The Meaning of Excess

“I am a little concerned with the things you have been writing,” my husband commented today when he called me on his morning break. “I am concerned about your definition of ‘excess’.”

While he can be so funny and charming, Michael also has a sharp sense of logic and a view of the world that I only wished I could experience. When he says he has a concern, I try very hard to listen because what he says usually makes sense. And because I love and respect him.

“You keep talking about all the ‘excess stuff’ we have,” he continued. “but don’t forget, everyone lives in excess. If you have more than a roof over your head, a change of clothes, somewhere to sleep, and more food than you can eat in one day, you have excess. You can’t get rid of it. And if you try, you’re just going to end up giving away things you actually wanted to keep. And then we are going to have to spend money to get them back.”

Hmmm.

He’s right. Mainly because he knows me. I am one of those black-and-white, all-or-nothin’, “Remember the Alamo!” types. I decide I’m gonna do something and I dive in head-first, without really checking to be sure I can swim in the pool. I expect water, but more often than not, I find myself swimming in pudding, when I discover the challenge I’m involved in is just too difficult for me (at the time). I am also one of those hyper-focused, insanely driven “For the Shire!” types who blocks out all distractions around me and zones in on the task at hand, forgetting to acknowledge anyone or anything around me. It can be bad when you forget a pot on the stove and supper is ruined. Or you leave your wallet at home. Or you forget to fill the tank.

The result? My home, online folders, iPhone, craft desk, video game library and desktop are full of unfinished projects, ideas that haven’t panned out, disorganized jumbles, and “when I have time to…”

The problem is, I will never have time. I never will have time to keep my home spotless, weigh 110 lbs, hand sew all our clothes, grow my organic produce, cross stitch a lovely wall hanging, read every attachment parenting book, hold down a part time or full time job, dress like a supermodel, be perfectly rested, knit all our Christmas gifts, scrub the floors with a toothbrush, and write the next great novel. I just won’t. My poor brain, body and soul can’t handle it all.

Here’s the thing, though. What I just described above? That’s excess too. It’s mental excess. It’s the excess of perfectionism and social influences that tell me I have to “do it all”. In truth, however, I don’t care to do it all. I don’t. I don’t care to do everything listed above. I would like to, don’t get me wrong, but there are other things that I have to shower and lavish my attentions on.

Remember my Priorities post a couple days ago? I listed the five things that are my priorities:

  1. Jesus
  2. Family
  3. Health and well being
  4. Financial freedom
  5. Our environment

All of the things I said above can be part of my priorities, but they cannot my priorities. If these things cannot be shared with or benefit my priorities in some way or another, then they are not helping me. What’s more, if they take away time I should be spending on my priorities, than they are dangerous. If I spend all my time working on my organic garden while my family sits around waiting for me to make them supper, where have I gotten us? Nowhere.

Excess is not just material things. Excess can also be how you focus your skills, time and money. If they hamper you or prevent you from paying attention to the things that are important, they are not going to contribute to your overall happiness.

I need to change my word. It isn’t excess I need to be rid of. It’s distractions. Things that distract me from my priorities. That is what my sweet, wise husband was saying — to not focus so much on my excess. Because I will never be completely rid of it. Instead, he wanted me to focus on the distractions. The things that I waste time on that keep me from my priorities. He doesn’t want this new path of minimalism I am striving towards to become another distraction. He’s afraid I wish crash and burn and get myself in trouble again.

I am trusting in myself and my focus on my priorities to keep me strong. If something is taking away from them, than it’s time to let it go.

What I Want: Goals 2011

Time for some brainstorming! Need to come up with a plan for the coming New Year. I read Dave Bruno’s recent post on developing habits and under his suggestion, I will only set 3 habits to strive for in 2011.

  1. Meet the 100 Thing Challenge mark. by selling or donating as many material possessions as possible.
  2. Practice raw food veganism by following the 52 weekly goals I have aligned for myself.
  3. Pay off and close at least 2 of our 4 credit cards by saving any and all extra money received, creating an emergency fund, and selling off copious amounts of excess goods.

I am excited for 2011. It will be very interesting to see how the weeks and months progress.

Control Over Purchases

This morning, when my daughter and I woke up, I grabbed my iPhone and scanned my latest Tweets. My husband, Michael, doesn’t often tweet, so I was surprised to see one at all today. But the content was as follows:

“No sense in being greedy. I have to control my purchases, even free things. I already have something that will work, no need for more junk.”

Now, as much as I love and adore him, Michael’s tweets are not normally so, shall we say, deep. The one before that came around Christmas, and said, “Why don’t you take me to Turkey Town?” So this one really caught me off guard. So when I knew he’d be on break, I sent him a text message asking him what the story was behind his insightful tweet.

He responded, “I saw a metronome on freecycle and thought hey, help us to sleep. Then I thought, well we have the ocean sounds [on CD] and several devices to play them on. So why get the metronome when someone else can use it and we don’t really need it.”

I stopped receiving emails from Freecycle weeks ago, because the minimalist in me can easily be drowned out by the frugalist in me, and can see the free items as “a great bargain”. Needless to say, I was acquiring far too much junk. Instead, I left the offers up to my far more discerning husband and I only request or offer items now. Freecycle is a fantastic program, and it easily has prevented a multitude of things from ending up in the landfills. But for me, it’s just too tempting.

It was so refreshing to hear his thoughts and know that even though he isn’t attempting minimalism in the same degree as myself, our priorities are the same: we want to create in our home a quiet, peaceful environment without a lot of clutter and chaos, where we can focus on what makes us happy.

If you’re interested in any further pearls of wisdom from my Beloved, you can find him on Twitter under @iamjacksnick.

What Aren’t Your Priorities?

