Everything abhors a vacuum: Nature. Cats, obviously. Any system or group that lacks structure or leadership. Power struggles can cause a lot of friction in relationships, and conversely, lack of power struggles can do it too. That’s what happens when nobody in a household is willing to step up and make decisions. A household leadership vacuum can lead to a long list of predictable problems.
In a household with no leadership, everyone is unhappy for different reasons. Typically, there are debt, mess, and health problems. Everyone eats meals and goes to bed at different times from everyone else. The pets are acting crazy. No vacations are to be had. Paradoxically, everyone does what they want in the small ways, yet never gets to do what they want on the large scale. No leadership means no major projects, no matter how cool they would have been.
Leadership doesn’t have to be combative, strict, cruel, or obnoxious. The image that comes to mind is of a large capybara leading other capybaras into a hot spring. A mother duck leading a string of a dozen fluffy yellow ducklings to a pond. A mama dog teaching a puppy to climb stairs. Nature is full of adorable examples of cute animals living in harmony, all because they have a culture that they teach by example.
Argue just what exactly I mean by “culture” in that statement, and then agree with me that building a nest or hive takes a great deal more coordination and communication than many humans exhibit in their homes. If you can’t agree with that, come with me on a home visit and take a good look at the phenomenon that I call ‘laundry carpet.’
Housework is one of the top reasons that couples fight and get divorced. Having tried to draw up chore calendars and chore wheels, I can say with certainty that it is also one of the main reasons why roommates move out and stop being friends with one another. Housework is only one symptom among many of what triggers communication breakdowns and destroys relationships.
Money: Who’s earning what, who’s spending, how much, and what are they buying?
Schedule: Who’s going to bed when, who’s abusing the snooze alarm, who’s waking someone else up
Food: Who’s planning it, who’s shopping for it, who’s cooking it, who’s eating it all, who’s convincing the kids to eat it, and, most importantly, who’s cleaning up after it
Sharing: Who gets to hold the remote? Who gets to drive the “good” car or eat the “good” leftovers or finish the last of the ice cream?
Procrastinating: (Everybody does it but) Who promised what and then failed to follow through?
Parenting: Who has to play “bad cop,” who’s being inconsistent, who’s susceptible to childish wiles, who’s abdicating responsibilities
Lifestyle: What do we want out of life? How do we want to spend our time? How do we want our home to look and feel? What’s the right kind of vacation? How much is enough for retirement?
Picture any argument you’ve ever heard between people who share a home or an office. The root cause is going to be an unresolved problem that could have been prevented if someone had set policy in advance. It could be solved with negotiation, which is a form of leadership, in that it requires someone to take the initiative and make an offer.
Negotiating and setting policies that work for everyone are gentle ways to assert leadership.
My dad had a policy that if he assigned chores, he just wanted them all to get done. He didn’t care if my brothers and I traded amongst ourselves; he didn’t even want to be in the loop. Work it out among yourselves and get it done. That policy taught us to negotiate, something that siblings are often pretty good at. Another similar policy was that the kid who sliced the cake got to choose last. Those were the most precise cake slices you’ve ever seen; you could probably weigh them and they’d come out balanced to the last nanoparticle. A good policy makes sense to everyone. If it’s an improvement over chaos, it’ll be adopted and embraced.
Show me a burned-out, exhausted, defensive parent and I’ll show you a parent who has not yet learned to negotiate and set policies.
Show me a couple who can’t talk about money, housework, sex, or the balance of power in their relationship, and I’ll show you a couple of referrals for divorce lawyers.
Living with other humans in a confined physical space is hard. It’s complicated. In a culture where nobody believes in sleep, everyone is tired. That means nobody wants to do anything more than they’re already doing, whether that’s cooking, putting away laundry, vacuuming goldfish crumbs out of the car, or opening a difficult conversation about debt. Ironically, it’s the skill of strategic discussion that has the power to defuse the tension around any topic.
The old school, traditional method was the authoritarian rule of the iron rod. There is one powerful figure in the home. That person lays down the law and backs it up with corporal punishment and verbal abuse. Everyone else, from wives to courtesans to children to serfs to livestock, cowers in fear and struggles to be obedient. This ancient structure persists to the present day. A lot of people avoid conflict for this very reason, the trauma of authoritarian family structure. It’s hard for us to imagine any other way of doing things.
The new way is cooperation, brainstorming, and creativity. Negotiation starts with deep listening, empathy, and mutual respect. How are things for you? What’s working? What’s not working? What is your outrageous dream? What’s your vision of the good life, and how can we facilitate that for you?
I facilitated a discussion like this with a blended family. Each member felt exhausted and unfairly burdened by chores and helping with the new baby. It turned out that they each had fourteen responsibilities. Looking at the list, everyone (parents and teenage kid) agreed that it was actually a remarkably fair division of labor. Why, then, were they so frustrated? They simply weren’t giving each other appreciation, they weren’t celebrating or having enough fun, and none of them had the “prize” they wanted most. For Mom it was the ability to occasionally soak in a hot bubble bath. Legit. Dad wanted family dinners at the table, at least sometimes. Fair enough. Teenager wanted permission to ride the city bus and go to the movies. At his age, why not?
An easy way to initiate a discussion about a leadership vacuum is to get your partner (child, roommate, talking pony) to share about something they find exciting or fascinating. A wish, a dream, a hobby. What do they like, what do they want more of? Offer ways that you could help make that happen, like trading responsibilities or rearranging furniture to create a new space. A less verbal way to do this would be to silently surprise everyone with a positive change, like clearing off the dining table or cooking a special meal. Then, make your pitch and ask specifically for what you want.
