Is your garage so full that you can't park your car in it? Are there piles of papers in your office that prevent you from finding what you need? Do you have magazines from five years ago? Do you keep every gift, even if you don’t like it? Is your closet filled with clothes that haven't been worn in years? If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, then perhaps it's time for some spring cleaning, even if it’s not springtime. Creating space in your physical environment can improve your mental health. A cluttered environment makes for a cluttered mind.
Because our indoor surroundings are as important as our outdoor one for our health, it is important to create an indoor environment that promotes health. When you have free space, you make way for a free mind. Think about where you feel most relaxed. Often, it is in an environment that is clean, tidy, and open. Why not create this type of environment where you spend so much of your time—at home.
Those who know me would say that I keep a pretty clean house. I have very little clutter. For the amount of new stuff that comes into my house, an equal amount or more makes its way out of my house. For me, the act of getting rid of clutter is very therapeutic. I still laugh at my aunt's comment when she first visited my house, asking, "Where's all of your stuff?"
Here are a few ideas for creating some free space in various parts of your home.
- Bedroom. Probably the most cluttered place in your bedroom is your closet. Do you wear all of the clothes in your closet? One idea for managing your closet is to place all of your hangers the same way on a certain date. From that date forward, every time you take an item out, return it with the hanger facing the other way. At the end of the year, toss the items that are still facing the original way since it means you haven't worn the item for the entire year.
- Kitchen. Be honest. Do you really need the novelty, once-a-year gadgets that are crowding out your kitchen drawers and cupboards? How often do you use the ice cream maker, pizza stone, bread maker, pasta maker, and heart-shaped cookie cutter? Even for the items you do use, how many cookie sheets, spatulas, and serving dishes do you really need? Keep the ones you use the most, donate the rest. And, while you are decluttering your kitchen, you might want to check out the expiration dates on the food items in your refrigerator and pantry. Those items often have a tendency to hang on a few years longer than they should.
- Bathroom. How many different kinds of hair products have you bought from your hair stylist only to find them piling up on your vanity? How about makeup? Go through the stash and get rid of the beauty products that you know you aren’t going to use, even if they are practically new. You can always find a good second home for them. Many of the items may have reached their expiration, so it might be time to toss them. Beauty products often don’t have expiration dates on them, but here are some general guidelines on how long these items last:
- Mascara - 3 to 6 months
- Eye liner - 3 months (liquid) or 2 years (pencil)
- Lipstick - 2 years
- Eye shadow - 6 months (cream) to 2 years (powder)
- Foundation and concealer - 6 to 12 months
- Powder - 6 months to 2 years
- Cleanser and moisturizer - 1 year
- Sunscreen - 1 year
Keep in mind that natural beauty and skincare products spoil faster because they use less harmful preservatives. The best way to know if the product is expired is to watch for changes in smell, color, and consistency.
- Office. Are your desk and drawers overflowing with papers? If so, take some time to sort through the pile and put some organization to them. Recycle what you don’t need, file what you can, and keep out those that require action. On an ongoing basis, try to keep up with where the papers belong before letting them stack up on the desk. To limit paper management altogether, think twice about printing documents that can be stored online. Just be sure to have an organized “filing” system online for easy retrieval. Also, consider signing up for paperless statements for your bills.
- Garage. If you can’t fit your car in the garage, it’s time for some cleaning. What is in all of those boxes stored in the garage? Do they go years without being opened and do you even remember what is in them? Go through the boxes and mark today’s date (or the date you store a box, moving forward). If you don't open the box for a couple of years, consider donating the contents.
Top clutter offenders that might exist in various parts of the house include the following:
- Magazines. If you have over six month’s worth of unread magazines, it’s time to consider canceling the subscription and re-subscribing once you have caught up. If you save read magazines, think about the last time you referred to them. I used to save my Runner’s World magazines. I had three years worth of magazines, but I never went back to reference them. I’ve since recycled these magazines. Now, I tear out interesting articles that I want to keep instead of the whole magazine. There is so much information available online these days, that even if I throw out an article I decide I want to re-read, I can always just look it up at a later date.
- Newspapers. I don’t know about you, but when I got the daily newspaper, I couldn’t keep up with it. It felt like a to-do to read it every day. It typically went straight to the recycle bin without being read. I don’t get one anymore. I know many people who can’t live without their daily paper. If this is you, by all means, keep getting it (and feel free to skip to the next bullet point). But, if you are like my sister-in-law who had several feet of unread newspapers stacked up, consider making a change. Perhaps you can get your news online or request the printed version on weekends only?
