Less is More | Column | Sample articles

Contact: Josh Martin | 519-856-0919 | joshmartinink@gmail.com
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5 Ways to Practice Slowing Down
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The pace of North American life can be dizzying. We try to cram activity into every minute because we feel we are wasting time otherwise. We live in the Age of Instant—an age of fast food and fast cars; of high-speed internet for immediate access to news, weather and sports updates. And of course the minute-to-minute coverage of the minutia of our family and friends’ lives in 140 characters or less. Speed is the name of the game.

But there are downsides to this mile-a-minute pace. We find ourselves too rushed to spend quality time with our loved ones. We lose out on opportunities for self-improvement when we don’t give ourselves the time for thoughtful reflection. We fail to be present in the moment when our minds our racing with the next twelve things we “need” to get to. We risk burning ourselves out physically and mentally when we never allow ourselves the chance to rest and recharge.

Slowing down takes practice and discipline. Here are some ideas to get you started.

  1. Reclaim the mealtime experience. Mealtimes have become akin to Formula-1 drivers making a pit stop to refuel. The faster you can scarf down your dinner, the faster you can be back out on the track. Slow down. Chew more. Set boundaries like no phone calls or TV during dinner. Embrace a relaxed and social approach to eating that allows for meaningful conversation and quality time together.
  2. Breathe. Get into the habit of taking some time to clear your head by focusing on your breathing. Breathe in for a count of four, hold for seven counts, and slowly blow out for eight counts. Repeat this four times in a row twice a day.
  3. Learn from other cultures. I’ve been raised as a punctuality extremist by my mother. So my travels to Africa and South America, where time and schedules are much less rigid concepts, were quite challenging. However, the more relaxed pace found elsewhere in the world can also be refreshing and inspiring and can help soften our obsession with time and speed.
  4. Send a hand-written letter once a month. Handwriting is fast becoming a lost art. Our correspondence nowadays with our nearest and dearest is being dominated by text messages, Tweets and Facebook status updates. Getting out a pen and paper and writing someone a physical letter once in a while is a fun way to slow down and engage in a more thoughtful and meaningful way.
  5. Go on a photo walk. How often have you speed-walked or zipped through your neighbourhood in your car without ever taking in your surroundings? Get to know your community a bit better and practice being present. Bring your camera with you on a walk through your neighbourhood. Take your time. Stop and take pictures. Force yourself to get out of your head and into the moment.

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11 Simple Activities Involving One Item or Less
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In 2005 the cardboard box was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in Rochester, New York. The stick made the cut in 2008. “[T]here aren’t any rules or instructions for its use,” said Christopher Bensch, the museum’s curator of collections. “It can be a Wild West horse, a medieval knight’s sword, a boat on a stream or a slingshot with a rubber band.”

We live in a time when it seems that every toy requires 17 triple-A batteries and every activity requires mountains of gear. So it’s nice to see the simple stick and cardboard box recognized for the limitless entertainment potential that can be unlocked through a bit of imagination.

Here are 11 activity ideas for children and adults alike that require one item or less. Feel free to whip out this list the next time you hear your kid whining that they’re bored.

  1. Tag. And no, I don’t mean tagging your friends on Facebook. I can’t count how many hours I’ve spent chasing friends around the schoolyard yelling “You’re it!”
  2. Soccer. It’s no surprise soccer is the most popular sport in the world. Whether you’re from Richmond Hill or Rwanda, all you need is a soccer ball and some open space.
  3. Cards. There are hundreds of games you can squeeze out of a single deck of playing cards. Perfect for games night or a rainy day.
  4. Hopscotch. Any sidewalk or blacktop can be transformed into a playground with a bit of chalk and imagination.
  5. Red Rover. No other game has been responsible for more clotheslines, bruised wrists and sprained fingers than Red Rover. “Red Rover, Red Rover, we call the paramedic over!” A personal favourite.
  6. Hide and Seek. Another favourite. All you need is a group of people and a good place to hide. Just don’t hide next to a bee hive like I did that one time as a kid.
  7. Charades. Great party game that doesn’t require anything fancy. Giving an easily embarrassed guest something a bit risqué to act out is always hilarious.
  8. Duck Duck Goose. Thrilling suspense. High speed chases. Patting people on the head. This classic has it all.
  9. Touch football. If you remove the contact element from football you remove the need for all the pads, helmets and mouth guards. And the need for trips to the hospital in most cases.
  10. P.I.G. All you need is some sort of projectile – a ball, Frisbee, hard-boiled egg – that gets tossed back and forth between players. Drop the item and get a letter. When you spell P-I-G, you’re out.
  11. Rock Paper Scissors. I’m pretty sure more decisions have been made amongst my friends using Rock, Paper, Scissors than by thoughtful discussion.