What’s even more important than listing one’s priorities is listing those things that you do not consider priorities. These are things that slowly siphon your time away. You can say “I want to cross the ocean” all you like, but if you don’t recognize that your boat has a leak, you’re not going to get very far.

So now we’ll discuss the things that are holding me back, things that inhibit our progress to peace and happiness.

For anyone else who is following along with this blog so far, be forewarned: this is a difficult task to undergo. This list will likely reveal a host of things, some tangible, some not, that are inhibiting you, without you even realizing it. It will probaby reveal an addiction you were ignoring, a habit you’re surprised by, or a ritual you’ve been neglecting. Guilt, anger and pride will likely rear their ugly heads. You will likely experience resistance and shame in some cases. Personal growth comes with its own “growing pains” and this will probably sting.

I am saying this to myself, as I prepare to bare it all. Shall we begin?

My first task is to reflect on the past couple weeks and think about the things that I feel guilty or angry about. For example, as much as I love her, I often feel I don’t spend enough time playing with my daughter. I also feel I should be able to accomplish more housework than currently maintained. But why? What is holding me back?

  • Too much TV
    Ahh, there is the first sting. You know what is most sad about this? We don’t even have a set of rabbit ears. We have no cable, no satellite, no Netflix. What we do have, however, is a laptop hooked up to a television and we watch episodes online, from shows that aired the night before. And it is so easy to get sucked into that comatose state, isn’t it? So easy to fall prey to the heros on TV whose lives, personalities and appearances come across as so perfect, so seamless, so much better than our own.

    My husband (and subsequently, I) spend too much time watching TV. It’s a form of release for him, as television and movies are a passion of his and a way for him to relax and destress after working at his very difficult job. As much as I can see and understand this, it is also well past it’s limit. And therefore, I must impart some basic rules to help deal with the issue. For us, the rules will be:

    • No TV before 7:30pm or before baths, chores and clean up are done. The exception to this is Friday nights, our TV night.
    • No violent, dramatic or unpleasant television while Naomi is awake (clean comedies only). (Side note: we do not let her watch television, but there’s no reason to be watching something unpleasant while she is awake, in case she does get a glimpse. They estimate babies who are allowed to watch TV see something like 2000 murders by the time they’re two.)
  • Too much iPhone
    Ahhh, the wonderful iPhone. How quickly you get addicted to these wonderful little handheld devices. Mine even comes to bed with me (“It’s the only ‘me time’ I get, and the only chance I have to blog without interruption,” I hear myself saying to my husband.). It has begun weighing on ny conscience, especially since I have begun noticing my daughter either looking at it sadly or eagerly grabbing for it. Oh beloved iPhone, you have become far too dear to me. I am afraid we must break up. Can we not still be friends?

    • Delete any and all crap apps (approx. 90% of them).
    • Stop keeping daily information on them — no more routines, to do lists, etc.
    • Limit email/social media checks to 1 per hour. Immediate or necessary replies only. All others can wait til nap time.
    • Pick a few specific purposes for the iPhone. For me, that would include blogging, social media, information, family appointments. The majority of it’s uses are just as easy to be done analog.
    • Keep gaming to a minimum. I have two games I play with my husband and one I play myself. That is enough.
    • Set aside some iPhone-free time. For me, when my daughter is awake, when my husband is home, etc. Keep a running list of things to do or look up or do on the phone during this time for when you have the time later.
  • Perfectionism
    This one gets all of us, and we don’t even realize it. I waste so much time on so many useless, trivial things, because they aren’t perfect. I will (metaphorically) spend so much time polishing the silverware, that I never get to eat with it! (Side note: For anyone who struggles with this, I highly recommend checking out FlyLady.net. She has helped thousands of people, and if you can get past her product placement and constant referrals to her friends, she really does have good things to say.)

    • Give up. I’m not perfect. I wasn’t born perfect, I’ll never be perfect, so stop trying to be perfect.
    • Acknowledge it when I realize I’m doing it, and move on.
    • Limit the time I have to focus on a task. Set a timer for 2-15 minutes and only allow myself that much time to complete the task.
    • Utilize my resources. Spellcheck, erasers and Freecycle are there to help us cope with our errors.
  • Bad Habits
    We all have things that we do unconsciously that diminish our lives. A dependency, a desire, a weakness. Perhaps you love collecting chess sets, or have a vast collection of books you never read, or (my vice) are drawn to blank paper of all kinds. This interferes with your life routine when you find yourself spending too much or being overburdened with your habit.

    • Ask myself, is it worth it? I stopped collecting magazines years ago when I realized I could get any of the articles I liked off the Internet. It wasn’t worth it to keep them all.
    • Keep only the things I love. I had a desk full of blank journals. I realized they were weighing me down and tossed most of them. Now I keep my journals in blogs or on my iPhone.
  • And finally, Too Eager to Please
    I am that person. The one who wants to make everyone happy. The one who wants to be sure no one’s feelings get hurt. The one who doesn’t object when I specifically ask that no one buy my daughter clothes, but they do anyways. The one who ignores a chill remark about breastfeeding by a family member because I don’t want to hurt their feelings. The one who let’s her home and life get overcluttered because I can’t say no.

    • Ask myself, again, is it worth it? Is my happiness not worth as much as anyone else’s? Why should I sacrifice my home and family to please people who aren’t even part of it?
    • Grow a backbone. Make sure that I inform others when their acts, behavior and attitude offend or go against my wishes.
    • Be prepared for the backlash and accept it for what it is. 9 times out of 10, people don’t even realize that what they’re doing is offensive or disagreeable. But that doesn’t mean it is acceptable, and we all hate to be wrong. I need to be gentle, but firm, and accept that not everyone is going to take my criticism lightly.
  • This list could go on for eternity. But this is a good start. If I can accomplish this much, I will be well on my way.