Category Archives: Challenges

Give or take

The Catholic concept of voluntary poverty has been on my mind recently.  The pressure to have a perfect house, decor, clothing, hair and body can seemingly consume a person’s existence.  On the way to this elusive perfection, we get so used to our goal of actively pursuing and seeking that we don’t ever stop to realize that said perfection is always just outside our reach.  In our pursuit, we become comfortable in our role as consumers and we stand blankly in the aisles wondering what shower curtain or shampoo could change our lives into the picture of magazine happiness.  Then the next issue of a magazine comes out and our decor seems outdated or unseasonable and we’re out in search of the next best thing.  Eventually, we become so suggestible and indecisive that we no longer even know what our houses and bodies would look like if they were truly our own, free from the influences of television shows and magazines.

When I first toyed with the idea of minimalism, I am not sure what attracted me to it.  I guess that a part of me feels guilty for having so much and yet feeling like I waste so much or that I have more than I could ever use.  I throw away food each week that goes bad before I can eat it; I have more clothes than I ever usually wear and the bathroom is full to the hilt with creams and soaps… it would take years to use them all.  What results is a throw-out culture and a residual feeling of deep guilt and shame.  Why should I be blessed to have so much?

What it comes down to is this:  While the ability to give myself shelter and food is a huge blessing, I find that in a real way it is a kind of curse to have more than what I NEED.  Past a point of necessity, things truly do not buy happiness, or thinness, or anything else.  They can however result in other problems… like the physical problem of moving so much stuff or the guilt over wasting things.

So in this, the second or third year of my pondering minimalism I have decided that I should strive for not only a minimalist lifestyle, but one that embraces the principle of voluntary poverty.

I have made some headway since my last post.  I have continued to sell a large part of my book collection.  At this point the collection has been whittled to nearly half of what it once was.  Guess what?  I don’t miss any of those books that are gone!  I have cut my hair short and am almost back to my natural color.  I have given many clothes and much bedding to Goodwill, along with some kitchen goods.  And yet, there is still such a long way to go.

One of the hardest areas, at least for me, is in the arena of ‘acquiring’ things.  It is so easy strolling into Wal-Mart to grab an extra laundry detergent or extra food that looks interesting, but in reality is not something that is truly needed.  I work towards the “have only one of any item at one time and do not buy another until you run out” principle but in all honesty, at times it is hard.  Very hard!!  But I am working on it.

Because deep down, I know I am a giver, not a taker.

I pray for the guidance to see that true happiness lies not in our ephemeral possessions, but in living in the moment and in our relationships with people.  In work and at home I will strive to give and to create happiness.  In this,  hope you will join me.


The Zen of Doing Dishes

Getting things done feels good!  As the kitchen sink is the epicenter of a clean house, I like to shine mine up periodically à la FlyLady style.  When I don’t feel like doing the task, I like to remember a quote by Thich Nhat Hanh about the mindfulness of doing the dishes…

“To my mind, the idea that doing dishes is unpleasant can occur only
when you aren’t doing them.  Once you are standing in front of the sink
with your sleeves rolled up and your hands in the warm water, it is really
quite pleasant.  I enjoy taking my time with each dish, being fully aware
of the dish,  the water, and each movement of my hands.  I know that
if I hurry in order to eat dessert sooner, the time of washing dishes
will be unpleasant and not worth living.  That would be a pity,
for each minute, each second of life is a miracle.  The dishes themselves
and that fact that I am here washing them are miracles!”  –Thich Nhat Hanh

Redefining Normal

I have an aunt that is fond of saying “Normal is just a setting on a washing machine.”  Her saying is a nice reminder that when it comes to humans, “normal” is relative, and a moving target.  Even within the context of one life, what is “normal” can vary from year to year, from life stage to life stage.

Recently I have had a few adjustments of my own.  I found out that I will be taking daily medication for the rest of my life.  Whereas before I used to get up and eat when I pleased, now I will have to take a pill with a glass of water and then wait a full hour before being able to eat or drink anything, including coffee or tea!  In the big picture, this is a small change.  Others of us may wake up one day to find even bigger adjustments in our lives.  This New York Times article is a particularly touching example of a woman who undergoes a dramatic readjustment of “normal.”

One of the biggest points of interest to me is whether we will make the adjustments in our lives based on voluntary versus mandatory changes.  In other words, will we only make changes in response to unexpected (or even expected) health crises or will we take impetus on our own in the name of prevention?

In my case, I think that a mixture of both response to personal and environmental health AND a desire for prevention are driving my hunger for change.  Here are the changes that I aim to make within the next few weeks to redefine my normal:

  • Train myself to take my medication– each morning I will take my pill with only a glass of water, and then wait the requisite one hour before eating or drinking
  • Quit caffeinated beverages– I have read that caffeine can exacerbate anxiety, something which I am keen to rid myself of as much as possible
  • Learn to use only toothpaste and deodorant as cosmetics– I am trying to cut back drastically on the amount of chemicals and plastics that I consume, most makeup and creams end up breaking me out anyways, and that is not pretty!
  • Get a low maintenance haircut & embrace my natural color and texture– for each person this could mean something different, personally I like short haircuts that dry quickly
  • Get in the habit of keeping the kitchen sink empty– the kitchen sink is the epicenter of a clean house, and cleaning dishes is a meditative task
  • Resist unnecessary spending and impulse buys– it hurts savings and never really ends up feeling good… I will reward myself with experiences instead of things