Simple pleasures

I loved Tsh Oxenreider’s latest post (while she’s on summer break) about what’s making her happy.  Several of her items might be on my list at any given time as well, but it’s the practice of noticing the simple pleasures in my daily life that I’ve neglected lately.  I value a gratitude practice and have for many years — in all varieties — but what’s been missing from my practice lately is giving thanks for the simple pleasures.

My current simple pleasures:

  • quiet mornings at my kitchen table with a cup of London Fog (Earl Grey tea with vanilla and milk)
  • watching the water in the bay shimmer outside of my window
  • spending time (almost) daily capturing my thoughts on living more simply and gratefully
  • breakfast with my husband when he gets up
  • weekly face chats with my children on the other side of the world
  • the little coffee shop on the 6th floor of my building
  • being “regular” enough at the expat club that they know our preferences
  • riding my bicycle on the sidewalk (it’s standard here in Japan)
  • watching Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries with my husband
  • seeing children play in the park outside of my apartment building (especially when they play baseball)
  • watching the ferris wheel light show at night from my living room window
  • my husband walking me to my office in the mornings
  • Clorets gum (it’s a crazy mentholatum-tasting opener that clears the throat and the sinuses  and then eases into a standard mint-flavor)

[semi]minimal vacationing

We’re taking our first family vacation this year.  Now that our children are adults with their own significant others, this has become much harder to plan but even more rewarding.

When they were living at home, it was easy enough to know when everyone had a free week and make a plan.  We also had lots of mini-vacations throughout the year (and for that matter spent most of our free time together anyway with school activities like marching band) so if one destination didn’t meet everyone’s vacation dreams, we could remedy that quickly enough.

Now, we want everyone to get what they want from a single vacation.  We want to have fun, we want memorable experiences, we want good food, we want time to catch-up, and we want everyone to be able to relax.  This has always meant for us that we need to pre-pay as much as possible and we need a (flexible) plan.

My perfectionism kicks in at the planning stage.  I visualize the whole family with all the perfect items to make our vacation better.  Ponchos for the (inevitable) rain?  Matching hats?  Fans for the heat?  Perfectionism and [semi]minimalism are not friends.  How do I balance what I think will make a vacation better (we were all scouts and preparedness is our motto) with the desire to not end up with disposable landfill at the end of this trip?

Even without buying souvenirs (none of us has a great affinity for tchotches) these “useful” items will end up with little use in our daily lives where we have umbrellas and air conditioning.  Keeping them for the next vacation seems equally impractical.

Other than individual sweat rags (which are ubiquitous in Japan) I ended up selecting a few things that can be shared among the six of us.  Four hats, three cooling towels, two fans.  It’s probably still overkill but I acquired less for this vacation than I have in the past, so I’ll count that as progress.

essentialism for the soul: family

When I practice gratitude, the first (and sometimes only) thing I give thanks for is my amazing husband and daughters.  I’m white, from Southern California, so I grew up outside of “cousin culture” described by Damon Young in one of my favorite posts of his, “Do White People Have Cousins?“.

My family exposure growing up was mostly limited to my maternal grandmother and her husband, a crazy aunt, and two uncles (who both married the same woman at different times — but that’s a different story).  That exposure was limited to major holidays and lasted only until my grandmother passed away.  The last time I saw the majority of my mother’s family was in 1989 at her funeral.  My parents were divorced when I was three so I saw even less of my dad’s family.

My own little nuclear family is close, though now that my children are grown, we have to make a concerted effort with weekly family video calls to remain so.  They’ve both come to Japan for a visit this year, and they’ve taken a couple of vacations together, but we haven’t been together as a family since last Christmas.  Next week, we’re taking our first family vacation of the year (to one of the least minimal places on Earth but also the happiest) and I am treasuring this opportunity to reconnect even more now than I did when they were living at home.



Friday Favorites

Friday seems to be a nice day to wrap-up a week.  I enjoy Tim Ferris’ Five-Bullet Friday and Tsh Oxenreider’s Five Quick Things both of which I receive by email on Fridays.  I mentioned before that I also enjoy TGIF from Brene Brown which is a lovely wrap-up combined with gratitude and I like Erin Boyle’s My Week in Objects (because who doesn’t love beautiful objects?).

