Quality Over Quantity and your wardrobe

My big Quality Over Quantity theme this year (besides not over-scheduling myself, which is a big part of my health management) has been pruning and adjusting my wardrobe. My clothes need to reflect who I am now, feel good on the body I have now, and support my happiness and wellness.

I'll be sharing more about this in the weeks ahead, but for the moment here's a little excerpt from my book Discardia: More Life, Less Stuff:

The change of the seasons into summer and winter is a good time to revisit things in your closet because it gives you a chance to look again at clothes you haven’t worn since last year and decide if you love them enough to renew their contract as players on your team. When the chill grows in the air, go through all those coats, sweaters, scarves, mittens, boots, etc. and decide what you're going to wear within the next thirty days. If it doesn't make the cut, get rid of it.

Someone else needs to be warm more than you need to maintain The Gallery of Unwanted Winterwear. As the sunshine blooms and you shed layers, do the same thing, but with bathing suits, shorts, lightweight dresses, halter tops, sandals, and t-shirts.

Don’t hang onto things that you never use. Send that just-not-you suit to one of the great organizations helping low-income businesspeople carry themselves to success. Give that big, out-of-fashion winter coat to charity and save someone from the chill. Let that over-the-top formalwear send someone on a tight budget to the prom or a holiday party in style. Move the neglected items out of your space and into the arms of someone who really appreciates them.

Remember, Someday Is Now still applies when it comes to your dress clothes; we simply define ‘now’ as being a longer time range. When you haven’t worn that suit or gown in six months, but you don’t want to be in the lurch if you get invited to a fancy occasion, you can still hold onto it ‘just in case’ provided that it fits you well and you actually like wearing it.

However, I have seen people keep something ostensibly for the reason “I might need to wear it if I go to a formal event” but really for the reason “I spent too much on this and it fits me completely wrong and I haven't worn it the last five times I've been invited to a formal event, but maybe if I hold onto it somehow that money will magically have been wisely spent.”

I say keep the things that are both beautiful and useful to you and perhaps define the utility of formals in a longer than six month cycle, but move the rest along. Don’t let the fear of being caught unprepared for exceptional events make your daily encounter with your closet a hassle.

Effort doesn’t necessarily increase effect

Don't mistake the work of carrying anxiety in your body for progress on what you're worrying about.

Real, positive change doesn't require stress. Sometimes it comes along with it, but it's not mandatory & certainly not helpful.

Worry without the work doesn't help anyone.

Work without the worry helps—& does so by an order of magnitude more because when you're not stressed out, you can work longer and do better work.


A related tip for volunteering: Lean on your strengths & chill out to be more effective.

Doing what you're good at may feel like "cheating" because it's so easy, but you're giving better, faster results than they would otherwise get.

Making a difference doesn't have to be a strain. In fact, the less of a strain it is, the more likely you are to give.

You still have permission not to do everything.

September's Discardian season focuses on the power of quality over quantity. On that theme, here's a post from a couple years ago which is just as true today:

 

You have permission not to do everything.

“I know I’ve got more on my list than I could ever do, but I just can’t seem to keep up with it.”

Think about that sentence. Most of us say something like that to ourselves or a friend at some point—and most of the time when we do, we don’t notice the inconsistency at all. However, if we fully accept the truth that our to-do lists are bigger than our availability, we must stop beating ourselves up for failing to achieve the impossible.

September’s Discardia holiday is a reminder to practice Quality over Quantity and is a good time to revisit the expectations you’ve been setting. One of the best ways to manage stress is to manage your agreements with others and, especially, with yourself, so take a little time to think about those agreements.

That’s what your ‘to-do list’—whether you keep the things on it in your head or written down—really is: a list of everything you’d need to do if you wanted to fulfill all the things you’ve said 'yes' to. It represents agreement in its broadest sense, whether a commitment to another person or an internal affirmation of something you desire.

Being excited about things, working on them with others, doing the hard work to achieve progress, these are all valuable and can be highly motivating. But try to do too many at the same time and the effect will be negative. Fewer will be completed, with your work and the satisfaction you derive from it being less than it would be when you’re not overstretched.

