Monday, April 29, 2013

Starting anew, starting small

It is amazing how feelings arise, grow, and eventually dissolve. Last year around this time, I was finishing up my graduate degree, and I was so done. So done with writing, with professors, with endless forms, corrections, done with everything

And to be honest, I continued to feel that way for over six months. But the more I look back, the more I realize that I probably needed it. It was a time to step away and say, alright, that's enough - I need to drop out for a while. And, despite my desire to be 'productive', even an A-type personality like me had to accept that reality. 

Now all that is far from my mind, and I am living a more contented life. Taking some time to re-prioritize my daily activities towards those that are meaningful and fulfilling has opened my eyes to how each day truly is a gift.  

I also realize that striving for something better while still being content with who I am now is possible. It is sometimes easier said than done, but it's happening. Everyday I take joy in learning new things, and anticipate activities with excitement rather than dread. Instead of being mocking reminders of things I probably won't accomplish, my aspirations now show my strength and abilities, my motivation to strive for something better.

As I start anew, I am starting small. I used to think that the only way to make progress was to spend huge blocks of time slogging away towards some nebulous 'goal'. But now, after much experience, I know that all the misplaced effort, the burnout, and yes, even pain, is not necessary. It has taken time, but I realize that all I need is to do a little each day, with fresh eyes and an open heart. And you know what? Instead of dreading the moment I must begin, now I am satisfactorily 'done' before I want to be!

As before, I am excited about where I'm going, but now also enjoy how far I have come, and most importantly, where I am now.

Have you come to a point in your life where you've tired of the treadmill, gotten off, and discovered a new way of living? I would love to hear about it! Please share in the comments.

May all beings be happy!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

How to do less housework- Maybe even enjoy it!

"Yeah, right!" you scoff. But just hear me out. I am definitely no FlyLady, but I am beginning to see the light as far as cleaning goes. I don't hate cleaning, but like many people, I don't want to do more of it than I have to. That is why I came up with this list, to organize my thoughts, live up to my desire to Live Simply, and perhaps even help someone else in the process. Here are the lessons I have learned so far:

  • Remove your shoes. People from cultures all around the world (even Nordic ones) remove their shoes before entering their homes, both out or respect and for hygienic purposes. I agree on both counts. If you're not used to it, just give it a try (and reward yourself and your family with some comfy, feel-good slippers!). A simple idea, but it really makes a difference in keeping a house clean(er).
  • Determine the most important tasks. Do you really need to dust your cabinet of knickknacks once a week or vacuum behind the couch? Or even keep the bathroom mirror looking spotless? The answer is no. The truth is, while you might notice if your paperweights are not sparkling, only a few tasks are actually noticed by others. In my experience these are: A vacuumed carpet, a clean bathroom, an uncluttered kitchen/dining room table, and dust-free computers and work surfaces. Choose whatever is important to you, and relevant to your home.
  • Do a little every day/week. Once you've chosen the important tasks, do each of them once to twice a week, depending on your needs. There will also be some tasks that will only need to be done once a month or less, so schedule these accordingly (see below).
  • Set a time limit. Let's face it, there are already many daily tasks besides the those mentioned above. These may include (depending on your priorities) making the bed, cleaning the kitchen, cleaning up after pets, and just tidying up. That means that adding any other task could eat up more of your free time if you're not careful. Discovering this, I decided to set a time limit. If I am vacuuming the carpet and my timer for 10 minutes goes off, I turn off the vacuum and put it away- whether or not the whole carpet is vacuumed. So what if I missed a spot? I'll take care of it next time. Of course, setting a limit also depends on the size of your home- so see what works for you. Bonus: Working against the clock has helped me clean more efficiently, and tackle areas that need the most attention first. As they say, the rest is gravy. 
  • Be realistic. Know when when you are least likely to clean. For example, your busiest weekday or when you're trying to relax on the weekend. The world won't fall apart if you declare one day when there shall be no housework. In fact- it might make your world even better!  
  • Set a schedule. Now that you have chosen what tasks are important, how long it takes to do them, and when you are most likely to get them done, schedule it out. I have used Google calendar with great success, simply by adding tasks to a weekly or monthly calendar. Even if I don't do the task exactly on the day, it gives me a guideline so that I focus just on what needs to be done- and don't waste time on what doesn't.  
  • Ask for help. Just because your spouse works outside the home or your kids have school doesn't mean they can't pitch in. One regret I have heard from experienced parents is that they were too nervous or impatient to let their little ones help out around the house when they first showed the initiative. I have also read that some families make chores/decluttering a fun game for the whole family. So, try something to give yourself a break- it just might work! And don't be so proud, if someone offers to give you a hand, let them, even if you know they won't do a task as well as you. Give them the privilege of helping you, and use the occasion as yet another reminder that you don't have to do it all. 
  • Declutter. If nothing else is a magic bullet, decluttering is. After all, you don't have to clean or take care of items that are no longer in your possession. If you don't use something and you are just spending time cleaning around it, then seriously, what good is it? Nowadays there are so many resources out there, such as Goodwill, The Salvation Army, Freecycle, Craigslist, Ebay, even recycling centers for old clothes and electronics that cannot be sold or donated, so that it is possible to get rid of unwanted items without being (or feeling) wasteful. No need to go berserk decluttering all at once, but just a little at a time will make a big difference, especially in the long-run.  
  • Organize logically. If you have in fact chosen to go the decluttering route, you may find that organizing what is left becomes exponentially easier. But either way, a home's organization is so tied to personal preference, I won't say much about it, except that organization should be as simple, logical, and convenient as possible. 
  • Be mindful. From a Buddhist perspective, cleaning is an excellent reminder of impermanence. We may wish that a room - or our whole house- will stay the way it is just after we clean it, but we know that it isn't so. In fact, if we consider entropy, or the tendency of everything towards disorder, we may even feel that the universe is against us! But if we put aside our ego we know that cleaning isn't about having the most perfect, spotless home, but simply to provide an environment for comfortable and happy living. If we can do that, we are on our way to cultivating joy in life's most mundane activities.  

