Clutter is depressing

Clutter is depressing

I love going in to my office now that it is decluttered.  It’s a lighter space and my mood is lighter as well.  A study released this summer conducted by researchers at the UCLA’s Center on Everyday Lives and Families (CELF) bears out my personal experience.  It turns out that clutter causes depression.  The team of sociologist, anthropologists and archaeologists at the CELF  found that clutter effects not only our mood but our self-esteem as well.

This phenomenon seems to be more profound in woman.  Our cortisol level increases in the face of clutter.  If you remember, cortisol is the “stress hormone” and a real enemy of happiness and contentment.  In addition, we equate tidiness with a happy and successful life.

Clutter causes stress by:

  • bombarding us with stimuli
  • distracting us from our goals
  • makes it difficult to relax
  • makes us feel guilty and embarrassed
  • is a constant reminder of thing undone

For me the most stress producing consequence of clutter is the inability to get things done.  Everything takes more time because I waste time looking for things I need.  It just causes a paralysis that prevents me from moving forward.

Furthermore, it becomes a vicious cycle. The clutter is depressing and being depressed leads to low energy. Low energy leads to more mess. A messy kitchen doesn’t inspire you to cook.  A messy office leads to missed payments.  It is hard to feel romantic when the bed and floor are covered with clothes.  Things stay broken because you can’t find the tools to fix them.

Besides your mental and emotional health, clutter can effect your physical health.  The resulting stress can cause headaches, increased blood pressure, insomnia, diabetes, poor digestion and even weight gain!

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A Search for Simplicity

A Search for Simplicity

I live a pretty simple life.  I don’t go out much – dinner once a month or so.  I come home from work and cook dinner, do a little crafting, watch a little TV and am in bed by 10pm – even on weekends.   On weekends, we do home renovations or yard work.  My entertainment budget is my gym membership.  When weather permits, we may get on the bike and I’ll take my camera along to get a few shots.

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I don’t party hard, shop till you drop or take elaborate vacations.

But I don’t live simply.  I still have way too much “stuff”.  It fills drawers, shelves, closets and is piled on flat surfaces.  Every room is cluttered.  I have multiples of lots of things and my bathroom is full of products I don’t use anymore – like molding paste from the short hair days.  Pens that don’t write, books that I won’t read and shoes I don’t wear.

2015 will be the year to simplify – to pear down.  It begins now by using up what I have.  I don’t have a game plan yet but I’ll be doing some reading and researching on simplicity.

Part of the problem is getting over the two biggest hurdles – I paid good money for that and I might need that again.  I still don’t have a way to get over those hurdles.  I think both the shredder and the folks at the Goodwill drop off center will know me well.

If any of you have any strategies, I’m all ears!  And if you’ve traveled the path to simplicity, I’d love to hear your story.

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!

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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.

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Finding meaning in life

Finding meaning in life

Earlier this month I posted on a different perspective on “the purpose of life” which helped me greatly.  Today, I want to tackle another question which I get bogged down by over-thinking the answer.

What is the meaning of my life? 

If I look at meaning as a synonym for purpose, I can suffer the same stress and feelings of failure as finding “my purpose”.  I now have a different perspective on having a life of “meaning”.  I do believe we all require meaning in our lives to be happy. According to Viktor Frankl, a Nazi concentration camp survivor and author of One Man’s Search for Meaning, we can find meaning through work, relationships, helping others, learning, creative endeavors and spirituality.

Let’s break some of these down and see how they don’t have to be grand – little things give life meaning. Think outside the box with me.

Spirituality can be a walk in the woods, listening to music, gardening.  It doesn’t have to be a structured practice if I am not there yet.

Work doesn’t have to be paid work. Volunteering is work and helping others.  So is helping a child with his homework. I count mowing the lawn as work and if I do it while my guy trims, I am helping and building on my relationship – a hat trick (pardon the hockey reference.) Laundry is work. Cleaning is work.

Learning is another area that we seem to diminish.  Learning does not have to be formal classroom learning.  Reading a book about a person or topic is learning. When I made my first pie with a crust from scratch, I was learning.  I took a class on using chalk paint and that was learning (and a creative endeavor).  My guy and I built a shed and I learned about cement slabs and block work and roofing.  Growing a new vegetable or flower in our garden required learning. Even taking a dog training class with Fido is learning.

I always thought of myself as a logical person – very left-brain oriented. I cannot sing – you don’t want to hear me sing. I will never paint a great masterpiece, design a fashion line, write a hit song or publish the a New York Times best selling book. But there are other ways that I am creative. I consider cooking creative. Decorating my house is creative. Writing a blog is creative. Building is creative. Putting together a great outfit is creative. Doing my hair a different way is creative. Planning a party is creative. Putting together a workout is creative. Planning my garden is creative.

I can take in the neighbors trash can from the street and help someone. Holding the door for someone and help another. At the grocery store a few weeks ago, a man asked me about chopped salad. I helped him by sharing how I served it. I hope in some small way this blog helps someone.

What I’m trying to say is that if something doesn’t have to be grand or formal to be “meaningful”.  I’m going to look differently at work, creativity, spirituality, and helping others and find meaning in all I do.

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Fantasy lifeball

Fantasy lifeball

Football season has started and with it come office pools and fantasy football teams. Fantasy football is where players create a “dream team” and then are awarded points based on the players actual performance in real games.  It is the new hot thing in our office. I often have to hunt someone down because they are not at their desk. Instead, they are talking fantasy football. (recent studies show that fantasy football costs $13.4 billion – yes billion with a B – a year in lost productivity)

I too have my own dream team – the dream house, career and relationship. We all do. The danger is not in having dreams. The danger is in the dreams preventing me from appreciating and putting effort into what I do have.  Am I taking steps to make my dreams come true?  Yes, I’m working on getting out of debt and taking classes and being a good team mate in my relationship.

Don’t get so caught up in fantasy life-ball that you waste time pining rather than actually taking steps to make your dreams come true!

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Building Contentment – one little thing at a time

Building Contentment – one little thing at a time

“And God saw that it was good” Genesis 1:10

Most of us are familiar with the Judeo-Christian creation story. Did you realize that this sentence is repeated six times in the first chapter of Genesis? I think there is a great deal to be learned from these seven little words.

After each act of creation, God stopped and looked and “saw that it was good”.  How about you? Are you so busy rushing from task to task that you never even bother to see what you have accomplished and declare it “good”?  Do you take the time to give yourself credit for a job well done?

Silly as it sounds, I have always gotten a measure of satisfaction of seeing neatly folded piles of clean laundry, a freshly mowed lawn, or a clean sink (we use a lot of dishes!). Every time I walk in my kitchen, I smile because I’m still proud of the DIY remodel we did 2 years ago. After a workout, I take a moment to reflect on how amazing my muscles feel and how hard I worked. Before I take the first bite of my meal, I drink in the joy of preparing a tasty dish for the people I love. As I hang up the phone, I take pleasure in helping a client and making their day a little easier. In these little moments of stepping back and taking satisfaction in even the smallest thing – declaring it “good”  – that I build contentment into my days.

So before you rush on to the next item on your to-to list, take a moment, see what you have done and declare “it is good”.

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