Friday, April 11, 2014

The Almost Lost Art of Writing Letters - Challenge

With the advent of e-mail, then instant messaging, and most recently social networking, rare are the days now where people take the time to write a handwritten letter, or a note, stuff it in an envelope, stamp it, and put it in the mailbox.  It takes too much effort, at especially when there are more efficient ways of communicating.  But that's just it, when it comes to relationships with people, we shouldn't be going for efficient, we should be striving for effective.  When I get a handwritten letter or just a note to say hi, I appreciate the time and effort the author put into this form of communication, when they could have sent a text or e-mailed me more efficiently.

I'll admit, I have never been much of a letter writer.  When I was in boot camp many years ago I wrote letters often because I couldn't use the phone.  I wrote letters to my family and really looked forward to hearing back.  However after boot camp, it was more efficient for me to call (that was before e-mail).  Only now that my wife and I are simplifying and going back to old fashioned values and practices (such as making our own laundry detergent, shaving with an old fashioned safety razor and shave soap/brush, and making our own body wash) am I becoming appreciative of the handwritten letter.  It really can be an art too.  Being in the finance field, my handwriting is not always legible.  I am working to change that as I've found several handwriting tutorials online specifically for adults to improve their handwriting skills.  I am practicing with a fountain pen and really see the artistic possibilities with calligraphy.

Now to the challenge: I challenge you the reader, and I'll take the challenge as well, to write one handwritten letter per week for 6 weeks to one of your friends or someone in your family.  See if you get positive feedback, or better yet you receive handwritten letters in return from your friends and family.  For me I'm hoping this will extend beyond the 6 weeks and become habit, and extend beyond the one letter per week and spend more time doing this form of communication.  Please share your experiences in the comment field.  We'd like to hear whether you notice anything different either within yourself or from the people in your life that you are sharing with in this experience.


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Simply Writing

I've never considered myself a writer.  When I was growing up, I thought being a writer meant being a professional writer like a novelist, journalist or columnist, writing works or art that people paid money for.  I never felt I had anything to write about so I wrote what I needed to in elementary and high school and no more.  

It was only recently that I learned there is so much more to being a writer than the examples above.  I am a writer, and have been, to some degree, all my life.  So are most people if they take a minute to understand what the most basic definition of a writer is.  According to Merriam - Webster's Online Dictionary, the most basic definition of a writer is ‘one who has written something’.  Aside from the above examples of my former perception of what a writer does, the following are a few examples of my current perception of what writer does.

             1.  Hand written communication - Writing letters to communicate to family and friends is a form of being a writer.  It's a lost art in today's society with the increased usage of telephones, cell phones, online video chatting etc.  Writing a letter 200 years ago was the only way to correspond to a friend or business acquaintance who was more than a horse ride away.  With so many other forms of communication in today's world, hand writing a letter is rare.  Taking the time to write out your thoughts and send it in the mail generally means more to the person receiving it than an email (see below).  There's something to knowing that someone cares enough to write out a letter, stuff it in an envelope, write your address on it, put a stamp on it, and put it in a mailbox.  
              2.  Keeping a written journal or diary - There are many examples of famous people who have written diaries or journals.  And there are so many benefits to keeping a diary or a journal.  You can have a private journal or keep it on your shelf in your home library for others to read if they like.

             You can write memoirs which are written documents on certain stages or events in your life.  Benefits of doing that are mostly to leave a legacy.  It's a good way for your children, grandchildren etc. to read about your life to understand who you are at as a person, vs. as a father or grandfather (or mother / grandmother).

             A private journal is a great way to get your thoughts out of your head.  Writing is a form of therapy for some.  Putting your thoughts down on paper is a great way to organize them, be objective about them, and understand them.  Venting on a piece of paper about someone then throwing away the paper so no one can see it, is a great way to get it off your mind so you don't keep it bottled up so it builds into something more than it needs to be.

Another benefit is for memory keeping.  Looking back at your book lists if you keep one in your journal and maybe putting in a summary of the book from your perspective at the time.  Keeping a record of recipes that you love, restaurants you've visited, trips you've taken or any other memories you want to look back on some day.