What works is to add as much positivity, fun, harmony, and good cheer as possible. The more opportunities there are to relax, hang out, laugh, tell interesting stories, read quietly together, share meals, invite friends over, snuggle with pets, watch the clouds, stargaze, and otherwise enjoy each other’s presence, the easier it is to do the boring stuff. The tension drains away, and the hard conversations can become... just regular conversations.
“Fall down seven times, get up eight.” That’s a Japanese adage that I always found meaningful, in the symbolic sense. It wasn’t until I started martial arts training that I realized how very practical and physical this advice is. Learning to fall properly is an emotional skill, something that builds resilience and mental toughness. It’s also a literal, physical thing that we do with our bodies. I don’t just “learn to fall,” I commit my actual body and throw myself on the ground. Dozens of times. Per class.
This is something I’ve quickly come to enjoy.
As an unfit person, I wouldn’t even have stood by as a spectator to watch this sort of thing. I would have felt total disinterest, or possibly something closer to scorn or annoyance. THAT’S STUPID. This is the biggest block to overcome when learning to inhabit the body. We’re in a weird cultural moment when millions of people genuinely believe that “I” is something separate and distinct from “my body.” “My body” can “want” different things than “I” can and “my body” has different interests and desires than “I” do. Physical conditioning is the fastest way to resolve that bizarre fracture.
It isn’t necessary to integrate body and spirit, because they are one and the same. What’s necessary is to discipline the ego to accept the physical limitations that come from pretending the mind is superior to the body.
It’s my ego that complains when I trip on the jump rope. It’s only my ego that complains when I get tired from doing twenty push-ups. It’s my pride that tries to talk me out of ten or fifteen minutes of high-intensity interval training. For my pride, even ten seconds of looking foolish or clumsy, feeling tired or weak, is far too much. I can only maintain my knee-jerk egotism by not jerking my knee. Ooh, I’m a cool cucumber, sitting in a chair at the sidelines with my arms crossed over my chest. My ego has me convinced that I’m much too smart for that folderol.
My ego isn’t going to help me, though, when I’m called by chaos. Crisis shows up whether you want it to or not. Sometimes, you find yourself in a collision or a natural disaster. Then what? “My body wants” to not freaking be here right now. If “I” am going to climb the stairs because the power is out and the escalator doesn’t work, then “I” am going to have to use “my body” to climb stairs. When it really matters, I don’t have the luxury of indulging in the metaphysical mental gymnastics. I’m committed.
This is even more true with aging. If longevity is the goal, the focus is trained on mobility and functional fitness. How old do I want to be the last time I sit on the floor? What day on the calendar is going to be the farewell anniversary of climbing stairs? Should I have a goodbye party for the last time I walk a mile? Do I decide I’m never going to lift a box onto a shelf again, do I try one last time and hurt myself when I can’t do it, or do I train so I can continue to do it safely whenever I please?
One of the huge advantages of physical training is that it gives you the opportunity to meet dozens of elderly people who kick serious butt. (Certainly including women). I’ve been passed by octogenarians on bicycles or running up hill. Just the other day, I was in the gym at my apartment complex when a guy older than my dad dropped to the floor and started cranking out push-ups, using hand weights for extra depth. I couldn’t have handled sixty seconds of this man’s workout and he has at least twenty-five years on me. “Teach me,” I thought, except I fear I’m not ready for everything he would have to say.
I also meet younger women all the time, women who either quit or never got started. They can barely handle bringing their groceries into the house or picking something up off the floor. This is the mindset that makes my current age, forty-two, sound “old.” Someone who is completely sedentary, one of the 40% of Americans with an activity level of zero, will feel physically old long before age forty. “Over the hill.” Yeah I’m over the hill! My martial arts academy is up a hill and I have to go over that hill three or four days a week. I’m not metaphorically over a hill, I’m physically up a hill, and down it again, so often that it barely registers in my mind.
I don’t train because of my body image, or at least not in the way that most people would understand it in our current cultural context. I train because I want to maintain my independence when I’m old. I always take the stairs because I want to be able to take the stairs. I carry my own bags and boxes and suitcases because I want to be able to keep doing it thirty or forty years from now. I sit on the floor because I still can. I throw myself backward over and over again, bouncing up into a jump squat if I’m so ordered, because I need to know how to fall. Falling is the death of independence when you’re frail and weak. The fall, the snapped hip, then the hospital stay, then the pneumonia. I look ahead and I want more for myself than that, than the common fate of so many older people who deserve better. I’m working now to give Old Me stronger bones and the ability to fall like a professional.
Easy choices, hard life. Hard choices, easy life. The older I get, the more I realize the truth of this. I make the hard choice of punishing my ego and forcing back my foolish pride, and I get the relatively easy life of having a strong, agile body. I make the hard choice of sacrificing my mornings and going to a difficult class, so I can have the easy life that comes through self-discipline. I make the hard choice of falling so I can have the easy life of being able to get back up again, as many times as it takes.
This is how it went:
December. Decide we want to move to a place with lower rent. Coincidentally get notice TWO HOURS LATER that our rent will increase $200 a month. Shrug.
January. Negotiate lower rent with property manager. Spontaneously decide to look at a “junior one bedroom” unit and realize we like it better. Apply for a unit and get it. Give notice.
Two months after we decided we wanted to move, we were sleeping in our new, cheaper apartment.
Two weeks elapsed between when we started packing our old place to when we finished unpacking in our new place.
I packed four boxes a day for the three days before the move. We could have done more, but in a 680-square-foot apartment, there isn’t very much room for a staging area to stack boxes.
My husband has alternate Fridays off, and we spent a couple of hours packing on the Friday before the move. Then we took off to run some errands and see a movie.
Moving Day was a Saturday. We had breakfast around 8 AM. Then we spent an hour filling out paperwork in the rental office before we could pick up our keys. A friend came over to help us move at 10 AM. He left around 1 PM. We were done packing, hauling, and cleaning at 11 PM, including two meal breaks.
