7 Things to do TODAY to Simplify Your Life

2018 has started exactly as I expected – a runaway bullet train hurtling towards 2019 at record speed. We are half way through February; I’ve broken all my resolutions, but I have come up with several new plans for a less chaotic, more ordered life. I have accepted that my house, my head, my life has too much stuff. Stuff that did nothing for my happiness; it was just stuff that needed to be kept organised, updated or tended to in some way. I figured the easiest way to deal with it was to just simply get rid of it.

I have also realised that incremental change is the way to go. I find it easier to execute small, bite-sized projects, record a success and get motivated for more improvements. Here are some of the things I call “quick wins” that you should consider for a less cluttered 2018.

  1. Take a hard look at your email inbox. Is it cluttered with unread newsletters, marketing emails, notifications, UBER receipts, and junk. Did you miss an important email in the sea of Did you still need a updates from meetup even though you last attended an event 2 years ago? Or marketing emails from a store you haven’t shopped at for 5 years? Or travel updates from a country you visited on your vacation last summer?  How many newsletters do you really need? Unsubscribe from all but the most important or interesting. You will save yourself for having to clean thousands of unread messages or even worse, creating a new account every time an account gets too big to handle.
  2. Review all subscriptions. Are you absolutely using all the products and services you are subscribed to? Are you getting good value for your money? Are there subscriptions on auto-renewal that you had forgotten? Think quality and not quantity. Are they positively contributing to your life or just sucking up time and money?
  3. Consolidate banking and investment accounts. It’s easier to track one account instead of multiple accounts with different institutions with different terms and conditions. And you might even qualify for preferential services for the extra business you bring to the bank.
  4. Keep as few credit cards as possible. It’s easier to track, earn more rewards, limit the amount you could possible spend, protect against theft. Find a card that provides the benefits most important to you – cash back, points or miles.
  5. Plan and prep meals. Save time and money by taking 15 minutes each week to plan your breakfast, lunch and dinner for the week. Also, save yourself from poor food choices, and emotional eating by planning in advance. There are scores of articles available on preparing weekly meals. Check here, here and here. (Disclosure: I really struggle with this item. Logically I understand why I need to plan and make ahead meals but I’m still working through eating my emotions).
  6. Think about all the low-value, frequent use STUFF you have accumulated. Look at your stash of Toiletries, Spices and herbs, and Snacks. Are there any expired items? Spoilt? Is there something you are don’t like anymore or are most definitely not going to use again?  The same principle applies to kitchen appliances, tools and gadgets, and cookbooks. I cannot adequately describe the joy and sense of control I have felt after a quick clearing out of a shelf or drawer or two.
  7. Lighten up the social calendar. It is tempting to sign-up for every school event and attend every birthday party. FOMO is very real when it comes to parenting. Say no when you need to. Killing yourself trying to do everything and be everywhere just takes away from the joy of the events. The same holds true for those without kids – are you overextended, overcommitted, running after too many things? Pick those that mean most to YOU.

My Family’s Favourite Pancakes

When you have kids, you learn to cook pancakes. Then you teach said kids to make pancakes. After a couple of disasters big and small, the family pancake factory is up and running smoothly. This makes for many pleasurable weekend mornings and long, leisurely breakfasts.

This recipe is based on Mark Bittman’s Everyday Pancakes.

My Family's Favourite Pancakes

My 2017 Gratitude List

Sunday December 31, 2017. The end of the weekend, the last day of the last month of the year.

2017 was not a great year by any measure, plenty went wrong. But I am a glass half full kind of person so I must say plenty also went right. I am grateful for the blessings showered, the opportunities to travel and learn, the deepening of friendships and the recognition of a journey of self awareness.

Humor

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I am thankful for people in my life who make me laugh. I am thankful for being able to see the light of humor in a dark year.  A special shout out to Fowl Language for seeing the humor in parenting and assuring me from time to time that I am not alone.

Nature’s Beauty

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City-dwellers travel far and wide to seek out nature and enjoy its resplendent beauty.  Sometimes we are lucky to find it in our very cities, waiting for us to reach out and experience. Whether it is the faraway Pulau Ubin or the Fort Canning Park in my backyard, nature’s treasures are everywhere.

Role Models

I am thankful for role models at every stage of my life, especially strong women role models. Many times I have asked “What would she do?”.

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CC Image Courtesy Flickr user David. https://www.flickr.com/photos/65193799@N00/3215110390/

These days one of them is Michelle Obama. I want to be Michelle when I grow up.  I want her smile, her body, her wardrobe and mostly I want her marriage.

