“Everything around you that you call life was made up by people who are no smarter than you” – Steve Jobs

I have written before about the importance of teaching yourself and I’ve been reading and thinking about this concept a lot lately.  I have been a student my whole life; when I have spent a couple of years learning something well, I move on to the next thing.  I love variety and this is probably why I don’t have a career – I’m too interested in a lot of things to get really good at any – lol!  Well, I can laugh at this but it has caused me quite a bit of mental grief as well.

Growing up and going to University, I had very definite ideas of who I was and what my limits were.  I put myself in a proverbial box.  Probably most of us do this.  “I am sporty” or “I am intelligent” or “I am an artist” are all types of self definitions that seem true but actually limit ourselves in our minds and activities.  The negative also applies.  “I am not sporty” or “I am not creative” are more obvious limitations that we use to justify not trying certain things.  What can be even worse to our life experience and self definition is that these limits and labels are often given to us by others.  It then becomes a vicious cycle that we internalize and become our own enslavers.  Like the Elephant who is restrained by a meager tether and peg.  He could easily pull it out and walk away but from being slowly conditioned that he cannot break his chain (first tied to a tree then progressively smaller holds) his mind limits itself.

As I mentioned, I have been affected by this kind of thinking for as long as I can remember as are probably 95% of mankind.  You have to do well in school, get a good career, own your house so you can retire when you are 60.  If you haven’t done X by the time you are 30 years old it is too late.  Without benefits and a pension it’s all over.  You can’t make a living as an artist. I have more goats than you do. Etc, etc.  There is so much guck in our minds it’s nearly impossible to see the truth.  You don’t have to lead a conventional life.

So when I tried the “say yes to everything” concept in Hawaii, I basically bypassed this thinking.  I suspended my judgements of everything and my self imposed limits. What a different world I experienced!  Being open to anything brought in new things I couldn’t have imagined and most of them were amazing.  Better than I could have created for myself under the definition of who I am and who I am not.  The concept has really excited me because now I can say, “what would happen if I question my judgement and first reaction to everything I encounter in my daily life?”  This, as I said, is where I am and it is pretty exciting.  Working on erasing my self limitations has been a surprising part of this journey of The Year of Elimination.

As an update, I am moving my album project materials to my sister’s house who is a great scrapbooker and has more tools to complete this project than I do. It will be much more fun to do with company and a great project to work on over weekends.  Also, I am going to donate my camera to the Salvation Army as none of you readers wants it!  That’s okay, I always enjoy a trip there – bargain finding bliss.

Hope you are all having a great weekend.

Mama and baby Humpback whale – Happy Mother’s Day!

Every summer I reread the little book Gift from the Sea, by Anne Morrow Lindbergh as a treat to myself.  Of course, I love the beach but it’s also an easy read about the challenges facing a woman at various stages of life.   Whatever problem I am dealing with at the time, she always has some great insight about it.  It’s probably the best self-help book for women out there!

So when I travelled to Maui on vacation this year, I brought her along.  I couldn’t believe my eyes when I read this passage which pretty much sums up my whole goal for the Year of Elimination:

Simplification of outward life is not enough.  It is merely the outside.  But I am starting with the outside.  I am looking at the outside of a shell, the outside of my life – the shell.  The complete answer is not to be found on the outside, in an outward mode of living.  This is only a technique, a road to grace.  The final answer, I know, is always inside.  But the outside can give a clue, can help one to find the answer inside.  One is free, like the hermit crab, to change one’s shell.

A road to grace.  Yes, that is exactly what I am looking for.  As I create an outer environment that I like, that is simple and extremely function for my personal needs, I hope to be able to live more authentically and find grace.  Have you ever notice most houses are not built with your lifestyle in mind?  Why are bedrooms so large when all they should have are a bed and dresser?  Bedrooms are not a place to “hang out” so why put so much space there?  Living and sleeping need separate spaces.  Rec rooms are great for kids and can be big enough that they can have their own personal areas (I loved my corner of our basement when growing up with my sewing/ballet area!)  And where in the plan is a room for creativity?  Somewhere you can have all your books, art supplies, anything you need for your hobbies and especially anything that inspires you at your finger tips (I would have a comfy couch or chair just to sit and contemplate all the beauty around me).  A space you can have for you that can be as messy as you want and you just shut the door when you leave and it’s all as it was when you come back.  Bliss.

