The Zen of Less Stuff

I must admit I’ve always been intrigued by a minimalist approach. Not intrigued enough, apparently, to necessarily practice it but intrigued nonetheless.

The trend towards minimalism has been growing. New articles, blogs, websites and books are popping up all the time. Interestingly, millenials seem to be leading the pack towards having less stuff. That silver service (that belonged to her mother) Granny wants to offload on your son or daughter when they get married? Not happening. Why? They simply don’t want it. Millenials are way less into “stuff” than the generations before them. And that may actually be a good thing.

Research in positive psychology by Dr. Martin Seligman, author of several books on the subject, describes happiness or well-being (his preferred term) as measured by the following: Positive emotion, engagement, meaning, relationships and accomplishment. Positive emotion is described as happiness and life satisfaction. Engagement refers to using one’s abilities and interests in service to an absorbing interest or calling , while meaning refers to using our strengths to contribute to a larger purpose. Accomplishment and relationships round out the five, which Seligman identifies by the acronym “PERMA.”

Millenials, having come through the recession, concerns about the environment and sustainable lifestyles, not to mention the prospect of student loan debt, seem to be more focused on living a scaled-back lifestyle, on having experiences rather than acquiring stuff. If that’s the case, according to Seligman’s ideas, they may be on to something. According to an article in the Harvard Business Review (May 2010), millennials “place a strong emphasis on finding work that’s personally fulfilling,” and “are the most socially conscious generation since the 1960’s.”

The beauty of less.

The beauty of less.

The idea of paring down isn’t just limited to millennials. Although better living through consumerism isn’t going away anytime soon, there is a noticeable trend towards the idea of less being more. The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, by Marie Kondo, was a number one New York Times bestseller, and currently ranks as #1 in Religion and Spirituality on Amazon. (Yes, religion and spirituality.) Examples of minimalist living are everywhere. Steve Jobs, a noted minimalist, favored simplicity both in his designs and his personal life, and was well-known for his signature look of black turtleneck, blue jeans and sneakers.  The clothing store and website,, celebrates a life “filled with fewer, better things,” and features simple shapes in neutral colors. It even encourages the reader to join their “Lean Closet Movement,” simplifying personal wardrobes and donating items no longer worn to those who can use them.

It’s not difficult to see why a movement towards simplicity appeals. In a world that seems increasingly complicated, a simpler lifestyle translates to less pressure, reduced expenses, and more freedom. As many of us transition to different lifestyles, such as being solopreneurs with home offices (my case), more clutter – more stuff – equals more distraction and expenditure of mental and physical energy that could be focused elsewhere.

Here are a few ideas on how adopting a more minimalist lifestyle can impact you.

  • More time. The more stuff we have the more time we need to take care of our stuff. Our things have to be organized, maintained and stored.  Sifting through a packed closet looking for our favorite blue blouse can be time consuming and frustrating. So can sorting through a crowded cabinet of office supplies trying to locate the stapler. Picture, if you will, a closet with several well-chosen items hanging and actual space in between the hangers and you can almost feel the difference.
  • More money. We’ve got to pay for all that stuff and the more we have, the more money goes out to do that. Moreover, we may even pay someone else to help us take care of it – maintenance, cleaning and the like. Choosing to buy less means being able to save money for other things – a dream vacation, retirement, education, and reducing the weight of debt.
  • More life satisfaction. Our consumer culture has for decades hyped the “When I get the (new car, new dress, new kitchen, latest whatever,) then I’ll be happy,” mentality. Advertisers depend on our buying into these notions. If you accept Seligman’s theory of PERMA, however, the life satisfaction doesn’t hold weight for the long-term. Some thoughtful folks are realizing that the happiness and satisfaction they seek is better found elsewhere – spending time with loved ones, in service to a cause they believe in, or challenging themselves to accomplishment or learning a new skill.
  • Less stuff means less stress on the environment. As recent generations have become more aware of how consumer consumption impacts the natural world, trying to minimize our footprint has become of increasing concern. More awareness has led us to recycle, re-use, and reduce non-essentials, positively impacting our natural surroundings.

What about you? I’m curious to know if you have considered simplifying, downsizing, or streamlining your life? I know I have. Right now I’m working on clearing out my overstuffed bookcases of books I no longer need. I’m donating them, along with some other items, to a shop in my community that supports a cause important to me. Not only am I reducing clutter and distractions at home, I also get to feel a sense of satisfaction and contribution. That’s something money can’t buy.