Food

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Food is a part of my culture. Most conversations begin and end with talk of food – what did you eat, how was it, when shall we eat again, can you share the recipe? It goes on…

I am thankful for the abundance in my life, the adventure of food and cooking. My children are young but well on their path to be culinary explorers – they enjoy new foods, like to help out in the kitchen and are regular viewers of Food TV channel. Other kids watch cartoons my kids watch Giada, Nancy Fuller and Iron Chef America.

Art

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A white wall and sheet of stickers. That is the genius of the art installation Obliteration Room by Yayoi Kusuma for the Children’s Biennale at the National Gallery, Singapore. Whimsical and fantastical, a treat for the child in everyone.

I am thankful for the art on my walls, in my children’s doodles, on city streets. Once you start noticing, art is everywhere – you can see it, touch it, hear it, smell it, and taste it.

Travel

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Travelling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller (Ibn Battuta). I am thankful for some terrific travel experiences in 2017 – from scuba diving to 20 metres in the Mactan Island (Cebu, The Philippines) to trekking in a high altitude national park in the Himalayas. 2017 was the year of Asian travel that took us to Hong Kong, Indonesia, India and The Philippines. I can’t wait to explore the continent more thoroughly.  So far we have travel plans for Japan in early spring, The Philippines and Malaysia in summer. I’ve lived in Singapore 10 years, and most of my travel has been in the United States and Europe. How ridiculous is that? Time to change that. I long to see the temples at Angkor Wat, the fall colours in Korea, and beaches of Vietnam.

My Girls

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What would I do without my girls – sisters, cousins, friends? Whether I need to vent or cry, go crazy and let my hair down, go for long walks or lunches, get inspired, distract myself from troubles, or just talk and laugh about everything in the Universe, my girls have been there for me and with me. As I grow older I appreciate my circle of women friends even more. The funny, brilliant, interesting women are indeed my treasure.

Hope and Opportunity

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I am thankful for beauty and inspiration in the most unexpected places. I spotted this summer garden at an Indian army transit post situated near a high mountain pass (~16000 feet). The makeshift garden was put together by a soldier far away from home, with planters made from recycled tin cans and love. It spoke of a yearning for beauty and normalcy in such a desolate place. It filled me with hope.

Chasing Perfection

Yesterday my 7-year-old daughter stood crying in her bathroom. “Why do I take so long to shower?” Who knows what goes on within an exhausted and hungry 7-year old mind? Scientists! Forget the gravitational waves, genetic sequences, circadian rhythms, cell regrowth. The real challenge is trying to understanding a child’s emotion-fueled actions. My little girl’s tirade ended with “I will never be perfect!” My “be-who-you-are, love-who-you-are” instinct went on alert instantly. I hugged my little girl and told her nobody is perfect but we must try to always be our best, do our best.

Why are we so hung up on perfection? And what is perfection by the way? Is it Tartine’s sourdough? A sunny day at the beach? Kids snug in bed at 7.30pm? Burrata from Puglia? The third Brandenburg concerto? The structure and design of a single leaf? The beauty of the Himalayas? A girls’ night out complete with a party bus? Mom’s dal? Flight sequences in films by Hayao Miyazaki? A home cooked meal shared with friends? Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album? The Harry Potter books? The silence after snowfall? A coral wall?

Inspired by my daughter I went exploring on what people had to say about perfection. I guess the most famous quote belongs to Vince Lombardi – “Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.” Hmm… I would settle for excellence any day.

Dali was a bit more severe. He said, “Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.”

Some felt perfection, once achieved would be dull or boring (W. Somerest Maugham, Mario Testino), some felt it was their driving force (Venus Williams, Tom Ford, Kobe Bryant, Wendy Whelan).

Some felt perfection was in the realm of the Gods (Carolina Herrera, Michael J. Fox), some felt perfection takes time and cannot be rushed (Voltaire, Alexander Wang). Some focused on the fallacy of physical perfection (Kate Winslet, Tracee Ellis Ross, Mila Kunis).

Nobody probably knows about perfection more than Nadia Comaneci and she says she never thought of the score. If she did, she probably would have messed up. She just aimed for perfection.

I belong to the group that believes perfection is an illusion and what matters is hard work (Drake). As Margaret Atwood says, “If I waited for perfection I wouldn’t write a word. But I would like to think I worked my hardest and gave it my best.”

