The western world is stressed out, worried about the future, not enjoying life to its fullest. Why should this be? We have money, resources and opportunities that billions of people in the world can only dream about. I believe we need to slow down, take stock, and make changes that will enhance the quality of our lives. Here are some of my ideas.
1. De-clutter your home
Do we really need all the “stuff” that fills our houses? Often we just waste time and energy moving it from location to location, cleaning around things that make our living space untidy, and we lose track of those treasured possessions that do interest us or have real meaning. Why not have a major clear-out? Take a good hard look at all the things you own and decide if you need to keep them or if they could be better used. Why do you need a shelf full of CDs when all your music is stored on your PC or IPod? Are you really likely to read those books again? And you’re only going to wear that outfit again if you drop three dress sizes! Unwanted items can be recycled, donated to a charity shop, sold in a garage sale or on EBay, or given to friends or relatives. Clothes and toys that you may wish to save for future grandchildren should be boxed up in moisture-proof containers and stored in an attic or garage. And once you’ve de-cluttered try not to “re-clutter” too quickly!
2. Think before you buy
We are all consumers and our materialistic lifestyle does provide employment for millions around the globe but I think we’d all be a lot happier if we focused only on the purchases that we really need to make and sought to buy quality rather than quantity. When choosing furniture why not consider second-hand items that, although older, could last just as long as brand new ones because they are made from better materials. Pay a little extra for a washing machine or refrigerator that comes with a longer warranty or is known to be better quality. If you need tools for a short-term project, can you rent or borrow rather than buy? If you have children, look into schemes where you can swap clothes, books and toys with other parents. If you like reading but tend to enjoy a book just once and then store it on the bookshelf, why not make use of your local library or buy from a second-hand shop?
3. Walk don’t drive
Wherever possible leave the car at home. Far too many car journeys are taken to cover distances of less than a mile. Driving when you could easily walk wastes money, uses up valuable resources, makes the roads more congested for people who do need to drive, and may well be contributing to climate change. It also makes you lazy. We’ve all heard the joke about the person who drives five miles to the gym, takes the elevator to the tenth floor, and then jogs for five miles on the running machine and spends ten minutes on the step machine, all in the name of keeping fit! If you just walk and run as part of your daily life you will become fitter and slimmer without really trying. If you walk to school with your children you may actually find yourself chatting about the sights and sounds of your journey rather than trying to break up the inevitable fights in the back of the car. If your journey to school or work is too far to walk then park up half a mile or so from your destination and walk that last little bit.
And do you need a second car, or a large gas-guzzler? There may be occasions where an extra or larger vehicle is needed, but why not rent if those occasions are infrequent. Why pay for maintenance and insurance of a vehicle you rarely need to use? A small “run-around” is adequate for most day-to-day activities.
4. Grow your own vegetables
“Growing your own” isn’t just about saving money – indeed you may not see much of a saving – but there is little to beat a meal made from fresh ingredients that you have just brought in from the garden. Your veggies and herbs will be organic, bursting with vitamins, and really tasty. Children love watching things grow and seeing their own garden develop will be an education to many modern youngsters who are used to seeing their food shrink-wrapped and processed. Why not make your own compost too? This will reduce the amount of waste you throw out, diminish the impact you have on your local land-fill site and give you free organic fertilizer next season.
5. Be a discerning TV viewer
I would never advocate getting rid of your television. Television can still educate, inform and entertain. But be more discerning about what you and your children watch. It is really easy to settle down in an armchair and just flick between channels, selecting the best programme out of the bunch. Why not schedule time to watch those programmes that you love and then do something else with the remaining hours such as reading a book, painting a picture or listening to music. Better still take the opportunity to talk to the kids and maybe play a board game together or go for a bike ride.
6. Phone an old friend
We’ve all got friends that, however much we love and care about them, we never seem to get around to calling. These are the “birthday and Christmas card” friends who we write to year after year, promising to keep in touch, but it never really happens does it? So why not put aside one hour in your schedule and phone them? Even if you normally keep in regular contact via email a phone call is far more rewarding for both parties.