I’m not necessarily recommending saying 'yes' less often. You can have as big a list of things you’d like to do as your heart and head can dream up, but the only way for that not to be a burden is to let go of the expectation that everything on the list is active right now. Become comfortable with the idea of inactive projects. They aren’t failures; they’re just not in play at the moment.

This isn’t as hard as it might seem. You have lots of practice with doing this in other areas of your life. Think about the music you like; you don’t listen to it all at the same time. You may not even listen to all the genres you enjoy every single week, yet that doesn’t create stress.

Start approaching your list of projects a little more like a D.J. What’s the right mix for here and now? Is there anything my audience will miss if I don’t get it out there? What will keep my energy up?

Asking yourself the right questions

September’s Discardia is all about Quality Over Quantity. This year it’s a very short holiday—just two days, due to the new moon following the day after the equinox—so rather than taking on a big project, I recommend using this time to create a list of questions which will inform your decisions between now and the end of the year. Which questions will be most useful to you varies depending on what you want to work on in your life. I’ve listed some of my favorites here and I’d love it if you add others that have been valuable for you in the comments.

  • Is this on my ‘things that make me happy’ list or my ‘things I don’t want in my life’ list?
    I picked this up in 2010 at Maggie Mason and Laura Mayes' SXSW session on building your dream life. It’s helpful with everything from big life choices on down to deciding what should be on the coffee table.
  • Where is my attention? How am I spending my energy?
    This pair of questions is a reality check of your intentions vs. where your time and effort actually goes.
  • When did I last use or enjoy this?
    Find what has become stale and clear it away to make room for better things.
  • What could I take care of now that would reduce my risk of future hassle?
    Whenever you have a pause, this is a great way to give things a little nudge toward better or to identify and eliminate problems for your future self.
  • Which choice would the person I want to be make?
    Appeal to your best self even on small decisions and you will create the future that calls that version of you into being.

Put your questions where you’ll see them often—printed out and pinned over your desk or on the fridge or by the bathroom mirror or on a card in your wallet or all of these. Let them seep into your daily habits and use them to fine-tune your world.

The benefits of low-alcohol drinking

'Less can be more' in your glass as it can in your home and calendar. Many people enjoy mixed drinks—or would like to if they weren't laid low by them. It is possible to have the best of both worlds and sample great cocktails without getting sleepy, stupid, sad, or sick.

The core Discardian principle of Quality Over Quantity comes into play in multiple ways to achieve this.

  1. Slow down.
    Be mindful of what you're consuming. One of the best aspects of good cocktail drinking is tuning in to the present moment and to those you're with, so amplify that by paying attention to what you're having. Take time to enjoy what you've got and space out the alcohol with a glass of water between rounds. You'll get more enjoyment out of your drinks—and out of the next morning!
  2. Drink less of better.
    Satisfy your senses with smaller sips and smaller servings of something well-made with complex ingredients. Whether you like sweet or bitter, tangy or rich, there are amazing cocktails to be enjoyed in classic serving sizes (generally just 3-6 ounces).
  3. Base your drinks on lower-proof main ingredients.
    By not including more than half an ounce of high-proof spirits (40+% alcohol by volume) and carefully selecting recipes which allow their less "hot" components (such as sherry, vermouth, and port) to shine, you can discover a whole world of amazing cocktails, both classics and new creations.
  4. Be a snob.
    Now I don't mean you should only have top-shelf products in trendy bars; I'm talking about the good kind of snobbery that keeps you from wasting time and health on things that don't provide you with real pleasure. Save your liver for those cocktails worth having, in the time and place, and with the company that makes those moments special.

Want to explore more in this realm? I've got a whole book of ideas for you (my second book!) and it's called The Art of the Shim: Low-Alcohol Cocktails to Keep You Level.

Thanks again to readers of either of my books for your support and encouragement to keep on writing!

Keeping the right pots on the boil

"[Manage] your agreements with yourself. If you break your commitments with yourself, you'll be in negative stress. So you either don't make the commitments (lower expectations), keep the agreements (get busy and finish your stuff), or renegotiate your agreements (constantly review and make smart choices about what you can and should be doing, at any moment in time).”
      – David Allen

One of the scariest things when you get organized and pull all your obligations and expectations out of your head and into some trusted system for tracking them is that you can finally see just how much you've been carrying around in there. To overcome that tension, acknowledge that you can't and won't do it all.

