I never thought it possible, but Lent is in vogue this year. Non-Catholics and Catholics alike are taking it upon themselves to give up something in the name of self-improvement. While I like to think I’m always in fashion, I was ahead of the curve on this one. Three years ago, I learned firsthand that less is better than more. As an overstressed marketing director, I found my days fueled by shopping, mocha lattes, cell phones, and a packed day planner--all of which were distracting my attention from my soul work—and shrinking my savings account. I had a nagging feeling that, however full my life seemed, something was missing. I needed to streamline, but had no idea where to start.
Then I recalled my childhood Lent experiences, where big change involved forgoing my daily requirement of Ring Dings for forty days and forty nights. Back then I obeyed the wishes of my parents and church more out of will power than personal sacrifice. But those early Lenten lessons stuck. As an adult, I learned that sacrifices during Lent are meant to be life-changing. In fact, some believe that truly experiencing Lent can make you a new person. I was once again ready to change. To accomplish this, I chose to give things up “Lent style,” one vice per month, serially throughout the year. Each time I left my traditional comfort zone, I learned a lesson about myself. The biggest lesson was not about what I had given up, but what I had gained.
After a not-so-memorable New Year’s Eve party, I woke up on January 1st uttering those famous last words, “I am never drinking again.” I managed to sip club soda with a splash of cranberry and lime for the next 31 days.
Life-Changing Tip: I noticed how much peer pressure there was to have a cocktail after work. I had to overcome feeling like an outsider among my friends.
My financial analyst applauded me from the sidelines as I decided to give up my biggest vice, shopping—albeit during the shortest month of the year. As a recovering shopaholic, this was no easy task.
Life-Changing Tip: I discovered many articles of clothing in my closet with the tags still on. I began to take inventory of what I owned to determine which of the items I was purchasing I was truly using.
Considering myself in shape, I thought a few extra flights of steps per day would be no problem. As I crawled the ten flights to work each morning, I was surprised to find how winded I was by the time I got to the top.
Life-Changing Tip: There are plenty of opportunities to stay active that don’t involve going to the gym.
Starting in college, I was required to read the newspaper every day, and I continued to feel pressure to be informed about everything. But the overwhelmingly bad news was depressing and killing my love of reading. Instead, I swapped the daily news for poetry and began the day with peace.
Life-Changing Tip: When I didn’t force myself to read cover to cover, I was able to revive my joy in reading.
May: Cell phones
My cell phone bill was topping $100 per month because I always went over my minutes. Plus I was always running late and using my cell phone to call in my excuses.
Life-Changing Tip: Without the phone, I was forced to be on time and to learn quickly that my communication needed to be as clear as possible. Now I take responsibility for my time and my plans.
June: Dining Out
I grew up cooking with my mother and grandmother, preparing homemade feasts. But I used my hectic life as an excuse to avoid the kitchen. I wanted to not only save the money I was spending on restaurants and take-out, but also bring back my love of cooking.
Life-Changing Tip: Cooking at home helped me slow down and learn patience. I was also able to exercise portion control and use fresh ingredients—which benefited my weight and health.
Television had become my electronic roommate. I kept it on from the minute I walked in the door after work till I fell asleep. This month, instead of getting sucked in to the latest reality show, I took action by running errands, taking walks, and preparing dinner, all things I had generally left to the weekend.
Life-Changing Tip: I was surprised by how much time I spent mesmerized by TV. Today, I always watch while doing a task, folding laundry, organizing photos, or even exercising--which makes viewing active.
Taxis were for me the convenient solution. It was all about footwear. Because of my penchant for fashionable shoes, I was never prepared to hike to the subway station or just walk.
Life-Changing Tip: My shoes were holding me back. Once I traded my high heels for loafers and walked instead of rode, I learned more about my environment and let go of my vanity as well.
My coffee habit was nearing five cups per day. With a coffee shop on every corner, I could not say no. But I was ill prepared for the physical and mental withdrawal symptoms. Today, one morning cup keeps me on track.
Life-Changing Tip: I had a constant urge for coffee along with terrible headaches for a couple of weeks. Instead eliminate coffee gradually. I learned how much I love coffee. While I can limit it, I would never live without it permanently.
I had no idea that cursing had crept into my everyday language, usually while driving my car or finding a parking spot, both stressful endeavors. Depositing money per infraction into a curse jar made me ultra-aware of my word choices.
Life-Changing Tip: Most of my cursing was unconscious and usually occurred while I was alone. Thinking before I speak has become a way of life.
I was eating chocolate in excess every day, rather than as an occasional treat. I became obsessed with chocolate; it seemed to come up in conversation, on TV, everywhere I looked. I learned that I do not want to live without chocolate, but to understand my limits.
Life-changing Tip: I became a quick study on the history of chocolate. Reading about it instead of eating it seemed to satisfy my addiction.
During the busiest time of the year, I decided to try to live in the moment. Not only had my lifestyle created an overstuffed shoe closet, but also a daily planner that was like an obstacle course. I learned quickly that I could only be in one place at one time.
Life-Changing Tip: I learned the power of saying no and looked at my schedule more realistically. In the process, I was less distracted and gained more peace.
The year of learning to live better with less continues to impact my life. Now able to distinguish my needs versus my wants, I shop only for specific need, drink only one cup of coffee per day, always carry my subway map, and dine out only for special occasions. All of these subtle changes have made me more aware of the blessings that each day brings, which eventually resulted in revolutionary change. One year later, I quit my corporate job of eight years, wrote and published a book, started my own company--called Order--which helps people declutter their lives, got married, and bought my first home. I had finally learned how to change a little at a time, which prepared me for the ultimate makeover.