Thursday, November 20, 2014

7 Things I Would Tell My 20-year-old Self

As a 40-year-old wife and mother of two young boys, I sometimes look back at photos of my 20-year-old self and feel like I’m staring at another person. Back then, there was excitement and worry about the future. Many decisions held a lot of weight, whether they were about jobs, boyfriends, education or money. At times, it felt like a single decision could change my life’s path. Talk about putting pressure on myself! Don’t get me wrong, I had a lot of fun in my 20’s too. But it was also such a critical time for self-awareness and self-definition. I wish my 40-year-old self could have sat down with my 20-year old self over a glass of wine to have a good heart-to-heart.

Here are some of the things I would tell myself ….
  1. Be true to yourself. This is my most valuable piece of advice, but also the hardest since you’re still trying to figure out who exactly is that self.  Trust your gut. If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Don’t compromise your ethics. Own your decisions. Be strong. Have pride in who you are.
  2. Focus on experiences, you won’t remember the rest. Seriously, you’ll be amazed at how little you remember of the people you met and the routines you had. What you will remember are experiences that take you out of your day-to-day routine, especially travel! So don’t sweat the small stuff, even if it doesn’t feel that small at the time.
  3. Spend less, save more. The price of homes will appreciate … a lot! When I look around at the people who are financially secure in their 40’s, many of them started building a financial base in their 20’s. Have fun and treat yourself, but make sure you’re socking away part of every pay cheque. You’ll never have as much disposable cash again.
  4. Relationships shouldn’t be hard. This one is a tough one, especially when you love someone. But communication isn’t difficult in a healthy relationship. You shouldn’t have to change who you are to please someone. Dating should be fun. If it’s not, then move on. He’s not worth it, but you are. When you meet the right guy, you WILL know he’s the one … really!
  5. True friends will stick with you. In your 20’s, forming friendships seems like a priority. By 40, the friends you STILL have from those earlier years will be your true friends. They will stick with you through triumphs, heartbreak, life changes and losses. Let go of the friends who are weighing you down or never give back as much as they take. Life is short; spend it with family and friends who are loyal to you.
  6. Specialize in something you’re good at. I know that variety can be the spice of life, but find something you’re good at and specialize in it. Do a deep dive and become the best you can in that field, whether it’s your hobby or career. Again, when I look around at the most successful people I know today, they are (usually) specialists who love what they do.
  7. Enjoy your sleep. You will never sleep so well, so long and so much as you do now. For that matter, enjoy everything you do. Take pleasure in the company of others, the fun in a night out, the calmness of solitude and the enjoyment of a good meal. The days are long, but the years are short.
In the spirit of this post, I would love some advice from people in their 60's (or older) about what advice they would give their 40-year-old selves?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

5 Tips for Tackling Your Paper Clutter

Image courtesy of nuttakit
I remember the concept of the paperless office being touted 15 years ago when I worked as a PR executive for a large printer manufacturer. I wrote countless articles about how technology was going to revolutionize offices, minimizing the bothersome and costly need for paper. Well things didn’t quite go that route, did they?

While many of us are actively turning to online billing and payment, and prefer to read our news online, the flyers at our door never cease. The forms sent home from school are unending, our receipts are piling and the general paper trail of life continues.

