Tuesday, July 31, 2012

July: wrap-up

Time flies, it is already end of July! July (Impeccable Home) was in some sense two different projects. The first one was to make our apartment less cluttered, more peaceful and more beautiful. The second one was to try to feel more at home here in Copenhagen.

Overall I am happy with my progress this month. I didn't manage to finish everything. And I did have a few bad days last week, where I wasn't doing too well with my resolutions. In particular I let clutter accumulate everywhere around me; at home, in my office, even my bag and wallet were suddenly overloaded with unwanted stuff. It was definitely a reflection of an inner turmoil that I was going through, but I think I am back on track now.

The apartment
I made the bed everyday, I lit candles, played music, and bought flowers on Fridays. These are little, and perhaps silly things, but I found those to make a notable difference to the feel of my home. I tried to make a habit of putting stuff back in place after use, I wasn't too successful with that one, but I will definitely continue trying. I did some decluttering, and while I wish I had done more, I am at happy that I've managed to maintain my clutter-free areas. It feels like I have more breathing space at home now. One of my resolutions was to make weekly menu plans, and do weekly grocery shopping. This has been such a time- and stress- saver. I can't understand why I wasn't doing this before!

I finished this months' reading list: "Apartment Therapy: The Eight Step Home Cure," "Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide" and "Feng Shui That Makes Sense: Easy Ways to Create a Home That FEELS as Good as It Looks." I found all of these books to be useful and each of them contributed to my project in a different way.

My big goal for this month was to paint and redecorate my kids' room. I am not done, but I did take some "big" steps. I already bought the paint, and will use one of the weekends in August to finish up.

A smaller goal was to finish a blanket I started knitting two years ago. Having half-finished projects lying around for too long is not good for your energy. The blanket is not done. But I've been knitting every night now, and actually quite enjoy it. I put knitting on my resolution chart to remind me to keep going until the blanket is done:)

Denmark
I had fun with this one. I went for a few walks around the city, ate delicious ice-cream in Tivoli, visited the little mermaid, read some Danish fairy-tales, got to know a bit about the Danish royal family as well as the basics of Danish politics. I fixed my bike, so now I can start biking around again, and I signed up for a Danish course that will start in the fall.

Older stuff
I continued with most of my older resolutions. I am definitely more positive than I was 2 months ago, I smile more, I am more patient, more balanced. I've been much more aware of my often negative, and limiting self-talk and have been working on substituting this with a more positive one. I still meditate almost every day, and plan to add another 5 minutes to my meditation sessions (making it 20 minutes). I finally got exercising in my routine (running three mornings a week), although this one is still an effort for me.

August: Impeccable Family
The focus in August will be on my kids, how to make them happy and healthy. And how to be a better parent. I will post more about my tasks and resolutions later this week.

Cheers, Di.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

happy news

I was feeling a bit down after reading the newspapers this morning, most of the news being about massacres, wars, crimes, and of course the economic recession. Even the less serious and less gruesome news are often destructive and discouraging. While I want to read the news, and know what is happening in the world, I would like to balance the regular news with a few happier, more positive, and more constructive news:

It turns out there are several webpages out there devoted to happy and positive news. How wonderful! Here are some:

happy news
positive news
daily good
good news network

Thursday, July 19, 2012

clutter

"By purging the excess from our homes, our schedules, and our minds, we empty our cups-giving us infinite capacity for life, love, hopes, dreams, and copious amounts of joy"
-Francine Jay

"What is clutter? Clutter is anything that you don't want, love, need, or use."
"Clutter is postponed decision-making"
-Cathleen McCandless

I've been making an effort to declutter my home the last couple of weeks. I find it challenging, but at the same time it is very rewarding to see the progress. When I came across the quote above; about clutter being postponed decision making, I realized that the clutter in my life has a lot to do with my reluctance to make decisions, so I feel like I am working on my "decision making muscle" at the same time as I am improving my surroundings.

Some people (like myself) easily get used to some level of clutter in their homes. However, while perhaps unnoticed, the clutter can still affect your energy, making you feel tired, lazy and lethargic. Our external world is a manifestation of our inner world. A cluttered home can both be a cause and a symptom of a cluttered mind. Decluttering is about creating breathing space, creating room for our ideas, thoughts and creativity - and the incremental improvements that I have been working on this month already make me feel better at home; happier and more relaxed.

