When You Don’t Feel Like Yourself

Photo by Allan Bueno on Unsplash

I haven’t felt like myself lately.

I used to always be there for everyone around me with a pep talk for every situation. I listened to people’s problems, authentically gave them an ear, and told them that it was okay to not be okay — but that they were great and deserved great things.

I used to check in on my Facebook page asking if people had taken their meds, eaten, and had water. It was a nice reminder for my friends and for me to practice these basic tenets of self maintenance.

I used to laugh, a lot. I shared funny posts on Facebook and made people laugh at parties or when we were out at the local geek bar playing board games. I loved being the funny friend who always got a laugh.

I used to write every day. I used to work 8+ hours a day at my full time job and then work on my passion project developing my course or writing my book.

January wasn’t that long ago, when I hoped to get two book deals, run my course three or four times, and launch a full time coaching practice this year.

Now, I rest. I sleep in past 8am. I eat when I’m hungry, nap when I’m tired, and work part time at a job I truly enjoy.

I write when the words need to come out. Like they do now, when I thought to myself, “I haven’t been myself lately” and the response that floated back up from inside me was “Yes, you have.”

I’m always myself. My self is the part of me I need to take care of, because I didn’t used to do a very good job of it. My self has been subjected to a lot of beliefs about what I needed to achieve and how I needed to behave in order to deserve love and support and a salary.

My self, right now, needs to rest and recover from burning out at that full time job. My self is processing the fact that my social circle has been tinier than ever for the past eight months. My self is understanding that the shiny, happy, warm, cozy, family parts of the winter months aren’t happening this year.

My self has always been here, and is not measured by how frequently I give of myself to other people.

Looking at the list of things that I thought made me who I was — listening, encouraging, checking in, writing, working — those things are all still happening. Just slower and less frequent than before. And that’s okay.

My self is here. My self is growing stronger, I can feel it.

Last night I applied to a dream job and I woke up feeling peaceful and content. Because my self was peaceful and content.

I sleep better when I’m next to my partner, because my self is safe and loved and warm.

I can write a new post whenever I feel ready to put the words onto the page, because my self is not defined by how often I write. (Sometimes my job is defined by writing, but my self is not).

If I don’t feel like myself, it’s probably because I’m focusing too much on things outside of me instead of my actual, inner truth of knowing my self.

So if you don’t feel like yourself lately, it’s okay to not be okay. We’re going through a long-term, no-end-in-sight, global trauma together. We have no idea when we will feel safe again. Our collective mental health is touch and go.

But your self, the deep down parts of you that make you who you are inside, they’re not gone. They’re resting, being slow, and they will be there when you are ready for them again.

Love,
Caitlin

Support My Writing

Hey, I have a book. It’s full of my sassy pep talk mojo and I’d love if you read it! Buy The Gaslighting of the Millennial Generation and let me know what you think! (It also makes a great holiday gift for every human under 40).

How to Work From Home for the First Time

A lot of us are working from home for the foreseeable future, some for the first time. It’s a big change to routine and it makes everything feel a little bit off. 

I’m used to working from home a couple days a week, but this feels different for me too.

Because it’s not really “working from home.” It’s being at home while big global events are happening and it’s not safe to do things you normally do…and trying to do your normal work.

It’s hard to focus, because you just want to go check the news all the time. But when it’s time for the show to go on, here are some tips for making work from home during this time feel a little more normal: 