I desperately needed a system for organizing the stacks of paper piled precariously on my filing cabinet.  The five principles outlined below helped me get started and can assist you too!
  1. Each piece of paper needs a home: For me, this principle is ground zero for organizing. Without designating a home for each type of paper (e.g., newspapers, bills, correspondences, coupons, and records), paper just gets shifted around. Different types of paper should have different homes depending on how easily and frequently you need to access that paper. I use baskets, filing cabinets, decorative paper sorters and shoe boxes to file and store my paper.
  2. Take three minutes a day: My paper clutter accumulated after not taking the time each day to sort. Once a home has been designated for each type of paper, it should take three minutes (or less) daily to organize. You may also choose to do this task weekly, but if you extend it longer than that, those dastardly piles start forming again.
  3. Sort at the source: I’ve developed three filing systems all located near my front door so that when paper enters the house is gets sorted before it can clutter my home.  You may choose to organize paper based on whether it requires action, recycling or filing. In my home, there is a cabinet for newspapers and magazines, a basket for flyers and non-urgent papers, and a decorative filing box for important mail requiring action (e.g., school papers, bills, health claims). Once that urgent mail has been addressed, it is stored away in a filing cabinet.
  4. Shred and recycle: If paper makes it into your house every day, ensure that paper also leaves it daily. Recycle flyers and newspapers regularly and shred personal mail frequently. We invested in an extra recycling bin since we found that our bin was overflowing each week. If you live in Toronto, it’s quick, easy and inexpensive to order your extra recycling bin online.
  5. Scan and save: This is the last step which I’m still working towards. With cheap scanning technology available on every multi-function printer, there is no reason why you can’t scan paper and store everything on your computer (and your back-up hard drive, of course). You can even outsource the scanning of your photos to a third-party, such as The Shoebox Services offered by Black’s Photo.  Rationally, it makes sense to digitize paper that gets stored away but, emotionally, there is still nothing like sorting through a box of photo memories.
So keep the paper coming! I now have a system in place that is helping me to tackle the paper onslaught head-on.

And that paperless office concept, it’s largely a myth. According to a 2013 United States Environmental Protection Agency study, the average office worker generates approximately two pounds of paper and paperboard products each day.[4]

Happy shredding!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Less Impatience, More Consideration: A Case for 'Courteous Driving Day'

Image courtesy of nipitphand
Every day, we witness drivers who are careless, distracted, aggressive or dangerous. Just this past week, I saw a dump truck sail through a solid red light. I used to find aggressive driving annoying and frustrating. Now, with two kids in the car, my protective instincts are on high alert.

For my part, I try to be a kind driver by giving people the right of way on crowded Toronto side streets. Sometimes, I get a friendly wave but most of the time drivers just speed on by, eager to make it home five seconds faster.

Whenever I encounter pedestrians at intersections, I make eye contact to let them know they can safely cross.  But then other cars often speed through the intersection, many jumping their turn at the stop sign.

Something has to change, yet the problem seems insurmountable.

Toronto’s ‘Slow Down, Kids at Play’ campaign, stemming from the tragic traffic death of a child this past summer, is a step in the right direction. I know that whenever I see one of those signs on a front lawn, I give my speedometer a check.

‘Drive it Forward Fridays’ is another interesting campaign devised by Safeco Insurance to try to reduce aggressive driving. The company asked drivers to visit their web site or use the hashtag #DIFF to pledge to be more courteous drivers, and to share what positive changes they were making in their driving habits.

What if we took this campaign a step further by instituting a Courteous Driving Day? What if we asked people – for just one day - to try to improve their driving skills? Slow down and stop whenever they encounter an orange traffic light. Give other drivers the right of way when given the opportunity. Maintain the speed limit and respect others who wish to drive 5 km/hour slower than them. Try not to take things so personally when behind the wheel.

It would only last 24 hours, but maybe it would get people thinking about their driving habits. Maybe people would see that by changing their mindset, they could feel less stressed behind the wheel.  And by giving a little they, in turn, would encounter more courteous drivers.

It’s a long shot but if International Bacon Day can get instituted, then maybe there’s hope for a day that would make our streets safer for our kids.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Musical Simplicity: Acoustic Covers That Will Give You the Chills

Image courtesy of Theeradech Sanin
‘Acoustic cover songs’ was the topic of a radio program I tuned into recently. A good acoustic cover tune will send shivers down my spine. I love the way a singer’s stark voice and simple instrumentation can zero in on the soul of a song.

The radio host commented that a good acoustic tune is like a good cup of coffee. Take away the cream, take away the sugar and other fixings and what’s left is still a solid cup of java.

This comment got me thinking about how simpler music is a good analogy for a simpler life. We all enjoy our possessions and have likely accumulated more than we need. If we stripped all that away, however, what would be left? Hopefully it’s a life with a meaningful and enduring core. If that’s the case, then all the other ‘fixings’ are secondary.

Take a listen to some of these acoustic covers. You'll hear how some classic songs have been stripped down and reimagined, yet still endure. Some may even be better than the original.

Why don’t you be the judge?

