Home is where you dog is.

Whoever said they learned many of life’s most important lessons from their dog was totally right.  I know what you are thinking, not another dog episode.  There is way more in here than dogs, I promise.  Still consider: “Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.” – Roger Caras.

On my recent work adventure I traveled hundreds of miles across America’s southeast. On this trip I realized several important facts.

  1. I have way too much stuff. I can live reasonably comfortably for many weeks out of a relatively small suitcase.  (Bigger than the carry on size, let’s not be too crazy now)
  2. Quality does matter. Fluffy towels, a small amount of living space, one of those multi-chargers by the bed and a mini-fridge dramatically decrease stress when living on the road.  And let’s not forget high quality conditioner.  The proper moisture balance in my hairdo is crucial for my long term happiness.
  3. If I could bring my dog everywhere, I would not be homesick.

Do not miss-interpret.  I have an enviable life.  I live in a beautiful house in an established, historic neighborhood.  I work for a company that cares about their name and the quality of work they put out in the world.  For the most part I can choose how to spend my leisure time.  I am married to a handsome, strong and wonderful man who helps keep my life in balance.  However, I had been blind to much of life’s clutter and this extended travel, helped me to gain some perspective.

When my husband and I first moved into our house, we did not even have enough furniture for all the rooms; however, over time, the passing of grandparents and parents downsizing we now have more items than we know what to do with.  Some of the problem is you can’t get rid of “Aunt Suzie’s special curios” while Aunt Suzie is still around.  Regardless, I am on a quest is to “de-clutter”.  In my household, we are simple people; much of what we own can be donated.  The plan is to go room by room, each weekend tackling a new area.  An area may be as small as a drawer or as large as the whole room.  But I will not impose unrealistic expectations on myself.  The objective is to reduce stress, not create more tasks for my to-do list.   My personal goal is to be able to remove 35% of the items in each area.  Keeping what is used and loved, and getting rid of the rest.  I am aware, this is quite ambitious. But if you shoot for the moon and miss you are still among the stars.

I have also noticed that tangible clutter, once removed, also removes mental clutter.  When I feel totally stressed out and brain numb, I clean my office.  I sort files.  Clear off the surfaces.  It is crucial to mental health.  Not one time have I felt worse after cleaning my office.  Literally, the physical act of removing the junk and physically organizing removes the junk and helps me organize my brain.  How about you?  Can you think of one closet, one drawer, one surface in your house that could be cleared, even just a little.  Start there.  Once you get the bug and start losing the mental clutter more and more places will be revealed.

Another example is making the bed.  It is a simple and quick exercise completed as soon as you get up/start your day.  This activity serves several purposes.  First you immediately have accomplished something and put yourself in a proactive state, where you are acting on the world and not reacting to it.  Also, it makes your bedroom appear more neat and tidy; helping to remove some mental clutter.  To me, there are few things more soul crushing then getting home after a long day and walking into a bedroom with an unmade bed.  Finally, at the end of the day, no matter how crazy, stressful and chaotic life has been, your made bed symbolizes neatness, order, simplicity, a fresh start.  Just try it for a week and see how you feel.  Remember, life is only a series of small experiments you design to determine what fits you and your life best.

Quality is important in every aspect of life from your toilet paper and Q-tips to the food you eat for lunch.  If you sacrifice on quality down the line there will be repercussions.  For example, let’s go back to the bedroom, if you opt for lower thread count sheets to save $15 or $50, they will not feel as soft against your skin, ultimately decreasing the quality of sleep received each night.  Additionally, they will wear out and pill sooner further decreasing sleep comfort and ability.  Ultimately you will need to replace these sheets sooner than had you bought a better quality, higher thread count sheet from the start.

Sleep is when you recharge your batteries, when all the portions of the brain we haven’t figured out yet do their jobs and sort out the day’s activities, and process conflicting thoughts and emotions.  It is the time when our body heals itself.  Prioritizing sleep is saying yes to your health, happiness and longevity.  What are you prioritizing?

When traveling for one night  it is easy to compromise on food, noise, temperature, and general comfort because the situation is temporary and once at home it is easy to make up for the discomfort, lack of sleep or poor nutrition.  However, when you are on extended work travel and more importantly for overall well-being, it is important to be consistent and achieve as little compromise as possible because optimal performance for the long term is dependent on achieving proper sleep, nutrition and well being; without increasing stress.  In short, create the optimal environment to enhance your performance.

After a month of being on the road I was able to “visit” my house for a long weekend. My furries (I have two dogs) greeted me at the door.  I spent 5-10 minutes at the entryway just petting them and getting lots of face licks.  My heart felt full.  I could not imagine a greater sense of family and belonging then to be back with my “pack”.  What qualities do my furries possess that allow us to share this bond?  They are loyal, loving, playful, compassionate, faithful, honest, intelligent, friendly and non-judgmental.  I know I have left out numerous qualities.  But looking at the list, it is easy to see why dogs are so endearing.  Why I feel complete when they are around.  I know few humans with a handful of those qualities, let alone all of them.  Challenge yourself.  Choose a quality from the above list that you struggle with and work on it today.  Tomorrow try a different one.  Each day give yourself an opportunity to develop relationships that are as worthwhile as the one shared with your dog.

It is truly the little things in life that matter.  On my short “visit” home I managed to stress out my lower back to the point where any movement caused shooting pains throughout my entire body and tears.  Dogs truly understand humans better than we appreciate.  My sweet little lab spent the day beside me.  If I napped on the couch, she napped on the floor beside me.  When I slowly made my way from room to room she would be there right beside me, looking concerned but available for a comforting pet.  Many times I did stop and stoke her soft, silky fur.  The long firm strokes along her torso might be calming for the pup, but it was also calming for me.  Just being able to sit and pet my dog for a few minutes alleviated much of the mental stress related to feeling incompetent at life.  (At least that is how I usually feel when I am injured and unable to perform my usual activities).

I struggle with down time.  It is not something that is common in my life, but my favorite joke is that I don’t idle well.  I need constant stimulation, I can sit and read an entire book, because my brain is engaged, but if I want to be working in the yard, it is hard to make myself read a book.  Perhaps I need to grow up and act more like an adult.  But my inner pup, longs to run, play and be free.

“It is amazing how much love and laughter they bring into our lives and even how much closer we become with each other because of them.” – John Grogan (Author, Marley & Me)

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