Because we moved from one unit to another within the same apartment complex, there was no way for us to use a moving van. Both units are down a walkway from the parking lot. We had to use a dolly and a rolling skidder, or simply hand-carry everything. The move would have gone much faster if all we’d had to do was to load and unload a van.
By mid-afternoon, the place was already livable. We had set up and made the bed, hung the shower curtain, loaded the fridge and freezer, unpacked the medicine cabinet and all the bathroom cabinets and drawers, put away most of our clothes, set up the couch and the pet crates, and unpacked the kitchen drawers. From that point it was possible to go to bed; wake up, shower, and dress; and make breakfast. We carried on hauling boxes.
On Sunday, we finished unpacking our clothes. I set up the entire kitchen while my husband set up his work station. We unpacked all but a small stack of boxes. We cooked dinner for the first time in our new home.
Monday and Tuesday were ordinary workdays. We unpacked the remaining 20% and found spots for everything.
On Wednesday, I waited around for the internet installer and caught up on laundry.
On Thursday, we left town for the weekend.
On Sunday afternoon, we made a to-do list. We gave away some furniture and the now-empty moving boxes.
We kept the rental car an extra day, since Monday was a holiday, and dropped off a load at Goodwill. We also picked up a few things at IKEA and the Container Store.
Now all that’s left is to hang pictures! We’ve found that it’s best to save the final decorating touches for at least a few days, while we get used to the space and the light levels. Sometimes we change our minds about where furniture will be, and it makes more sense to get that settled before pounding nail holes in the walls.
Because we didn’t have very much stuff to move, we were able to take our time. We had photos and measurements from our first viewing of a similar unit, and we’d spent time at our weekly status meeting drawing out diagrams and figuring out what went where. Many of the early loads got unpacked directly into their place, partly because we needed to reuse the empty moving cartons. I had a small “box of holding” that I used to do each kitchen and bathroom drawer separately, while carrying a small backpack with stuff from the fridge and freezer. I would walk over, unpack the box into its new drawer, unload the backpack, and do something like hang up the shower curtain or put sheets on the bed. This meant about a ten-minute turnaround. With this method, we eliminated the middle stage of a dozen box towers, all labeled ‘MISC.’ It was like magic!
Just as we’ve done every time we’ve moved, we’ve gone through two stages. We got rid of a bunch of stuff that we knew wouldn’t fit before we even started packing. We had a pretty solid estimate of how many boxes we’d need, and we bought sixteen small book boxes and ten large boxes. It would have helped to have another half-dozen small boxes, but we were fine without them. After the move, we had another round of culling to do. Even on the first day, we knew that our next move will involve even less stuff than this one did.
The point of minimalism is to focus on what is most important to you in life. Experiences, not things, and it should also be emphasized that the experience of daily life is most important of all. We prefer to live in a streamlined space where we have room to relax, room to cook, room to live. The better we get at this, the more we can enjoy fringe benefits, such as an efficient, straightforward minimalist move.
Note: I continued my twenty-five-year streak of getting my full cleaning deposit back. This amount was roughly equivalent to what I spent buying myself a nice new wicker easy chair for the front porch.
We’re moved into our new “junior one bedroom” apartment. That’s real-estate-ese for “studio apartment that costs more.” There are a lot of legal restrictions in real estate that encourage truth in advertising, but in reality, you have to check it out for yourself. Beware the “peek view,” for instance. Lean over and see it for yourself before you pay a significant markup. We’re much too frugal to ever take a hotel room with a view, and daily living at home can cost even more. Anyway. Suffice to say that our studio isn’t a “studio” because it comes with a room divider. It’s missing a lot else, almost all of which is kitchen storage.
What I’m going to do is to break down the numbers behind the decision to let go of what can be very emotional attachments to very aspirational kitchen items.
Aspirational items are things we buy because they symbolize a better life. Often, they never get used; they just sit there, trophies toward an image of ourselves that we don’t like enough to live it out every day. Aspirational kitchens are so full of stuff that very little cooking goes on in them. They’re like showrooms.
A stand mixer is the big one for a lot of people. By “big,” I mean physically big, because these things are almost always too tall for the available cabinets. They live on the countertop. This is part of why they’re aspirational. They’re designed to be seen and admired. The stand mixer symbolizes a capital investment in that kitchen. I BAKE. These things are expensive for most people, and the decision to let one go would be emotionally impossible for many.
I never bought one.
I could have a stand mixer if I wanted, sure. I could buy one today. I just refuse to give up that much countertop space. The other reason is that if I baked often enough to justify the kitchen real estate it would require, my husband and I would both probably gain 15-30 pounds the first year. When we choose where to live, we can base the decision on a kitchen without needing to accommodate the huge, expensive, weight-gain-inducing stand mixer of the aspirational kitchen.
Moving right along!
What are some other large, aspirational kitchen appliances?
Instant Pot: $80-$150.
Espresso maker: $35-$700 (!?!)
Bread machine: $60-$100.
Pasta maker: $25-$160
Food processor: $30-$200
Note that we decided we would keep our Vitamix even if we went full nomad and lived out of hotels. We use it every day. I’d get rid of a bunch of shoes before I’d get rid of my fancy-dancy blender, because it argues for itself through constant use.
There are tons of other kitchen appliances, of course. They’re popular gifts. I’ve given several of them myself. Ice cream makers, deep fryers, grills, waffle irons. The more of them there are in a kitchen, the harder they are to store. (Kitchens are designed around contemporary trends, and those trends change every decade). The harder appliances are to store, the harder they are to remove and use. The harder they are to use, the less they get used, adding to the feeling of FoMO and the sense that no, I can never let go of anything, because I haven’t gotten my money’s worth out of it.
