Thursday, June 6, 2013

Being Broken Makes Me Whole

Get rid of the stuff that's weighing me down.

Sometimes, that 'stuff' is beliefs that have outlived their usefulness.

I spent most of my childhood fighting a feeling of being broken. As a teenager, I was broken a majority of the time, and became convinced that I needed fixing. In my twenties, I was pretty sure I'd smoothed over all the broken spots and was healthy and ready for adulthood.

Throughout all of it, I thought of broken as a weakness to be hardened, avoided, fixed, overcome. It was never something I was willing to accept as a part of life.

Just recently, I've started looking at my brokenness in a new way. Being fragile and vulnerable to cracking makes me open to possibilities. When I am willing to hurt, that allows me to feel more freely, to be more honest, to examine and discard old beliefs that no longer serve me.

Imagine a hollow ceramic ball with a clean white glaze. There is a light inside, perfectly preserved. It won't be changed by any external force, because it's completely enclosed.
These are the beliefs we hold – the ones we develop over time, that have been proven out by our experiences. We don't need to reexamine these beliefs because they've been comfortably contained. They've become part of us.

It's not until the ball is cracked and light shines through that we have the opportunity to examine the beliefs we took on long before, and haven't thought about since. On top of that, we are vulnerable to the things outside that sphere - we have the chance to live new ideas and new ways of looking at the world.

Change is hard. By it's nature, it creates cracks in what we were in order to make room for what we're becoming.

Suddenly, being broken and fragile are no longer things I need to overcome. My ceramic fortress has become an eggshell – a way to be reborn, repeatedly, into a greater and fuller life.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Goal Behind it All

Being free is still what I want.

Blog post #6 - In which I get a taste of freedom...

When I laid out my goals a month and a half ago, they were all (ironically) about doing things. My journey from 'human doing' to 'human being' was defined by 'doing'.

But I realized recently that everything I'm doing and aiming for are just symptoms of what I'm really looking for. A goal that, until a week and a half ago, was unspoken and unformed.

And then I bought a train ticket on a whim, and took a two hour ride along the river down to the city. I met a friend I hadn't seen in years. I put away my phone. I refused to put any item or any fear between myself and that day.

It was amazing. Vibrant and alive and thought-provoking and life-changing and poignant. I have no pictures of it except one – a picture of my latte with it's perfect drinkable fern. Somehow, it seemed unimportant enough that I wouldn't lose the moment by taking a picture. It was meant to be a memento of the day.

I don't need it.

I have the day in my head. I wrote it down later, thinking back over the textures and emotions of the day, recalling the feral joy of being open and without expectations.

I haven't felt anything like that since I was a teenager, staring up at the stars late at night and feeling utterly overwhelmed by the expanse of sky and milky way and universe.

Then I 'grew up' and let responsibility and other people's opinions matter more than my own sense of wonder.

By being open, with no expectations, distractions, or motives, I got it back.  Just for a little while, I was open to what was in front of me. I chose to set aside the lenses of cameras and expectations and fears and responsibilities.

Awareness is (they say) what minimalism is about. Get rid of the distractions and what you have left is life. Pure. Vibrant. The way Van Gogh saw sunflowers and night skies.

The way I finally saw a valuable friendship and Van Gogh and Rodin and Central Park for a few hours on a Saturday afternoon.

I understand. More now than when I started, I understand why I am on this path and why I am working toward this life of less.

There is so much more than expectations and responsibilities and things and filters and lenses. Brush all that away and you have the undiluted, awe-inspiring rawness of living.

And a day of it – just that single day – was worth more than any object I could ever own.

There are still steps to take, still doing to be done and things to get rid of.  But the goal is clearer than it's been in a long time, and it is worth it.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Expense of De-Stressing

Get out of debt.

Sometimes that excess spending is sneaky...and has nothing to do with spending!

Have you ever told your boss, “This is too much for me, I'm going for a walk.”?

I haven't.

But I have said, “I'm going to grab some coffee, I'll be back shortly.”

It's actually the same thing, but somewhere along the way, I decided the second was considerably more corporate-culture acceptable.

It also involves spending money.

