Recently I read and reviewed a book entitled, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo on my blog . I had a love/kind-of-annoyed relationship with this book. But I must say it changed the way I look at my house and my belongings. I truly want to carry out Kondo’s plan for organizing my house, but can’t yet bring myself to do it.
There was one concept, though, which I’ve begun to apply to my house and I’m surprised at how much peace it brings my day. It’s simple and requires very little effort or time. Perhaps I zeroed in on it because it focused on how words can distract and stress us. She was talking about the manufacturer labels on the ends and sides of storage boxes, containers, etc. We think we’ve stored things neatly, but the busy labels assault us every day in a barrage of words.
The mere presence of words attract our attention, even unconsciously. Perhaps some more than others. My oldest son is so addicted to words that his fourth grade teacher was forced to remove all books from his desk so that he could pay attention to her teaching. She said she’d never had a student who couldn’t control his reading habit. (This habit paid off though as this same child is graduating this year as a National Merit Finalist and plans to pursue a career in writing.)
I immediately peeled the old manufacturer’s labels off bins and boxes in closets and on shelves. I smiled with satisfaction at the bulk containers I already utilize and realized that their presence does indeed “spark joy” as Kondo preaches.
But then I took it a step further. When I open my medicine cabinet I’m accosted by words, but it wouldn’t be possible to remove all these labels from every little bottle and tube. So instead, I turned them to face forward so at least I was looking at only a few words on the front of the label in a tidy line as opposed to a plethora of ingredients and directions.
I know this seems a bit anal, but I have to say that when I open the cabinet now, I feel much better. I’ve begun trying to apply this concept to the shelves in the kitchen and pantry, but because I’m not that kind of mother, I can’t ask everyone else to do the same. Still, it gives me this little tiny I’m-in-control thrill to adjust the labels each time I return a jar to the shelf.
Writing about this is somewhat embarrassing. I feel I risk making every one who reads it either – plagued with this silly obsession themselves or worried that I’m in danger of going off the deep end and being carted off to an asylum after I flip out at the 7-11 and try to arrange all their shelves for them.
But no matter, I share this little intentional habit I developed fearlessly because Kondo has sold millions of copies of her book which is full of much crazier habits than this and look at her – a celebrity, obsessive compulsive but rich and happy. There must be something in the power of an organized shelf that resonates with all of us.
Challenge: Remove labels when possible and turn items on shelves to face label-out.
So, you’re not a gardener? Big whoop. That makes no difference. Here’s the latest challenge for living intentionally: Plant something. This is an easy one. You can make like a third grader and put some dirt in a paper cup and plant a bean or a marigold, something that will grow no matter what.
If you’re brave, you can try starting something more exciting – how about a zinnia? There's almost nothing as happy as a zinnia. Or cheat a little and buy onion bulbs and plant them around your perennials, somewhere safe where they won’t get trampled.
If you’ve got a spare window box or even an under-the-bed box, you can grow lettuce. Bring it inside if it gets below 50 at night, but otherwise, go for it.
Why should you plant something when you can easily buy it at the store? Because it's intentional. Because you can. Because it’s a start. Consider marigolds the gateway drug to gardening.
Am I a pusher? Absolutely. Everyone should garden. The earth needs it. Your soul needs. Intentionally plant something this week.
This time of year it’s hard to find motivation. I look outside at that eternal gray landscape and I lose my ommph. It’s just so cold. And yucky. And the house is claustrophobic and February, despite being the shortest month, seems to drag on forever. It can be hard to bear. But maybe that’s just me. Maybe you love February.
I think the made-up holiday of Valentine’s Day was plopped there because it’s such a long drag between Christmas and Easter. (Nothing against Valentine’s Day. I actually really love the holiday.)
At any rate, when I tried to think of a challenge this week, I came up blank. Nothing. I knew it was because of the sucking energy of February. It just takes it out of me. So I had to dig deep for a challenge and I knew it had to be a good one. A challenge that would force you (and me) to action.
So here it is. This week’s challenge - Do something big.
