Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Reclaimed Splurges for my Birthday

Last week, in honor of my own pending birthday, I made a pledge to myself to stop consuming new things until I stopped and enjoyed what I already have. So, therefore, day 1 of My New Life happened to be my birthday- a day not traditionally spent depriving oneself of little indulgences.

So, I have to say, that within 5 minutes of waking up, I was beginning to feel a bit depressed. Let me add that I woke up (alone, due to an out-of-town husband) to a child confessing to wetting the bed. Ah, luxury.

My attitude alone could have sabotaged the entire day, but once my head cleared, I was determined to make this a fantastic one- it was just a matter of finding my hidden “birthday gifts” within my own possessions. It took a while to get the hang of it, but what followed was truly a grace-filled, precious day of blessings.

My indulgent morning started with a stack of unread magazines, a travel mug of coffee, and a sadly underused treehouse- my private cafĂ©! I then went to the spa, also known as my neglected gym. Instead of heading to the weights, I swam laps in the pool before actually taking the time to use the steam room, sauna, and hot tub. On the way home, instead of driving by my friend Jodi’s house, I stopped and knocked on the door. In our 20-minute visit, my loneliness was completely gone.

I indulged at lunch by actually taking the time to make myself a tomato and bread salad, all made from ingredients I was about to throw out. Dinner was a frozen pizza- an indulgence in calories and workload, as my kids ate it, too.

It may not sound like much, but I really had a great birthday. Best of all, the “gifts” I gave myself can be enjoyed again, now that I know they are there! Taking 10 minutes to sit in a tree house, read a magazine, visit a friend, relax in the sauna, or make a decent meal for myself are things I should always be doing…and I never would have had I given myself a more traditional alternative for treating myself.

How many other gifts in our lives are we passing by?


Monday, April 26, 2010

A season of living on what I already have

How can I be surrounded by clutter and yet grab my keys to go shopping?

After living almost a year in blissful happiness despite, and I argue, because of my husband losing his job, I fear I have lost my frugal touch now that I have gained some financial security.

My birthday is tomorrow, and while I’m not changing age brackets or decades, I’m close enough to one of those milestones that this birthday has gotten my attention. And I know that my current spending and…wow I hate this word…consuming habits are not where they should be.

Last year, when I was faced with the choice of panicking or thriving in the face of financial restrictions, I found an amazing freedom in choosing to see abundance where others might see depravity.

It’s time to do it again, and starting with my filthy, cluttered house is as good of a place as any.

As a birthday present to myself, my Earth, and my family, I am taking a public vow to use, share, and/or thoughtfully donate everything in my possession before acquiring and consuming anything new.

I hope to meet several goals in doing this:

1. Recapture my ability to recognize and appreciate the things I already have.

2. Pass this ability onto my children, who have been complete spoiled brats recently - probably all my fault.

3. Live out that fabulous clichĂ© to “live simply so others can simply live” – I plan to do something special and meaningful with the money and waste saved from this experiment, and inspire others (including my ungrateful children) to do the same.

Hopefully, this journey into my own closets, pantry, garage, and conscience will reveal the abundance around me, and all of us, in its many forms. If we can all start with using what we already have, then sharing our gifts with others will be a natural, sustainable extension of what the universe put in our stewardship.

And we’ll save tons of money.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A Place for Your Treasures to Go...To Others

A few years ago, a friend of my mother’s inherited a gigantic, gorgeous house in Atlanta, complete with ballroom, manicured gardens, solarium, and…tons and tons of stuff inside it- too much stuff for her to ever use, but stuff too nice to just toss into a Goodwill bag.

So, as part of her redecorating, she made an entire basement room filled with nothing but shelves. For the next year, as she moved in, she carefully organized and filled those shelves with the extra contents of that home. For every year since, she has given gifts almost exclusively from that room, and they are famous for their quality and thoughtfulness.

While few of us will ever inherit such a house, most of us have acquired things over the years that, while perhaps not useful to us, could be perfect for someone else. What if we found a special place in our home where these extra treasures could be organized and stored until the rightful owner came along?

Lest we be accused of simply re-gifting our junk, we can also use this storage area for gifts we purchase throughout the year. If we have a place to put it, we can buy it now and always be prepared for any birth, birthday, or illness – for a fraction of the time and cost.

My “gift storage room” the space under my basement stairs, and my “shelves” are a series of large, labeled bins, and are organized according to type of giving opportunity: Boy Birthday; Girl Birthday; Baby; Illness (lots of Tupperware here!); women’s shelters (jewelry, toiletries, unused makeup, etc); kid’s school (used books and stuffed animals for the annual fundraiser; extra school supplies…); family (Birthday and Christmas gifts go here).

You get the idea- each of our categories will be different, as will be each of our organization and storage methods. But regardless, by taking this extra step of organizing our surplus rather than hastily donating a mixed bag of unmatched items to Goodwill or regifting in a pinch, we can ensure that nothing we have goes wasted or unappreciated. Rather, it will simply find it's true home.


Wednesday, January 6, 2010

More "Play", fewer "Dates"

After 2 weeks of having my children at home over the Winter Break, in which I spent countless hours and I-don’t-even-want-to-count-how-much money keeping my kids entertained, enriched, and enlightened, I received a panicky phone call from school asking me to pick all the kids up NOW due to a water main break.

And so they’re back. Home. With me.

Except this time, they are not alone- I brought 5 elementary school refugees home with me, too. That’s 8 kids for those of us counting, which I have to do every few minutes now. There- I’m back- all accounted for.

