If You Can Say Something Nice, Do!
Your mom probably told you many times during your childhood, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all." This is great advice, but I'd like to add another sentence. "If you can say something nice, do!" In this world where countless news sources are vying for our attention, it seems the sensationalized stories get the most traffic, and many of those contain negative, disappointing, or even scary content. It's easy to begin to believe there's very little "nice" stuff to talk about! The more we hear about the negative, the harder it is to even recognize the positive.
I recently had the opportunity to hear happiness researcher, Shawn Achor, speak, and one of the points that stuck out to me the most is that the more negative we feel, the more negative things we look for in our days, but the opposite is also true. Once you begin to recognize and appreciate positive things in your day, you actually become happier and start to notice more and more positives all around you. What if I could recognize more positives while also help others do the same? I think it's very easy to do just that by simply saying out loud the nice things we are already thinking. There are so many times that think, "her hair looks nice today," "he's really good at his job," "that guy is hilarious," "I like that girl's tattoo," "that kid is really well behaved," etc. How many times have I kept those nice thoughts in my head when I could have said them out loud and possibly made someone else's day? I know that when someone says even the smallest kind thing to me, it makes me happy. If it's that easy to spread happiness, I'm going to do it!
During a visit to the store, my kids and I received a comment card that you could complete about a specific employee who had done a good job. From all of the cards submitted, one would be drawn, and that employee would win a prize. My oldest son immediately told me who we should enter - a man who worked there who was always especially helpful and kind. Fast forward a week or so...I saw that man, and I immediately thought about my son's comment and about how neat it was that even as a kid, he recognized and appreciated kindness. I could have just walked by keeping that thought in my head, but instead, I went up to the guy (who didn't know me) and told him the story. Maybe a little weird or uncomfortable for me, but the look on his face and hearing him say, "Thank you. You made my day, and I needed that today!" made ME happy. Wait a second - me saying something nice to someone else actually made me happy - wow, why am I not doing this all the time?
Throughout the day, different people and experiences pop into my head. I usually just let it pass and do nothing about it, but occasionally, I take the time to shoot that person a text or an email letting them know I was thinking of them and why. Most of the time I get a kind response of appreciation, and very often I get the response, "I needed that today." You don't have to be physically with a person to spread some kindness!
One day while I was eating lunch out, I had a young server who had several tattoos. I commented on one that was visible just by saying I liked it and asked what made him choose it. His whole demeanor changed. I think he was surprised to be asked (maybe me being in a business suit on my lunch hour asking about his tattoo caught him off guard) but he opened up and told me why he got the tattoo, what it meant to him, and showed me another one and shared a personal story about it. After this experience I've started asking others who have visible tattoos about them. I don't have tattoos myself, but figure if someone cares enough about something to have it tattooed, it may be something they'd like to share and it may make them happy to do so. Just from saying, "I like your tattoo, what does it mean?" I've heard about the impact of parents who have passed on, faith journeys, and just some funny stories.
"Saying kind things doesn't only improve the mood of those you're complementing, it also helps your own mood."
Saying kind things doesn't only improve the mood of those you're complementing, it also helps your own mood. I remember when my Grandma was alive, sometimes when I had a bad day, I'd call her - not to complain about my day, but rather to cheer her up. In hearing her mood improve, it made me feel better - a win, win! Why does this work - is it because we shift our focus and forget about our problems or is it that by shifting our focus, our attitude about our problems actually changes?
Since hearing Achor speak, I started a new dinnertime routine with my family. Each night we go around the table taking turns saying three specific things we were grateful for that day. They can be as small as, "I'm grateful for these great hamburgers that Dad grilled" or "I'm grateful for going on a walk in the sunshine today." The research shows that after 21 days of recording specific gratitude, our brains actually start perceiving the world differently because we are looking for things to be grateful for, so those things are at the forefront and the negatives - which still exist - are in the background. I'm eager to look back after we've done this for a few weeks at what made us feel gratitude and notice our happiness increasing! Once we become happier, we improve in many ways - health, productivity and our influence on others all benefit. Achor did a popular TED talk you may want to check out called "The Happy Secret to Better Work." I've heard many productivity experts talk about gratitude journals and have had a hard time keeping one for myself, but adding my family in the mix has helped me make this a part of my day that I look forward to!
