Minimalism: Less Is Indeed More

This may sound like a humble brag, but I was a minimalist /essentialist before it was cool, which was long before I even knew what it meant to be a minimalist. To me, being a minimalist is a lifestyle. It means living with things you really need and minimizing what distracts us from living with intentionality and freedom. The process usually entails placing all of ones items into one place categorically (clothing, paperwork, knick knacks, etc) and making decisions about what you need and what goes. My introduction to the lifestyle didn’t come from word of mouth, or the internet, but from sheer necessity.

I needed to travel to California for grad school on a tight budget, means means I flew on Spirit airlines, and there was no room for luggage in that budget. I also felt it was time for a fresh start and clean break from the east coast. Hence my need to minimize my belongings and pack the necessities. I also felt that it was time for a fresh start and clean break from the east coast. The majority of my belongings were already in storage bins, so the hardest part was deciding what would make the trip and how to say goodbye to the rest. After much debating with myself, I settled on what to pack:

  • Chambray top
  • Printed shorts
  • Navy blue short sleeve
  • Denim jacket
  • Coral crop
  • Printed maxi
  • Striped jumper
  • Cream tie neck blouse
  • Cardigan
  • Sandals

What I wore on the plane was a white tee, blue flared jeans, a kimono, slip ons, a black hat, and slip on shoes. I had unwittingly created a capsule wardrobe. However, I still didn’t feel prepared for this journey, and the truth is I wasn’t. I didn’t have warm enough layers for the cool desert nights heading into the fall. I felt unprepared in so many ways, but little did I know that my clothing was the least of my concerns. Most people still believe that they are being judged by those in their immediate circle of influence, and if you are, maybe you need to make some changes there. I was of the mindset, like so many others, that it takes having a plethora of options in my closet to feel ready for the day and I discovered very quickly that this isn’t true. In reality, all these options can leave you feeling overwhelmed.

I was rotating the same fourteen items of clothing in my closet for twenty-one days of grad school until my FAFSA kicked in, and no one was the least concerned with how my pieces were being rotated from day to day. Sometimes I wore the same shirt or bottoms twice in the same week, and I wasn’t given a second glance. I was so pleased to learn that people aren’t as shallow as I once thought they were. I was also surprised by the ease I had when creating outfits for the week. I didn’t really spot the difference until my FAFSA cleared, I bought way more clothes than I needed, and getting dressed became overwhelming once again.

I look back over the years and I see how the experience impacted my purchase habits, wearing habits, and style. I learned to purchase items with intention, and actually stick to my guns about what I want, instead of settling for something because, it’s cute, it’s there, and it’s cheap. Cheaper isn’t always better. I may have started this journey because of necessity, but it is maintained by a desire for sustainability. It’s taken much trial and error with purchasing and styling, but my belongings reflect my life accurately now. I’m a remote-working homebody who runs a lot of errands, so my wardrobe is about 55% loungewear, 30% errand worthy, 10% athletic, and 5% going out. I have so much more peace of mind now because the items I have were purchased or traded with intentionality and they reflect who I am. My experience is by no means an overnight success story, but these little pieces have contributed to who I am today, and it is an honor to share that with you all.

Radical Honesty As A Method of Healing

Photo by Terrillo Walls from Pexels


Ah — the internet, overrun with so much discussion about self-care. People mention self-care to promote candles, to sell subscription services, and even foods. In a time like this, there are so many things changing and called into question in our country. Self-care, for some, can feel like a selfish, banal activity that should be on the back burner. 

How can we move through life with clarity without self-care? Self-care is not all vision boards and affirmations. Sometimes it is as simple as telling the truth and accepting our lives with radical honesty.

Honesty as a healing practice

Studies have shown that being mindful of being accurate in our narratives can lessen symptoms like headaches and tension in various muscles of the body. Being honest can be challenging for those who may have had an upbringing that fostered or even encouraged hiding your emotions, thoughts, opinions, and motivations from others. Small steps toward radical honesty is a powerful way to change your perspective and feel more empowered.