Hit Me Baby One More Time by Travis
(original artist: Britney Spears)

Only You by Josh Radin (original artist: Yaz)

Thank You by Tori Amos (original artist: Led Zeppelin)

Fields of Gold by Eva Cassidy (original artist: Sting)

Hallelujah by Damien Rice (original artist: Leonard Cohen)

Fight for your Right by Coldplay (original artist: Beastie Boys)

Hurt by Johnny Cash (original artist: Nine Inch Nails)

Over The Rainbow & What A Wonderful World by Israel Kamakawiwo'ole (original artists: Judy Garland & Louis Armstrong)

Friday, November 7, 2014

Helicopter Parent Coming in for a Landing: Fostering Independence in Young Children

The greatest gifts you can give your children are the roots of responsibility and the wings of independence. - Denis Waitley

Don’t do it for me, do it with me. I heard this phrase recently in a parenting discussion about fostering independence in young children. Over the next few days, it really stuck with me.
While I don’t self-identify as a helicopter parent - one who ‘hovers’ over their children, assuming too much responsibility for their child’s successes and failures – I do walk that tightrope every day of encouraging independence versus doing things for my kids. Where safety is concerned, it makes sense to take over the reins. However, in more cases than I would like to admit, I’m doing things for them that they can likely do themselves, if given the opportunity.
The first time I came to this realization was when my eldest son had just turned three.  I was picking him up from his Montessori classroom and was told by his teacher that he would be a few minutes. HE WAS FINISHING UP THE DISHES. There he was on a step stool, rinsing dishes in the sink (very competently, too).  Never would I have let him wash dishes at home. The counter would get too wet. His shirt would get drenched. My sons would turn it into a water fight. But never in my thought process did I ever think, “what a great learning opportunity, even if the dishes aren’t done perfectly.”
That’s when I realized I need to change my inner monologue more than my son’s wet shirt.
The long-term benefits of raising an independent child far outweigh the short-term pain of messy efforts or schedules running a bit late. In his article on raising independent children in Psychology Today, psychology professor Dr. Jim Taylor lists the following traits of independent kids:
  • Intrinsically motivated because they are allowed to find their own reasons to achieve.
  • They were given the opportunity and guidance to explore achievement activities of their own choosing.
  • Parents use extrinsic rewards appropriately and sparingly.
  • Collaborative rather than a controlled relationship with their parents in which the children's ideas and wishes are solicited and considered.
  • Good decision makers because they were allowed to consider various options and, with the support and guidance of their parents, make their own decisions.
One thing I’ve learned as a parent is that our kids look to us to understand what expectations we have of them. If we consistently have low expectations, then that is the level to which they will rise. We also can’t minimize the intrinsic value of kids of taking on responsibility, whether it is in the form of chores, choices or self-management. It shows them they are capable, valued and skilled beings.
With that in mind, I plan to make a few simple, yet at the same time drastic, changes:
  • Adjust our routine: Identify one or two things I want to change in my routine to give the kids more autonomy. Unpacking their backpacks and cleaning up their toys before bed are two easy ones. Once those are mastered, I’ll select new goals.
  • Offer choices: Involve the children in making choices in their activities and schedules, even if it is a controlled choice between two options. Soccer was a bust this past fall, largely because we made assumptions about our son’s interests. Next time, he will have a role in the process.
  • Make a visual chore schedule: For our family, a schedule alone won’t cut it. Visual chore schedules aid children in seeing what is expected of them and gives them a greater sense of completion by marking off that their job is done.
  • Heap on the praise: Praise, when earned, helps to strengthen the child’s inner voice and establish confidence.
  • Be consistent: This is the toughest of all the changes I want to make. I have tried to implement some of these changes before, but have then gotten sidetracked along the way. My consistency will be the key to ensure that all the above points are accomplished and that real change is made.
For more inspiration and another perspective on raising independent children, check out this Montessori chart of “Age-Appropriate Chores for Children” published in The New York Times parenting blog.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Five Ways I’ll be Redefining My Family Christmas

Image courtesy of nuchylee at
Maybe Christmas, the Grinch thought, doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas ... perhaps ... means a little bit more! - Dr. Seuss, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas

The Christmas season is an incredibly special time for my family, especially now that my boys are old enough to have a deeper understanding of the holiday. Unfortunately, many of the holiday traditions they gravitate to are commercial ones: Santa at the mall, chocolate Advent calendars, and presents on Christmas morning.

