

I can say no to online shopping–for right now.

I can say no to checking my facebook status–for now.

Ditto for the twitter feed.

And email.

And other blogs.

All these things I can do later. Because what I need to do is publish this post, then go kiss my husband.

Where the hell have I been?

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It’s been months, no SEASONS, since I’ve posted anything. What happened?

Here’s the long, the short, and the whole of it: I forgot about this blog. Seriously, I forgot I even started it.

But something strange happened in the last few weeks–the desire to write again nosed its way back into my consciousness. Then, a vague mist of recollection about starting a new blog last spring began to form.

I dismissed it as the faulty memory of middle age.

Until ten minutes ago when WordPress sent me an email displaying my 2015 blog activity.

Dismal doesn’t begin to describe it.

But here’s the thing about blogging–we get to restart, anytime, anywhere. Even in the last two days of 2015.

So, raise a glass to restarting at the end. May it mark a new beginning.

Our Minimalist Wedding

Minimalism was not our intention. My husband has a small family, so not a lot of guests on that side. The focus on my end was just to keep it simple. Truth be told, I couldn’t be bothered with all of the planning, headache and heartache.  I’d seen enough of that in the various weddings I’ve attended or been a part of for the better part of 3 decades.

No thanks.

We both agreed that we wanted something where our guests could feel at home. Where they could chat and laugh without having to scream over loud music. Where they could get their clothes dirty with food stains. Where children could frolic in the pool or in the backyard.

Oh, and we had to have two weddings. First, there was the civil ceremony in the Fall. Our parents are in their eighties and it was important for us to have them witness our vows. The Church wedding would take a few months and we had to schedule pre-Cana sessions, a kind of counseling for those getting married in the Catholic Church.  These sessions could take a few months to complete. So a civil ceremony was the answer. The mayor of a local village came to my sister’s house and we had a small luncheon afterwards. It was beautiful.

The “big shindig” took place the following Summer. At first, we were going to have a cool food truck cater the party in my sister’s backyard, but they were busy, so we went with a more traditional caterer. Which was fine, since we were also able to hire two wait staff.  So far, the wedding costs were a few hundred dollars.

Since there is a pool in the backyard, I insisted on hiring a lifeguard. This protects both my sister and her husband financially as well as protecting swimmers. It was a good investment, and we hoped we did not have to make use of it. Thankfully, we did not. This added another hundred or so. So far, the wedding cost is still under $1,000.

My two wedding dresses were bought at a national designer discount store for less than $60 total. The Fall dress was an awesome fuchsia and the Summer dress was just that–a Summer dress, white with lace.  Inexpensive white sandals and a handmade lace shrug from Etsy completed the outfit, for less than $200. The hair clip was from a dollar store.

My hair is naturally wavy, so all I did was step out of the shower and let it dry naturally. The bangs I styled.

The makeup was what I wore daily.

My husband bought his suit and shoes.

Still, the wedding so far costs less than $5,000.

We rented tents, tables, chairs, and portable toilets. The table linens were donated from local restaurants. Hey, it helps to have a sister who is known in her hometown.

We decided not to hire a professional photographer. What we wanted were those candid shots gotten only from friends and family. Turns out a friend decided to bring his professional-grade camera and played photographer for the day. Later, we printed out those pics on shutterfly, and POW! a cute little wedding album for less than $100.

My brother-in-law provided live music for us, for free. Free and priceless.

The alcohol served was a gift from my sister, as were the simple centerpieces.

Bouquets and boutonnieres were bought from Bunches Direct a few days before the wedding.

The cakes were bought at a local big box retailer.

Did I mention the wedding and engagement rings? Mine are sterling silver with cubic zirconia. The hubby’s is a simple sterling band. Just a couple of hundred dollars for them.

Our honeymoon will be a weekend at Wellneste Lodge this coming June. I bought it as a Christmas gift to my husband via Groupon. The cost? $250 for a two-night stay.

The whole wedding cost between $5,000-$6,000. Where we live, $20,000 is considered inexpensive.

We kept asking ourselves, “What’s more important, the wedding or the marriage?” Of course, it’s the marriage. So why waste so much time and effort, not to mention money, on something so temporal as a wedding?

On the big day, it rained a little and the lifeguard got sick. I shrugged it all off. My sister said to me, “I’ve never seen such a relaxed bride.” Of course. The wedding already happened, we were joined in union. The party afterwards was just a celebration of that. Stuff goes wrong. Stuff goes right. Why worry?