The requisite Starbucks run looks like this: I bring someone along and talk about what's bothering me, and they let me know what's bothering them, and we both feel a bit better when we get back, caffeinated beverage in hand. This costs about $2 - $5 every time we do it. 

 If things are bad, I'll go twice a day.

That adds up fast.

You and I both know it's not the coffee that makes the day magically improve, right? So, the cheap (and healthy) solution would be to take a walk instead. I've known this for at least a few months. (Before that, I honestly thought it was the coffee I needed.  Then I switched to green tea...and still required my Starbucks run.) So...why do I still do it?

Well, it feels like the culturally acceptable thing to do. If you don't smoke, a coffee break is the next best thing. There's fear - what if I get judged for taking a walk instead? And there's just habit - for the last six years, I've trained myself to crave coffee when I'm stressed.

Between my most judgmental inner-self telling me that a walk isn't business related and it demonstrates I'm not able to handle my job, and my reptile brain telling me please-I-need-coffee-I-can't-take-this-anymore! - I'm pretty much a lost cause.

Those inner voices have created a mindless consumer!

Do I honestly have to explain to myself that a walk is a healthy alternative, and all the publications say it's okay, and it will actually help me do my job more efficiently when I come back fresh?

I've tried it, and my insecure-self gets angry and stressed, and the Pavlov-trained-self craves coffee like air (it tastes like freedom!).

It's all well and good to tell ourselves that we don't need X. But until we take care of the (in my case) insecurities and judgments behind that need, it's still going to be an issue when we're triggered.

So, next week, I'm going to try to take a little more time for myself, drink a little less Starbucks, and try to talk some sense into those inner voices.  It's time to stop being controlled by my stress!

But I also have to accept that retraining my brain is going to take time.  Every small step is progress, and trying to stay positive in the face of my recalcitrant coffee-desiring-selves is forcing me to develop something else I have a shortage of:


Wish me luck!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

My Success is Not Martha Stewart's Success...

Get rid of the stuff that's weighing me down.

Sometimes that stuff is mental...but it still needs to go!

I've always felt a little bit...wrong, or broken, or sub-par because I'm not a hardcore athlete (I do make a pretty solid couch potato, though!) or a fantastic 'from scratch' cook, or a housekeeper with boundless energy. I've been aiming, for decades, to find that one tool that will help me become that 100% hardcore fill-in-the-blank I should be!

It took a series of videos from Nony the Slob to make me realize that I'm not a freak of lazy nature. I'm just...not hardcore.  Not about anything. This makes me pretty easy to work with and deal with...but I'm not that perfect housekeeper/cook/athlete I was convinced I needed to be. It took those videos to switch on that light - ding! - I'm me. I don't wash every dish immediately, I don't cook every meal from scratch, I leave laundry on the floor – and that's okay.

This is an epiphany on the level of finding out there is no Santa Claus, guys. This is huge for me. All this time I've been buying tools that will help me get organized, make more money, have more time, be more efficient...and they were all designed for those (lucky!) natural Martha Stewart types out there.

There is something paralyzing about thinking that you have to be perfect, and knowing that you aren't -

If I'm not going to run a marathon, why bother with running shoes? Why bother walking? It's just – unsuccessful running.

If I'm not going to keep my house spotless, why clean the counter, or do that dish, or wash that mirror? It's just unsuccessful housecleaning.

If I'm not going to label those manila folders and file things the way they 'should' be filed, why organize those papers at all? It's just unsuccessful organizing.

I can't believe it's taken me this long to realize that doing something is success. It's not a failed attempt at something grander – it's the best I can do at the moment, and it's enough.

So, I bought running shoes and I've been walking (with a little bit of jogging) for two weeks, at a pace that doesn't make my lungs burn, and actually makes me feel pretty good. The lack of pain makes me want to go back and do it again. And if I decide that jogging isn't for me, that's my choice...and it's okay.

Instead of staring at my house, wondering how I'm going to clean it all to Martha Stewart standards, I've decided to concentrate on my bedroom. I'm allergic to dust, so I'm getting rid of the dust. Instead of berating myself over my plethora of mismatched socks, I've thrown them all in a bin that I can easily pull out and sort as many times as I need to – every time I do laundry, or once a year – however often I'm able and inspired to do so. Without the pressure to make the entire house sparkle right now, I've been able to take small, reasonable steps toward something better – and the focus is on my health, not on how any house guests might view me. (Okay, mostly it's on my health... I'm only human, you know.)

