A Dog’s Life

Zoe

Zoe, the Lawn Connoisseur

My dog Zoe is a rescue dog.  People often ask what type of dog she is, to which I usually reply, “Generic Brown.”  Although she is a mixed breed, I never had her tested, lovingly joking to her that she could remain undefined and would continue to love her as-is.  She may be lacking pedigree, but in her mind, she deserves only the best.

The ongoing joke in my family is Zoe’s habit of relieving herself only on premium grass.  Her delicate hiney is too good for common weeds.  No, the minute I turn my head, she sneaks off and uses the most pristine patch of perfectly manicured front lawn she can find.  All attempts by me to steer her toward common ground and dog areas have failed.  She’s got a radar for the good stuff, a taste for the finer things in life.

Just last month, we put a brand new patch of sod in our backyard.  I came outside to find the delicate new grass had promptly been christened by her highness.  At our favorite vacation spot, she consistently goes on the resort Bermuda grass, right next to the sign reading ‘Please Keep Off The Grass’.  She knows quality when she sees it.

Zoe’s kind of got a point here.  If this daily ritual is her main gift to the world (after love and affection), why not make it special?  She doesn’t do the whole deprivation thing, only using the nice grass at Christmas time or to impress when other dogs come over to visit.  Every day is reason enough for her to indulge.

Dogs really do lead the good life.  Toileting habits aside, maybe we should do the same.  Maybe we should burn the nice candle, and use the fancy dishes, for no other reason than joy.  If you are going to partake in something, why not have only the best and then use it often?  Less is more, but less can also mean better.  You deserve it, as does Zoe.

Decluttering is Shallow

If minimalism is deep, then decluttering is shallow.  I don’t mean shallow in a judgmental, negative sense.  Rather, that decluttering our home is the act of peeling back the initial layer of what hides our authentic selves.  Decluttering removes what is on the surface, in essence, exfoliating the superficial surface of our lifestyle, revealing a glimpse of the true person underneath.

It can be easy to become stuck in decluttering, and to avoid moving on to the deeper actions of crafting your life.  Figuring out who you truly are and what motivates you involves feeling vulnerable.  It feels safer to dwell in the shallows, rearranging a bookshelf, or wiping the kitchen countertops, quietly avoiding the possessions you have a difficult time addressing but know you want to let go.  It is easy to hide.

I have been there.  Sometimes I feel stuck or stagnant in my minimalism practice, which I believe is something to be embraced and celebrated.  This discomfort means I’ve gotten past the shallows, and can begin to dive deeper into who I am and what person I want to be in the world.  When there are no distractions to hide behind, and no more easy things to get rid of, there is opportunity for self-discovery.

Going deep involves facing your shortcomings.  For me, that was feeling like I wasn’t fit enough, or thin enough, or popular enough, or doing work that I cared about.  What that looked like in my home was lots of fitness gear, kitchen gadgets, luxury items, and books on self-improvement, creativity, and adventure.  These were the possessions I valued, but they were standing in my way.

It felt so much safer to stay home and consume content, reading about things that others were doing.  I bought new pieces of fitness gear, hoping to find a shortcut to speed or ease the effort of working out.  I justified my nutritional shortcomings by dwelling on healthy cooking.  I purchased a house that was too large and difficult to maintain.

What I wasn’t doing in accumulating these things was diving deeper into my life by taking action.  You cannot curate the life you want by making aspirational purchases.  In fact, I think it can be paralyzing to own these things.  Things distract you from taking effective action.  Things shelter you from the rewards that come from struggle.  Things are just a snapshot of who you want to be.

Go ahead and dive deep.  Keep the things that serve you, but let go of the things that serve as a safety net or a distraction.  Build resourcefulness, empowerment, and self-confidence by accomplishing things with less.  Be vulnerable.  Be enough.   Be you.

A Tale of 3 Spiralizers

This is a true story about yours truly.  I contemplated at length whether to share this story, as it’s so incredibly embarrassing.  As a blogger, I feel a somewhat professional responsibility not to highlight my flaws, and to perform due diligence in filtering any propensity to overshare.  However, the more I mull over whether this story makes me want to laugh or cry, the more I end up laughing.  And so, I am sharing, because we all need to laugh a little more.

