Categories
Inspiration Minimalism Writing

Minimalism and Creativity

In the book Steal Like An Artist, Austin Kleon writes:

” It takes a lot of energy to be creative. You don’t have that energy if you waste it on other stuff.”

“Steal Like an Artist” by Austin Kleon, page 119, para. 1

While I have written about that in the past, about eliminating the unimportant to liberate your time to focus on the important, I have never went into the details about how minimalism truly applies to creativity.

I must confess that the reason I’ve not covered this in depth was because I didn’t understand it myself.

I’ve always used minimalism as a tool to liberate my time and money to focus on things like success and family. Whenever I liberated a chunk of time, I used that time to clean my house, care for my kids, or study subjects that I believed would contribute to my long-term success.

This round I decided to do things a bit differently. When I quit my job I knew I was burned out, completely frustrated, and more than a bit disillusioned. I needed to step away from my normal habits and routines entirely just to recover.

So I gave myself permission to play. I tinkered with the television that the kid gave me. I allowed myself to read novels. Instead of banging my head against a keyboard every evening I made it a habit to play video games and watch a nightly movie. Instead of trying to force myself to write, to read and study and continually improve myself, instead of tinkering with Word or other writing programs to figure out how to format and use the programs to build better books, instead of reading books to improve my writing craft and search for ideas, I stripped it all away.

I literally said “fuck it.” I picked an ancient text editor and focused upon the words instead of the formatting. I allowed myself to write about whatever instead of trying to force myself to focus upon a single subject. I gave myself permission to use my time in ways that I’ve always considered wasteful and allowed my mind to wander.

I didn’t allow myself to think about what I could really write that would be helpful or make money. Aside from my daily goal of writing a single blog post, I allowed myself the freedom to do as little as possible. I used my minimalism, my freedom to spend my time however I like, to do just that for a change.

Which is why I skipped posting yesterday.

I made a pledge to write about the first thing that came to mind each morning, every morning, regardless of subject matter. I didn’t censor myself which is why I’m sure you’ve noticed that my language has changed. Instead of thinking “what can I write for somebody else?” I asked “what is something that I would want to read?”

Yesterday morning I awoke with a story playing in my head. It’s about a grandma who loves her kids, her dog, and her movies. While pursing these passions she discovers what she believes to be the Mother Lode of movies – only to realize that she’s uncovered something evil instead. Now she’s got to decide what she’s going to do about it.

The story was so vivid I could see it from the woman’s eyes. I could feel the things she felt and even smell the things she smelled.

So I started writing.

I didn’t do a single thing on my house yesterday. I didn’t check my email, work on this blog, or even feel the desire to take a break. If not for my kid making me, I doubt I would have taken the time to eat.

All that existed was the story, and I felt driven to get it out of my head. I went to sleep thinking about that story and was awakened with the same passion.

That story would have never came to me if I hadn’t allowed myself to eliminate the things that I had previously considered essential. If I hadn’t allowed myself to “slack,” if I hadn’t allowed myself to read novels, watch movies, and play video games, if I hadn’t allowed myself to “goof off” instead of work, I wouldn’t have given my mind the freedom it needed to imagine.

Sometimes we need to cut ourselves some slack. We need to stop worrying about what we “should” be doing and allow ourselves to relax and have fun instead. And at its core, this is what minimalism is about. By eliminating as much stuff and as much tasks and as many obligations as we can, we allow ourselves to get bored. We give our minds the freedom to wander.

And when we do that, amazing things can happen.

I don’t know what is going to happen with that story. All I know is that I’ve written over 3,000 words this morning alone. I feel a passion, an aliveness that I haven’t felt since I was a child when I would fill notebooks with stories and doodles instead of doing my homework. And I am going to embrace that sensation.

We have become so wrapped up in duty, we have become so sucked in to chatting with friends and updating our timelines that we’ve forgotten who we are.

And minimalism can help us regain that.

