In my last post, I introduced my 2021 theme, “less.” I shared my reasons for selecting this theme and highlighted how it’s already helping my husband and me to declutter our home. Last week, we completed “The 30-Day Minimalism Game,” created by The Minimalists, which enabled us to purge over 500 of our extraneous possessions.
In part one of this series, I also introduced the concept of “open goals,” which are focused on progress rather than perfection. Such goals are phrased as aiming to “see how well you can do” in a particular area of your life. I decided to set a few open goals related to my wardrobe and my “less” theme, including seeing how few clothing pieces I can purchase this year and how much I can reduce the size of my “out-and-about” wardrobe.
In today’s essay, I conclude the introduction of my 2021 “less” theme. While part one addressed the more tangible areas of my life – my home and my wardrobe, part two centers around more intangible topics, including my relationships with myself, others, and time. Included below are some of the other ways I’d like the concept of “less” to impact my life experience throughout this year.
I have long been what one might consider a “worrywart” (or alternatively, a “worryhorse” – my father-in-law mistakenly used that word in Scrabble once, and it was added to the family lexicon). I worry about what might happen in the future, what might go wrong, and especially about what other people think. I live far too much of my life inside the minds of others, which robs me of my peace.
An old saying goes, “What you think of me is none of my business” (which I just learned is the title of a book by Terry Cole-Whittaker, which I should probably read!). Yet I continually make it my business, even though I have little control over whether others will like me or approve of me. I even worry about whether those who I don’t like will like me, which is just plain crazy!
I want to live my life more for myself. If this past year has taught me anything, it’s that life is short. No one really knows when things will get back to some semblance of “normal,” and I regret that I squandered so much of my precious pre-pandemic time being overly concerned with what other people think. No matter who we are or what we do, there will always be those who won’t like us. It’s really out of our control! So I want to devote much less time and energy toward trying to please other people, including the members of my family. I have to do what’s right for me and own it.
It also makes little sense to worry about what might happen in the future or what might go wrong, because who could have predicted the events of 2020?! We would all be well-served to take life as it comes, spend more time on what brings us happiness, and live our precious and one and only lives in the present moment, as that is where peace and joy reside. I am reminded of the wonderful quote below from Mary Oliver, which is actually a question that is worth pondering for all of us, not with guilt, but with a sense of embracing that which makes our hearts sing.
“What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
I wrote about this topic in my recap of my “enough” theme, as it was something that I started working on last year. I took some steps in the right direction in 2020, but I need to continue placing focus on having fewer “shoulds” in my life this year. I do myself a disservice when I create overly long to-do lists or set unrealistic expectations for what I can get done in a given day, week, month, or year. Not only am I creating very few goals for myself in 2021, I’m also going to keep my to-do lists short. I realized that I placed too much pressure on myself to accomplish a lot of tasks, which led me to feeling overwhelmed and ultimately defeated.
I do have a master to-do list on my computer (a Google sheet), but I don’t have dates attached to any of the items. I still use a paper planner, but the version I bought for 2021 only has spaces for each week’s “top three” items. While each day’s section includes a “to-do” section, I have crossed out the words “to-do” and replaced them with “what I did.” This keeps the focus on celebrating what I accomplish, instead of on lamenting what I didn’t get done. I still use the “just one thing” approach most days, but sometimes I choose to take things as they come and trust that I’ll devote time and energy to what is most important to me on that given day.
I’m really working on being less of a “human doing” and more of a human being, because who we are inside matters so much more than what we do and accomplish. I’m also trying to focus more on doing things that make me happy each day, including spending time outdoors, going for walks, being creative, learning new things, relaxing with my husband and my cats, baking, watching my favorite television shows and movies, listening to podcasts, and getting in a few good laughs. I hope to add back in activities like getting together with friends and going to restaurants, the theater, the gym, and the mall before too long as well. Fingers crossed that this will happen in 2021, but I’m grateful for the other activities that I mentioned that I’m able to safely do during the pandemic.
