Investing in Relationships

Last time I wrote about simplifying our holidays, and one of the things I mentioned was giving fewer, but more heartfelt gifts. My daughter has a quirky habit that whenever she introduces herself to someone new, she follows immediately with something along the lines of, “What’s your favorite color? Mine is green.” And I realized, I don’t know even this most basic information about the likes and dislikes of many of my friends and family. It seems like a simple thing, and I guess it is, but if I were choosing a birthday card, or wanted to knit a scarf, or buy a blouse for a friend, wouldn’t this be good information to know?

The thing is, knowing little details about people takes TIME. We have to invest time in the relationship to know what their favorite authors, movies, shows, hobbies, activities, and styles are. Unless we are just unnaturally lucky, we can’t really get them something they like if we don’t know what they like! I can’t pick something that you would want to hang on your wall if I don’t know how your house is decorated. And I don’t really want to spend the time to knit you a sweater in your least favorite color.

So I guess I’m starting a New Year’s resolution a little early. Especially during the holidays, and then continuing throughout the year, I’m going to try to pay a little closer attention to what colors and styles people wear, what programs/movies they watch, how they decorate their homes. Because even if it’s a small, inexpensive item, it will be much more appreciated if it’s a clear sign that you know what they like. That you care about them enough to invest the time to really “get” them.

How do you plug in to your loved ones to learn what they like? How do you keep track of it all? I’m considering keeping a year-round “gift-giving list” for just such a purpose. I’d love your input!

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40 bags in 40 days

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This great article about purging 40 bags of crap for the 40 days of Lent was shared on Facebook by a friend, and I thought I would share it with you guys.  My hubby and I have definitely benefited from clearing our home of the crap that we never use, but we still have a lot left to get rid of.   I LOVE the idea of using Lent as a motivator. Instead of giving up a food (or in addition to), try giving up a bag of stuff you don’t need to someone who does, each day of Lent.

This is such a win/win/win proposition. You’ll have less garbage just taking up precious space in your home, your home becomes more peaceful because of it, you give the items to someone who will use and love them, and you can even claim the donations on your taxes if you want to.  Here’s some helpful hints from the article for letting go of the things you’re reluctant to purge (as usual, my comments are in blue):

On those days when you’re feeling craptastic and “Crap Clingy” ask yourself the following questions:

    1. Do I really, really love it?  This doesn’t mean, “Do I love the person who gave it to me?”  It means, “Do I use it regularly, or does it make me smile when I look at it?”  This is extremely personal.  Others may not understand why I still cling to a whole ton of books, but then I may not understand why they keep a ton of cheap souvenirs from every city they’ve ever visited.  Don’t feel guilty about keeping something that makes you smile, just because others don’t understand its worth to you.  But don’t feel guilty about getting rid of stuff you never use, either.
    2. Would I buy it again?  In other words, is it valuable enough to you that you would spend money to replace it if it was broken or lost?
    3. Have I used it in the past year?  With the exception of seasonal items, I’d dare say things should be used even more often than that in order to merit a place in our space.  But if this is hard for you, try getting rid of everything you haven’t used in two years, then wait a few months, and try to get rid of things you haven’t used in a year.  Remember, you’re keeping these items from being used and love by keeping them in your home for dustcatchers.
    4. Would it be hard to replace if I needed it again?  This is the hardest thing for a lot of people.  I don’t want to get rid of this because I might use it again someday.  Chances are if you haven’t used it in a year or two, you’re never going to need it.  It doesn’t matter if you think it’s a great/useful/ingenious item.  If you’re not using it, it can’t be the great/useful/ingenious item it was intended to be.  This is especially good to consider for small appliances and power tools.  It’s not amazing if it’s just gathering dust.
    5. If I were free from guilt, would I want it?  Meaning, just because it was great-aunt-whoever’s, or was given to you buy dear friend x, doesn’t mean you should be obligated to keep it if you never use it. Take a pic if you’d like, for the memories. Maybe even write a short bit in the caption about the person who gave it to you, and then give it away to someone who will appreciate it.

I know I’ve been pushing the “get rid of stuff” thing a lot, but it really does bring peace to your household.  It’s so much easier to take care of the things you really use and love if you’re not spending all your time and effort shuffling through and caring for the things you don’t love.

And if you’re not ready to commit to 40 bags yet, try just a little.  Every little bit helps, and once you get rid of the first few bags, maybe the added peace and sense of accomplishment will inspire you to do more.

BTW, the pic above was posted on Becoming Minimalist today, and I thought it went well with this article.

How about you guys? What do you find hardest about getting rid of stuff?