Turn off your computer. Cancel your appointments. Change your routines. Eliminate everything you can eliminate. Allow yourself to become bored.

Because that is when the magic happens.

Have you ever allowed yourself to completely mix up your routine, to eliminate everything that you can eliminate in order to truly experience boredom? What happened? Please share your stories in the comments below.

And if I miss another post, you will know what I’m doing. I’m busy getting this story out of my head.

~#~

If you happen to find this post helpful, would you consider sharing it with a friend or on social media?  Thanks!


I’ve written a lot of books sharing my odd view of life in hopes of helping others. My most notorious book is titled The Shoestring Girl: How I Live on Practically Nothing and You Can Too, but The Minimalist Cleaning Method is pretty popular as well. You can find them at the following places:

Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Apple iBooks
Smashwords (non-DRM)

Thank you for your support!

Categories
Education Goals Inspiration

PERSPECTIVE IS EVERYTHING

One semester down; 19 to go.

We can do 19 semesters.

When I shared that fact with my daughter Katie (who is studying for her Bachelor’s in Health Science now), she announced that it sounded so much easier that way. She had been a bit depressed at the fact that she just committed four years of her life to not only working full-time, but studying full-time as well.

Unlike my Katie, I am only capable of going to college on a half-time course load. The thought of taking four years to acquire a two-year degree would be depressing but 19 semesters?

I can do 19 semesters.

To monitor my progress, I decided to take the suggestion of reader Belinda to heart. She used a five-year journal to keep track of her progress as she stopped smoking and sorted some health issues. I decided to follow her lead and use the multi-year journal format to keep track of both my long and short-term goals. With each passing year, I will be able to look back and see how far I’ve come.

It will help me gain perspective when I feel as if I’m not making any progress.

How do you maintain a positive perspective as you work towards your goals? Please share your stories in the comments below.

Categories
Inspiration

Counting the Shifts

Having experienced freedom in the past I am likely more spoiled than most. I know the pleasure that comes from waking up when you like and having the freedom to arrange your schedule as desired.

That is why on some days I dread going to work. Even as much as I enjoy my job I watch the clock tick closer to my shift with dismay.

I’ve figured out a way to handle that. I count the shifts until my next day off.

“Two more shifts,” I’ll tell myself as I groggily sip my coffee in the morning. “Two more shifts and I’m free for a day. I can do this. I can do anything I set my mind to. These next two shifts will take me closer to freedom. I can work a measly two shifts.”

When the going gets rough at work I remind myself that every penny I earn takes me that much closer to re-attaining my freedom. I want my freedom, don’t I? I can stick it out a shift or two in order to achieve my goal.

I don’t worry about the long view. I don’t allow myself to think about how long this might take. I focus on the shifts in front of me and keep moving forward.

Every single day I take one baby step closer to my goal. Before I leave for work I do a little bit on this website and work on my next book so when I become frustrated I can remind myself that I’m a little bit closer. Every single shift I remind myself that I will earn X amount of money in exchange for my time; if I guard my finances accordingly I’ll have that much more to invest so I’ll grow even closer.

Sometimes I even count the days until I can invest again or until the next round of dividends will hit my account.

I thought those little mental games were silly until this morning, when I awoke to find a text from a friend.

<Three more shifts,> the text read. <I can do three more shifts. This is going to be a good day for both of us.>

She signed it with a smiley at the end.

When you can’t find the motivation to continue, count the days until your next day off. Remind yourself of the little things you do that take you closer to your goal. You are the Turtle. Each day you may not make a lot of progress but that progress adds up with time.

One day you will wake up and realize that you’ve made it. Just by taking one step at a time, one day at a time you made it to the very end.

You can do this. I know you can, because I have faith in you.

Hang in there, my friend.

Categories
Finances Inspiration self-improvement Success

The Secret to Achieving the American Dream

The American Dream of improving your life, of having the ability to own your own home and change your circumstances is alive and well.