7 Daily Habits to Start Now That Will Set You Up for Success

How did your day start out today? Did you wake up feeling rested and ready for the day? Did you make time for a healthy breakfast to get you started on the right foot and take you through the morning with energy? Did you take a few minutes to set an intention or plan for the day so you can go into it with clarity and confidence? What about exercise? Do you make time in your schedule for it? If mornings don’t work for you, do you have a plan to fit it in somewhere in your day?

We live busy lives and often feel that “fitting one more thing in” just isn’t going to happen. Yet, there are ways to set ourselves up for a successful day that can affect the quality of our lives in a big way, and they don’t necessarily take up a lot of time. Successful days add up to a rich and rewarding life, and all it takes is establishing healthy habits that become routine over time. Taking 10 minutes for a brisk walk, some inspirational reading or quiet meditation can significantly affect how we feel and the quality of our day.

Here are some daily habits you can start now to make a real difference in the bigger picture of your life:

  1. Get a good night’s sleep. How you start your day can make a HUGE difference in just about everything – your mood, appetite, and level of performance and productivity. How much you need is individual – most research suggests anywhere from 7 to 9 hours per night.
  2. Water – Upon waking up after a night’s sleep your body is naturally dehydrated. Drinking a large 8-12 oz glass of water after waking up provides your cells with the necessary hydration to feel energized and will also flush out any unwanted toxins. You’ll feel refreshed and ready to go.
  3. Exercise – The proven benefits of physical activity are many: more energy, stress relief, weight control, a better mood, a good night’s sleep, a sharper brain, improved focus and learning. Regular exercise is essential for health of body, mind and spirit.
  4. Quiet – We live in an age of constant stimulation: emails, phones, texts, social media – the list goes on. With all that going on, finding some space in our life for quiet and silence is vital. Even 10 minutes a day can improve physical and mental wellbeing and enhance one’s feelings of relaxation and control.
  5. Remember what’s really important. Taking time to connect – daily – with those people who mean the most to us is essential to wellbeing. When asked for a definition of positive psychology, psychologist and university professor Chris Peterson said it could be summed up in three words, “Other people matter.” Research shows that close relations with others – family, friends, community – reduces stress and increases emotional well being so making the effort to nurture close relationships is well worth the effort.
  6. Reading stimulates ideas, broadens knowledge, improves analytical thinking, speaking and writing. It encourages interest in the world and people around you, while making you more interesting at the same time. An added benefit in this over-stimulated world is improved concentration – immersing yourself in a good book or interesting article can be one of the great pleasures of life.
  7. Do something for someone else. Research shows that doing kind acts for others also benefits us – we feel good about ourselves, more ethical and positive. People who are caring and kind to others reap the benefits of being happier people themselves.

One of my life’s treasures – with Matthew.

What about you? Do you have a daily practice or habit that adds value to your life? What has worked best to set you up for a good day? Please post comments on my blog – I’d love to hear from you!

It goes so fast…..

Today’s article is a bit more personal than usual because graduation is right around the corner, and I’ve been feeling very nostalgic. It’s a bittersweet time –  Our son Matthew is graduating from high school – Class of 2015! – and with this time so close at hand it’s been impossible for me to avoid feeling a bit misty at times.

I became a mother somewhat later than most – well into my 30’s.  Looking back, I don’t think my age really felt like much of an issue.  I felt really good most of my pregnancy, I worked out, and went to yoga class into my eight month.  I remember talking to my yoga teacher, planning to bring the baby in his carrier after he was born so “he could sleep while we had class.”  Neither of us ever having had children, we were clueless as to how completely unrealistic that was.  (I went back to yoga class 12 years later.)

I have not ever before or since experienced what I felt when Matthew was born.  Suffice it to say that from that moment on, I was changed forever.

When I look back now, I realize I had two guiding principles throughout his growing up years that today I feel very grateful for.

  1. It goes so fast.   From the time Matthew was very young, I heard this from friends and strangers alike.  People would stop to visit and maybe fuss a bit over him, as we do with babies and small children, and it seems I heard that repeated, often wistfully, more times than I could count.  I am so glad I paid attention, because I felt that what they spoke was true and so I became determined to be there as much as possible for everything I could.  I am so glad I did.  It went so fast.
  2. “If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever else you do well matters very much.” – Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis   I came upon this quote around the time Matthew was born.  It rang true for me then and it rings true for me today.  It was my call to action when it came to child-raising – whatever else I did, I wanted to be the best mother I could be for him.  I wanted to be present in his life, and see to it that he had everything he needed to grow well.  Most mothers I talk to are this way.   Motherhood is initiation into that group of women who have in their lives that special person or persons that are more important than themselves, that they would pretty much be willing to do anything for.  As a youngish mother once said to me, “You can’t remain self-absorbed and be a good mother.”

