Opting for less…ladies first

Every once in a while I like to splurge on the pleasure of reading More Magazine. It’s along the same lines as my frivolous desire for maxi dresses. Not gonna lie, I own five of these dresses, but each one passes Marie Kondo’s test of sparking joy. I’ve stopped looking at new maxi dresses because most of them spark joy in me. I want all the maxi dresses. I notice them everywhere. I compliment strangers on their maxi dresses. I think there is something beautiful yet carefree about them. They are feminine and comfortable. They can be worn with flip flops or sandals. The one piece and unicolor lengthens a body, and they can be worn at any age. It’s one piece, people, no figuring out what goes with what. How simple is that?

But anyway, I digress.

The magazine. This month there is an article called “The Joy of Wanting Less”, written by Susan Gregory Thomas (and now I want to read her memoir, In Spite of Everything, which I have ordered from my library). I never tire of reading or writing or thinking about simplifying. And if my maxi dress fetish is any indication, I could still learn a thing or two about letting go and having less. Here are some highlights from the article:

*Only 3 percent of the world’s children live in the U.S., yet American families purchase 40 percent of the world’s toys. We are toy pigs. I don’t think all these toys are making our kids happier. If we used the sparks joy test I mentioned above, we’d probably own a small fraction of the toys we do. Sure, a few toys will spark joy in kids. But we know what really sparks their joy: playtime. Love. Attention. Joy. Joy sparks joy. Happy parents spark joy. Buried in toys does not spark joy. It sparks overwhelm, for kids and parents alike.

*Experience makes us happier than things do. Quiet time, family time, peace, reading a book, taking a class, traveling, hobbies, pursuing a dream, etc. How we spend our time has a much greater effect on our happiness than what we own does. This is probably not news to anyone, but it’s a nice reminder.

*Across the U.S., more and more women are downsizing. They are shedding possessions, moving into smaller homes or apartments- yes, even women with families.   Why the focus on women? Well, for one thing the article came from a women’s magazine. But in addition, apparently women feel more stressed and burdened by clutter than men do. There are theories on why, and I could name a few, but in the end, decluttering benefits both men and women. It seems that women, though, are the ones taking initiative to act on their desire for less.

20140721_104248Nothing sparks the desire to simplify more than the feeling of overwhelm or of not having enough time. Who doesn’t wish for more time, nearly every day?  Everything we do replaces something else that we cannot do at the same time.  We have the ability to tune in and figure out what feels like an intrusion, a drain on our life’s energy.  Do we want to clean two showers instead of one? Do we want to own things that require maintenance if they don’t bring us joy? Do we want to hang on to outdated friendships or be indiscriminate with new ones? Do we really want an invitation, every month, to baptisms and graduation parties? I don’t. Do the social engagements on our calendar spark joy?

These are all questions that we get to ask ourselves if we want to.  And women are asking them, more than ever.

Speaking of less, I love Ernest Hemingway’s quote: Don’t confuse movement with action (similar to don’t confuse activity with progress). We can run around exerting energy our whole lives, but what are moving towards? What are we gaining? What are the results? Our time and energy are such valuable resources (money is too, but that’s a whole different blog post). They always run out. What are we spending them on?

Alas I am reminded myself, I have more than enough stuff. I surely have more than enough maxi dresses. I will always want more time. I want to be a time hoarder, to gather it up and to remember to breathe in the moments and just be where I am. But there is always the releasing, letting go of the moment, the minutes, the hours, and knowing we are left with just a little bit less.

Sweet Potato Soup in summer…It’s what’s for lunch.

Everyone  who I have served this soup to has asked for the recipe, and this even includes my own kids who can get it at home.  They want to know that when they move out, they will be able to make this on their own. I’m sharing it here for easy access to a delicious recipe that anyone can make.

270693619_32c9b2c294_s I know that summer is a funny time of year to be posting a hot soup recipe, but why not  eat it all year long?  It is simple to make -a one pan meal- and very healthy. I make it in every season, and each time I do, I am trying to make the batch better than the one before.  The last time I made it, I did not have any chickpeas so I substituted one white potato and it was just as yummy.  Another time, I left out the red pepper flakes because someone didn’t like spicy things. Once I tried adding extra cinnamon, and it wasn’t as good. I’ve tried a few different variations, but here is the gist of it:

To serve 4-6:

3-4  sweet potatoes

1 onion

1 small can diced tomatoes

chicken stock or broth (or chicken bullion cubes)

Heaping tablespoon of peanut butter

1/2-1 small can chickpeas OR 1 white potato

1 tsp cinnamon tsp

sprinkle of red pepper flakes (optional)

Peel and chop the sweet potatoes and place them in pan (or crock pot). Add enough broth to cover them. Add all the other ingredients. Simmer everything together until potatoes are tender. Mash slightly (or more for creamier texture) and serve.

One simple thing

20150610_081629I bought this basket at Target yesterday to solve the Clirty Clothes Dilemma once and for all. Clirty Clothes is a term my sister coined (I think) for the clothes that aren’t really dirty, but aren’t quite clean, either. They’re in between- they’re clirty.

Clean + Dirty = Clirty

They are the items we wore for  just a few hours and while we don’t want to put them back in our closets or drawers, they aren’t exactly ready for the hamper either.  They end up being hung over a chair for days, or thrown in a laundry basket only to be accidentally mixed in with truly dirty- or truly clean- clothes.

These clirty clothes can pile up after a while, cluttering up our rooms. They are the yoga top we didn’t break a sweat in, the pants we wore to that event for three hours, the white top we managed not to spill anything on that is still, therefore, white. They are the pieces of clothing not quite worthy of being hung back up in the closet, the ones begging to be worn just once more, for a little while.

