Minimalism and the Day after Christmas

I think I’m starting to understand the meaning of minimalism. Yes, it’s about being able to live with less, but no, it doesn’t necessarily mean having to live with the bare minimum. Yes, it means choosing to own only the things you need or the items that bring you happiness, but no, it doesn’t mean feeling guilty about keeping things that serve purpose or give meaning to your life, even if they are new, beautiful, or expensive.

I started to get the hang of what it means to live a minimalist life when I moved into my new condo earlier this year. Yes, it was bigger than the apartment I was renting, but yes, that extra space was necessary and has drastically contributed to my comfort and happiness. No, my new home is not huge by any means, but yes, the entire experience of moving opened an opportunity for me to purge my belongings. I threw out and gave away so much. Yes, in some cases, I did replace what I purged with newer and nicer things but on the same token, I also chose to rid my life of other items that I never intend to replace. While I still have a storage closet half full of things that I most likely do not need, my current living footprint is much more meaningful. Is my living footprint a bit bigger? I can’t say, but it is much more purposeful now. Just about everything I have in my home (not in storage) is something I use, need, or brings happiness into my life. It definitely was not like that before the move. Yes, I can still identify items that could go, and they will go. I know it won’t be hard to remove them from my home and life.

So with that in mind, I must admit that I was treated very well this holiday. People in my life blessed me with books, candies, gift cards, clothes, and decorative items. But I must admit, sometimes, as I opened up gift after gift, I felt a little stressed. How am I going to transport all this back home in my tiny carry-on luggage? Where am I going to put this in my condo? I truly am not going to ever use this, but I feel bad contemplating how to rid my life of this item. Little surges of anxiety overtook me, and I swear to you, this was the first time in my life I ever felt this way while opening up gifts. I truly can say that overall, I would have been happy to have received nothing, or at the minimum, something of little monetary value but huge sentimental value such as photos of family members that I can frame and display in my home or hand-drawn art from my niece and nephew that I can put up at work. It’s true, the older you get, the more you want things that money cannot buy.

Yes, there were many things I received that did bring me joy and that will be put to good use. (The gift cards, for example, will go toward improving my home.) But there were also trinkets I received that I see no use for in my life (such as the turquoise heart paperweight or the two candy tins I was gifted). I truly believe this sense of anxiety that I experienced when opening up gifts originated from the massive purge I experienced during my move this summer—a purge that has continued to this day in my new home and that will continue when I return from the holidays.

While it is easy to fill up space in a new, bigger home, I have avoided doing so unnecessarily. I have a very stressful job, so I see my home as my refuge. I have specifically designed it to be a place that brings me calm, creates warmth, and coziness and that offers simple, quiet comforts with a tinge of luxury where I can afford to add it. This means no clutter.

So what am I going to do when I get home later this week? For now, I will remain grateful for the presents I have received, but upon my return home, I will have to overcome the guilt I will feel as I find a way to rid myself of the gifts I do not need. Inner peace and health are more important. Creating and maintaining a space that promotes both is necessary. I choose happiness over stress, and pray to God others will understand.

Advertisements

December 25, 2016 – St. Paul, Minnesota

may-you-find-peace-and-joy-this-holiday-season

As I write this post on a cold, rainy, dreary Christmas Day in the Twin Cities, in the coziness of my parents’ home, I am reminded of how we all celebrate this time of year differently. For years in my 20s and early 30s, I lived overseas or far from family with limited income to get me home for the holidays. So I often found ways to celebrate on my own, and for many years, I was truly okay with it (because I had no choice not to be). I found this time alone rejuvenating in a way, as it allowed me to do what I wanted to do, how I wanted to do it. Did I want to sleep in all morning and watch movies in  bed? So be it. Did I want to indulge in carbs and sweets without any guilt? Consider it done.

Often times I’d go for long walks with my camera, read books, write, or do something creative on my own. One year a Jewish friend and I went to see “Black Swan” in the movie theater followed by a buffet dinner at Golden Corral. Another year in South Korea, I found a Western restaurant (Outback Steakhouse) and indulged in some good old Western food (which was priced at a premium back in the day as it was considered foreign cuisine that locals enjoyed only on special occasions). Sometimes I’d feel lonely, but often it was okay. Somehow, it still felt like Christmas to me, even when I was far from loved ones.