Food trends come and go, along with my sanity surrounding food.  I’m in favor of expanding your horizons and trying new things, but sometimes rationality gets lost in the flourish of what everybody else is doing.  Take aquafaba.  If I ever start posting recipes with aquafaba, just kill me now.  Wait, I already have posted a recipe with aquafaba, but back then, it was called canned bean liquid.  Afterwards, a friend in my running club read that post and sarcastically told me he couldn’t wait to get home from our run and try some canned bean liquid.  Touche.

But spiralized vegetables are different!  Who wouldn’t want to get behind a trend as innovative as that?  As a formerly pasta-addicted bagel munching gal gone gluten-free health nut, I could not resist the allure of the vegetable based noodle lifestyle.  Sign me up.

This was several years ago, and I remember the excitement with which I ordered my 3-blade Spiralizer.  When it came in the mail, I was sure this was the solution to those elusive last 10 pounds.  Soon, my kids would be eating vegetables without complaining.  The world of pasta cravings would be conquered.

Spiralizer Number 1

I remember the first time I whipped up a batch of zucchini noodles (zoodles) with basil-spinach pesto and nutritional yeast.  They were raw, gluten free, vegan, and super green.  I served them to my daughter, who turned to me and said, “I like these”.  BOOM.  There I stood, practicing my acceptance speech for the Mom Of The Year Award, silently mouthing words of gratitude into my silicone spatula.

Anxious for a repeat performance, I reached into the kitchen cabinet the next night…and accidentally grabbed the spiralizer by the blade.  Be warned, a spiralizer blade is a sharp as a mandolin slicer, and it sliced through my fingertip without me even feeling it.  Minutes later, my kitchen looked like a crime scene, and I was permanently (emotionally) scarred.

I tried to use the spiralizer again, but every time I looked at it, I remembered that cut, instantly getting goose bumps like fingernails on a chalkboard.  The spiralizer gathered dust, and eventually, I donated it.

Spiralizer Number 2

The vegetable noodle trend continued, and I felt left out.  Maybe I didn’t give my spiralizer a chance, or take the proper safety precautions.  Ramen was becoming trendy, and I couldn’t make proper veggie ramen without a spiralizer.

Point, click, purchase.  I rebought the same 3-blade Spiralizer.  This time would be different, and safer.  I took one of my reusable cloth sandwich bags and placed it over the blade mechanism whenever I stored it.  I told myself I was being environmental, because a normal person would have just used a plastic sandwich bag to cover the blade, but not me.  Never mind that the entire spiralizer gadget was made of plastic, and I had just purchased two of them.

Alas, the second spiralizer gathered dust, and eventually, I donated it.

Spiralizer Number 3

Flash forward again, and now that same spiral slicer was new and improved.  It now had 4 blades…none of the useless ones from the last model, but multiple versions of the cool noodle-making ones.  I could now make angel hair veggie noodles.  And, the blade mechanism now folds flat into the device for storage, so no more sliced fingers.  I must have it.

But wait, I am a minimalist now.  I know it’s on sale, but I am trying to streamline my kitchen.   The julienne peeler and I have been getting along fine for months.  Just walk away.  Then it happened.

I walked through the produce section of my grocery store and there they sat:  pre-spiralized vegetable noodles shrink wrapped in Styrofoam for my cooking convenience.  Oh, hell no.  It was time to fight the power on this one.  No individually wrapped produce and landfill waste was acceptable when it was perfectly easy to make your own!  It was time to vote for change with my money.

Point, click, purchase.  That’s how it happened.  In my effort to change the world, I became the owner of a brand new, 4-blade Spiralizer.  At this point, buyer’s remorse kicked in approximately five minutes after I clicked ‘Place Order’.  I had officially lost my mind.  Oh well, lesson learned.  I want to be environmental and healthy, but shopping is not a replacement for meaningful action.  I will simply return this item unopened once it arrives.

I scour the web for the return policy, only to realize that since I bought it on final sale, it is not returnable.  Of course not.  I wouldn’t have fully learned my lesson if I could erase my mistakes so easily.  Thank you, karma.  Now I’m forced to sit and ruminate on my purchasing decision a little longer while the spiralizer sits on the donation pile.