I’m fortunate that Matthew was raised in a loving home with two parents who made him a priority.  My husband was, and is, a devoted father and has been a strong partner in our marriage and family.  We’ve had a lot of fun over the years, leaving some great memories.  We always travelled as a family, starting with a trip to Canada and New York when he was just two months old, and have been able to experience many wonderful countries and cultures together.  I am so grateful to have had these times.

Mostly, though, I’m grateful for Matthew and who he has become – a kind, intelligent, responsible and honorable young man and, often, the funniest person I know.  It’s been my gift to be his mom.  So to Matthew, and the Class of 2015 – Congratulations and the best of everything always – Well done!

Enjoy the season!
One of our favorite family trips – London 2011


Some Favorite Sites to Check Out

I’m big on bookmarking health and wellness websites and blogs I think I may want to refer to in the future. Every so often, I go through and delete whatever is no longer relevant for me for whatever reason. It occurred to me during one of these sessions that there are certain blogs I tend to refer to again and again, because the content is always fresh, relatable and valuable. Here are a few of my go-to sites:

This site does a great job of providing current information on trending topics from relationships, personal growth and spirituality to nutrition, fitness and body image. It’s got an eco-friendly section, a wealth of free videos on topics ranging from domestic violence to Crossfit to addiction. Alternative and traditional concepts offer something for everyone.

This site was created and is maintained by the students of Dr. William Dement. Dr. Dement is considered the world’s leading authority on the topic of sleep, and founded Stanford University’s Sleep Disorders Clinic and Research Center, the world’s first sleep disorders center. Anything and everything on how to be intentional about getting a good night’s sleep so that you can get out there and take on the world.

This site is sponsored by the University of Minnesota’s Center for Spirituality and Healing. It’s the most comprehensive site I’ve come across to date on alternative medicine, complementary therapies, and natural healthcare remedies and practices. Some, such as massage and meditation, are pretty much mainstream these days. Others, such as cupping, moxibustion, and tui na, might not be familiar at all. Here’s the place to explore the unfamiliar.

This newer site is exactly what the name suggests – all about healthy living. What I like about it is the design – it’s eye-catching, yet clean and user-friendly. Great information and articles on everything from the usual (food and fitness) to goals and performance and beauty and style. I particularly like the section titled, “Effortless Good Looks Take Some Effort.” How true.

This site grew out of the book of the same name. The book sub-title is: Live Strong, Fit, and Sexy – Until You’re 80 and Beyond, which gives you an idea of the target audience, but it’s good advice at any age. It’s well-researched with up-to-date info on how to turn back our biological clock, and minimize many of the accepted difficulties of aging such as weakness and problems with balance, and remain functionally younger well into the golden years. Chris Crowley, one of the book’s authors, lends a companionable voice to the site as he did in the book.

Since I aspire to be minimalist someday, I included this site. Founder Courtney Carver describes it better than I could: “Be more with less is about simplifying your life and really living. Living with less creates time and space to discover what really matters. Through decluttering, and focusing on the best things instead of all the things, you can create a life with more savings and less debt, more health and less stress, more space and less stuff, and more joy with less obligation.” Like I said, I aspire to this. (I’m a work in progress, in case you’re wondering.) The site itself is lovely and peaceful. The FAQ’s on simple living are a good place to start.

Minimalism's peaceful feel.

Minimalism’s peaceful feel.

What’s Stress Got to Do With it?

Everyone feels a certain amount of stress from time to time. Stressful events or circumstances sooner or later impact everyone’s life. A certain amount of stress is normal, and can even be healthy. Having a deadline about getting a project or report done can spur you to completion. Stress in one form or another is a fact of life, but chronic stress can take a toll on our health. The good news is that our lifestyle choices have a lot to do with how much influence stress has on our daily life.

The American Psychological Association’s annual Stress in America (2015) survey provides data on the leading causes of stress in our society, and there’s both good news and not-so-good news. Since 2007, the year of the survey’s inception, stress levels have been trending downward overall, however, women, young adults and parents still report higher levels of stress. The survey also found that “Regardless of group, Americans continue to report stress at levels higher than what they believe is healthy, struggle to achieve their health and lifestyle goals, and manage stress in ineffective ways.”