Do something you’ve put off. Maybe a task that has been hanging over your head or an idea that you’ve been waiting for the right moment to explore. Or if there’s nothing on your long-term to-do list, make something up. Redecorate or rearrange a room. Adopt a pet. Throw a party. Plan your summer vacation.
Here’s my logic- putting your energy into a big task, as opposed to a little easy one, will force you to dig deep down to where your inspiration may be hibernating like the daffodil bulbs. Pull it out. Do something. Something big.
What am I doing, you ask? I’m writing a novel. You could try that, too. Actually, I recommend it. I’m also fostering a dog (just because there isn’t enough chaos in our house). The foster dogs will be featured on my website because I have a penchant for pet pictures (if you haven’t noticed).
Don’t let February drag you down. Take it on – do something big. And if you have a moment – let me know what you decide to do. I’d love to hear.
I lost my crown.
Not that I was ever really a princess, but boy, am I missing this one.
While sipping red wine and enjoying a few decadent chocolates with two dear friends late Saturday night, I suddenly became aware of a small hard object rolling around in my mouth.
Turns out it was the crown I got while pregnant with my now 12-year-old. What is the average lifespan of a crown? I thought it was for life. I didn’t think I could be de-throwned so easily, and by a chocolate, no less.
Because the crown abdicated itself on a weekend, I’ve had two days of careful eating.
(I’d like to do a study on dental emergencies. I’m certain that a higher percentage of them occur during non-dental office hours.)
I have chosen soft lukewarm foods that require little chewing. I spoon them in slowly and carefully ferry them down one side of my mouth. Not fun. Anything hot or cold or wind-blown that crosses the gaping hole on the left side of my mouth where the crown once ruled, brings about head-hitting-the-ceiling pain.
I have never eaten more intentionally in my life. (Except maybe when the tooth the crown once covered first cracked. I can’t even think about that time – it gives me phantom tooth pain.)
So this week’s challenge is to chew intentionally.
Make yourself aware of every bite you take.
Think about, and maybe even give thanks for, your amazing teeth. Chew your food longer, appreciate the tastes and textures.
And if you want to eat in solidarity with me, try chewing on only one side. It changes the taste of your food and brings back the lessons on taste bud locations from elementary school.
I’m off to my favorite dentist to reclaim my crown. I’ve appreciated the chance to eat intentionally, even if it wasn’t my choice. Sometimes it takes a minor catastrophe to teach us to appreciate the things we take for granted – like chewing without pain.
It’s February 2, Groundhog Day.
This is an important day if you’re a preschool teacher or student in the US. Today we make a groundhog craft.
If you happen to live in PA, like I do, where the infamous Punxsutawney Phil resides you can’t escape the exciting footage.
This morning the rodent came out of his hole for the 129th time. (Which begs the question – is Phil eternal?) Sadly, he did indeed see his shadow and that means six more weeks of winter!
Ugh. (You might feel the need for a stronger word if you happen to live in New England this year.)
For many years, our family had a tradition of viewing the movie Groundhog Day on this date. Sadly, my kids will probably roll their eyes if I suggest it tonight.
I’ve always loved that movie. The idea of living a day over and over again until you get it right appeals to me. I’m a persistent person and I’m a huge fan of second chances.
With that in mind, this week’s challenge is this – do something differently. Think of one habit/behavior/chore that you do every day and do it differently. If you can’t think of something to do differently, try adding a new habit. Consider your daily habits – do they help you live happier and healthier? If not, today’s a great day to change them.
In fact, tomorrow’s a great day to change them, too. Goundhog Day or not, every day is a new opportunity to live differently than yesterday.
I’m a master multi-tasker. I can do five things at once. Maybe I should have been in the circus.
I can bake bread, while making tea, while talking to my best friend in Idaho, while sweeping up the detritus that gathers along the edges between the counter and the wall, while watching for the chickens to start digging in the mulch so that I can throw rocks at them to chase them away.
And while I’m doing this, I’m listening for the buzzer on the dryer so that I can run up and set it for ten more minutes because it’s never done entirely. On my way back to the kitchen, I will shoo the dog off the couch and snatch the brown leaves off the houseplant next to the couch.
My mind works like this – always looking for a task that can be accomplished enroute to or during another task. Get more done. Get more done. Get more done. Don’t waste time. These are the thoughts that torment my days.
