How I Simplified My Commute

I live on Long Island in NY and for the past 7.5 years I have commuted on the LIE Route 495, (number 3 of the 5 most congested roads in NY). For 6 of those years I commuted 80 miles round trip, an average of 2 hours per day. I am now commuting 60 miles round trip for an average of 1 hr and 15 min each day. This is still a long commute but after doing 2 hours for so long it actually feels like a break.

Ultimately the goal is to have no commute but in the interim I have tried many things to simplify my commute in an effort to make it more tolerable and I will continue to do so. Some things have worked and others have not. Below are the top 5 that have worked for me, in no particular order.

  1. I sold a large gas guzzling car and purchased a Toyota Prius because in NY certain Hybrid cars are permitted to drive in the HOV lane without a passenger. Plus I love the lighter impact the car has on the environment and the savings in gas. I tried commuting with someone for over a year but when that person left the company for a job closer to home I decided that as an introvert commuting alone was more preferable for me. When commuting with another person it is difficult to utilize the commute time for personal enjoyment (ie: listening to audio books or music) and unless your commuting partner has the same taste as you it can actually be unpleasant.
  2. I changed my hours from 9-5 to 10-6. This shaved off between 30-40 minutes per day on average from my commute when I was commuting 80 miles round trip. Negotiating this change from my then employer was not easy. It took me several years and a change in department. But I didn’t give up and I finally was able to change them. So do not give up. This change made a huge difference and when I changed jobs to simplify my life even more it was easy to negotiate this time schedule as part of my new position.
  3. I took a 20K pay decrease and gave up 5 weeks of vacation to shave off 20 miles and 30 minutes of commute time per day. I didn’t change jobs solely to lessen my commute, but it was one factor and it did fit in with my overall efforts to simplify my life.
  4. I use deep breathing as a relaxation technique when traffic is particularly frustrating. This does help significantly and I highly recommend.
  5. I utilize the commute time to learn something new, enjoy a good book, some favorite music or just to think. Having Bluetooth is also convenient for it permits me to take a call when necessary although I do try to keep phone use to a minimum while driving. I have come to view my commute time as time just for me plus it just isn’t safe to be distracted.

For almost a decade I worked within 3 miles from my home, 5 years I worked within less than a mile. At the time I had no idea how fortunate I was and I look forward to the day when I no longer have to commute. However in the interim I will continue to make the best of it by implementing the above techniques and any other that I discover to lessen the stress and monotony of commuting long distances in traffic.

I have high hopes for the future. I believe with the ability to work location independent the younger generations will demand this from employers all across the world which will not only eliminate the traffic problems but will do wonders for our beautiful environment and the quality of our lives.

What methods do you use to simplify something stressful in your life?

Simplicity Can Be Difficult

I realize the title of this post is an oxymoron but it is true, at least for me it is. Having been raised in a culture where the belief is that more is better, bigger is better, more expensive is better; simplifying has been a process of deconstructing these beliefs. Shopping is one of America’s most popular recreational activities, as it was for me for many years.

The fact that I did not have unlimited wealth ultimately worked to my advantage. I did not appreciate this as a teenager or even a young adult, however being limited in what I could purchase did teach me some restraint. I still did a great deal of window shopping and the nagging feeling of desire was always there, that is probably why when I discovered credit cards I lost almost all control which I paid a huge price for as I discussed in a prior post.

Fortunately I have come to understand that materialism is not the key to happiness, it can be the antithesis of happiness. But even this knowledge can’t always quell the desire to acquire more or what is perceived as better. That is why choosing to live more simply or consciously can be difficult at times.

Discovering Simplicity has been a gift. Practicing it has removed that underlying feeling of discontent, that insatiable desire for a new or better car every couple of years, for new, more elaborate appliances, for more stylish clothing and shoes every season, etc.. The major benefit of this has been the liberation from those thoughts most of the time, providing me time to think about and focus on more important things. I say most of the time because I still have moments when I see a new car, or clothing item or piece of jewelry and I think I HAVE to have that but now I am able to sit with that uncomfortable feeling and most times it will pass and I will avoid that impulse purchase. I remind myself that I already have a functional, reliable car, I do not need one. I have plenty of clothing and shoes for work and leisure. I have all the furniture I need now that I have given away that which I did not need. Why not save the money or donate it or spend it on an awesome experience instead? These thoughts work for me. If you find yourself in similar situations I highly recommend having this conversation with yourself. Having this conversation is not always easy. It can be extremely difficult and sometimes I will give in and make the purchase. Luckily though I now get strong buyer’s remorse for frivolous purchases and do make returns.

Choosing simplicity is an ongoing process and means different things for different people. Understanding this allows me to be gentle with myself when I have weak moments. Cars are one of my greatest weaknesses. I LOVE cars and have lost a great deal of money trading in perfectly good cars for newer, more expensive models. This is one area that I need to be diligent. However, since deciding that I would keep my current car for as long as possible I have found that I no longer spend time thinking about the next car. I can actually see a great car and think of it as just that, a great car, not with the afterthought of I must have it.