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The Fall Wedding. The shoes were actually given as a birthday gift from the matron of honor the previous year.
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The Summer Wedding. Husband used the same suit, just a different tie.
For those who want to see the back of the dress.
For those who want to see the back of the dress.

Facebook or Not to Facebook?

Here’s a question to all my readers:

Should there be an Essential Life Facebook page, or not?

Here’s a list of pros and cons for your consideration:

PROS:

  • Greater Exposure to a wider audience
  • Ability to post quick and easy tidbits, IE, beautiful photographs with nice sayings, like this one:

CONS:

A (possibly) big Sucker of Time.

In the interests of full disclosure, I am already leaning toward one answer, but I don’t want to sway your opinion, so I won’t say what it is here (yet!)

Leave your answer in the comments and let’s get this discussion rolling!

Decluttering Sentimental STUFF

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Last week, I attended a webinar by Rachel Jones of Nourishing Minimalism. The focus was on letting go of sentimental items.

Easy peasy, I thought. I’d let go of most of that stuff years ago.  After my mother died in 2001, my sisters and I went through her belongings and trashed or donated all but a few things. I have her Mother’s Ring (do they even make those anymore?) and a stupid turquoise umbrella with a wooden ducks head as the handle. I wear the ring occasionally and use the umbrella when it rains. I’d had this decluttering business down pat. Or so I thought.

There was one item I’d held on to for nearly 14 years. I wore it once, Thanksgiving Day, 2001. That was the first holiday I spent away from my family. It was also the first holiday after my mother died. It was therefore a crucial time for family togetherness.

What could possibly pull me away from family on this day?

It was an important Thanksgiving for the entire nation. We were wounded and bewildered. Thousands died on Sept. 11, 2001 and hundreds if men and women spent the holiday cleaning up the debris.

It was them I wanted to serve. So, that Thanksgiving, I worked at the Ground Zero Respite Center, feeding the hungry workers. This was the best way I could honor the fallen and honor my mother’s memory.

It was still a dangerous area and all volunteers had to wear a hard hat, even if they worked indoors like I did. I took that hat home along with a few other items as a “reminder.”

For years the hat:

  • Sat in the back of my car
  • Lay buried in a closet
  • Moved with me as I moved into a new home and settled into married life.

Unlike my mother’s umbrella and ring, I was not using the hard hat for anything. It no longer served a purpose.

Why was I even keeping it? Quite frankly, I was afraid I would forget the experience. Yet keeping the item and not using it doesn’t honor the experience I had.

This morning I made a decision and took action. I needed to keep a physical manifestation of the experience, yet I could not justify keeping the actual item.

So I took several pictures of it
. One if which is at the top of the post.
I can frame the picture or I can simply save it on my laptop or phone.

After the pictures were done, I kissed the hard hat, thanked it for its service and threw it in the dumpster.

“Good Dealing” Your Way Into Debt

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A few months into our marriage my husband and I were looking for ways to save money. We began couponing. “Couponing” refers to combining coupons and sales to save maximum money.

We took on this project with gusto–buying newspapers, asking family and friends for their weekly coupon inserts. We even bought a banquet-style folding table so could we could cut and organize every coupon into a binder. I became known as the Coupon Binder Queen. By doing this, we saved hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. The new printer I bought was immediately paid for by the coupons I printed out and used.

A whole new world was opened up to us. We bought brands and products we never thought about before, even if we had no use for them.

“We might like these,” we said,  “So let’s buy. Plus, we’re getting a good deal.”

We “good dealed” our way into greater credit card debt and less space for our stuff. We had a stockpile.

Then the nagging conflict came: how can I maintain a clean and spacious one bedroom apartment while having lots of stuff around? Something had to give.

The first thing I did was assess our stockpile. What we used, I kept. What we didn’t use, I donated. Mostly we got rid of brands that we tried once or twice and didn’t care for. The upside to this is that what we stockpiled on were consumable goods–toilet paper, toothpaste, paper towels, canned goods, etc. We kept the brands we knew we would use up and donated the rest.

We still coupon today, only in moderation. We stock up on toilet paper and other consumables based solely on need. We also stock up on goods that can be donated to outreach programs: diapers, laundry detergent, canned food, etc.

We value our time together and couponing this way allows us to do that. No longer do we need to waste valuable time (and money!) running to the store to pick up items we thought we had.  We have what we need. Every once in a while, we re-assess our stockpile and fill accordingly.

We’ve also been able to substantially reduce our debt because we are not buying as much as we were. We are working toward zero credit card debt, and we are a long way from it, but we are also in a much better position today than even a year ago.

This way of minimalism may not be for everybody, but it works for us. And that’s important.