Organize a Little Closet

Here’s another great organizational article from Life Hacker.

How to Organize a Lot of Clothing in Very Little Closet Space

Minimalist Connoisseurs

Here’s another great article from Becoming Minimalist, which expresses exactly what I’d like to continue to work toward.

Here’s the crux of the article:

Think about it:

  • When you clear the clutter from your closet, what are you doing if not making room for the enjoyment of the few quality items you keep?
  • When you sell off unneeded books and gadgets and toys, what are you doing if not highlighting the usefulness of the ones that remain?
  • When you create space in your life, when you empty your schedule, or your inbox, or your to-do list, what are you doing if not making room for better experiences, better communication, better work?

 

People who are working towards minimalism are (usually) not denying themselves of the joys of life.  They’re focusing on the things that are truly meaningful and getting rid of all the other garbage.

A Ray of Sunshine Instead of a Rain Cloud

Let’s talk about cooking for a bit, shall we?  Imagine a big pot of your favorite comfort food slowly simmering on the stove.  It might be stew, or chili, or potato soup, or gumbo, or veggie soup.  You’ve been working on it all day, and you just taste tested it; it may be your best batch ever.  Perfectly seasoned, perfect texture, perfect blend of ingredients.  You can’t wait to sit down and have a nice big serving, maybe two.  But then someone comes along and throws in a big chunk of rancid meat.  Or a tiny vial of poison.  Or a ladle of sewage.  Suddenly you’re not so apt on eating that perfect bowl of comfort food.

There are a lot of phrases we use to symbolize this idea:  one rotten apple spoils the whole barrel, a little yeast leavens the whole batch, etc.  While I’m not sure it’s quite as absolute as my above example (would you just scoop out the offending item and eat a bowl anyway?), I truly believe that even little bits of negative garbage can have a drastic effect on our lives.  And if it happens often, it becomes a real problem.

If we surround ourselves with people who put us down, put others down, or put themselves down, we’re going to end up being down.  That’s just how it works.  It’s even worse if WE’RE the person putting everyone down, including ourselves.  Think about the things that come out of your mouth (or end up as your Facebook status): I hate my boss; he/she is horrible.  I can’t stand so-and-so; they’re so intolerable.  I hate my body; I wish x-y-z was different/prettier/better.   The reason the country is being ruined is because of (insert least favorite politician here).  If you find that statements like these outweigh more positive statements, you may want to rethink that choice.

Do you really want to be the one who chucks poison or sewage in everyone else’s stew?  Do you want to continue to throw those things into your own stew?

Perhaps your boss IS horrible.  But if you do in fact have a boss, that means you’re employed.  And while circumstances are not an excuse for being horrible to another human being, you don’t know your boss’s back story.  There may be something going on that is consuming his life right now, or something in his past that has left him like that.

Maybe your body is not exactly how you’d like it to be.  Stop focusing on what you hate about it.  Change the things you can (and be patient because it doesn’t happen overnight), and stop whining about the things you can’t change.  Find something about your body that you really like, and think of that when another self-berating thought pops up.

I know everyone gets sick sometimes, and I don’t have the least bit of problem with the occasional, “Ugh, this illness is really kicking my butt” statement.  But if every single post is whining about every single ache and pain, people begin to wonder if anything good ever happens to you.

And I said I was pretty much going to avoid politics on this blog, but I have seen so much negative garbage lately, it makes me ill.  I have seriously considered “un-friending” some people just because their status updates are nothing but constant political poison.  Regardless of your political affiliations, there are two things you need to get through your skull:  one person cannot single-handedly destroy our nation, nor can one person single-handedly bring it out of the difficulties we’re in.  Nobody has that much power.  If you disagree, you were clearly not paying attention in government/economics in high school.  I invite you to educate yourself–there’s this really cool resource called the internet that’s great for that sort of thing.  I might recommend that you avoid sites that pat you on the back for spewing poison, though.  That’s not really going to help the issue.  Nor is it likely to educate you.

I’ll admit it’s not an easy habit to break.  You have to completely retrain your mind.  And hijack your mouth, most of the time.  And then you’ve got to nail those internal thoughts as well.  Like I’ve said before, you can’t control when a negative thought pops into your brain, but you CAN decide how long it gets to stay there, and whether it makes it out of your mouth (or onto your FB page).

While I didn’t make a New Year’s resolution (not really my thing), I do intend to continue working to improve myself in this area.  I have a ways to go yet, but I think progress has been made.  It’s very important to me that I am a source of positive input to my friends and family instead of being a constant rain cloud.  Excuse my Pollyanna moment for the day, but I’d rather be a ray of sunshine.