  1. Shower and get dressed. It’s tempting to work all day in your PJs, but freshening up in the morning and getting some clean undies on will help you start the day in a good mood. This does not mean uncomfortable work clothes, just something clean and fresh. Stay comfy!
  2. Make a ritual. Normally we have a commute to mark the transition into and out of “work mode.” Create a morning and evening ritual to mark the start and end to your work day. This could mean making a cup of coffee and listening to your usual morning podcast or audiobook on the couch, taking an evening walk, or anything that helps you separate your day for work life balance when you work from home.
  3. Turn off your email. Just because you work from home and you’re home 24/7 doesn’t mean work is now 24/7. Separate work time and personal time by turning off your work computer or email program when it’s quitting time.
  4. Take breaks. Take your full lunch break and go outside if the weather is nice. Walk around the block for some fresh air. Take regular water and bathroom breaks, and give your eyes a break from screens at least once an hour for a few minutes.
  5. Make a shiny object list. When you’re working from home, you might be tempted to put in a load of laundry, quickly do the dishes, or take out the trash. These are fine to work into your breaks, but if you try to keep them in your brain you’ll get distracted. Keep a notepad nearby so you can write down the things you want to handle during break times. It’s also perfectly fine to save the household stuff for after the workday is complete; you don’t have to be the world’s most efficient person.
  6. Downtime is sacred. When you work from home, all the days can run together and Saturday might not feel any different. Make sure to plan relaxing, restorative, and creative time for your downtime so that you aren’t stressing over being productive all the time.

Any other advice for our work from home friends? Drop it in the comments. 

PS. I’m teaching folks how to improve their boundaries after trauma in a six week class. We start April 13, so there’s still time to reserve your spot. Shoot me an email and we’ll get you on the list.

Why Can’t We Stay The F*ck Home? Why We Need Social Distancing

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Photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash

We all know someone who is struggling with social distancing. Someone who is going from store to store, sort of understanding the risk but unable to help themselves and just sit down.

It’s annoying, it’s frustrating, it’s even understandable. Staying at home when you want to is one thing, but being made to do it makes you feel stressed and, well, isolated.

But let’s be totally clear: it’s dangerous.

What is Social Distancing?

Social distancing, or physical distancing, is the practice of maintaining a physical distance to prevent the spread of contagious disease. It’s not the same as quarantine, which is a complete lack of contact with the outside world, but people are using the terms somewhat interchangeably. 

Basically, stay in your home as much as possible, and when you leave your home, stay a minimum of six feet away from people. At the grocery store. On a walk. Wherever you go, there should be a six foot radius around you.

Social distancing in practice is a set of individual behaviors. For some, it means not leaving their house at all. For others, it means only going to work.

But some seem to think it means to carry on like normal but use hand sanitizer. 

Social distancing is how we buy time.

Time for our hospitals to treat those currently sick before more get sick. Time for the science to catch up. Time for better treatments to be found. Social distancing is the only thing that can buy us that time.

Social Distancing Makes a Difference

At CV-19’s minimum case fatality rate (CFR), 3.8% of cases will die.

Some people are on board with the idea that these people are going to die anyway, so why not just “save the economy” and stop social distancing?

Besides the obvious moral and ethical issues with sacrificing human lives for the good of the economy (I’m judging you), there are two scientific reasons.

1) Those people may not die if we can flatten the curve to allow time for more consistent treatments and preventive measures to be developed 

2) The CFR can increase 

Flatten the Curve

Every person has about 300 people in their network. At 3.8%, that’s about 11.4 people you know who will die if CV-19 continues to spread widely without any controlling measures. 

Eleven people in your life that some would say are an acceptable cost for the sake of the economy.

As hospitals fill up and ventilators are in short supply for breathing complications, the best thing we can do is make sure the virus spreads as slowly as possible and keep our vulnerable populations as protected as possible.

We can limit how fast it spreads with social distancing measures to buy those people that time. 

COVID-19 Fatalities By the Numbers

Number two tells us about maximum fatalities. Minimum case fatality rate has a maximum counterpart. Approximately 18-22% of confirmed cases have needed hospitalization. Globally, the rate is 20.2%, so that’s roughly the maximum CFR.

Ideally, we never determine the max CFR by experience, only by calculation. 

CFR? Percentages? It’s all technical language and calculation driven math. 

Remember those 11.4 people you know that some are okay with sacrificing to lift the economically impacting measures? If we lift the measures and overwhelm our hospital systems, that number jumps to 60.6 people you know that could die.