On the home front, elimination and reconfiguration of my living space continues.  I have made a couple of more trips to the Salvation Army and bought a couch from Kijiji.  I know this is actually adding a large piece of furniture to my already cluttered house but surprisingly (maybe just surprising to me) it actually created more living space.  We now have a defined living room and separate workspace for sewing and other hand crafts.  I can’t believe how well this is working for us.  Much more is getting done in the same amount of space.  It’s amazing how a little planning and looking at things differently can improve your life.  Which brings me back to Maui.

What I learned from my vacation that I now apply every day…

Lesson #1: Make a plan.  Kristina and I had only 8 days on the island and we quickly realized we had better make a good plan or we wouldn’t be able to get to everything we wanted to do. Making even a rough plan with room for spontaneity is better than no plan and everyone we talked to that have been to Maui couldn’t believe how much we did.  It was totally worth all the experiences and neither of us regretted the plan.  Even the lack of sleep.

Lesson#2: Say “yes” to new experiences.  Most times I find I don’t do new things simply because it is out of my comfort zone.  I made a pact with myself that for the week in Hawaii, I was just going to say “yes” to everything and go from there.  It made decision making easy and had a surprising outcome.  Do you want to get up a 3am to drive 2 hours and watch the sun rise from the volcano summit? “Yes.”  Do you want to drive on crazy roads where you fear for your life and have  no idea what you’ll come across? “Yes.”  Do you want to go on a helicopter ride and view the islands from the air? “Yes.”  None of this was what I expected to be doing during this week and all of it was better than I could have imagined.  Obviously, saying “yes” can get you into trouble, but keeping an open mind and not just saying “no” because it sounds crazy or is your first response can bring great things into your life.  Flow is a nice state of being.

Lesson#3: Do it now.  If you’re thinking about doing something, there is no time like the present.  You’ll be surprised by what you can accomplish if you just do something when you think of it rather than “I’ll do that later when I have more time” or “I’ll do that tomorrow.”  Life is short and the same opportunity never comes again.  Enjoy life now (don’t save it for when you can afford it or retirement, etc.)

That’s all for now and for all you mom’s out there hope you’re all having a nice Mother’s Day.

Here is the  first giveaway!  My old Cybershot camera that I barely ever used.  If you want it, just let me know in your comment before May 27th and I’ll put your name in the draw.  I’ll post the winner then.

Sorry I missed posting last week, it was all I could manage to survive the sinus cold from hell.  Normally I am very healthy but maybe this “elimination” process is shaking up everything including my physical form.  I’m still hoping it’s some kind of healing process that I am going to come out of “transformed” into a better me.  I watch a lot of TV.   (Prince Zuko on Avatar anyone?)

“Red bird and Mrs HotLips”

Love holds no grievances. – A Course In Miracles (ACIM)

I came across this idea in my reading recently and it really hit me for some reason.  Do I hold any grievances with anyone?  When I started searching the archives of my mind I was shocked to find out I hold a little bit of a what you may call a grievance with everyone I could think of.  What?!?  Before you all stop reading my blog I will clarify.  Thoughts like, “why did they (or didn’t they) do that?” counts as a grievance in the definition from the ACIM so you can relax now.  Sure there are some people I hold much stronger grievances toward (can you say “ex”?), grievances from childhood, and grievances about loss and unfairness.  I was really on a roll going through everyone who ever wronged me and having a quite satisfying time of it.   Until of course, I was emotionally exhausted.  I’m not a believer of doing what’s “politically “correct and yes, sometimes it really is good to be honest and just let your pent up feelings out (in a good way…that’s best done alone…without sharp objects nearby…).  The most interesting part in doing so in this exercise is that I could never have as many grievances with anyone else as I have with myself.  Defeat.  Ground zero.  I know this is what I am supposed to learn in the first place but it still sucks.  Now I have to “get over it” and let go of these self-gratifying thoughts.  Why? – because it’s only hurting me.  Ugh!  The cliches!  No one else is thinking about any of these events swimming in my perpetual memory of pain at all.  Such a strange phenomenon, just like forgiveness.  It seems like it is for the benefit of the offending party but it’s not.  It’s about freeing yourself from continually feeding your mind harmful thoughts that keep you from not only being your best self but from being happy.