- Gifts. Sometimes you get a gift and you just know that you aren’t going to use it or you really don’t like it. Bypass the clutter stage and immediately put it in the re-gift pile or give it away. Don’t let the gift take up residence in your home.
Some of your discarded items from the cleaning above will head to the trash and some will make it to the recycle bin, but many will still have life left in them and can be a treasure for someone else. Be sure to find a good home for them. It doesn’t have to take up a lot of your time. If you think you can sell the item, try selling it on Craigslist or eBay. If it’s not something you can sell, think about giving it to a non-profit organization. We have regular pickups at our house by various organizations, so I just have a designated spot in my garage for unwanted items and I put them out on scheduled days. If you don’t have this in your neighborhood, oftentimes you can call these organizations and they will do a special pickup.
Another option is to give the items away through Freecycle.org. Freecycle is a grassroots, nonprofit organization that connects people to give stuff for free in an effort to keep reusable items out of the landfills. They have over nine million members around the world. Membership is free. I have given many items away on Freecycle. Just the other day, I had a printer that worked haphazardly. I posted it and within two hours I was meeting a mom and her son at a nearby store to give it to them. Of course, it works both ways. I have also gotten a few things as well. When I was looking for some People magazines for some leisure reading on a trip to Hawaii and some word magnets for a homemade gift I was making for my dad, I posted my request on Freecycle and got what I wanted—for free! How often does that happen?
Sometimes I feel like I’m busting from the seams in a certain part of the house and think that I just need one more drawer (closet or room, depending on the severity of the overflow). Whenever this happens, if I take the time to declutter, I find that there are a lot of items I no longer need. It just takes bringing a fresh perspective to the area and really thinking about whether or not I need the items. Invariably, I find myself with extra room and no need for more space after all.d.
Although the task of decluttering may seem overwhelming, just do a little at a time. As you go, ask yourself the following three questions to help shed some light on what should stay and what should go.
- Have I used it in the past year? If the answer is no, seriously consider donating it.
- What am I keeping this for? I have a friend who hates to part with anything anyone gave her. Can you keep a few of the sentimental items and donate the rest? She also has clothes from decades ago like a red leather dress that she admits she will never wear again. Why are items like this still in our closet?
- Do I need it? How much stuff do we really need? Sometimes moving out of accumulation autopilot and bringing a fresh perspective helps us in the decluttering process.
What can you declutter in your physical environment to help declutter your mind?
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Eating healthy 100% of the time is not realistic and can be unhealthy (if it causes stress). If we strive for 100%, we may feel like we have failed whenever we transgress from what we consider to be healthy food. Four Quadrant Living is about integral (whole body) health. Part of health is pleasure. If we deprive ourselves of our favorite foods or feel we cannot (or should not) join in with special meal sharing with our friends and family, it affects our health in other ways. Stressing about eating is counterproductive to our health.
Although most of the time I live in the 80%+ zone of eating healthy, there are times where I'll get on a roll of mindless or unhealthy eating. For example, who can resist helping a girl scout in need? I feel it's my duty as an American to buy several boxes of Thin Mints to support these young entrepreneurs. Sometimes I can have Thin Mints in the house and leave them untouched for weeks. Other times, I'm in the groove and a sleeve goes down a little too easy.
Lately, I have found myself drifting south of 80%. Here are some simple tips that have helped get me back on track the past couple of weeks.
1. Toss the crap. If there is unhealthy food in the house and you are in a low willpower phase, throw it out. I'm giving you permission to throw out unhealthy food. Allow yourself to do this. I even hesitate giving it to others because if I don't want it for my own health, why would I want to tempt someone else with it? It may seem like a waste of money, but it's better than eating it and compromising your health. Recently, I was getting in the habit of eating cookies a little too regularly. I told myself that if I was going to stay in this routine, the cookies would have to be tossed. Clearly I was in one of my phases where I was not okay with having the tempting food in the house because I was eating it too often. I gave myself one more day to see if my willpower could return. I put the cookies in the freezer and have not touched them since. They are now safely in the freezer for my occasional treat and I am out of the habit of reaching for them regularly. Sometimes you just need to break the habit. If you can go a few days without it, you can break out of the routine.
