Winter’s Sound of Silence

By Alicia Woodward

Our end of the lake is frozen in suspended stillness. Birds and snowflakes flutter to the ground without a sound. A deer and her fawn pause motionless by the edge of the woods. Fir trees sway to the silent tune of a gentle wind. A red fox tip-toes down a frosty hill.

I wish I could encase the hushed winter scene in the round glass of a snow globe to gaze upon when the lake transforms into a carnival of summer activity.

American author Florence Page Jaques must have understood when she wrote, “I love the deep silence of the midwinter woods. It is a stillness you can rest your whole weight against. This stillness is so profound you are sure it will hold and last.”

I’ve always craved the sound of silence. Growing up, I was blessed with two spirited younger sisters. On inescapable car rides, I longed to stare out the window and daydream while they laughed uproariously, sang off-key and told grueling jokes. I’d wail, “Mom, make them stop!” Happily, the situation is no different now, though my tolerance has improved.
In exchange for getting to read stories and poetry all day, I spent most of my adult life in a small square room with a daily charge of more than 100 boisterous adolescents. Months after I retired from teaching, I still caught myself habitually “shushing” absolutely no one.

My own children were not particularly loud or rambunctious, but my daughter was born belting show tunes. Our home sounded like a never-ending rehearsal for the Tony Awards. Her more reserved younger brother often echoed a familiar refrain, “Mom, make her stop!”

Though I cherish seasons past, they help me appreciate and enjoy the deep silence of the midwinter woods. Each season has something to teach us; winter’s lesson lies in the beauty of her silence. Here are ten ways we can follow winter’s lead to bring a little more peace and quiet to our days.

  1. Speak with a softer volume and tone of voice.
  2. Avoid complaining, gossiping, criticizing, babbling, arguing, and opining.
  3. Turn off the television and other noise in your home.
  4. Ride in the car without music or news.
  5. Take a break from social media.
  6. Pray or meditate in silence.
  7. Engage in a quiet activity like a puzzle or game.
  8. Stop being so busy.
  9. Encourage children to enjoy quiet time.
  10. Observe and learn from winter’s sound of silence.

How spending time in an (almost) empty house showed me just how calm life can be

By Karen Quaintmere

Before I moved house, I had sorted and sifted, sold and donated, and generally reduced my possessions.

I thought I was living with very little. That I had ‘minimized’ to a point that felt comfortable for me.

Having sold my home, I packed up my remaining furniture and pictures, clothes, and kitchen belongings, and shed stuff, and books and so on to put them into storage. There was a gap between the sale of my home and moving to the new house. My stuff filled just over two storage containers. That was a bit of a wake-up call. Did I really have that much? After all my efforts to reduce what I own!

I moved into my brand new home without my things in order to sort out carpets and flooring and to allow time to get some changes in the house completed before my containers arrived.

I moved in with just what I could cram into my fairly modest car. An airbed, pillow, blankets, a towel, a bag of clothes, a few kitchen things, a hand-held Dyson, my laptop, a couple of books, and a few art materials. Oh, and a few house plants and a string of lights. And my cat—my treasured companion. It was a bit like indoor camping. And I loved it.

Watching the light moving across the almost empty open-plan living space. No curtains obscuring the light or the view of trees through the windows. Watching it get light and later the darkness draw in. The reflections in the floor tiles. 

I felt so calm.

There were some things I definitely missed. A real bed. My sofa, and being able to sit at a table. Wardrobes—being able to put things away out of sight. A bread knife. A colander. Mugs to be able to offer guests a hot drink. My shredder—I ended up with so much unwanted paper around without it!

I bought a few things I’d intended to replace in any event. I bought a few plants for the garden because I love to plant (I’m not so minimal in the garden).

All in all I managed very well with very few things. Amazingly well. Working with what I had, meant that I had to simplify everything. Preparing food became simpler, and clearing away and cleaning became much easier.

Choosing what to wear hardly took any time at all and yet I never felt like I didn’t have something appropriate to put on. And yet, I was living out of one bag.

