3 Ways to Regain Life Balance ⚖️

If you’re feeling anxious, overwhelmed, pressed for time, and stressed, join the club! Only a minority of people report feeling peaceful, equanimous, and blissed out these days. The good news is that you can take a step in that direction and reap a bunch of benefits. Here’s how:

1. Identify what’s important to you, your mindset, and what throws you off balance. Once you identify your values and your non-negotiables, you can simplify and cast off the unimportant to-dos. Maybe rainbow-organizing your pantry and linen closets are a “nice to have” but family time is more of a priority right now. In terms of mindset – have you noticed how some people seem relaxed and carefree as they go about their duties while others seem rattled with the same amount of work? Leading a calmer and more peaceful life often has to do with our personal experiences, belief systems, and coping mechanisms…all of which influence our mindset and our thoughts. By changing those, we can change our behaviors and results.

Consider what throws you off-balance. Is it a last-minute request to participate in your child’s extracurricular activity? The pressure you put on yourself every year to balance not just work but with making each holiday or birthday ‘perfect’ for your family? Or does getting inadequate sleep cause you to feel easily rattled the rest of the day? There is a well-established link between our emotional state and our physical one. By adopting a more peaceful mindset, we can avoid chronic diseases and live longer.

2. Know the signs of an imbalanced life and burnout. Symptoms include headache, sleep disorders, anxiety, tense and stiff muscles, and digestive woes. The stress we’re under can contribute to poor immune function, focus and memory. It can also be detrimental to fertility and sex drive and even accelerate the aging process. Noticing these symptoms early in your life can help prevent you form sliding into burnout or into chronic disease states.

3. Add + subtract. We’re going to let our inner nerd out a bit as we reveal how much we loved stoichiometry and balancing equations in high school. Without complex chemistry and math, just imagine playing with weights on a scale – add another stressor to one side and notice how the beam shifts, especially if there aren’t enough restorative activities in the other scale pan. Here are some ideas to find your own balanced equation:

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A Case for Morning Routines

Have a better tomorrow by learning about morning routines then building and implementing your own! (Video version available here in our Go with your Gut free Facebook group).

Benefits of a Morning Routine

1. With a set morning routine, you’re on auto-pilot and the morning flows fairly seamlessly. The alternative is jumping all over the place as you feed the dog, get dressed, check your voicemail, and look for your keys.

2. Peace is a result of a well-planned morning routine; instead of feeling scattered and stressed, you can enjoy your cup of coffee or tea and know that you are ready for the day.

3. Feeling organized about your day – you can see your appointments and activities laid out, and you have a plan to achieve your most important goals, even building in self-care!

Life before a AM Routine

We’re speaking for ourselves here, but you can likely relate.

1. Inconsistent wake (and sleep) times. Sometimes we’d wake at 6am, or 8:45am or 11am…this left us feeling discombobulated and stressed as we struggled to fit in all our appointments and to-do tasks. Even worse, we’d work into the night and then create a self-perpetuating problem of inconsistent waking times.

2. Adrenaline rushes. Running around grabbing work materials, finding the outfit we planned on wearing was in the laundry hamper and having to figure out an alternative, looking for keys or an umbrella…and then hoping and praying traffic to get to meetings on time. Mornings were full of stress and anxiety.

3. Forgetting water and/or lunch. This lead to us either skipping lunch or buying a $13-20 lunch when we had perfectly good food at home. What typically followed was both food waste and money waste (from lost groceries and eating out).

This way of living cost us time, peace, and money. Something needed to change. Tired of the results we were getting, we decided, “No more of this chaos, we’re getting organized with our mornings.”

Our First Attempts at a Morning Routine

We’ve read all these articles about successful people who wake up at 4am or 5am, so we decided to enlist willpower and sign ourselves up for a 6am boxing class (during the snowy/icy winter season). Spoiler alert: it didn’t work. Why? For one, it didn’t work with our life and sleep schedule. We don’t go to bed at 8pm or 9pm typically and so we were always tired in the mornings. For two, we like food; the problem was fueling ourselves around this class. If we skipped breakfast, we’d typically feel faint during the 1-hour high-intensity workout. If we ate even a small snack 15-30 minutes ahead of time, we felt nauseous.

Reading about the great achievers, such as Richard Branson and Tony Robbins, showed me that some of these morning routines were 2-3 hours long. That was never going to work with our lifestyle so we had to create our own flexible 30 minute AM routine with exercise included. We’ve changed it throughout the years and kept it flexible to support where we are in life. Here’s what it looks like now (we’re big fans of alliteration, as you’ll see):

1. Wash and water – we brush our teeth first thing and then drink 1 cup of water before jumping into exercise…

2. Strength-training and skincare – we’ll play a very short podcast and bust out squats, full push-ups, ab work, bridges, ‘superhumaning’ (laying on the belly and lifting arms and legs), and pull-ups. All done in about 6 minutes! Then we’ll typically wash our face and body and get dressed.

