Tuesday, February 28, 2012


I majored in advertising and minored in marketing. Yet I resent the heck out of the manipulative tactics companies use to sell their product to people who don't need it. Or maybe I resent the fact that the manipulation works. 

Look at these stats:
  • The average American consumes twice as much as they did 50 years ago.
  • We see more ads in one year than people 50 years ago saw in a lifetime.
  • We spend 3-4 times as many hours shopping as our European counterparts do. 
  • In 1946, the U.S. was ranked happiest among the four most advanced countries. Fifty years later, the U.S. ranks 10th among 23 nations, many of them developing countries.
And this crazy quote: When asked how much money would be enough, John D. Rockefeller replied, "Just a little more."

Ten years ago, I shifted my career in communications from marketing/selling to consumers to educating employees. I feel good about this. I'm not changing the world, but I feel like my company makes a worthwhile contribution. I don't fault people who sell for a living ... at all. I just want to be able to distinguish my need for something vs. my want for it -- the want that some salesperson or ad put in my brain.

My last post talked about Simplicity Parenting and we're tackling the steps as I type. But I want to go a huge step further and try some Simplicity Living. I'm not sure exactly how to do this, but some inspiration from others seems like a good start. I lifted these quotes from my weekly mindfulness email*:

"Consumption...must be balanced to an amount appropriate with well-being rather than to the satisfaction of desires.  

Our ultimate happiness comes from being engaged in life, not just in acquiring more stuff.  Ask yourself, "How much time am I investing in activities that have nothing to do with buying, acquiring or consuming?"

"When you are living in contentment, you automatically start to have a lighter footprint, a lighter use of resources. You don't have to keep adding more and more to your life. In fact, it feels really good to want what you have, to take care of it, and to be aware that everything you're using is a representation of energy...and you feel more and more part of a family."

I don't usually ask real questions here because I think I only have 8 readers, but, what the heck: What are you doing to Live Simply? Come on, step out of lurkdom. Say.

*I apologize for not sourcing these, but I wanted to keep this post simple and I don't think the authors read my blog. 

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Parenting more simply

My new goal.

I signed up for a Simplicity Parenting workshop hoping to learn how to use fewer (and softer) words to get my spirited child to behave better. What I came away with was a toolbox full of great ideas -- ideas I've heard and actually use (though to a lesser extent than recommended), but I'd never heard these ideas tied to such powerful research and child psychology. Disclaimer: I'm about to way oversimplify the research - I'm sure the book can fully enlighten anyone who's interested.

Anyway, the man who led the workshop and wrote the book Simplicity Parenting, Kim John Payne, compared the stress on kids today to adults suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. He said we're seeing the highest rates ever of ADD, ADHD, OCD, ODD, and a whole long list of other Ds. The U.S. uses 90% of the world's prescribed Ritalin. etc. etc. All thought provoking, eye opening, disturbing. Yet, is it really surprising? It seems so logical once you know -- more, faster, better. Toys, games, books, computers, media, lessons, classes, sports, advice, activity, choices. STRESS. Stress then leads the kids to fight for anything they can control.

Bottom line (again grossly oversimplified): A lot of the things we're doing for our kids with the best of intentions are whacking them out -- and they're behaving/coping/responding accordingly.

Payne's basic hypothesis: Take away the stressors and you can restore family harmony.

The next hour he spent on ways to reduce stress on your kids. Get ready; it's dramatic.

1. Simplify your home environment. 
Significantly reduce the toy inventory. Donate half or more. Put another quarter out of sight/access. Establish a toy rotation that rekindles interest without having to invest in new toys. Create a simple environment that invites your child to go deep, use their creativity, create their own toys and entertainment. Get rid of your huge children's book library. Donate most, put others out of sight/access. Keep only 5-6 books out at a time. Again, this encourages kids to go deep. Think back to your childhood books. Which ones still linger in your mind? How many times did you read them back then? Hundreds? That's the idea!

We tackled this step today:

Once the toy purging was complete, simple toys that had been stepped over for months became interesting again.
Egg cartons and toilet paper balls entertained most of the afternoon. And yep, that's a diaper on her head. Don't know why. Don't care. Maybe it's her thinking cap.

2. Establish rhythm. 
Predictability helps kids feel safe. Establish home routines your child can count on. Minimize the choices you offer, and sometimes don't offer choices. Your authority and gentle direction helps a child feel safe and builds trust.

3. Simplify scheduling.
Quit signing up for every sports team, enrichment class, lesson and organized group event that comes up. Do fewer play dates? Skip Disney World. Stay home. Sit down and read a magazine. Let your kids be bored. Don't suggest endless choices of activities. Don't hover. Let them figure it out, make it up, create it, tear it down, pretend, fantasize on their own.

4. Filter the adult world.
Eliminate screen media. Phones, computers, tv, video games. It's toxic and damaging. Today's images move way too fast for kids to process. Screen media changes they way kids' brains develop. Also, watch adult conversations in the presence of the kids. You don't think they hear you, but they do. Use this test before having an adult conversation in front of the kids: Is what you're about to say true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?

The workshop closed with this: Think of one of your fondest childhood memories.


Did it involve money? Was it extravagant or simple?

There you go.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

I'm down in a hole, and other crazy winter adventures

Actually, this is not me, but I couldn't resist quoting Gillian Welch. Is this dramatic or what? Spence went caving with some of my climbing friends, and this was their first stop at Neversink Pit.

Once you get down, then you have to climb back up.

Can you read this? Would you rappel on this? Me neither.

My climbing friend Denis and his friends from Russia, Igor and Olga, outside Tumbling Rock cave in Alabama.

Spence and Jess

Are those stalagmites or stalactites?
In another adventure,  my friend Paige took her new canoe on its maiden voyage down Roaring River on Super Bowl Sunday.

Paige strikes a pose before launch!

Jess, Paige, Rebecca, Dawit, Spence, me, Caroline. It was a cold day! Only one of us swam. It's hard to tell which one from all the smiles. 
After the paddle, we squeezed in one more adventure before kickoff with a short hike to Hardscrabble Falls. Note the varied hiking footwear: fuzzy Crocs, cowboy boots, and you can't see them but Merrill suede clogs. One of those feet (the same ones who swam RR) fell into a large puddle.

We made it back to the house 2 minutes after kickoff. That would be a travesty among those who care.