Overcoming fears

Changing your perspective can be equally as humbling when you have historically been secure in your experience but have had some trauma occur in the last few years when conveying your truth to others. Here are some tips to overcome your fears of practicing radical honesty:

  • Envision the events of your life after telling the truth. Sometimes we can mentally practice our responses if we prepare for the possible outcomes. Many times, real-life events are much less severe than we had imagined.
  • Push the envelope. Begin to tell truths to yourself that might feel a bit uncomfortable, i.e. you do not like your career. When you can accept these facts, you are a bit closer to changing your life. 

You do not have to do anything to change your circumstances until you are ready, and able, to be honest, will keep you safe from others forcing their ideas on you, or you inaccurately selling yourself.

What to expect

Your family, friends, and co-workers will know what to expect from you because now, your emotions, thoughts, and actions are aligned. Over time, you will want to change those circumstances that do not fit what is best for you, or you have made peace with them. 

Protect Your Heart and Relationships

August de Richelieu from Pexels

COVID-19 is often deadly because of pre-existing conditions that suppress the immune system. One of these is heart disease. While a poor diet and a lack of exercise can contribute to a weak heart, dysfunctional relationships can do so, as well.

Here are several examples of this: a significant other that always offers you a cake when you are trying to lose weight, and does not accept your answer, or individuals that have specific thoughts and feelings about events that have happened in their lives, but project those emotions onto you. Individuals that routinely dismiss your wants, needs, and ambitions and “friends” that may actively sabotage your efforts to improve yourself or your life may need closer examination.

“But it is not that bad.” 

We try to tell ourselves that we can handle what life gives us, and that is a great way to maintain motivation. But what are the outcomes of constant interactions with those who put you down? Are they maybe otherwise challenging to be around? You may experience:

  • Lack of trust
  • Hopelessness
  • Depression
  • Anger
  • Trouble sleeping or eating
  • Anxiety
  • Feeling distracted
  • Self-sabotage
  • Difficulty accomplishing tasks
  • Physical illness or discomforts like teeth grinding, eczema flare-ups, etc.

This list is not exhaustive, but as you can see, not setting and defending firm boundaries in your relationships can create havoc in your life if left unaddressed.

How can you tell if you don’t “gel” with someone?

Some people, like family, are not very easy to avoid sometimes. In cases like these, it may be helpful to keep your contacts with them as restricted as possible. Strangers on the street can sometimes be easier to deal with — but always use your discretion. When in conversation, do your best not to overshare. Do not become too invested in the outcomes of your exchange with this person. Keep in mind that you define your happiness.

Transforming your relationships

Attempt to cultivate radical honesty about what you think and feel. Physical sensations may manifest as a way to let you know what your emotions are if you can not seem to name them. Stop to notice and accept them without judgment. Gently but firmly share with others how you feel, and state that you would like for your boundaries to be respected. Some people you may come across have no idea about how you are receiving them. Others you may have to, unfortunately, let go. 

The Link Between Dehydration and Insomnia

Image courtesy of Cottonbro from Pexels

Sleeping, the kind that produces dreams, provides full refreshment and mental clarity in your waking life. Western culture is one that applauds non-stop productivity, so we often hear our family, friends, or co-workers explain that they have only slept in 8 hours in three days without much backlash. Black Americans are the second highest-rated group concerning sleep deprivation, and while we deserve applause for our strength and efficacy, we also should be going to sleep.

Still, because sleep is affected by our circadian rhythms and helps to reduce inflammation in the body, a lack of sleep correlates with more painful menstrual cycles and more difficult deliveries when pregnant. But here is one of the main blockers we often face when trying to get enough sleep: we’re dehydrated. 

Getting more water

According to the Sleep Foundation, being just somewhat dehydrated is enough to make it tough to go to sleep. Consuming water-rich foods and drinking plenty of water and low sugar beverages is a simple way to get enough water into your system and help your body get enough sleep and experience menses less painfully.

For those of us that are perimenopausal or in menopause, lower levels of estrogen can lead to dehydration. Higher water consumption assists with cooling night sweats and hot flashes if you get them, which can mean calmer days and better sleep.  