             Some people don't know what to write about in a journal.  There are many sites that have journal prompts which are ideas about what to write about if you have a block, or had a particularly boring day and don't feel there's a lot to write about.  There are also journaling challenges for periods of time.  A 30 day journaling challenge will include prompts on what to write about.  It can start with day one saying what you fear about journaling to day thirty saying what you've enjoyed or learned about the journaling challenge.  Whichever way you go I highly encourage you to start.  The benefits far outweigh the risks or work involved in keeping a journal.

             3.  Electronic written communication - Most people I know either texts, or e-mails.  That is still a form of writing.  It's not hand writing, but it is considered writing.  When you craft a text it's usually short and succinct (especially if you don't have an unlimited texting plan with your cell phone provider), similar to short hand for us old enough to remember what short hand is.  It's an art form in a way in how people get creative to use as few characters as possible to say something i.e. lol for laugh out loud.

              Emailing is another form of online communication.  Same as letter writing without having to write it out on a piece of paper, stuff it in an envelope, put postage on it, and put it in the mailbox.  The upside of emailing is speed and convenience.  The down side of emailing is that it's not personal like a good hand written letter.  

              4.  Keeping an electronic journal or diary - An online journal or diary (Blog) doesn't have to be hand written.  It has the same benefits as the hand written journal mentioned above, but it's online instead of in a book.  One reason for doing this is some people may not have good hand writing.  Another is they may not have the storage space or they don't want to lose the journal they've written.  Blogging is far easier than some people think.  I was intimidated to start a blog as recent as 2 years ago.  I thought there was so much more to it, and I thought it was too much of a window to my soul that I wasn't ready to share at the time.  Starting out private until you get used to sharing your thoughts and organizing them into a format that will resonate with others is a good way to start.  Then simply change the settings to make it private.  Or if you want to always keep it private you can do that as well.

The bottom line is, anyone can be a writer.  To what level you take that writing is completely up to you.

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Power of SImple

The greatest power of simple from my experience is time.  Simplifying the noise out of my life is giving me time to spend with my family and friends, to read and learn new things, to experience new experiences.  It's really incredible.  Here are some of the things that helped and how they helped.

     1. Minimize unused furniture.  That helps by opening up your space so you can breathe and focus on what's important.  There's a certain aesthetic value to less furniture.  As Francis Jourdain put it, "You can furnish a room very luxuriously by taking out furniture rather than putting it in.  There's also less to maintain, reduces dusting, stuff cluttering on top of the furniture, no cleaning messes off of it, or sweeping under it.  

     2. Reduce the amount of stuff in your kitchen.  Imagine coming into your kitchen to bake a pie, or start dinner, and the counters are completely cleaned off and everything is put in it's place?  Sounds great doesn't it.  Imagine now going into your kitchen to bake a pie, or start dinner, and you can't see the counter because there's so much stuff on it.  You have to clear a spot just to prepare your food.  Nothing is in it's place because it's buried on the counter somewhere, or in the pile of dishes in the sink. Doesn't sound too appealing to me.  I'd probably turn around and order in.

     3. Reduce the amount of clothes in your dresser or closet.  Same with the kitchen, walking into your closet and having it look like a clothes bomb went off, kind of makes you want to walk back out.  It makes it harder to find clean wrinkle free clothes to wear on an important day.  Now imagine walking in to a clean closet, or opening your dresser and finding what you need quickly, clean and wrinkle free. It makes a big difference on the start of your day.

     4. Reduce the unnecessary activities cluttering up your calendar.  Coming home from a busy day at work, staying busy by having to go to the store again, going to events that you don't really want to go to, or on the other side going somewhere at the cost of doing something at home you really wanted to do like finish that book you started over the weekend.  Or making the home roasted coffee beans you read about and really wanted to try. 