3. Bunnies (pets) and breakfast – we have two (unbonded) bunnies and we’ll let one out as we prep our coffee or tea and breakfast. About halfway through, we switch them out. Typically we’ll also do our ‘mental/spiritual gym’ exercises. For your purposes, insert dog/cat/kid(s) where we have bunnies listed.

4. Launch into life – we go into the office and check the day’s calendar and our most important goals; we set alarms and put the phone on airplane mode (as needed); we’ll also take breaks to do household activities (e.g. laundry) during the day

This is not a *perfect* morning routine. Use this for inspiration to create your own routine. Now that we’ve created a customized morning routine, the only regret we have is not starting earlier in life. High school, college, and post-college could have been SO much easier and not filled with stress and anxiety. Peace is a gift we can give ourselves with a simple morning routine. The key is to make it work for YOU!

So what do you think? Do you already have a morning routine? Is there a way to improve your mornings by putting them on auto-pilot?

Minimalism vs. Essentialism for 2021

What do you think when you hear the word “minimalism”? A way of life only for hipsters traveling the world with their laptops and backpacks? People living in tiny homes? It may surprise you to learn that, for one to be a minimalist, it doesn’t require you to be a cool-hat-wearing twenty-something, own less than 200 items or make YouTube videos about minimizing your closet.

Perhaps you can relate. If your twenties were all about trying new hobbies, identities, styles and outfits, there’s a good chance that you’ve accumulated *things* to go along with those. What happens in your 30s and 40s? If you’ve chosen a mate, had kids, have a steady job, and have settled into who and where you are right now, there is a good chance you’re surrounded by annoying or aspirational reminders of who you once were. Ten years ago you may have been dating a rock climber and, at the time, you needed the gear. Same goes for things you once loved but don’t anymore – rollerblading, embroidery patterns, cookbooks with laborious recipes, the guitar sitting in the corner – and make you feel guilty. That size 2 little black dress looked great on you during your dancing days, but now that you’ve gained 20 lbs, it hangs around waiting for you to be able to wear it again. One day.

Part of the problem which our possessions is that we have become inured to their presence. We don’t *see* the rollerblades we’ve passed in the garage over a thousand times. It’s like we have blinders on and so, in a way, minimalism is about bringing awareness back to what we own and why. It also encourages us not to delay and procrastinate in making decisions for some designated time ‘in the future.’

The average household is said to have over 300,000 items; does that seem accurate to you? Do you feel it is a bit excessive? Maybe it’s time to put your house on a diet.

While we’ve stopped short of counting everything we own, over the past 6 years or so, we’ve counted and cataloged our way through purges of household items (with questions such as: “do two people in a household really need 45 glasses/cups/mugs?”). For this year, one of our goals was to remove 2020 items from our household – roughly 168 items each month. Every single item was written down to help keep track and to see if we actually regretted removing it from the household.

Surprise! Most of it is not missed at all – not our third spatula, the ill-fitting shirt, knick-knacks, expired supplements or makeup. The beauty is that each room is easier to keep tidy and clean. The clothes in the closet have space to breathe and don’t fall on top of the person looking to get dressed.

Minimalism and essentialism are both related to intentional living. Where they differ is operating in the physical versus mental realms of life improvement.

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❄️ Are you Frozen too? ❄️

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One of the great joys of having young kids in the family is letting our own inner child come out to play. With the recent release of Frozen II in theaters, we thought this was the perfect time to relate this to being frozen in our own lives. Elsa the Snow Queen’s super-power is turning objects and people to ice. She can build icy bridges, stop an attack, and probably make ice cream whenever she wants (lucky). But her power has to be controlled. And while Elsa freezes things, we often freeze ourselves.

How we ‘Freeze’ ourselves

How do you relate with being frozen? In what area of life are you stuck? It could be around starting an exercise regimen, decluttering the basement or guest room, addressing the issues in your relationships, writing the book, updating the resume or asking for a raise. It could be in the area of health improvement, where we want to lose weight or become more plant-based, but we just can’t seem to begin or sustain our progress.

And because we are frozen, we just find ways to feel better about it. Sometimes we distract ourselves. Have you ever needed to study for a test and then looked at the messy state of your room and thought to yourself, “there’s no ways I can study in this environment”and then spent your study time detail-cleaning the room? We may distract ourselves with lounging in front of the TV, or spending hours on Facebook or Instagram. Numbing out with sugar, caffeine, smoking, or alcohol are also ways we try to make ourselves feel better about being frozen.

