Holiday Shopping Rules

Holiday Shopping Rules

I finished my Christmas shopping this weekend. I did break some of my holiday shopping rules so I thought I’d write them down for posterity’s sake!

Holiday Shopping Rules

  1. Be like Santa – make a list – I decide what I am going to buy each person and set a budget for each item. I have it all figured out before I hit the stores – the cat included! Shopping for a specific thing takes less time than “shopping”.
  2. I shop online whenever possible – if I know the brand, size etc, I let the magic elves at Amazon (or wherever) do the work for me.  The internet is a great place to do research, compare prices and ship where I want it.  I can also shop on my time and not be a slave to store hours.  I was ready to be out the door at 8 am on Saturday but had to wait till 9 for Best Buy to open.
  3. If I have to go to the store, I go early in the day. The early bird catches the worm and the shortest lines. I went out on Saturday morning and it was peaceful. Sunday afternoon was a mad house!
  4. I set a deadline and stick to it. No more shopping after X date.
  5. Resist the urge to buy “one more present”. This is often a side-effect of getting my shopping done early. I call it present-creep. This is the rule I keep breaking!  See rule #4
  6. I make many of the presents I give to co-workers or friends who can buy what they want.  The internet is full of great ideas for “mason jar gifts” – I’ve seen some very clever ones this year.  And the best part of making these kinds of gifts – you are at home.  You can still do the laundry, cook dinner or help with homework. (OK you may have to eat in front of the TV because the dining room table is covered with stuff but you are not our fighting lines and traffic).  If these are not food items, you can make them in June!  And it is a great way to get kids involved.
  7. Inventory my bags, bows, and paper before you go shopping. I keep generic tags and brown paper gift bags on hand that I can stamp or decorate for the season.  After a long day at work, I really don’t feel like stopping at the store for gift wrapping supplies.  Oh and I save bags from the previous year to reuse.
  8. I schedule a day of rest – no shopping or holiday activities – just rest! This is easier if I follow rule #4

Have you finished your shopping? Do you have any tips that make shopping easier and less stressful? Or maybe you are one of those people who love all the holiday shopping atmosphere. Share your thoughts on holiday shopping.

shopping rules


My Black Friday

My Black Friday

On Friday, November 21, I signed some papers which put an end to the nightmare that birthed The One Little Thing Project.  That Friday was my Black Friday.  Now that it is over, almost, I can share the story.

In 2011 after a two year separation, my husband of nearly thirty years and I finalized our divorce.  Due to the economy, the house was left in both names.  Selling or refinancing was out of the question, due to it being “upside down”.  I figured in the future, he would want to sell and I would sign whatever was necessary and whatever he made on it was his.

About 15 months after the divorce, he was diagnosed with cancer.  I didn’t find out about any of this until the doctors told him there was nothing else they could do.  In January of 2014, the battle was lost.

After his death, I waited to hear from the executor to determine what to do with the house.  I never got a call.  Rather, I got a past due notice from the city for real estate taxes.  Conflicting and confusing information followed.  It was horrifying to learn that I was over 225,000 in debt and I shared ownership of the property with my two estranged daughters.

I was WAY over my head and sought the help of a real estate agent and real estate attorney to go over the options.  I had to pay back bills, judgments, keep up the property and had to wait while others decided my future. I eventually negotiated a short sale with the lender, but each day for more than six months the huge black cloud over my head got larger and darker.

I lived each day in fear.  Fear that I’d check my bank account and find it frozen.  Fear that the mail would bring another surprise.  Fear that my credit, which I had worked so hard to build, would be ruined.  Fear that my paycheck would be zero because of a lien or garnishment.  Fear the my future would be cat food and a cardboard box.

Living in fear is not a pleasant experience.  Eating and sleeping were a problem.  Keeping my mind on work was a problem.  Making ANY decision was a problem.

But what I learned through this adversity will last a lifetime:

  • What was done was done – if only’s didn’t change a thing.
  • Live on day at a time – tackle one problem at a time – try not to get caught up in what if’s.
  • Ask for help and accept support – lean on others and respect their expertise.
  • Work on Plan A but having a Plan B or C gave me comfort.
  • Don’t forget the good things in your life – hang on to them and let them encourage you.
  • Let go – the Serenity Prayer helped me tremendously on my darkest days.
  • Ignoring things will not make them go away – take what action you can – actually doing something can give you a feeling of control.
  • Take care of yourself physically, mentally and emotionally – eat right or even better, exercise and practice relaxation techniques like yoga or meditation – all these things will help you deal with stress.
  • Don’t stop living – as tempting as it might be to hide or do nothing, keep living as normally as possible. Yes you may have to change some things or scale back but don’t stop living as normal a life as possible.  It is still okay to have a little fun.

