Do Buddhists Set Goals?

Meditation is a process of of trusting the basic goodness of what we have and who we are, and of realizing that any wisdom that exists, exists in what we already have.

-Pema Chodron

We talk a lot about being in the present moment at New Minimalism.  We solve clutter problems that exist in the house, today.  We redesign the layout using the furniture and materials that are already present in the home.  We help clients to embrace who they are now by releasing outdated versions of themselves - which is often reflected in their belongings.  

What both Cary and I have learned through our personal meditation and yoga practices is that the mind has a life of its own (often referred to as "mind chatter", the ego, the identity), and that this wild and unruly mind will habitually dwell in the past or pull us into the future without us even realizing it.  The mind is very good at avoiding the present moment.

What's so bad about this? If you spend too much time reminiscing about the past, or wishing you had done something differently, you eventually live your life there 100% time.  You also miss the opportunity to appreciate all the beautiful things happening around you - right now!  

It's easy to understand why living in the past has a down side.  But what about planning for the future? Micro managing your path forward is hard to resist, and more difficult to see the potential downside.  Using your smarts to plan / strategize / anticipate is essentially what makes us human, right? 

And yet!  This looking ahead can lead to expectations, grasping for something to play out precisely as planned.  If a best laid plan doesn't work out you can find yourself disappointed and frustrated. As Marianne Williamson writes, "Goal-setting is trying to get the world to do what we want it to do.  It is not spiritual surrender."

So here we are in February, a month after you've made resolutions for the year ahead. But how do these resolutions, these goals fit into living in the present moment?  All these questions lead me to Google the following question:

"Do Buddhists set goals?"  

What I verified is that Buddhist teachings do not necessarily disapprove of goal setting.  There are goals within the practice:  "to awaken", to achieve enlightenment, to relieve suffering.   Yet I think the important distinction here is that these are not necessarily end-goals.  They instead require the discipline and dedication of daily practice. I think this dichotomy is the most fascinating -- the difference between attainment of an end-goal versus the practice of continued discipline and dedication towards a value. Because growth, growth is an essential part of the practice.

Whether you identify with Buddhist teachings or not, goal setting has its place in life.  It is great for measuring your progress, for knowing where you are, for creating a vision of where you want to be, and for filling in the steps in between.  There is nothing inherently bad about goal setting, but as a culture prone to achieving, we must stay attuned to the motivation behind our goals. Do your goals stem from comparing yourself to others?  Or feeling that you need to check-off particular things in order to be a fully-functioning, "successful" adult?

I worked for a company that spent a lot of time on employee goal setting.  It was amazing!  It was so refreshing to take that time to really think about what I wanted and what I valued.  But what was interesting is that everyone's goals started to look the same!  I think once everyone started to read everyone else's goals, it seemed everyone had "run a marathon" in their health goals.  Setting goals based on comparing yourself to others is the fastest route to unhappiness and dissatisfaction. Because then you are not intrinsicly motivated to achieve goals that are not your own, and not fulfilling your goals can lead to frustration.  

We can lead our life so as to become more awake to who we are and what we’re doing rather than trying to improve or change or get rid of who we are or what we’re doing. The key is to wake up, to become more alert, more inquisitive and curious about ourselves.

-Pema Chodron

When goal-setting perhaps one of the most important pieces to understand is your personal tendencies. Are you prone to sit back and relax, go with the flow? Maybe more discipline in your life would be contribute to your personal growth.  Or, are you a Type-A achiever who has a hard time slowing down and taking a break? Maybe a planned sabbatical, whether an hour-long or a month-long, would be the best path towards personal rejuvenation?

Buddhism refers to the middle path, the idea that everything matters and at the same time, nothing matters. So when checking in with your new year's resolutions, now that we are a month into the year, what continues to resonate with you?  And what has already fallen to the way-side?  Let the goals that really light you up, that truly motivate and inspire you, lead the way.

So the moral of the story?