What makes this even worse is we put a layer of shame frosting on top. We start belittling ourselves and ‘wishing’ we were better. “Argh,” we think as we get up from the couch after 4 hours of watching Gypsy Sisters or Netflixing World War II documentaries, “I wish I had more motivation to have exercised today” or “I should have cleaned out the downstairs closet, it’s such a mess.”

Perhaps you can relate to unachieved goals, shame storms, and numbing out. Have you ever wondered what lies beneath?

What causes us to be Frozen

In a word: perfectionism. It sounds kind of beautiful, but it’s actually one of the worst words because of the meaning and effect it has in our lives.

It’s hard to say where our perfectionism comes from, but if you’ve ever grown up hearing someone say to you, “If you can’t do it right; don’t do it at all!,” that could be part of the origin. In essence, we are told that our actions, and even who we are, aren’t worthy unless perfect. What a toxic message to carry around with us in our lives.

Perfectionism tends to either paralyze us into inaction or cause us to go overboard and, consequently, burn out.

Why even start to clean the guest bedroom if we can’t do it ‘perfectly’ and we don’t have the five hours we believe it will take? Well, because you CAN make progress, even with 15 minutes of removing trash, clutter, and boxes. 

Perfectionism with our food usually looks like following a certain diet for a few days or weeks, then falling off the wagon and eating everything in sight. There’s an anti-dote to this that allows for sustainable weight loss; chat with us and find out more.

In short, perfectionism usually causes us to procrastinate, get overwhelmed, and shut-down or ‘freeze’.

What’s the cost of perfectionism? The cost is not getting things done at all, whereas we could have made progress. The cost is our inner peace; we don’t feel at peace when we feel stressed and frustrated by not having the time or ability to do something perfectly. Perfectionism can cost our relationships with other people. If you’ve ever yelled at a child or spouse because of a small mess or because they aren’t cleaning the ‘right’ way (your way) you can see the effect your perfectionism and words have on others. Also – and this is two-fold- if you value keeping your home environment museum-perfect over having your ‘messy’ grandchildren visit or if you feel like you can’t have visitors due to a messy, cluttered environment, your relationships with others will suffer.

Check yourself: next time you find yourself frustrated or overwhelmed by a challenge, look underneath that feeling to see if perfectionism is the undercurrent.

How to get Un-frozen

The power of un-freezing ourselves comes from realizing that progress > perfection. Initially, your belief in that statement will recoil. How could progress be better than that which is perfect? Well, considering the high costs and knowing something will never, ever truly be perfect….progress starts looking really good, right? Excellence, according to dictionary definition is, “the quality of being outstanding or extremely good.” If excellence means that we can take action, feel good about ourselves, and not get stuck, why would anyone choose perfectionism instead? 

A small step, taken consistently and continuously reaching toward our goal is better than no action at all. Perhaps you remember My 30-minute Morning Routine about how many people create obstacles for themselves to workout when 6 minutes of strength-training in your own home can still help you feel better and see results. But if you don’t learn to change your way of thinking, perfectionism will keep you hog-tied and frozen.

In Frozen II, Elsa’s sister, Anna, seems to display and embody more of the element – fire – in this movie. Here’s where we have an answer to thawing ourselves out and taking action. Fire motivates, it stirs passion, and, if uncontrolled, it will burn everything in its path. So the key here is to find your motivation and use it as the fire to propel you towards your goals, but without going overboard and burning out.

Motivation isn’t usually enough though, so consider other ‘hacks’ such as scheduling your workout. The 4 Tips to Fit in Fitness blog is a great place to start. When it comes to decluttering, check out our experience with the Konmari Method for inspiration and ideas to make it easier.

Want to write a book? Just start writing, imperfectly. A typo is not the end of the world; besides, there are opportunities to review and make edits (or have others do it!). Allowing perfectionism to rule in this area of your life means your story is never shared, in-print or online.

What’s one area of your life where you’re willing to become ‘unfrozen’ and warm up your ‘fire’ to take action?

Minimalism as Maximalism

minimalism

In our city and throughout the nation, people are showing an increased interest in minimalism as way of downsizing from the McMansions while addressing debt, stress and overwhelm, and feeling of isolation.