Favorites this week:

Quote: “It’s not the tragedies that kill us, it’s the messes.” – Dorothy Parker
I love Dorothy Parker’s wit and imagery and this quote fit my post on order perfectly this week.

Podcast: Tim Ferris interviewing Seth Godin.
This is an episode from 2016 that I hadn’t listened to previously and it had so many incredible nuggets of wisdom.  As with many of Tim’s interviews, it’s long (about 2 hours) but so good all the way to the end (where Seth includes a list of his favorite audiobooks).

Entertainment: Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. “A female sleuth sashays through the back lanes and jazz clubs of Melbourne in the late 1920s, fighting injustice with her pearl-handled pistol and her dagger-sharp wit.” – IMDB
We didn’t watch TV for years while our kids were growing up and still find new-to-us shows regularly that are surprisingly good.  This is an Australian-produced series that we’re really enjoying together.

Book: Tightrope by Amanda Quick.
I mostly read non-fiction, so when I read fiction, I like light romance or mystery with witty dialogue.  Amanda Quick’s Burning Cove books include both romance and mystery.  I was born and raised in California and the big-studio heyday of the 1930’s in California is one of those times I would most like to travel back to (if time travel was a thing).

Music: Sinnerman by Nina Simone.
I love the 1965 live recording of this song and it came up on my playlist yesterday while I was working.  I can’t but feel more energized while listening.

“Forced” minimalism

Stuffed closet

Living in Japan for the past eight months has provided an almost-clinical view of my beliefs around shopping and stuff.

I’ve mentioned before that my apartment is small (by US standards — it’s actually quite spacious by Japanese standards). The stores here don’t carry my size clothing or shoes.   I knew I wouldn’t be able to find clothes here, so I brought everything from my closet in the States which means that my closet is already full here and there is no more room for additions.

There are no recycling centers interested in taking donations of American-sized clothes or shoes so the things in my closet will stay in my closet until I move back.  Somehow I had visions of a bunch of expat women getting together to swap clothes and shoes, but alas, they’re in the same boat and don’t want my used items either.  (In fact, I mistakenly ordered a coat from that was in Japanese size — and therefore five sizes too small — and couldn’t give it away even unworn in it’s original packaging.)

When I travel, the sense of “deprivation” from not being able to shop for these items seems to take over and instead of utilizing this opportunity to live with a capsule wardrobe or implement a 333 project, I stocked up when I was in the UK and US earlier this year.  This means my closet is overflowing with no relief for the next four months.  I’ve also gained 8kg since I’ve been here and many of the clothes I brought don’t fit the way I would like them to which compounds the situation.

I’ll be in the States for a week later this month and already have on-line shopping carts full and ready to be delivered to my hotel.  It turns out that I prefer artificial limits to real limits.  There are a few lessons here for my rebel self including how to sit with discomfort instead of trying to eat or shop my way through it.

essentialism for the soul: order

I realize that the more I think (and write) about my own essentialism (for my soul), that many of my essentials come from the book “Simple Abundance” by Sarah Ban Breathnach that I read many years ago and which was one of the catalysts for my own [semi]minimalist journey.  I used to keep that book out and ready to grab a day’s worth of inspiration.  Although I haven’t picked it up in several years, I still remember the beginning of the book where she laid out the foundation for simple abundance: Gratitude, Simplicity, Order, Harmony, Beauty, Joy.

Order came to me slowly.  I grew up in an America influenced by the dichotomy of amazing abundance wrapped in fear of deprivation.  My grandmother had dozens of unopened boxes of shoes in her closet birthed from the war years when she could only have one pair.  (That same fear resulted in a relationship with food which included gluttony and dieting but I’ll save that for a different post.)

My own home was overstuffed with objects acquired during hole-filling shopping excursions added to a houseful of perfectly good objects that were too good to throw away (before donation centers were readily available).  The resulting clutter made basic household chores almost impossible.  If you washed the clothes, there was no room to put them away.  There were too many dishes to fit in the cabinets so things stayed out on the counter.  Every closet and cabinet was overflowing which required anything added to the environment to be left out or — even better — have its own container purchased to store it.