Yes, you can live in the present while continuing to grow.  In fact, a spiritual path requires intentionality and direction in order to lead to true growth and learning.  What's important is to accept your current circumstances, while at the same time continuing to test yourself and expand beyond your comfort levels. 

Inspiration for this post:

The Wisdom of No Escape, Pema Chodron

A Return to Love, Marianne Williamson

The Paradox of Having Goals in The Moment - Wildmind

Maria Popova interview - On Being

Image via The Master Shift

Image via Kelly Sparks

Holiday Happiness Hack: Travel Like a Minimalist

Baby penguins, notoriously minimalist in their holiday packing.

Baby penguins, notoriously minimalist in their holiday packing.

Ahh, the holidays.  

As much as we look forward to snuggling up by the fire, meals with family, and the celebratory air that surrounds this time of year, there remains a perennial downside: travel.  Specifically plane travel on some of the busiest and most notoriously bad-weather days of the year.

For me, having not lived in the same time zone as my family since I was 18, planes, trains and automobiles are just as much a part of the holidays as reindeer cookies, holiday sweaters and The Hanukkah Song.  

After years of lost bags, aching shoulders and still not bringing the right number of socks, I got serious about packing lightly and have never looked back.  Below are seven incredible benefits to traveling lightly AND super useful tips to get you started packing light a minimalist today!


WHY it's so much better to travel lightly:

1. It's an inherently better travel experience.  Less to manage.  Lighter.  Faster.  Better.

2. Checking bags is expensive and a waste of time.  Standing at the baggage carousel for 30 minutes when you've finally landed in your destination is rotten.  Paying $50 for that privilege is insane. 

Bodhi's first plane flight! 

Bodhi's first plane flight! 

3. Make sure you and your stuff end up in the same place.  As anyone whose ever had a tight connection in O'Hare or LAX or Denver over the holidays can attest, the chances of your checked bag and your body ending up in the same location at the same time is highly unlikely.  Sure, it stinks to end up at your destination without your bag, even worse is to say, spend the night on the floor of LaGuardia without even a toothbrush or extra layer to keep you comfortable.

4. You have your hands free for kids (or pets).  Let's be honest, traveling as an individual is enough of a challenge over the holidays.  The added task of keeping small humans (or animals) packed, fed and generally content is made infinitely easier when you have both hands available.  This means crying kids can be soothed and butts can be wiped all without having to constantly drop and adjust the bags you'd otherwise be holding.

5. You can find everything.  No more doing the "oh shit which pocket/pouch/bag is my boarding pass in" dance.  Fewer items all contained in one organized space makes everything instantly accessible.

6. It's an instant upgrade.  Instead of paying $149 for a few more inches of legroom, you can immediately gain a foot of space by placing your small duffel or backpack in the overhead compartment, leaving your feet free to stretch out.  Or, since it is the holidays, you could even choose to be ultra-generous by easily fitting your bag under your feet, leaving space for the single parents traveling with kids or all the noobs who haven't yet figured out the joys of traveling light.

"The ease of traveling lightly is as much a psychic experience as it is a physical one."

7. You have the mental space to be present.  Holiday travel is hard: airports are full, the days are dark, expectations loom.  The ease of traveling lightly is as much a psychic experience as it is a physical one.  Time slows when you have less to manage or keep track.   

Image // via

Image // via

You're convinced?  Awesome, now let's dig into:

How to Pack Light for the Holidays

Let your container be your guide.  I've found that no matter the size of the bag I choose, I end up filling it.  So choose a small duffel or medium sized backpack and, as Tim Gunn would say, make it work.

Choose a palette of durable basics.  This is the key to any attempt at packing lightly.  Bringing a whole new outfit for everyday of a trip adds up when you're gone for longer than a night or two.  Instead, selecting a couple classic pieces with can be worn multiple times and layered with each other means you can get away with packing less.  

Be super strategic about specialty clothing.  On holiday trips it's common to have special events.  Whether that be a holiday cocktail party, family religious services or a New Year's Day brunch, these events can call for a more specific style of dress.  Pick out an outfit whose components can be worn separately and more casually or put together again for normal days.

