Take food. When do we stop eating? When the plate is empty? When the package is empty? When the TV show is over? When we are so full we need to go take a nap? Or do we just nibble on snacks all day long? What ever happened to sitting down at the table and eating just enough to end our hunger and then stopping, knowing that there will be more where that came from in just a few short hours? Of course, I'm not referring to those unfortunate people among us for whom this is not the case. But to the rest of us, do you even remember what it feels like to be hungry? Come on, be honest with yourself. It's no wonder there is an obesity crisis.
And what about exercise? So many of us sit at a desk and sit in a car and sit in front of the TV for the majority of our day. Then one day we realize that we are becoming overweight and out of shape, so we decide that we need to get some exercise. We lace up our tennies and head to the gym or the track or plug in the exercise video. It feels so good to finally get out there and move our bodies that we end up overdoing it. The next thing we know, we've pulled a muscle, tripped on a curb, or have some other problem come up that prevents us from continuing with that new exercise. Then we are back to sitting, waiting for our injuries to heal. But if we had just taken it slow and easy, done just enough to work into the new activity, we'd be able to keep going.
In late June I bought a Fitbit. I love it! It is right there on my waist reminding me how far I've walked today and challenging me to walk better, faster, farther. I'm not a competitive person (against other people) but I'm a real sucker for a good self-challenge. My daughter walks insane (to me) distances all over Portland, and our Fitbits conspire to rub it in my face by keeping me informed of her progress. I quickly got to the point that 10,000 steps a day is nothing. (Remember, I don't own a car.) My natural inclination is to bump it up to 12,500 and to keep adding more and more, just because I can. And I was. But a few weeks ago, I realized that I wasn't doing my yoga anymore because I just didn't have enough time. Then I wasn't getting around to watering the garden as often as my plants would like. But I was sure getting a lot of steps on my Fitbit - until I realized what was going on and decided that 10,000 steps is enough.
Take clothes. Look in your closet or drawers or wherever you keep your clothes. How many shirts or blouses do you have? Pairs of pants? Shoes? How many of them do you actually wear and how many are there "in case"? In case you lose that extra weight, or put those pounds back on? In case you ever find something that goes with that shirt you bought of sale 6 or 7 years ago? We have so many excuses for having bulging closets and overflowing drawers. Oprah shared a good idea a while back. Turn all the hangers in your closet backward. As you wear an item and return it to the closet, turn the hanger back around to the normal position. At the end of the season, or year, or whatever time period you choose, get rid of anything that is still on a backward hanger. Obviously, you've gotten by on just what you've worn, so those clothes must be enough.
Now, this issue is one that is pretty darned relevant in my life. Of course, I can't afford to buy clothes and then casually just get rid of them like Oprah can. And my clothes don't cost what hers do. My downfall is thrift and consignment stores. Yes, I buy used clothes - almost exclusively. I take advantage of the fact that so many people buy too many clothes and then barely use them and donate them to a charity. But this can lead to a huge problem, too. Shopping at thrift stores isn't like regular shopping. I can't just decide I need a new shirt to go with a certain pair of pants and walk into a thrift store and find one. I have to be constantly on the lookout for the good deal - something I like, that fits me well, and is priced right. Where the problem comes in is that I find too many good deals. I end up buying things because the deal is too good to pass up. Eventually, I have to round up a bunch of clothes and take them back to the consignment shop to try to get at least some of my money back.
Are your closets and cupboards bulging with stuff? Can you actually park your car in your garage, or is it also overflowing with stuff? Or have you uncluttered your house and your garage by renting a storage unit or two? It is amazing that all this stuff just keeps sneaking into our homes and lives every time we turn our backs and let our defenses down! Where in the world does it all come from? When I moved to Mexico eleven years ago, I got rid of at least 80% of everything I owned. Over these past eleven years I have been living on a fairly strict budget so I could save money for traveling. And yet, here I am again, going through cupboards and drawers and closets, and finding that the vast majority of what I own is not something that I need, or even necessarily want. And the really scarey part of this, to me, is that I don't watch TV so I'm not exposed to the constant advertizing. I've never clicked on an internet ad. I keep a running "US Want List" but since I only go to the states once or twice a year, I usually have realized that I don't need the item before I get there to buy it. Yet I still manage to accumulate stuff.
So that brings me to my final item - time. This is something we often think we don't have enough of. At least that is the excuse we use for not doing what we should be doing. I don't have enough time to cook and eat a healthy meal. I don't have enough time to exercise like I should. I don't have enough time to _____. You fill in the blank. But we all have exactly the same amount of time in each day. It has to be enough because it is all you will ever get. So you have to figure out how to use that limited amount of time.
Socrates apparently said that an unexamined life is not worth living. I'm not sure I'd go that far, but it is only through examining our lives that we can figure out what is most important to us and devote our time, money and other resources to only those things. I've been doing a lot of thinking lately, and these are some truths I've realized in my life:
- My kids may be grown up but they are still my kids and I miss them. It is time to move back to the US so I can spend more time with them.
- I don't necessarily want to live to an extreme age, but I do want the years I live to be as healthy as possible. Because of this, I try to stick to a healthy diet with lots and lots of fruits and veggies and make sure that I get a healthy amount of exercise each day.
- I've gone through my closet and removed all but my favorites. The rest are at the consignment store, ready to go live with someone who wants or needs them more than I do. I'm sure I'll get rid of more by the time I actually move.
- I am going through every drawer and cupboard and closet in my house. I'm keeping only the things I really need or are very special to me. I agree with Joshua Becker, who blogs at Becoming Minimalist when he says that the best way to enjoy your favorite things is to only own your favorite things. The rest will be sold at yard sales, through consignment shops, or given to charities.
- I quit buying things a couple of months ago. I decided that I will buy nothing but healthy food and necessary medicines at least until I move to Portland (in a year or so.) It actually makes my life easier. With a hard and fast rule, I don't have to think about it. I just don't put myself in temptation's way.
And our shortage of time... This is where Socrates' advice becomes most valuable. If you don't have enough time in your day to do the things you want to do or should do, you need to sit down and figure out what's wrong. Take control of your life. I'm big on making lists. Write down the things that are most important in your life. Is it possible that you really don't care enough about your health to do whatever you can to maintain it? Aren't YOU worth the effort? We have spoiled ourselves to the point that limiting our spending/buying/indulging can be difficult. But maybe it wouldn't be so hard if you look at what you gain instead of what you lose. Less stuff means less time spent shopping, less clutter to clean up, less things to be cleaned. It also means more money is left over to do something special. Probably lots more money.