IT’S WORTH SOMETHING!
This is the funny thing. I just gave away some kitchen appliances I had owned for years, over twenty years in one case. When I looked up what it would cost to replace these things, many of them cost less now and have more features. This happened with a hand-me-down microwave oven that my brother passed on to me during my first marriage. It was almost the size of a dishwasher, it had a dial, and it cooked really slowly. It’s hard to say no to “free.” We did, though, after a year or so. We gave away the free microwave, and I’m sure the next owner also gave it away, because you couldn’t sell that thing. Maybe in 1987 you could have. Now, in 2018, if that thing is still around, you’d probably have to pay someone to take it.
We downsized and accepted a kitchen downgrade because we crunched the numbers. We’re saving over $400 a month on rent. If we’d stayed in the unit where we lived last year, we would have had to pay an additional $200 a month. That’s a LOT of money just to hang onto a few appliances, even if we used them all day, every day. Which we didn’t.
We let go of a blender, a crock pot, a rice cooker, a bread machine, and a bunch of canning jars. For our purposes, it’s irrelevant what they originally cost, because what matters is their replacement cost. (If we don’t miss them and we never replace them, then the replacement cost remains zero). We’ll pretend we’d just buy them all over again.
Replacement kitchen appliances: $30 + $30 + $30 + $100 + $25 = $215
Time to amortize through lower rent: Two weeks
In reality, we’ll never replace that old blender because we already did, with a nice Vitamix. I was only keeping the old, cheap blender because I had a spice grinder attachment. We’ll never buy another crock pot or another rice cooker because we’d just upgrade and get an Instant Pot. We probably won’t buy another bread machine because my husband enjoys making bread. (It was something I used because kneading bread aggravates some problems in my wrist). These were things we had because we had them. Our ability to recognize the difference between the lifestyle we actually live, and the aspirational lifestyle we wish we lived, helps us to save the money that could one day bridge that difference.
Would I know what to do with a huge, expensive house in an expensive neighborhood? Sure I would! I’m quite sure I’d be just as good at shopping and buying and choosing high-end, high-price items as anyone else. I just couldn’t bring myself to go into debt to do it. The decision to make temporary changes for a better strategic position is an easy decision, when it’s obvious what the tradeoffs are. I’m not “giving up” my nice kitchen appliances for a kitchen downgrade. I’m TRADING what are really some fairly trivial items in order to save thousands of dollars on rent for a certain specific period of time.
Most important of all, I’m always going to value my ability to cook in my kitchen and make use of my space. There are no items, no matter how aspirational or expensive, that are valuable enough to clutter up my work area or my countertops.
Most people are never going to voluntarily move to a smaller house or apartment just to save money. Streamlining the existing kitchen so that it can actually be used can feel like a major lifestyle upgrade. Eat through the majority of the pantry stores, get rid of most of the dishes or plastic storage containers, or reevaluate the appliances and other kitchen accessories. Create clear counter space and focus more on the meals than the hardware. The point of a kitchen is to cook in it, not to have a kitchenwares museum.
This book is a total trip. I follow Benjamin Hardy on Medium, so I knew that his book would be worth the read, but I have to confess that it blew my mind. Slipstream Time Hacking! I’m still processing it. I have the suspicion that it has permanently affected how I perceive the nature of reality. If this intrigues you, you should definitely read it even if I make a complete hash out of this review. It’s short but it has a lot going on.
Briefly, a slipstream is a way of rapidly jumping forward in time. Not on Star Trek but here, in our ordinary daily reality, we can time-travel. Time hacking means that we can change our results by looking at time differently and learning how slipstreams work.
Historian’s note: We ARE traveling through time. We’re just doing it at 1x speed.
Okay, now that I’m wearing my historian hat, I have to keep it on, because it always puts a dent in my hair. Let me give a bit of perspective here. Compare a kindergarten-age child of 2018 to a five-year-old child of 818 CE. Twelve hundred years ago, that typical little kid would be small and frail due to malnourishment and early fevers. He or she would have a household job, like knitting socks, fetching water, or searching for firewood. This child would never learn to read or write, and might struggle with basic arithmetic as an adult. Now, quick! Grab the little tyke and run for your slipstream! After the lice treatment, the vaccinations, a long, hot bath, and a couple of visits to the dentist, enroll the kid in a local school. A year later, this medieval child will be living twelve hundred years in the future, literally and physically, but also mentally. Open the slipstream and send the poor kid home to the thatched hut where you found him/her. The villagers of 819 CE would find this very confusing. Where did this kinda large, clean child with the sparkly teeth come from? Where did this child learn to read, write, and understand basic sanitation? Worse, what the heck is this kid saying about cars, electricity, airplanes, rocket ships, “other planets,” phones, microwaves, dinosaurs, and Hot Pockets? Somebody call a priest.
Now, forget that poor medieval child and turn your attention back to the kid who was born in 2013. This child is exactly like a medieval child that traveled twelve hundred years into the future: a little child that still needs naps and snacks, gets skinned knees, and plays with an imaginary friend. The human part of us is the same. The difference is the cultural context in which we live. This is the part of us that can time-travel.
Here is where it gets crazy, and where it’s helpful to read the book for yourself.
Everything you are trying to do with your life exists on a time continuum. For example, let’s say you want to pay off a $20,000 balance on your credit cards. At your current rate, you hope to be caught up in four years. If you win a contest and use the money to pay off your cards, you’ve effectively traveled to 2022! Monetarily at least, you’ve jumped ahead into the financially secure future.
Now, imagine something similar happening with all your other goals. What would you do if you suddenly woke up and you were already at your relationship, career, financial, fitness, and home improvement goals? What goals would you make then? Why not just make those goals today and skip the middle steps?