Unlearning the more is better paradigm has been difficult but extremely rewarding. I am confident that as I continue to focus on the essential I will continue to experience joy and peace in my life and therefore I am deeply grateful for the simplicity movement and those spreading the message.

Thank you for reading.

My neighbors beautiful Hibiscus. Flowers are simple joy.

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Why I Chose to Give Up 1/4 of My Salary and 5 Weeks of Time Off

Just writing that feels surreal and if I had not become aware and enchanted by the concept of Voluntary Simplicity (aka Simple Living) I wouldn’t be writing it. I would be making more money, but I would also have added another 14 months of unhappiness to the decade I had already experienced. Thankfully that was not the case because I fortunately learned the value of simplifying. Please note that I was only making a middle-income salary to begin with, we are not talking 6 figures, so losing a 1/4 of it was quite significant.

I can’t say it was an easy trade off initially. There certainly was an adjustment period. However in hindsight it was one of the best decisions I have ever made and definitely the best decision for my health. In most cases as our salaries grow so does our spending, as was the case for me. Heck, for many years, as I have mentioned in previous posts, I spent more than I made and lived under crushing debt. However, as my living simply philosophy developed and my salary increased, this changed and I began to have disposable income. I could have used this money to pay off my mortgage or my car or saved it but instead it allowed me to take advantage of an opportunity that presented itself last year for a less stressful job that was closer to home. The downside was that this job paid 1/4 less than I was making and I would lose 5 weeks of time off that I had accrued over 12 years. Not a no brainer that is for sure.

Fortunately though, as a result of reading about others that have simplified their lives, including many people that left stressful jobs for less stressful jobs that paid less, I had the courage to make the change even though I had a significant amount of fear giving up that money and time. I literally had an anxiety attack the day I gave my notice and anyone I told what I was doing cringed and couldn’t understand. This did not make the decision any easier. But my inner voice was screaming that I was doing the right thing and thankfully I listened.

Downshifting is not what we are taught in school or by our families and is frowned upon by most of society. We are supposed to climb the corporate ladder, not voluntarily get off of it, continually making more money and getting better positions and titles. Economic growth at all costs. It was painful year after year as I watched as males in the company where I worked were able to accomplish this 98% more often and quicker than the females. As a woman I found this galling and unacceptable. I was exhausted from the endless attempts to break through the glass ceiling when it finally occurred to me that there was more to life than climbing the corporate ladder. The revelation finally hit me that I wanted off of the ladder and I was no longer interested in trying to break through the glass ceiling that quite frankly is still unbreakable in most cases.

Thankfully armed with the knowledge of how to live well with less I was able to take a job at a small company that does not have a corporate ladder but provides enough income to survive and even to save a little for the future. Now obviously this limits my financial growth opportunity as far as this job is concerned. However, I have found that as I adjusted from the high stress, negative atmosphere to a stress-free, more relaxed atmosphere I have more energy and desire to do other things during my free time. (ie: write this blog post, walk my dogs, read, take e-courses about writing blogs) This is far more important to me than financial growth. Not that I have anything against making a lot of money, I definitely do not, but I don’t think quality of life is a fair trade off. If one can make a lot of money doing what they love, I think that is fantastic. The more money one makes the more opportunities there are to help others.

The truth is that giving up 1/4 of my salary and 5 weeks of time off was well worth it and I have no regrets. You honestly cannot put a price on one’s health and peace of mind.

How much would you give up to live a less stressful life and to have more time and energy to do the things that you love?

Thank you for reading!

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I took this photo from my bedroom window a couple of weeks ago as the sun was setting. I love how the sun rays are shining through the budding trees.

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Simplify to Save

Until I discovered the simple living movement I was unable to save money. I developed the harmful habit of spending my money before earning it and lived under crushing debt for many years. I mostly purchased things that I did not need but that fulfilled a momentary desire or temporarily pacified a negative feeling I was having, like depression, sadness or anger. The item of the moment was more important than saving my money. I still don’t have very much cash savings, but I do have some and you have to start somewhere. Fortunately as a result of my conscious effort to simplify my life I have also been able to save money for my niece which I have been putting into a mutual fund.

Had I still been in the habit of spending more than I make I would not have been able to do this for my niece or myself. At times I still regress and purchase things I do not need but I do this less and less and many times when I impulsively purchase something I will return it. That is something I never did in the past. I now also make a conscious effort to contemplate each purchase and try only to purchase things that will add a great deal of value to my life, like the MacBook Air that I am typing this blog post on and things that I need. I contemplated the Mac purchase for well over a year. The Dell laptop I had was 6 years old and although it still worked it was very slow and inefficient.