Working on getting better sleep

Another reason to improve your sleep consumption is to have a better awareness of when something is wrong. Conditions like fibroids cause exhaustion, but if you are already sleep-deprived, you may not notice them until they cause heavy bleeding or abdominal distention.

Herbs that promote sleepiness are:

Valerian

Chamomile

Ashwagandha

You can make a tea out of these herbs and consume near bedtime.

Some of us may wonder: who has time to go to sleep? How can I feel relaxed enough to go to sleep? These questions, and more, are why it is so important to go to sleep — so many of us think that drinking water and resting well are luxuries, but our bodies may be saying something different. Your habits will not change overnight, but every little bit helps.

Five Traits That Interfere with Social Awareness

As voters get ready to approach the booths this November, concerns ranging from healthcare to education to government fiscal responsibility will be on voters’ minds. With a historic election on the horizon, it is critical to remain level-headed as everyone casts their ballot. Still, there are five traits that could potentially hold citizens back from getting a wonderful government and the most out of their relationships with others.

Moderation 

This is a strategy that some individuals use to “moderate” or control social interaction. It includes censorship, defining others’ experiences for them without their permission or not accepting their narratives, and telling those you interact with that they are not allowed to choose the method and the regularity with which they communicate their concerns. Moderation is great when deployed during a roundtable discussion or some other formal circumstance to which all parties agree, but can tread dangerous territory when it harms instead of help.

Solipsism 

Solipsism is defined is Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary as:

a theory holding that the self can know nothing but its own modifications and that the self is the only existent thing.

The problem with solipsism is that it rarely, if ever, leaves room for new ideas and other perspectives. If one thinks their experience is the only one to be had, then it is hard to respond to social issues in a responsible manner. One of the most common results of solipsism is an inability to reach an agreement with others, resulting in a tug-of-war.

Definition

In this case, definition is the act of defining others’ identities, rights, concerns, needs, wants, and narratives on their behalf, particularly when they have not asked for assistance. It is important to hold authentic space for every voice — by due process and due diligence.

Fear

Most, if not all of these habits come from fear. Fear can manifest as the inability to introspect and see how alienating certain behaviors can be, making choices from an impoverished mindset, and questioning rights granted to deserving, otherwise unprotected groups. Fear foments hate organizations, dismantles critical thinking, and drives a wedge between factions that would otherwise interface with each other.

Intellectual laziness

In the 1970s, 60% of 12th graders read a book or a magazine every day — in 2016, the statistic was only 2%. Asking questions, reading, listening — these are all tools in your arsenal against being fearful and dogmatic. Even if you do not agree with the subject discussed, learning about other opinions and facts can help you refine your stance on certain topics. Examine your cognitive biases and steer clear of logical fallacies when listening to or making your arguments. 

Early Childhood Education Series Pt. 7: Practical Homeschooling

@prestonwb Will Preston @wbpreston

August is here and with it arrives back to school time. With no clear guidance or plan from leaders and government and no end to the pandemic in sight, parents and teachers alike are wondering what exactly school is going to look like for their children and students. Fear and confusion is natural in times like these, especially with teacher unions threatening to strike, one way to combat this chaotic situation is to take matters into your own hands. You can turn every moment of everyday into a learning experience for you and your student. 

Learners in early childhood education settings are learning basic life skills and foundational elements of academic concepts. Life skill learning can be implemented through daily chore activities, such as having your child clean up a messy playroom. Academics can be emphasized by having the student count and name each item as they take it from the floor and return it to its proper place. Learning and reciting household rules, brushing teeth, combing hair, and clearing the table can all be educational and a part of the everyday routine for the student.

On the topic of routine, ensure that a daily time is set for starting the day, and that the morning routine is completed in a similar manner each day as to help with the memorization and learning process taking place in the growing student in early childhood education. All of this should be interspersed with rest, breaks, or nap time in order to allow for periods of relaxation throughout the day. 