Just as a chef has things on the stove, ingredients in the pantry, and cookbooks full of potential recipes, so too will you have active, inactive, and someday/maybe projects.

It's okay that a lot of your ideas about what you might do are hopes, dreams, contingency plans, or other things that aren't necessarily part of today, tomorrow, or ever. What is a part of today is capturing the idea for later review so that you can get it out of your way and get on with what's cooking now.

It's that act of review which keeps the whole system working. That doesn't mean you have to engage with every potential idea every single week—some things you might only want to think about once or twice a year—but it does mean you think every week about what matters in the week ahead. What are your goals this month? What can you do in the next week to help achieve them? What ideas and loose ends do you need to pack away from the past week so that you can focus on what matters most?

Give yourself a regular bit of quality time to pull back from the stream of reaction to see where you are and where you want to be. Look a couple weeks back and ahead in your calendar to find unfinished tasks and opportunities to make things go more smoothly for yourself. Even taking 20 minutes a week to do this will help you do more, and do it more calmly.

I like using the OmniFocus software for this, but paper works great too. Try starting with four lists: "Think about every week," "Think about every month," "Think about every quarter," and "Think about every year."

For example, you probably want to have "Home Maintenance" show up every week. Some of the time you'll look at it and move on right away, but often it will remind you of a problem to resolve (whether it's at the 'buy toilet paper' or 'start a savings account for better mattress' scale). On the other hand, "Career Advancement" would usually be on the quarterly or annual list, unless you're actively working to switch jobs.

As time passes you'll get a better sense of how often something needs to appear in front of you to prompt you to capture any unfinished business or opportunities.

The big reviews help keep you aligned with who you want to be and what you want to achieve. They reveal goals which can have projects and actions on shorter time cycles. The weekly review helps clear your head and get you back on the tracks you set out for yourself.

Granting yourself that quality time to catch your breath is vital to maintaining your momentum in your chosen direction. You deserve that chance to find clarity every week.

You have permission not to do everything.

“I know I’ve got more on my list than I could ever do, but I just can’t seem to keep up with it.”

Think about that sentence. Most of us say something like that to ourselves or a friend at some point—and most of the time when we do, we don’t notice the inconsistency at all. However, if we fully accept the truth that our to-do lists are bigger than our availability, we must stop beating ourselves up for failing to achieve the impossible.

September’s Discardia holiday is a reminder to practice Quality over Quantity and is a good time to revisit the expectations you’ve been setting. One of the best ways to manage stress is to manage your agreements with others and, especially, with yourself, so take a little time to think about those agreements.

That’s what your ‘to-do list’—whether you keep the things on it in your head or written down—really is: a list of everything you’d need to do if you wanted to fulfill all the things you’ve said 'yes' to. It represents agreement in its broadest sense, whether a commitment to another person or an internal affirmation of something you desire.

Being excited about things, working on them with others, doing the hard work to achieve progress, these are all valuable and can be highly motivating. But try to do too many at the same time and the effect will be negative. Fewer will be completed, with your work and the satisfaction you derive from it being less than it would be when you’re not overstretched.

I’m not necessarily recommending saying 'yes' less often. You can have as big a list of things you’d like to do as your heart and head can dream up, but the only way for that not to be a burden is to let go of the expectation that everything on the list is active right now. Become comfortable with the idea of inactive projects. They aren’t failures; they’re just not in play at the moment.

This isn’t as hard as it might seem. You have lots of practice with doing this in other areas of your life. Think about the music you like; you don’t listen to it all at the same time. You may not even listen to all the genres you enjoy every single week, yet that doesn’t create stress.

Start approaching your list of projects a little more like a D.J. What’s the right mix for here and now? Is there anything my audience will miss if I don’t get it out there? What will keep my energy up?

Happy September Discardia! Invest yourself in what you love.

This Discardian season, which begins today and runs all the way through to October 15th, is all about Quality over Quantity. One aspect of that which has been much on my mind this past week while attending XOXO Festival and musing afterwards about what made it so great, is the nitty-gritty of  how we gauge our success.