I fell in love with the simplicity of Apple products when I purchased an iPhone 3g in 2009 which I used for over 3 years and wanted to give a Mac a try after hearing so many great things about them. I tried my niece’s and really liked it and I have not been disappointed. I did purchase the most inexpensive model and was fortunate to use a friend’s 10% discount which saved me $100. I have had no buyer’s remorse which I sometimes experience if I don’t think through a purchase. Fortunately the Dell was still in good enough condition to donate to a high school kid that did not have a computer which I was very pleased about.

I gave away 80% of my things over the past year, both because they didn’t serve me anymore but also so I could create space for things that would add value to my life, like more free time. I accomplished this mostly by donating to different organizations but also by using freecycle.com. I did donate some things to my local thrift store as well. I donated almost all of my books to the public library. This is a great way to recycle books because not only are they still available if I want to read them again but they are available for others as well. I also plan on doing this with my cd’s and dvd’s.

Simplifying is a mindset and a lifestyle, not something that is done one time. It has been over a decade since I learned about Voluntary Simplicity and the value practicing it can add to ones life, as it did for mine. However it is still a conscious effort to live simply. I am constantly thinking about ways to simplify not only my material possessions but my work schedule, etc. I work full time and run a business, plus I love to read, write and watch movies. I don’t have much of a social life these days because honestly there just isn’t time. Some suggest that is unhealthy or out of balance, but for now it suits my introverted hermit like personality. Plus I do have plenty of online social interaction which I really enjoy.

What is your inspiration to save money?

More purple flowers from in front of my Coop. Purple is so pretty!

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Thank you for reading.

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Why I Gave Away 80% of My Belongings

I still can’t believe I did it and it wasn’t easy but I have no regrets. It took over a year and was at times a very painful process but I felt in my heart it was a necessary process. I was feeling smothered by my things and craving space to breath. I live alone, well alone as with not another human. However I do live with 3 Chihuahua’s and 2 cats but I don’t have to worry about checking with them before giving away something so this process was certainly less complicated then if I was dealing with that aspect but it was still a difficult process and still is. I am not done yet. It is not that I think stuff is bad per se, but I do think too much unnecessary stuff is distracting and time consuming.

I live in a 1 bedroom coop approximately 650 square feet which was packed full with furniture, wall hangings, rugs, dishes, holiday decorations, exercise equipment etc. I went from having 4 large closets, 2 dressers and a king size storage bed packed tightly with clothing, bedding and curtains to 2 closets and 2 dressers loosely packed. Over a dozen bags of clothing, things I had not worn in over 20 plus years, were donated in waves of 2-3 bags at a time over about a year. How silly to still have clothing that not only were no longer appropriate (miniskirts and short shorts) but that no longer fit. I had to mourn the loss of my younger self while packing up all of those things from my past and accepting the fact that I was no longer that 20 something woman and never would be again. As difficult as that was; once it was done I felt a huge sense of relief. There is a sense of peace in accepting what is, letting go of the past and living in the moment.

Regarding paper and mementos; I went from three 2 drawer file cabinets packed full, to one file box, and I discarded a box of old love letters and cards from ex-boyfriends. I was able to discard much of the old paperwork and I scanned quite a bit into the cloud as well. I also discarded the Mass cards from my brother’s funeral in 1988. They had become wet in a basement flood almost 15 years ago and were ruined and should have been thrown out then but I wasn’t able to let them go at that time. I am not even sure why because when I think of my brother I prefer thinking of him when he was alive and not when he was lying in the coffin at his wake and funeral and that is what those Mass cards reminded me of. I still have several boxes of letters and cards from my family and close friends, which I will not throw away until they are safely scanned into the cloud for they do hold sentimental value.

This is just some of what I have given away. There was also furniture, books, dishes, exercise equipment, Christmas decorations etc. and there is still stuff that has to go. Why? Why did I decide to live with dramatically less stuff when most people in America are doing the opposite? To simplify my life in order to have more freedom. Less stuff equals less time cleaning, organizing and worrying about that stuff and more time enjoying life. If I had not come across a movement of people online that either had already done this or were in the process of doing it I probably wouldn’t have done it either. The Voluntary Simplicity and Small House Movements have been my inspiration, but my own life experiences have been my motivation.

Be forewarned, once you begin this process it takes on a life of its own and there is no turning back. Thankfully!

Have you ever considering downsizing? If so what would be the first to go?

Purple is one of my favorite colors and Pansies one of my favorite flowers. This is an image of my neighbors potted plant. I LOVE Spring!

