Monthly Archives: May 2014

Organised (Enough) – Slow Home Essentials

Organised (Enough) - Slow Home Essentials

Often we mistake organisation for simplicity.

The logic goes: in order to be living a truly simple life, you need to have a whole host of systems in place that will organise every aspect of your day.

And it’s true that you can schedule your hours, organise your wardrobe, catalogue your paperwork, arrange your kitchen utensils, reconfigure your garage to hold more stuff and roster your down-time. But creating a slow home means many of those systems are simply unnecessary. If you strip away what you don’t need, you’ll find that life doesn’t require nearly as much organising as the storage solution stores and home decor magazines will have you believe.

Many of us cling to organisation because we believe it helps us get through the day without losing our sanity. And this is true to a point.

But it’s also a way to procrastinate while still feeling productive. Organising means you avoid recognising:

  • those uncomfortable heels were a waste of money
  • your kids have more toys than they can possibly play with
  • years worth of paperwork are largely unnecessary
  • your gym clothes have remained unworn for months
  • you’re no longer interested in knitting/fencing/snowboarding/oil painting

Organising means you avoid facing your fears and regrets.

Of course life is busy, and some organisation helps corral that busy-ness into a semblance of order. So I’m not telling you to do away with your diary, bill paying system or ironing baskets. If they really help you in creating a less stressful day, then that is wonderful.

But at some point “organising” and “simplifying” become different sides of the same coin.

You need to leave space for life to happen. And life is messy. Life is uncertain. Life is spontaneous. Life is not organised. 

You are reading this because you want to create a slow home and a simpler way of life. And while being organised – to a point – means you have time and space for life to unfold peacefully, over-doing it means you run the very real risk of sucking the joy from your days.

And that’s our end goal isn’t it? To rediscover the joy. The zing of doing something spontaneous. The flash of excitement when you realise, “Why the hell not? I’d love to go to the beach/play in the sun/have a nap.”

If you over-do the organising, if you schedule the guts out of your days, weeks, months and school terms, you risk losing one of the biggest joys in life – spontaneity.

So my tip:

Be as organised as you need to be. No more.

Organise what you really need. But don’t turn to organisation simply to store more junk in your space or cram more into your days. The key is to take away what isn’t necessary and good. There you will find your simpler life.

 

The Zen of Single-Tasking

The Zen of Single Tasking

Do you multi-task? Find yourself doing two (or three, or seven) things at the same time?

Honestly, I’d be surprised if you said no. Everyone does. It’s what we’re supposed to do. Right?

You:

  • plan dinner while making breakfast
  • hang the washing while you talk to your partner
  • listen to a podcast while you exercise
  • talk on the phone while watching your kids play.

You multi-task because you’re clever. Because you’re efficient. You’re making the most of your time. You’re getting business sorted.

When you multi-task and tick items off your to-do list, you feel clever. You feel efficient. You feel like you’re making the most of your time.

But what about the other side of that coin?

Do you feel exhausted? Like you’re not doing anything well? Like you’re being torn in too many directions?

Despite what your overwhelmed, over-worked, over-committed brain may be telling you – you don’t need to do more.

You need to do less.

You need to focus on just one thing at a time.

You need to single-task.

We are told constantly that high-quality humans are efficient. They’re on top of things. He lives on 4 hours sleep a night. She manages a home, family and business. We’re told that if we want to emulate them, we need to do the same. In other words: we need to multi-task.

And, to be honest, there are times when we do. But not all the time.

It’s not about doing less.

It’s about choosing one task during the day.

It’s about being focused on that task and that task alone.

It’s about immersing yourself wholly and completely in experiencing it. Finding the Zen, the beauty, the JOY of mindfully finishing that task.

How to find the Zen in single-tasking

10 minutes is all you need. Even one minute will do if you’re that busy.

One minute of beautiful, meditative quiet in a day otherwise filled with the urgent need to be productive, to get things done, to prove our value.

Choose a task:

Pick one task you need to complete. Then, when the time comes to do that thing, simply devote yourself to it. Soak up every detail of it. Immerse yourself in your senses.

Are you hanging out the laundry?

Instead of planning dinner, or thinking about the meeting you have this afternoon, or what you will do when the kids wake from their nap, try this:

  • Focus on the fresh scent of the wet, clean clothes
  • The coolness of the damp fabric in your hands
  • The snap of the pegs on the line
  • The way the sunlight hits the linen
  • Appreciate that you make time to do this simple task so your family will have clean clothes

Make time for that to be the one thing you are thinking about. The one thing you are experiencing. The sole purpose of that moment.