Eliminate as many pairs of shoes as you can.  Shoes are space killers.  A pair of men's athletic shoes or women's boots can take up half a small carry-on.  Wear your bulkiest shoes on the plane and commit to bringing no more than one additional pair.  I tend to wear a comfortable pair of leather boots and use them for every single occasion.

Create a travel toiletry kit.  It surprises me just how many people opt to check their bags so that they can bring full-sized toiletries with them.  Purchasing a few refillable containers is inexpensive and quickly checking to see that their filled before each trip takes just a minute.  Invest the $5 and 10 minutes now to set up your travel systems and you'll save that time and money multiple times over on your very first non-checked bag.  

Plan on doing laundry while you're there instead of bringing multiples.  If you're staying with family or at an airbnb, chances are you'll have access to full laundry facilities -- use them!  Even if you're staying in a hotel you can easily wash socks, underwear, exercise clothes and base layers in a bathroom sink or shower.

Borrow from your hosts.  Now this might not work for everyone, but if you're lucky enough to have relatives who are your size and not afraid of cooties, this can be huge.  For me, I borrow my mom's running shoes if it turns out that I want to run in the Polar Vortex streets of Chicago or (much more likely) so I can take a class taught by one of my very talented siblings.  In the past I've borrowed a super heavy winter from my little sister (when I still lived in California and didn't own one) and pjs from my older sister.

How do you save space when you travel?  Please share below!


5 Clutter-Free Gift Ideas

As the holidays draw nearer, we want to show the people in our life that we care, but how to do it without buying a bunch of things?  These five gift ideas are not only earth-friendly and easy on the budget, they are also just downright thoughtful.


1.  Play travel agent.

Go beyond the normal gift certificate idea, and plan an activity for that person.  Get into the details.  Plan a picnic where you bring the supplies, and pick out the spot.  Or even something simple, like a round of drinks at your favorite watering hole.  The key here is to be specific.  I once gifted a "day-o-fun" for my friend's wedding gift.  It included tickets to an all-day music festival in the wine country.  I took care of all the details, and just made sure that they reserved the date.  It was a wonderful luxury to spend an entire day together.

Holiday Gift Wrapping.png

2.  Make something yummy.  

It doesn't have to be your regular old apple pie (unless that's your thing - in which case, do it!). Out-of-the-box ideas include: create a custom tea blend and package in little tins, batch-make your favorite salad dressing and put it in reusable glass jars.  You can also be this season's champion of healthy yet delicious treats by offering a sugar free alternative, like these coconut macaroons.  Or for your friend who is hosting a holiday party, offer to make (beforehand) a special mixer for a festive cocktail!  The yummy possibilities are endless . . .


3.  Handwrite a letter.

Sit down and write a letter explaining all the ways in which you love that person.  Write a rough draft first, and then transfer to the real card.  We pretty much type on a keyboard all the time now, so this gives you an opportunity to brush up your handwriting skills ;) For extra credit, enlist the help of friends to write their own love notes, creating a small love letter collection!  This takes planning, so do it now!






4.  Give the gift of a New Minimalism phone consultation! 

For $95 you get one-hour on the phone with declutter expert, Cary.  With lightening speed, she comes to understand all your clutter problems and then creates a specific, actionable gameplan to tackle them! Obviously this is the ultimate clutter-free gift. 

Email for details!



5.  Make a donation.

In their name, donate to a charity that the giftee is passionate about.  Thinking hard about a charity that will actually resonate with the person shows that you really know them and care about their interests

And don't forget, when you are out and about, stay away from the holiday-specific gift wrap.  Instead, buy a roll of brown construction paper, and decorate using fun magazine & newspaper photos!  Gift-wrapping becomes a craft in and of itself.  

We hope these ideas help make your holidays meaningful and bright!  Please share any other clutter-free gift ideas in the comments below!


Image 1 via

Image 2 via

Image 3 via

Image 4 via

The Great Unsubscribe, aka: Dealing with Junk Mail

I tend to prefer my paper to be in the form of trees.  Image via.

