Monthly Archives: May 2016

Seeking Simplicity: An Introduction

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In character, in manner, in style, in all things, the supreme excellence is simplicity.”

– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

For me, the word simplicity immediately evokes a sense of calm.  I picture light, etheral, minimalist décor, a closet full of neutral, quality clothes that I adore, uncomplicated recipes and fragrances that satiate the senses and ordinary moments that are thoroughly enjoyed.  Excuse me while I linger in this space…

While simplicity may mean something entirely different to you, Merriam-Webster offers a few formal definitions:

  • the quality of being easy to understand or use;
  • the state or quality of being plain or not fancy or complicated;
  • something that is ordinary but enjoyable; and,
  • the state of being uncomplicated or uncompounded

For as long as life has been complicated (think Adam, Eve and the Garden of Eden), I expect there has always been a desire for simplicity.  Great minds like Longfellow, da Vinci, Thoreau and countless others have all held simplicity as the ultimate, the ideal.

Simplicity or minimalism, has had a strong influence over many facets of society, notably art, architecture, design, fashion, literature and music.  For example, “minimal art” or “literalist art” emerged in the early 1960s, as artists moved toward geometric abstraction and this trend soon bled into architecture and design, where spaces were reduced to their most essential elements.

Historically, simplicity has also held a significant place in literature.  Take Henry Thoreau’s 1854 work entitled, Walden, where the transcendentalist offered insight into the alternative way of living, now referred to as ‘voluntary simplicity’ or simple living.

At its core, this living strategy encompasses a number of voluntary practices aimed at simplifying one’s life.  It seeks to minimize material needs in order to find enrichment and purpose in non-materialistic sources of meaning and satisfaction.  It is important to note that simple living is distinct from those living in forced poverty, as it is a voluntary practice.

Individuals choose simple living for a variety of reasons – spirituality, health, work-life balance, personal taste, frugality and stress reduction – however, simple living can also be a reaction to materialism and capitalist consumption.  For more on voluntary simplicity, here are a few resources:

Simplicity Institue
The Simplicity Collective
Back to Basics: Living with Voluntary Simplicity 

For those of you who have or are in the midst of embracing voluntary simplicity in its true form, bravo!  For those of you who are not quite ready to make such a dramatic shift, but are still craving more simplicity in life, you’re in luck!  Most areas of your life can be simplified by using these four simple steps:

Prioritize 

The first step to simplifying is to prioritize what is important.  To simplify your life, you must identify your personal priorities.  Perhaps you prioritize quality time with family or, maybe eating well and exercising is paramount.  Regardless of where you sit on the Scale of Simplicity (I just made that up and should probably trademark it), I encourage you to grab a pen, notebook and your drink of choice, then sit down and spend some time identifying what is important to you.

While the goal is to keep the list simple (ok, that pun was intended), simplicity is subjective.  So, if you feel overwhelmed, you can certainly create a few lists to suit your needs.

For example, you could create three separate lists (top three personal priorities, top three professional priorities, top three familial priorities); or on a more micro scale, perhaps you want to simplify your wardrobe.  Then make a list of your top three wardrobe priorities, like quality, comfort and colour.

Identifying priorities is crucial to simplifying your life and will guide the remaining work.  I would suggest revisiting your list(s) over the course of a week to ensure it is fairly comprehensive.

Evaluate 

Once you have your priorities in place (remember, these are not set in stone), the next step involves evaluation.  For example, if one of your priorities is to increase quality time with family, but you cannot seem to find the space in your busy schedule, then you must evaluate how you spend your time (days, weeks, months) in an effort to free up space to support your priority.

When attempting to make space in your schedule, you must consider your commitments.  Think of them during a typical week and plot them on a calendar.  Then compare how you spend your time against your priories.  Are your priorities aligned, misaligned or partially aligned with how you spend your time?  Highlight the activities and commitments that align with your priorities so they are clearly identifiable.

Discard

The next step (this one can be a tricky) is to identify where you can reduce and/or discard.  Reducing and discarding is an essential step in the simplification process.  The more we have, be that clothes, kitchen utensils, meetings or appointments, the more complex our existence.  In essence, if the item, commitment or behaviour does not contribute to your priority, it should not be kept.

Again, I will use a wardrobe example.  Say one of your wardrobe priorities is comfort; however, you avoid wearing half the clothes in your closet because they are not comfortable.  If they are not comfortable, they do not support your priority and you should donate or discard them.  Then, as finances permit, purposefully build your wardrobe with pieces that support that comfort priority.

While discarding clothing can be difficult, discarding commitments can be far worse.  In your evaluation, perhaps you come to find that some of your weekly commitments do not align with your priorities.  If that is the case, then consider removing them from your schedule.  While it may be difficult at first, it will inevitably leave you with more time to focus on commitments that support your priorities.

Maintain

Maintenance is the final step in this process.  As life changes, so do priorities and in order to keep living a simplified life, one must reprioritize, reevaluate and rediscard (ok, that last one isn’t a word, but I was on a roll) to maintain this lifestyle.

There are many complexities in life that we cannot avoid; however, refining and simplifying where we are able can contribute to a life well-lived.  Over the coming months, I plan continue this series, focusing on specific areas like simplifying the home or relationships.  If you would like to see more on this subject, drop me a line in the comments below.

Wishing you all a lovely and simple week!

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Embrace Spring

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“The spring came suddenly, bursting upon the world as a child bursts into a room, with a laugh and a shout and hands full of flowers” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Spring is my favourite season for so many reasons.  The days grow lighter and that light lingers longer, the trees and flowers awaken from their slumber, exploding with vibrant colours and fragrances.  We shed the weight of winter by hanging up our parkas and storing our winter boots; the little woodland creatures emerge from their sleep and the birds begin singing sweet melodies… Ok, I acknowledge that last part was inching dangerously close to Disney Princess territory; however, this time of year truly brings me joy!