I still struggle with over-consuming news and information. This has been especially true during the past few months, with the election and its aftermath, the ongoing Covid-19 crisis, and the worsening political and social strife in the country and the world. But I’ve noticed that I have a sort of “tipping point,” beyond which the news that I read or watch doesn’t add to my life and instead brings me intense anxiety and a lack of inner peace. The news can be so addictive, particularly during scary times when we want to know what’s going on and are looking for reassurance that things will be okay. Sadly, we usually don’t get that type of reassurance from the news and instead feel a deeper sense of doom.
Early on in the pandemic, I suggested that my mother (who’s a senior and lives alone) limit her news intake to thirty minutes per day or less (which she says she has done). At the time, I was heeding my own advice, but I let that slip over the past few months. I mostly read news rather than watch it, but that takes a toll as well. So as part of my “less” theme for 2021, I plan to consume less news. I like to stay informed, but I can easily do that within the parameter that I recommended to my mother. For the sake of my mental health and well-being, I’m going to read and watch less news this year. This will also help with another goal of experiencing less anxiety, as will my intentions for fewer “shoulds” and less worrying about the future and what other people think.
Procrastination is another big problem for me. I tend to put off things that I both need and want to do, often blowing them way out of proportion for how difficult they truly are. I’ve realized that my perfectionism is partly to blame for my procrastination, as the things I tend to postpone are generally tasks that I either don’t know how to do or fear that I won’t do well. Interestingly, some of these dreaded tasks take thirty minutes or less to complete, so I’m making proverbial mountains out of molehills! Even for the lengthier tasks, if I take small steps on a daily or semi-daily basis, I’ll eventually complete them – and usually in less time and with less effort than I anticipated.
My objective for less procrastination may seem at odds with my parallel desire for fewer (less) “shoulds,” but I think I can find a way around that. If I stick to the “just one thing” approach and designate one of my “frogs” as that item (from Brian Tracy’s, Eat That Frog, a “frog” is an important task that we procrastinate about getting done), I can minimize my “shoulds” and procrastination at the same time.
I think procrastination is a way that I’m mean to myself. Not only does it stop me from doing things that matter to me, it also leads to my beating myself up and believing that I’m incompetent. I don’t want to beat myself up anymore and I don’t want to keep putting things off that will potentially increase my happiness, including my creative pursuits (like this blog). So I’m going to start small…
I remember reading about a decluttering technique for people who want to pare down their possessions but keep putting it off. The recommendation was to set a timer for 15 minutes and spend that time clearing out a drawer, shelf, or whatever. When the timer goes off, you have fulfilled your commitment for that day and can stop – without guilt. Of course, people often get into a sort of “rhythm” and carry on at that point, but the key is that they don’t have to. I’ve learned that I can be a “slow starter” and need to get over a sort of “hump” before it becomes easy to keep going. This is definitely true with writing these blog posts! But if I push myself to start, it often doesn’t take long before I actually want to keep going.
Part of why I want to start writing shorter posts (I know I’m not really doing this yet!) is that I can build the act of writing a blog post into a monumental task in my mind. This makes sense because it often takes me a number of hours to complete, edit, and publish a typical blog post. So I don’t even get started because the process feels so overwhelming. My hope is that the combination of starting small (with the 15 minutes on the timer) and my plan to write shorter posts will lead to my publishing more posts this year. This approach will hopefully help me with other creative and personal pursuits as well.