While I’m sure there will be more fallout, I’m confident that I can get through it with what I’ve learned. And most of all, despite it all, I’ve learned how to be truly happier!

serenity prayer

Tis the season to be materialistic?

Tis the season to be materialistic?

Today I’d like to follow up on my earlier post this week on experiences vs material goods when it comes to happiness.

You can’t watch TV or go into a store without being reminded that the gift giving season is just around the corner. Maybe you already have a case of the “I wants” and I’m sure your children do.  There are tantalizing things on sale everywhere and even previews of “Black Friday” deals on the net.   I am not Scrooge or the Grinch.  I love giving gifts and carefully consider each one. But is there a downside to gift-giving?  Can we make the holidays more happy?

In an article published in the Global Mail, Psychotherapist Graham Music, of London, England and author of the book, The Good Life: Wellbeing and the New Science of Altruism, Selfishness and Immorality, argues that over-busy parents and out of control materialism results in  meaner and more self-absorbed children.  They lack empathy and are more concerned with what a person has than who a person is.  I don’t think that Music is off base here. Studies show that as  people become more materialistic, their relationships suffer. Think kids holed up in their rooms with computers all night and who look at their phones more than they look at their parents or siblings!

I am as guilty of this as the next guy.  We want our children to be happy so we get them what they want. The problem, as I pointed out, is that things bring only momentary happiness.  I would even go so far as to say that things drive people apart rather than bring them together.

So how do we tame the “thing monster”?  Give the gift of experiences.  I’m not saying go cold turkey and give no “thing” gifts but maybe consider some of this year’s gifts to be experiences.  If you are going to spend the money anyway, why not do something that might create more lasting happiness and promote connectedness to others?  Maybe an activity trip – like skiing or skating?  Or maybe a Mom/Daughter pedicure or spa day?  A day trip to a rock climbing wall or indoor skydiving venue or laser tag.

Thing gifts can be geared toward activities as well.  Board games that can be played by the entire family vs a computer game that only one person can play is another option.  Last year I bought myself a camera for Christmas and have used it to record visual reminders of the many wonderful experiences I had this year.

Instead of buying gifts for teachers and family members, how about making something – cookie mix in a mason jar, hand decorated picture frames or Christmas tree ornaments.  Yes this might be more work than running to the store and picking out some pre-made items but the lesson will last a life-time.

And in the long run, you might be happier too!


Can you buy more happiness?

Can you buy more happiness?

I used to think that spending money on vacations, going out to dinner, seeing a movie or a play was a waste of money. After all you had nothing tangible to show for your hard earned bucks. Recent scientific studies show that you get more bang for your buck from experiences than things, as far as lasting happiness goes.

The study was conducted by Ryan Howell, an assistant professor of psychology at San Francisco State University. Study subjects were asked to answer questions about a recent purchase  made within the last three months. The reason behind the purchase was to make them happier.

What Howell found was that the people who spent money on an experience were happier, both at the time of the purchase and afterward, than those who purchases things.  My own experience backs this up.  There are some interesting reasons why.

First there is the principle of hedonic adaptation. It’s a fancy term for ‘we become used to things”.  So “my new car” becomes “my car”. The new shoes end up stacked with the rest of your shoes. The new couch loses it’s newness. And as with the luster of newness, the happiness fades over time.

The second reason is that experiences are usually shared. You usually enjoy a good meal with a friend or family. Even if you travel alone, you meet people along the way.

Experiences provide a hat-trick of happiness. We get happiness from anticipating the event, during the experience and memories from the experience.

Sharing stories about experiences create less comparison and envy and promote more relatedness. If I don’t own a sports car, I can’t relate to you or I might be envious of you.  But we can all share about the best meal we ever ate. And since experiences are harder to place a value on, there is less of a competitive nature to them.

I think sometimes people confuse the thing with the experience.  You give credit to the shoes for making you happy when it was the experience. – shopping with a friend – that is the real source of the happiness.