8 kids, no car big enough to take them anywhere, 1 parent, and no plan.

And kids having the time of their lives-and it’s only costing me a pitcher of lemonade and a plate of cookies.

This emergency-induced kid party has served as an instant reminder for all of us: Plans cost money and energy, but just being available for friends can be better- and free.

So many of us (myself included) schedule our entire weeks according to “up” and “down” time: “up time” being scheduled events, including social events a Play Dates, and “down time”, which is usually solitary recovery from all of the “up time.”

And because planned social events are PLANNED and EVENTS, there’s pressure to BE something. And that drains us, no matter how much we like the people we are with.

But spontaneously opening our doors to a friend? That’s worth clearing our calendars for. Let’s all plan to have fewer plans this year. Don’t worry- someone will knock on our door, and we’ll have something to do, though have less to prove.


Monday, January 4, 2010

A Plan for that Overwhelmed Feeling...

It’s 10am on January 4th, the first day the kids are back to school after an action-packed, travel-filled winter break. My New Year’s Resolutions are finished, and today is the day I am supposed to start living the New Me: organized, happy, content, efficient…

And I’m also on the verge of a panic attack. The kitchen, the laundry pile, the email inbox, the grout in the bathroom – I have lost control of them all. It is completely overwhelming, and the more I realize I need to get done…must get done…the less I can do.

I’ve had plenty of days like this before, and they have traditionally involved hours of walking from room to room, whimpering in despair, until I end up just binge-eating.

But this time I think I may just have a plan: one that is realistic and empowering rather than impossible and guilt-inducing. So for all of you fellow perfectionists out there that simply cannot be perfect today, let’s all try this together:

Get our heads organized: Go ahead and make the “Master List” of absolutely everything that we think needs to be done on a separate sheet of paper, not our day-planner. By putting it on paper, it can leave our minds for the moment, and reveal any hidden urgent matters that may show up on #23 or so.

Prioritize: Pick the 2-3 things that MUST be done today, and write those in our day-planner. Post the other list somewhere else and write “This Week:”, “This Month:”, or even “This Year:” on the top of it, then forget it for the rest of the day.

Create a haven: Create one clean, organized, attractive spot where we can think, breathe, and feel accomplished for the day. The rest of the house can remain a bomb site for the time being.

Fully accomplish a few measurable things: Complete our day-planner list, start to finish, and pat ourselves on the back.

This is doable, and this is enough. We’ve accomplished what must be done, and the rest of our lives we’ve got covered on that list…which we’ll tackle tomorrow. Or not.


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Creating A New Year's Mission Statement

It’s almost December 31st, and if you’re a compulsive list-maker like me, you are in the process of making up your New Year’s Resolutions. Actually, I enjoy this exercise so much that I celebrate New Year’s Resolution Time twice a year- once in January, and once in September, at the beginning of the new academic year. And yes, they are usually the same, year after year, and like the rest of the world, are usually forgotten or broken by 11am January 1st (or the day after Labor Day!)

Most experts say that the key to keeping resolutions is to make just one, and make it your highest priority. And that is the key to efficiency, which is my number one priority this year: sticking to one goal, and making everything in your life streamline toward it.

But I have so many things I want to do better this year, ranging from health to finance to specific ‘bucket list” things I’ve been putting off. One “thing” cannot encompass it all.

But how about a “mission statement”? What if, instead of checklist-type resolutions, we all sat down and tried to come up with one clear, catchy statement that would express what we really wanted out of 2010?

A single mission statement’s greatest gift is simple: focus. As in a company, any activity outside that statement means you’re getting off track. Mission statements help prioritize daily activities, remind us of what we know we should be doing anyway, and are flexible enough to incorporate unexpected opportunities and challenges that arise during the year.

And perhaps most importantly, a “mission” indicates a path, not an achievement that is gained, lost, or “broken.”

Defining our mission this year is going to lead to less waste in our time, spending, and opportunities: if something helps our mission, it’s in. If not, it’s out. We can stop chasing rabbits down holes all year and focus on what we have predetermined is important.

So let’s do it- be people on a mission this year. I’d love to hear yours.

And for the record, so it’ll be in print, here is mine:

To fully utilize and appreciate all that has been given to me, and desire nothing more.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

"You Know Where the Bakery Is?"

I must have been in a very giving mood when all those sign-up sheets were passed around at the beginning of the school year. According to my email inbox, I signed up for every holiday volunteer opportunity possible – especially baking requests. Me. Bake.

The latest “friendly reminder” email came into my iPhone while I was waiting for a class at the gym. Apparently alarmed by the change in my breathing and appearance, my favorite work-out partner, a 90-year-old dynamo from New York, asked what was wrong. One minute and a thousand words later, I had explained the reasons for my stress.

She had one question: “You know where the bakery is?”

Huh. Yeah, I did.

I got rid of more than just my stress level by taking this amazing woman’s advice and going to the bakery (or buying slice-and-bake, as I ended up doing). I also let go of my ego.

The only reason I had for wanting to bake *homemade* cookies was not because I thought they’d be more appreciated by my 7-year-old clientele, but because I wanted people to say “wow- these are great cookies!” to my face, and “how does she do it all?” behind my back. Now, no one is going to say either of these, but the cookies will still be enjoyed, and that’s the point.

So let’s all look at our remaining holiday to-do list and see where our ego can be removed to make way for a more efficient, yet still excellent, final product. If the smile will be just as big on someone’s face by doing it the easy way, for Heaven’s sake, do it.

It just may put the smile back on yours!