Less Self-Criticism and Comparison
This is a big one and was also part of my “enough” focus last year. I’m pleased with the progress I made in 2020 toward believing I am enough and cutting myself down less often, but there is still work to be done here. A big part of why I criticize myself so much is that I compare myself too often to others. These comparisons are often not at all fair to myself, either. For instance, I will compare my appearance to that of women who are either much younger than I am or to celebrities in my age range (both Halle Berry and Salma Hayak are within a month of my age, for example, but as my husband says, “they have people”). I also compare myself to more “successful” writers and bloggers. In both instances, I come out sorely lacking, which compounds my negative feelings toward myself. This is a big reason for the wise saying:
“Comparison is the thief of joy.” – Theodore Roosevelt
I even compare myself to myself at a younger age, which also isn’t fair to me! We’re all evolving and changing as we go through life. While I might not look as good as I did when I was younger, I am definitely better in some ways, but I don’t even need to go there because it’s still comparison. We are all on our own journeys and, as I wrote earlier, peace and joy reside in the present moment. When I’m comparing myself to others or to myself at an earlier stage of life, that takes me out of now and into a space that is not present and peaceful. I don’t need to do that – and I don’t want to do that anymore.
I’ve lived over half a century beating myself up and feeling less than. This is not something I want to do anymore, not with my one and only precious life! So I’m going to work on doing less self-criticism – and less comparison – this year. It won’t be easy for me because old habits die hard, but I made some good progress last year and I believe that I can continue moving in a positive direction this year in terms of self-compassion, being true to myself, and living in the now.
And Then There’s More…
Now that I’ve told you what I want less of in 2021, I want to close by highlighting the things that I want more of this year. Since I’ll be cutting down on worry, “shoulds,” news, procrastination, self-criticism, and comparison, I’ll have more space in my life and my heart for the things I want more of, including:
- More love – for self, others, and life
- More inner peace
- More joy
- More presence
- More creativity
- More productivity (but from a place of joy rather than a place of obligation and “should”)
- More time spent in nature
- More time spent doing things I enjoy
- More gratitude for what I have
- More trying and experiencing new things
- More health and vitality (I sincerely hope!)
- More connection with like-minded people
- More LIFE!
That was just some brainstorming on “more,” but I’m sure I’ll come up with other things to add to this positive and life-affirming list during my year of less. Yes, I know it sounds ironic, but less is more! As less of the “bad” things permeate my life, there will more space for the good things to naturally creep in, without a ton of effort on my part.
This concludes my two-part series introducing my “less” theme for 2021. I feel really good about this theme and how it will potentially impact my life over the course of the next eleven months. I’ll check in from time to time on some of the topics I introduced in this post and the last one.
I welcome any thoughts you have on what I’ve written here, and if you didn’t share your 2021 word/theme last time, please feel free to do so now. Also, if you don’t have a word for this year, but you have goals or intentions you’d like to share, I’d love to read about those, too. I always enjoy reading your comments, whether you’re a regular commenter or are weighing in for the first time. The more the merrier!
10 thoughts on “Less is More in 2021: Part Two”
I think that you have some really good opens goals for this year: Less worry, Less Shoulds, Less News, Less Procrastination, Less Self-Criticism and Comparison.
These are all goals that you have talked about in previous blogs, so I know that these are ongoing struggles for you and many of us and I have shared articles and advise relating to these topics previously.
The difference this time is that you’ve acknowledged that it’s hard to stop doing these things altogether, as you have been doing them for so long, so you are now working on reducing the amount of time you spend doing these, to free up more time for positive things that make you feel good about yourself.
In relation to your wanting to spend more time in the present moment, more time doing things you enjoy, more inner peace, more spending time in nature and more creativity, I thought I would share this article from Tiny Buddha, as it is an activity that encapsulates all of these things for you:
How to Create Peace and Calm Through Mindful Photography:
I know that you love photography and have written about this in previous blogs and shared some of your pictures, but this article is about how you can use photography as a mindfulness practice, to be more in the here and now, in the present, where it’s easier to find peace and calm and you are doing this out in nature on your daily walks and using your creativity.
Here are some extracts:
“Mindfulness through photography. Photos are beautiful, personal, and they aren’t something you merely take–they are things that you make.”
“Photograph the things you feel. I’m not just talking about taking photos with your friends and family, or of your favorite food dish, I’m talking about being mindful about what you capture on digital film and letting the subjects become your awareness.”
“Photography captures life’s moments, thoughts, memories, and feelings. It is also a very simple thing that you can do to bring yourself back into the present again. I like to think of it as another form of meditation.