I encourage you to give some of these ideas a shot and see if they make you happier:
Photo by Freshh Connection on Unsplash
A Laundry Experiment: Part 1
During a recent "discussion" about what my son should wear to school, he told me that I didn't do laundry often enough. Before I realized that I felt like a failure as a mother, I kind of lost it! That day, I washed ALL the dirty clothes and had a giant pile of clean laundry waiting for him in the middle of the living room floor when he got home. I had him separate out what was his to demonstrate that he produced a LOT of dirty laundry! I explained that if you don't spill something on them, fall and get mud on your knees, or pee your pants, jeans really don't need washed all that often! I also suggested that a shirt can be reworn if it passes the armpit sniff test! I promised if we had less dirty laundry, I could keep up with it better.
For the next couple of weeks, it was working! Then I began to notice the same exact clothes being worn day after day. One morning at breakfast, I required both boys to change into something they hadn't worn the previous day, and I heard, "But you said to wear clothes more than once!!" I explained that didn't mean they could wear the same things multiple times IN A ROW. My oldest responded, "This is so confusing!!" I get it - laundry is confusing. We needed a new plan. My son and I brainstormed together to come up with some new ideas and he said, "Hey mom, you could write about this on your blog!" So here we are!
My little analytical mind started thinking through how we could start a laundry revolution, and of course, I turned to a spreadsheet and chart.... It takes about 30 minutes to wash and 60 minutes to dry in my machine, plus there's folding and putting away time, which I'll estimate at 15 minutes/load. If I did 6 loads sequentially, the least amount of time it would take me is just under 7 hours. In real life, I'm not usually standing there waiting for the washer or dryer to finish, so I need a better plan, so I don't have laundry couch all week and am not stuck at home all weekend.
We have hampers everywhere - one in each bathroom, each kid's bedroom, and one in the laundry room. On laundry day I have three other pop-up sorters. I'm not a crazy sorter, I just do lights, darks, and stuff that needs hot water (sheets, towels and stinky stuff). Mine and my son's idea was rather than keep dirty clothes in the hampers and dump it into a giant pile to sort once a week that instead we leave the laundry sorters out in the laundry room all week and sort as we go.
Lastly, I have made a pact with myself to continue doing what I started this weekend. I will not take clean laundry out of the laundry room unless it's folded or on hangers. My ultimate goal is as soon as I take laundry out of the dryer, to fold it or hang up on my over-the-door hook immediately. But even if it's not immediate, I vow not to empty another load from the dryer until the previous one has been put away. No more laundry couch for me!
I'm going to give this experiment about a month and then will give you an honest report of how it went. Laundry has been my nemesis for years, and I'm determined to beat it! Some of you may suggest having kids do their own laundry, but I've been hesitant to do this because I don't want to waste water with small loads of individuals' clothes that could be combined. I do get my kids involved by switching from washer to dryer and starting new loads in the washer. I'd love to hear any other ideas you have for keeping laundry under control so please leave a comment below.
Sometimes you just have to laugh (or else you would cry!) One thing I try to do a lot of is laugh at myself. It is such a good stress reliever and gives you perspective on how much of life can be experienced differently if we'd just laugh about it.
Last Fall after a frenzied attempt at efficiency, I recorded this as a reminder of the age old adage that haste makes waste. This experience included cat litter, soccer practice, and watching my mouth. Since in the past week, I've dealt with all three of those things, it reminded me of this little bit of My Life In Laughter.
1. "Clean" Your Digital Photos
Start by deleting unwanted photos from your digital camera and/or smartphone. On iPhones, once you delete a photo, it will go to a 'deleted' folder and will remain there for 30 days before it's completely deleted. If you need extra space on your phone, you could permanently delete items from your 'deleted' folder sooner.