Now I’m back in the United States with the means to travel home to the Midwest at least once a year, and I’m grateful for this opportunity. Especially when there are people close to me who will be involuntarily spending the holiday on their own this year. How I wish I could take them to Minnesota with me for I know what it’s like to celebrate solo. I’ve done it many times myself.

So whatever you are doing this holiday season, whether you are alone at home or surrounded by family and friends, may you find peace and contentment in how you celebrate (if you celebrate), even if it is simply peace within your heart. If you are by yourself today, do something that makes you happy. Enjoy this time alone, but know that many of us have been through the same situation before and have come through it a stronger person. Be merry. Be bright. Life is too short not to be.

Happy holidays to those near and far, and thank you so much for all you do to make this blog a joy to create!

Notes from Two Weeks on a Soup Cleanse

I know it sounds counter-intuitive to go on a cleanse or diet of any kind during the holidays, but after over-indulging in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving (not to mention on the big day itself and several days of leftovers afterwards), I decided I had to do something about my out-of-control eating habits.

So after reading about the Souper Girl one-week (or more if you desire) soup cleanse in The Washington Post, I thought I’d give it a try. Lord knows I wouldn’t survive a juice cleanse, and I tried no-carb dieting last year (with much success but so much self-torture that I don’t think I can put myself through it again), I thought it was time to try something new. My expectations weren’t too demanding (and I think that has been the key to my success with this cleanse). I didn’t expect to lose weight after just one week doing this, but I did expect to reset my voracious appetite, curb my cravings for junk food, and literally cleanse my body of all the garbage I had been eating leading up to now.

15230809_10211411641833788_6870281752162743337_n

Souper Girl’s cleanse did not disappoint. You do it in one week intervals, and it consists of four homemade, locally sourced, vegan, kosher soups a day for five days with two days off in-between where you substitute your soups with natural vegan foods like brown rice, hummus and veggies, quinoa and other similar meals. (I’m not a vegan but was open to trying this.)

Lucky for me, I live within Souper Girl’s delivery zone and received my week’s worth of soups right at my door, with flavors consisting of the likes of Brazilian Black Bean, Wheat Berry Minestrone, Curried Split Pea Appel Kale, Gingered Sweet Potato, Barley Chickpea Kale, Hearty Lentil Butternut Squash and Greens, and Gingered Carrot Orange just to name a few.

As is the key for most diets or cleanses, the first 1-3 days can be the most difficult as your body goes through a sort of withdrawal. But, again, as with most diets or cleanses, the key is to stay busy. And thank God that is exactly how my first week went on the cleanse. I was so busy at work (and over the weekend), that I simply did not have time to think about mindless eating. Having a scheduled eating regiment actually worked well with my lifestyle (and continues to).

Luckily, the soups are very filling and range to about 1,000-1,200 calories a day. You start your day with the highest calorie soup and work your way through to the lowest. And better yet, the portions are very generous (it’s a proper bowl of soup, not a cup) and because they are homemade, they are so incredibly tasty that each one was a treat to look forward to. I really did enjoy my first week on the cleanse, so much that I signed up for a second week.

What I like about it:

  • Truly delicious soups
  • Big portions and very filling
  • Packed with nutritious ingredients
  • Convenient to prepare (just microwave in the container the soups come in)
  • The “off” days offer flexibility in your diet
  • Curbs your cravings
  • Resets your appetite
  • A glass of wine a day is allowed
  • Actually does cleanse your insides
  • I lost 2 pounds; probably water weight, but it was water weight that needed to go

What I don’t like about it:

  • It’s a little pricy ($135 for a week’s supply however, repeat buyers get a $10 discount, but still…)
  • Toward the end of the first week of the cleanse I did get a little sick of soup overall, but it obviously was temporary since I signed up for a second week and continue to enjoy it

Lessons learned from the experience:

Diet truly does affect your body, both inside and out: I didn’t lose a lot of weight, but I lost enough water weight so that my clothes fit more comfortably, and my body literally was working around the clock releasing all the junk that had accumulated inside me over the weeks.