Last Christmas, my husband and I introduced a new tradition of singing Christmas carols every night with the boys. We printed out lyrics and the boys each got to pick one carol every night to sing together. Afterwards, we talked about what we were thankful for that day, followed by the lighting of an advent wreath and the opening of an advent calendar window.

This Christmas, I hope to build on last year’s traditions by introducing some new customs while keeping my focus on five things that really matter to me.  
  1. An emphasis on non-toy gifts: I don’t intend to be a Christmas Scrooge, but I’ve observed that the more toys the kids get, the less appreciation for each gift.  I spotted this fantastic list of non-toy gifts for kids that I intend to draw upon this Christmas season.
  2. Focus on experiences: Do you remember the gifts you received last Christmas? Probably not. But you likely do remember picking out your Christmas tree or the fun you had decorating that tree. This Christmas, I plan to create more experiences together as a family: doing crafts, baking, going for walks in the snow, playing games. What a great opportunity to talk, share, laugh and have fun!
  3. Find ways to give back: In my view, charity should be a big part of the holidays. Not only does it offset the focus on presents, but it also helps children understand that they are in a fortunate position and, as such, have a duty to help others in need. Every year, we try to participate in food and toy drives. I’ll be looking for ways that the boys can take more ownership of their giving, perhaps by selecting a charity to support, donating toys or by contributing time to a good cause.
  4. Time for family: It is such a gift to get time off to be together over the holidays. I plan to make the most of this time by sharing it with my immediate and extended family. That may mean scaling down some meal preparation or other detractors from the scarce time we have together. It will be worth it just to witness my family sharing in my children’s joy for Christmas.
  5. Discuss the origins of Christmas: I’d like to introduce my kids to the story of Jesus’ birth and explain its connection to Christmas. My 5 year-old son half gets it, but wonders whether Jesus came before or after the dinosaurs. As a child, I was always fascinated by nativity scenes and now want one as part of our Christmas display at home. And while we do go to church on Christmas Day, I would now like to be a more active part of our church community, especially in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
By making a few changes and adding a few new traditions, I hope to make this Christmas a fun and memorable time for my family.

Any special traditions you have with your family?

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Five Great Hacks for Busy Moms

Who doesn’t love a good tip about how to make your life easier? Look no further than Pinterest for thousands of clever ideas, tips and shortcuts, otherwise known as ‘hacks.’
Here are some of my favorite hacks for busy moms:
1. Chore Enticement: Funny and clever! The kids get the WiFi password (reset daily) only after all the chores or homework have been completed.

2. Entranceway Organizer: I came up with this hack after moving into a house with no front closet. I purchased a Closetmaid 9 Cube Organizer to hold shoes and purses, a couple of dollar store baskets for scarves and mail and added hooks on the side of the organizer for my kids to hang their jackets. Now we have a tidy spot for all those items that would otherwise get discarded when my family enters the house.

3. Sheet Storage:  Without this hack, my linen closet would be a mess of mismatched sheet sets! Use your pillowcase to store folded sheet sets inside. I also write the sheet size on the tags of all of our sheets. With twin, double and king beds in our house, there are lots of sheets to organize!

4. Car Organization: I’m sure most moms can relate to what a struggle it is to keep your car clean, especially if your kids snack in the car en route to school or activities. Following the ‘everything needs a place’ organization philosophy, use car organizers to store trunk odd and ends, hide garbage and hold kids toys.

5. Label Electronics Cables: Who knew plastic bread tabs had so many uses? Write on the tabs and place on electronics cables to remember which plug belongs where. You can also use bread tabs to label keys, hold the end of a roll of tape and more.  

The possibilities for hacks are endless! Check out the Best Hacks for Moms page I’ve created on Pinterest.

Any great hacks which you’ve discovered?

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Less News, More Insights: My News-free Week

 Image courtesy of
Luigi Diamanti

My latest ‘less is more' challenge will have me tuning out the news for a week, and there couldn’t be a better time for it. The news media is ablaze this week with municipal election results, a CBC scandal, and the aftermath of a heartbreaking shooting in Ottawa.