Next, back up your photos! I recommend having your precious memories backed up in two different ways - one in the cloud and one on physical media. There are many cloud options like DropBox, iCloud or my personal favorite, Google Photos. To make this even easier, you can set up an automatic sync to the cloud services so you don't even have to think about it! In addition, I also hook my phone to my computer about once a quarter and move photos to an external hard drive. I make the folder structure very simple - top level folders are years and subfolders are month and year. Check out the video to show you how! After all your photos are backed up, then you can remove old photos you don't want to have immediate access to from your device (and rest assured that you can access them via the cloud storage option anytime you want them!)
Don't forget to DO something with your photos. It could be as easy as making a shared album in Google Photos or designing a Shutterfly album.
2. "Clean" Your Podcasts
I am constantly hearing about a new podcast I might like. I usually just immediately subscribe so I don't forget. Pretty soon, I've got a ton of podcasts that I don't have time to listen to. First step to get your podcasts "cleaned" out is to unsubscribe from ones you never listen to or don't care for. For ones that you do listen to or know you like, check the download and episode order settings to make sure they are set up like you want them. I made a video a while back to show you how to do this.
3. "Clean" Your Contacts
Your phone may have contacts that are synced from various sources, and some are unclear or incomplete. Start by deleting unwanted contacts all together. Then, on the remaining contacts, delete old phone numbers, add new ones, and assign the appropriate label to each number. (I know I've had some numbers listed as 'radio'!) On an iPhone, confirm the Siri suggestions if they are correct. Add physical and email addresses you know to existing contacts. Create new contacts from previous calls or texts for people you may want to contact in the future. Edit names and add descriptions to make existing contacts more clear and easy to find. Finally, link duplicate contacts. Here's a quick tutorial video to help you with this process.
4. "Clean" Your Apps
Start by finding out how much time you use on your apps. On an iPhone go to Settings>Battery and under the Battery Usage section, click on the clock icon and you can actually see how many minutes (or hours) you spent in each app either in the last 24 hours or last 7 days. Here's a quick tutorial. If there are apps you haven't used in the past 7 days, consider if you may want to delete them. Make sure remaining apps are in folders with similar apps and reorganize your folders so they are the most accessible. Here's a previous video about organizing apps on your phone.
5. "Clean" Your Digital Calendar
First, delete unnecessary appointments (especially recurring ones) or entries that really are not time sensitive. If it's not something that has to be done at a certain date and time, consider moving it to a task management app. For remaining entries, change any that will happen on a regular schedule to recurring appointments. Next add details to all your entries like the address where you'll be going, the phone number of who you need to call, links to websites, etc. Set the default calendar on your phone to the one you use most often so you don't have to edit appointments as often. For example if you have a work calendar and a personal calendar, determine which one you set the most appointments on your phone and change the default. Watch this short video tutorial to help you.
6. "Clean" Your Digital Lists
I have several digital lists - Netflix and Hulu watch lists, Amazon wish lists, digital task lists to name a few. Spring cleaning time is a great reminder to clean these up. For streaming video services, consider creating separate profiles for each family member so that you can keep your watch lists separate. Then go through them periodically and remove things you've already watched or are no longer interested in. Amazon lists are a great way to capture gift ideas or items you are considering for yourself. Use this review to create separate lists for each person or event, add or remove items, and share lists with family or friends.
Finally, make sure your digital to-do list is comprehensive and up to date. There are many options for task management apps, and the one I use is Nozbe. (If you missed my interview with the founder and CEO, check it out here!) Make sure your head is emptied into your system and everything in the system still needs to be completed. Categorize and set deadlines as necessary. Reviewing this system is something you should really do on regular basis, but use Spring Cleaning as your motivation to get your system in order!
7. "Clean" Your Computer's Desktop
Have you ever looked at someone's computer desktop and gotten the heebie jeebies because of all the clutter? Keep your own desktop clear by deleting unnecessary files (or moving them to the correct location). You can also pin commonly used programs to the task bar and then delete the shortcut from the desktop. Rearrange icons so they are pleasing to the eye and even change up your background every once in a while to keep things interesting! Here's a brief tutorial video about decluttering your desktop.