It can also inspire curiosity and wonder, invoke positivity, and bring calm to your mind and body. Many beautiful things can happen through a lens. Combined with some deep breaths you can truly capture what you feel or want to feel and grab those mindful moments.
No one needs to see your photos. They can be personal and private. You can even start a mindful photography journal and refer to it when you might not feel like looking through a camera lens, but instead feel like reflecting on what you captured previously to bring a sense of mindfulness into your space.
Light, camera… mindfulness.”
Other ideas of how to use your photography are with regards to your 2021 paper planner, where you have changed each days section to be “what I did”, to focus on celebrating what you accomplish. You could also attach a photo to show what you did or how you felt on that day, so that it is something you can look back on and remember, especially on the days where you struggle to get anything done.
I look forward to reading more about the changes you are making to this blog.
I appreciate the suggestions you made, Sally. I like how you include excerpts from articles for those who might not want to read them in their entirety. I like the idea of photography as mindfulness. I think I used to do “mindful photography,” but I got away from it. I haven’t even been taking photos as much recently because I became overwhelmed with how many photos I had accumulated (all online, but digital clutter can be as challenging as physical clutter). I remember reading about someone who would save ONE photo from each of her photo jaunts, which is similar to your idea of attaching a photo to my journal. I would love to do that, but I only do digital photography and don’t have a color printer. But I could still save a photo each day and take photos on my walks. Many of my longer walks are in the evenings with my husband, when we don’t usually take any photos, but I often do shorter walks during the day when I could snap a photo that captures my mood. And there’s always indoor photography, too. My cats are my favorite photo subjects!
You reference Tiny Buddha a lot, so maybe I will need to check it out from time to time. I don’t subscribe to many blogs anymore, but I do bookmark some and look at them when the mood strikes. Less overwhelm from reading!
I love that Mary Oliver quote and often write it out to give me direction when considering goals and how I want to live a more meaningful life.
So many days I’ve wasted, but yet they’ve gotten me here in life. And here is mostly a nice place to be. I think we all have our own journeys and regrets (mine are plentiful), but sometimes those perceived missteps land us in the right place or teach us lessons we needed to learn. That’s what I tell myself at my healthier moments. And fortunately, those moments outnumber the other kind.
Though blessings, dealing with family members can be challenging. For instance, my mom often gives me her unsolicited opinion on clothes and “hints” at how I should live my life. I used to pretty much do what she said, but finally (belatedly!) I resent her opinion when I haven’t asked for it—because I’ve allowed it to mean too much to me. (That is the biggest source of the problem, not her.)
You’ve mentioned Self-Compassion by Kristin Neff. I purchased it recently and completed one of the exercises (a letter to myself). I likely won’t complete them all, but I want to take my time with this book, and I can see that my life will be improved by reading it.
I watched the Netflix documentary by The Minimalists and almost immediately started pitching more stuff. Now I’m watching episodes of Tidying Up to keep up the momentum.
I have a standard to-do list that I keep on my “notes” app on my phone; the tasks listed in order of importance. I copy it over for each day in the coming two weeks, and I add appointments or birthdays and such to it, so I don’t forget. It helps keeps me organized. My husband and I also keep a joint (manual) calendar, and I have a planner on which I usually track writing progress.
As much as I’d like to look like I did when I was in my twenties, thirties, forties, or fifties, I more grateful to know what I’ve learned since. I don’t feel I compare myself to others necessarily. Still, I do feel I’m lagging behind in some aspects of emotional maturity (but gaining ground!) and, worst of all, that I’ve let myself down in not living up to my potential. Wow. I can’t believe I just said that. Yikes. That’s something I need to address! Guess I need to either ease up on myself or get busy.
I’m grateful for your blog, Debbie. They never fail to interest and inform me and always get me thinking. And so do many of your readers’ comments.
