Why simplicity is the answer to our destructive culture of consumerism

Simplicity vs Consumerism

The entrenched culture of consumerism we Westerners live amidst, reaches its tentacles far further than just the physical stuff that we buy.

We consume entertainment. We consume experiences. We consume social media. We consume news feeds. We consume relationships (to the point that we throw them away and get new ones when they no longer work for us). We consume holidays. If we can find a way to consume it, we will.

And this paradigm of consumption is destroying us.

It’s rendering us stressed, unhappy, unfulfilled, discontented, and always in pursuit of the latest thing to consume that will fill the gap.

We know none of these things will. But we continue to live as if they do.

The more I continue on the journey towards simplicity, the more convinced I am that this is the way we were designed to live. To embrace being as more important than doing.

How do we navigate through our culture of consumerism, towards the pursuit of a life of simplicity and meaning?

Simplicity vs Consumerism

Start with your stuff

When you deal in the tangible and the concrete world of your material possessions, you can see the results of living with less. You feel lighter, more peaceful, less stressed by clutter screaming at you on all sides.

But don’t stop there. Once you’ve dealt with your stuff, it often compels you to look around at what other intangible clutter you’ve accumulated in life.

Resist Busyness

Why are you so busy? Until you’ve addressed the why, there is no point tackling the how. Ask yourself what is driving your pursuit of more. Generally it’s a combination of the sense of importance you get from being busy, and being so addicted to busyness that doing less feels uncomfortable, even painful.

But start to sit in this discomfort. Force yourself not to run from it. If you find yourself with a moment of having nothing to do, resist the urge to pick up your phone and fill the void. Sit. Wait. Breathe. Notice what’s going on in your body. In your head. In the world around you. Because it’s in these moments that we can retrain ourselves that it’s ok to stop consuming. That waiting is ok.

It’s in these moments that our souls have a chance to breathe. And we can start to listen to our very selves. And begin to hear the story of our lives speak.

Happy Monday everyone xx

Silence + Christmas

Silence and Christmas seem like mutually exclusive words in this stressed out, rushing, overloaded consumer culture in which we dwell.

Silence is not given much of a platform in our society.

It makes us uncomfortable.

It makes us restless.

It feels like it lacks purpose. Meaning.

But maybe the secret to noticing moments of meaning lies in the silent spaces. Maybe if we are silent long enough, we’ll give our true selves time and space to begin to emerge.

There’s truth to the phrase “pregnant pause”. Lifes’ pauses, or silences, can be pregnant with meaning if we are still long enough to hear them.

I love love love this quote from Irish poet Michael Longley, interviewed on the podcast OnBeing:

“If you don’t have anything to say, say nothing. Silence is part of the enterprise.” ~ Michael Longley

I’ve written less on here lately, for a number of reasons. One small part of the reason is that often the internet just feels like shouting to me.

And I don’t want to join in with more meaningless noise.

I want there to be a reason for saying what I say.

And so sometimes saying nothing is as good as saying something.

Silence

It’s a busy time of year to be contemplating silence, I know.

But what better time to force ourselves to carve out moments of space amidst the noisy, chaotic lives that we create for ourselves.

I can tell you that it’s possible, and your body and soul will thank you for it.

Wishing you all moments of silence this Christmas time,

Rachel xx

How to identify life’s most important ingredients

You know the saying, “Live like it’s your last day on earth”? It’s meant to provide a framework for reflecting on what’s important, and how to fill your days.

If we took it literally, none of us would do any chores. We’d eat the unhealthiest food in the world. And want to spend every minute doing the things we love, with the ones we love. It’s a nice sentiment, but more than a little unrealistic.

So how do we distill our lives down to what’s most important? It’s something I reflect on often, as I continue this journey of learning to live a life that is intentional, edited down to what is truly essential, meaningful and serves a purpose.

Well what if we asked ourselves the question, “what would you do with your last 5 years on earth?”. No, it doesn’t have the same ring, but it’s a far better yard stick to get us thinking about what is truly important to us.

If you did have 5 years left, how would you use your time then? How much of it would you fritter on social media? How much of it shopping for things you don’t need? How much of it scrolling? Watching mindless, pointless youtube clips?

Truth is, none of us know if we’ve got 5 years left or 50. Better to assume the former and use it well.

I’d rather spend more time with people I love and less time scrolling through updates of those I barely know.

More time smelling the roses and less time buying new things to put them in.

More time reading good literature and less time reading articles full of empty statements and lack of substance.