It is hidden in plain sight, crouching among the waves of advertising and manufactured needs we have been indoctrinated with; one simple sentence that so many choose to ignore:

Spend less than you earn.

You cannot afford a champagne life on a Budweiser budget. You cannot afford a new iPhone each year making minimum wage. You cannot spend money you haven’t earned yet to keep up with your neighbors.

It just doesn’t work that way.

If you want to succeed you have to live beneath your means. Find some way to make the money you save earn more money. Hustle to make even more money if you don’t have enough because it’s not the government’s job to support you if you don’t want to work.

The only one responsible for you is you.

It’s not always fun to do without when everyone around you is spending like mad. I feel that pain every single time my coworkers waltz in with their takeout for lunch and I’m sitting in the corner eating crackers.

My mouth waters, my stomach growls but I have to face the cold, hard fact of my life:

I will never be able to improve my circumstances if I spend every penny on stupid shit.

It’s not fun to walk to work in the rain and the snow and the mud. It’s not fun to pass up the opportunity to go shopping with my friends.

But you know what is fun about my life?

Paying all of my bills in one fell swoop at the first of every month. Having money to spare when those bills are done. Going home each night knowing that the lights will be on and the water will be running hot. Knowing I’ve got food in the pantry, clothes on my back, and money in the bank for when I need it.

I can sleep at night knowing that I’ve got more than enough to meet my needs. I can smile in the morning because I know that there will be money left over each payday to add to my investments. Watching those investments earn dividends that increase my income even more.

I have achieved my version of the American Dream on a minimum wage income simply by accepting my current financial limitations and living within them.

And day by day, simply by changing my mindset from survival to growth I am actively improving my circumstances. The day will come when I no longer need to work a public job in order to survive. I’ve done it before and I’ll do it again, only this time I’ll hedge my bets.

I am the daughter of an ex-con and a stripper. I barely have a high-school education. I had kids way too soon and ended up raising those kids on my own. I’ve got so many strikes against me I stopped counting but you know what? I’ve achieved what many believe to be impossible and I’m still moving forward.

If I can achieve the American Dream despite my challenges, you can do it too.

Now get to work.

Categories
Inspiration Personal Recycling

The Story of a Failure

Back when I was in fourth grade we lived within walking distance to my grandparent’s house. Every time I would see one of my uncles or aunts arrive for a visit I would race there in excitement.

I loved visiting with my relatives. One of those visits is indelibly imprinted on my brain. I can’t recall the exact details; I believe I was in school when they initially arrived. I just recall hearing part of an ongoing conversation as I hopped on the porch to knock on the door.

My grandmother was discussing my parents with my aunt. I paused, hand raised. I didn’t want to interrupt them. Being a nosey child I wanted to hear what they had to say so instead of announcing myself I stepped back and listened.

My parents were described as drunks; failures that could no longer support themselves. It didn’t matter that my dad had been in an accident that caused him to lose his leg; they were drunken failures nonetheless.

According to my aunt it was a shame that my parents had created me. I was a waste of humanity because, due to my environment, I would never amount to anything.

I took those words to heart but not in the way that she expected. Deep down I told myself that she was wrong. I would amount to something. I didn’t know what but I would figure it out.

But she was right. I am a failure.

I barely scraped through high school. I ended up pregnant at 19.

I failed college twice. I failed, not only in my selection of a life-mate, but in my attempts to keep the marriage going. I failed my first attempts at being a writer.

I even failed my attempt at suicide.

I failed the Army. I failed my first attempts at starting a business. I failed to sell Avon. I failed to sell Tupperware. I failed to sell phone service. I even failed with Amway.

Failure after failure piled up behind me. My husband would laugh and tell me that I would never survive without him because I was unable to accomplish a single thing. I was lucky that he had rescued me, had saved the local slut after she’d F***ed up and gotten herself pregnant.