The process that has been working best for me is based on something like this:

1. Controling the inflow & putting things back in place

This month I have been focusing on establishing the invaluable habit of putting things immediately back in place after use. Unfortunately this doesn't come very naturally to me, but without this habit my decluttering effort would be like trying to fill a leaking bucket. There is also a constant inflow of new clutter that need to be monitored; mail, gifts, artwork from the children, etc. New clutter can easily pile up faster than you get rid of your old stuff. Hence, the first step is essentially to control the inflow, to be a good gatekeeper to your home. I try to examine whatever comes in and immediately deal with it (find a place, throw it away, put it in the "outbox"). In his book Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan talks about the importance of having a good healthy filter at your front door: have a doormat to keep the dirt out, a coat hook or hanger to put your coat, bag, boots, etc., and a place where you can lay down your things (keys, wallet, etc.) and sort through your mail along with other things you bring with you into the apartment. Optimally I think that the entry should also have a chair or something you can sit on, while you take of your shoes and sort through your stuff.

2. Setting up some kind of a system

I could easily spend a lot of time and energy (and have definitely done so in the past) just moving the clutter around. It is important to decide what you are going to do with the stuff that you do not want in your home. Some of the clutter can easily and immediately be thrown out, but there is likely to be plenty of stuff that you want to sell and/or give away. Designate a box, a shelf, a closet, or a corner as your outbox, where all this stuff goes. Also put your "maybe stuff" in the outbox. Set a deadline for yourself to empty the outbox. As decluttering is a constant process, it may be a good idea to set dates e.g. every 3 months to empty your outbox.

3. Decluttering

My strategy has been to do a little bit each day, so I wont get overwhelmed. Each day I try to work on one drawer, one shelf, or one surface. When it comes to clutter, what you can't see...is still there, sucking away your energy. That being said, it is nice to start with the surfaces. They are usually relatively easy to declutter, and at the same time it makes a huge difference in the way your home looks and feels. Surfaces should not be used for storage, they should be used to display the things you love, things that you find beautiful and/or inspiring.

When decluttering, I find it best to empty the surface (shelf, drawer, etc.), visualize for a couple of minutes how that space would optimally look like, and then examine each thing thinking: "do I love you, need you, use you, like you? are you more valuable to me than the space that you occupy?" I've also found it useful to look at my stuff and think about what I want to keep, instead of what do I want to get rid off.

I am not super-organized, and I try not to worry too much about it at this point. All your stuff should have its place, in a particular drawer, shelf, etc. But I am not alphabetizing my cd's, my books or dvd's. And in the end, the less stuff you have, the less need you have for being crazily organized. I'm rather aiming for arranging my things, e.g. my closet, to be visually pleasing.

4. Dealing with difficult clutter

There is some clutter that is difficult to deal with. On the top of my list are A. other people's stuff and B. gifts and sentimental clutter. With regards to A, I've kept the Ghandi quote in mind: "Be the change, you wish to see":) I think within reason of course, your spouse (or roommate) has to be allowed to deal with his/her own clutter. At this point my strategy is mostly to ignore it. With regards to B, I find it really difficult to get rid of gifts, even though it is something absolutely not my taste. I've put some of these in the outbox, hoping that when it comes to emptying the outbox I will be completely detached. And I bought a box for my "sentimental clutter" - I can keep whatever fits in that box, if the box is overflowing it is time for purging. At the end of the day I think it is important to remember that I am doing this for my own happiness. It is important to understand the reasons for why we tend to cling to our stuff, but if I feel bad about throwing something out, then it can wait.

5. Reflect on your progress and maintain your clutter-free spaces

This is super important! Take some time every day to look at your progress so far. Enjoy the peace, the beauty, the simplicity that comes with less cluttered surfaces, closets, etc. Make sure you maintain the areas you've decluttered so far.

If you are in the process of decluttering you might want to check out Franicine Jay's blog: miss minimalist and her book The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide: How to Declutter, Organize, and Simplify Your Life.

If you have any advise that has worked well for you when it comes to simplifying and decluttering, I'd love to hear it.

cheers, D.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

meditation

In June I started meditating for 10 minutes each day. The first week I found it extremely difficult to sit still, and I didn't seem to be able to quiet my mind for even a few seconds. But gradually it became easier and more pleasant. Now I meditate for 15 minutes per day and find it essential to my daily routine.