Am I really this consumerist?

Did I really just expend that much time and mental energy on a plastic gadget when I could have been doing something worthwhile?

Yes.  The End.

 

 

‘All In’ Minimalism

It’s tempting to sell yourself short when you embark on the journey to minimalism.  When you begin living a minimalist lifestyle, you may not feel like a member of the club.  Minimalism feels right for you…

…If only you didn’t have kids.

…But you have a big house in the suburbs.

…But you could never fit all your possessions into a backpack.

…Except your husband hates the idea of living in a tiny house.

…So you’re an aspiring minimalist.

I could on an on with examples, because all of these thoughts went through my head, and still do from time to time.  I’ve written several blog posts about aspirations and feelings of insufficiency whenever I start down a new path.

It frustrates me, because I don’t like to wait once I decide to be something.  It’s hard to be patient with the process, but mastery takes time.

So, what are some ways to feel empowered while you wait for the universe to line up with your desires?  I’m telling you now that you can do more than tip your toe into minimalist waters.  You can full-on cannonball into the deep end of the pool while grinning from ear to ear.

How can you be ‘All In’ with minimalism, when the rest of your environment or family is not?  There is one place you are in complete control of right now, today:  your mind.

The truth is, minimalism is not a club, a tiny house, a decluttered room, or a backpacking trip across Southeast Asia.  Minimalism is not everyone agreeing with you all the time.

Minimalism is a mindset, a decision filter, a framework within your life that guides your choices.  Whatever choices you made in the past are not as relevant as the choices you make right now.  Today you are in control of your mindset, and moving forward, you have the authority to:

Be a minimalist.  Own the title.  You are no longer aspiring, you are taking action.

Stop the inflow.  Decide that unnecessary purchases will cease.  Whatever clutter you are dealing with will not grow moving forward.

Experiment.  Live with less now.  Wear a tiny number of clothes, eat from a simple list of foods, use only a few rooms of your house.  Pick something meaningful to you and try it.  You don’t have to announce this, or ask permission to get started.  Just do it and no one else needs to know.

Make mistakes.  Expect slip-ups and embrace that tiny failures are windows into areas of need.  Learn about yourself and your habits, and find better ways that work for you.

You can be ‘All In’ without anything external changing.  ‘All In’ is an inside job, and you are the boss.

 

 

Minimalism & The Long Run

I am somewhat risk-averse.  I remember the first time I ever set out on a long run back in 2010, while training for my first marathon.  I felt intimidated, but darn it, I was determined to have the situation under control.

Strapped to my body were more gadgets than a one man band.  I had a Garmin to track my pace & mileage, heart rate monitor, body glide to prevent chafing, a fuel belt equipped with four water bottles, gels, my phone and headphones for entertainment, visor, sunglasses, compression socks, and new shoes.

In hindsight, I had probably added at least 5 pounds of equipment to carry, along with the hassle of having to deal with it all later on in the run when I was exhausted.  Half-full, sloshing water bottles, bouncing sunglasses, a tangled headphone wire, and a whole lot of chafing from the heart rate monitor and compression socks.

Fast forward 7 years, and here I am, still subjecting myself to those long runs.  This week’s was a 20-miler, but mileage was about all it had in common with the past.  I still have my Garmin and shoes, but the majority of the other running gear is gathering dust in my closet.

I’ve come to realize that the less I have with me, the better I run.  The more I leave to uncertainty, the better my problem solving skills.  The less distraction, the more I can remain present.  In fact, I now appreciate the process of a long run.  There will come a point where the run will feel difficult, but it will remain manageable.

This week, I got tired around mile 15, and again at 18.5.  Tired rarely means I’m out of breath, because I don’t run fast on long run days.  Tired usually means my legs hurt, or I’m bored, or frustrated, or hungry, or cold (since it’s winter).  In those moments, I take a deep breath and ask myself if I can still keep running, and usually the answer is yes.