I would never amount to anything.

After each successive failure I would have a good cry, dust myself off, and try again.

I became a successful dog breeder after being given two registered animals in a WalMart parking lot. I used the money to purchase a mobile home with the eventual goal of escaping my husband. It took years to work up my nerve and arrange things but I did it. After years of misery I achieved a divorce.

I graduated computer repair school and started my first successful business. I’ll never forget the shock I felt when I earned $1,000 profit my very first month.

I succeeded in juggling four jobs plus the workload of being a single mother. I worked full-time in fast food during the day and divided my evenings and days off between computer repair, working for a cleaning business, and doing the books for another company.

I succeeded in raising my kids without the financial support of a man. I had to get help sometimes but I did it.

Finally, after decades of failure, I achieved financial freedom after I started this website and taught myself how to write and publish books. I rested on those laurels for several years.

But I failed again. I failed to take my own advice about multiple streams of income. I had preached for years to family and friends about the risk of depending on a single source of income. I knew better. I knew from experience just how hard it could be when you lost your only job for whatever reason. But I was cocky. I’d made it. I was free.

I learned that lesson the hard way once more as I watched the changing world of the Internet pick away at my royalties. I even failed to acknowledge the change at first.

I achieved financial freedom but I failed to keep it.

So I did what I do best: I had a good cry, dusted myself off, and moved on. What’s one more failure when you have so many already? I went back to work in a public job as I analyzed my mistakes.

I may have failed but I am not defeated. I will fail as many times as it takes in order to achieve success.

How many times have you failed? Please share your stories in the comments below.

 

 

Categories
Inspiration

Wisdom of Uncle B-Bob

Meet Uncle B-Bob. He was the husband of my beloved Auntie. He died from cancer a few years back but his words live with me to this day.

He was always busy but he would never fail to spend time with us kids anytime I came over to visit. Memories of riding in the back of his pickup truck as he drove us to the fishing hole are among my fondest memories.

Uncle B-Bob was a soft-spoken man who was wise beyond his years. I remember him telling us kids that if we started saving money when we were 18 and started working that we could retire by the time we reached 40.

He said that he wished someone had told him that when he had been younger.

Of course, none of us really paid attention back then. We were too busy fishing to think much of it. I filed the memory away and went on with my life until my Auntie reminded me of his words the other day. My 20-year goal was so similar to his advice that she is convinced he is behind the idea.

Regardless of the truth in that, I can see him in my mind’s eye nodding sagely, saying “you can do it. Just get to work. You may not make much progress at first, but you’ve got to get started.”

Time to get back to work.

Categories
Finances Inspiration Investments Simplicity

The Magic of Time

I moved to this house in April 2011. In the fence row of the front yard was a little sapling beside my front gate.

My friend Mr. A wanted to chop it down. I told him to leave it; it would grow into a fence post eventually. That sapling was so insignificant that I never even bothered to photograph it. I finally located a photo of it I snapped a year later when we acquired Lilly. You can see it on the right-hand side if you look closely. It’s growing alongside the post that the front gate is attached to.

I’ve never really thought much about that sapling over the years; it was just there. A few neighbors have commented on how shady my yard stays, how private it is now but that’s about it.

Until this morning.

I woke up, and as is my habit I brewed my morning coffee and sat on the porch sipping the first cup while my dogs had their morning sniff/potty break.

That was when I finally saw it, I raced inside to grab my camera:

That tiny little inconsequential sapling is now a luxurious tree.

A small insignificant incident in my life culminated in this moment. More than anything that has happened in the seven years I’ve lived in this tiny home, that tree represents the changes I’ve experienced in my life.

It wasn’t the only sapling I saved over the years. I propped up the tiny survivor of a hollyhock bush on the left corner of my yard after the local water company decimated the primary bush in my neighbor’s front yard. A year or so after that a child of that bush appeared near the area where I keep my trash can. A sapling I preserved that doesn’t appear in this photo grew into a mulberry tree. The squirrels are grateful for that one since it feeds them. They hop from the branches of the one I photographed into the branches of the mulberry tree whenever they want a snack.