The minimum of 3.8% is IDEAL, meaning everyone has access to medical care. The maximum of 20.2% is what happens when our hospitals are overrun.

Right now, we’re trending up. 4.01% a few days ago, then 4.31%. 4.64%. 4.72% as of March 29.

That means among those you know, that 11.4 is already 12.6. 

The Psychology of Capitalism

We have trouble staying home because we feel like “staying home” means being useless and not contributing. The political blustering about the economy’s trouble due to social distancing hits this home.

We’re taught from a young age that our value lies in how much value we add to society. 

Productivity means we are valuable. We contribute. We have a real job. 

Anyone who can’t participate at the average level of productivity is shamed and made to feel guilty and less-than. Disabled people. Underemployed people. People who work minimum wage jobs – which, I may point out, are now being highlighted as the essential roles that are keeping our society running at all.

In times of stress and crisis, we feel helpless we want to feel helpful. We want to do something so we’re not just sitting at home feeling useless. 

Because productivity is intrinsically associated with our personal worth in a capitalist society. We can’t just sit at home when there are productive things to be done. Like grocery shopping, for example.

In times of stress and crisis (say, a global pandemic), once a few people start to panic and stock up a surplus of goods, it cascades and causes more and more people to hoard and compete for resources.

Those who can stock up are immensely privileged if they can afford to buy weeks’ worth of food at a time. Parents on WIC assistance can’t get the food they need when people have cleaned out the shelves in a blind panic. People who need to wait until their SNAP benefits renew so they can get their usual groceries may also face empty shelves due to the people with liquid cash coming through to fill their bunker with canned peaches.

It’s biological. The stress of an oncoming crisis, and the uncertainty that comes with it, increases cortisol production which causes an impulse to hoard resources. Prehistorically speaking, stress means you’re going to run out of food, so you have to go get the food before anyone else can.

But we’re in 2020, and despite the global pandemic going on, we need to remember that the stores are staying open and we will not run out of food.

We need less “every man for himself” and more community support and resource sharing. Even if that sharing just means leaving groceries for your neighbors.

Capitalism encourages competition over cooperation. We can consciously choose otherwise.

How to Social Distance Like a Pro

  • Cancel gatherings, outings, and social situations
  • Visit virtually, play games online, and meet your social needs as much as possible to reduce feeling isolated
  • Restrict grocery shopping to one time per week or less.
    • When shopping:
      • Shop via pickup or delivery, if possible
      • Take a list
      • Be flexible and prepared to make substitutions – you don’t need a specific brand of toilet paper or to go to 5 stores looking for it
      • Maintain 6 feet of distance from others
      • Avoid touching your face (you can wear a cloth mask to help re-train yourself away from frequent face touching – be sure to wash it frequently)
      • Be patient and give people space 
      • Avoid going to multiple stores (one store is enough exposure, get what you need and go home in one trip)
      • Bring along disinfecting wipes for your cart
      • Wash your hands thoroughly when you get home for 20 seconds with soap and water
      • Disinfect your phone and phone case when you get home, because you probably touched it a lot without realizing
  • Only go into public for groceries, necessary medical care.
  • Focus on mental health before productivity
    • Use telehealth appointments with your therapist
    • Free therapy is available at 7cups.com
    • Practice basic self-care like making sure you drink water, shower/wash your hair regularly, try to get some fresh air outside or open the windows, and eat regularly 
  • Don’t freak out about stress/comfort eating or snacking
  • Realize risk of infection increases exponentially each day, as cases increase, so if you’re going to need it, it’s better to get it today than tomorrow (prescriptions, food)
  • Tip your delivery drivers like your life depends on them

Choose Community 

Social distancing is hard because many of us are feeling isolated, helpless, and afraid right now. But it works, and it’s necessary.