I hope you enjoyed this post, and that it was helpful to you in some way. As always, I welcome you to share your suggestions and personal experiences in the comments.

May all beings be happy! 

Thursday, April 25, 2013

A special birthday

Recently my beloved Grandmother celebrated her 100th birthday. My husband and I planned a visit to join in the festivities, and were very happy we were there to witness such an occasion. Although it takes a lot of effort for her to speak, we could tell how happy and excited she was by the sparkle in her eyes and the smile on her face. Amazingly, my Grandmother now joins rank with several of her ancestors, who also lived to be centenarians.  

This special milestone got me thinking. Although knowing someone over 100 might temporarily trick us out of the reality that we live finite human lives, there is a real and greater lesson to be learned. With all the disease and dangers there still are in the world, we know that statistically, relatively few of us reach that grand old age. But we also know that it is possible to live to 100 and beyond, though we are never certain if we will until we have achieved it.  

That is why it is important to live a life that is governed by virtue, wisdom, and compassion. The longer we live, the more life experiences we have to look back on. And regardless of the inevitable challenges along the way, when we look back, we all want to have a sense of peace and contentment. Ever kind and helpful to others, my Grandmother lived that type of life, and despite the many hardships and sorrows of old age, this is its gift to her.

In turn, the stellar example she and people like her have set is a priceless lesson for the rest of us.

Do you have someone close to you who lived a long life, a virtuous life, or both? What lessons have they taught you?        

"Live a good, honorable life. Then when you get older and think back, you'll be able to enjoy it a second time." Life's Little Instruction Book, by H. Jackson Brown, Jr. (not His Holiness the Dalai Lama :)

May all beings be happy! 

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Living Simply: lessons learned

This is a list of what I've learned since the beginning of my journey to live simply. Also, feel free to read these milestones alongside the full story behind my journey here

What I've learned (in no particular order):

1) If possessions are taken from me due to situations beyond my control, waiting before trying to replace them (rather than acting out of attachment) can be helpful.

2) Material possessions should serve me, not the other way around.

3) Everything in my home should be either useful, cherished, or both.

4) Excess material possessions can hinder relationships with other people.

5) Consuming food can be a great source of enjoyment, but food should not be consumed for comfort alone.

6) Eat to live well, but don't live to eat.

7) The main purpose of clothing is for comfort and protection from the elements. However, clothing can also be worn to adorn our own natural beauty, as opposed to the sole purpose of impressing others.