The Minimalists movie, which came out about a week ago, is a documentary about minimalism as a way of focusing on the important aspects of life. Early in the film, we learn of two friends, Ryan Nicodemus and Joshua Fields Millburn, and their discovery that climbing the corporate ladder, having a 6-figure income and lots of stuff wasn’t fulfilling them. Joshua had some heart-breaking transitions in his life (divorce and the death of his mother in the same month), but Ryan saw that he still seemed to have a greater sense of peace and calm in life. So Ryan took Joshua out to lunch and asked why. Minimalism. Through the conversation, Joshua explained the concept and Ryan became radically inspired. How do I do this and quickly, he asked. They came up with the idea of a packing party. Ryan drastically reduced his possessions and they both went on to create The Minimalists blog and to share the message of living a more meaningful life.

Minimalism is slightly counter-culture to the consumerist society we live in. It causes us to examine and challenge the beliefs we hold to be true – some inculcated early in life by marketing; and it is all based on fear. How could you possibly attract the love of your life with that breakout on your nose? Use our face wash or concealer. We’ve defined success and it’s driving in this car, the commercial will say. Who cares if you go into debt for any of your acquisitions? Everyone else has debt too, so take comfort that you are still part of the in-group. Besides, here is a bank with low-interest rates so you can ‘save’ enough money to take your family on a fabulous vacation. All of these messages sell us on the idea that we are not enough, but that we can spend our money on things that will makes us better, happier, successful people. And we’ve had a strong history of falling for it.

In our view, minimalism causes all of us to critically think about our lives – the choices, job, items, and relationships – and to remove the layers that stand between us and maximizing the freedom and joy in our lives. This could take the form of removing physical items from the environment – clearing out clothes, old shoes, picture frames, or miscellany – and it can also take the form of reducing the activities or social ties we have which don’t bring a sense of growth or joy. By doing this, we create SPACE. Space not for more stuff, but for the dreams bubbling beneath the surface of depression or malaise. Space for new people who inspire and share similar values to come into our lives. We provide space for ourselves to relax for an afternoon reading Truman Capote by the pool.

One does not need to pare down to 175 items or renounce all pleasures in life that require gear or tools. To start exploring minimalism as an idea that may benefit you, start with this inquiry:

“What is one item or activity you could minimize today that will help maximize growth or joy?”tweet this

Spring Cleaning: Konmari Method

It’s difficult to label recent Midwestern weather as “spring” but so it is. Time to switch out the flannel sheets and warm, comfy throws for t-shirts and flip-flops. This is also the perfect opportunity for a bit of spring cleaning. We’ve chosen to utilize the Marie Kondo, also known as Konmari, method to see how using the metric of ‘sparking joy’ helps to decide what stay and what goes. As per her recommendation, we started with creating a pile of all clothing:

clothes pile obw

It’s always a bit shocking to see the sheer volume of one’s garments…and this is the second round since last year!

 

Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying-Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, describes how she helps her clients sort through categories of household items. If an item brings joy, they keep it; if not, it is removed from the residence. She says the focus is not so much on decluttering as much as it is creating a curated closet and home environment wherein everything there brings a sense of lightness and peace. It’s a simple but transformative idea. For those who’ve struggled, wanting to use pure data (i.e. “how many pairs of jeans does the average person have?”), in their decluttering attempts, this is a different style and it just may work for you too.

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Notice the employment of two techniques – Marie Kondo’s and the forward-facing hanger technique to see which clothes are not worn during the next 6 months.

Keeping items “just because” or out of guilt hampers your ability to enjoy your possessions. The gifts, family heirlooms, the pants you spent way too much money on (but still have the store tag)….consider letting them go if they aren’t bringing a smile to your face.

The main points in Kondo’s book are:

1. Declutter and then organize (no need to buy more “smart storage” strategies)
2. Tidying is meant to be a one-and-done marathon – go through everything in your house once and then maintain (you’re not meant to be tidying for the rest of your life)
3. The question to ask as you encounter each object: “does this spark joy?”
4. Tidy by category, not location (i.e. go through all the clothes in your house at once, not waiting to get to the downstairs hall closet to remove unwanted coats, etc)
5. Store your items in an appealing way (she has a method of folding designed for this)

As for order of categories to tidy, Kondo suggests starting with clothes, books, papers, komono (miscellany), and sentimental items. The reason for this is clothes have relatively low sentimental value and you can exercise your decision-making muscle before getting to the harder categories. See what it can do for you!

The Cost of Clutter – Death, Peace, and Money

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Almost imperceptibly, we slowly accumulate increasing piles of…stuff. Like cholesterol blockages in arteries, clutter doesn’t happen overnight but its effects can be just as deadly. It’s true, people have died from extreme clutter, or hoarding, in their own homes – by fire from which they couldn’t escape or crushed and hidden beneath their stuff. It’s estimated that up to five percent of the U.S. population has a problem with hoarding and a CBS News poll found that 1/3 of Americans say they have too much clutter in their homes.