These are just a few of the benefits that can be achieved by simplifying.  There are other ways to simplify that have completely different benefits.  Making your own laundry soap can save a great deal of money.  It make take a bit of work up front, but the cost is very low and you can make batches with different smelling oils.  The oils are easy to get at a craft store or online.  You need a few other simple ingredients to make a batch that will last six months or more depending on how many in your family.  Other ways to save money, use vinegar based home made cleaners.  General purpose cleaners have 2 ingredients, vinegar and water.  You can add lemon essential oils to have a nicer, cleaner smell.  Add to that some olive oil and you have a great furniture polish.  These are easy to do, simple ingredients so you know it's not harmful to your or your kids and they are so much less expensive, and versatile.  Cleaning a glass top range only requires baking soda, hot water and a dish towel.  Easy and you don't have to buy the expensive glass top cleaner that you tend to run out of at the time you need it the most.

Stress is another huge benefit to simplifying.  Less to worry about means less worry.  Less worry means doing more things you love to do, with the people you love to do them with.  

These are just a few benefits to simplifying.  Different people will find different benefits, so try what you think you can stick to.  It could be as simple as cleaning out a sock drawer and getting rid of the single socks that the sock monster stole the mates to years ago and you kept them just in case you get them back.  Or cleaning out a kitchen drawer that's so full it's hard to open and close.  Imaging how much better you'd feel just being able to open it easily every time.  

“The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less.” Socrates

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Simple Holiday Traditions

Holidays in my mind are a time to celebrate family, friends and traditions.  In this special time of year having family and friends over for Thanksgiving Dinner, or Christmas Parties, or which ever holiday you celebrate, is a great way to accomplish all three.  Maybe your parents' and grandparents' traditions from when you were a kid carried over to your generation or maybe you formed new traditions that you hope will endure. 

For me it's a work in progress.  We have some traditions that are new and some old.  The newer ones consist of things like, someone in my family (me, my wife or my kids) cooking or baking certain things for the holidays.  For example I bake a Christmas Pudding, I know these are historically traditional for some folks, but until a few years ago I have never had one let alone baked one.  I only read about them, or saw someone making one on a Christmas Movie.  So I decided it was something I wanted to learn how to make.  So I did, the family liked it so now it's a tradition.  My ten year old son learned how to make a chocolate treat that he calls Chocolate Delight that has caught on, so now it's a tradition.  Do something new with your family or friends, if it's a hit, easy to do and enjoyable for all, then do it again next year at the holidays.  A few times of doing this sets the tradition.  Traditions are remembered by your kids when they get older.  They may carry on your tradition, change it a bit, or make entirely new traditions.

Traditions that are not only remembered, but valued and cherished the most, are the ones spent with people.  It could be family coming over for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner or a single Holiday Party.  Those are the traditions I remember most as a kid, and I value those over any food or material item I could get for the holidays.

It is trial and error though.  Some traditions may conflict with your values if you take time to think about them.  Take Black Friday for example.  Black Friday is typically the day after Thanksgiving in America, where the Christmas Shopping season begins.  My family had a tradition where the day after Thanksgiving on this negatively termed Black Friday, we would begin our shopping.  It started as, we'd go at 6AM on Friday to get the best deals, and be back by noon the same day, not much time missed with the kids.  The next year they moved the times to 5AM, so if you wanted the best deals you'd have to get up earlier.  I remember the following year heading out of my house at midnight on Thanksgiving, sleeping in the car for a couple of hours, then hitting the stores for the good deals.  The year after that we left at 10PM on Thanksgiving, which was harmless enough because all the guests had left.  That night the stores opened up at Midnight.  The following year the stores opened up at 8PM, so to catch the best deals we would have had to leave the house at 6PM.  That started to cut into my family time and that's where we drew the line.  That was last year, and we didn't go, it interfered with our family values, and I chose values over getting a good value.  This year we didn't go as well since the stores started opening up at 6PM.  It's getting earlier and earlier.  I'm not sure why they call it Black Friday anymore as it starts on Thanksgiving.  I will not celebrate Black Thanksgiving, it will always be Thanksgiving.  I'd rather give my family the gift of being together over anything a store could provide at a good deal.  