You have a lot of wisdom, Jenn. I like what you wrote about our perceived missteps landing us in the right place or teaching us lessons that we need to learn. Looking at things from this perspective can help us to be happier and more at peace with our past. What you wrote about your mom resonated with me, too, especially the part about your allowing her opinion to mean too much to you and that being the biggest source of the problem. I SO get that, being someone who cares too much about the opinions of others! I put the Self-Compassion workbook aside last year when I was doing other personal development work, but I like the idea of picking and choosing some exercises to do in it this year.
It sounds like you’re pretty organized and have a system that works well for you. Sometimes it takes a lot of trial and error to figure out what will work best. What you wrote about not living up to your potential is something I feel all the time! It’s not a good feeling… I’ve been leaning more toward easing up recently, but I would like to consider more of what I WANT to get busy doing related to my potential.
I’m glad you find my blog helpful. The comments that you and others leave always get me thinking, too, so thank you!
Hi Debbie! I’m recovering from eye surgery this week so this is going to be an uncharacteristically short comment. And it’s more of a question: In regard to Less News, you mention that tipping point when you go from enough to too much, with negative consequences. How do you know where that tipping point is? Is it just a matter of learning from mistakes, like “last time I watched more than an hour of news I had anxiety so I should limit it to 30 minutes today”? I think it’s a crucial question for any kind of overconsumption. Bad habits don’t always yield to common sense – if they did there would be fewer addictions – but I’m always curious to know how one identifies that tipping point when an activity goes from being helpful or enjoyable to unhealthy and destructive.
I appreciate your taking the time to comment, Katrina, especially when you’re recovering from eye surgery! I hope you will have a smooth recovery and be better than ever soon. Regarding the “tipping point” in relation to news consumption (watching and reading), I pay attention to how I FEEL. I start to notice if I’m feeling more anxious and/or depressed than usual. If so, it’s often because I’ve been paying too much attention to news, which, let’s face it, is usually BAD! If I start to experience a sort of underlying anxiety, I have probably tipped the balance toward consuming more NEGATIVE information than positive, so I make an effort to shift those proportions as best as I can. It can be helpful to have a day or two with NO news at that point and then limit it on the following days. Yes, it can be useful to look at how much news you’ve been consuming when you start to feel bad, to give you a sense of what revised amount might be more appropriate. Of course, all of this is very individual, as some people can handle more negativity than others.
I agree with you that we need to ask these types of questions for all types of over-consumption, including food, alcohol, social media, shopping, television, etc. When something feels like more of a compulsion than a choice (as can happen with many of these things), that can be a sign that dialing back (which can be easier said than done in many cases) is a good way to go.
Hi Debbie, I’ve enjoyed reading your posts / blog and stumbled across your work through the ‘enough’ word of 2020. One of my friends had posted a story about Kurt Vonnegut and Joseph Heller (which made me think about my outlook on life) and a few clicks later, I was fascinated by your article. My 2021 word is therefore going to be ‘enough’ but with some ‘less’ ideas mixed in too.
Before I go any further, I wanted to say that I suspect that I’m not your typical reader (being a 51 year old guy from England) but I can say that the struggles and anxieties about being ‘enough’ exist for men too and geographically here across the pond.
Anyway turning to your recent posts, I’m more drawn to the less concept in part two than part one. My mum (mom) was a hoarder so I’ve tended not to accumulate items, so I don’t think I have too much decluttering to do. I’m very aware that comparing myself with the average person on this type of thing isn’t that helpful.
In terms of goals, I can see the benefits of both – for me a specific goal helps me with my fitness. Setting myself a target of the number of runs (and distance) I want to reach in 2021 helps a lot on those days when I’m not feeling great or when it’s cold and wet outside. I do make sure that there is some leeway though when goal setting, knowing I may pick up a niggling injury or two – I deliberately allow for some fallow weeks, so I can rest up if needed and not have the proverbial mountain to climb when I’m fit to resume.