This makes me uber efficient.
But it also makes me mindless.
One of the daily challenges that came in my e-mail from Kindspring this week, said – practice single-tasking today.
My initial reaction was – why? Aren’t we supposed to multi-task? I’m a mom, that’s what we do.
But the more I thought about it that day, the more I liked the idea.
I tried that day to do one thing at a time.
I did not pick up the phone to call Lou in Idaho when I pulled out the basket of clothes to fold. Instead, I folded clothes. I thought about my children as I did this, so maybe I wasn’t entirely single-tasking, but I’ve never been good at shutting off my mind.
When I let the dog in, I stopped to scratch her behind her ears and look into her liquid eyes. She seemed startled by my single-minded attention, and followed me around the rest of the day looking for it.
For breakfast this morning, I made waffles for the kids. They were happy (even though snow hadn't canceled school like everyone predicted). For once, I left all the mornings tasks lie, and poured over a new recipe. The waffles were divine. I did the dishes later, after the kids had left for school.
This week’s challenge is blatantly stolen from Kindspring – Try single-tasking. Focus on the task at hand and be present in the moment. Make laundry, cleaning, driving, listening - sacred.
I’d love to hear how it plays out for you. Send me a message through the website or leave a comment here to inspire all of us.
I just spent a weekend with a hundred other women creating scrapbooks. I know, sounds like big fun. Actually, it was. You can see all the antics if you check out my Twitter feed (@CaraAchterberg). I live tweeted the entire event.
Every year when I attend this event, I wonder why I spend all these hours creating scrapbooks. What will it matter?
The books are big and bulky and groaning with my efforts. When I am in a nursing home someday, it will require two nurses to carry them to my bed so that I can look at them.
I don’t know what will happen to these books after I am gone, but I can’t worry about that. All I know is that when I think about what I will do if my house catches fire (I do think about this and so does every other mom when she is going through her worry-schtick), I think – the only thing (other than the kids, the hubby, the cats, and maybe the annoying little dog) that I have to get out of the house is my scrapbooks.
So they must matter.
Not every picture I take makes it into the scrapbooks. There are plenty of crummy pictures clogging up my hard drive. Yours, too, I’m sure.
I’ve made a decision.
There is no reason to hang on to bad pictures - out of focus, too dark, eyes closed, embarrassing, and especially the ones that make me look fat. I’m deleting them.
This is a big task, but I’ll feel better, lighter, when I know those images are gone. (But are they gone? I still don’t understand how you remove something from a computer without physically removing it. Where does it go?)
So this is my Live Intentionally Challenge for you this week – clean out the pictures on your hard drive and delete all the bad pictures.
Get rid of the fuzzy ones, the ones that make you feel bad about yourself, the ones that would embarrass someone. There is no reason to hold on to these images. Delete. Delete. Delete.
I love a good challenge. I’m never going to hike Mt. Everest or run an Ultra-Marathon, but something that pushes me a tiny bit or even a bigger bit outside my comfort zone gets me going. I like to test myself. I was always a good student. I wasn’t the smartest or the most talented, but I knew how to study, to work, I was an excellent try-er. I’d give it my best. I’m sure my parents had something to do with that quality since I don’t remember ever making a conscious decision to be a good student. It’s just who I was.
Once you’re a grown up, there aren’t any more quizzes or tests to take – at least not the kind that come with a grade or at least a pass/fail option. Sometimes it’s not easy to know how well you’re doing. There are plenty of days when I wish my life came with a syllabus. I would love to know what I’m supposed to do next. Figuring it out on my own seemed exciting in the beginning. I can see the sheen in my own kids’ eyes when they talk about their plans for the future. But now that I’m living that future, I do wish the next steps could be clearer and the risks didn’t seem so big.