The key is to be in tune with your current state of willpower. If you have unhealthy food in the house and you are eating it, toss it now. If you are in a strong willpower phase and can have it in the house for a treat, that's fine. Be honest with yourself. Our moments of strength and weakness come and go depending on what else is going on in our lives. Help you help yourself when you need it.
2. Mindfully eat. I've been noticing that even when I am in my 80% healthy eating, I can go on autopilot with what I'm eating. I have a bad habit of eating whatever is on my plate. I'm guessing this stems from my childhood when I couldn't leave the table until all of my food was gone (which was a long time when the black-eyed peas were being served). When my husband serves me dinner and I feel stuffed after, I somehow blame it on him for putting too much food on my plate because I eat it all. Another thing I've noticed about my eating is that I'm in the habit of having the same lunch since I work from home. The other day as I was going through my medley of my lunch food items, I felt like I was on autopilot. "It's lunch time, so now it's time to eat. First, I eat this. Then I eat this." I wasn't paying attention to whether I was hungry or even felt like eating that particular food. If you are like me in eating on autopilot or eating what is on your plate regardless of your appetite, here are a few things to do.
- Try using smaller serving plates. (This really works!)
- Eat with your non-dominant hand. (This certainly helps you eat slower.)
- Be okay to leave food on your plate if you are full. (Save it for later. I love leftovers.)
- If you are still hungry, allow a few minutes before reaching for seconds.
3. Keep it simple. I like to eat healthy and I don't like to cook. Sometimes this can be a challenge. However, in a way, I think it's a good thing. I don't like to spend time in the kitchen preparing meals. My meals are very simple. Salmon, brown rice, vegetables. Chicken, quinoa, salad. Protein, whole grain, vegetable. I don't cook with a lot of sauce, cheese or butter (though butter is preferable to margarine). I was talking to a client the other day and she was surprised to hear that I don't like to cook. She thought that eating healthy meant spending a lot of time preparing food. It doesn't have to be. Sometimes keeping it simple can be the easiest way to eat healthy.
4. Double the veggies. Divide your plate into four sections. Load it it up with two of the four sections filled with vegetables (i.e. half the plate), one section with a lean protein source (e.g. fish, chicken, beans), and the last section filled with a whole grain (brown rice, quinoa). (Note: When I eat corn or potato, I do not count that as my vegetable. I substitute it for the whole grain since they are high in carbs. If you serve potato or corn, still try to have a green vegetable on the plate).
The bottom line is, be kind to yourself. If you are in a period where your eating is below the 80% mark, it's okay. There are good days (weeks) and bad ones. Try again tomorrow. For most of us, eating is tied to emotion. Sometimes eating the unhealthy food makes us temporarily feel better. When your willpower is low, try to help yourself by not putting the food at your fingertips. If it's not in the house, it's much easier to resist.
Where are you on the 80/20 scale? On the times when you dip below, what works to get you back up? Focus on those ideas and keep them in your back pocket for the next go-around. I know you can do it. I'm right there with you.
When the earthquake and resulting tsunami first hit Japan, my husband and I watched it on the news. But while he sat glued to the television, I had to stop watching. I knew that eventually I would see the images and read the stories. It just had to be on my own time. What is happening there is just unreal. First, Japan gets hit with a 9.0 earthquake on March 11, being the world's fourth biggest earthquake since 1900. As if this weren't enough to contend with, a tsunami results from the shaken earth—rippling throughout the world. And on top of all this, Japan is now facing radioactive steam leakage from one of its nuclear power plants. Furthermore, with all of this happening in the winter, temperatures are hitting below freezing. The latest toll as of today is 5,429 people dead and 9,594 others unaccounted.
Whether you are like me and take the news in small doses or someone who watches it full on, one thing is clear. There is no there. It's all here. What happens 5,000 miles away, like what is happening in Japan right now, may seem like something that is happening "there". However, it is impacting every "here" in the world. We truly are all interconnected in so many ways. The world's financial markets are impacted, as seen by the drop in the stock market. Coastal lands thousands of miles away are impacted as seen by the tsunami waves hitting the shores of northwestern Canada, the western U.S., Mexico and more. One person even died in the U.S. from the tsunami. A quick Google search pops up many examples of our interconnectedness.