 

How I Learnt to Cope

I recently found myself in need of some fool-proof and positive coping mechanisms in my life. Ways in which I could independently deal with the physical, emotional and spiritual after effects of an unexpected life event. I realized that I need to have more than one way of dealing with stress/sadness/loss/ or any other unwelcome negative feelings. Also, that I needed to do this myself. I may have amazing friends and family to lean on but I would have to carry the responsibility for my own recovery and wellness.

I didn’t cry even though I felt it would help me. I didn’t lash out because really there was no one and nothing to blame, sometimes life just does what it wants to do irrespective of your plans, thoughts and feelings. I was surely in denial for two whole days and acceptance came slowly but when it did I was ready with a plan to move on. Here are somethings that worked for me.

  1. Do a physical activity – the options are endless. Now would not be the time to try something new like learning to roller blade. Just do an activity you enjoy, something that feels normal.
  2. Reach out to friends and family – a phone call or a coffee with someone with whom you can be honest and vulnerable. A meetup with a friend or colleague not associated with your current situation who can help take your mind off matters and who makes you laugh.
  3. Do something creative – bring out that adult coloring book and pencils, bake bread, or cook chili, dance (even if it’s front of the mirror), bead or knit. Anything that connects you to your creative side. It’s all about taking the negative emotions and channeling them towards something positive.
  4. Pray – pray to whomever or whatever you believe in. And trust in the timing of your life.
  5. Allow yourself to lose control and indulge for one day – shop, watch TV, eat ice cream, open up a bottle of wine, read TMZ or People, spend hours on FB or Instagram. Know that all of these are most definitely going to make you sick in some way or another at the end of the day.
  6. Do small home projects – reorganize your wardrobe, clean out the storage closet, refresh bed linens, rearrange furniture. I like to take out all my pretty jewelry, reorganize it and admire my good taste.
  7. Make some plans for the near future – make a list of home improvements needed, imagine a future holiday, plan a dinner party or a movie night with friends, register for an online course at Udemy or edX, or Coursera. Take some form of action on long wished-for events – look up real estate if you have been wanting to move, browse job postings if you have been wanting to change jobs, look for ways to save for your retirement, or just plain find some hacks to save money.

This by no means an exhaustive list, just a few things that worked for me. Look out for the positive things that can help you deal with the uncertainty in life and the chaos it can bring.

TRUST

10 Reasons to Learn to Scuba Dive in Your 40s

As part of my 40th birthday celebrations I signed up for a PADI Open Water Diver course. I was inspired by several close friends who have been diving for many years. Also, I didn’t want a piece of jewellery, a watch or a handbag, I wanted a new experience. My reasons for taking up scuba diving, not exactly an easy or riskless activity, went beyond turning 40.

  1. I needed new hobbies. After years of work and parenting I finally did something for myself and it felt amazing!
  2. I wanted to invest in an activity that I can enjoy in my senior years. There is no upper age limit for diving, assuming one is in general good health and has a physically active lifestyle. Stan Waterman an avid diver and pioneer of underwater film and photography retired at age 90. Jacques Cousteau dove nearly every day until his death at age 87.
  3. It was time to push my physical and mental limits and do something that scared me. And trust me, jumping off into deep water strapped with weights, purposely descending deeper into water, and breathing through the mouth goes against every natural human instinct.
  4. Enjoy the incredible underwater sights – the coral wall, the school of sardines, the giant clam, the hidden octopus, and the numerous angel fish and butterfly fish going about their day.
  5. I love stories. When you are on bus or a boat trying to get to a dive site with a group of strangers, it is inevitable that stories will follow the introductions. In that brief period, you share a connection with people from different parts of the world, people you are most likely never to meet again.IMG_1738
  6. Set an example for the kids that they can learn and enjoy new things at any age. My kids joined me on the boat for one of my dives and when they saw me suited up, do a back roll into the water and then disappear under the water, I know it made an impression. Both the kids are intrepid snorkelers and I can’t wait to sign them up for the youth scuba diving course when they reach the appropriate age.
  7. My family loves beach vacations. Now I have a new way to enjoy the oceans, it makes the travel experience so much richer.
  8. Diving is an activity I can share with my best friend who got her diving certification many years ago. Now we routinely share information on liveaboards in Indonesia and Thailand, longing for the day when our kids are old enough for us to go off the grid for 7 to 10 days.img_1770.jpg
  9. Truly understand ocean conservation. Until I completed my first dive, “save the oceans” was just a phrase. Now I truly get the importance of educating myself and my family about changing our daily habits. Reduce, reuse and recycle!
  10. Feel one with the universe – forget about the issues and struggles of daily life and feel like you are part of something so much bigger than yourself. 

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