I actually started thinking about doing a ‘no news’ challenge a couple of weeks ago after hearing a radio interview about the international hysteria surrounding the potential spread of the Ebola virus. The interviewee suggested that, in general, people respond too quickly to news without all the facts. After all, it is the primary job of news media to produce and disseminate new information, not to provide insight or perspective. That is the job of editorial and opinion pieces within the media, which doesn’t appear to satiate the appetite of general public quite as much.

When we fail to balance news with editorial insights, our views can become too easily skewed and shaped by the immediacy of social media and the wave of (often unbalanced) public opinion.  I found myself caught up in this wave recently after reading Jian Gomeshi’s well-crafted Facebook post about losing his job at the CBC.  Then, as more details emerged, I realized that there was a larger story to be told that would emerge over time.  I’d like to consider myself media savvy, but it turns out that I still make quick judgments when reading a salacious story.

I used to tease my husband about the pile of old Economist magazines and newspapers that he likes to read in chronological order. Because we lead busy lives with so little free times, he is often months behind in his reading, but refuses to skip ahead to read current newspapers (with the exception of the business section). Unlike me, who will jump ahead to the last chapter of a book, he likes to see stories unfold more naturally.

I sometimes jokingly threaten to drop spoilers and tell him a current news story, but I think this week I will take a chapter from his book. No news through newspapers (unless it’s an opinion piece), radio, TV or social media.

Maybe the world will look a bit different? I certainly hope so.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Simplicity Parenting: Eliminating Distractions to Connect with Kids

Simplicity parenting: the term sounds like an oxymoron. Any parent will tell you that parenting is anything but simple.

In my view, simplicity parenting isn’t about finding shortcuts to make the job easier. It’s about focusing on a critical element of parenting: the connection between parent and child.

By stripping away some of the excess toys, screen time and extracurricular activities, we can focus on sharing meaningful experiences with our children.

I started thinking about the topic after reading a post entitled Simplicity Parenting on the blog Simplicity at Home. This post, in turn, was inspired by a book called Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids by Kim John Payne.

The post inspired me to apply my simplicity challenge to how I raise my children. If I can achieve these goals, even in part, then I’m certain my kids will be happier, calmer and better prepared for life.
  • Reduce the number of toys: This is a hard one for me. Inexpensive toys found at garage sales or online at Kijiji have trapped me into a pattern of toy overconsumption. My boys, meanwhile, tend to spend 80 per cent of their time with 20 per cent of their toys.  And, while they enjoy independent play, they seem to enjoy their toys the most when my husband or I get down on the floor to play with them. A wise preschool teacher once told me, “an organized home is an organized mind.” With this in mind, I applied the following guidelines (inspired by Payne’s book) to shed 25% of the boys’ toys: broken, damaged or mismatched toys; free promotional toys; developmentally inappropriate toys that seem too young for the boys; and toys that tell a fixed story (from TV shows, movies or video games) and don’t encourage imagination.
  • Reduce screen time: I am guilty of turning to the TV to entertain the kids when I need to get work done around the house.  And then there are other times when the TV is on out of sheer habit. This one is a no-brainer: less TV equals more time interacting with the kids. It also forces kids to find creative ways to entertain themselves. How many great discoveries have been born out of an “I’m so bored” moment? My goal is the reduce screen time by 25% and to rethink TV time in our daily routine.
  • Focus on experiences: For me, this is the big one. There is a great saying: the best things in life aren’t things. When I think back to my childhood, my strongest memories are ones shared with family and friends that were outside of my regular routine. My son’s teacher actually encourages parents to take their children out school for family vacations. She says she usually sees big developmental leaps upon a child’s return from a holiday. Family vacations combine new environments and experiences with intense family time, unencumbered by routine demands. We can also maximize experiences in our daily routine by identifying new places to go, different friends to play with or new activities to try.
For more ideas about how to improve family time by getting back to basics, check out this CTV Morning Live interview with Simplicity Parenting guru Kim John Payne.