These are just a few activities that don’t require fancy or expensive gear. Keeping fun simple is a great way to go!

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The Art of Reusing
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Simple living is all about doing more with less. This can run contrary to the disposable culture we live in that encourages us to constantly toss out the old and buy more. Finding creative ways to reuse things helps save money, teaches our children the values of resourcefulness and conservation, and reduces the amount of waste in landfills.

Here are eight ideas on reusing:

  1. Shop at thrift and second-hand stores. I was just at one last week and bought a great wall clock for my living room for $4.00. I also found an awesome silk tie I wore to my cousin’s wedding for $1.99. Second-hand shops are full of stellar finds.
  2. Print double-sided. You’d never know it’s the digital age considering how much paper still gets printed at home or the office. Reuse your scrap paper by printing on the other side.
  3. Check out sites like eBay, Craigslist, Kijiji, etc. Everything imaginable can be found through second-hand websites. My kitchen table and six chairs are fantastic and I got them through Kijiji for a fraction of what I’d pay at a furniture store.
  4. Use reusable cloth bags for groceries. These are definitely growing in popularity. My biggest problem is remembering to bring them with me so now I keep a bunch in the trunk of my car (FYI, my car is used too! Another reusable idea).
  5. Save egg cartons and use them as planters. Get a head-start on the growing season by planting your seedlings in egg cartons. Works with pretty much anything–tomatoes, herbs, beans, etc.
  6. Use old plastic water bottles as ice packs. Canadians send as many as 65 million empty water bottles to landfills per year. Statistics Canada reports that 1/3 of all households are choosing to drink bottled water instead of out of the tap. Big problem. One clever idea I read about is to refill you empty water bottle and toss it in the freezer to be used as an ice pack for your cooler.
  7. Use cloth napkins. A great way to save on paper napkin waste.
  8. Re-gift. Make a re-gifting pact at Christmas and insist that every gift you exchange with your family and friends is a reused item. It’s amazing how much stuff we accumulate in our basements, closets and attics and how so much of that stuff would make great gifts. Don’t forget to wrap it all in reused newspaper!

Reusing is good for the environment and the wallet. Take a moment to think about other options before rushing out to buy something new.

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10 New Year’s Resolutions for Simpler Living
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With New Year’s Eve just around the corner, have you decided on any resolutions for 2012? Here are some suggestions from a “simple living” angle, broken down into things to do less of and things to do more of.

  1. Less shopping. In 2011 I embarked on a “Buy Nothing New” year, resolving to not buy anything new for a whole 12 months. I could buy used and had some obvious exceptions like food and health products. It was an immensely rewarding challenge. It meant less junk I don’t need around the house, more money in my bank account and a chance to reflect on non-material sources of happiness.
  2. Less TV. I am extremely guilty of watching too much TV. Hours just slip away in front of the mind-numbing glow of Glee or Seinfeld reruns. Make a commitment to cut back on the amount of time in front of the boob tube. Better yet, get rid of it all together. You won’t miss it for long!
  3. Less stuff. De-clutter your space. Make a resolution to go through one room each month and get rid of all the junk you don’t need. Be ruthless and free yourself from the chaos of clutter!
  4. Less time clutter. A cleaner calendar is definitely in order for 2012. Learn to say no and cut back on extra-curricular activities. Organize your time better to help keep your busyness at a sustainable pace.
  5. More gratitude. Having a roof over our heads, not fearing for our lives every day, having food in our stomachs, having a drink of clean, safe water, a mere turn of the faucet away – most Canadians have a lot to be grateful for. Foster an attitude of gratitude in 2012. Learning to appreciate the big and little things in life that we take for granted helps keep you positive and conscious of people who aren’t as fortunate.
  6. More exploring. There’s adventure around every corner. Exploring local museums, hiking trails, restaurants, festivals, etc. are fun ways to get to know your community better. Focus your energy on experiential riches, not material wealth.
  7. More reading. There’s a stack of books on my bookshelf that I haven’t touched. This resolution is related to the earlier one of watching less TV to free up time for other, more stimulating activities
  8. More deliberate. I have a quote from Henry David Thoreau posted in my room that says “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you’ve imagined.” Following your dreams takes discipline and being deliberate. If you really want something in life you can’t wait around and hope it falls in your lap. You need to go after it, work hard for it and take risks. Resolve to take concrete steps toward achieving your dreams in 2012.

Happy New Year everybody! All the best for a wonderful (and simple) 2012!

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