- "Japan quake likely to affect Alaska trade"
- "How Japan's earthquake affects U.S. housing"
- "World may struggle to make up for lost Japanese exports"
- "Japanese fallout may hit treasuries"
- "Japan's earthquake could affect gas prices in the United States"
- "Quake may affect tech industry for months"
I put off writing this blog even though I've known I've wanted to write it for days. I had to do it on my time—when I was ready to fully open up to the devastation without it paralyzing me. I have now seen the videos and photos. It's truly unbelievable. It seems completely surreal. Cars swept up by the waves as if they are toy versions of themselves. Thousands of displaced people. Houses on fire and collapsed. Boats turned on their sides. Roads cracked down the middle. Brave rescue workers helping however they can, especially those who are trying to prevent the full meltdown of the nuclear facility. I think of cars, boats, houses, and roads as pretty strong. For them to be tossed around like they are paper thin shows the tremendous force of the earthquake and tsunami. It's crazy.
I am writing this blog under the Relationships quadrant because what happens to people 5,000 miles away is happening to each and every one of us all over the world. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, "The pain of one part of humankind is the pain of the whole of humankind. And the human species and the planet Earth are one body. What happens to one part of the body happens to the whole body. An event such as this reminds us of the impermanent nature of our lives. It helps us remember that what's most important is to love each other, to be there for each other, and to treasure each moment we have that we are alive. This is the best that we can do for those who have died: we can live in such a way that they continue, beautifully, in us."
I couldn't agree more. What I realize is that no matter how sad the news has made me over the years, feeling it so deeply has guided me to live my best life. I know that life is short and can be altered in an instance, with no warning. We've seen this in the footage of what is happening now in Japan. We saw it during 9/11 in 2001. We saw it again in Hurricane Katrina's devastation on New Orleans in 2005. Then there was the Haiti earthquake in 2010. These are just a few of the examples that have happened in the past decade.
I plan to honor those in Japan by continuing to live my best life and create the life that I want. For me, this means seeking out meaning and being happy (Mind), living healthy (Body), surrounding myself with people who love me (Relationships), and nurturing the world around me (Environment). It means living mindfully, appreciating life, and sharing this journey with others.
How will you live your best life to honor the interconnectedness of humankind?
A few weeks ago, I left my friend Liz patiently waiting for me at a coffee shop. She texted me 15 minutes after we were supposed to meet just letting me know she was at the coffee shop (which I thought was a very nice way of saying, "Where the heck are you?"). Oops! I was at home working and had no recollection of our date, even though it was right there on my calendar—one click away from the computer screen I had been working at all day. Unfortunately, this wasn't a one time thing. Several times in the past month I have had Skype dates with my mom and she would call me 30 minutes before our meeting time asking me why I was not online. I told her we had said 3:30pm, not 3:00pm. But then I checked my calendar and sure enough, I was the one off by 30 minutes.
None of these events were obviously enough of a wake-up call—until yesterday. Yesterday, I got the message loud and clear. I was supposed to pick up my friend Christy to take her to Bart so she could catch a train to the airport. She texted me 10 minutes after I was supposed to pick her up asking me if I was on my way. Nope, I wasn't. I was working at home with a million things on my mind and just as many that I wanted to accomplish in the day. Despite the fact that she had only asked me two days prior and that it was on my calendar, there was no recollection in my conscious mind of this important pending appointment.
I flew out of my house and ended up having to make the hour drive each way to the airport because the train was no longer an option for her not to miss her flight. What would have been a 40 minute diversion from my packed day became a two hour time commitment. Do you see the irony? My busyness actually took time away from me. I finally heard the wake up call—I was so busy that I was losing my mindfulness.
It's like Oprah says, "The universe is always trying to get your attention. Sometimes it starts out—any major problem you encounter—as a whisper. By the time it gets to be a storm, you've had a pebble knock you upside the head; you've had a brick; you've had a brick wall; you've had a house fall down. And before you know it, you are in the eye of the storm." I didn't hear the whisper and I'm not quite at the storm yet, but I think forgetting to take Christy to the airport was definitely a brick hitting me.
We all have so many demands on our time and so many things to get done in a day. How can we manage it all and still keep our sanity? Try taking five minutes at the beginning of every day, whether it's in bed or while drinking a cup of tea. During the five minutes, try to do these four things.
- Review your schedule for the coming day.
- Take a few deep breaths.