More time breathing the fresh air and less time staring at a screen.

More time living and less time living vicariously through the virtual reality of social media.

More time enjoying what I have, and less time accumulating more.

Let’s live like it’s our last 5 years on earth. And see where that takes us…

Life versus the iPad

The insidious infiltration of the screen into every corner of our lives is disturbing. My son’s kindergarten has just installed a monstrous sized screen on the wall. And purchased a whole lot of iPads. Since when did kindergarten involve staring at a screen, rather than immersing yourself in a world of mud pies, sand castles, paint and play dough.

Technology is introduced at a younger and younger age in the name of getting our kids ready for a tech savvy world.

We’ve got to be kidding if we think that kids need to use iPads at kindy or school. Do we really think that most of them are not getting enough screen time outside of school? And if they’re truly not? All the better for them and their healthy, creative development to be relatively screen free when they’re young.

My kids don’t need to use an iPad. We have one which I use mostly for our challenging kid when he has anger outbursts and needs some form of containment. It’s effective, that’s for sure. But it’s certainly not my first choice.

Tom Hodgkinson, author of “How to Be Free”, has this to say about screens:

“Sometimes I think that life is becoming no more than staring at a screen. We stare at a screen all day at work. We stare at screens in the gym. Buses now have screens installed in them. There are screens on trains. Then we get home and stare at our computer screen before staring at the TV screen. For entertainment, we stare at cinema screens. Work, rest and play: all involve staring at screens. Screens make us into passive receivers. Smash the screen and find a pencil and a piece of paper instead. Goodbye, TV; hello, chalk! … By parading a stream of other people’s lives in front of us, screens remove the responsibility to create our own lives. We watch other people doing things instead of doing them ourselves.”

Let’s get outside and feel the sunshine on our faces, instead of looking at photos of others in the sun.

Let’s pick up real books, rather than scrolling mindlessly through trash.

Let’s spend more time in the real world, and see real life scrolling before our own eyes, rather than the virtual world of the screen.

Let’s live real.

Life on Screen

Finding joy in simple things

I’ve just been to Europe for 3 weeks, for some fun travel adventures with my Dad and daughter. I know, lucky me. It was fabulous.

Any time I travel, I’m reminded of how little we actually need. And I’m compelled to simplify my possessions even further.

And I’m also reminded that it’s often the simplest things that bring the most joy. A friend asked me what a highlight of the trip was. And rather than any of the expensive paid activities, one of my favourite things? Going for a morning run in Paris.

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Obviously, I can’t go running past the Louvre every morning (tres jealous of the Parisians who can!) but I can recognise that it’s often the simpler things that bring joy, and attempt to integrate those things into my life, in big ways and small.

How about you, what are the parts of your day that bring joy?

How To Tap Into Your Creative Genius

I went to Hong Kong recently, and while I was waiting to check in, it was clear that we have all but drowned out moments of waiting, silence and boredom in our lives.

At airport check-in and security queues, everyone’s on phones. On the plane, there are movies on demand the second you sit down. And then there’s more time for smartphones and net surfing while clearing customs, waiting for bags, and on taxis, buses and trains to the accommodation.

There’s just no downtime.

And the same goes for the less exotic home life filled with supermarket queues, traffic lights, school pick ups, soccer practice, and the rest. It’s all too easy to stay connected every “boring” moment life sends our way.

But it’s not how it’s always been.

Back in 1992, a London train broke down on its way to Clapham Junction, and its passengers were stranded in the train for 4 hours. There were no smartphones, iPads, or social media to pass the time.

One passenger on the train sat there and composed the plot for a work of fiction in her head. That person happened to be J. K. Rowling, and the work – her Harry Potter series. Not a bad use of four hours.

I wonder how many opportunities for creativity we are missing by mindlessly filling every second on technology?

I want to be more intentional with my unexpected moments of waiting, and allow myself to get lost in my thoughts occasionally.

Who knows, I might come up with an idea that changes the world.

Smartphones: The answer to life. Or Are We Missing Everything?

Since when did it become more important to remember your smart phone on a dinner date than your manners?

My husband and I were out for dinner the other night, and I noticed a couple seated nearby. They were both on their cellphones for the entire evening. I don’t think there was a single minute that the phones went away. Every now and then one of them would stop and look up, wait awkwardly with no one to talk to, and then get back to the phone. They were glued to their devices for over 2 hours.