Since moving to Idaho, I've become even more passionate (read: fairly obsessed) with the idea of creating a zero waste home.  

This is somewhat ironic considering that I just left the epicenter of green living for a state that bleeds red.  The godmother of the zero waste lifestyle, Bea Johnson, lived just ten minutes from me in the Bay Area.  Grocery stores were optimized to reduce packaging.  San Francisco set a goal that as an entire city to send NOTHING to the landfills by 2020.  

They made this habit easy on residents and stores by providing recycling and compost bins which they picked up weekly alongside our dwindling trash bins.  

So how fitting for my stubborn, rebellious little green soul to decide now that I live in a city that doesn't recycle glass that I want to seriously zero waste-ify my home.

And yet, of course, the timing really does make sense.  Part of why I loved San Francisco so much was being surrounded by people who shared my environmental sensibilities.  It was made easy for us all to live lightly.  Heck, an entire terminal at San Francisco International airport only served food in compostable containers -- "If you bought it here, it can be composted" read the signs.  

But part of what happens when you are surrounded by compostable, post-consumer recycled objects in a city of hippies is that you get lazy.  Or at least complacent.  You don't necessarily have to try that hard to live lightly.  And you get to be a judgy little a-hole when you go to a *gasp* non-coastal city who isn't quite as innovative in the green arena.  Long story short, it's easy to eco-friendly in the Bay Area.

I figure that if I can be zero waste in Boise, Idaho -- a state equally known for it's love of potatoes, the second amendment and fly fishing -- then it can be done anywhere.

First up on my list of things to tackle: Mail.  


It appears that the absolutely lovely people who owned our home before us liked to shop by catalog as a new one pops up at our door daily.  Literally, every single day.  While my specific goal is to produce no trash and paper can of course be recycled, it nonetheless feels obscenely wasteful to get a hundred pages of paper in the mail each day to only be placed straight in the blue bing.  

It also appears that USPS must have sold our new address info to a million and one home goods and supplies stores, because we are getting non-stop flyers and coupons for every store in town.

And on a related note, the ultimate asshat award goes to: Restoration Hardware who sent me TWO separate thousand-plus-page catalogues, all wrapped up in plastic.  Apparently they've been doing this since 2014 and have continued even after receiving repeated complaints.  #nevergettingmybusiness #notthaticouldaffordyouanyways #dicks


1) Catalog Choice.  This amazing, free service allows you to create a profile for yourself (and any past residents of your home) in order to rapidly unsubscribe from catalogs and other mailings.  I've been using this service for years, but it's come particularly in handy with our most recent move.  (Pro tip: create profiles for "Current Resident" and "To Our Friends At" to stop those generic mailings as well.)

2) Call them up.  There are a couple of companies whom CatalogChoice isn't able to help with unsubscribing from.  For those companies, simply find their number on the back of the catalog, call them up and ask to be removed from their mailings.  When asked why I no longer wish to receive their company's catalog, I usually say something along the lines of, "I do all of my shopping online and don't want to waste precious paper."  The super sweet workers at L.L. Bean seemed to appreciate that:)

3) Fill out change of address forms for former residents at the Post Office.  If you, like us, have really kind former residents and you happen to know their new address, you can do this for them.  Otherwise you can write "no forwarding address."  The good news is that this tends to be implemented rapidly (unlike catalogs which can take 6-8 weeks).  The bad news it that this only applies to First Class mail, while Third class mail often doesn't get forwarded.

4) Get it by email.  For mailings that you still want to receive -- not that you want to get your bills, but you know what I mean -- sign up for electronic mailings.  Every single one of my providers in Idaho has an e-delivery option, even the city's recycling program.  It takes a minute or two to create an online profile and account, but it's worth it.  You can also often sign-up for automatic payments ensuring that you never miss a bill in the future.

A Simple Morning Routine

Morning Routines matter.