Monday, October 20, 2014

Simple Kindergarten Classroom Birthday Idea:
Play-Doh Layer ‘Cake’

I recently tapped into my inner-Martha to create a simple Play-Doh Birthday Layer ‘Cake’ for my son’s 4th birthday. The best part: no baking involved! Just cardboard, tape and a whole lot of little Play-Doh cans.

My son’s school does not allow parents to send food to celebrate their child’s birthday in the classroom. Instead, small little favors (e.g. pencils, erasers, stickers) can be sent along for classmates to help mark a child’s birthday.
I decided to take another route; one that I hoped would be fun for the kids while also helping out the classroom teachers, who are often short on art supplies.

I sent a Play-Doh birthday ‘cake’ made of 80 small cans of Play-Doh with 30 sheets of stickers inserted inside.
Based on the arts and crafts ‘masterpieces’ my son brings home daily, he and his classmates seem to be voracious crafters. They even use Play-Doh to make letters, numbers and shapes. I hoped our gift would help the teachers restock their shelves while also offering something novel to the class.
This was an extremely easy project that cost less than $15 in materials (a bit more if you decide to include items such as stickers inside the cake).

If you wish to try this at home, you’ll need:
·    Small Play-Doh cans. I purchased an 80-pack of Halloween Play-Doh at Cotsco for $12.99.
·    Cardboard for creating layers. I used some old boxes that had been lying around the house.
·    Lots of clear tape.
·    Cellophane wrap and ribbons.
Step 1: Use plates to draw different sized circles on cardboard. Cut out these circles. They will help you to create tiers. If you want to insert something inside the cake (I included sticker sheets), cut out smaller holes inside the cardboard circles.
Step 2: Use clear tape on the bottom of the Play-Doh cans to stick them to the largest cardboard circle. I did a second layer on top of the first using more clear tape on the bottom of the cans.
Step 3: Tape another cardboard circle on top of the two rows of Play-Doh cans, building another layer. As you get closer to the top, you’ll be using fewer Play-Doh cans.
Step 4: If you wish, insert additional items inside the inner circles as the ‘prize’ inside the cake.
Step 5: Embellish as you wish with cellophane wrap and ribbons.
The whole project took me, a novice crafter, about 45 minutes to complete.

I hope this idea provides some inspiration for a fun and simple way to celebrate your child's birthday in their Kindergarten classroom.

Friday, October 10, 2014

So Sweet it Isn't: My Week Without Sugar

Usually, I have an ‘all things in moderation’ philosophy about food. This past week was different as I tried to survive a week without sugar as part of my ‘less is more’ challenge.

I love sweet things. I would grab a chocolate bar over a bag of chips any day. My hope was that by eliminating sugar for a week, I would become more mindful of my eating.

I followed three ground rules:
  1. No eating anything that listed sugar in the first two ingredients;
  2. No adding sugar to anything; and
  3. Natural sugar from fresh fruit was allowable.
It was a tough, but enlightening week. The first couple of days were the toughest as my sugar withdrawal set in, resulting in headaches and a general feeling of sluggishness. However, this challenge, like the others that preceded it, offered many interesting revelations.
  • Hidden sugar is my worst enemy: sugar truly is in everything, from plain pancakes to granola bars to even the most basic of cereals. The two teaspoons of sugar I put in my coffee every morning is inconsequential given the multiple teaspoons of sugar in my morning yogurt.
  • Mindless snacking is second worst enemy: with two children under the age of six, lots of food goes uneaten. I didn’t realize until this challenge how often I mindlessly picked from their unfinished plate. Half a muffin here and half cookie there add up to a whole lot of sugar.
  • Carbohydrates were swapped for sugar: with many of my favorite feel-good, sweet snacks off the table, I quickly turned to carbs to fill the gap. Having consumed two loaves of bread during the week, this challenge definitely did not result in any weight loss.
  • Sugar now tastes sweeter: the first sweetened drink I had after this challenge tasted so sugary that I couldn’t finish it. It appears that eliminating sugar has heightened my taste buds for anything sweet.
While I have no intention of continuing my sugar abstinence, I believe this challenge will help me make better nutritional choices.  And, when I do have a treat, I will make sure to savor each delightfully sweet bite.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Cutting My Email Threads

My simplicity challenge this week: less email, more personal interactions. This challenge was inspired, in part, by an article I read recently in The Washington Post about a leading professor of new media who just banned technology use in class. If a digital evangelist was pulling back on technology to ignite meaningful communication and engagement, then maybe I could do the same?

