Sweden may offer incentives for fixing, rather than throwing away

According to a September 19 article in The Guardian, Sweden’s ruling party will introduce legislation (up for a vote in December) that would offer tax breaks for repairing consumer items as a way to encourage Swedes to consume less.

“We believe that this could substantially lower the cost and so make it more rational economic behaviour to repair your goods [rather than replacing them with new],” says Per Bolund, Sweden’s minister for financial markets and consumer affairs and a proponent of the tax law changes.

Seems obvious, but we consumers also need access to goods that can be repaired and education about what can be repaired (a 1970s analog washing machine, yes, a 2010 washing machine with internal sensors, maybe not; a leather bag with a torn or broken handle, yes, a less expensive faux-leather bag, no).

Repost: How to Simplify Your Career — 6 Things You Don’t Need to Do

Caroline Beaton, in a post for Forbes, describes six useful ways to bring a simplifying mindset to paid work. She also lists some of the same tips I’ve given for better managing technology use (P.S. we have to actually do these things in order for them to work).

  • keep files and bookmarks in one place with short, easily searchable names
  • use an information-less browser homepage like Google‘s search page or Momentum
  • use just one Internet window and close tabs frequently
  • remove applications you don’t use every day from your desktop dock
  • empty your trash at the end of the day
  • relegate social media use and meetings to a certain time of day
  • unsubscribe from emails that aren’t obviously interesting or useful

Thanks to my friend L. for sharing Beaton’s post with me!


Simplifying is not a trend in home decor

I spent most of the last year living in another country and, as expat families around us packed up to move home at the end of their sabbatical year, I heard the same exclamation many times: “I can’t believe how much stuff we have!” And each time my comment was, “Well, you’ve been living here.”

We all have a baseline of stuff that helps us enjoy life. We also have a point beyond which stuff becomes a burden. And in my mind, the journey of simplifying includes figuring out where the tipping point lies for us as individuals and families, and making decisions so we get maximum benefit and minimum burden from stuff.

“Simplifying” (which also gets called “minimalism”) is interpreted in other ways, too, and it could be useful to compare what you’re doing against those other interpretations to make sure your actions are in alignment with the life you want to live. In this post I shared a link to New York Times columnist David Brooks’s thoughts on “the evolution of simplicity,” and here’s a piece by another author fed up with “the oppressive gospel of ‘minimalism’.”

No matter the interpretation, those of us with time and energy to think about simplifying and make different choices are very fortunate.


Again, the myth of doing it all

A few weeks ago “The Busy Person’s Lies; With four kids and a full-time job, time is precious. But it’s also plentiful,” appeared in the New York Times.

In this opinion piece, the author—a married professional who works full time (with travel) and has four young children—writes about tracking her time for a year and concludes that people like her have more time than they realize. She asserts that we perceive our lives as being “AAAHHHH!!” hectic because we focus on inconveniences and rushed moments when in truth we mostly get to do the things we say are important, things like seeing our friends and family, spending time with our kids, and reading books, as well as excelling at our jobs.

While I’m as anti-bitchbrag* as the next person, I think the author neglects some of the reasons behind the widespread feeling of overwhelm:

  • Time is not a commodity, and a half hour in the middle of the day is not the same as the half hour before bed. Repeatedly transitioning between activities and modes of thinking depletes our energy over the course of the day. Doing activities on an imposed schedule rather than when it makes the most sense for us physically or psychologically also takes a toll (this is why I didn’t succeed at working out at 5:30am, and why it was so hard to open my work laptop after putting my son to bed).
  • Everyone needs some amount of daily “do nothing” time in order to recharge.
  • Some people have less energy than others. I’m confident that I don’t have the energy to do the equivalent of raising four childen (let alone raising those children while working full time)—a fact that has nothing to do with time management.

While I disagree with what sounds like a claim that we can “do it all” if only we manage our time better and stop feeling sorry for ourselves, I thoroughly agree with the author’s conclusion: decide for yourself what your true priorities are, and make sure you put your time and energy there.