Social distancing works, but only if you act based on the idea that YOU are infectious. Assume you are. Act accordingly. Keep those numbers down and help flatten the curve.

If you need to be productive, you can by helping others not feel isolated, not by running around. If you want to be productive right now, do something helpful from your home. 

  • Donate to charities helping support front-line healthcare workers
  • Share news stories about worker strikes for hazard pay and benefits
  • Create art and share it with others
  • Lead an online class in something you’re an expert on (people are learning all kinds of things right now)
  • Check in with friends to give them someone to talk to
  • Add joy to the world however you can

Data for this article was provided by Ash Roulston.

Easy Ways to Check In With Your Friends

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Photo by Michael Sum on Unsplash

I’m in Ohio, and we’re pretty much shut down. School’s out, people are working from home, and it’s stressful. To minimize the spread of the COVID-19 virus and flatten the curve, we’re supposed to isolate ourselves as much as possible from other people. 

Luckily, we live in the age of the internet, which means we can still socialize and connect with others, even though we can’t see them in person. 

Everyone’s stressed right now and a check-in would go a long way toward feeling connected. And for those of us with mental illness like anxiety and depression, reaching out for support can be especially difficult. 

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to reach out to five friends to check in on them. See if anyone wants to be regular check-in buddies, and you can have a quick (or not so quick) chat every day to connect and have some social interaction.

It doesn’t have to be a heavy check-in. Try any of these ideas:

  • Send each other a funny meme or a picture of your pet
  • Play an online game together
  • Hop on Skype while you cook dinner and act like you’re on a cooking show
  • FaceTime after work hours to chat about your day
  • Watch a movie together and text about it or video chat while you watch

Offering to check in with a friend is an easy way to help support the people in your life during a stressful time.

Consider this your check-in from me. How are you doing today? Follow me on Instagram and I’ll send cat pics whenever you need them!

PS. My group coaching course to reframe the way you look at your boundaries after trauma starts on Monday 4/13 and I have a few spots left. Shoot me an email to get on the roster at 50% off list price!

Tiny Ways My Life Has Changed During COVID-19 Isolation

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Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Obviously, big things are happening right now. We’re in the midst of a global health crisis. People are scared.

Lives have changed in big ways, but they’ve also changed in small ways. Sometimes the small things feel weirder than the big things.

I’m now in my third week of working from home full time.

I wash my hands a lot. I disinfect my phone a lot. I always knew phones were gross, but now a gross phone is a scary phone.

I’m going to the grocery store about once a week, but I think I stocked up enough to go two weeks this time. I keep having an urge to bake, and I needed to get ingredients. I continue eating the meal groceries I bought two and a half weeks ago, because that was practical Caitlin shopping. This is stress baking Caitlin, who is also learning to do cool eyeshadow and make cocktails.

It’s my birthday in two weeks. I was planning a party at my favorite local bar. My birthday has been postponed until further notice. I Venmo someone on the staff a $10 tip every time I get drunk in my house.

My sister is a teacher and school is out for the next month. She’s video chatting students to check in.

I’m still estranged from my parents, even though my dad reached out to “see if I was okay.” I had to evaluate if my boundaries still made sense in the face of a global health crisis. I decided they were. The boundary didn’t change, but the guilt feels a little worse.

I finally, after six months on a wait list, got to download Brene Brown’s “Daring Greatly” on the Libby app.

I haven’t had a commute in two weeks and won’t for at least four more. I try to make time to sit at my kitchen table and listen to Brene for about twenty minutes before the need to stand up and do something else consumes me.

I am so used to being in the car to start and end my day.

I woke up on the first Saturday at 10:17am and was sure I was late for work. It’s hard to know what day it is. My coworker called in for our Thursday conference call on Wednesday.

My friend had to order yoga pants and tee shirts from Target because she didn’t own non-work clothes.

I hired an employee at work. I will onboard and train her remotely.

I shaved off the back of my hair because when it gets too long and shaggy that’s my cue to go to the salon.

