In Search of the Lean Six Life

Smarter, not harder. Preferrably A LOT smarter.


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You may have noticed an anti-consumption undercurrent in my posts lately.

It’s not that I’m against shopping per se. Or buying things. But so much modern American spending is programmed and conditioned by the barrage of advertising that dominates our every waking minute. We waste money on trivial, disposable gifts despite being so stressed out over finances, and I am just as trapped by the madness as anyone.

As Christmas looms on the horizon, I am trying new finance hacks to spend more mindfully. I want to exchange my precious dollars for actual needs rather than desperate attempts to purchase happiness and acceptance. (Because all those ads scream in my face that I will NEVER EVER be good enough until I own their product or use their service.)

I’m sure everyone has heard of the Envelope System. I think it’s mandatory content in any financial management book! And while I have read many of those in my day, I had never actually tried it. The idea is to put your monthly budget, in cash, for some category – I picked groceries – in the envelope. When the cash runs out, you’re done spending in that category for the month. The end. Cash forces you to face hard limits (as opposed to the never ending opportunities of credit cards), leading to more careful choices whenever you spend.

Well, I quickly learned that for me, personally, this whole thing only works if I write down the price of everything going into my cart as I go through the store.

I mean, everything.

Otherwise I am “that” person in the checkout lane, awkwardly holding up everyone as I hunt for items to be voided from my purchase.

I use my phone’s “memo” app to record each item and its cost to the closest 50 cents. Every ten or so items, I tally the total, so I know roughly how much  my cart costs at any given point. Yes, yes – this means I am also that person, the one who stands in the middle of the grocery store aisles “playing” with her phone. It’s for a good cause, I swear.

The few times I have tried this, I definitely noticed a difference in my spending choices. Which is the whole point, right? I can clearly say this hack is “working” from that perspective. Faced with the choice of organic, hormone-free milk for my kids, or ready-made high-protein snack bars for me, the decision is easy. I’d rather spend a few bucks on better quality milk for them; I’ll just nosh on fresh veggies instead (which is, in fact, healthier than any processed food snack bar).

The other thing I quickly learned: I cheat.

Yes, really.

Even though, by definition, I am only cheating myself because this whole hack is self-imposed.

For example, we have no ATMs close by, so I never have cash for a whole month of groceries to put in my envelope. It turns out feeding a family of four takes a LOT of cash. I have tracked my spending by categories for over a decade now, and I always assumed we spent so much on groceries because I splurge on things like wild caught salmon, lion’s mane tea, almond flour, and the aforementioned organic milk and high-protein snack bars. But the USDA Cost of Food reports show that even a “thrifty” or “low-cost” food budget for a family of four is still a whopping sum. (And more cash than I ever have at one time!) So oops? I still end up using my credit card because the cash runs out so soon.

I also cheat by moving certain items to the “big box” shopping list. Sometimes this makes sense, because buying in bulk can be more cost effective. However, the big box trips are so expensive, I always use my credit card. (See previous note about not having a lot of cash on hand.) So the regular grocery bill ends up being less, preserving that precious cash. But I’m not buying fewer things…just spending more cleverly!

That said, despite the cheats, the hack still seems to be accomplishing the goal: greater mindfulness while shopping. For groceries, anyway. Don’t even ask about the Christmas shopping!

What hacks have you tried for more mindful shopping, and what were the results? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!


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Ode to Self-Help Books

You may be wondering why my blog posts consist of a random mix of self-help / self-improvement / lifehacks and gardening / foraging. No, it’s not a symptom of multiple personality disorder, I promise! (Or is it?)

I am struggling to find (make) time to write. My weekly foraging series (while mostly unread) has created a firm commitment that I will post something, however short, at least once a week. But I have so much more to share.

I keep thinking… just one more technique from one more self-help book, and I will at last discover the ultimate trick to unlock my true gifts and unleash my creativity on the world. I will finally overcome (or embrace) the resistance, and be able to write.

Just as soon as I am done getting things done, papers filed, inbox to zero, boxes checked – then I will finally be have all the time I need to write.

Maybe I can change my life by tidying up, which will help me cultivate an uncluttered mind, and then I will finally be able to write.

You know, I need to manage my budget better, and when I am less concerned about finances, then I will have the spare brain cells to be able to write.

I must exercise, and eat healthy (including cooking meals from scratch), and take all the nutritional supplements because when I am at my peak, physically speaking, my mind will be as well and then I will be able to write.

If I could just lifehack a little more free time into my day, then, well … you know.