Quantity is definitely easier to measure. More. Bigger. Faster. These are all straightforward to identify. But they do not equate to better; and particularly not to 'better for you, right now, and for who you wish to become'. For that you need to grasp a more slippery fish: quality.

Many speakers at the conference echoed a theme that I have heard from inspiring books and people throughout my life: You've got to be really excited about what you do if it is to sustain you over the long-haul. Designers Tom Gerhardt and Dan Provost of Studio Neat put it very clearly: "Work on something you're passionate about, because if you're successful you'll have to do it every day." You've heard me express the flipside of that same thought: Make sure your every day life reflects and reinforces what you love.

From the men and women onstage and off at the conference, I continually heard about how doing what they love—what they deeply love—has created their happiness. More than a few people in the room have had the good fortune to try out making a lot of money as a potential happiness generator and found that it was not the magic ingredient which pop culture often makes it out to be.

Matt Haughey, who has been running the community site MetaFilter for the last decade, said, "Money is the least interesting problem". Dan Harmon, creator of the show Community, took it farther: "Money will be the death of everything good in your life. Except maybe the first $40k. You need that to buy potatoes and stuff."

Turn your focus from reaching some arbitrary measure of 'big success', to getting to spend more of your time getting to do what you love. As speakers like musician Julia Nunes made clear, that doesn't come in one big break, but in the addition of many moments of moving in the right direction. And that's true whether it's about your career or how you spend your weekends. It's not how much or many you get, it's about what you do and how you connect.

One of the very best things about doing what you love is that you are making yourself available for connections with other people who love the same things. Artist Emily Winfield Martin emphasized the relationships you make along the way and how they give you the energy to move closer to your dreams: "The alchemy that makes your imaginary thing real is the audience." Not having the biggest group cheering you on, but the one that gets your vision most clearly and is most inspired by it themselves.

 

What do you love?

How are you going to make more time and space for it this Discardian season?

Who shares that love that you can invite to cheer you on?

 

Letting go of our back pages

Books are very difficult for many people to keep pared down to only what they currently love or use. We cling to the physical shells of these formative experiences as though they were pieces of our identity itself. We even do this with media which we we do not intend to re-experience anytime soon, if ever.

Send books on to a new life elsewhere when they stop having a positive interaction in yours. Check for inscriptions or papers tucked into the items you’re parting with. Remember that you can keep a digital photo of a meaningful inscription, a page on which you are quoted, or even the cover to help you remember the title, and not keep the book itself. You can get rid of the physical, space-taking, dust-gathering objects and just keep the memory.

Here are some suggestions for books which could leave your shelves to make room for things you really love:
    •    Out-of-date reference, technical and travel guidebooks (if no computer in your house is running that version of that software, you do not need a book about it);
    •    Books you haven't opened in five years and that you don't feel like reading within the next month;
    •    Books you bought and intended to read, but still haven't read several years later and don't want to start this month;
    •    Books you didn't like;
    •    Books someone gave you that you don't want to read;
    •    Books for a hobby you no longer have; and
    •    Cookbooks for foods you don't eat anymore.

Slow the flow of incoming books by being more selective when you choose to buy a book rather than borrow it from the library and note that not all good reasons for buying are also good reasons for keeping a book after you read it. In a world with libraries, used bookstores, Amazon, OpenLibrary, Google Book Search, and trading websites like Swap.com, it should be easy to see that putting the books in the donation bag does not remove them from the universe. If you later decide that you want to read one of them, odds are very good that the local library or used bookstore will have a copy—maybe even this copy—or you’ll be able to get it online. A lot of books, especially nonfiction, are like oranges. Juice ’em to extract the goodness and discard the remains.

So, if you can get pretty much any book you want again later, what guidelines will you use for why you should keep a book in your house? Here are mine:
    •    I'm going to read or reread it within two years.
    •    I periodically reread or consult it, and it contains annotations that remain useful to me.
    •    It is an object of beauty or sentiment, which brings me frequent joy.
    •    I wrote it.
Decide your guidelines and then look to see what you have that doesn't meet any of them. Donate those replaceable (or never again needed) books to the library or charity. Give the things you love more room and give yourself less unnecessary weight of stuff in your life.