And the idea that it might fall back into disorder no longer fills me with fear and guilt. It probably will get out of hand at some point. And when it does I will clean it again, and maybe get rid of some of those mismatched socks I've been hanging on to.

Next up – the beginning of paper organization. But, you know what? I don't have the time to do it right now, so I'm going to put that on the side burner for now. The only oddity there – I'm not going to spend time, effort and emotion feeling bad about my inability to be superwoman.

My name is Kate, and I'm not an organization guru. I am flawed and messy and busy and tired. But I'm doing what I can, when I can.

And that's okay. More than okay, it's a new kind of success - the achievable kind!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

My Success Isn't Your Success

Get rid of the stuff that's weighing me down.

Where did all this stuff come from, anyhow??

I've come to this strange point in my life where I realize that all the things I thought were completely separate – my belongings, the state of my house, the clothes I wear, my concern (or lack) about my health, my self esteem, my job, my finances and my history – all of these things are intimately connected to one another. 

The long and short of it is this – when you tie your definition of yourself and your success to other people's opinions, you tie yourself up in things you cannot control. You let yourself get caught up in looking better, richer, smarter, more successful than the next guy. You concentrate on achieving a 'success' that has been sold to you and lose track of what is actually important to you.

I am a thirty-five-year-old overweight, divorced, uncommitted woman in America. For a long time, this felt like something that I needed to overcome. Somehow, this combination of external facts meant I had to prove to my co-workers and friends that I was still successful, even though I fall outside the norm for my age and gender. And I proved it, in part, with stuff. With clothes and a big screen TV, expensive taste in wine, and a habit of going out for pricey 'girls' nights'.

I didn't set out with a goal to dig myself into debt, or to live beyond my means. It happened over time, with small decisions designed to fit the 'me' I thought I needed to be. First, to be a good wife. Then, to assuage my guilt by taking on all of our debt when I left the marriage. Later, I wanted to show that I was fine. I was divorced, I was in debt, but I was doing just fine, thank you. Just look at my stuff! 

The sense of 'success' I get when I listen to external forces is based on what I have, not who I am. This is based on conversations I overhear in the grocery store, at the water cooler, the surprise in people's eyes and their determination to pair me off when I tell them I'm single. More broadly, it's magazines, TV shows, commercials that tell me my house needs to be bigger and cleaner and in a better neighborhood, my car needs more gadgets. I need a husband, two children and a suburban neighbor who waves at me as I leave for work. All of this, just to be a 'normal', middle class American. 

I didn't buy in on purpose. But it was everywhere. All of these quiet rules seeped into my unconscious when I wasn't looking: 

Women my age do yoga. They eat well. They pair up and are in fulfilling relationships. They have cars and money and jobs and time to clean their beautiful, airy houses. 

They have it all figured out. 

Pick up a magazine designed for a woman my age, and you'll find tips for home upkeep and makeup that makes you look young. How to lose weight. Finding more time and balancing your checkbook. Spicing up your sex life. 

Don't get me wrong – a lot of those things are relevant. But they also serve to remind me that I'm not thin enough, I'm starting to get wrinkles, and I don't have that problem 'everyone' has with their partner, because I don't have one. 

All that being said, once I realized that this was how I was getting programmed, I was able to start stepping back and deciding what success looked like for me

And that has lead me here, to this journey where who I am is more important than what I have. Where a night at home with friends is just as fulfilling as a night at the wine bar. Where (maybe) less books, clothes, gadgets...stuff...maybe less is more. Maybe it's time to concentrate on being a better person, and less on looking like a better person. 

I don't have it all figured out. But I've decided that the energy I've spent trying to hide that uncertainty is probably better spent know, figuring

This kind of success isn't the easy kind, served up by commercials and magazines and neighbors and coworkers. But that's what makes it worthwhile.

