The Downside of Minimalism

Sometimes life isn’t what we expect. We begin a journey thinking we know the whole story before it is written, thinking we know the ending before the middle has arrived.

How little we really know until we truly travel the path. Click To Tweet

Minimalism and simplicity were supposed to be bliss. Days of sipping tea, nibbling on tiny squares of chocolate while I worked. Less to clean, less to launder, more time for life. Life was going to be happier than ever.

Until reality set in. Little did I know there is a downside to minimalism.

Minimalism has its benefits, of course. Less to clean. Less trinkets, less clothing in the closets, less shoes on the floor. I enjoy that freedom. But inside every silver lining of simplicity lies a gray cloud. One day, not long ago, I found that cloud.

I woke early to the first hints of daylight. Something inside me stirred, a kind of sadness, a melancholy state, like something in my life was missing. It was while I prepared one more load for the thrift store that I figured it out.

My husband held two small area rugs in his arms, ones we purchased when we bought our new home. The rugs weren’t really our style, but at the time, we needed something for our entryways, and this was all we could find. Now we had new rugs, and it was time to let the old ones go.

He looked at me as he headed towards the garage. “This makes me sad,” he said.

“What?”

“All this money. All this stuff. I wish we hadn’t bought these things to begin with.”

I knew what he meant. It was depressing. We spent a lot of money on things we were giving away. Thousands of dollars poured into our lives, for stuff we no longer owned, for things we no longer deemed necessary.

We sat down and talked about the money we had spent, and how sad it was we couldn’t remember what most of the things were that we had given away. As we talked, I was reminded of a friend who said something to me when I first began this journey. She said, “When you bought these items, you must have needed them. At the time, they served their purpose.”

She was right. Everything we bought once served us, a toaster, a vase, books, even the trinkets that once brightened our days. The fact is, we no longer needed these items. We didn’t have mantels or tables to set knick-knacks on, and we didn’t need the extra set of glasses that once filled our cabinets.

The money we spent made me sad. Yet I knew money in itself is not important. I decided there was only one thing I could do, release my feelings about money.

But it didn’t end there. You see, there was still a stirring, like something wasn’t right. I looked at the items before me, little pillows for an entertainment room, a dress for a special occasion, large black frames that once held treasured family photos. All those hours shopping, just to give it all away. All that time spent. All that time lost.

But is time really lost? Or is time only a symbol for what we love? For things like family, friendship, and home. I think time spent in love is never truly wasted.

Like money, I had to release time. I took a big breath, and felt better. Yet there was one more thing, something I desperately wanted to push to the back of my mind.

You see, giving away all these things had made me realize something. With each little item I gave away, I gave away a piece of me. Inside the candle holder was the memory of a vacation, inside the shoes a vision of a hike, and inside my books were memories of travels to faraway places, dreams I held deep inside me. Inside each piece was a story of me.

My stories, my memories, and I was giving them all away. I felt a tug at my heart.

I knew they were just ‘things,’ that one day, it would all be nothing more than dust. Yet I couldn’t help but feel loss.

I stared at books and blankets by my feet and then it hit me, these aren’t really my memories. Memories can’t live inside a trinket, a pair of shoes, or an ornament on a tree. Memories live inside me. They are the emotions, the pictures that sift through the mind. They are the heart and soul of each of us.

In my journey to a simple life, I began with one story, and ended with another. I guess stories don’t always turn out as planned.

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It’s All a Lie

They line the fronts of magazines, flash before us in television commercials: Girls with impeccable skin and immovable glossy hair; buff young men with pearly whites glistening against artificially tanned bodies, tossing back bottles of beer and bags of crispy chips.

But wait, there’s more: Ads of shiny silver cars careening on winding seaside roads, drivers and passengers laughing, donned in seamlessly-pressed attire; Women smiling widely, barely a wrinkle on their aging skin; Older men, not a gray hair in sight.

Pictures of perfection.

They are all a lie.

We are fed lines of grand illusions, shown images that lead us to believe if we wear certain shoes we will be popular; if we dine at restaurants, wear irresistible lip gloss or spicy cologne, our lives will be better. We will be better. Because, according to advertisers, we are not perfect. And without these things, these images placed before our eyes, we can never achieve perfection.