My eating disorder (I call it Carl) has gotten really weird about worrying that I will run out of food, so sometimes I am hungry for a while before I remember I am allowed to eat and there is plenty of food and I will not go hungry if I eat two servings of something. I am not rationing. Did I mention the pie?

I celebrated one month of dating my boyfriend via text. I write him letters and mail him watercolor paintings (I managed to keep them a surprise!), and we do video calls to see each other’s face. It’s a lesson in realizing I bring value to a relationship even when I am not physically with my partner to do things for them. That is comforting.

I miss sex.

It feels like my roommate and I have spent more time in the same place over the past two weeks than we did in the previous two months.

Dining room chairs are not ergonomic.

I tip generously – at least 25%.

I spend more time with my coworkers hanging out on Skype after work hours than we ever used to spend together when we worked in the office. I feel more like friends with them than I ever have.

I’m not using this time to become the most productive, self-improved version of myself just because there’s nothing else to do.

This is trauma. It’s big trauma, and I think it will affect us for the rest of our lives.

Some days I am productive. Some days I am not. Both of these are okay.

You can just survive right now. You can notice the tiny little ways this has changed your life.

You can be frustrated that you finally got off the Libby wait list and inexplicably have no commute anymore. (I really want to finish this book).

In what little ways has your life changed?

PS. If you’re looking for reading material, my book is available for Kindle and Audible, even if you don’t have a commute.

 

 

 

 

Do we need to have more babies?

Ross Douthat, a New York Times columnist, published a piece earlier this month stating that our decreased birth rates are a serious issue.  He mentions the current economic recession, the housing bust, decreased fertility rates among immigrant populations, and a cultural shift placing less importance on children as part of a successful marriage as factors contributing to the decline in birth rates.

He then states:

Beneath these policy debates, though, lie cultural forces that no legislator can really hope to change. The retreat from child rearing is, at some level, a symptom of late-modern exhaustion — a decadence that first arose in the West but now haunts rich societies around the globe. It’s a spirit that privileges the present over the future, chooses stagnation over innovation, prefers what already exists over what might be. It embraces the comforts and pleasures of modernity, while shrugging off the basic sacrifices that built our civilization in the first place.

He further states, in a follow-up post:

Is replacement-level fertility really so much to ask, morally speaking, of people graced with wealth and entertainments and diversions beyond the dreams of any previous generation? If conspicuous consumption is morally dubious when it substitutes for sacrifices on behalf of strangers, as most good progressives seem to think, why isn’t it morally dubious when it substitutes for the more intimate form of sacrifice that made all of our lives possible in the first place?

The article, written by Jeff Fecke, that first alerted me to Douthat’s column does a great job discussing the advances in maternal and infant health since the 15th century.  It also discusses the fact that women are finally in charge of their own reproductive decisions and can decide when – or if  – they want to have children.  And if they choose not to have children, they can succeed in life just the same.  Women are no longer expected to serve as a wife and mother as the end game, which is great.  I love being able to have a career and decide when I am ready (or as ready as possible) to have children.  And I hope to be able to stay home and raise them when I do, which is also my prerogative as a Modern Feminist Woman.  Or whatever.

Fecke says, better than I could:

There are enough kids to keep humanity going, and that means that kids have become, at some level, a luxury item. People don’t buy luxury items when they can’t meet basic needs. As the economy recovers, more children will be born; indeed, there will likely be something of a baby boomlet, as pent-up demand for children is realized.

That said, there are still other factors limiting the number of children born. We as a society have done poorly with work/life balance. America requires no paid maternity or paternity leave, and the corporate culture frowns on people who prioritize family over work. Child care is prohibitively expensive in much of the country; in Minneapolis, full-time day care for a three-year-old averages $640 a week, or more than $33,000 a year. The median household income in the state is $57,000 per year. Needless to say, if you’re a parent working full-time, and you don’t structure your work schedule so you have days off, you are hoping to break even — and if you’re not really netting any income, you’re left choosing between staying home — which is great, but doesn’t advance your career — or working, despite not bringing in any net income — which keeps your career going, but denies you time with your kids, and doesn’t help your bottom-line. The alternative is to simply choose not to have kids, or to limit the kids you have.