One of my favorite quotes from my favorite episode of Doctor Who:  

The Doctor, after Amy is heartbroken that they couldn’t save a friend: “The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and bad things. The good things don’t always soften the bad things, but vice-versa, the bad things don’t necessarily spoil the good things and make them unimportant.  We definitely added to his pile of good things.”

May I always be mindful of whether I am adding to others’ piles of good things, and may I not add to their pile of bad things.

How to Stay Healthier This Winter

On the heels of the nastiest storm we’ve seen in quite a while, we may be bracing ourselves for a pretty harsh winter.  To minimize our chances of getting sick, we know that we should wash our hands often, try to avoid people who are sick, and take our vitamins (because no matter how much we TRY to eat well, it’s likely we’re still missing something).  We might supplement with vitamin D and a few others, or try to boost our immune systems with Echinacea and zinc.

But how much does our attitude affect our health?  This article on the Mayo Clinic site discusses how positive thinking can have a dramatic effect on your health.

How do you react when you first start feeling like you’re coming down with something?  Do you try to stay positive that you might have caught it before it got too bad?  Or do you bemoan how terrible you feel, and how certain you are that it’s only going to get worse?

I’m not trying to say that positive thinking can keep you from ever getting sick.  A virus is a virus, and sometimes they just get us.  That’s what they’re designed to do, of course.  But keeping a generally positive attitude can do several things for you.  First, it gives a boost to your immune system, thus making it harder for the invader to get a foothold in the first place.  Second, it allows that heightened immune system to fight the invader more effectively and evict it sooner if it actually does manage to get through your defenses.  Third, it makes the recovery time more pleasant for you and those around you.

Positive people also generally tend to be kinder to themselves and take better care of themselves.  They eat better, get up off the couch and get moving more (but NOT obsessively exercise), and make healthier life choices (such as not smoking).  All of those things are certainly going to have a positive impact on your overall health.

“But I’m just not naturally a positive person!  I can’t be Pollyannna all the time!”  I call bull.  While some people do seem to have a naturally positive attitude, and some seem to be Eeyore, when it comes right down to it, most of your attitude is a conditioned, trained response.  Which means that if you WANT to, you CAN un-learn your bad habits.  Again, this may come easier to some people than to others.  But I truly believe that everyone can improve their outlook if they are willing to give it some work.

It all begins with self-talk.  We internalize everything that happens to us.  Those things that pop into our heads, unbidden, are often not very positive.  The stuff we say to ourselves has far more impact on us than anything that comes from outside.  True, we may be hearing bad stuff about ourselves from the outside, but it’s not until we believe those things to be true about ourselves and beat ourselves up about them that they really begin to harm us.

We may not have much control over the fleeting negative thoughts that pop into our minds without invitation, but we certainly CAN control how much we dwell on them.  We can decide whether we kick them to the curb immediately or allow them to take up permanent residence in our thoughts.

When faced with the thought “I am a horrible person because of X”, we can choose whether we agree with that mental negative and berate ourselves for every wrong thing we’ve ever done, or we can choose to contradict that thought with this:  “Yes, I may have made x mistake, but I have also done x, y, z, etc positive things”.  Counter the “Oh, I’m so miserable because I have this disease or that illness, or I’m just sick all the time, or I have no motivation or willpower or blah, blah, blah” with “no, I don’t like where I am right now, but I don’t have to stay here forever”.  Temporary illness will pass, and lifelong illness can be dealt with.  Sometimes life sucks.  It is what it is. But there are also plenty of things that don’t suck.  You can choose to constantly complain about all the suckiness, or make the best you can of a bad situation.

As for the motivation and willpower thing, ask yourself if you really don’t like that aspect of your character.  If it’s not something that really bothers you, then quit bemoaning it.  If it IS something that you don’t like about yourself, then CHANGE IT.  Don’t keep talking about how much you don’t like it.

It’s not going to happen overnight.  It will not be easy to overcome years of conditioning.  We may have fallen into the negative self-talk habit so often that we aren’t really aware of it any more.  But we can retrain ourselves out of even the most ingrained of bad habits.  Is it going to take a lot of work?  Probably.  But it’s so worth it.  Your health and well-being depend on it.

100 Days of No Processed Meals

http://www.stacymakescents.com/100-days-of-no-processed-meals-crock-pot-style

I’m all for simplification.  And it doesn’t get much easier than crock pot meals!  Hope you guys enjoy some of these recipes–let me know which ones you like best, and I’ll do the same!