I can definitely relate to the intangible “less” ideas. I often find myself thinking I should be doing something ‘productive’ (e.g. work around my home). I’m certainly working on being more content with having the odd lie-in or simple rest and relaxation, without feeling guilty. I am also slowly feeling happier about myself and my life, without unduly worrying what others think of me. I also like the more focus on personal happiness – rather than doing or achieving things that other people might regard as important.
Anyway, I’ve got some catching up to do with your previous posts. I’m also looking forward to seeing what’s to come. The things I’ve read so far are thought provoking, well written and heartfelt – so a big thank you for taking the time to publish. PS I’ve not been inspired to reply to an article like this before, so please keep up the writing! Andy
Welcome, Andy, and thanks so much for your detailed and thoughtful comment! You’re right that you’re not in my typical reader demographic, but that doesn’t matter. Everyone is welcome here and I’m happy to have a male reader (I have many readers from “across the pond” and “down under,” so you’re not alone there). I hope the word “enough” helps you as much in 2021 as it helped me in 2020. Good for you in not accumulating too many items. Not all children of hoarders learn that powerful lesson, but I’m glad that you did. I agree with you that both specific SMART goals and open goals can both be appropriate and helpful, depending upon the situation and context. I think it’s a good idea to allow for a bit of “slack” in certain goals, as we can become discouraged by overly stringent goals. We can also shift the goal a bit along the way if necessary, as progress is often more important than perfection!
I love your second-to-last paragraph about the intangible “less” ideas. Productivity and worrying about the opinions of others have long been my Achilles’ heels (I know it’s usually only one heel, but for me, it’s two!). I hope to continue evolving to be less of a “drill sergeant” with myself and to also place my personal happiness above doing things that I believe will hold me in higher esteem with others. I wish you the very best with your “enough” goal and all of your personal improvement quests. I hope you enjoy my older posts, too! Because of spam, I have to close down comments on older posts, but you’re welcome to write to me via my Contact page if you have something you want to share regarding a post on which comments are closed.
I’ve just found your blog. You were mentioned in the Vivienne Files on your article about the right size wardrobe for you.. I found it very enlightening since I’ve been in a shopaholic frenzy of shopping all during the pandemic. Feb 1st has been a year a lockdown for my husband and myself. I go to dialysis three days a week and back home. We don’t even buy food out! I’ve not been sure of how to even start but I’ve decided from reading your post I need to do an inventory of my closet. My word for this year was picked before I found your blog. It is “simplify.” I need this in my life. Everything in falling to pieces in my life. I’m so disabled that cleaning my house no longer is even a option. I have a best friend that says when we are out of lockdown she will come and help me. It is so overwhelming! My husband is having surgery on Monday! Then this summer he’ll have a major joint replacement! My husband keeps telling me these are the years to enjoy myself. I’m in my mid-fifties. Praise the Lord, my husband was able to retire at a young age. I had never considered that I’m actually a shopaholic because I stay within my budget but I’ve known I as out of control during the pandemic..
Welcome, NK! I’m glad you found my blog and I hope you find my posts helpful. My articles about wardrobe size have been among my most popular ones, as lots of people struggle with that issue. I love The Vivienne Files, and I’m sure you’ve found lots of useful tips there as well.
I’m sure the past year has been very challenging for you and your family. It’s hard to have to stay at home most of the time, and it’s especially hard for those who are high risk and are rarely venturing out at all. I hope all goes well with your husband’s surgery on Monday (and with his summer joint replacement).
Simplify is a great word for this year – or any year! Having such a word top of mind can help a person get more in touch with what’s really important in life. It’s great that you stay within your budget with shopping, but finances are only one part of the equation in terms of whether or not one is a shopaholic. Sometimes it has to do with having too many clothes or spending too much time and energy on shopping and wardrobe. Labels aren’t what’s most important, anyway; how we feel matters more. Starting with an inventory of your closet should be helpful, as it will help you get in touch with what you have so you can see where there might be too much or even too little. Take things one day at a time and focus on small, manageable changes. You have a lot on your plate right now and I wish you the very best.
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