The only time I saw either of them smile was when they were posing for a photo when their meal came out, so they could Instagram it and show their friends what a fabulous evening they were having.

When I looked around at the other tables, there was at least one person using their phone at every table in the restaurant. And I guess this is pretty much the norm these days.

The great irony in this world of ieverything, is that in our attempt to miss nothing, we are missing so much.

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I want to spend more time experiencing the moment, than instagramming it.

I want to spend more time talking to the person next to me, than texting someone who’s not with me.

I want to hear the stories that the person across the table has to tell me, rather than the latest news story.

I want to be present, and to engage all my senses to truly appreciate the moments that life offers.

5 Key Ways to Make New Year’s Resolutions Stick

How has 2016 been for you so far? Did you make a pile of resolutions for yourself this year? Kept any of them?

I used to be the queen of New Year’s resolution lists. I’d think of one resolution, which would lead to another, and another, until, on paper, I’d completely transformed my life. The new me! Yes!

I could usually maintain the momentum of the new lifestyle I had documented for myself for about 2 days. Maybe a week.

And then each of my newfound habits dropped off one by one.

But last year, I actually stuck to a resolution. All. Year. Long.

So what are the tricks for making New Year’s resolutions stick?

1. Set ONE goal only. This is the most important thing. The temptation is to think we can change everything at once. But we never can. We have to work out what is the ONE thing that we most want to change, and focus on that only. Some people aim for one goal a month. But I decided to focus on one goal for the year. For me last year, that was running. And I managed to throw every ounce of motivation I had at that one goal. And it worked.

2. Start small. I didn’t set myself the goal of running a marathon, or running far, or fast. I just had to put on my running shoes each day, and head out the door. I slowly built up my fitness and capacity, but didn’t set the bar too high; if we do, we risk putting ourselves off even getting started.

3. Do it everyday. Doing something everyday means your brain more quickly builds a new neural pathway. Our brains love habits, and when you know you’re doing something everyday, you don’t have to engage in a mental negotiation process about whether today you can justify having a day off. You just go. Obviously there are exceptions, but the exceptions are circumstance based (like getting sick, attending to an urgent matter, a pre-determined day of rest), rather than decided on a whim. I didn’t run on Sundays, but other than that, as much as I could, I stuck to my goal.

4. Choose a time of day for that new habit. Again, our brains require less energy when we  do things based on habits and routines. If a time of day doesn’t work, try linking the habit to another activity. e.g Meditate for 5 minutes after dropping the kids off at school, or do 5 minutes of yoga stretching after doing your teeth. The more you can tie a habit into your existing routine, the more chance you have of making it stick. Compare it to brushing your teeth; you probably do that at a pretty set time each day, and your brain requires no mental energy to make it happen, you just do it.

Habits are first cobwebs, then cables.” – Spanish proverb

5. Try and find the enjoyment in the habit itself. If your’e only running to try to lose weight, it can be hard to stay motivated if you don’t see results. But if you slowly learn to enjoy and see benefits in the run itself –  the fresh air, the chance to be in nature, the silence, the headspace, the extra energy it gives you over time – you’re more likely to stay for the long haul.

What’s the number one thing you’d love to integrate into your life this year?

5 Powerful Stress Busters To Find Your Place Of Calm

We are a culture addicted to stress and busyness. And it’s killing us.

stress2

I used to use stress as my motivational tool, but I’m slowly learning that I can function better and get stuff done more efficiently and effectively, when I operate from a place of calm.

So I’ve stepped off the stress treadmill, and on to a different path. This one looks more like a country road than a treadmill. There’s time to stop and smell the roses. Sometimes I forget where I am, and start acting like I’m on a treadmill again, and get focussed on reaching the finish line. But then I remember that’s not the goal anymore. That being present to this path I’m on is what it means to live life to the full. Getting to the end, fastest, is not.

Here are the 5 best ways I’ve discovered, to spend less time on the stress treadmill, and more time enjoying the beauty of the country roads:

1. Think about dying

Death freaks us out. So thinking about it seems a counterintuitive approach to reducing stress. But there’s a method to my madness. Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, outlines the habit to “begin with the end in mind”. He’s talking about reflecting on your mortality, and one of the exercises involves writing your own obituary. It’s pretty powerful. Taking the time to sit down, and reflect on what you want your life to have looked like when you come to the end of it, will help you assess whether your current state of play accurately reflects where you’re planning on ending up.