7. Get an early night
Far too many of us are sleep-deprived. We try and get by on as little sleep as possible because we are busy people, and needing to have a good night’s rest is often seen as a weakness. You will function more efficiently if you sleep longer and enjoy a higher quality of sleep. Have an early night once a week and do your best to get seven or eight hours the remaining nights. If your partner’s snoring is disturbing you then think about sleeping in separate rooms once or twice a week.
8. Do something for charity
There are many worthy causes out there. Some receive generous financial support but may still need volunteers to help at events. Others need money and willing workers. Your life will be enhanced by contributing to a charity. You will know that you have done something positive to improve someone else’s life which will give you great satisfaction and you will be meeting other people in your community thus making new friends and contacts. You will also have an opportunity to gain insight into the issues and challenges that affect people less fortunate than yourself and you’ll appreciate what you have all the more.
9. Have a family night out
At least once a week, set aside an evening for a family night out. This could be a restaurant meal, bowling, going to see a movie, or just taking a walk and enjoying an opportunity for conversation. Get into the habit of doing this when the children are young – older kids won’t necessarily jump at the idea of having to spend quality time with Mum and Dad if this isn’t normal for them. Many teenagers are crying out for positive attention from adults, and parents need to find the time to provide it. Why not meet up with another family or invite the grandparents along? Make it an event to look forward to.
10. Enhance your health – one step at a time
Take small and achievable steps towards better health. Be realistic – do you really think you’ll be able to run a marathon in six months time if you are very overweight and haven’t exercised in years? It may be possible for some but many more aim way too high and cannot reach their (unrealistic) goals. The perception of failure reinforces the belief that good health and fitness isn’t an option for that individual. I believe that you are more likely to succeed if you are less ambitious in the short term but do not abandon the long term goal of being a fit and healthy person. Walk more, cycle, swim once a week – a little exercise is better than none. If you smoke and cannot quit all in one go then why not cut down to start off and once you are comfortable smoking fewer cigarettes cut down once again. If you need to lose weight, aim to drop a pound or two a week. It will take longer to reach your target but you won’t be “on a diet” the whole time, just eating healthily, reducing portion sizes, and still living life to the full. If you enjoy drinking wine, why not buy a more expensive, better quality bottle, and reduce the quantity you consume, or spread the pleasure over two nights? The “fuel” you take in to power your body will determine how well it performs, so the meals you eat should be made up of the best quality meat, vegetables and fruit that you can afford and should be home-made or from a restaurant with a reputation for good food.
11. Enlarge your social circle
“You should get out more!” It’s a bit of a cliché, but too true for many of us. Why not join a local drama group or try out a new sport? Many towns run evening classes where you can learn new skills or indulge your creative side. Above all you’ll get to meet people with whom you wouldn’t normally interact. Some of these people may become friends, many won’t, but you’ll get to chat and laugh with people from different walks of life, maybe even different cultures, which I believe is a positive experience. Make an excuse to meet your neighbours. We rarely interact with the people in our neighbourhood these days. These are the people who might be able to help out if you had an emergency at home or needed advice about local services. If you knew them well enough you could leave a spare key with them, ask them to look after your pets or water the plants while you were away, and you could return the favour. Maybe their children would like to play with yours? You might not become best friends but it’s good to have someone close to home who you can talk to and rely upon.
12. Review your aspirations
How much unhappiness and stress is caused by wealth acquisition and materialism? While there is no doubt that poverty, poor quality of life, and misery are inextricably linked, I don’t believe that having wealth and possessions is the key to happiness. Do you really need that enormous house and all the latest appliances? Why are you working extra hours just so you can pay others to clean your house, work in your garden or take care of your children? Does your job really satisfy you or is it just paying the bills? Would you be happier working for yourself? These are questions only you can answer but it’s worth asking them on a regular basis. When you are older and looking back over your life what do you think will be the happy memories, the things that made your life worthwhile? Maybe you’ll wish you’d had more time to be with your family and friends or that you had lived a lifestyle that hadn’t been so focused on consumption and using up the planet’s valuable resources. Don’t wait to have regrets. Make those changes now.
I hope you have enjoyed reading this article and I would love to read your comments and your own suggestions for improving the quality of our lives.
Standard Disclaimer: The author does not claim to be an expert in the subject described in this article and accepts no liability for any loss or damage caused by inaccurate information or unsuitable guidance.
Copyright: CambridgeLady, 3rd April 2009.