This is the reasoning behind working with a trainer or a coach. If you can move to a specific vision for the future more quickly with a little help, then it makes every kind of sense to seek out that help.
Hardy’s book goes beyond these basic, ordinary goals. How do people make groundbreaking leaps in business, sports, publishing, and other fields? What are the geniuses doing? How do they strategize and make their decisions? This is the part that’s messing with my mind. Now that I’ve read Slipstream Time Hacking, I have to ask myself: What would I be doing right now if I lived a hundred years into the future? What would my home look like and what would I be doing with my day? Is there any reason why I couldn’t be doing that right now?
When I was seven, I tried to learn to read two books simultaneously. I was lying on my stomach on the living room floor, reading Alice in Wonderland, when it struck me how much more fun it would be if I could read faster. I figured I could just read one book with each eye. I jumped up and got a second book and started to experiment.
One on the left, one on the right. That’s how it’s done, right? Wrong. Dang.
One above the other? Hmm, no, either they’re too big or I’m too little.
What if I... overlap them? This felt crazy and very sophisticated. I set the right-hand side of Alice on top of the left-hand side of the other book. I could then read a line and jump over the edge of the page onto the other book’s page. This actually worked, except that the sentences ran together. Unexpected complication!
My best idea was to interleave the pages and hold them up to the light so that I could see the text of the second book between the lines of text of the first book. Like a scrim, or a palimpsest. Unfortunately this also resulted in merged storylines and some mirror-image text.
At that point, I realized that this was probably just too hard for little kids. I resolved to try again when I was bigger. After all, I was only just learning how to read chapter books.
Naturally, some naysayer or other in my family looked over to see what I was doing and explained that it wasn’t possible. Scoff! Scoff! Maybe for you! Tell me that something won’t work, that it’s unrealistic or dumb or technologically unfeasible or that it violates the laws of physics. Go ahead, try it. It won’t get you far. I’m not even annoyed by that sort of thinking, much less discouraged. I was stone-cold certain that I would have more fun if I could read faster, I knew there was a way, and I was NOT WRONG.
I read pretty darn fast. One year, 2009, I read 500 books just to see if I could. That was before I learned how to listen to audiobooks on 2x.
Let me briefly outline the ways I reliably read faster, and then let me tell you about my white whale, my obsessive search.
There are a lot of valid criticisms of speed-reading. Fine. Great. I will never be satisfied with the amount of content that I can mull over deeply and ponderously. I love reading the slow way as well. I read poetry, I read literary fiction, in high school I read Don Quixote in the tub until my bathwater was cold. I also happen to want to slurp up vast amounts of trivia. I want to stay current on a bunch of topics from multiple sources. I want to read my second tier and skim my third tier while still immersing myself in my first. Why choose?
I like a certain amount of true crime, thrillers, best-sellers, popular psychology, memoirs, business books, and other pop culture ephemera. I like following current events while still having time for lengthy investigative pieces. I want to keep up on the transitory while setting aside time for the evergreen.
Hence, my obsessive quest for a way to speed-read library ebooks. The white whale!
I have tried EVERYTHING. It’s maddening. I believe that it constitutes fair use for me to read a library book in whatever format I please. As long as I’m not hacking anything, using it for personal profit, or keeping it past the due date, why does it matter what font or format I use? I can read upside down at a fairly brisk pace, and that doesn’t seem to bother the public library when I bring home a physical copy of a book. Why can’t I read an ebook in a speed-reading app?
Why do I want this feature? I want to be able to whip through a book hands-free. In fact, it doesn’t even have to be fast; I’d like to be able to read while I eat or work out and not have to touch the screen. Or the, book, I guess you would call it. That wood thing.
There are two methods that would satisfy me. 1. Auto-scroll, like the text at the beginning of the Star Wars movie. I used to have a PDA app that did this. Why was it possible 20 years ago, but not now? Kindle doesn’t have scrolling, iBooks has scroll format but no auto-scroll, Adobe Digital Editions doesn’t scroll, OverDrive doesn’t scroll... Y U NO SCROLL?!? 2. Spritz. This is the gold standard speed-reading format. It highlights a couple of words at a time, and you can keep your eyes stationary while the text moves rapidly off to the left. There is also no reason why Spritz couldn’t be an option in OverDrive, Kindle, iBooks, etc. It just isn’t. Bah!
Okay, so it isn’t built in. Surely there’s a way that I could simply read my library ebooks in an alternate app within the 21-day limit?
I tried several elaborate methods of transferring an ebook file into a speed-reading app. Using my laptop, download the file into Adobe Digital Editions, transfer it into Dropbox, and then try to open it in Gerty, in Outread, in anything I could find. That’s a no-can-do’er. Open the book in OverDrive Read and try to use various speed-reading browser extensions. Nope. They don’t work because a book in OverDrive Read is really an image, not text.
The only thing that does seem to work is that I can get my iPad accessibility text-to-speech to speed-read a book to me in OverDrive Read. I just haven’t figured out how to get it to start from any point other than the beginning.
Apparently a lot of people strip the DRM from their library ebooks. I don’t want to mess around with that, partly because it would mean futzing around with each book, and partly because I believe piracy exposes me to undesirable things like viruses and worms. Besides, what I’m trying to do shouldn’t BE piracy. I don’t want to keep these books; I just want to speed-read them. I would in fact be returning them more quickly!
One day, every single book ever published will be available digitally, to read in any way we please. That day is not yet here. Right now, not even all the digital books are available on audio. I mean, I ask of you. Am I honestly to be expected to track down paper copies of things that I want to read? What am I supposed to do with them after I’m done? Stack them in my house? Perhaps one day in the distant future, you’ll find me lying on the floor of my living room, wearing a cranial electrotherapy stimulation helmet, happily buzzing through two books at one time. Until then, I guess I’ll take what I can get.