It’s not just that there was physically less stuff in the space, but visually there was less clutter.

I got to thinking about why I had all that other stuff stored away and what I would do when it arrived. I started to view the arrival of my stored ‘stuff’ with trepidation.

And then yesterday it arrived. OVERWHELM!

I wanted to ask the removal guys to take it back.

So, now begins again the process of sifting and sorting and editing, until it feels right. Until there’s nothing more that I want to remove at this point in my life. I’m learning that this is an iterative process. That I have to allow it to take the time it needs to take. To honour this journey.

The difference for me now is that I have had a real experience of minimalism and that will motivate me to continue this process. It was like my version of the 30-day minimalism game.

Moving into space for a time helped me to see just how little I actually need. And, how having less means so much more. More light. More space. More breathing room. More calm.

“The Doors of Life

Finding direction through endless possibilities

By Louis Johnson

As a young person, it has been easy for me to look openly at life, seeing endless opportunities and outcomes. I spent a lot of my childhood fantasizing about the future—about the person I could become and all the things I could do. 

While I believe that being open to life is a good thing, the downside was that I didn’t quite know which way to turn. So many options were on the table: I played instruments, made small films, had an interest in business, was good with people, and wanted to travel. But which of these things did I want to pursue? 

I just didn’t know, and the truth is that I couldn’t know. I was so busy doing all of these things in my personal life that my intuition (and my sense of freedom) became clouded. Unknowingly, I was trapped by all of these possible pursuits. 

All of these options were like open doors. They were opportunities I could pursue, options I was unsure about, and things I wanted to leave open “just in case.”

I’ve started to see that I need to close some of those doors by letting go. I need to stop searching for the ‘right’ answer. Instead of chasing all of those opportunities, I simply need to be open to possibilities. I will focus on trying, experimenting, leaving only a few doors open, and riding the wave to whatever happens next. Only then will I get a better picture of where my true path really leads.”

“The Hygge Life

Finding contentment the Danish way

By Korkoi Quaye

Modern day society seems to be hysterical about creating a culture of comfort and convenience. Leaving the home, the couch, the desk, or the car is now obsolete. Even cash is becoming obsolete. Clever people have crafted and curated devices to take charge of the tasks that our ancestors would have once labored over for millennia. The very things that our bodies were evolved to continue laboring have been buried under this crazy world of over-convenience. As creatures of comfort we seem to continually be in search of what makes us feel comfortable and ultimately what makes us feel happy. And all of this in the least amount of time. But today, the ever-present ubiquitous allure to instant gratification has sent us into a haze of folly where we seem to have lost sight of what really is comfort and what it is to be content.

Obsolescence holds the carrot on the stick for us to chase in vain what merely are ephemeral pleasures: the shiny trinkets that are purposely designed to tarnish tomorrow; the fad diet that will make us thin; the brand new sneakers that promise to bring us joy. Things like these seem to have become our default fix when we seek to maintain a life of comfort. It’s usually easy and it’s usually fast. It’s almost as if the proverbial carrot on the stick is teasing out our inner desire to be at peace with ourselves (a trait that we share with every other human being). But the promises are empty or at best fleeting.

We seem to have become masters of portraying a life of not comfort and contentment, but one of blissful luxury. We choose to present the bells and whistles of our lives to outwardly celebrate what is but a modicum of our reality and we seem to toss the rest. The argument here is not to debate sharing our lives through social media. It’s more about how we can weave the simpler things into our lives in a more authentic way and put that on a pedestal. Why are we not masters of actually living a life of moderate comfort without seeking to acquire all the shiny objects that come with the noise and the overwhelm?  How do we get there without actually achieving the contrary? How do we get there meaningfully and how do we get there sustainably?