The basics of academic concepts should be reinforced during the day, and these can be made into fun tasks or games that emphasize learning. For example, the alphabet can be learned through locating items in the house that start with each letter. Story time can become learning time when students are asked certain questions that call upon the student’s memory and analysis of the story that they just heard. Students should practice writing their name, the letters of the alphabet and as many numbers as possible in preparation for the next grade level. Students should try to write the names of objects that they drew or colored and write the names of shapes and colors. A beneficial daily practice includes taking turns speaking, and speaking in complete sentences as well as following instructions. As much as possible try to incorporate motor function skills in a daily routine that includes cutting and gluing in the exploration of the topics above. For example, a sheet of paper with the shapes printed on it and within each shape the name of a different color. Have the student identify the correct color that each shape should be and color in that shape with its designated color. Then have the student cut the shape out and glue it onto a lined sheet of paper and beside them write the name of the shape and its color.

These activities should be extended out to include learning the different forms of the weather, the days of the week, the months of the year, the seasons, identifying different animals, usually beginning with domesticated, and the continents, and really any aspects of the physical and natural world that you feel the student is capable of identifying. Physical activity is also important, so getting outside and running, climbing, jumping, playing a sport, cycling, even early exposure to self defense are all healthy and beneficial to the growth and education in these early stages of the student’s development. 

These are all ways in which education can be implemented and accessed in a very loose and informal manner, that parents can use on a day to day basis to enrich and lay critical foundational structures in place for their child’s education. However there are more formally planned and structured activities that can also be utilized in a home setting, which will be explored further in Part 8 next week.

Early Childhood Education Series Pt. 6: Homeschool Education

@prestonwb Will Preston @wbpreston

As we near what would be the start of the school year in the new reality of coronavirus and the possibility in some states of another quarantine, more and more school districts will be opting for a distance learning education model for the first few months at least. Though difficult, students older than 8 who have access to the technology, will encounter similar curriculum and assignments that they would have had in a in class setting. But what about students in early childhood education age groups? How can distance learning be effective for preschool or daycare aged students? What can parents do to ensure that their younger students still have the most effective learning environment possible in this unique situation?

The first thing to know is that children under 6 learn best through play. This is the natural way that all children learn. Through exploration of their environment and hands on experience, children in this age group are introduced to the fundamentals of the world around them. Crucial to the development at this stage in the child’s education is the opportunity to learn from play. 

This can be made more complicated than it need be, but really everything a child does during their day is an opportunity to learn from their experiences. Playing with toys like blocks in the form of shapes teaches young students the differences between the shapes, and what shapes can be stacked and which shapes do not fit together. They learn about momentum and instability when stacking blocks too high. On the playground they learn that climbing to the top of the jungle gym is easier using the steps rather than the slide. Interacting with other children teaches them how to take turns and share and to communicate. The magnetic alphabet teaches students to differentiate between upper and lowercase and to recognize letters.

As a parent, providing the tools for your child to learn during this time does not have to be expensive or complicated. Pebbles, sticks, leaves, books, toys, water, can all become valuable tools in the early education of a child. One example is to write a number on a piece of paper and have the child hold up the amount of objects that match the number. The most important thing is that the activity be fun, because the students will learn something that you intend them to learn, and something that you were not expecting them to learn. Kids have shown higher abilities to retain information when the learning is centered around a fun activity.

It is also important to have some easy to use workbooks for math and writing, but it should not be the basis for their learning, because they are so young it is important that they associate learning with fun or interesting rather than boredom or force. The workbooks should be utilized in association with play. Let them decide how they work in it, where they want to start in the book, and how they want to interact with it. 

Finally, it is suggested that students get outdoors as much as possible, and the distance learning scenario allows for more exploration than ever before. Take students to libraries, go to parks and playgrounds, if there is nature somewhere in walking distance allow students to explore it as often as possible. Everything that the young student experiences during this time in their life is a learning opportunity and easily enriched through play and exploration of new environments. 