And when you’re done, take a deep breath.

Then it’s back to the day. Back to keeping balls in the air, kids on swings, food in bellies.

Make it a ritual

If you can make this small ritual of single-tasking a part of your everyday, you are putting your well-being ahead of the busyness of our world. You’re acknowledging that there is more to life than churning through a to-do list and getting things done.

After all, this is why we’re on the path to a simpler life, isn’t it? So we can experience more of these moments every day. More simple pleasures. More little joys. More mindful intention.

When was the last time you found the beauty and the joy in an everyday moment? Was it raking the leaves? Cleaning the windows? Drinking a cup of tea?

 

How to Have an Awesome Day

How to have an awesome day

There are good days and bad days. Some bad days are out of our control, and some good days happen in spite of themselves.

But I’m discovering there are many things I can do (even if sometimes I really don’t want to) that make an impact on the sort of day I’m going to have. Without sounding ridiculously self-righteous, this is how I have an awesome day:

Start it the night before

I need decent sleep in order to function well, so I make sure to get to bed early. I have been known to go to bed when the kids do, and am always in bed before 9:30pm during the week.

You can: work out how many hours sleep you need, what time you need to wake up in the morning, and work backwards until you find your ideal bed time.

Early rising

My alarm goes off at 4am every morning except Sunday. I am (obviously) an early bird, so this works for me. It lets me get 2 hours of writing or work done before the rest of the family wakes up, and it takes the pressure off during the day. I get the quiet time that I desperately need – which helps me stay calm and positive during the day, even when milk is spilled, arguments break out and appointments run late.

A good breakfast

When I eat a fast breakfast – something like toast or sugary cereal – my day often doesn’t go to plan. My energy is down, I crave sweet, fatty or carby foods and my mood is darker. So I make sure to eat a decent breakfast, something that includes vegetables and protein to keep my energy up and stop the 10am munchies.

Usually I’ll sautee vegetables (mushrooms, kale, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, corn – whatever is in the fridge) and serve it with either a poached egg or a dollop of natural yoghurt and jalapenos on top. If time is short, I’ll make a green smoothie of frozen banana, almond milk, spinach, chia seeds, coconut oil, honey and cacao and take it with me.

You can: get up 10 minutes earlier and try this yourself.

Move

Even 5 minutes of sun salutations while my coffee brews is enough to make my body feel energised. I also try to exercise a little more intensely a few days a week (either by running or doing a couple of rounds of the 7 Minute Workout) and find my general outlook much sunnier on the days I get physical. Combined with weekend bushwalks, taking the kids and dog for a neighbourhood stroll and the physical activity of gardening, cleaning and parenting – I’m moving more now than I have for a long time, and it reflects in my mood, energy and general worldview.

You can: try the 7 Minute Workout, take the dog for a walk around the block or try some simple stretches every morning or evening. Take advantage of incidental exercise by using the stairs, raking the backyard, getting off the bus one stop earlier or taking a walk during your lunchbreak.

Smile

During my 5-minute kitchen yoga sessions, each time I reach my hands above my head and stretch to the sky, I make myself smile. I push a big, stupid, cheesy grin across my face and I say thank you. Seriously. It used to feel silly, but now it really does lift my mood.

You can: smile at yourself in the mirror before heading off to work. Smile at a stranger. Smile for no reason other than to feel it lifting the corners of your mouth. See if it doesn’t make you feel even the tiniest bit happier.

Drink water

If I’m dehydrated, I get headaches, I feel cranky and my body is sluggish. So I try to drink 2-3 litres of water a day. I’ve found the best way to get close to this amount is to fill my 1.25L stainless steel drink bottle and leave it on the kitchen bench when I ‘m at home. Every time I walk past it, I take a drink. If I’m working I have the bottle on my desk, and if I’m out it goes in my handbag.

You can: take a reusable drink bottle with you to work, the gym, or keep it on the kitchen bench when you’re at home. Start with one full bottle a day and slowly increase your intake to two.

Be kind to myself

Work is hard. Parenting is hard. Marriage is hard. Home-keeping is hard. By showing myself a little compassion, not expecting myself to be all things to all people, and knowing that it’s impossible to do everything, I allow myself to feel good rather than bad. So the laundry didn’t get put away, but I did play hide and seek with my kids. I’m OK with that.

You can: show yourself some kindness. Accept that it’s not possible to do everything, and that’s OK.