Oh well.  Maybe I’ll revisit my grievances one more time before I use the force and come over from the dark side…

 

Note:  I’ve been working on my blog to add some  interesting new features like GoodReads and Links to Blogs I love.  Some organizing and “out of the box” lifestyle ideas as well but if you check nothing else out, visit the blog by Chris Guillibeau called The Ar of Non-Conformity.  It’s awesome!

Also, I thought it would be fun as part of my “elimination” process I will start posting free giveaways – of my stuff!  Only good stuff I assure you in good condition so just leave a comment when I post one and you’ll be in the draw (winners posted the following week). Since my readership is pretty much friends and family right now I probably don’t need this disclaimer but I will include it just in case – giveaways will only be shipped to Canadian addresses – sorry to the New Zealand readers!

 

P.S.  What I’m working on…(yikes!)

We are three weeks into the e-course with Heather Bruggeman and it has been really fun and informative. Being from the country and growing up on a farm, my family has always had amazing gardens with plenty of fresh vegetables throughout the year.  My mom is a whiz at canning and preserving the harvest so I’ve been very lucky to learn from her.  The importance of good, wholesome food has always been a natural lifestyle, though for some reason, I still love junk food!  It’s an on again off again bad habit of mine that I do hope to be able to kick some day.  Partially due to the fact that I don’t like cooking, when I get hungry I just grab what’s easy.  Chips, cookies, chocolate – all my favourites!  However, I have noticed that with the preparation, planning and mindset presented in this nutrition course, I can feel just as satisfied eating healthier choices.

So far the course has covered the philosophy of eating well – from scratch, whole foods your grandmother would recognize, how to set up your pantry to make preparation of healthy meals easier (as well as travel baskets of good snacks while your out and about), and menu planning.  I have never been good at menu planning which as I mentioned, leads to hunger and poor food choices so this one has been a hard one for me.  I’m hoping that as I work on planning the weeks dinners, I will find cooking more enjoyable, meals more nutritious and perhaps even save some money of groceries!  A girl can dream.

Setting up the pantry has been fun and the one thing that is new for our family is cooking more with beans.  Not from a can but dried beans you have to soak and actually cook.  Talk about labour intensive!  However, I’ve learned that you can cook a whole bag of chickpeas and freeze what you aren’t immediately using.  This makes them readily accessible to put on salads or make humus or just add to a stir-fry.  So far this has worked out really well and I’m actually excited to try out some recipes like Black-bean veggie burgers!  Just writing that sentence makes my junk-food loving self wonder about my current sanity.

Smoothies have been another hit.  Although I have made smoothies many times over the years, Heather’s recipes are great with a really nice consistency.  I usually get the proportions all wrong and they don’t blend.  I actually made one with fresh kale in my Magic Bullet with no trouble at all – amazing!  But the best part of all about this course is the true simplicity of it all – basic food ingredients and not many of them.  Again, less is more and I’m loving how I feel eating this way.  Hopefully I can keep it up!

What simple things so you do to eat healthy?  Any easy tips?

This is the mantra of Michael Gill Gates, the author of How Starbucks Saved My Life, his memoir basically about going from riches to rags.  Not a very common story but definitely an interesting one.  I was intrigued when an Indigo employee highly recommended it and said it had inspired her to leave her corporate job and work in the book store.  Wow!  That is a change.  Most people are motivated by money and security, especially at midlife, so to give that all up was incredible.  My kind of people. (Maybe not too smart, but I can definitely relate.)

So while I was enjoying this entertaining and easy read, it struck me how this is another example of how eliminating things (in this case losing all of his money, connections, friends, social status) lead him to find his true self and surprisingly, happiness.  Can you imagine being raised in a mansion, surrounded by literally famous people then losing it all to be cleaning public toilets at the age of 64?  It really sounds terrible and unbelievable but he was happier than he had ever been.  How can this be?