Formally, spring is one of the four conventional, temperate seasons, when the axis of the Earth increases its tilt relative to the sun, and the length of daylight rapidly increases for the relevant hemisphere.  That hemisphere begins to warm significantly causing new plant growth to “spring forth”, giving the season its name.

Science aside, spring also elicits deeper connotations around rebirth, rejuvenation and renewal.  In a sense, spring is a time to start fresh, be that with new habits, a new attitude or new goals.

While a few mornings this past week were colder than Christmas Eve (don’t get me started), we have enjoyed some beautiful spring days, and I am looking forward to many more before the season is through.

In a popular post from last year, entitled Embrace Autumn, I offered readers a few ways to make the most of the season (this post may be of interest to some of my southern hemisphere friends now).  Given that spring has so many wonderful offerings, I thought it only appropriate to continue that theme.  From fresh blooms to local produce, there is truly something for all to enjoy.  With that said, I offer you four ways to embrace spring:

Stop and Smell the Roses 

…or, tulips, peonies, lilacs, irises, hyacinths, cherry blossoms – the list goes on.  If you are fortunate to live near a public garden, like I, why not celebrate spring by spending an afternoon (or several) in a garden or arboretum?  Almost every week throughout this season, a different flower or tree blossoms, offering so much for the senses to enjoy.  Warning: be quick – many of these beauties have a very limited bloom and if you blink, you’ll miss them!

Whether you reside in Canada, the United States or abroad, GardenVisit.com will help you find the garden closest to you.

Public garden not your thing?  Then why not visit your local farmer’s market or florist and pick up some spring blooms for your home?  Being around fresh flowers and plants does wonders for the soul (unless you suffer from severe environmental allergies).

Research consistently links fresh flowers with an increased well-being.  In the 2008 publication by Park and Mattson, patients in hospital rooms brightened with flowers, needed less postoperative pain medication, had a lower systolic blood pressure and pulse, were less anxious and fatigued, and were generally more positive than those without flowers.

While fresh flowers can be expensive, incorporating them into your space does not have to break the bank.  My favourite way to display flowers throughout my home is in small bud vases.  A bouquet of flowers can go much further with this approach and leave all areas of your home (powder room, kitchen, and desk) looking (and smelling) beautiful.  I have included a few of my favourite bud vases below:

Glass Bud Vase, Eclectic Set of 3 – Pottery Barn
Belle Boulevard Bud Vase – Kate Spade 
Snartig Vase – Ikea 

Refresh Your Space

Martha Stewart once said, “There are few rites of spring more satisfying than the annual clean.” While not everyone will as strongly associate spring with cleaning, taking some time to refresh your space is sure to leave you satisfied and ready to enjoy the season.

For many, spring cleaning means taking some time to focus on tasks that are not typically completed in one’s daily, weekly or monthly cleaning routines.  For example, this might mean cleaning carpets and rugs, washing windows and window treatments or reorganizing closets.  Regardless of what tasks you decide to tackle, make sure to open a window or two and let in that fresh air.

Interested in refreshing your space, but don’t know where to begin?  Here are a couple resources from the Queen of Spring Clean herself:

Spring Cleaning Checklist
Spring Cleaning Basics 
Spring Cleaning Organizing 
Spring Cleaning 360 

Cultivate a Garden 

You don’t have to be a seasoned gardener, nor have access to acres of land to enjoy fresh vegetables or beautiful flowers, so why not cultivate your own garden wherever you live?

If you are fortunate to live on a property with ample space, the sky is the limit!  Whether you decide to grow fruits and/or vegetables, flowers, shrubs, trees or all of the above, a garden that suits your taste is certain to please.  Need some inspiration?

Top 10 Gardens – National Geographic

However, if you live in a smaller footprint, do not fret, you can still garden.  More recently, Urban Gardening (creating gardens in spaces like rooftops, balconies, alleyways) has become popular and as an apartment dweller, I love the idea.  No matter what you prefer to plant – vegetables, flowers, shrubs, trees – you can plant some version of it in a container garden.

If you are new to growing vegetables in containers, or have had limited success, here are a few resources that may be of interest:

Container Gardening – Home & Garden Television 
Container Gardening – Better Homes & Gardens 

Cultivating a garden boasts several benefits.  A study out of the Netherlands suggests that gardening combats stress better than many other leisure activities.  For example, after completing a stressful task, two groups of people were instructed to either read indoors or garden for 30 minutes.  The participants were monitored and when the study concluded, the group that gardened reported being in a better mood than the reading group.  Moreover, the participants who gardened exhibited significantly lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol than those who read.

Enjoy Local Foods

One of my favourite things about late spring in Ontario is that local produce begins to show up in my grocery store and farmer’s market.  As you may know, in the Arctic Circle Canada, our natural growing season is fairly limited, so it is always wonderful when I spot the first locally-grown strawberry, cherry or asparagus.

Eating local foods boasts several benefits:

  • It is good for the environment – Local food does not have to travel far to arrive on your plate, so eating local helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions and contributes to improving our carbon footprint.
  • It is good for the local economy – When you buy local, you support local farmers and other producers in your community.
  • It is good for you and your family – Foods that are grown and harvested locally tend to have a higher nutrient value and tend to be much more flavourful.

However you choose to embrace spring,  I wish you a delightful season!  If you need me, I’ll be in the garden.

 

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