Getting through those winter blues

I was out for a walk the other day, with the little boy I babysit regularly. He’s just starting to talk, so when I’m with him I always talk to him and point out the leaves and the flowers, and mention the colors and the birds we hear and the cows we see (we do live in the Midwest).

This autumn I pointed out how the leaves were changing color and falling from the branches. I stepped on the fallen leaves and pointed to my ear to teach the word “crunchy”.

But now that it’s winter, things are looking a little more dreary than they were just a few months ago.

I looked out at the trail ahead of us and all I saw was brown. And empty, dead-looking branches. Not much to tell him about today, I thought. Luckily I have a repertoire of children’s songs up my sleeve from when I worked in a preschool, so he’s never without entertainment ;).

But I didn’t need to use the songs, because as I looked more closely at what I thought was a brown and boring path, I saw that there was actually still a bit of green in there to be seen. I just had to look more closely.

So I pointed out these little green leaves to him so he could see them, too. And it made me realize, that not only are things not as glum as they seem, but there are small pleasures to be found everywhere. (tweet that)

We saw patches of green, herds of cows, and pairs of birds flying across our path. What started as an unpromising outing had turned into quite a full experience.

I wont kid you and tell you it was as enjoyable as spring. There are still seasons afterall, and it was cold. But I recognized that I had been in a bit of a hopeless mindset because of the temperature. And I had let it make assumptions about my surroundings, and ultimately my outlook on life.

It’s true what they say, to see the world through the eyes of a child brings a whole new outlook. Because it wasn’t until I looked for the interesting things so I could show my little friend, that I saw them for myself.

What might you be missing when you look at your life? I bet there are some interesting things in there that you’ve forgotten about, or have been blinded to by your current outlook. Won’t you please find them? And then share them with the world?

Decluttering my life has brought me peace of mind and relief from the world around me. There’s nothing like walking into the space you created and knowing you have nothing more than what you need. I write articles to help others create that same feeling for themselves.

It’s time to digital declutter

Physical clutter manifests as real stress in our lives. But what about digital clutter? You may have Konmari-ed your wardrobe and narrowed down your book collection, but you’re not done if you haven’t looked through all the stuff you keep on your phone and computer.

With essentially unlimited storage space, it might seem silly to monitor how much you’re using. But the problem isn’t limited digital space; it’s that we have limited space in our brains to keep track of it all. Hanging onto things whether they are physical or digital takes up some of your memory and awareness, and depending what exactly it is, it can cause you more stress than you realize.

Here are the areas I suggest looking at, with the intention of drastically reducing what you choose to keep:

Docs and notes

I once created a very in-depth folder system, with subfolders inside subfolders. The system was very logical and I could usually find what I was looking for. It worked passably for a few years, until I ran out of space on my laptop and moved the whole folder system onto an external hard drive.

And I didn’t look at it again for years.

What was in it? Useless documents called things like “24 things to do before age 24” or “Tuesday to-do list” or “Potential jobs to get Sept 2012”.

Mostly these notes were useful to me at the time, as a “brain dump” exercise where I just wrote down a bunch of ideas to help better sort them in my mind.

Before the age of everything-digital, people used to brainstorm on real paper. And then crumple it up and throw it in the trash when they were done. But with digital files, we always CTRL + S just in case we might need to refer to it again later. And thus, what was once disposable brain clutter becomes immortalized digital clutter.

These days, I still constantly write digital notes, but I have only a few at a time. Instead of multiple to-do lists, I have one, which I keep adding to and checking off as I complete things. Any separate notes I try and take care of asap so I can delete the whole thing and move on. I hang on to work-related documents only until that project is over. And anything uploaded online to a blog or shared workspace doesn’t need a second copy on my hard drive.

Photos

Photos are something we tend to have literally hundreds if not thousands of. First, figure out where you’re going to store them, and keep them contained to that place. Are you going to keep them on your computer’s hard drive such as in iPhoto, or online in something like Google Photos? In your phone’s photo gallery or on Instagram? You only need to store one copy of any given photo. (Do keep the original version of the few photos you care most about, so that you have the highest resolution if you ever want to print them out to be framed.)

Next, get rid of any obvious ones like exact duplicates or ones that are blurry or where someone’s eyes are closed. These will be easy to delete and will give you a feeling of momentum.

Now you’re left with all pretty good photos, but you only need one from each set. I’ve found that when a photo set is recent, I can’t decide which photo is the best one. In one the lighting is better, but I prefer my smile in the other one. When this happens I have to just give up and come back later. It’s amazing how looking at a photo with fresh eyes gives you such a better perspective.