He now lived in a small attic apartment with scant furnishings and belongings.  No TV to cloud his mind, no money to worry about losing, no people to constantly try to impress, a job that was so fast paced he didn’t have time or energy to ruminate over his mistakes.  In fact, I believe he found happiness in this “menial” job because he was physically performing useful and necessary tasks.  In our modern society nobody wants to clean their own homes let alone do that sort of work for a living (and definitely not for the living those jobs pay!)  We are encouraged to go to University and make lots of money so you can hire people to do these tasks that are “beneath” us.  But these tasks are our lives.  The satisfaction of hard work that amounts to something tangible – a sparkling clean bathroom – is a basic human need.  They are part of the human experience.  Removing ourselves totally from this kind of life skill work is like removing ourselves from nature and the rhythm of the seasons.   I have heard people recommend that doing any service for someone else in need helps with depression.  We seem to be hard wired to find happiness in service.  I get this feeling when we pile wood for the winter.  It can be tiring and physically challenging (2 bush cord!) but I love that I am contributing to the basic need of my family to keep warm and cozy all winter.  Growing your own food is another pretty common source of this kind of happiness.

It may not be glamorous but once his life was pared down, he had time to see what was really important to him and who he really was.  Then, in the silence and space he had created he wrote a book about it and I am sure is wealthy again!  What a crazy world we live in.  This is exactly what I hope to gain from my year of elimination.

This weekend I have been sicker than a dog with the flu which has kept me home for 3 straight days.  Normally, I would love this but being unable to do anything actually fun is well, no fun.  Not only are you compelled to stay in bed all day (getting up only to fulfill bodily needs), you get to ruminate about all the things you aren’t getting done.  So today, feeling a little bit better, I decided I could at least tackle one box of sentimental items without too much angst, my childhood toys.  These have travelled nearly 40 years from Mount St Louis, ON to Toronto to San Francisco to Calgary and back to Ontario.  They’ve covered more ground than some people I know!  It is definitely time to say goodbye to my beloved old friends.

I know, this seems like a pretty easy one since I can give them to my kid if I want to and just add to the mountain of toys already spilling from her closet, but I only gave her the Barbies (see last weeks post).  She’s likes playing with them these days and it helps mom’s pocketbook to not have to actually buy them new (score!)  There were three special ones however that are for display only (she has been duly advised, at least until she is old enough not to rip their hair out).

So I emptied the box and lined up all my stuffed animals so I could take the sacred picture, and then put them in the Salvation Army pile.  A couple I saved for my cousins new baby but 90% are going.  I feel a twinge of sadness but surprisingly, a great deal more of that deep in the belly good feeling.  Is it relief?  Newly created space?  Joy at releasing just a little bit more of my past?  I don’t know what to call it but it is all good.  May many others love and enjoy them…

P.S.  I did keep one doll – my Baby Beans!  She’s just too cute and too sentimental to give away.  Besides, she still talks!

Have you kept any of your childhood toys?  If not, what did you do with them?  If so, what are your plans for the ones you still have?  Do you wish you had kept some that you gave away?

My Barbies I've kept for 35 years!

Once I set my mission for the year to eliminate and release the old and the outgrown, I have devoured every article, book and bit of advice I could get my hands on about organizing and de-cluttering your life.  Even Oprah’s latest magazine is devoted to the subject (how timely!)  The one idea that has really stuck with me though was this – it’s not so much about what you get rid of that’s important, it’s what you decide to keep that matters most.  I hadn’t thought of the process in this way before.  It kind of makes it easier really.  What do I want to keep that will be meaningful in the life I want to build?  What represents who I am now and who I want to be in the future?  What makes me feel lighter, more real, more myself?

Keep these things.

Many things tie us to a past that no longer is, regardless of whether we want it that way or not.  A textbook does not mean you are still a student.  A ring does not mean the relationship continues.  A father’s favourite hat does not make him alive.  These things are chains that are as heavy as Jacob Marley’s and we don’t even know it.  In fact, if asked we would say these things are actually objects of love.  How could any physical thing cause such inner conflict?

We give them meaning.  In fact, we give everything meaning.  Knowing this helps to let go of our attachments – not only to the things which we identify ourselves by but also the thoughts, ideas and values we identify ourselves with.  This is the real purpose behind de-cluttering.  Eliminating what holds old meaning creates space, which is good,  and keeping what has meaning now helps us to see what we are now, what we want to be and the fact that it is in our hands.

I will probably never be able to give away everything in my life that holds meaning for me that I should let go.  Hopefully, I will be able to keep what will help me grow.

What would you like to “keep” that provides positive energy and not negative weight to your life?