© Andresr |

© Andresr |

By now the interconnection of mind/body/spirit is well established yet many people in Western culture still neglect their basic health needs – nutrition, exercise, and getting enough rest/sleep. It’s easy to skimp on sleep or grab a fast food lunch when we’re on the go, but neglecting our health impacts everything else in our lives – our families, our work, our enjoyment of life.

We all want satisfaction and fulfillment from life, but what really drives these things? Science has come up with some answers. What researchers have discovered over decades is this: Happiness is determined 50% by genetics, 40% by our behavior and choices, and only 10%(!) by our circumstances (i.e., marital status, income, etc.) That’s great news because it means we have a lot of control in influencing our wellbeing, including how we deal with stress.

Successful people know that they need to be in top physical shape to perform at their best. This includes both body and mind. A meditation practice provides proven benefits such as reduced stress, increased focus and clarity, enhanced levels of productivity and greater energy.

Many highly effective individuals and public personalities have a regular meditation practice that enables them to sustain their high levels of achievement and sense of wellbeing. Ray Dalio – the billionaire CEO and founder of Bridgewater Associates, the largest global hedge fund, has been a regular meditator for years and has said that meditation has played a role in every success he has had in life.   Oprah meditates daily, as does Ariana Huffington, Russell Simmons, Jerry Steinfeld, and George Stephanopoulus, to name just a few. Far from being a passing trend, meditation is now mainstream, a part of daily life for many.

What other behaviors and choices can determine our reactions to stressors in our life?

  • According to the APA survey, those of us who have others they can rely on for emotional support (family, friends or community) have lower stress levels than those without. The answer: Build relationships with trustworthy people you can count on (and who can count on you.) Nurture and make time for relationships with family and friends, and be open to new ones. If you’re dealing with a specific challenge such as a chronic illness, or a difficult family situation, consider finding a support group to meet others who are experiencing similar difficulties.
  • Take a walk. The benefits of a regular exercise routine continue to pile up. Aerobic exercise reduces levels of the body’s stress hormones – adrenaline and cortisol. It also stimulates production of endorphins, chemicals in the brain that are the body’s natural painkillers and mood elevators. Release of endorphins promotes feelings of both mental and physical relaxation. Even a brisk 20 minute walk, jog or bike ride can take the edge off when you’re having a difficult day.
  • Take a break. Walking away from a tough or challenging situation even for a short time can provide much needed breathing room, and enable you to return with a clear head and different perspective.
  • Share a laugh. If you’ve ever been in the middle of a tense situation that suddenly turned comical, you’ve experienced the power of laughter as a stress reliever. It may not be a cure for everything that ails you, but there’s a reason for the old adage, “Laughter is the best medicine.”
  • Help someone else.   The APA study reports that, “when it comes to longevity, research suggests that providing social support to friends and family may be even more important than receiving it.” (Psychological Science 14(4), 320-327.)

If ongoing stress is impairing your ability to function, it may be necessary to consult with a licensed mental health professional. Such a person can help to identify and develop helpful strategies to manage the stress in your life more effectively.

Making it Stick!

Over the last several weeks, I’ve been talking about four elements of wellbeing: Sleep, Food, Mood and Exercise. I’ve also discussed how these four areas interact and support each other. Understanding these interactions can play a major role in being able to maintain changes in lifestyle habits over the long haul.

Changing habit patterns isn’t easy and maintaining those changes over time can be even trickier. Even with all the helpful information we have today, lifestyle-related illnesses are more widespread in modern culture than ever. Heart disease, stroke, obesity, Type II Diabetes – all are influenced by lifestyle factors. Unfortunately, despite our having choices in these matters, our best efforts at change are often met with limited success. We may lose the fifteen pounds, or start the exercise program, only to have our progress derailed and eventually fall by the wayside. We then find ourselves back at square one, feeling a little less confident in our ability to succeed in making the changes we desire.

One of the big benefits in looking at these areas of Sleep, Food, Mood and Exercise is that, because they do interact with and influence each other, it’s possible to leverage these interactions and move towards creating lasting change.

Let’s take sleep. We all know how we feel after a good night’s rest – we’re energized, focused, and our mood is uplifted. Losing sleep, on the other hand, can make us feel lethargic, less alert and irritable. Research is coming out all the time on the health and performance benefits that result from a good night’s sleep. But did you know that the amount of sleep you get can affect your appetite?

Insufficient sleep affects your body’s hunger hormones, ghrelin and leptin. Sleep deprivation increases the amount of ghrelin your body produces. The function of ghrelin is to signal your brain that you need to eat – it’s an appetite stimulant. The hormone leptin, however, suppresses appetite. When you don’t get enough sleep, leptin levels in the body drop, prompting feelings of hunger. With an increase in ghrelin and decreased leptin, controlling your appetite is that much harder.