In some weird way, they are right. We aren’t perfect. And society has led us to believe that that’s not okay. We are told to wear makeup to hide our skin, perfumed lotions to hide our scent, and to cover our bodies with brand-named jeans and t-shirt. We are told that our faults, our crinkles and lines, uneven ears and crooked noses, will be shunned by society, will make us unwelcome and unpopular in our world.

I don’t believe advertisers, and I don’t want you to, either. It is our unique imperfections that make us so beautiful. It is our flaws that set us apart. We were created to be imperfect, tilted noses, uneven eyes, and crinkled ears.

Each of us is flawed, full of beautiful imperfections. Click To Tweet

None of us is perfect. Even the models on television are flawed. They hide behind screens and touch-ups we cannot see. But at the end of the day, their hair falls flat, their eyes turn bloodshot and weary, and their face no longer glows. At the end of the day, they are as human as we.

Accept your imperfections. Be perfectly imperfect. You were meant to be that way.

That is not a lie.

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Allergic to Life

Sometimes I feel like I am allergic to life. If you have allergies, you know what I mean. I’m pretty sure my first allergy arrived when I was a teenager. I sneezed constantly, was sick a lot, and suffered many headaches. But it wasn’t until my early twenties that a doctor would discover my allergy to dust.

Next was dairy, something that occurred after my second child was born. Cheese was hard to give up, but it was nothing compared to the allergies I would have to deal with later in my life.

 

*** Story:

It was spring. My husband and I wandered the aisles of a local garden store, enjoying the pink tulips and yellow daffodils that lined the tables. As my husband stopped to admire a few roses, I wandered to the clearance section at the back of the store.

On one of the shelves, I spotted a pretty metal can labeled “Soft Peach Room Spray.”

Sounds nice, I said to myself. I sprayed a light mist into the air and leaned forward to sniff the mellow scent. Then it hit. I dropped the can and ran to find my husband.

I grabbed his sleeve. “I can’t breathe,” I said.

“What?”

“I can’t get air.” By now, I was gasping. Everything in the room began to spin, my ears were ringing, my palms filled with sweat, and worst of all, my tongue was beginning to swell.

We ran to the car and my husband quickly drove me to the clinic. I was in a panic, and so was he. When we arrived, he found a nurse who immediately brought me to a room. I don’t remember much after that, except receiving a shot and an epi-pen before I was released. I do remember the first real breath that came back, and how I had never been so thankful for air.

***

It was a dramatic moment in my life, one I will never forget. It was also the first of many. It seems my brain injury triggered something in my body, which I guess can happen to brain injury victims. I developed many allergies after that, mostly foods, some of which I discovered on my own, some found during allergy testing.

Allergies are scary. Some are mere nuisances (like the sniffles and headaches I get from dust), or minor inconveniences (like tummy issues from dairy), but then there are those that are life-threatening (like the spray, and for me, cranberries).

It’s those life-threatening ones we worry about. But any type of allergy is a problem. Allergies wreak havoc on our systems. They make us tired and cranky. They cause joint pains, headaches, hives, breathing problems, sneezing, diarrhea, and a host of other problems. They wear on our immune systems and make us more susceptible to other illnesses.

If you have any type of allergy, you need to stay away from that allergen, because some, especially food and bee stings, can get worse over time.  Check out this article on WebMD.com

But some allergens, like dust and pollen, just can’t be avoided. If you suffer from these, stay tuned, I just may have a few things that will help you.

I swear my allergies to pollen and dust get worse every year, and this year, I was so listless and foggy brained some days, I felt pretty worthless, so I decided it was time to fight. I have tried everything you can imagine. And this is what I found.

*Himalayan Salt Lamp:  I have to be honest, this has something to do with negative ions, and for the life of me, I have no idea what that means. Many people swear that this lovely little lamp has improved their health. Honestly, I didn’t notice a difference. But I still keep one in our family room – it’s pretty, provides nice ambiance, and maybe somehow it is helping and I just haven’t noticed.

Moso Bags: Bamboo charcoal. It’s supposed to trap particles in the air. Again, not sure if they have helped, but I do like the looks of them. The only thing you need to know is that they need ‘recharging’ in the sun approximately once a month.