The benefits of meditation are wide-ranging. Regular meditation is e.g. associated with better sleep, lower levels of stress, lower blood pressure and increased happiness. I've come to think that meditating is to our mind what exercise is to our body: necessary.

On a personal level, I have found that the meditation has increased my awareness, my focus, and helped me to stay more present. But there is also something that I can't quite put in words, some sense of self-knowledge and well-being that is difficult to describe.

Just as people can choose from limitless ways to exercise, there are also various ways to meditate and one needs to experiment a bit to find out what works and what doesn't. Here is some advise that I have found useful so far:

Work with your schedule.
In a perfect world, I would meditate at dawn and dusk in a beautiful setting. I would sit on a nice pillow in comfortable clothing, perhaps light a candle. I would be alone, it would be quiet. However I am almost never home alone, my kids wake up at dawn, and I collapse to bed at dusk. When I do have the opportunity to meditate at home, I really do love to sit in a lotus position on my yoga mat. But most days I meditate at work. I am lucky to have an office, where I can just close the door for 15 minutes. I sit on my office chair, close my eyes and meditate.

Find your anchor.
The purpose of your anchor is to keep your mind focused, and bring it back when it starts to wander. The anchor can be vocal (e.g. mantra chanting, praying), visual (e.g. a candle light, a mandala, a religious icon), or it can be as simple as counting your breaths (silently). I mainly use my breath as my anchor. I count my breaths to 10, then start again, until I feel that I do not need to anymore. It is important not to be too attached to your anchor. The purpose of the meditation is to still the mind, not to count your breaths. When your mind is still you can stop counting. If it starts wondering, you start counting again. Another thing that I have used, is to focus on the so called chakras or energy centers of the body. This may not appeal to everyone. But interestingly it has made me much more aware of the physical aspect of my feelings. How it physically feels to be stressed, happy, anxious, etc. I focus on each chakra for a few breaths, starting with the lowest one and then move up to the next one. When I have focused on all the chakras, my mind us usually able to stay still for some time.

Be gentle.
Breath gently. Get into your meditation gently, stop gently. If you start daydreaming, or fidgeting, gently bring your mind back to meditating.

Be still.
I think there is a disparity between different traditions in the emphasis on stillness while meditating. But I find it very important for my own meditation experience to stay as physically still as possible.

No expectations.
It is important to sit down with an open mind and no expectations. The experience varies a lot. Some days it is easy to sit still and quiet the mind, other days it seems impossible. Some days the experience is very spiritual, other days not so much. It is a journey of ups and downs. There are days where meditating has brought something difficult to my attention, some feelings or memories that I have intentionally tried not to focus on. But that is part of growing, part of the benefits.

Smile.
Smile (gently;)) while meditating. It brings you a sense of peace and happiness.

Eat and drink.
Try not to meditate right after a meal, or when you are too hungry. And avoid caffeine just before meditating. Have a sip of water before you start.

Resources: For meditation beginners like myself I would recommend the following resources:

happy meditating.
namaste.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

taking care of your home: head, heart, breath and bones

This month I am enjoying taking care of my home. Nesting is in our nature, and I think that most of us want to have a place we can call a home, a place that is some sort of an oasis where we can relax, play and completely be ourselves.

Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan's book Apartment Therapy is not your typical book on home decoration and interior design. First of all, the book doesn't have any photographs:) It is not about imposing a certain style on the reader and it is not just about making your home look better, but healthier and more comfortable. The author talks about the four elements of a home: the bones, the breath, the heart and the head. To have a healthy home it is important to take good care of all four parts.



the bones:
This refers to the physical structure of your home: the walls, the floor, the windows, the ceiling and the fixtures in the house/apartment. The bones should be kept clean and in good condition. Taking care of the bones means e.g. regular dusting, fixing a leaking sink and changing a light bulb. The author suggests that on a subtle level the cleanliness of your home can impact your own energy and vitality. He lists four questions to keep in mind when examining the bones of your home:

1. Do you consider your home to be in good shape?
2. Is everything in good working order?
3. Do you take care of repairs quickly?
4. Do you clean your home often?


the breath:
The breath or the flow of your home is about clutter and arrangement. The breath can be blocked by clutter accumulation or by poor placement of furniture. Ailments include shelves and bookcases that are too full, tables and other surfaces that cannot be used because of clutter, or "dead spots" in your home, i.e. parts of your home that are never used. The author poses four questions with regards to breath:

1. Do you consider your home comfortable?
2. Do you sleep well at night?
3. Is your apartment organized?
4. Is it easy to clean and declutter?


the heart:
The heart refers to the style and the emotional life of your home. Heart elements include color, shape, texture, and decorative things. Adding heart to your home can mean pillows on your couch, rug on your floor, photos on your wall or a vase with flowers on your table.