If you want people to have more children, you have to make it easier for them to care for their children. In countries like France and Sweden, where the social safety net is robust, paid  parental leave is required, and day care is subsidized, birth rates are higher than the western average. This is not rocket science; if a couple that is on the fence about having kids knows that they’ll get time to stay home with the children, and be able to afford child care when they go back to work, then they’re much more likely to decide in favor.

Quality vs. quantity

In response to Douthat’s call for increased birth rates, I really don’t see the necessity.  I think lower birth rates are a good thing right now.  Our planet cannot handle all the people living here, and growth does not necessarily spell success.  Perhaps the luxury to delay or avoid having children is a blessing, not a curse.

The matter of procreating and increasing, maintaining, or decreasing our population over a few generations is a matter of quality over quantity.  If we have the ability to provide a better life for our children, even if it means fewer children, they will lead better quality lives and provide better quality lives for children of their own.  We are not in a cultural situation where we need to rapidly boost the population.  We are fine with a little population decline (and maybe after a couple generations like this, everyone will be able to find a job!)

Children are expensive.  They require care, food, clothing, housing, healthcare, education, and more.  If you put the kids in daycare, that takes up a big portion of your income.  If you stay home with them, that limits your income (depending on whether or not you can work from home) and might not be possible for a single parent.  More children means less money per person to spend on food and clothing, so the quality of the food and clothing you buy may decrease so that you can afford to buy enough for everyone. More children means you need more space, so you may have to buy or rent a larger home to accommodate a growing family.  More children means less money for healthcare, leading to higher stress levels as parents worry about needing to pay for children’s medical bills. More children means less to spend per child on educational costs, so without a lot of student loans and/or scholarships, they may not be able to attend their preferred college.  More children very likely means more hours at work, which means less time you can spend with your family, which was the whole reason you had kids!

Bringing it back to minimalism

Children are not possessions, but they are (often) premeditated additions to your life.  If you wanted to truly live as simply as humanly possible, you could go live alone in a cabin in the woods.  That may not be personally fulfilling for you, however, and it’s always important to remember that minimalism is about having what you need for your life, without excess.  If you want to have children and a family is a non-negotiable part of your life plan, then of course you should have children.  But how many?  How many children is enough for a minimalist?  Once again, the answer is “however many you want.”  Some people have one child and that is just right for them.  Others have six children  and that works for them.  If you want children, that’s great! If you don’t, that’s also great!  Do what makes you happy and what works for your life and your situation.

I hope to have one or two children, for personal sanity reasons, environmentalist reasons, and financial reasons.  My personal vision for my children is to be able to:

  • Cook and feed them nutritious foods
  • Stay home to raise them, at least for the first five years of their lives
  • Homeschool them or be able to afford to send them to a Montessori school or similar (just a dream; they may end up in public school… I turned out okay!)
  • Help pay their tuition to a good college
  • Clothe them with quality clothing and shoes
  • Take care of their health
  • Teach them, by example, how to be a good parent and a competent person (like my mom did for me, even though it took me 20 years to realize she was not my enemy)

This is not to say that people who can’t do the things I listed are bad parents or are decreasing the quality of life of their children.  However, some children in this country (and all over the world) are suffering as a result of simply being one of too many mouths to feed.  If people waited and planned and budgeted their time and finances before starting a family, they would be in a better position to provide for their kids.

Priorities and sacrifices

Consider unplanned pregnancies in teenagers and women in their early twenties.  These women are often not established in a career or a position with the benefits of paid maternity leave. They may not have health insurance.  They may still live with their parents. As a teenaged or early-20s parent, these women often don’t have the resources it takes to provide a quality life for their children, especially if they are single.

