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Thanks for a good life

Happy Thanksgiving image

I like Thanksgiving. Unlike the über-materialistic-buy-buy-buy madness of the four weeks that follow, Thanksgiving encourages us to focus on being grateful for the people and things we already have in our lives.

Who doesn’t enjoy gadgets and clothes and vacations and a nice house? But I don’t think they make us happy. Not really. (Okay, well, travel makes me pretty damn happy, but it’s best when I’m not alone.)

I’m most grateful for the things I can’t buy:

– My family and friends

– Good health

– The freedom to pursue the career I want

Boys with clown faces

Seriously, that’s it. That’s all I need. I could even live without the last one as long as I had the first two. Though I’d rather not. 😉

My iPhone might make my life easier, and even more fun, but I’d never trade it for my husband or one of my kids, or even a friend. Honest!

You laugh, but the rat race that so many of us are on because we feel like we have to have that car or live in that house or wear those clothes—just to impress a bunch of people who don’t love us—forces us to give up our time with those who do love us.

When my first son was born I really, really wanted to stay home with him, but I couldn’t because we had bills to pay. It never—not once—occurred to me that we could adjust our lifestyle to lower our expenses so I wouldn’t have to work.

(BTW, I’m not saying that staying at home is the right thing to do, only that it was the right thing to do for me.)

By the time I had my second son, we had been introduced to authors like Stephen R. Covey (The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People) and Thomas J. Stanley (The Millionaire Next Door), and we were thinking very differently about our money, our lives, and what matters.

I had quit my job to start a consulting business and wanted to continue working from home. We sold both of our newer cars and paid cash for an old van. I drove my husband to work on days I needed the car. We cut down eating out to once or twice a month at cheap restaurants. We budgeted everything down to the penny (still do).

Best thing we ever did. Tightening the belt doesn’t feel good—it’s hard to cut back on the lifestyle you’re used to—but it was worth it to be home with my babies.

Boys standing in the rain

It was worth it again in 2008 when I quit my 55+ hour/week job as a manufacturing engineer. That time was even harder because we had a big house in a nice neighborhood—the kind where everyone is trying to keep up with the Jones’—new cars, and a trip to Europe planned.

But we had learned our lesson. Since we’d been living below our means, we were able to get creative with our budget, postpone the trip to Europe for two years, and keep the cars and house.

The stress levels in our house plummeted. My kids finally had someone at home to help with their homework and pick them up from sports practice. My husband and I weren’t both getting home late and scrambling to put dinner on the table. We no longer had to spend our two precious days off each week running all the errands we couldn’t get done while working.

There’s something uniquely satisfying about stepping off the treadmill, backing away from the culture that tells us we need more, more, more to be happy, and refusing to be owned by the things we own.

We had less money and less of “the good life” and a lot more happiness.

Which would you prefer?

Boys sitting on grass facing away

A simpler lifestyle requires less cash. When you need less cash, you suddenly have more freedom in the work you choose.

Sure, we all need enough money for the basics, and not everyone can afford a safe roof over their head or good, healthy food on the table. But if you can, I’d encourage you to think about what you’re truly grateful for this year.

Does the life you live let you enjoy those people and things that matter most?

If not, are there things you’d be willing to give up so that you can enjoy them?

I hope I didn’t get too preachy, but I feel very strongly about making the most of this life we’re given. At the end, none of us will care if we’re surrounded by cars and computers, wearing fancy clothes and lying on satin sheets. We’re going to want our loved ones at our side.

I hope you have yours by your side this holiday.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Unmess to destress

This stresses me out!

This stresses me out!

What’s the opposite of a hoarder? I guess a minimalist? A minimalist is what I aspire to be in every aspect of my life.

For me, clutter of any sort adds stress to my life. The low level kind that weighs on you in the background. It’s not only irritating, but distracting. I find myself torn between dealing with the mess and getting my work done.

I’m constantly trying to clean out my closets, discard anything I haven’t used in over a year, and keep shelves, counters, and other flat surfaces from being overrun with junk. Of course, I get lazy, busy, and distracted, so my kitchen table currently sports a burned out light bulb that needs to be properly disposed of, various pieces of mail, and assorted cups and glasses.

Oh, and I’m not the only one who lives here, so I can’t just toss everything en masse, though I’m sometimes tempted.

Even my own writing desk is a bit of a mess right now, which surprises me because my desk at my day job was always spotless. (Evernote will help here as I use it to store images of articles and handouts that I don’t want to lose, and the little notes I’ve jotted down in the notebook next to my bed.)

But still, I’ve been on a quest to declutter, unmess, and destress my life. While a clean house is nice, a neat house is what really makes me happy. Not austere. I still want warmth, coziness, and comfort, but not disorder.

I’m sure this says something about my personality, and many of you will not be surprised. 😉

Kids’ closets and two-car garages aside, there are other forms of clutter that can be even harder to deal with. For example, electronic clutter. I had at least ten emails a day that I habitually deleted without reading. Sometimes 20-30. Then there were others that I read, but later wished I hadn’t let myself get sucked into.

So last week I went on an email cleaning binge, working back through my Trash folder and unsubscribing from every newsletter, marketing campaign, activity notification (Twitter and Facebook, anyone?), and blog subscription that I don’t want to spend my time on.

I can’t tell you the sense of control and relief that comes from purging like that. A clean Inbox is like a breath of fresh air. I can prioritize my emails without wading through a bunch of “other stuff”. And it frees up my brain to work on more important things, like writing and editing!

I even encourage you to unsubscribe from my blog or newsletter if it doesn’t add value to your week. Seriously. I won’t be (too) upset.

So, my next household project: the guest room closet, a.k.a. The Black Hole of But-We-Might-Need-This-Someday Items. Once I enter, I may never emerge. Wish me luck!

Have you attempted to declutter your life in any way? What was the result?

Image credit: By Luca Masters from Chocowinity, NC, USSA (Mess) CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), via Wikimedia Commons