1. Do you consider your home beautiful?
2. Do you feel you have a sense of style?
3. Does your clothing express your style?
4. Does your home express your style?


the head:
The head is the functionality of your home; whether your kitchen utensils are easily accessible, whether you have a good reading light, whether you have a place to put your bag when you come home etc. Interestingly, when I consider the homes around me, it occurs to me that the main activity that most homes support is watching tv. I am not saying that tv is all bad and evil, but perhaps there are other activities that should be supported as well.

1. Does your home support everything you want to do?
2. Do you use your home often?
3. Is there room for everything you want to do at home?
4. Is there a good space for what is most important to you?

While the idea is simple and straightforward, it has been eye-opening for me to look at my apartment with these elements in mind. I think my main focus now is on the heart and it is wonderful to see how my little resolutions are already contributing to this part: lighting candles, playing music, buying flowers. I am also working on the breath, making the bed every morning and trying to declutter. After moving between countries and continents 3 times in the last decade, I have been forced to examine my belongings regularly and haven't accumulated as much stuff as I probably would have otherwise. Nevertheless, the clutter is there, and I really want to get better at keeping my surroundings simple and fairly organized.

If you are interested the webpage apartment therapy has endless resources and ideas on how to improve your home.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Path

I came across this painting the other day, called "The Path", painted in 1936 by Russian artist Nicholas Roerich. I thought it fitted nicely with my present state of mind:)

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

July: Impeccable Home

When in Denmark, do as the Danes do


During July I am going to focus on my home. Initially when I outlined my year, I was thinking about our apartment - that I wanted it to be more of a "home". I wanted to make it less cluttered, more peaceful, more beautiful and more cozy.

Then, a couple of weeks ago I started thinking about "home" in more general terms (not planet earth though, that will be tackled later;)). I have been living in Copenhagen for two years now, but I haven't managed to feel at home here yet. So I decided to expand on the topic a bit, and also use this month to get to now the city better, its culture and its people.

Immersing myself in Danish culture for a month fits my project perfectly as Danish people are known for their love of "hygge", which can be roughly translated to "coziness". Danes tend to have beautiful homes decorated with candles, fresh flowers and beautiful furniture. Their homes also tend to be quite simple and uncluttered (despite usually having amazingly little storage space!). Additionally, according to the Gallup World Poll Danish people are the happiest in the world! Learning from the happiest people on earth, must be good for my happiness project:)

My July Resolutions

  • Light a candle
  • Make the bed
  • Flower Fridays: buy flowers every Friday
  • Play music: Put on a CD when I come home from work
  • Declutter
  • Put things back in place when I am done using them
  • Read the newspaper
  • Make a weekly menu plan
  • Weekly grocery shopping
  • Walk somewhere new every week

My July Tasks

  • Paint, declutter and redecorate the kids' room. For some reason I find this is utterly scary. As soon as I start thinking about this I get anxious, and filled with discouraging thoughts. It's ridiculous right? I've tried tackling my home before and failed. I've made the plans, but as soon as I actually need to take some action, I find some excuse not to. (no time, not enough money, etc., etc.). But really, it is just a room! I can do this!
  • Add and subtract in each room: Subtract one thing from each room, and replace it with something that better reflects our taste.
  • Read: Apartment Therapy: The Eight Step Home Cure, Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, and Feng Shui That Makes Sense: Easy Ways to Create a Home That FEELS as Good as It Looks
  • Buy something from a flea market. Danes love to sell and buy stuff at flea markets. I love to visit flea markets, but never end up buying anything. Mainly because I am too indecisive. But I'd love to add something old and beautiful to our home.
  • Read about the royalties. Danes love and respect their royalties. I should at least know who is whom:)
  • Knit a blanket. I have a half-finished blanket in my drawer that I started knitting about 2 years ago. Time to finish!
  • Fix my bike. You can't really call yourself a "KĂžbenhavner" without riding a bike.
  • Visit the little mermaid
  • Read a couple of H.C. Andersen's fairy tales
  • Go to tivoli and have an ice-cream at the "Vaffelbageriet"
I think July is going to be awesome:) cheers, Di.