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Simply Get Connected

“Who we are and how we engage with the world are much stronger predictors of how our children will do than what we know about parenting.”  Dr Brene Brown

In my Simply Connected post, I discussed being 'Connected' through e-mail, internet and social media.  I mentioned it's important to simply unplug once and a while.  I never mentioned things to do after unplugging though.  What will you do with your time away from the web?  What will you do when you aren't keeping up on what restaurant your virtual friends are having dinner at tonight? Maybe read a book, meditate, listen to some music or watch your favorite show on television?

The term 'Connected' has a new meaning with the advent of social media.  It means being connected through the internet to keep up on virtual friends' adventures, or lack of adventures, to keep up on sporting events, news etc.  Before the social media boom being 'Connected' meant having relationships with people.  Real people, a network of friends you could go over to their house to visit, or call on the phone to talk about what's happening with your personal or work life.  When you interact nowadays using social media, doesn't it sometimes seem virtual?  You see pictures, read their stories, but where's the real connection?

I found out recently that someone very dear to me was diagnosed with a terrible illness.  Being 'Connected' has a new (or really old) meaning to me now.  Being 'Connected' means being in touch with my friends and family (in person or on the phone) that I tend to lose touch with due to life being un-simple (hence my journey). I know what I'll do when I'm not 'Connected' on the internet, I'm going to 'Get Connected' with family and some old friends.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Zen of Family

When it comes right down to it, I started down this path towards Minimalism and Simplifying by wanting to savor more moments with my family.  I started by just having the terrifying thought that I'm missing memories and moments with my wife and kids.  I started realizing that I was not fully present in the times that I shared with them.  Sure I was with them physically, but mentally part of me was worried about what I had to do at work the next day.  So I incorporated Zen philosophies and meditation in my life so I don't lose track of the journey.

Zen is about Mindfulness, about being present.  There's no other part of my life I want to incorporate this philosophy than with my family.  We've done a lot of activities together that align with our values.  We've taken trips to several different states, we've done a 5K, hiked a small mountain, gone to the ocean several time this year, and on each of these adventures, I was there, enjoying each and every moment.  There were very little anxieties about missing part of our itinerary because we didn't have one.  There were no feelings of dread about something I may have forgotten to do at work, because I wasn't there, neither in body nor mind.  I was with my family enjoying our time together.  The 5K we did helped to raise money for Cancer support.  We now have more awareness of helping others and donating our time for worthy causes, and having fun doing it because we're together.

Zen can be applied to all areas of life, the key is identifying what's important in your life and what's not important.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Simply Connected

They say you don't know what you have until it's gone.  That goes for being connected, whether to Social Media, E-Mail, or the Internet.  I always felt I had control of my time spent on the internet, and would be fine without connectivity if it came to that.  Of course that was until I lost it.  I lost it one day, at work, and only for 20 minutes which seemed like a very long time.  I kept finding myself going to my e-mail, even though I knew I lost connection.  I went to the inter/intranet even though I knew I wouldn't get far.  I never realized how much I go to these outlets to feel connected.

There could be several reasons to go on to the internet or social media sites, depending on the outlet.  With e-mail, at times I need to feel on top of all issues real time while I'm at work.  When work is so fast paced my adrenaline is high so I can address issues quickly and feel very productive.  Other times work is pretty slow and I feel bored, so I feel the need to go to e-mail to break the monotony, or for something to do. 

I have less of a need for Social Media as I've only been on it for a short time.  I use LinkedIn for Professional Networking and Facebook, though the latter is less frequent.  I tried Twitter putting some of my posts from here on, @fsimplified.  For me at least, not being connected to Social Media doesn't bother me, though that could change, I hope it doesn't.

Connection to the Internet is more broad, which is why it's more of an impact getting disconnected from this outlet.  Internet is used to learn how to do things, to keep up to date on news (even the useless news), to watch your favorite television shows, or to use the above outlets of e-mail and social media.

Whatever the outlet or the reason, it's good to unplug now and then.  If nothing else to enjoy reality.