Early Childhood Education Series Pt. 5: Naming Emotions

@prestonwb Will Preston @wbprest0n

How can parents help their child understand and express their emotions in healthy and constructive ways? First by assigning a name to the emotion the child is feeling, and encouraging conversation about what they are feeling. With a vocabulary for emotions the child now has a tool for exploring and understanding their feelings. Second by giving children the chance to determine what they are feeling and what someone else may be feeling. Third by pointing out the variety of reactions to their feelings available to them, and this can be reinforced by the parent with their own experiences in dealing with their emotions in the form of stories that serve as examples for how to react to emotions and feelings. Fourth by utilizing friends and family as examples for the child to see different ways to react to emotions.

When naming emotions it is important to use a name that is easily understandable for the child. This can be done while watching kids television shows or movies, or reading children books. The child can point out what emotion the character is feeling and how they reacted to it. Also utilizing the actual events that are taking place in their lives as examples and teaching moments for the child to identify their own emotion. If they felt sad yesterday due to some event, talk to them about what they felt and why, and have them assign a name to it. These are the beginning steps of building their vocabulary around their feelings and connecting them to their experiences. 

Communicating with the child on the possible responses available to them when experiencing emotions is vital to developing their understanding and their relationship to their feelings. The more that the child can be responsible for their own strategies for dealing with emotions the better. They should come up with how they will handle their feelings. Then parents should discuss with the child the positive and negative responses to emotions. When the child uses inappropriate expression when dealing with an emotion the parent should present healthy alternative strategies to the child that can help them with future similar situations. It is important that the child experience the negative response as a way of emphasizing why the positive response is preferred.

When children choose to talk about their feelings it is important that they be met with positivity and encouragement. Clear instruction as to what the child did right and what the child did wrong will encourage them to communicate about their feelings and feel comfortable coming to the parent for future discussions and development of their understanding. It is important that the time and space for these conversations be daily and predictable. During dinner, or game time, when the child is open to engagement on these types of topics. Throughout the day things will happen that provide topics for conversations surrounding emotions and feelings and every opportunity should be utilized to practice discussing how they felt about their day and how they should respond.

It is important that when the child is emotionally charged, that these conversations do not take place. The child should be calm and at ease when discussing their feelings and strategies for dealing with and responding to their emotions. They should associate these communications with parents as positive experiences, rather than as negative experiences attached to discipline for misbehaving. After the tantrum or emotionally charged situation, and the child is calm and ready to receive information in a positive form, the strategies above can be utilized to help the child analyze the situation, their emotions around it, and how they responded. Part 6 next week will center around emotional governance.

Teaching Emotional Intelligence: Early Childhood Education Series (Pt. 3)

Last week I talked about the importance of emotional intelligence in early childhood education, this week I would like to focus on some strategies for teaching emotional intelligence. The first category I want to focus on is Identifying Emotions. This is in regards to the development of emotional awareness which is the capability to identify and comprehend our own emotions and actions as well as the emotions of others, along with the understanding of how our own emotions and actions affect ourselves and others, and how the emotions and actions of others affect ourselves. 

One strategy to teach this skill to children in an early education setting is to show them a picture of someone displaying an emotion, and then have the students recreate this facial emotional representation on their own faces. Next, assign each student an emotion, and have them walk around the classroom displaying that emotion on their face while also identifying the emotions on the faces of their peers until they find someone who matches the face of the emotion they were assigned. This allows students to not only practice identifying the emotions of others, but also to become comfortable with identifying the spectrum of emotions and displaying those emotions themselves in a safe and fun environment. 

Another strategy for identifying emotions are mood boards or emotion indicators. These come in various forms, but are visual cutouts, or small posters that the students decorate and can carry with them or leave on their desks. Each card has a picture of each emotion and the student can identify quickly what emotion they are currently feeling.

Identifying emotions can be reinforced through an activity that has the students draw four basic emotions on four separate pieces of paper. For example, sad, mad, happy, silly, and during various activities the students, when prompted, can hold up the emotion that they are feeling, for example during storytime. The students can display the emotion they are feeling during a particular moment in the story, rather than shouting out or talking with peers. This helps students to connect emotions to actions or ideas taking place in the story.