When considering comfort in our lives one might do well to tear a page out of the Danes’ notebook. Often quoted as being one of the happiest nations in the world, Denmark seems to have, long ago, sussed out how to possess an authentic inner calm when it comes to comfort and contentment. It appears to be an innate part of Danish culture that by-passes the noise and reduces the risk of causing its antithesis. The Danes call it hygge (pronounced hyoo-ge). A word that is unique to their culture. Everybody knows it. Everybody does it. And while everybody knows it, it’s not really that easy to put into words. You just know it and it just happens and you know when it happens. 

A Dane might define it through words such as: comfort, contentment, wellness, cosiness, calmness, or one might describe a hygge-inducing experience as being akin to snuggling up on the sofa in front of a fire on a cold winter’s night, or a peaceful walk in nature. It doesn’t have to be much and it’s often simple. It’s a democratic concept that’s reserved for everyone and it’s limited to no one. It can’t be forced and it certainly can’t be bought. A Dane would probably be in sheer shock if it were commoditized. You can’t chase it and you can’t replace it. We must make space to let it happen.

Although there is no direct translation for this word, an intrinsic condition of language is that it is imperfect and when a word does not exist for something, one can’t be blamed for not knowing the thing does in fact exist. Languages often serve as a compendium of words and expressions borrowed from other languages to help preserve true meaning. So, what we can do is borrow hygge and learn how to gradually curate our own space to allow room for becoming better observers of the meaning of comfort and its place in our lives.

Getting there might mean taking stock of what is in our minds. Allowing us to be with the things that we do not like about ourselves and exercising a lot less judgement. It might mean stripping down to a simpler version of our life today. It might mean becoming a little more intentional with our actions, our thoughts, and our words. Most of us find immeasurable value in this and much of it aids our betterment. It is simply a plea to serve as a reminder to us that we are still human and we are still in deep need of the forgotten simple things. This probably means we need to slow down—a lot. Perhaps we could pay tribute to the Danes’ hygge by, next time, kneading our own dough for that pie that we desire and then watching it rise. Perhaps we could grind our own coffee beans and take the time to watch the pot brew and then savor the aroma. Or maybe, most importantly, we could simply sit at home quietly once in a while and indulge in what we already have.”

Living the Dream

How minimalism changed my perspective, my routine, and my dream

By Dianne Salcedo

I am 31 years old. I don’t have kids and I’m not married, but I’ve grown in my job for eight years now, and I would say that I am successful. I love to travel and explore, and recently, I reached a milestone: traveling to 20 countries. But how has minimalism impacted my life?

Minimalism is where I find peace. In my mid-twenties, I was focused on proving to myself and others that I was living the dream—that I wore fancy clothes, had business meetings all day from my office in a high-rise building, and lived in a luxurious apartment furnished with the best brands and a closet the size of my childhood bedroom. I came pretty close to achieving that entire dream, and I was proud.

There is nothing particularly wrong with that dream. However, even with a nice apartment and nice things, I still had a lot of anxiety. When work became stressful, I would go home and feel miserable in my space. I didn’t care to socialize with friends, I stopped eating well, and I lost interest in most things. I became depressed. When I finally made the decision to get rid of 90% of my possessions and live a more intentional life, my mental health improved immensely.

Financially, the rewards of leading a minimalist lifestyle are obvious. With intentional spending, there’s automatic saving. When I feel that I need to buy a new item for myself, it’s much more rewarding because I have been intentional about it. I take pride in my things and I use them often. Minimalism also helped me to better focus on my job and save money while still being able to travel.

My daily routine has changed so that I can be more intentional with my time and space:

  • I stopped shopping as a leisure activity
  • I cleared my social media feed and purged apps on my phone
  • I spent less time focused on brands and trends
  • I cleared my workspace from all of the clutter
  • I spent weekends purging my belongings, room by room

Limiting my social media use, clearing inboxes wherever I could, and keeping my living space neat, organized, and clutter-free helped me to eliminate mental clutter as well as the physical. I also began to eat healthier and be more mindful of what I was consuming. I started to prioritize sleep and self-care.

Many young professionals go through the same chapter. The more we share our own experiences, the more we will encourage and inspire others to live more simply and intentionally.