If I could only perfect my sleep so I could survive on less thanks to the amazing quality of the sleep I did get, then … sigh.

…are we noticing a theme here?

“Is there any chance that the healing you seek is just another form of resistance?”

–Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

My friend Kristen at The Sojourning Spinner recently suggest that for at least a month I try – get this – rather than spending time on lifehacks to free up time to write, I just (gasp!) write.

It’s a great idea. And I’m going to give it a serious try. But first, I need to find my “Flow Pattern” on the Flow Genome Project so I know I can really maximize those precious few moments to write.

…. oh wait. Oops.


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Dear Dairy

Sometimes, I hate being right.

Like two days ago, when I realized all this time I had been wrong. About eating Primal, seasonal allergies, and dairy products.

See, lo these many months ago when I adopted the “Primal” variation of what is known in the vernacular as the “Paleo Diet” I embraced it at least in part because of its leniency regarding dairy products. I luff my butter in my coffee in the mornings. I luff my homemade whole cows milk yogurt (and its healthy bacteria love me in return). I luff my scrambled eggs on Saturday mornings, cooked in butter and sprinkled with shredded cheddar. I luff most of all, my afternoon whey-protein-isolate-based Quest Bar, especially the Double Chocolate Chunk. And the Cookies & Cream.  And the Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough. How fabulous to have such a selection of grain-free, low carb snack bars!

(Not to mention, almost every recipe I’ve collected over the past year features cheese or butter or sour cream or yogurt or kefir in some form or fashion.)

And I thought that eating Primal would improve minor health annoyances such as seasonal allergies. After all, avoiding the “SAD” (Standard American Diet) would reduce inflammation in my system, so when the annual botanical orgy started up again in the spring, I would be just fine, thank you very much.

More like, it was BORED and DESPERATE for something to do, because my allergies went kah-razy. Tree pollen and mold spores oh my! I was one snot mess.  Like seriously. I was embarrassed to be at work because everyone thought I was sick. Watering eyes, unable to breathe, debilitating sneezes – just as miserable as miserable can be. Even on my trusty ol’ cetirizine-D, which I finally weaned myself off of months ago, couldn’t make a dent in my symptoms.

And then… I remembered. I had noticed in years past, that if I had seasonal allergy flare ups, any dairy product made it worse. Even “non dairy” products would slam my sinuses shut – milk proteins, for example in the form of calcium caseinate are added to juices to “fortify” them with calcium.

Two days ago, I abandoned dairy in every form. Even most brands of ghee have trace casein and whey in them.  I’m trying coconut oil in my morning coffee concoction again (some morning coconut oil and I do NOT get along), cooking more with lard, store bought coconut milk yogurt (though I’ll try making my own this weekend), and sprinkling my scrambled eggs with, well, nothing.  Sigh.  Still not sure what to do about my afternoon snack though. Nuts make me bloaty, fruit and most “raw” snack bars are too sugary, jerky is so high in sodium (and many store bought brands have corn and wheat in it, yuck) and nothing, but nothing, is as satisfying as a Quest bar anyway.

But – I was right. Yay? My allergy symptoms have subsided back to an annoyance rather than nearly debilitating like they were just a short while ago. Just like the decision to eat “Primal” / “Paleo” in the first place, I wouldn’t have stuck with it, except that I could see and feel the results.

Will our heroine survive her self imposed dairy abstinence?  Will she come to terms with the fact that when she decided long ago to “cut back on dairy”, that actually meant absolutely nothing?  Stay tuned!


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The Hardest Hack

Do you read self-help books?

I do. I really enjoy them. Though I’ve stopped calling them “self-help” books – I’m not reading them because I need help! I prefer “Sources of of new ideas, inspirations and influences.” I’m just looking for great new hacks to try!

The hardest hack I’ve read in the past year? Don’t try to fix your weaknesses. Instead, focus on building your strengths, because they are what make you specially and uniquely you. Your strengths are your gift to the world.

This advice runs counter to, well, almost everything else I’ve read in the past forever.  Take memory for instance. My memory. One of my oldest self help books tackles the topic of improving one’s memory. I’ve always struggled with forgetfulness, and sometimes I get ugly, stark reminders of it.
Baby Plants Need More Love

Baby Plants Need More Love

Saving a few bucks by using dirt and Dixie cups? Not worth it! Much better to spend the money on peat pellets and one of those fancy seed-starting “green houses” – modern gardening technology compensates nicely for my absent mindedness!

(I don’t remember which book I read that had the hardest “self hack” of all… when I do, I’ll update this post with the title.)