Maybe this is why I’ve grown so attached to this little house over the years. I’ve established roots. For the first time in my life I can sit on my porch and say “that tree was just a sapling when I moved here.” For the first time in my life I can look out and actually, physically see the fruits of my labor.

The magic of it is that I really didn’t do much. I just let it grow, and now look at it!

There is a lesson in that tree. Small actions can have a huge impact on our lives over time. A blog I created on a lark developed into a business. A book I wrote for my aunt became another and another until the royalties grew enough to support us for several years.

The royalties from those books, as I invest the money, will support me again in the future as my hair continues to grey.

Baby steps. It works.

Categories
Inspiration Investments

The Art of Staying Motivated

The other night I came home after an exhausting shift at work. I plopped down in front of my computer to check my emails before engaging in my nightly habit of reading a bit before I went to bed.

As I sat there I thought “what’s the point?” What was the point in reading more when I was so drained? It’s going to take years for me to achieve my goal, so what would be the harm in skipping a single night?

That’s when I realized I had a problem. I was losing my motivation.

It’s easy to lose motivation when all you can make are baby steps. When you have to wait days and weeks before you can take another step forward. But that is the reality of my life. I can’t afford to plunk down thousands of dollars and then wait to reap the profits. I have to invest in stages while working to increase my knowledge during my downtime. While I know that every few months I will receive a small payoff in dividends it is a cold hard fact that this project is going to take a while to really begin to pay off.

So how do I stay motivated? What can I do to encourage myself to move forward on the nights when I’m too tired to think, much less move?

With a heavy heart as I considered this I skipped my nightly reading and went to bed. I’d have to find a solution soon or risk giving up.

A few days later I walked to the store to purchase supplies. On a whim I headed to the school supplies section, thinking that a new pencil or ink pen would be a treat. I didn’t need one but sometimes it’s the little things that encourage us to continue moving forward. I found this:

Meet my new Goal Journal. I photographed it with the little piece of inspiration I carry with me daily, one of the silver rounds from my very first investment.

On the very first page I wrote down my goal. I wanted to see it every single time I opened the notebook.

Once that was completed I was stumped. Do I use the journal to chronicle all of my thoughts or to keep track of specifics? I decided to dedicate a single page each month to a cold, hard summary of my progress. I’ve decided to share it with you now.

I didn’t tell you at the time but I began this journey on my birthday earlier this year. I was hesitant to share because the idea sounded stupid even to me. Seriously, an old woman working part time for minimum wage who wants to enter the financial ring with the Big Dogs? The idea was laughable! Who the hell do I think I am, even considering this? Because of my inner demons I kept quiet until I became comfortable enough with the idea to have the courage to share.

The next month I decided to jump in with both feet. I scraped together every single penny I could spare from my book royalties and my income tax refund, took a deep breath, and kissed that money goodbye. I knew that I didn’t know much; I could very well lose it all, but I had to at least try, you know? Wishing wasn’t going to get me anywhere without definite action:

I managed to score free trading from my brokerage until August 8th. Sometimes it pays to ask plenty of questions. I took advantage of the blessing to make a few experimental trades so that I could figure out just how this stock market thing worked. I was completely clueless and I knew it. To my surprise I did pretty well. Not only did I manage to profit from my trades, I even received my very first round of dividends. I was chuffed!