Minimalism has influenced my long run strategy, because now I know I can get by with what I have.  If it turns out that I need something more, I will figure out how to get it.  This sure beats my runs of the past, where I brought everything ‘just in case’.  Sure enough, I looked down at my Garmin and I had already passed 20 miles without even noticing.  Minimalism makes everything feel more effortless to me these days.

The Space Between

Minimalism allowed me to recognize the value of space in my environment.  I felt clarity and peace in an uncluttered room.  Space allowed me feel serene, calm, quiet.  I’d say it even led to happy.

Then came mealtime, and my overwhelm began.  Food and nutrition loomed in my life like an enormous burden, even though I cared about my health as much as my home.  I wanted to take the next step forward with nutrition, like I did for my environment when I started removing the unnecessary.

After practicing minimalism, I understood that the things surrounding me were reflections of my values and aspirations.  I owned the food dehydrator and vegetable spiralizer and protein powder because I truly cared about my health.  I was a hard worker, and I was willing to go the extra mile to make healthy meals.

And then there were the mason jars.  My pantry overflowed with mason jars.  Not only were they artisanal and trendy (as I wanted to be), they were filled with all of the antioxidants and super foods and promises I had spent my money on.  Sigh.  Truth be told, the taste of maca powder makes me gag.

I remember that phase of my life and am so glad I spent time there.  I learned a lot from the frustration of having none of those things lead me closer to my health goals.  But because I failed, I learned, and I kept trying, because we all try every day, even if trying means sitting there not knowing what to do.

Over time, I started to understand that food and home and fitness are not separate parts of my life, but are interconnected like a web.  I am a whole person who needs a whole approach to living well.  What started to make me healthy was space, and the courage to let go.

My favorite meal became anything made from whole food that was simple to prepare and enjoy.  Followed by enjoying it without guilt.  Followed by moving on to other pursuits when mealtime was over.  End of story.

I no longer fill the space between meals with planning the next meal, grocery shopping, reading food blogs, etc.  I put food back in its place, which is a smaller place in my life than I had allowed it to be in the past.

I’m starting to believe that health comes from the space in between meals.  Is it filled up with engaging work, movement, friends, connection, or creativity?  Food is fuel for your life, it is not your life itself.  Just like decluttering is fuel for pursuing your life’s purpose.  Your purpose is greater than throwing things away, and your health is more than just your next meal.  Keep trying, even if you are sitting there not knowing what to do.

Navigation

With the arrival of 2017, I have been pondering what I want to accomplish over the coming year.  I’ve gotten away from making New Year’s Resolutions, as they seem to play the role of Rules-Waiting-to-Be-Broken more often than not.

Instead, I now think of the New Year as a time to ‘check the map’ and navigate my life.  If I get bogged down in the minutiae of daily habits and routines, I sometimes forget to look up and steer the ship.

Where have I been headed and where do I want to go moving forward?  Do I need to make any course corrections to stay on track?  This concept of navigation leaves room for progress vs. perfection.  It gives me time to move towards a goal and the freedom to adjust my path if need be.

For the past few years I’ve been in learning mode.  Reading books, absorbing information, studying, contemplating, planning, experimenting, following others.  As a minimalist, I’ve long since given up on consumer goods, but I’m still a consumer of information.  This felt informative for a period of time, but now feels passive and stagnant.

2017 is calling me to take action.  Moving forward, I want to produce, give back, and create.  We all have a purpose and unique perspective to share.   Mine is of moving, munching, and minimalism, so that’s where I’m going…one post at a time.

Seek Variety, Shun Excess

One thing I have observed through practicing minimalism is the concept that anything in excess can be harmful, even our favorite things.  Too much socializing, and we neglect our own quiet reflection.  Too many possessions and we lose time managing them.  Too much food and we feel sluggish and heavy.  Too much exercise and we feel depleted and fatigued.

This concept of excess can apply not only to quantity, but also to singular pursuits.  How often have I neglected strength training in my singular pursuit of running?  Surely both would complement my overall goal of a healthy body, yet often I tend to focus only on my primary interest.

How often have I focused on decluttering to the point of neglecting the activities or personal relationships I want to add into my life?