Homemade makes a difference: I’ve tried commercial diets before, and while they worked well for me, they weren’t very tasty. I truly do believe the fact that these soups were homemade made a difference in this cleanse experience. They tasted divine and were not skimpy portions.

Flexibility in a diet really helps: The fact that this cleanse has two off days really helped, and after the first week of successfully following my “off day guidelines,” I felt comfortable enough to indulge in just one meal of evil carbs and fat (pasta carbonara and fried mozzarella) knowing that the next day (and several days after), I’d be back into the routine of healthy soup eating.

Veganism is not bad: No, the experience did not convert me; I will continue to consume meat and eggs and milk and such, but I learned that my body can function just fine without those products, too. If anything, I didn’t get sleepy mid-afternoon (as I usually do at work), and I attribute that to the cleanse and likely vegan aspect of the diet.

So with two more weeks to go until Christmas, I feel much more comfortable confronting the holiday and all it’s glorious junk food and am happy to know that afterwards, I have a plan to get back on track and stay that way until next holiday season.

 

Learning How to Say “No”

I have come to the belief that there are not many times in life when we can say the word “no.” Whether out of obligation, respect, hierarchy or moral values, saying “yes” is often the right thing to do. But there are instances when saying “no” is not only the best thing to do, but also necessary, especially for one’s health.

The struggle between complying with requests and taking care of oneself is all the more highlighted during the holiday season. At this time of year, social invitations, charitable donation solicitations, and everyday holiday requests come flooding at us like an avalanche with the hopeful (and sometimes expected) anticipation that we will say “yes” to it all.

But the reality is we can’t and we shouldn’t. There are few people in the world who have the time and finances to do it all. The majority of us must pick and choose wisely. But this isn’t as easy as it sounds. Obligation and feelings of guilt can be the biggest drivers to forcing us to do something we don’t feel comfortable doing.

Here are a few guidelines I have found helpful toward helping me say “no” without guilt:

  1. Forgive yourself. Do this first, right now in fact, before you turn down any request. If you can’t forgive yourself now, you will have a harder time saying “no” and end up saying “yes” to something you wish you hadn’t when the request arises. So don’t beat yourself up. You can’t be your best if you aren’t first taking care of yourself.
  2. Consider your own, unique reality and know your limits. We all have different realities when it comes to finances, time, energy levels and obligations. What is possible for your best friend may not be possible for you, and this is completely okay. Realize this. Remember this. Consider this when making a decision. If a request comes your way and your ability to fulfill it will result in even more stress and regret, politely decline and move on. Know your limits, and stand firm.
  3. Find creative alternatives. Sometimes, saying “no” might simply mean “not right now.” It doesn’t have to be finite. For example, a charity with a cause that is important to you may hit you up for a donation during the holiday season. This may force you to look at your other financial obligations and simply fail to see a way how you can make a meaningful contribution to what you believe is a deserving charity. In this case, saying “no” now does not mean saying “no” forever. First, forgive yourself, then politely decline, but make a note to send your donation another time when finances are not so tight. Then stick to that promise as best as you can. You will find immense satisfaction in being able to do this according to your own timeline.
  4. Remember your values. This is a difficult one, but in times when a decision about saying “yes” or “no” is not so clear cut, remembering your values can sometimes be a deciding factor in how you respond to a request or invitation. Ask yourself how responding “yes” or “no” to a specific request aligns with your personal values, then act accordingly.
  5. Don’t dwell on your decision. Once you make a decision, don’t dwell on it. Move on. You know you made the best decision for yourself at this particular time under these particular circumstances, and you know any other response would not have left you feeling comfortable or good about yourself. If you are dealing with decent people, there will be no ramifications for your decision. And if you find there are negative outcomes to your response, put them aside for a time when you have the energy to address these issues properly. In order to be an effective, contributing person to our jobs, families, friends, and society as a whole, we first need to take care of ourselves. Only then can we be the best that we can be.