I’ve known for a while that I have an addiction problem. My substance of choice is technology, specifically email. Pre-addiction, I used to pick up the phone and call people. I would meet friends for dinners and they would have my undivided, uninterrupted attention for a whole hour, sometimes longer.

Then a Blackberry entered my life.  It was a slippery slope from there as I needed better and faster technology. With my smart phone, I no longer had wasteful moments waiting at the dentist office or standing in line.  I could just whip out my smart phone for immediate entertainment and distraction.

Next, I started losing touch with some friends. Sure, we were still Facebook friends and would email occasionally, but that more intimate spark of friendship you get from sharing a meal or going for a walk together was no longer there. It was replaced by shorter snippets of conversation over technology that got our point across but relayed so little of how we were actually feeling. This had to change.
So, after a week of less email and more personal interactions, here are some personal conclusions that I've reached:
  • Subconsciously, I’ve predetermined the best channel for every type of communication.  Scheduling, inquiries, and other quick updates are always done over email.  Milestones are communicated over the phone.  Communication for the purpose of building or maintaining personal friendships are always done in person. Right or wrong, I’ve created this hierarchy over the years to address the fact that I have so little free time for lengthy conversations. In the future, I will try to follow this path less rigidly and give more thought to which mode of communication would result in the most meaningful personal interaction.
  • In today’s digital age, telephone conversations now seem like a very intimate thing.  The only people I call regularly these days are my husband and parents. When calling friends, I feel as though I needed to email them in advance (ironic, eh?) to ask if they can set aside some time to have a conversation. I also feel immensely grateful that they would carve out a portion of their hectic day to catch up over the phone, although I’m sure we both feel great after the call.
  • I need to turn off my phone more often and invest in quality time offline.  There is too much temptation to research one last thing or read one final email. This takes quality time away from my family and me. And, I think I need to rebuild my attention span…SQUIRREL (an ode to the movie UP).
My email challenge provided a good awakening for me and, while I’m sure some bad habits will slip back into my routine, I expect to be more conscious about the communication choices I’m making each day.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Garbage In, Gold Out: How Clutter Can Help Others

If all that glitters is not gold, then all that clutters is not necessarily junk. Sometimes, it can help others while also teaching an important lesson. That’s what I learned recently after enlisting my five-year-old to help out with our family garage sale.

It all began two years ago when I’d stumbled upon a garage sale held by two young kids and their dad. My preschoolers were eager to get their little hands on some new toys so I stopped and quickly loaded the stroller with some items. While I was paying for our purchases, I struck up a conversation with the father. He’d told me that all the money raised was going to Sick Kids, and that his kids (one of whom had been a Sick Kids patient) had managed the entire sale. I commended the children on their initiative and then happily continued on my day with my two giddy boys.

At the time, I didn’t realize that a seed had been planted in my head. One of my sons, too, had been lucky enough to get remarkable care at Sick Kids when he was an infant. And, while my husband and I donated every year to the Sick Kids Foundation, I wanted to ensure that my sons understood the concepts of selflessness and, at a basic level, philanthropy.

So, when I held a garage sale last spring to unload some of my household clutter, I decided to get my five-year-old son to help. I reminded him about the garage sale we’d visited when he was younger and explained that we too could hold a sale and donate the proceeds to Sick Kids. To pique his interest further, I suggested that he could hold a lemonade stand at the sale to raise even more money. The event was a great success, with my son expertly hustling the neighbours to purchase some of his lemonade. A few weeks later, my husband and I took our son to Sick Kids to personally deliver the money we’d raised. While there, we proudly took photos of him with the certificate of appreciation he received from the hospital.

Three months later, my son learned about Terry Fox’s heroism in his kindergarten class in conjunction with a run that the school was hosting as a fundraiser for cancer research. My son and I discussed that while Terry Fox embodied heroism on a big scale, even small acts of kindness (such as our garage sale/lemonade stand fundraiser) can make you a hero. After casually sharing this discussion with my son’s teachers, they invited him to share his fundraising experience with his classmates. I was told that afterwards there was a buzz in the classroom about all the lemonade stands the kids were planning to hold for charity next summer.