Purple Pansie

Simplicity Fosters Freedom

Ever since I can remember I was acutely aware of the value of free time. At 19 years old I had a revelation one morning while lying in bed. I was shielding my face with my pillow from the summer sun shining through my bedroom window but enjoying the warmth and the symphony of birdsong and felt a profound sense of contentment as I realized the entire beautiful day stretched before me with nothing to do but enjoy it. I felt pure bliss. I remember it was a weekday because my father had come in to get one of his suits; we shared a closet at that time because although my bedroom was no bigger than a postage stamp it had the largest closet in the house, the entire length of one wall. This fact made the freedom of that day even more special because weekdays spent at the beach or in the yard or at the park, or anywhere were always more peaceful and lovely when most people were at work.

The thought that culminated into a revelation that morning and that would follow me to this day was – enjoy this freedom now, because very soon it will be over; and I did revel in my freedom that day and the rest of that summer all the while knowing that the sweet bliss of freedom as I knew it would soon end. I feel very fortunate to have had that revelation because not only did I appreciate and enjoy those lovely days of freedom, but on the rare occasion now that I enjoy a day of freedom I am grateful for every second.

It was during that blissful time of freedom that I obtained my first credit card. They were handing applications out on campus. It was an Amoco gas card. I clearly remember thinking how great it was not to have to worry about gas money anymore. I immediately began to charge more than I could afford. A dangerous habit that would follow me for almost 20 years and with each passing year I complicated my life more by living above my means. If I could go back in time and provide advice to that 19 year old girl I would advise her to learn to live within her means and how to differentiate between what is essential and what is not.

We were not taught about personal finances or about the dangers of credit card debt in school and my family never discussed money so I was at the mercy of my own discretion. What a disaster that turned out to be. I spent more than I made every year until I was so buried in debt I couldn’t afford the minimum payments any longer and had to file for personal bankruptcy. I was 33 years old. I was overcome with mixed emotions after. On the one hand I felt an overwhelming sense of relief and freedom having rid myself of that albatross around my neck, but at the same time I was ashamed and humiliated that I had allowed myself to dig myself into a hole I was unable to get out of.

Sadly I did not learn from my mistake, because within 2 years after filing for bankruptcy I was again spending more than I made each year and once again found myself under a mound of credit card debt. This time was different though because I was aware of what I was doing and I was trying to figure out how to stop. That is when I fortunately came across the Voluntary Simplicity Movement and a book called Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominquez, a combination that completely changed my thinking and my life. The book taught me not only how to live within my means but the value of doing so which was the why. So I spent the following 5 years paying off that 2nd round of debt and have since (for the exception of 2 years following a sick dog and very large vet bill) lived without credit card debt and have managed to purchase a home and save a substantial amount towards retirement.

It has been liberating and freeing to learn how to live within my means and I attribute learning the value of simplicity and how to weed out the unessential for this priceless gift.

I hope that you aren’t living under a mountain of debt but if you are please realize there is hope. There was a time I felt hopeless, but with time and small consistent actions anything is possible.

Thank you for reading.

Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai, NY. It is rocky but oh so lovely!

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Simplicity Offers Sanity to the Introvert

I had a hunch but didn’t know for sure that I was more an introvert than extrovert until last year, at 46 years old, when I came across a TED talk by Susan Cain the author of an informative book on the subject called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. I was labeled an extrovert back in grade school and just assumed this was what I was so it was an extremely uncomfortable realization to discover that I was actually more introvert than extrovert. Extroverts were always praised in school, whereas introversion was more looked upon as something to change, to improve.

Over the years I made great effort to fulfill that grade school label and was quite successful at doing so for most of my life. However, over the last fifteen years it became more and more difficult for me to live up to that label. Initially I actually thought something was wrong with me, that I had become anti-social with age, or depressed, or something. I blamed myself for my lack of interest in attending gatherings any larger than a few people and my desire to spend more and more time in solitude.

So what a relief it was to learn that not only was I labeled incorrectly as a child but there is a whole new school of thought with regard to the introvert/extrovert continuum. For one, and most importantly, I learned that it is not a bad thing to be more introverted than extroverted. Also, there is a new label called ambivert which means you have qualities of both and can be more of one than the other at different times in your life. I now consider myself an ambivert that leans more toward introversion.

You are probably wondering what this has to do with simplicity. Well, I have come to believe that simplifying one’s life can be beneficial to every human being and our beloved planet but for those of us who tend to be more introverted, simplicity is as necessary as the air we breathe, if what we desire is peace and contentment. Which is of the utmost importance to me.

This certainly has been my experience and from the reading and research I have done on Voluntary Simplicity it seems to be the experience of many. I highly recommend watching Susan Cain’s TED Talk and reading her book if this topic interests you at all. I highly suggest taking one action today to simplify your life. It can be as seemingly small as cleaning out your car and driving to work in silence. Wherever you fall on the introvert/extravert continuum you will benefit from more serenity in your life and there is no better way to achieve that than to simplify.

Where do you fall on the continuum?

Happy Spring! I took this photo while walking my little dog Buddy this morning.

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