8) Small, frequent positive changes are much more effective (and less exhausting) than large infrequent changes.

9) Fewer high-quality items are better than many cheap, inferior quality items.

10) Fewer possessions, less time cleaning, more time for loved ones and cherished hobbies.

11) A house containing fewer possessions and a greater emphasis on life more easily becomes a home.


Are you also on a journey dealing with excess material possessions? What have you learned so far? What are your goals?

May all beings be happy!


"Happiness resides not in possessions, and not in gold, happiness dwells in the soul." ~ Democritus

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Time for reflection

Hello fellow sentient beings! I may not have written in a while, but I have not been idle. In addition to really buckling down and applying for jobs, I have been thinking about a lot of things- and taking action. I don't know if I will write about all these things in detail here at BCB, but here they are!

I've been thinking about . . .

. . . productivity. Using President Eisenhower's method (made famous by Stephen Covey), I have taken a look at my daily/weekly/monthly activities and determined both their urgency and importance. This has helped a lot, and has led to me making significant changes in my priorities and how I spend my time.

. . . what it means to be a good citizen, and more specifically, a good American. I have been spending a lot of time self-educating, becoming more informed, and more active in the community. I also have devoured several biographies of famous Americans, which has been both fascinating and worthwhile.  

. . . cleaning. Mundane activities. How to do less of them, but still enough. I don't want to neglect our home and live in a mess, but since re-prioritizing, I find that less cleaning is definitely more. Because hey, there are more important things in life! :)

. . . organizing and decluttering. Directly related to cleaning, but a little more proactive. Currently I am in the midst of an all-out paper war, attacking each stack with my hand scanner, uploading the images, then shredding and discarding old receipts and papers. It has also been useful in locating important documents and storing them in a more organized fashion. I hope that the result will be an efficient filing system, documents that are easier to find, and a less cluttered home. We shall see!

. . . finances. As you can imagine, living on one small income on the east coast is not easy. So, I am trying to find ways to save (and potentially make) money. This past month I made some changes in the way I shop, resulting in a $100+ decrease in our grocery bill. It is a great start, but, there is more to do. The goal my husband and I have made is that we can start actually saving money, rather than living hand-to-mouth. And since there is so little left to cut (we have a pretty simple lifestyle to begin with) we will have to be creative! (Any ideas you may have would be appreciated.)

. . . fitness. To be honest, I have always HATED going to the gym. But, after noticing that I have started looking a little squishy, I decided to give it another try. And you know what? I love it! Recently the gym in our apartment complex purchased new equipment with screens that show views of national parks, so it feels like I am actually moving through the park while exercising. Needless to say, using these machines is so much fun! Another thing I think was crucial to enjoying my workouts was easing into the routine. One day in mid-February, I promised myself that I would work out once that week. Each week I tried to fit in one more workout, and by week five I was doing cardio 4x a week! Now I don't want to miss a workout- something unimaginable to me just a few months ago. I look forward to making additional changes to my workouts, and to continue challenging myself. 

. . . spirituality and God. Sometimes people misunderstand that being a Buddhist means also being an atheist. This in fact is not the case, it is just that the wisdom that the Buddha gave us in the form of the Four Noble Truths, Noble Eightfold Path, Five Moral Precepts, etc., do not require belief in God or a higher power. But that certainly doesn't mean that Buddhism dictates that someone can't or shouldn't believe. To make a very long story short (and a long post not as long :), I have thought a lot about my relationship with God, especially the fact that recently I had not included Him in my life. I have finally determined that this was because I needed to distance myself, not from God, but from how I had previously related to Him. In short, I needed an attitude adjustment, and I believe that with greater maturity and insight, a new relationship with God has started to blossom. 

So that's about it- actually, I ended up writing a heck of a lot more than I thought I would! But thanks for bearing with me :) Although I abhor the fact that I am unemployed and feel that I am not contributing as much as I would like, there have been some blessings in disguise, like having the time to think about (and even act upon) other important aspects of my life. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this post, despite its self-indulgent nature. I also hope that everything is well with you- As always feel free to share your thoughts and what is going on in your life in the comments below- I would love to hear from you!   

May all beings be happy!