Specifically, vacation photos

This is another beast entirely. You might have a bunch of photos of buildings you saw, fountains, lakes, beaches…

I hate to break it to you but there are already hundreds of photos of that exact landmark, and dozens of them are way better than yours. If you really want a photo to remember how beautiful Lake Tahoe was, find one off Google taken by a professional landscape photographer and look at that when you feel like reminiscing. You don’t need your own photo collection to prove you were there.

Instead, keep the photos of people. The selfie you and your partner took in front of the beach or with the crazy cab driver photobombing you will likely illicit much fonder memories than a photo of the place itself. The people are what make a photo rare or special, not the place.

Emails + email labels

There are easy ways to bulk-delete email, so have no fear! You’re likely subscribed to a ton of mailing lists you no longer care about. Go to your inbox and open one. In Gmail there’s a little “Unsubscribe” link you can click so you don’t have to find the option inside the email content itself.

This only works for certain automated email lists however, so this option wont be there for all of them and you will have to manually delete the rest. Thankfully, you can delete multiple emails at once so the process goes pretty quickly.

Email is another one of those places where we tend to organize subfolders into subfolders, often called Labels. I used to have a label called “Shopping” where I kept all my automated promotion emails from various stores. (There are so many embarrassing aspects of that sentence, but this was years ago.) If you’re in that boat now, delete the label and delete everything inside it.

Apps

You downloaded that app and still haven’t opened it? Uninstall. You find that you only waste time using that app and it doesn’t bring anything constructive to your life? Uninstall. You already have another app that has the same function? You don’t need more than one.

I like to have only two screens of apps on my phone. On the home screen I have my daily used apps, like email, Spotify, text messages, and Google Keep. Swipe to the second screen and you’ll find my photo gallery, some social media apps, and a language learning app. I intentionally don’t put any “distracting” apps (Facebook, Instagram) on my home screen, because I don’t want to find myself opening them by default or because I saw a notification bubble.

All my other random apps aren’t used even close to daily, so they don’t need to take up space on my home screens. I can still access them in the Apps folder when I need them.

Texts

I dislike seeing texts that no longer serve me. Whenever I get a text with a confirmation code or automated alert (such as when resetting a password or opening a new account) I promptly delete the text conversation when I’m done. If someone random texts me with the wrong number, etc, I’ll delete it. I’ll also delete group text conversations if it’s not a group of people who talk on an ongoing basis.

Having fewer texts makes it easier to scroll through and find the conversations that actually matter to me, with people and groups I plan on talking with again in the future.

Accounts you follow

You have been using social media for years and have years worth of people you’ve followed on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and all the rest. You likely don’t care about a lot of the same things you cared about five years ago, so why are you still following so many of those accounts?

It is okay to unfollow people that no longer interest you, whether that’s hiding people from your Facebook news feed, unfriending them altogether, or unsubscribing to Youtube channels. If you feel badly about yourself when you look at a certain account, do your self-esteem a major favor and unfollow it. Clear your Instagram feed from the boring photos you quickly scroll through, so everything you have to see is better.

Enjoying your newfound brain space

Clearing out the digital clutter can give you a surprising amount of peace. When you look back through the things you have chosen to keep, you will find that you have only stored joy and happiness. What wonderful things to hang on to.

What area have you digitally decluttered that has made the biggest impact on your happiness?

Decluttering my life has brought me peace of mind and relief from the world around me. There’s nothing like walking into the space you created and knowing you have nothing more than what you need. I write articles to help others create that same feeling for themselves.

I wore the same pants for 3 months and no one noticed

As you may know from some of my other posts, I work as a barista in a coffee shop. For as long as I’ve worked there (about two years now), I’ve kept a separate wardrobe just for barista days. This is because the clothes I wear there always end up 1. smelling like coffee, and 2. getting espresso, chocolate powder, or milk splattered on them (I’m not clumsy, I swear).

I have the perfect pair of pants for this job. They are comfy, strechy skinny jeans, and they are a mix of dark purple and black, in an almost watercolor design. I’m telling you, I can get all the espresso on them I want and you can hardly tell.

I used to also wear another pair or two of pants, usually black or brown skinny jeans, but because of their solid color, stains were still pretty noticeable.

So when it came time to do another quarterly wardrobe clearout, I asked myself if I really needed more than one pair of pants for my then once-a-week barista job. And the answer was no.

A few months ago though, I picked up two additional shifts there, so now I work and wear the same purple-black pants three days a week.

And so far, no one has noticed.