Cynics may be onto something. Romantic love, I suspect, is different now than it used to be, and I mean that in a chemical way. Not that romantic love is such a big deal - even in antiquity, people distinguished between the love we feel for our friends, our children and parents, our sense of home, and this other thing that seems to get all the fuss. Part of that is cultural; how quickly we forget that fictional representations of romantic love helped to destroy the age-old practice of arranged marriage in which women were legally regarded as property. Even the most skeptical and snarky amongst us could give a little nod to that. Love as a choice, love as an option, love even as an imaginary figment: surely that’s better than the alternatives?
What if it is chemical? So what about that? Aren’t ideas only electrical impulses? Isn’t speech just muscular contractions and sonic vibrations? Aren’t all emotions just chemicals, when it comes right down to it? Find consciousness, locate it in the body. Find heroism, find music. Somewhere in that jumble, love is probably in there, too.
This is what I think is different about love. I think that culturally we’ve been trained to seek out dopamine, in the same way that we would if we were gambling or shopping or eating chocolate. Swirly eyes. This thing about dating apps, where you swipe left or right depending on whether you think someone is cute, it’s really just catalogue shopping. It’s inconceivable that anyone could detect a spark or even a mental connection in the few seconds it takes to glance at a photo. How much of modern romance consists of objectifying someone you almost never see face-to-face, and then talking about it with other people who aren’t involved?
He loves me, he loves me not, he loves me, he loves me not.
It all looks different from the perspective of a middle-aged married person. When you look up one day and realize that you’re working on your second decade with someone, yet it still feels like you just met yesterday. Wait, what year is this? We’ve been together how long? Wait, didn’t our hair used to be dark?
Old love is about oxytocin. I’m convinced. I also think that old-fashioned romance had a better grasp of this.
Not to say that I’d trade today for yesterday. Any yesterday at all. There were too many weird rules in the past about who wasn’t allowed to love whom. Too much public shaming, too many secrets. Shut the door on all of that, and good riddance. Here’s to today and tomorrow, to a world with more love in it, more love of every kind.
We can still appreciate a few relics here and there, in context. Love songs, for example. So many love songs are a bit warped, with messages like “I can’t live without you.” Whatever emotion brought that on, I don’t want it. What I have in mind are the slow dance songs, like “Put Your Head on My Shoulder.” I think it’s this type of music, combined with the slow dancing, that was designed to induce oxytocin, the cuddle hormone.
This is objectively testable.
You can feel it, though. With focus, it’s possible to recognize the physical and emotional feelings that come with the different chemicals. Cortisol for stress, adrenalin for excitement, dopamine for cupcakes, oxytocin for snuggling. That last one is probably what drives our cultural production of cute animal memes. In the recent past, I think ordinary people got more of it from dopey stuff like holding hands, slow dancing, and leaning against each other.
This stuff works across species, by the way. I have a dog and a parrot, and the bird is obsessed with trying to snuggle with the dog. He’ll only let her do it if he’s under a blanket, when she’s allowed to stand on him and warm her scaly toes. One day, he fell asleep with about three inches between his back and the sofa cushions. She ventured into that temporary gap, chose a spot... and POOFED until her feathers were touching his fur. Possibly one of the best days of her fluffy life.
There was probably more social touching in the past. People shared physical labor and folk dancing. Communities were smaller, while households were bigger. Almost nobody slept alone; it was simply too cold. There were a lot of strange rules about ‘courting’ - the reason that young people spent so much time holding hands and, eventually, slow dancing - but casual, platonic physical contact was probably more common between everyone else.
Times have changed. I’m listening to my neighbors right now, walking a few feet over my head. Not only do I not know their names, I don’t even know what they look like yet. Proximity without connection. How much of that we have now. How often we look around and see strangers lined up, looking at their phones, barely noticing that there are other humans next to them in line or at a table a few inches away. How much more time we spend stroking glass than holding another human hand.
A lot of people hate Valentine’s Day because they associate it with unrealistic expectations of romantic love, plus crass commercialism. I don’t like those things, either. What if we just replaced them? Not to tear down 1/366 of a year with its associated candy, and replace it with yet another dull, ordinary day, but to rewrite it entirely; I think we can do that. Let’s just make it about every kind of love. Including the snuggly kind, wherever we might find it.
We moved this weekend. This takes up a lot of mental bandwidth, which is okay, because the thought and strategy that we put in has made it easier each time. Most people move frantically, procrastinating until the last possible minute, and then keep a bunch of unsorted boxes labeled MISC until the end of time. This is an expensive, time-consuming, distracting, maximalist way to do things. We do it in two phases.
In the first stage, we’re looking at all of our stuff and asking it to justify its existence. Why does this object need to be in our home? Is it worth the space? It’s our policy to live with a short commute, and that usually means a smaller living space. More square footage is the compensation that builders offer in exchange for spending your free time on the freeway.
Here are the assessment questions:
That first question is revolutionary, because at some point we realized that we could offload the cost of ownership of almost everything we possess. We need A bed, but we don’t necessarily need THIS bed, or our OWN bed. What would happen if we got rid of everything? We’d live in a hotel and stop owning furniture or housewares. No big deal really. In fact, we kinda talked about it on our honeymoon. The only real reason that we don’t do it is that hotels discriminate against parrots. Can’t imagine why! *wink*
Second question: Do we use it every day? This is somewhat subversive, because we often keep things that we think we SHOULD use every day, like a yoga mat. Asking the question reminds us that sometimes it’s better to rearrange our stuff and our schedule to accommodate the neglected item, the lifestyle upgrade.