Clirty Clothes are the pajamas we can wear again before tossing into the hamper, and the socks we wore for a short walk that we took off right afterwards in order to get back into flip-flops.

I decided that Clirty Clothes needed their own space. I was tired of them being the orphans, the not quite belonging anywhere items. For $12 they have a new home, a woven basket that looks pretty in the bedroom- much prettier than clothes strewn about. Clirty Clothes Dilemma solved.   Simple as that.

Simplifying begs the question, what next?

One of the most exciting things about simplifying is what comes after. Simplifying clears the way for this question:

What do I want?

After clearing your home or your mind or your schedule, there is this space that feels like a spectacular opening, an invitation. Sometimes, perhaps, what fills up that space is the understanding that we already have everything we want and now we can enjoy that more. And that is a beautiful thing.

But it is in our human nature to grow, and I think our desires can be the touchstones for that growth. So even if we have most of what we want, there is often something else.

Recently, while my daughters were launching themselves further into their grownup lives, I suggested this:

Take the job that scares and excites you.

Delve into the creative project that you aren’t quite ready for. 

It’s exciting to see them growing into new things, becoming bigger versions of themselves. Though as parents we are not supposed to live vicariously through our children, it is hard to beat the feeling that comes from seeing your own children growing and thriving (just as there is no worse feeling than seeing them suffer, which also inevitably happens).

None of us is really ready for anything that challenges us, are we? At any stage of life, we are all sort of winging it, in a way.

Staying full of all sorts of clutter can be comfortable, like a cushion, a barrier between what we have now and what we don’t dare ask for.   That thing we want that whispers to us- or heck, maybe it screams at us- we want to hush it- because it’s too big, too scary, too improbable, or others might not like it.

OR THIS: It’s so small, so simple that it seems it wouldn’t really make any difference anyhow, so why bother?

OR IT IS INTANGIBLE: Peace. Acceptance. Relief. Confidence. Courage. Connection. Faith. How do we ask for these? We name them.

Sometimes we get what we want instantly. Often there is much work to do to get there- but at least now we are on our way. Anything I’ve gotten that I’ve wanted, came after either writing down my desire ( my form of prayer, in a way) or saying it aloud. The words I WANT hold power. They add clarity, focus, priority.

Sometimes what we want is just to know what we want. Often we know what we don’t want. But that’s helpful too. It gets us to the place of knowing what we do want.

I went through a time of not being clear on what I wanted. I tried different things and though they felt worthwhile, none were quite It. I felt I was squandering my time and energy on too many different things. I guess this was my clutter, distracting me from having to put real effort into one chosen endeavor.  It took time to get clear on what I wanted.  Simplifying helped greatly. It took saying no to all the things that just weren’t cutting it- all the things that would keep me busy but not quite fulfill me.

Now I know what I want. First and foremost, I want to keep being grateful for the intangibles that I already have so much of: love, health, faith, time. I want to always be clear on what I already have and to enjoy and appreciate all of it.

I want some less important, but still worthwhile, things. Some I may get, and some I may not, and all of that is okay. Often, the act of striving is just as fulfilling as the act of getting.

  I want to do well in the Moth Grandslam this summer and also be invited to the Moth Main stage, or some other big venue and I want to get comfortable with this idea. Okay, maybe not comfortable, exactly, but I at least want to be able to channel my nerves into something more like passion. I want to be absolutely satisfied with the way my book comes out. I want it published, well received, and to go on to write others (and it sure wouldn’t hurt to get the fellowship I applied for that would help me do this. It’s not required, but it would be sweet). And I want to know that the thing that fulfills me is adding some value somewhere, to someone else, at least sometimes. I want to keep reading good books.

I want to only crave healthy foods. I want to get clearer.  I want to have the energy, every day, to do the things I want to do. I want to get better and better at living in the present moment . I want to stop the mind chatter that only seems to cease entirely when I am writing, meditating, practicing yoga, sleeping, or listening to others.

I want a new light for my dining room because I really don’t like the gold one that’s there (we’re allowed to want petty things too). I also want a pair of white pants that are the right length so I don’t have to go get them hemmed. And while I’m at it, I want to figure out why the time on my laptop keeps changing to the incorrect time, no matter how many times I reset it. I missed yoga class today because I thought it was an hour earlier than it actually is. I want to forgive myself for still sitting here in my pajamas at noon. I thought it was eleven.

I want to let go of any regrets and judgements and worries. I want peace in every situation, every day. I know this is a stretch.

Wow, writing this makes me realize, once again, how much work I have to do and how far I am from much of this.   I know I will never quite get there. I will never have all of this. But I want to know I am trying. I want to know I am moving forward. It is natural to need to move forward, to grow, to expand in some way. And on the days I take one step backward, because I procrastinate or I give in to doubt, or I simply choose the wrong thing, say the wrong thing, do the wrong thing, carelessly or impulsively, I want to notice. Even though noticing kind of sucks. It hurts.

The thing is, when we know what we want, it becomes painfully clear when we choose something that is not that. We know when we’ve chosen in the direction that is away from our desires and it just feels all wrong, like heading east when we wanted to head west. Like disappointing ourselves. Our desires, our goals, at least the reasonably healthy ones, are a reliable compass.

Simplifying begs the question, what next? What do I want? What do I really want? It’s the best question in the world to ask, I think.   It’s the one that is always worth asking.

Not knowing is unsettling, like flapping in the wind, like living by inertia as time ticks away.

Even if the answer is the faintest of whispers, or scary or unlikely or very, very difficult, it could be the answer that is worth so much. A gift that helps us navigate the denseness of day to day life. It is the answer that only comes when we dare to ask the question.

What do I want?