8. "Clean" Your Files and Folders
Review all your files and folders, edit names, and reorganize. Delete unwanted files including temporary files and ones in your downloads folder. As you save files, make sure to name files descriptively and create folders that are easy to understand so you can actually find the files you want later. Start with very few top level folders and then get more specific with subfolders. You can save different file types in the same folder (ex. you don't need separate folders for Excel and Word files.) Top level folders should be broad and based on projects or subjects rather than time frames (ex Finances rather than 2018). If you create subfolders for date, make sure to use two digits for months so they sort correctly (ex. 01 for January instead of 1). You should also backup files to either an external hard drive or to a cloud storage provider.
I hope these 9 tips will help you get your digital house clean this Spring. If you have other tips, please share them with us in the comments! Happy Spring (digital) Cleaning!
Photo by Alejandro Escamilla on Unsplash
Photo by Yura Fresh on Unsplash
The Power of Tradition
Today was a a special day for my family - Easter, April Fool's Day and a birthday celebration! For me, most of the fun of holidays and special events has always been the anticipation, but more importantly the traditions involved. Some of the traditions in my household come from mine and my husband's childhoods (and some of them likely from our parents' childhoods) but many are brand new traditions we've created ourselves. One of my favorite parts of parenthood so far has been creating traditions for my family - some of which I hope they will carry on with their own families some day.
Sometimes we may wonder if keeping up with all of the traditions is worth it. There is a difference between true traditions - things we do to create meaning that can be passed down from generation to generation - and just keeping up appearances. In this digital age full of social networks, posting what we decide is the ideal picture of our lives is an easy trap to fall into, and if this is the reason you keep up with a tradition then, NO, it's not worth it. But if creating and maintaining traditions brings joy to you and your family or provides precious memories and opportunities for your children to carry them with them into adulthood - then YES, keep it up!
There are so many reasons I think traditions are powerful and allow us creative opportunities to show our love to our past and to our future:
Traditions create memories
We have hosted a kids' Halloween costume party since our oldest was about 3 years old. I have pictures of both of my kids and their friends and their friends parents in all sorts of fun costumes. We often talk about things like "that time we stuck our hands into a bucket with cold spaghetti and thought it was guts!"
Traditions help us mark the passage of time
From the time I started school, my mom took a first day of school picture in front of the refrigerator. She could tell how much we'd grown by how close we were to the line between the fridge and the freezer. She has a first and a last day of school picture of my brother and me for every school year. When my kids started school, I did the same thing, but instead of the refrigerator, I use the back door. It's fun to see how much the kids have grown each year.
Traditions communicate meaning
There are many competing traditions around Christmas and Easter. My family chooses to participate in both the fun and the religious traditions (ex. Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, and the story of Christ's birth, death and resurrection.) We use traditions to communicate meaning. One of those traditions is one that we did just this morning, resurrection rolls. Every Easter morning, we make these rolls and talk about the Biblical meaning of Easter. Today, my kids helped explain the meaning in this video
Traditions connect generations
As a child, every Christmas morning was spent at home. After stockings and before gifts, we would read the story of Jesus' birth from the book of Luke chapter 2. When I got married, we began spending Christmas mornings at our new home and our kids have always had Christmas morning at their home. Each year, we read from Luke chapter 2 after stockings and before gifts. We also read the same passage when we go to my parents house before opening gifts. My kids know that this is what I did as a kid, and I expect this is one tradition that they will carry on.
Traditions are just fun!
We made up a really silly and fun tradition last Cinco de Mayo. The kids wanted to see the Tron remake and it just worked out that we had some time on May 5. My oldest and I stopped by the store and picked up some chips, salsa, and queso. We went home and announced the new Cinco de Mayo tradition was eating our snacks and watching Tron. The kids loved the movie and just the other day, they mentioned how we'll watch it again on Cinco de Mayo this year!
The really fun part about traditions is there are so many opportunities to create them - major and minor holidays, firsts, lasts, even just days of the week! Something as simple as dinner out on a Friday is something I've heard my husband recall about his childhood. It doesn't have to be grand or expensive to count as a tradition. It just has to create joy, have some consistency, and be able to be recreated by our families or friends in the future. What kinds of traditions do you have in your family and how have they helped you maintain order in your life?
Resurrection Roll Recipe
Photo by Jonathan Petersson on Unsplash