The more I’ve reflected on what’s important to me, the more my to do lists and priorities have changed. Because I’ve realised life isn’t about completing the to-do list. It will never be complete. I’ll be chasing it for life. So as I let go of the need to achieve, and refocus my priorities, I’m learning to embrace life’s “interruptions”, realising that often those interruptions are what life’s about, far more than completing that relentless to-do list.

2. Buy less stress

The purpose of advertising is to make us feel dissatisfied with what we have, and with this comes a constant low level stress. The more I’ve jumped off the bandwagon of consumerism, and pursued a lifestyle of less, the more free I’ve felt. Learning to be grateful for what I do have has brought down that niggling stress of always wanting more.

Hand in hand with this comes decluttering, and owning less. Having less stuff in the house means less tidying, less hunting for stuff, less cleaning, less visual clutter, more space, and more peace.

3. Give yesterdays and tomorrows stresses the flick

Mindfulness is the act of paying attention to the present. A lot of our stress revolves around what might happen (stressing about the future), or what’s already happened (stressing about the past). The more focussed on the present we can become, the more we can relax in this moment. Don’t know where to start? Here’s a great mindfulness app to check out.

4. Run the stress off

We all know this, but why is exercise so often the first thing to go? This year, I’ve prioritised exercise, as a non-negotiable daily activity. I’ve done this by setting a regular time each day, early in the morning, before the demands of the day swallow it up. And it’s had arguably the biggest impact on my stress levels of anything I’ve done.

5. Eat less stress

Changing my diet to healthy, sugar free, whole foods has changed my life. When I had 3 kids under 3, I existed on coffee, chocolate, and the kids’ left overs, followed by a glass of wine at night to bring the stress levels down. Over the last couple of years, I’ve drastically cleaned up my diet, and now follow a whole foods diet, along the paleolow sugar, lines.

I’ve made the changes incrementally, as drastic changes generally result in blow outs, and going back to where we started.

 

So as you enter the busyness of the Christmas season, is there one small change you can make to start the process of bringing the stress levels down?

The 6 Best Ways To Unclutter Your Mind

I’ve written about decluttering your physical space, but there’s somewhere else that you live, that tends to get cluttered. It’s your mind.

Because we can’t actually see the mind-junk, we all too easily allow a cacophony of unchecked noise and distraction to run riot in our heads.

So what are the best techniques to tackle the mental clutter?

1. Switch on your brain

We have thousands of thoughts racing through our minds each day, and we need to learn to reign these in. Mindfulness meditation is scientifically proven to tame our distracted, unfocused minds.

  • If you’re just getting started, mindfulness of the senses is a great place to start. This technique brings your focus into the present, into your body, away from the racing thoughts in your brain. Even just 2 minutes a day can reduce the noise going on in your brain for the rest of the day.
  • If you’re looking for a great app, try Headspace.
  • And if you live in Auckland, the mindfulness course at Renew Your Mind provides a brilliant introduction to mindfulness. I highly recommend it.

2. Don’t switch

We associate multi-tasking with efficiency. But research has shown that you are far more efficient when you do one thing at a time. Despite what you may think, your brain cannot focus on more than one thing at a time. The more you try to do at once, the less productive you become. By being fully present to the task at hand, you allow your brain to function optimally, rather than being divided and distracted.

3. Switch off

Multiple browsers, notifications, text alerts, news updates … endless noise and distraction are constantly pulling you away from the present. If you want to learn to have a calmer, more uncluttered mind, switch off all the noise. Turn off notifications. Learn to work without hundreds of browsers open. Move away from your phone. Focus on the present. If you haven’t already, check out this clip. It’s pretty powerful.

4. Switch foods

The more I’ve pursued a diet of whole, unprocessed food, free of refined sugar, additives and preservatives, the clearer my head has felt. Want some convincing about the effects sugar is having on your brain? You have to watch this.

5. Switch on your body

Exercise. We all know this one. Since I’ve prioritised exercise as a daily part of my routine, my anxiety levels have been lower and my head’s been clearer. I know, because the days I skip it, I notice a shift in my mental state. I exercise first thing to make sure it gets done before the demands of the day squeeze it out.

6. Switch off the excess

If you’re doing too much, your brain will be on constant overdrive. You need to do less. Declutter your schedule, and get rid of all but the essential things in your life. Look critically at every commitment you have, and assess whether it is truly important to your life. I’ve written more about this here.

 

None of this is rocket science, but we all (myself included) need constant reminders of these key activities, that we all too easily neglect in the hustle of life.