I am so intimidated by the costs of raising a child that I am taking as much time as I dare before I start a family, even though it is something I want very much.  That said, I cannot tell you how much admiration I have for single parents and young parents that make it work to provide the best possible life for their children.  My mother was a single parent for most of our lives and she totally rocked it, even if she did have to work three jobs sometimes to provide for us.  My best friend, who is my age, is fortunate to be able to stay home and raise her two children while her fiance works to provide for their family.  People can make it work, and when it does work, it’s awesome.

The problem exists when it doesn’t work.  Spend ten minutes watching TV shows like Teen Mom to see that some people are not really equipped to handle raising a child, because they are not ready to make sacrifices.  A key aspect of parenthood is sacrifice and prioritization.  If you want to travel, or party, or date a bunch of people, it’s best to prioritize your future children and do all of those things before you start having kids, especially if you are not willing to sacrifice those desires for the benefit of the child.  Kids change everything, and they need your attention and support from day one.

Some women find out the news that they will be mothers and commit to learning how to give their children the best life they possibly can.  Others don’t, and it’s tragic — and avoidable. With incomplete (or absent) sex education, limited access to contraception, and the current assault on reproductive choice, a lot of young people find themselves with children they are not equipped to raise, emotionally, financially, or otherwise.

The decision to have a child (or two, or more, or none at all) is each person’s or each couple’s decision to make.  We are no longer responsible for having as many babies as possible, because our population is saturated.  We have more people than jobs in most places, and more people than homes in some as well.  If our population takes a hit over a couple generations, I think that’s actually a good thing.  In fact, the more we put off having children — the more we take advantage of that luxury and decadence of being able to wait — the better off our children will be, because we’re not prioritizing careers or our own lives over theirs, we are actually prioritizing them by waiting until we have the resources to give them the best life possible.

Spreading the word

I’d like to take today’s post to share some other blogs I have found since I began my minimalist journey.  I’m following 17 blogs, which seems like a lot, but many of them don’t post often, and they aren’t all about minimalism.  I am a woman of many interests.  I follow parenting blogs, vegan eating blogs, personal blogs of people I care about, and a healthy dose of minimalism blogs, including these:

Living Lagom – This blog is the first I started following when I began my Reader on WordPress!  She posts very insightful posts about living with just enough, and her tales of her non-minimalist sister help me to get through life with the non-minimalists in my life (which is everyone but me, basically!)

The Simple Year – This mother commits to buying nothing new for a full year, and talks about her trials and tribulations, and she throws in some really funny stories too.  One of my favorites is the one about mismatched socks.

Living Simply Free – The tales of a woman who, upon having an “empty nest,” revisited her home full of stuff with new eyes and began to live simply and simply live, enjoying her time with her children, grandchildren, and several creative projects in her 300 square foot home.

Recently on Living Simply Free, I read about the Reverse 100 Thing Challenge, in which I shall participate.  It’s a challenge to remove 100 things from your home by the end of the year.  I’m in!  I can’t decide if I will write about it as I go along or if I’ll just do a post in December with everything I purged.  We’ll see.

What are your favorite minimalist blogs?

The case for uniforms

It’s occasionally a topic in the news… the great School Uniform Debate.  Do uniforms stifle kids’ creativity and individualism, or do they reduce bullying and class distractions by making sure everyone is wearing the same thing?  Both? Neither?

While yes, uniforms to reduce students’ ability to showcase their personality through what they wear, wouldn’t it be nice if they could showcase their personality through their actions?  In my opinion, uniforms are a great idea.  You won’t see children ridiculing another child’s hand-me-down clothes or last-season garb.  Everyone in the same skirt/pants, shirt, and shoes means less stress over what to wear in the morning, less comparing to others based on wealth and appearance, less distraction in the classroom.