So challenging myself in little ways, lets me test whether I’m still growing, learning, getting better. I’ve shared some of those challenges on my blog – the Try 100 New
Recipes challenge, the Buy Local challenge, the Don It or Donate It challenge. So this year I was trying to imagine a new challenge for myself and coming up blank. And then – lucky me – one landed in my in box. I’ve subscribed to Kindspring.org for several years. They send e-mails with inspiring quotes, good news, and stories of amazing people who are helping the world. Last week’s e-mail introduced the 21 day Simple Living Challenge. Signing up meant they would send me a new challenge EVERY DAY! My kind of people! I’m three days in to this challenge and so far I’m rocking it. Todays challenge is to clean out my e-mail inbox. Whoa. Sounds simple, but tangling with that mess will most likely drive me to distraction all day. You know what? I’m up for it!
Am I up for 18 more days of this? We’ll find out. Do I even know what it entails? Nope! That’s not the point. The point is that we all need to keep challenging ourselves to be better. We are never finished growing up. What kind of challenge can you take on?
This week’s Live Intentionally Challenge: Take on a Challenge! Feel free to jump on board with Kindspring’s challenge, take me up on my weekly challenges on this blog, adopt a challenge from my book, or design one of your own.
Sunshine is important. And I’m not just talking about growing flowers or tomatoes, but sunshine is important for your health.
This is because sunshine is our primary source of Vitamin D.
Vitamin D facts:
So this week’s challenge for an Intentional Life is to get outside. Yes, I’m aware that is it winter. And yes, I hate COLD, too. And yes, I heard the forecast that (at least in the mid-atlantic region) there’s going to be lows in the single digits this week. All of that said – you (and I) can handle 10 minutes outside. It won’t kill us. Just be sure some part of you is uncovered so you can absorb that sunshine.
And what if the sun don’t shine? (I’m remembering a tune with these words…) Well, if there isn’t sunlight to be had, the next best thing is to take a dose of Vitamin D. I bought mine at the vitamin aisle at the grocery store. It came in a liquid form. One tiny, tasteless drop in my tea on every gray morning is my plan. I take 2000IU, but it also comes in lower dosages. Read this if you want details on how much you need.
It’s time to make daily sunshine a part of your intentionally healthy life. I’ve often wondered if I have SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) because gray days drag me down, but my more educated self thinks it’s not the winter, it’s the lack of vitamin D. This year I’m making an intentional effort to combat SAD with vitamin D and sunshine. Maybe you should join me.
Challenge: Spend 5-10 minutes (at least) outside in the sunshine every day and if the sun isn’t available to you make daily doses of Vitamin D a habit.
The year is coming to a close – any regrets? How about resentments? Anger? Frustration? I’ve heard people say they regret nothing because it brought them to the place where they are now. But I might argue that sometimes we can’t help but drag around a few toxic memories and emotions that we might be better off without.
A church we once frequented holds an annual burning ceremony on New Year’s Eve. People bring slips of paper to drop in the small flaming chalice. On these papers they’ve written the things they want to leave behind in the old year. I loved this tradition, even if the church was not the one for us.
So I came home and reinvented the tradition at our house. We had a big bonfire and dumped in it all the things we wanted to leave behind. The kids piled old school work into the fire pit. My husband threw in a few broken chairs that he knew he'd never have time to repair. Friends came by, sipped on beers, and dropped in their own secrets scribbled on carefully folded papers. I had pages prepared and when everyone had gone, I slipped a spiralbound notebook on to the fire in which I had poured out all the frustration and doubt that dragged my soul down on a daily basis.
I’d like to say it worked like magic. But life isn’t that simple. It did provide an emotional break- the symbolic destruction of my fears and limitations put another layer between me and them. They were a little less powerful.
What would you like to leave behind in 2014? Write it down. And then find somewhere to burn it – a fireplace is ideal. Please don’t burn your house down. A bonfire could be festive.
What hinders your soul? What keeps you from being the person you want to be?
This Week's Challenge: Symbolically leave any lingering regrets and emotional baggage in the old year so that starting in 2015 you are free to live the life you’ve always wanted.
What is living intentionally?
Remember when you were a kid and you broke something or took something that wasn’t yours or said something you shouldn’t have said? When your mother pinned you down on it, your knee-jerk reply was, “I didn’t mean to do it!”
If you want to learn more about living intentionally, you can buy my book by the same title. It's full of challanges, in fact, I counted them and there are 270 challenges in all! Click here to get your own copy!