An exception is if the purchase provides an opportunity for more or greater experiences. Purchasing a mountain bike so you can go trail riding or a wok so you can cook stir-fry for your family are examples. Earlier this year, my guy bought a new motorcycle and we’ve already taken several great trips that have produced incredible memories. But it is the experiences that bring me the lasting joy not the bike itself.

So if you’ve got an extra $50 bucks in you wallet and you want to be happier, consider going out to dinner with a friend rather than buying a new sweater.




What’s for dinner?

What’s for dinner?

Every weekend I do two things.  I make a menu for the week and go grocery shopping.  I wash all my clothes and pick out and iron my work clothes for the coming week.  Some people think I’m nuts and some think I’m smart.

I’ve been doing this for years.  It’s something I do to prevent having to make decisions when I’m at my worst – in the morning and after a long day at work.  No pulling out the iron because I realize my pants are wrinkled.  No hunting through the closet for that red shirt.  When I get home I don’t have to figure out what to cook and then find out I’m missing an ingredient and have to come up with plan B.

I also pack my lunch each night.  I eat the same breakfast each weekday morning.  I eat the same snack each day too.  Not that I’m totally inflexible.  If my boss declares a casual day, I’ll pull out my jeans faster than you can say Levi’s. And I’ll never turn down an invitation to go out to dinner!

These pre-decisions make my life easier and simpler.  These few minutes of planning – maybe an hour altogether – save me a lot of time and reduce my stress level during the week.  I leave my house each morning cool, calm and collected and ready to face my day at work.  When I get home, I can decompress and share time with my guy because dinner isn’t on my mind.

This easy, little technique really is empowering, costs nothing more than a little time and creates space in my life.  Maybe it can help you too.  And if you try it, I’d love to hear how it worked out for you.


I’ve got rhythm

I’ve got rhythm

You have probably heard of the circadian rhythm, the biological clock inside that regulates your sleeping and eating patterns to a 24 hour cycle.

Did you realize that you have another biological rhythm?  This one carries the fancy name of the ultradian rhythm. This cycle repeats every 90 to 120 minutes.  Basically our mental energy runs for about one and a half to two hours (some say one to one and a half hours) and then our energy dips for about twenty minutes.  In other words, you can only sustain your attention, memory, and productivity for one to two hours.

Ultradian Rhythm

Your brain, just like your body, becomes fatigued.  You are not performing at your best, likely to make mistakes, feel overwhelmed and distracted.  Just like a child who needs a nap, your brain gets “cranky”.

The solution is to work in bursts -one to two hours of heavy mental work, followed by a break.  (and yes there is an app for that!) The break can be physical – a walk or stretching.  Other options are relaxation breathing, light reading, cleaning the bathroom, eat a healthy snack, folding clothes or even a 20 minute nap.  Any activity that you find relaxing will help.

If you can plan your day based on your ultradian rhythm, you can achieve both greater productivity and less stress.  It’s a win-win.  If you can’t do so because of the demands of your job (mine is almost non-stop every day – maybe my boss will read this!), just being aware of this cycle can help change your attitude.  It’s not that you are “loosing it”.  Your brain is just experiencing fatigue and that is normal.

Mood Food

Mood Food

I know what foods are good for my body and my health.  I pay attention to what I eat every day, every meal.  I think about what I put in my stomach all the time!

I am not so good at about what I put in my mind.  Too often I feed my brain with sad songs, Facebook drama, TV and Internet news, murder mysteries, true crime and crime drama shows, and other people’s problems. None of these things could be considered uplifting, encouraging, positive or happy!  And lets face it – this stuff gets you riled up – and not in a good way.  And it’s addicting!  These things are nothing more than junk food for my mood.

How much entertainment junk food are you consuming? Imagine if you listened to uplifting, empowering music.  How do you think that would effect your mood?  And if your consumption of TV was a treat rather than a steady diet?  What if your friends made you join in their laughter and fun instead of their anger, complaining and drama?  Would you enjoy your social interactions more?  What if your reading material was about the lives of inspiring people?  Do you think they might inspire you?

If you were committed to being healthier, you would have to analyze your diet and make changes.  I think the same has to apply to your commitment to being happier.  It may be necessary to make changes.  And just like changing your diet, you might have to give up something things.  But don’t think about what you are giving up things.  Think about what you are getting – happiness, peace, contentment, and encouragement.  And really is it so bad to give up drama, anger, stress, sadness and negativity?