 

Obviously, your awesome day will look different to mine. What works for me may not work for you, and that’s cool. Also keep in mind that these don’t all happen every day. I try to include most of these elements, most of the time, but sometimes life just gets in the way, you know?

But if you’re wanting to create better days for yourself, why not spend this week paying attention to which days are good and which days are not so good.  Then ask yourself why. What was different about the good days? What about the bad days didn’t work for you? Try to incorporate more of the good and less of the bad, and see how it impacts your days. After all:

“If you do not change direction, you may end up where you’re heading.”

— Lao Tzu

I’m a huge believer that we ultimately choose our own happiness, but I also believe we need to do the work in order to foster that happiness. No-one’s going to do it for us.

Here’s to a good week, friends.

Contentment: the underachieving version of happiness?

Contentment

On Sunday, as I was enjoying my fifth Mother’s Day morning and my first complete with breakfast in bed (pancakes, coffee, newspaper and 5-minute interval cuddles) I realised something.

For the first time in years, I genuinely feel content. Heart-fillingly, not over-the-top-dancing-down-the-street-joyfully, but level-headedly, almost-constantly content.

Years ago I was reading someone’s thoughts on happiness versus contentment (and I’m sure those thoughts were Rhonda’s from Down to Earth, but I can’t find the exact post) when something she said pulled me up short. Paraphrasing:

I don’t aim for happiness. Instead I aim for quiet, constant contentment. Things don’t need to be great, but if things are good most of the time, I’m content. 

Initially I disagreed with this notion. Isn’t this idea of contentment just an underachieving version of happiness?  Surely, shouldn’t we be looking for the best experiences available and striving for the highest levels of happiness? The most fulfilling satisfaction? But as I’ve continued down this path towards a simpler, slower life I now understand exactly where she was coming from.

Happiness is obviously not a bad thing, but it’s impossible to be constantly happy. Everyone has down days, everyone has problems. Everyone gets sick, argues with their partner, is disappointed by someone, has a rough day at work or wakes up on the wrong side of the bed. To expect any different is, frankly, naive.

But creating a life of constant, quiet contentment means you are in a strong place from which to weather the storms of disappointment, setback and upset and you are better prepared to experience those joyful moments when they do arrive. I’ve come to realise that aiming for contentment is essential in living slowly and simply. 

For the first time since becoming a mum more than five years ago, I feel solid. I feel content. I feel like I am open to all that life has to offer, but no longer think I’m entitled to it. And honestly, it feels wonderful.

Last week I visited my psychiatrist for the first time in 18 months and, smiling, she said she could see a palpable difference in me. “You have confidence. You’re shining.” And, for once, I believed it.

Where has this contentment come from though? I started from a place of complete and utter despair. So what changes have I made in order to arrive at this place of (totally imperfect) contentment?

Simplifying

No surprises here. But decluttering, simplifying, streamlining and letting go of decades worth of stuff has left me free to pay attention to the more important areas of my life. Areas that, given a little more time and attention, have blossomed into the most vital parts of my world. For me that’s: kids, husband, health, writing, serving others.

Priorities

Over time, simplifying life has lead me to understand my priorities and to actually live by them. Nothing feels better than laying in bed at night knowing I have put my energy into the things that matter most.

Acceptance

Accepting who I am, the phase of life I’m currently in, my weaknesses, my strengths and those of people around me, have all lead me to a much calmer headspace. I’m more compassionate towards others and myself, and that means I’m more relaxed in the face of troubles. Whatever it is, it will pass.

Finding the tiny joys

Taking time to look for the tiniest of beauties – dust motes, water droplets, kids laughter, smell of a campfire, warmth of a hug – has made me see how lucky I am.

Hard work

The feeling of satisfaction that comes from a long day in the garden, an intense early-morning writing session, or working through a problem with one of the kids is really hard to beat.

The deathbed test

“Will this matter to me when I am on my deathbed?” It has a certain knack of putting things in perspective, don’t you think? When I find myself getting worked up over a stained shirt, a burned dinner, a sharp retort or a late appointment I ask myself what I will think of it on my deathbed. Typically, the answer is that I won’t. 

Giving up on comparison

Contentment is so much easier to find when I stop looking at what others have and comparing it to myself. There is no way you can win when comparing your life to others, and doing so only gets in the way of your own contentment.

Helping others

Even though this blog is only a very small space on the internet, I’ve been fortunate enough to have it help other people. Every week I get emails from readers asking for help or thanking me for something they have read here. And I can’t tell you how much that act of helping others has actually helped me. Too often we get wrapped up in our own problems and our own difficulties. But extending our hand to help someone else in need forces us to think about them instead.  Realising I am not the centre of the universe has (ironically) helped me to find contentment. It’s not about me, and that’s OK.