This is a mistake.  As humans, we are not meant to do, enjoy, or have just one thing.  Our complex minds and bodies thrive on the stimulation and adaptation that comes from exposing ourselves to variety.  A problem arises when we confuse the pursuit of variety with the promotion of excess.

As an aspiring minimalist, I value removing excess distractions from my life, but I often find myself leaning too far towards singular pursuits.  Surely minimalism is not dogma which forbids variety.  Rather, minimalism should be the lightness and freedom to pursue variety.  Only then will we understand what we value most.

Rainbows and Unicorns

In my previous post, I spoke about the ugly side of minimalism.  Not wanting to dwell in the negative, I feel it is appropriate to articulate some of the many benefits I’ve seen from implementing minimalist principles into my life so far.  I’ll call this the ‘Rainbows and Unicorns’ side of minimalism.

Letting Go Of Perfection – I used to chase the fantasy version of myself through the things I acquired.  After decluttering, I gained insight into what types of pursuits I valued.  More importantly, I saw how planning and perfectionism impeded me from ever actively pursuing those interests.  I finally gave myself permission to start, and to fail if need be.  I boldly pushed ‘Publish’ on this blog, and it felt good.

Connection To Others – Practicing minimalism confirmed to me that if I run out of something, I will be ok.  Better yet, if I need something, I can connect with someone who cares about me, like a neighbor or a friend.  I used to shun vulnerability.  I bought my own private version of everything, so that I would rely on no one but myself in times of need.  What I was actually doing was purchasing isolation and loneliness.

Empowerment – Knowing I can repair, reuse, or create something from what I already own makes me feel a renewed sense of self-sufficiency.  I am no longer blindly purchasing what I am told I need by advertisers or feeling as dependent on corporations.  Rather, I have become conscious of the influence of marketing, and now focus on developing my own creative skills to provide for myself.  Goodbye fast food, hello home cooked meals.

Contentment – The drive to acquire has dropped off dramatically in my life, replaced by the realization that I have enough.  I am done acquiring the things I already have, which leaves me time and energy to focus on fully experiencing my present.  Instead of dwelling on scarcity and lack in the future, I can take comfort in enough today.

Space – Space, by definition, should be the absence of anything.  However, I will argue that negative space is very tangible both physically and emotionally.  Physically empty space in my home is clean, bright, and calming.  Emotional space in my mind lends itself to creativity, adventure, and inspiration.  Space represents wonderful potential.

I could go on and on about the positive aspects of minimalism, but like a beautiful rainbow, all things must fade away.  (Cue unicorn riding off into the sunset.)

 

Minimalism Just Got Ugly

I think there are two camps when it comes to minimalism.  Some people hear of the concept and it rolls right off of them.  Interesting, they think, but not for me.  Others, like me, hear of minimalism and it sticks.  We know it is something we aspire to, and the concept tugs at our heartstrings as we go about our daily lives.

It feels easy to know that your are a minimalist at heart, but the execution of minimalism is where things get messy.  Practicing minimalism has forced me to confront many things about myself that were uncomfortable.  I have at times felt selfish, gluttonous, inauthentic, wasteful, irresponsible, jealous, insecure, ineffective, and just plain shameful.

Selfish:  I can’t remember the last time I gave money to charity.

Gluttonous:  I have a bad habit of buying multiples of everything I like.

Inauthentic:  I am not living the vision of minimalism I have in my head.

Wasteful:  Decluttering my home has created a tremendous amount of landfill waste.

Irresponsible:  I have saved less money for the future because of my shopping.

Jealous:  I bought this item only because my neighbor had it.

Insecure:  I thought I needed to own sports equipment in order to be a real athlete.

Ineffective:  I’ve been working on becoming a minimalist, but I have so far left to go.

Shameful:  I’m not entitled to call myself a minimalist because of the size of my home.

These are just a few of the thoughts that have crossed my mind throughout the minimizing process.  I wrote them down in order to get them out into the open and shed light on the fact that sometimes minimalism gets ugly.

I wanted minimalism to be rainbows and unicorns, but it’s just like any other worthwhile challenge.  There are highs and lows, and it takes work to reach your goals.  I’ve learned to be more compassionate towards myself when I struggle, and encourage myself to continue even when things get ugly.