Air purifier: One of the best things I have done. We removed our purifier from our bedroom for a few months. I noticed a huge difference, especially when we brought it back. I know it is working because the filter gets filthy each month, and I breathe so much better with it. I would recommend this for anyone with allergies.

Humidifier: While I love the moisture in the air, the filters get disgusting, and molds gather inside quickly, which isn’t healthy for anyone.

Diffuser: Love, love, love this. This is what saves me at night. I gave up the humidifier for reasons stated above, and bought a diffuser on Amazon. Each night I fill it, add a few drops of Eucalyptus oil (peppermint also works well for allergies, but is a little strong for me), and turn that baby on. It’s amazing. I can breathe.

Vicks: Yup, the old-fashioned Vicks rub. I put it under my nose often. I am that geeky girl.

Vacuum: If you have dust or pollen allergies, you must vacuum often. Even better, go without carpet.

Shower: I am assuming you are already doing this. If not, well, we won’t get into that. In any case, I added an extra shower to my day. Every evening I take a shower and rinse off the pollen. Especially necessary after walking. I couldn’t believe the yellow pollen on my husband’s and my clothing one evening when we got back from our walk. As long as we are talking about showers, I need to mention my filtered shower-head (another item I don’t regret purchasing). It is amazing how much better my skin feels since I started using it. I know when it’s not working because I can smell the chlorine in the water, and my skin begins to itch. While we are talking about water…

Laundry: Wash your clothing when you’ve been outside. And wash your sheets weekly.

Scented candles, perfumes, etc.: Smell nice, but these things just make allergies worse.

Now to the good stuff – food. I truly believe food is medicine (unless you are allergic to it). I’ve seen the benefits of healthy food in many areas of my life. I still struggle with allergies, after all, I can’t cut down all the trees and plants in the area, and dust will always be floating in the air, but I have found a few food remedies to make my allergies a little more tolerable.

Ginger– Ginger is medicine. It fights tummy problems and infections. Its strong scent and taste clear the nasal passages. It’s great in tea or in an orange and carrot smoothie or juice.

Peppers- Admittedly, not my favorite. But if you can include some jalapenos or anaheims in your salsa, that capsicum just may fight off some sniffles.

Tea- I am addicted to tea. Great stress reliever, not only mentally, but physically as well. Tea has many benefits. I drink green or black in the morning, often with lavender or mint, and a concoction in the evening which includes nettle or Echinacea. Add honey or lemon.

Honey- Local honey if you can. Some claim local honey helps fight against local pollen. Honey is great in many things, but my favorite is in my homemade chocolate recipe, adapted from Sally Fallon’s book, Nourishing Traditions. (Recipe at end of article.)

Smoothies- I start each day with a mixture of banana, berries, coconut milk (or other non-dairy milk), hemp, flax, spinach, and make extra for a small one later.

Juice- I should say ‘juicing.’ Fresh juice is always the best. The versions at the store have been pasteurized, removing the enzymes. If you can make fresh juice, even occasionally, you will feel the benefits.

Water- Plenty of it. Filtered. Pure. Add lemon if you wish.

Food- Healthy foods, preferably organic. No junk food, because, as the old adage goes, “You are what you eat.”

The problem with allergies, especially dust and pollen, is that we can’t remove them from our lives. They are all around, every day. It is a daily fight to stay healthy. But isn’t life worth fighting for?

None of these remedies are perfect. Some will work wonders for you, some will not work at all. For me, I think it is a combination of everything that has prevented me from seeing a doctor this year. And that alone is worth the fight.

Happy allergy season! I hope this article helps you find a tiny bit of relief. If you have any other suggestions to share with fellow allergy sufferers, I would love to hear them.

And now for the promised chocolate recipe:

1 cup raw honey

1 cup raw organic cocoa

1 cup coconut oil, melted

Stir fast and really well (because the sooner you get done, the sooner you get to eat it). I love adding extras to this recipe, any combination of these things: Chocolate nibs, cinnamon, cayenne, sea salt, walnuts, macadamia nuts, and (my favorite) coconut.

Place in large baking pan (8×12, or whatever you have handy) lined with parchment paper.

Place in freezer. Note: This fudge needs to be kept frozen.

Enjoy! (Perfect served with a hot cup of tea.)