What do you think? Is aiming for contentment enough? 

 

Other Things:

To all the mothers, mums, mamas, mother-in-laws and mother-to-be’s: I hope you had a fabulous day on Sunday.  (And to all the desperately-waiting-to-be-mums: I hope you got through Sunday with some warm hugs from those around you. It can be a difficult day.)

Also, I had the opportunity to chat with Elle Roberts of Seeking More Staying Grateful last week, where we discussed all manner of things related to living a better life. We spoke about contentment, how our homes affect the way we feel and the why comparisons steal our joy. Check it out below:

 

 

5 Steps to Creating a Simple Bedroom – Slow Home Essentials

slow bedroom 5

I’ve stayed in some pretty terrible accommodation over the years.

There was the blood-spotted linen of a bedbug-infested hostel in Rome. The Thai bungalow where our toilet emptied directly onto the ground below the bed. Not to mention the leaky Dodge van named Esme that we slept in for a month in the Floridian summer. Rancid pillows. Mouldy floors. Amorous hostel room-mates. You name it, we’ve seen it, which is perfect for a life on the road.

But at home? Notsomuch.

The bedroom is supposed to be a haven of calm, a place to rest and relax, a space of comfort. Which is funny, because our bedroom is often all about piles of folded laundry, random toys, empty glasses and four in a bed.

Creating a simple bedroom is one of the essentials of having a slow home, as it provides you with room to relax, space to disconnect and the quiet to rest.

Here’s 5 ways you can turn your bedroom into the haven you need:

1. Declutter.

Again with the decluttering? Yes! It’s the single best way to promote calm, clear out dust and give a breath of fresh air to your space.

2. Go Small

The smaller the space, the better your chances of really simplifying. If you have a large bedroom with tonnes of furniture, shelving and wardrobe space, you’re simply likely to fill it with stuff. Sparky and I now share one small wardrobe. We know it’s time to organise and cull when that space gets cramped.

If your bedroom is large, consider moving to a smaller room or designating half the space for chilling out. No furniture aside from a couch or chair to encourage reading, quiet time or early-morning meditation.

3. Get Rid of the Gadgets

No TV, no phones, no laptops and no smartphones. No kidding. (I admit I have been guilty of the phone-next-to-the-bed sin. But I definitely sleep better and drift off faster with some tech-free time before I bed.)

While I do read Kindle books on my iPad at night, I find it sometimes impacts on my ability to get to sleep. Ideally a (real!) book is the best option, but there are also e-readers that don’t use the blue backlight of an iPad. These are a better option for night-reading, but so not in our budget right now. (So I try to limit the amount of screen reading I do in bed, to various levels of success.)

4. Light and Airy

You want good natural light, fresh air, effective window coverings that keep the room private but allow the daylight in, as well a lamp next to the bed. Reading, dressing, loving – you want the room to be comfortable for all its intended purposes.

5. Somewhere to Sit (other than the bed)

A bench at the end of the bed is your best option – it gives you somewhere to sit while putting on your shoes and somewhere to lay out the clothes for the next day. Avoid using it as a dumping ground for laundry, dirty clothes and handbags – this will just return the clutter you’re trying to clear out. And if you don’t think you can avoid it, then consider a smaller chair instead.

simple bedroom - via sothebys

slow bedroom 4

 

Obviously, everyone’s idea of a dream bedroom is different and what works for me may not work for you. But if you’re looking to slow down and simplify and are low on time, creating a simple bedroom gives you a big return on your investment.

These tips also work for kids rooms, although the ages of your kids will impact how much of it they actually apply. Start with your own room first and show them how nice it is to have a private space where you can chill out, and who knows, maybe they will follow your lead? (Or maybe not.)

Not Convinced? Give it a Trial Run

  • Leave the technology out of the bedroom for a week and see how it makes you feel.
  • Clear everything off your bedside tables – with the exception of a book, lamp and glass of water. See the serenity some empty space brings.
  • Make an effort to open the curtains and windows every morning.
  • Try making your bed every morning – first thing. Sounds silly, but it starts your day with a small achievement and makes your bedroom into the haven you deserve.

Try these changes for one week and take note of any differences you feel. Do you feel less stressed? Is it easier to get to sleep at night? Is your quality of sleep improving?

While creating a simple bedroom won’t fix all your stresses and worries, it will give you a safe, relaxed space to return to every evening. Why not try it out and let us know how you feel?