There have been a million and one studies on what the greatest minds throughout history have done in their mornings.  There is a website (which the voyeur in me loves) called My Morning Routine which profiles modern day creatives across the spectrum.  Everyone varies, but certain patterns stand out to me: exercise, creative activities, time alone without distraction (often meditation).  

Now this time alone without distraction I believe is the hardest thing to come by.  It's because we no longer need other people around or urgent meetings to distract us.  We have our phones, often right next to our beds, that awake us with glowing red numbers, calling out to us the feeling of already being behind.  I used to be a wake up and start chugging away at email person.  It made me feel efficient and like I was getting shit done from the first conscious breath of my day.  

But then the quality of my days over time deteriorated.  I was constantly seeking out the feeling of getting things done.  Which lead to reactivity, to focusing on other people's requests and to urgently responding to non-urgent requests.  It was things that I love the most: the feeling calm and quiet, the space for deep thinking, the room for creativity that became lost to me in this pattern.

All of which reminds me of the year I was living in Cambodia.  

Typical traffic in Phnom Penh, Cambodia in 2007.  

Typical traffic in Phnom Penh, Cambodia in 2007.  

When I first arrived, physically and culturally jet-lagged, I awoke at 7:30. I'd rush around to get ready for work.  The street would already be buzzing with motos.  The construction across the street would be in full swing.  The heat of the day would have already begun setting it, trapping me in a sweat that would not cease until i came home that night.  It was stressful.  

Life is quiet in the south Cambodia coastal town of Kep. How could I bring that type of serenity to my home in the bustling capital?

Life is quiet in the south Cambodia coastal town of Kep. How could I bring that type of serenity to my home in the bustling capital?


Though I was busy with people all day, I felt immensely lonely.  And of course a good amount of that came from being halfway around the world from my family and the majority of my friends, the deepest part of it was a disconnection from myself, a lack or grounding or rootedness.  A loneliness that felt like a complete separation from me and my routines and the habits that I'd honed over 23 years to bring me joy: movement outside, writing, the time alone with my brain I used to get for 20+ hours a week as a collegiate swimmer.  

One of my roommates at this time was a teacher.  He had to be at school at 7am and was often gone before I awoke.  But he rose at 5am to take time to write and listen to music -- his two favorite past times.  So I began getting up with him.  We'd take turns brewing coffee and then would sit at the table on our front porch writing.  The air was the coldest it would be all day and it felt delicious to wear a long sleeve shirt and socks -- to "get cozy"-- before the heat set in.  We wrote together, breaking to chat or for me to ask him about the music that was playing, to get each other more coffee.  It was delicious.  It was spacious.  It made me feel vibrant and connected and energized.

Being back in the states, I no longer had the need to avoid oppressive heat.  I no longer had a job that required me dashing around on the back of a moto through the hectic Phnom Penh streets, and so I let go of those habits that had felt so necessary and joyful in Asia.  In fact, it took me almost 8 years to get back these joyful, centering mornings.  

It actually took one mosquito harassing me and my husband one night, my husband thrashing like a wild man until I was fully awake, to get me up early again.  I needed to entertain myself quietly until my husband and neighbors awoke, so I brewed a pot of coffee and sat down to meditate in the dark, completing my practice as it completed it's brew.  I sat down to my morning pages ( and just wrote like I used to in my journals.  

That alone was enough to ground me throughout the day.  

Coffee + writing = content Cary

Meditation.  Writing.  Coffee.  Three simple, joyful, accomplishable items.  Whenever I've attempted more ambitious routines (practice a new foreign language for 30 minutes!) I inevitably fail at eventually.  So my goal is to keep it simple.  Light.  Joyful.  To make it be the time I look forward to as soon as my eyes flutter open (from my alarm clock buzz:).

The point is this.  Life is happening.  Now.  Each day.  You get to choose how you feel right now.  You get to choose your experience.  

The best way I know to set up my experience as one of creating, enjoying, relaxing is start off with my morning routine. 

How do you spend your mornings?  Are you an early bird or a night owl?  What time do you wake up?  What's been the best morning habit you've adopted?


Resources: My Morning Routine