July was the last full month that I qualified for free trading. I’m sure I drove the workers at my brokerage batty with all of my questions that month! I discovered the difference between exchanges, the fact that my brokerage will not allow anyone with a balance of less than $25,000 to trade on certain exchanges “to protect them,” and lodged a formal complaint about not being allowed to invest in the real “penny stocks” — those whose shares trade for literal pennies. A worker there actually called me to apologize personally for the limitation after that stunt and he helped me figure out exactly what I was allowed to invest in through the brokerage. I modified my search criteria appropriately, albeit grudgingly. As I explained, the five or ten bucks I’d planned to toss towards those particular purchases would not be near enough to budge the stock prices and I was well aware of the risk I was taking. By this point I was literally kissing my money goodbye as I transferred it to my brokerage account, and I STILL feel that my brokerage should eliminate that limitation.

When August is over I’ll add another page to my journal as I continue to chronicle my adventure. This will allow me to look back and see a visual reminder of just how far I’ve come. Due to the fact that I don’t require much to live on I’ve managed to accomplish quite a bit over these past few months. When you add the money I invested in early August I’ve managed to top $1,500 invested in the stock market–most of which came from my minimum-wage day job.

I’m not sure if I should be proud or terrified at the fact that I’ve hit it so hard. Fifteen hundred dollars isn’t exactly chump change for me. That’s three months’ worth of living expenses in my world. I guess time will tell as I continue this journey. In the meantime I have a physical reminder of my progress for those nights when I wonder why I’m even trying.

In addition to my goal notebook I carry that silver round in my pocket as I move through my day. Whenever things get tough at work I dig it out, turn it over in my hands, and repeat my goal:

I will do whatever it takes to invest $60,000 in the stock market.

I hope it’s enough.

What do you do to keep motivated about your goals? Please share your stories in the comments below.

Categories
Inspiration Success

First Step to Simplicity: Become Comfortable With Yourself

Christiaan wrote a thoughtful post Titled “Why You Should Not Fake it Until You Make it.”

I had to point out this post because it is true on several different levels.

All of us grow up learning how to fit in, to be one with the crowd.  We are taught that if we dress a certain way, behave a certain way and live in a certain way we are normal and will be accepted.

When those “certain ways” do not fit us properly it shows, whether we want to admit it or not.

Part of simplicity is paring down to what is important to us–is it so important to fit in that we have to pretend to be something we are not?

Each of us has these decisions to make, and all of us has a different path to our true comfort zone.  While I cannot point out your individual path I can give you some examples from mine.

I was taught that a home was not a home unless it had certain rooms and furniture.  There had to be a living room in the front of the house, and it had to contain a couch, a coffee table, lamps and end tables at the very least.  These items had to be fairly new-looking and in good repair to avoid being “looked-down” upon.   Bedrooms HAD to have a traditional bed, the bigger the better.  If you could afford a guest bedroom or a formal living room you just totally rocked, whether those rooms got used or not.

Reality Check:  Why in the world must one have a stupid couch if it never gets used? Ditto for the television and big fancy bed. If people rarely come to visit, why waste money and space on formal living rooms and guest bedrooms?  Why not take the money and time invested in those areas and put them to something much more important and enjoyable for YOU?  Would it not be more enjoyable to take the extra rent/house payment money and take a vacation to somewhere fun?  What about pay off a nagging debt if that is your preference?

What is more important to you?  Answer that key question and you are well on your way to a simpler life.

For me, it was easier to sell my pretty couch, loveseat and canopy bed than it was to beg people to move it.  It was easier to get rid of the stuff than it was to continue tripping over the things.  Sure, some may look at me askance when they realise my bed is actually a futon that I stretch out on the floor at night, but by day I actually have a room that can be used for other things. Instead of a couch and loveseat taking up all my precious living room real estate I have a small seat for the occasional visitor that serves quite well as the puppy perch it actually is–an item so small and light that I can move it about easily by hand and transport without issue in my van.  As a result the living room is able to contain the things that really do give us pleasure: our computer, which is our television, phone, stereo, game machine, etc., and Katie’s beloved critters.

I could not make these steps until I realised what was really important to me.  Extra space, transportablilty, clean-ability–these are what is important to me, and these are the goals I seek as I journey through this life.

What is important to you?