My success isn't your success, and your neighbor's success isn't my success, either. Not only that, but my success now won't be my success a year from now. It is evolving with me. And that is what makes it so hard to define, and so exciting to work toward.

What does your success look like?

Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Minimalist Fangirl

Think critically about what I bring into my living space, and whether it's improving my life.

When do our 'just rewards' become clutter we don't need?

I am a fangirl. When I love something, I do not kid around. I do not pass go, I do not collect $200. I go all in.

So when Rob Thomas asked for my help putting a Veronica Mars movie together, my debit card and I were there with bells on. With stars in my eyes and a patriotic song in my heart, I pledged my money and checked the box to get my reward.

My reward. 

Veronica Mars on the big screen, and the T-shirt to prove that I helped get her there. A piece of fandom that would show my fellow fans that I, too, had believed and contributed.

Today I went back to the page and unchecked the box for my T-shirt.

When I was finally honest with myself I realized - I'm not going to wear it. Maybe to the gym, or to bed. But the reason I wanted it – proof of my epic fangirlness – wasn't realistic or necessary.

 Not least because it was never going to leave the house.

What's amazing about this revelation is that it would never have occurred to me to consider such a thing even a year ago. Choosing not to get a reward freely offered? Inconceivable!  

But the reward for supporting this movie is the movie. And with the simple unchecking of that box, I've helped both of us – more of that money goes to the project, and I have one less unworn T-shirt in my closet.

Veronica Mars Movie - 1. Clutter - 0.

Friday, April 5, 2013

From a Human Doing to a Human Being

In my high school yearbook, there was a section for us to express our goals for our lives.  Our whole future lives, summed up in black and white under our ubiquitous smiling faces. I remember life feeling so clear at that point - so full of possibility, so easily conquered!

My goals were lofty - they included titles - 'zoologist', 'photographer', 'writer', and general ideals - 'travel' and 'freedom'.

And then I spent the next one and a half decades slowly building myself a cage of cultural expectations - college, marriage, stuff, divorce, debt, work, mortgage, car.

Being free is still what I want. But now, at thirty-five, I have finally stepped back from my former American dream of doing and having, and tried to define what freedom is for me, as a person.  As a being who needs less stuff and more substance.

It's prone to change, of course, but at least I know that. Knowing how much I didn't know I didn't know at twenty, I can only imagine how much I don't know I don't know, now.

So this is my latest beginning on my newest journey, and here are the goals that I'm working toward, in no particular order, with a modicum of a plan (as with all good plans, it is subject to change):

  • Get out of debt.
  • Get rid of the stuff that's weighing me down.  More practically:
    •  Get to the point where everything I own fits into my living space.
    •  Think critically about what I bring into my living space, and whether it's improving my life.
  • Sell or rent out my current two family residence.
  • Buy land and build/refurbish a very small house (3 acres minimum, 600 feet maximum is my current goal).
  • Eat food that is good for me and my environment.
  • Have the option (no matter what I ultimately choose...) to leave my job.

This blog isn't to show you radically new things - simplicity, the small living movement, and the 'do what you love' philosophy have been done to death in a million blogs, books and movies.

But this is my journey, and that is what sets it apart.  It's about tracking and accountability and putting it out there - I'm doing this for me.  Right now.  

But if you want to come along, I'm certainly not going to stop you!

And just so you don't start out in the dark, and because the beginning is never really the beginning...

Here is what I've managed to do, so far:

  • I have paid extra on my credit card loan 4 times this year, removing about 4 months of payments from the term of that loan.  I no longer have any credit cards with balances.
  • This month, I have donated a box of books and a bag of clothes, and I plan to sell my comic book collection.
  • I've thought a lot about the house, but haven't done anything about it...
  • I've looked into small house design and I price land lots about once a month.  I can't take action until I'm closer to out of debt, but I can look, and learn.
  • I have been vegetarian at home for over a year, and generally avoid dairy at home as well. (I'm not strict outside of my home.)
  •  Having the option to leave my job is a natural side effect of doing 1 - 5.  As I get closer to a financially sound, small living, healthy me, I will be able to make that choice without having to take into account the need to pay bills or afford a mortgage.
Ain't freedom grand? 

It's time to find out!