This lack of regular upkeep followed me after I left home and I still remember a fight with my best friend and roommate about dirty dishes in the sink that had been there for over a week.  My husband was raised in the same America at the same time and when we married, we quickly could not enjoy being in our own home, so we went out all the time and spent money (we didn’t have) on meals and entertainment.

Enter babies and all of their stuff, combine that with insurmountable debt, and you have the recipe for divorce that is now ubiquitous in our country.  We were lucky.  We discovered Flylady and learned that you can’t organize clutter and we started to dig ourselves out of CHAOS with babysteps, 27-fling boogies, and daily routines complete with swishing and swiping.

Once we graduated from Flylady’s daily reminders, our home remained in order because we learned to appreciate the calm that embraced us when we walked through our door.

And it turned out we weren’t the only ones who shared this experience.  Flylady has hundreds of thousands of subscribers/followers.  Hundreds of social media venues are dedicated to some variation on order and Gretchen Rubin’s experiment on happiness detailed in her book, “The Happiness Project” has spawned a new book dedicated entirely to order, “Outer Order, Inner Calm” (which I haven’t read yet, but it’s on my virtual bookshelf).

Bringing order to my home allowed me to let go of childhood shame from not being able to have friends come to my house; and avoid spreading that shame to my children.  Even more importantly, it allowed me to shift my focus to what is really essential.

essentialism for the soul: simplicity

I value simplicity.  You wouldn’t know it to look at my life though — I live in a high-rise apartment in a foreign country working in a demanding corporate job.  A stark contrast from the usual simplicity blogs that espouse the virtues of gardening, compost and zero waste.

I’ve had my hand at making my own laundry detergent and eliminating shampoo.  I enjoyed it all, but because I’m me, the part I enjoyed the most was replacing the ugly plastic containers with pretty jars and filling an apothecary cabinet with beautiful bottles of essential oils.

Some things stuck.  I have not allowed the dryer sheets back into the house (wool dryer balls worked better than tin foil or homemade dryer sheets).  I haven’t bought paper plates or paper napkins at home in more than a decade.  I recycle (it’s mandatory in Japan).

Simplicity, to me, is like minimalism.  There’s not a right way to do it.  It’s about what it means  to you.  For me, it’s been about:

Eliminating clutter: and even that looks different in my house.  There are no pristine, clear counters.  We need to know what we have, so the things we use regularly are out in plain sight.  Our kitchen counters include glass jars with our tea, coffee, and favorite snacks.  Our bathroom counters feature glass jars of cotton swabs, floss, and makeup.

Reducing unnecessary decisions: Many years ago I simplified my closet by only having shoes and purses that went with black.  That evolved into wearing [almost] only black.  It’s ended up being my signature style, but it’s less of a social statement than a desire to not spend too much time thinking about what I’m wearing in the morning.

Reducing maintenance: In selecting clothes, shoes, furniture, and even our apartment, a lot of our focus is on how easily our things can be maintained.  I only buy clothes that can be washed and dried by machine (or by the magical shower dryer that we have here in Japan).  We have leather furniture because it requires less upkeep and lasts longer.

Clearing the calendar: We don’t generally make plans during the week.  My work is demanding enough that I like to have quiet evenings at home  to rejuvenate.  On weekends, we often have no plans and just enjoy meandering around our city on our bikes.  The only exception to this rule is that we’ve discovered (since our kids left home) that we need to have a few vacations or adventures on the calendar to look forward to.

Reducing the noise: we turned off the television when my oldest daughter was six and didn’t turn it back on for 10 years and still don’t watch commercial television.  We cancelled all of the magazine subscriptions and unsubscribed from catalogs.

I’ve attempted [unsuccessfully] to implement shopping bans and instead have adopted the use of limits.  (Usually artificial, but here in Japan, the limits are real!)  I’m starting to become more comfortable with my adoption of simplicity and minimalism and enjoy the process of continual refinement.

How have you simplified your lifestyle?