Now, I’ve wondered if maybe it’s just that I stand behind the counter a lot, so most people don’t even see my pants. But, the thing about being a barista is that you’re watched a lot. People are interested in how their drink is made, and I catch people watching me quite often. They see me steam the milk and ring them up while my lower half is hidden behind the counter; but they also watch me walk to the fridge to get a new jug of milk, or walk across the room to refill the cream and sugar. They see me try and carry one-too-many stacks of cups up from the storage room.

And I know people have seen these pants because I have gotten a number of comments on their unique color pattern.

Now you’d think that one of our regular customers would have noticed my “uniform” by now and said something. Especially because I do get comments on my appearance a lot. People ask how long it took me to get my hair into dreads. They comment on my “never-ending collection of cool tshirts” (which is also hilarious because I literally wear the same 4 shirts over and over. And if it’s cold, I wear the same green hoodie overtop — open, so you can see my tshirt underneath — and sometimes the same scarf.)

When I got the “never-ending collection of cool tshirts” comment, I actually said to him, “Really? Cause I feel like I have like three and just wear them over and over again!” To which he said, “Oh! I guess I never noticed!”

I couldn’t believe it.

But it just goes to show that people don’t noticed things nearly as much as we think they will. And, when they do notice something about you, it’s usually something positive.

What items in your wardrobe can you declutter? What are you hanging on to out of some idea that we need to “mix things up” or “keep things interesting” for other people? If you knew they wouldn’t notice, is there a favorite outfit you would wear more often? Why not every day?

Decluttering my life has brought me peace of mind and relief from the world around me. There’s nothing like walking into the space you created and knowing you have nothing more than what you need. I write articles to help others create that same feeling for themselves.

No grocery store January

Last year at this time, I had two realizations.

1, I was spending a lot of money on food each week, and 2, I already had a ton of food in my house.

Living alone and shopping for one is not the most economical way to live. Buying in bulk is always cheaper, and cooking larger meals whether to share with more people or to save for leftovers makes way more sense than dirtying dishes for one measly portion.

For those reasons, I always bought in bulk and ended up with a ton of food at home, and I always cooked larger portions than I needed. This resulted in my fridge, freezer, and pantry being packed. Yet I still went grocery shopping every week.

I would often buy a few more of something I already had “just in case” I didn’t have as much as I thought I did. Then I’d get home and realize I now have more than I need.

An obvious solution would have been to make my shopping list while looking through what I already have and seeing what I’m truly lacking. And then sticking to that list once in the store.

But I wasn’t organized enough to do that. And I knew I’d eat it all eventually, so what was the harm in having the pantry a little overstocked?

But with the start of the new year last year, I decided I would do No Grocery Store January, something I made up entirely to suit my needs. Pro tip: you are allowed to make up your own goals and challenges to suit your own needs. (tweet that)

The rules were simple: I wasn’t allowed to go to the grocery store to buy food until I had eaten everything already in my house. I had a bunch of frozen vegetables (not as tasty as fresh, but definitely usable) and an assortment of rice and pasta, etc. I wasn’t eating much meat back then so I didn’t need to buy that to supplement my meals. And heaven knows I didn’t need more snacks or desserts.

I was surprised how long the food I had lasted. I made big casseroles that lasted a few days, and used things I had bought “to try something new” that I had been putting off for months. Although I set out to last all of January, part of me wondered if all my food would only last a week or two. But I had way more than I thought, and it lasted all month.

It felt so good by the end to have an empty fridge and freezer, and a mostly empty pantry. And it felt great to go grocery shopping in February and fill my kitchen with new things, starting from a clean slate.

The experience taught me just how far food goes, that my fear of running out of some “crucial” ingredient was unfounded, and that there is no need to overstock “just in case”.

I still have tendencies to buy in bulk to save money, but I try and buy less overall quantity each visit, and instead make more frequent trips to the store. That way I can buy only a few fresh vegetables and fruits, and then buy more once those are gone.

Stock up on rice this week, and stock up on pasta a few weeks after that. I don’t need a mountain of both in my pantry. Buy apples one week, pears the next. Buy only one kind of juice at a time.

The fear of not having enough options can be surprisingly strong. It’s why we buy the same sweater in three different colors, or why we are hesitant to commit to a job or a relationship. I didn’t realize that it extends to food as well.

These days I have fewer food options at home now, and I am surviving just fine. What areas of your life could benefit from minimizing your options?

Decluttering my life has brought me peace of mind and relief from the world around me. There’s nothing like walking into the space you created and knowing you have nothing more than what you need. I write articles to help others create that same feeling for themselves.