Another area impacted by sleep is exercise. There’s a reason why elite athletes in training are in bed early! Research shows that athletic performance is improved by even one additional hour of sleep per night. Most of us aren’t going to make careers out of being competitive athletes but if one extra hour of sleep can make a difference at that level, it’s going to affect the rest of us, too. All bodies need sleep for rest, repair and optimum functioning.

Research is ongoing in this area, but the foods we eat also can affect our getting needed shut-eye. Most everyone knows that caffeine is a stimulant and things like coffee and soda should be avoided if sleep is an issue. Alcohol can also be problematic. Even a couple of drinks before bed can interfere with a normal sleep cycle. However, did you know that spicy and/or acidic foods can cause heartburn, in turn interfering with sound sleep?

Returning for a moment to exercise – studies have shown that exercise relieves stress, positively affecting your ability to get a good night of sound rest. Exercise also impacts mood. It’s well documented that exercise increases the biochemicals serotonin and dopamine, both of which contribute to feelings of wellbeing. Feelings of wellbeing, in turn, increase the likelihood of our making healthier choices.

By now you’re getting the picture of how these four areas interconnect with and support each other. Focusing on any one of these separately may work for a while, but it’s key to leverage these interactions in order to maintain lasting change over time. Not only will you set yourself up for success in maintaining those hard-won changes, you’ll feel, look and operate at your absolute best. Nice!

Sleep, Food, Mood and Exercise – The Anti-Aging Answer


“We do not stop exercising because we grow old – we grow old because we stop exercising.” ~ Dr. Kenneth Cooper

By now we all know about the importance of exercise, and the benefits we get from regular physical activity. Adopting an exercise plan has been shown to improve outcomes in chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, and coronary artery disease. Research proves that exercise plays a role in the treatment and prevention of more than 40 diseases, including obesity, osteoporosis, and depression. It increases energy levels, lowers blood pressure, improves muscle tone and strength, and keeps you looking fit. It also reduces stress and anxiety, improves sleep, and boosts self-esteem. Regular exercise may be as close to a Fountain of Youth as there is. Despite all this, statistics still show that the vast majority of people in the U.S. don’t meet the recommended guidelines for physical activity.

If an active lifestyle benefits the body and mind, a sedentary one does the opposite. Recent articles in Time, Forbes and The Huffington Post – among numerous others – have declared that “Sitting is the new smoking,” increasing the chances of developing cancer, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

The case for exercise is hard to ignore. Add to that rising health care costs and an increasing emphasis on wellness and prevention, and the question becomes: Can we afford not to exercise? One of the main roadblocks to exercise for many people is finding the time to fit it in. People are busy – we work, we have families to take care of, and sometimes aging parents to tend to. We have numerous obligations both inside and outside the home. Yet some of us find the time to make exercise a part of our lives, while others don’t. What’s the difference? I believe part of the answer lies in our priorities. We make time for what is important to us. If you really want to make regular exercise a part of your life, you will find a way. Often, the hardest part is getting started. When you begin to incorporate exercise into your schedule, and give it a fair trial, exercise can and will become a habit.

How much is enough? If you are currently inactive, any increase in physical activity is good for you. The 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends that healthy adults get a minimum of 2-1/2 hours per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, or a minimum of 1-1/4 hours per week of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, or a combination of the two. You can break down the 2-1/2 hours over the course of a week however you like. For example, 2-1/2 hours of moderately intense activity over the course of a week could mean 30 minutes of brisk walking 5 days a week. It’s also recommended that adults do muscle-strengthening activities at least two days a week.

When it comes to exercise the most important thing you can do is this: Find a plan that works for you so that it becomes a part of your routine. Make that time non-negotiable.

If you tend to be more social, having a scheduled time to walk or workout with a friend or your spouse is a great idea. Schedule exercise into your weekly calendar, just as you would any other activity. (I’ve done this forever.) This way, you’ll have the time blocked out at the beginning of the week, so you know you have it.

I have a friend who walks 5-6 days a week for an hour. She kept a pair of walking shoes in her car and took advantage of breaks in her work day to fit in a walk between appointments. She’s still one of the fittest and most energetic people I know.

Deciding to take responsibility for your health and making exercise part of your life is a choice that you make. The philosopher, Wolfgang von Goethe, said, “We always have time if we will but use it aright.” Keep the big picture in mind: you, strong, fit and healthy – for life.