What had started out as one family’s personal act of giving back had, unknown to them, grown exponentially and had inspired other children to follow suit. And it all started with some clutter.

To learn more about how you can turn your “clutter into kindness”, check out the video below from a renowned decluttering expert, Peter Walsh.

For a list of where to donate your gently used items in Toronto, check out this great list compiled by Beautifully Organized, a local service that helps people better organize their homes.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Losing the Battle, Winning the War(drobe)

Have you ever said, in a moment of frustration, that you hate 75% of your wardrobe? What if you got rid of all those clothes? Then you’d love 100% of your wardrobe. That was the message I read recently on a blog entitled Breathing Room.

The author of that blog and I are kindred spirits, it turns out. I recently decided to take up this challenge after years of feeling frustrated by a wardrobe dominated by pre-pregnancy clothing that no longer fit me.

I was sold on the value of decluttering and welcomed the idea of only having clothes in my wardrobe that I was actively wearing. What I didn’t quite expect was the emotional attachment and memories tied to some of those items. I felt like I was going through old photos and, with each clothing item, was reliving those memories all over again: where I bought it, when I wore it, how I felt at the time.

There was the halter top I remember buying during my younger clubbing days that was such a go-to item in its day. Gone. There was that adorable honeymoon dress which my husband had loved so much. Adios. And what about all those work clothes that were such a staple in my wardrobe pre-kids? They hit the curb too.

Rather than feeling like I was saying goodbye to those fond times in my life, I tried to focus on the positive. I was donating those clothes to New Circles, a Toronto-based agency that offers clothing services to clients with limited income. Most families are new to Canada and many are refugees. There is no argument that others would benefit from those clothes more than I ever could.

With those clothes out of the house, my closet (and I) both feel lighter and more liberated. My wardrobe, though much sparser, reflects who I am today: a happily married mother of two who spends more time on the floor building Lego castles with her kids than navigating office politics or maintaining a busy social life.

I’m sure, in time, my wardrobe will evolve to reflect other new personas but, for now, I’m embracing the yoga pants and cotton wrap cardigans. It’s near impossible to build a Lego masterpiece in a pencil skirt. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

How a Cicada Bug Inspired A Simpler Life

My bug-obsessed son recently found the shell of a cicada bug at our family cottage. Amazing, the brown-coloured shell shed by the cicada looks identical to that of an intact, but hollow bug. The cicada’s new skin is a vibrant green color, making the bug’s metamorphosis from an underground nymph to a winged adult bug complete.

I recently began to think about how, in a quest to simplify my life, I may have a thing or two in common with the cicada. We were both probably quite happy in our lives, despite the fact that there were a number of things weighing us down.

For the cicada, it was the weight of the earth it lived under, but for me, it was the ‘excess’ of material objects cluttering my home. As a mother of two young boys, I find it way too easy to accumulate items to keep my family well-fed, dressed, educated and entertained.

Then, I realized that this clutter also extends to the excess volume of activities, schedules and demands overloading my mind. Perhaps finding a peaceful and satisfying resolve would require shedding my shell, just like the cicada, so I could find my wings to reach new heights?

This blog is a diary of sorts as I find ways to shed things which are in excess in my life. Some modifications may be small, others big, but all are changes that I hope will improve my overall health, happiness and well-being.

I view this blog as a way to share ideas and stories with people who also think that Less is More (at least more or less), while also making myself accountable to the goals that I publish weekly.

My first goal is to finally come to terms with the pre-pregnancy clothes that are collecting mothballs in my closet. I’m pretty sure if I can’t categorize my excess pounds as “baby weight” if my baby just started kindergarten. By de-cluttering my wardrobe, I hope to improve my body image by ridding myself of the reminder that I still can’t fit into about half my clothes.

From a practical standpoint, I also hope to get use out of some long-forgotten clothing hiding at the back of my closet which deserves a second chance. I’ll report back soon on how the process went and whether it was a positive change.

Readers, anything you’re hoping to shed in your quest for simplicity?