Third question: Would we inevitably have to buy it again? For instance, we originally bought backpacking gear for our Iceland trip, even though we already owned quite a lot of car-camping equipment. The trip fully amortized the cost of the backpacking gear, but we continue to use it several years later. We could technically buy a new $250 backpacking tent and spend maybe a thousand dollars on new backpacks, sleeping bags, and gear every time we went on a trip. If getting rid of it all means we can afford a smaller apartment, and we save more than $100 a month on rent, then it costs us to keep it. Another way to frame this is, would it be cheaper or easier to, say, give away our bed/couch/whatever and order a new one to be delivered to the new place? Usually no but sometimes - YES!
Fourth question: Have we used this since the last time we moved? If the answer is no, then we’re virtually required to get rid of it. If the answer is no, we also have to ask, how about the move before that? When WAS the last time we used this thing? With each pass, fewer things get through the filter.
Fifth question: Will it fit in the new place? I had a lot of resentment and sadness about giving up my ten-top dining table, and the first time we moved it, you couldn’t open the front door all the way because the darn thing filled our entire dining room. Then we lived in that house for six months and had to move again. I hadn’t had a single dinner party and we hadn’t needed the table at all. I found acceptance and remembered that I can always buy another one for $400 at IKEA. Or we can rent a picnic area or take people to a restaurant.
Sixth question: How much would it cost to replace? We won’t live in a studio apartment forever. Well, maybe we will if Godzilla arises from the sea and steps on our building on the way to raze Los Angeles. One day, we’ll have a larger home and we’ll put more stuff in it. Probably. Getting rid of something now is just... for now. For this year. Every single thing that we have ever owned has cost less than what we’d pay in additional rent to keep it all. We’re saving over $8000 in rent this year due to our move, and that covers a lot of objects.
Seventh question: Is it going to survive the move? This question is why we avoid keeping sentimental objects. It’s simply too crushing and heartbreaking to watch something get smashed or ruined. Professional movers broke the teapot my grandmother made and they gouged a four-inch scar into the surface of my dining table. They’ve crumpled my original artwork, scattered my manuscripts and notecards, and generally caused me to swear off of professional movers entirely. I’d rather live out of a suitcase than pay people to wreck my favorite stuff. Which means if something is my favorite, I can’t keep it. Does that make sense? I have to preemptively detach my emotions from inanimate objects because they die on me.
Eighth question: Has it outlived its natural lifespan? A pair of socks is only good for so many wears. A spatula can only cook so many meals. Stuff is consumable. Moving is when we hold things up and assess them. Broken! Threadbare! Dangerous! Stained! Energy inefficient! Separated from its accessories! Past Me called and she wants her jeans back.
That’s the first stage of space clearing. We’ve basically gotten rid of everything that’s irrelevant to the way we live today.
Stage Two: Does it fit?
Stage Two is pretty straightforward. We have drawer dividers that don’t fit in the new drawers and shelf organizers that don’t fit in the new shelves. We have furniture that won’t fit due to door and window placement, ceiling height, or smaller rooms. We have power strips and lamps we don’t need anymore. We have art or decorations or throw pillows or other housewares that now clash with the paint and countertops. As we put things away, we set aside a staging area for stuff that doesn’t work. Sometimes it gets repurposed, like a plastic storage container that goes into a different room with a different category of contents. Usually, we find that we’re fully ensconced in the new place and there are a couple of bags’ worth of “organizers” we don’t need. We’re not emotionally attached to this type of object, so when we realize it won’t work in our newest home, we shrug and donate it.
As minimalists, we tend to see our stuff as a potential obstacle as much as anything else. Throughout the year, we’re culling and setting aside and pulling out various things. The cracked coffee mug, the shirt with the stretched neckline, the uncomfortable pants. Our baseline stuff has argued for itself. What may sound like a complicated process really isn’t, because 80% of our stuff is obviously necessary to a comfortable, efficient life. The two-stage moving process merely serves to slough off the excess. We stay light and unencumbered, focusing on the life we want to have, rather than the stuff we want to have.
Heads up, because I’m about to do something unwise and ill-advised. I’m about to step forward and proclaim that I make solid, reliable financial predictions.
I’m good at predicting and reporting financial trends! I put them in writing! I even make predictions with specific timelines and post them!
November 6, 2017. I published a post called “Crash is Coming.” In it, I wrote the following:
“It’s not like I’m foretelling the future when I say that the market is going to crash. I would be if I said I think it’s coming in first quarter of 2018. That would be a prediction. Making specific predictions is always a terrible idea because they’re virtually always wrong. Most people like to wait until after the fact to claim that they saw something coming. Putting it in print sets you up for failure.
In reality, I am planning for such an event.”
First Quarter isn’t over yet, and the outlook seemed to have improved at market open this morning, but I’m weighing in. On February 5, 2018, the Dow experienced the worst point drop in history. Not a “crash” technically, at least not yet. I don’t think we’re done yet, though. I’m bearish right now, which means I’m pessimistic about the near-term economic future. I’ll talk more about this after I pause to brag about my Bitcoin and cryptocurrency predictions.
January 22, 2018. I published a post called “We Passed on Bitcoin in 2013.” In it, I stated that I was skeptical about cryptocurrency for several reasons. Two of these were potential currency manipulation and the risk that crypto wallets could be hacked and robbed. I also said that the $14,100 valuation of BTC at the time of writing was probably a bubble.
Four days later, news broke about the biggest cryptocurrency hack of all time, in which $500 million worth of cryptocurrency had been stolen. Then, on February 5, news reports suggested that North Korea had allegedly stolen billions of dollars’ worth of Bitcoin. The value of BTC stands at just over 60% of what it was three weeks prior, when I wrote that it was a bubble.