From a minimalist standpoint, I’ve seen several people describe their pared-down wardrobe as their personal uniform.  As I mentioned before, lots of choices actually means more stress.  Whether it’s getting kids ready for school in the morning or getting dressed for work or the day’s other pursuits, having a limited number of options means more peace of mind about what you’re wearing.

What do you think?

The paradox of choice

Psychologist Barry Schwartz has written a book, The Paradox of choice: Why more is lessdescribing a serious side effect of our culture that offers us so much freedom through infinite choices without limits.  We are given so many options, so many choices, that they paralyze us and we become preoccupied with selecting the right option, making the best choice.  Sometimes this stress results in not making any choice at all.  When we do make a decision, we wind up less satisfied than if we had chosen from a smaller selection of options.

When people are presented with infinite (or seemingly infinite) options, they expect one of those options to be perfect.  The bar is so high that any flaw in the desired perfection seems devastating, and we have a huge capacity for regretting our decision because what we chose was “wrong.”  If we only have a few options, we are more likely to be satisfied, because we’re so limited in which choices we can make.  How can you go wrong when you can only choose from a few things?

Though we cannot really combat the fact that clothing stores have a hundred different styles of top or bottom for us to try on, grocery stores have a ridiculous selection of food and personal items, or twenty restaurants are located within a few blocks of each other in our cities… we can do a lot to limit this paralysis in our own lives.

Limiting the contents of our wardrobe, cupboards, and shelves can do a lot for our true freedom from choices.  I’ve felt more free as a minimalist — with arguably less choice about what I can wear or eat or put on my hair on any given day — than I ever did with a stuffed closet or a pantry full of nonperishables I had stocked up on.

To get dressed, I have three options: pants, shorts, dress.  I have three pairs of jeans, two pairs of shorts, and four dresses.  I have a pretty small selection of tops, all of which are flattering and comfortable.  There is no going wrong when I get dressed, because I know I have narrowed down my wardrobe to a few choices that all work.  Bam.  Dressed.  Looks good, feels good, has to be good because I don’t have other options.  And that is so freeing. 

My kitchen may look sparse, but I only buy what I will eat in the foreseeable future.  I used to keep a pantry stocked with boxes and boxes of pasta and jars of sauce.  Pasta was always a backup if I didn’t feel like cooking something more demanding of me — like the fresh foods going bad in my fridge and getting wasted.  Now I plan out meals and only buy the minimum I need to get through a week in groceries so nothing gets wasted and I don’t have an excuse to cop out and make something easy, because I don’t keep as many convenience foods on hand!

Click here to see a YouTube clip of Barry Schwartz discussing the paradox of choice.

Do you feel more free with less choice?

Current events: Car free with six kids

I’m signed up for regular email updates from Care2.com, and this post came with a recent email blast, containing a brief story about Emily Finch, a mother of six who does not own a car and instead transports her family via bicycle.

Around the summer of 2009…Emily said, “I started looking at my life… I was living in a giant house and had a nine-person Suburban. I remember thinking, there’s no reason I can’t walk or bike around town. “I was really depressed before,” she shared, “But I was so happy after I got the bike. I just loved it.”

I find this incredible!  For the foreseeable future, there is no way I could get along without my car.  I commute 30 miles to work and 30 miles home five days a week.  My mom lives 25 miles from me.  I visit my sister who lives 85 miles away.

I could cut back around town — I do drive to the grocery store, and sometimes on date nights we just drive around and look at scenery and explore new areas.  We could take a walk instead.  I could probably bike to the store and back if I really tried.  My boss lives close to me so, in theory, we could carpool to work a couple days a week.

At least if I am driving, I have a small, fuel-efficient car.  It’s no hybrid, but it gets about 36 miles per gallon, and it’s a “Low Emissions Vehicle” and is not the most guilty of cars on the road (I see you, Hummer drivers, I see you).

How do you cut back on car use? Do you even have a car?  What do you think of Ms. Finch, who takes her kids around town on a giant bike?