- Set your intention.
- Just be.
Some ideas for setting an intention for the day could be to have fun, be mindful, be grateful, be open, or be happy. For more on why breath is so important and how to deep breathe properly, read Just Breathe.
I'm busy, but not so busy that I can't take five minutes of every day to properly begin it. (And, for those really important appointments, I plan to set a pop-up reminder on my calendar or post sticky notes on my computer—at least until I get my mind back).
What changes can you make to not lose your mind(fulness)?
The World Health Organization estimates that 25% of health problems are caused by environmental factors. We spray food with pesticides and drive cars that produce pollution. We then eat these foods with the toxic chemicals and breathe the polluted air. Toxic exposure to chemicals can be linked to over 100 diseases and conditions, including asthma, allergies, and even many cancers. Fortunately, we are seeing a shift with an increase in organic foods, natural products, sustainable agriculture, and recycling.
The good news is that we have the power to remove many of the toxins in our lives and to make our environment healthier. Below are a few simple changes I have made over the last couple of years. They only take a few minutes of my time but they make a difference.
- Leave shoes at the door. Okay, I know that some (most? all?) of my friends and family don't love this, but my household is shoe-free. Leaving shoes at the door cuts down on 80% of dirt and pollutants tracked into a house. Dr. Oz says, "We track all sorts of pollutants into our homes, including lawn pesticides (which have been linked to certain cancers and neurological and reproductive disorders), coal tar from asphalt surfaces (which contains carcinogens), lead, and even E. coli. Taking off your shoes when you get in is an easy way to keep those toxins out." I'm hoping the name dropping of Dr. Oz will at least bring some credibility for when my household guests come over and have to leave their shoes at the door.
- Say goodbye to plastic bottles! I've mentioned this before in another blog, Plastic at Home, Really?, but it's worth repeating because it can make a huge impact. About a year ago, I gave up buying plastic water bottles by the case from Costco. Sure they were convenient to grab-and-go, but now it's just a part of my routine to fill up my stainless steel bottle before I head out the door. Americans use 2.5 million plastic bottles every hour. Sixty million water bottles are thrown away every day in the U.S. Of course, opting for the stainless steel not only helps the environment, it helps me too. There have been many studies which express concerns about the plastic leaching into the water. This is in addition to the questionable quality of the water that is found in these bottles.
- Reduce, reuse, recycle. First I try to figure out how I can reduce accumulating products (e.g. bring my own bags for shopping, print double sided, buy less). Then I try to figure out how to reuse the item, if possible. I think about whether any of my friends or favorite charities can use the item. I also have used Freecycle and Craigslist to sell items or give them away for free. After trying to reduce and reuse, I recycle. We all know we should recycle, but we aren't all doing it. In 2008, the amount of paper recovered for recycling averaged 340 pounds for every person in the U.S. If everyone in America separated the paper, plastic, glass, and aluminum products from the trash and instead put them in the recycle bin, the waste in landfills would be reduced by 75%! For more information on recycling, read my blog Broom No, Foil Yes.
- Clean green. Many conventional cleaning products leave indoor air pollution because of the petrochemical VOCs (volatile organic compounds) and synthetic fragrances. These toxins build up in our homes each time we use these products. As they evaporate, they can make their way into our body and be dangerous to our health. These products can cause dizziness, watery eyes, skin rashes, and respiratory problems. A couple of years ago, I switched to all natural cleaning products. Mostly, I use vinegar (+ water) and baking soda. Sometimes I buy Method brand (fragrance-free). Try to avoid products that have fragrances, chlorine bleach, and ammonia.
- Cancel catalogs. After ordering a few times from catalogs, I found myself receiving a crazy number of catalogs throughout the year, particularly around the holidays. Every time I received a catalog, I took a couple of minutes to call the 1-800#. I would ask for my name to be removed from the mailing list and to be put on a "do not sell" list so that my name is not sold to other companies. I now receive very few catalogs, so it does work.
- Cancel phone books. Remember the old days when you used to actually refer to the phone book? Now with the internet, the phone book has become obsolete in my household. I called the number on the inside of the front cover and now I no longer get the books. Phone books make up almost 10% of waste at dump sites.
For a new commitment, I'm going to make an effort not to leave the water running when I brush my teeth. This can save up to 5 gallons of water every day. What change can you make in your life for the sake of the environment's health, as well as your own?