These are great for when students are engaged and not experiencing any difficult feelings, but there should be activities for students to participate in when they are actually going through an emotional difficulty. There should be visual posters or areas around the classroom that help students to cope with what they are feeling. A spot in the room where the students associate good feelings and happy thoughts, where they can go when they need a break, when they need to gather themselves, or when they need redirection or some time to refocus their attention. 

In this area manipulables can help to de-escalate their emotions, things like silly putty, or destressors like squeeze toys or cards with strategies for regaining calm. Posters with strategies that teach kids how to identify the emotion they are feeling and what to do when they feel that emotion escalating.  Many students learn best by engaging in activities that put them in situations where they will have to practice emotional awareness in real time. Through activities geared towards peer interactions, students will be put in situations where the full range of emotions will be present, and they will have to learn for themselves how to navigate the emotional spectrum in themselves as well as in others. Once proper emotional display and strategies for de-escalating high emotion have been modeled, it is time for students to practice the strategies and engage in social activities where they will deal with real emotions in a safe, low stakes environment.

Next week, in part 4, I will continue this look at best practices for teaching emotional intelligence and awareness.

Social & Emotional Landscape: Early Childhood Education Series (Pt. 2)

As stated in Part 1 of this series on Early Childhood Education there are several core elements of development during these crucial years of a child’s life. One of those core elements is learning social skills, or in more modern academic verbiage, Social and Emotional Learning. This refers to the development of the ability to a) engage in relationships that are meaningful with both peers and adults, b) to identify, articulate, and monitor one’s own range of emotions as well as the emotions of others, c) learn and cultivate social skills as well as an understanding of their environment. 

It is crucial that during this period of rapid growth and development, the child have access to a space that offers safe and enriching opportunities of exposure to this type of learning, as this will form the foundation of their social and emotional lives on which their future relationships and emotional well-being will be built. So then the question is how is that foundation built? It is built by the interactions that they have with their environment, which includes but is not limited to, parents, family members, caregivers, teachers, childcare providers, and peers. It is because of how quickly the brain develops during this phase of their life that each interaction the child has is so impactful upon the way that child will perceive and interact with their social environment as well as their own emotional landscape for the rest of their lives. 

Indications of positive social and emotional early childhood development include learning to develop close relationships with parents or guardians, to calm themselves during times of heightened emotion, to play with and share with peers, and to follow and listen to directions. Children who are exposed to risk factors in either their environment or in their relationships, have their social and emotional development disrupted. The more prolonged or severe the disruption to their development the greater the risk of permanent damage to the psychological as well as physiological development of the child. It is important to highlight here that this invaluable time in a child’s life is not the sole responsibility of the parent. The phrase ‘it takes a village’ is common because it is true. The construction of relationship norms, social norms, language, expectations, values, beliefs and attitudes are all influenced by the family, the community and the culture. All of these important factors are required in order to encourage the healthy maturation of social and emotional development.

Infographic for Social and Emotional Learning in Elementary Schools

There are specific long term benefits to emphasizing healthy development in social and emotional learning. Along with physical and mental health, the ability to forge relationships with others, to learn, to memorize and to focus attention, all stem from our emotions and our ability to employ them in the manner in which we act and in the way that we think. All of this is even more important in the mind of the developing child. Studies show that children with stronger emotional intelligence foundations tend to perform better in school, govern their own behavior better, are better at displaying empathy, more easily create positive relationships, engage in school more meaningfully, and are more able to focus their attention.  There are five essential skills that can be taught in order to foster emotional intelligence, some of which have been talked about above, but I want to name them explicitly. 1) Identifying the emotions of oneself as well as others. 2) Connecting the source of an emotion with the consequence of that emotion. 3) Correctly naming emotions. 4) The expression of emotions in the proper time, place, and culture. 5) Governing emotions. Using these five skills to model emotional intelligence and teach children the skill of emotional intelligence will be the topic of Part 3 of this ongoing series next week.