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The Benefits of Simplicity

Simplicity. It’s a common word thrown about on the internet, listed on one blog after another, overheard in many conversations. A simple word that is both complicated and confusing.

When I began my journey to minimalism, the word ‘simplicity’ kept sneaking into my life. I tried to ignore it, mostly because I didn’t understand it, partly because I felt like leading a simple life was just a fancy way of saying lazy.

Boy, was I wrong.

Simplicity is nothing about being lazy. Simplicity is everything about living life. Click To Tweet

But simplicity does conjure up certain images, and it produces many questions. Why do people live a simple life? Is it difficult? Mostly, are there any benefits?

I think people strive for a simple life for many reasons. I think they desire freedom, long for a healthier lifestyle, wish for a better planet. And some, I think, are just plain tired of the rat race. For me, I wished for a life with less stress, less furniture to clean, more time to enjoy a life that matters.

I can’t say the simple life is difficult. Becoming a minimalist was the hard part – it’s never easy to give away a piece of yourself. But that’s another story for another time.

Are there benefits? More than you can imagine. Last fall I was invited to guest post about this very subject. You can find the article here: www.nicolemackey.com/the-benefits-of-simplicity

Simplicity. Often confusing. Sometimes complicated. But always worth the benefits.

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Life in a Box

I used to think everything in life (at least my life) should be flawless. I’m not sure where I learned that, most likely it was my own interpretation from a combination of things learned at church, home, and school.

In everything I did, I expected perfectionism, from perfectly folded hand towels, to clothing sorted by style and color. Even my spices were neatly aligned in my drawer, alphabetized, of course. My life was, at least in my eyes, held together in a tidy little box.

But somewhere along the way, life got messy, long after I reached adulthood, and many, many years beyond my first days as a perfectionist.

Take a trip with me, back in time to a little girl’s room:

A young girl sits in the middle of her bedroom, long dark hair cascading down her stiff, straight back. Her legs are spread on the floor in front of her hair, hands clasped tight, a book between her thighs, a notebook and pencil to her right.

The girl is reading. You see her pick up her bookmark, place it between two pages, and close the book. As she reaches for her pencil and jots something on her tablet, you stand on your tiptoes and peer over her shoulder.

She has written a list of numbers, one for each line, filling the sheet of paper. On the first line, next to number one, she writes something. You peek at her tablet.

“Get up.” ‘That’s odd. What does that mean?’ you wonder.

She begins to write on the second line, then scribbles her pencil quickly across the paper. “Shoot!” you hear her say. Before you can read her note, she has ripped it out of the tablet, crumbled it, and is across the room throwing it in the metal garbage can.

Folding her legs back beneath her, she begins her list again, the numbers written with more care and precision than the first time. At number two, she writes, ‘Brush teeth.’ The routine continues until each line is filled. And each time she doesn’t see the list as perfect, she rips the page out, throws it away, and begins again.

The girl doesn’t appear to be agitated. In fact, she hums and smiles, and occasionally turns to the book to read a few pages. She looks happy, twisting her hair between her fingers, and tapping her foot quickly against the floor. But how happy is she, really?

The girl was me. I’m sure there’s some psychology behind my story, but this isn’t about that, and for now, I’d really rather that portion of my story remain a mystery.

What this story is about is this: Life is messy. No matter what we do, we have to scribble pieces of our lives away and start over. Sometimes it’s as simple as a cabinet whose contents have been scattered across a floor by an adventurous two-year-old. Sometimes it’s an event that doesn’t go as planned – a failed cake, or balloons that blow away in the wind before the recipient has a chance to see them. And sometimes, it’s an accident that nearly takes our breath away.

But here’s the thing, I think life is supposed to be messy. It’s in those messy moments, when our world gets flipped upside down, that we can see clearly. Life is a balance of perfect and imperfect harmony, and we are in the middle.

We strive to do our best, perfecting hair and nails, cleansing our home inside and out. Yet life arrives and takes apart the very piece we admired the most. For me, that was everything.

Like I said, I wanted my whole world perfect, and my accident took it all away. But I think when I learned to embrace the messiness that life can throw, the untidiness and unruliness of it all, that’s when I began to heal.
I will always be a bit of neat freak. It’s in my blood. But I’m really trying to step outside of my neat little box, and be a part of this glorious, messy thing we call life.

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