Monday, July 2, 2012

June: wrap-up

In June my focus was on happiness and positivity. Overall I am surprised how this month has changed my perspective. It is not that I have managed to be happy at all times, or that I have been constantly positive and cheerful, but there is a feeling of growth, of being on the right path.

My core has strengthened and my baseline happiness has increased. My "neutral" state is happier. I am not as easily annoyed, and I am not as easily thrown of balance. That being said I did have my grumpy days where I found it almost impossible to stay happy and cheerful. Perhaps these days are inevitable, but I want to become better at dealing with those days. I want to make sure that I do not take my grumpiness out on my kids, my husband and other people around me. The increased awareness that I have experienced this month has helped, and I can at least see my mood swings coming. I can also better recognize that while they are sometimes triggered by other people's comments, behavior or other external factors, the reason is some internal imbalance, and that there is noone or nothing to blame. On the whole I am satisfied with my progress and I am positive that I will see more improvements in the coming months.

My resolutions:

Meditating
The daily meditation has been of fundamental importance in my progress this month. Although I've just been meditating for 10 minutes per day, I can already feel the benefits of this resolution. I am less stressed and I am much more aware of my thoughts and feelings. I will continue with my daily meditation and extend my meditation session to be 15 minutes during July.

Keeping a Gratitude Journal.
I've managed to keep this resolution most days. And usually it was quite easy to find things to be thankful for. I guess that is the main lesson learned here:) I am also going to stick with this resolution for at least few more weeks.

Exercising.
The goal was to go out for a run 3 times a week. That didn't quite happen. But at least I got started. And I had at least one successful week:) I also signed up for 5k run in August to motivate myself and I want to be able to run those 5k in less than 35 minutes.

Blog.
The target was again three times a week...so sort of a check mark here. Writing a blog, as well as keeping the resolution charts has been the key to staying focused on my goals and my progress. Reading blogs on other people's happiness projects has also been very helpful and inspiring.

Walk in the Sun.
The main reason for this resolution was that during the last two winters I have suffered from a lack of vitamin D. I've been constantly tired, and I seem to get every cold, flu, bug that is going around. But now it is summer, and seeing some sun and daylight is really not something I have to worry about. I think I will let go of this one for now but I might add it again as the days get shorter.

Focus.
The idea was to start my day by really focusing on an important project for 90 minutes. No email, no phone, no facebook, no wandering thoughts etc. It is a great way to start your workday, and leaves you with a feeling of accomplishment. But is has been somewhat difficult to keep this resolution. I've had to take some days off this month because of traveling, and because my kids have been sick. And even when I've been at work there have been urgent emails, meetings, etc. that I need to take care of. I did manage to do this a few times, but I can't say that it is a part of my routine yet. I will continue trying though.

Last week of June: The positivity challenge:

The last week of June I tried to take my positivity to new levels. If I were to grade myself on this challenge I would give myself a B. I smiled as I woke up, smiled as I lied down to sleep, smiled when I meditated, and basically smiled whenever I could remember. I tried to substitute any negative thoughts and beliefs by positives ones. After reading this post I decided to write down any negative self talk that came into mind, I then replaced each sentence with a positive one. This has been very helpful. I believe that changing your self talk from negative to positive can really be life changing, and I want to continue exploring this. Perhaps by focusing on 1 or 2 "positivity mantras" at time for the next few months.

What I found most challenging was pausing before reacting. I really need, and want, to get better a this, especially with regards to my children. I also did some complaining, some dumping and a little bit of gossiping.

My Positivity Tasks: These were the tasks that I wanted to tackle in June:

✓ Clear my desk and bedside table
✓ Write a comprehensive to do list
✓ Read: "Eat, Pray, Love", "The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living" and "Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment"
✓ Make a happy list
✓ Do a positivity challenge
✗ Complete that big, daunting task at work (almost done though)
✗ Watch: "Amelie" and "It's a Wonderful Life" (I don't think I watched a whole movie this entire month)

And now it is July. I am excited to start this month of Impeccable Home, in which I will focus on making space for happiness in our home, and finding sources of happiness in our city. I will post more about that tomorrow.

x,Di