About 10% of American families rent storage space for belongings which don’t fit in their homes or items they aren’t ready to part with. That money serves your stuff, instead of your life and growth. Then there are some people who will forgo renting space but choose larger homes to contain their clutter.

It’s simple to put a dollar figure on the cost of rented storage spaces, but what about the clutter in your home? The first step is to assess and take stock of your possessions and the space they own in your home. In a single room, take a look and estimate the cost of what you’re not using and what you don’t love. Unworn clothing, make-up purchased years ago, jewelry, knick-knacks, spider-webbed sports equipment, and paper all have a financial cost. If you find that a certain item tugs at your heart or causes an emotional response, that’s an added cost (which can be greater than the financial one!).  Add up the cost of the items – what you remember spending or the item’s price tag. If you’re still paying it off, record that too. A perusal through one’s closet may show hundreds of dollars of unused, cluttering clothing, shoes, and accessories. Are you still paying on the $2000 television purchased 3 years ago? Guess what, even if it breaks (and if the term ‘planned obsolescence‘ means anything to you, it will), you’ll still pay for it AND the new television. Is anything worth the stress of those monthly bills?

Another tactic is to figure out how much each square footage of your home is worth and then discern how much of the space is ‘owned’ by clutter. If you own your home, take the current, roughly estimated value of the home and divide it by the square footage (i.e. $75 per square foot). If you rent, we find it’s easier for clients to add up the total rent for the year and divide by the square footage of the home. Once you have this number, multiply it by the square footage of space stuff is taking up in your garage, bedrooms, living room, and basement. You may find a surprising estimated cost for the clutter in your space. Whether you’re paying a mortgage or a landlord, are you writing that check mainly on behalf of clutter storage?

How about money spent for replacement items? Have you purchased a new pair of sneakers only to find some in your closet from last summer? Clutter costs us money and time when we buy duplicates of stuff we already own but can’t find. 

Part of this equation should be a discussion on safety and health. According to The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, most accidents occur in the home. Clutter can pose risks for falls and accidents. Slipping on laundry thrown down the wooden basement stairs? Kids toys? Feeding what could have been a small house fire with paper clutter? Also the growth of allergens like dust and mold can be expensive to treat.

When you are disorganized, you can’t function effectively, much less optimally. Much like a small business, you need to have an organizational structure for your home life. Misplacing checks in piles of paper, late fees, tax penalties, and library fines are all extra dollars out your door. At a very basic level, time spent looking for car keys is time that could have been spent relaxing, working, or socializing.

Clutter also costs us time by demanding our attention. We have to work around it to get groceries in the car, pay our bills, find a useful item, and make a meal. What could normally be accomplished in 15 minutes can take 3x as long! The extra hours of housework are a time and energy drain that could be used for creative endeavors, education, hobbies, or any number of productive projects.

Clutter can also affect your mental health. You know the feeling when you enter a dwelling and the space is bright, clean and welcoming versus one where shoes are strewn all over the dirty floor. One client felt her life was becoming unmanageable and she was dealing with increasing amounts of anxiety and depression. It turns out that she didn’t need pharmaceutical pills, she needed a clean and welcoming sanctuary to call home. We made a few recommendations and she flew with it, hiring an organizer to help her declutter and a housekeeper for occasional, detailed visits. As of this writing, she reports feeling calmer and more emotionally stable.

What about the sheer joy and lightness of being that comes with having space to twirl around your room without running into piles of stuff? A place for you and your family to grow, expand, and learn in a clean and orderly environment? The contented sigh as you look over and see flat surfaces without piles on top?  Living in peace is priceless.

Perhaps the biggest cost is an intangible one: clutter impedes and causes procrastination for personal growth. It’s just one giant, clutter-y obstacle to overcome on living a life you desire.

We can become prisoners and Stuff is our warden. We tie up our money in rarely used sports equipment, shirts that don’t fit quite right, gadgets, and various entertainment. Some people develop Stockholm syndrome with their clutter, relating positive feelings for their stuff and imbuing it with sense of human comfort to counter-act their loneliness. Liberate your stuff, liberate yourself. tweet this

When there is too much stuff around you, it’s like being a plant in a tiny pot. It’s overly challenging to thrive and grow when you are tucked into a bunch of clutter. The answer, of course, isn’t moving to a larger space. The solution is to put your space on a diet. Once you get rid of stuff and get organized, that’s when you begin to expand your wings and take off!

Ready to take charge and get support? Come to our Declutter your Home, Clear your Mind class this Thursday!