*bitchbrag:  complaining about how busy you are with the goal of appearing important and in demand

David Brooks on the evolution of simplicity

Today’s New York Times features a thoughtful reflection by op-ed writer David Brooks on “the evolution of simplicity.”

In his essay Brooks describes today’s impulse to simplify and streamline as stemming in part from a desire to lessen the “ache from all the scattered shallowness.” He also lasers in on efforts that are called simplifying but mainly boil down to “a more refined, organic, locally grown and morally status-building form of materialism.”

For all of us trying to simplify, I think it helps to first articulate why we’re doing it. If we’re moving toward “unity of purpose,” as Brooks so eloquently writes, what do we truly need to do to get there?

Pausing before choosing

When we’re overwhelmed, most of us cope by putting some of our choices on auto-pilot and by making quick decisions on other things. In my experience, it’s incredibly easy to end up in a situation that looks like that of most people around us but doesn’t feel right at all (wait a minute, I never wanted to be a property manager! how did I get so out of shape? where did all this stuff come from?).

It doesn’t have to be that way.

If you’re looking for a tool to help you make decisions differently, check out this list published by Twin Cities blogger Anthony Ongaro of 20 questions you can ask yourself to live more intentionally. Here’s a sample:

  • Will this get us closer to our lifestyle goals?
  • Will this create more or less demands on our time and energy?
  • Will this contribute to potential costs or financial burdens in the future?
  • Will this matter to us in 10 years?



Coming up against the limits of simplifying

I’ve written almost nothing on this blog since January, and it’s not because I gave up on simplifying. In fact, I was working extra hard to apply the principles of simplifying to living better, and failing.

In part because of things going on at work this spring, I fell into a hole with all kinds of painful feelings: frustration, anxiety, resentment, disillusionment, and fear that others were judging me negatively. Also self-pity. I not only felt those feelings, I embraced and settled in with them. I let them ruin conversations and precious sleep. I let my behavior become perversely self-indulgent (you think I’m crabby? well let me tell you, I deserve to be crabby).

And then I made a decision to regularly get eight hours of sleep and I was able to climb out of the hole. I also stopped struggling to make simplifying become an answer to those feelings or a protection against ever falling into another hole. (Why did I think simplifying could be The Answer? I think it had to do with writing this blog and needing something worthwhile to say.)

Now, more than before, I see two phases of simplifying—and that’s all.

Phase I: expend much energy reducing stuff and forming new habits; this phase is task-oriented with visible and relatively quick rewards (now I can park in my garage! wow—sure feels great to no longer have X cluttering up my life!)

Phase II: maintain new habits; apply new awareness about personal choices and use mental and emotional energy, time and physical space freed from dealing with stuff to pursue dreams, work on living in alignment with values, engage in self development, and face problems (sheesh, that sounds like grown-up life)

I think simplifying can deliver us to Phase II, but it isn’t sufficient on its own to help us continue living better. For that we need what people have relied on forever, things like personal resiliency, faith or spirituality, mindfulness, and support from friends and family.

If you’re looking for some recommended reading on these topics, here are a few things I’ve recently found useful.

Real Happiness at Work: Meditations for Accomplishment, Achievement, and Peace by meditation teacher and author Sharon Salzberg (this is a follow-up to her previous New York Times bestselling book Real Happiness)

How to Find Success Late in Life, by entrepreneur Jason Altucher (a short post published on LinkedIn)

Expert tips for resilience, published in a June 1, 2015 article in Time magazine

  1. Develop a core set of beliefs that nothing can shake.
  2. Try to find meaning in whatever stressful or traumatic thing has happened.
  3. Try to maintain a positive outlook.
  4. Take cues from someone who is especially resilient.
  5. Don’t run from things that scare you: face them.
  6. Be quick to reach out for support when things go haywire.
  7. Learn new things as often as you can.
  8. Find an exercise regimen you’ll stick to.
  9. Don’t beat yourself up or dwell on the past.
  10. Recognize what makes you uniquely strong—and own it.