I’m going to write more about the market and broader economic themes from now on. This is because they affect how we plan our personal finances and our life strategy. If financial independence is your aim, and if that aim includes a desire for freedom from stress and anxiety, then you need to be aware and informed of the world you live in. You also need to learn to form your own opinions and analyze trends based on how you believe they will affect you. If you’re skeptical about anything or everything I have to say, congratulations! That’s exactly what I want for you. Take that power of discernment and use it broadly, constantly.
Okay. Now for some more predictions.
I think we’re in for it. Over the next 2-3 years, a bunch of icky stuff is going to happen, and some of it has already started. The reason I think this is that we’ve seen these signs before.
Consumer savings are at their lowest in years
Real estate in many urban markets is stretched far past affordability for median-income households
Stock market is [was?] overdue for a correction
US Treasury is borrowing nearly a trillion dollars in 2018, increasing in 2019 and 2020
Novices are investing in financial vehicles they don’t understand
Unemployment is supposedly low, but I dunno if that means what they claim it means
For instance, we were riding in a Lyft recently on a Saturday night. The driver showed up in an immaculate, new car, which it turned out he was leasing by the week. He was engaging and intelligent, someone who would fit in well in our world of engineers and business professionals. We like to chat up our drivers, and this one grudgingly admitted that we were his 17th ride for the night. He’d made $60 and only three passengers had tipped him. I highly suspect that a lot of those high employment numbers reflect gig-economy “jobs” like this one. Also, those failures to tip represent something other than high consumer confidence.
Let me rewind and explain what I mean about novice investors. My hubby and I were sitting at a cafe table together, reading the news. I froze and got his attention so that I could read an article I found absolutely chilling. It was about single mums in Britain who were learning from their hair stylists or their middle-school children how to invest in Bitcoin. One said it was her only hope for eventual retirement. My hubby stared at me, his jaw hanging open. “Here it comes,” I said. We’ve been overhearing a lot of conversations lately in which obvious novices are discussing the stock market, real estate investment, startup funding, etc. Any seasoned investor will tell you that when you start hearing stock tips from your barber, watch out. Newbies buy high, freak out, and sell low. Enthusiastic novices become easily overwhelmed by BS and get sold on overvalued investments, “rental” properties with serious structural problems, junk bonds, and other detritus that more experienced investors will avoid. When a market is high in any sector, it can look like “easy money,” and that tends to turn heads.
Investing is a game in which a small segment of wealthy people with extraordinary math skills occasionally “win.” In this sense, “win” means that millions of people lose most or all that they have. It, ahem, trickles up. The average player truly isn’t playing the same game as they are, and not even on the same board. Wealthy people have access to funds and financial managers with a buy-in in the millions or hundreds of millions of dollars. We can’t get their rates of return because we can’t even make deposits in the same accounts that they can. We also can’t afford their lawyers, accountants, or financial planners. We’re on our own, and we have to use our wits.
There are three smart rules that I can give you, and they’ll work beautifully without further explanation.
If you earn 9% by speculating in the stock market, that’s fabulous. You can guarantee that rate of return by cutting what you spend on groceries, restaurants, booze, and coffee by 9%. You can guarantee 16% (or more) by paying off your credit cards. You can increase your employment income by anywhere from 20% to 200% fairly easily by learning more marketable skills and promoting yourself. Verbum sapienti sat.
You Do You. If ever there were a concept that this world needs, this is the one. Yet again, we have Sarah Knight to thank for explaining something so integral to a happy life, so carefully and yet so swearingly. This is the same author who taught us how to “give fewer and better fucks” in The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck and followed up with step-by-step instructions on how to Get Your Sh*t Together. Please can’t there be an illustrated children’s version?
Well, not really a “children’s” version. Just something with little anthropomorphized animals flipping each other off would be fine.
Let’s talk about Lowest Common Denominator Living. This is a theme in You Do You, and it gets its own acronym. This is what happens to us when we feel that we have to conform to external standards and suppress our individuality. No freak flags shall be flown. It always blows my mind when I hear people saying “society tells us” this, that, or the other thing, because I live in Southern California. I have honestly seen bare-ass naked men (plural) walking down the city sidewalk with their danglers hanging out, on more than one occasion. Nobody cares, at least where I live. I was on the bus the other day with a young gal combing out her massive four-foot-long hot-pink wig. There’s a guy in my neighborhood who rides around on a bike covered with rainbow lights and a full stereo sound system. My upstairs neighbor has a little white dog with lime-green highlights in its fur. If you feel stuck in LCD Living, spend a weekend in my town. Nobody is actually watching you, nobody really cares what you look like or what you do with your time, and you genuinely are free. You Do You, honey.
The biggest argument against being your sparkly rainbow self seems to be that it’s selfish. Hashtag ObligerProblems. On the contrary, it’s selfish to hide your light under a bushel and contribute to any vestiges of unhelpful social conformity. You were born with certain irreplaceable gifts and it’s your responsibility to fulfill your destiny, and if you refuse to step up and do it, you’re extremely selfishly depriving the world of those gifts, for all future generations. Geez. How dare you. If you aren’t you, well, then, who will be??
The core of the You Do You philosophy is to follow a social contract, so that you can express yourself and get your preferences met without being a psychopath. How do we deal with peer pressure, fear, and guilt? How do we deal with haters, doubters, and naysayers? This is a very hands-on manual in that respect. It has scripts! This could be the “He’s Just Not That Into You” of learning how to have awkward conversations about your agency and autonomy. (Pro tip: You don’t actually have to keep most people informed of your plans; if you don’t tell them, they can’t naysay you).
You Do You is a great, wise, hilarious gem. It’s a handbook for how to be a free elf and make your own decisions in life, while also participating fairly and altruistically in society. If this is the new wave of ethics and practical philosophy, why, I’m for it. Read it, and then run your freak flag right up the mizzenmast.
PS [Spoilers] Please tell me there isn’t actually a person who spreads pimento cheese on their Pop-Tarts!
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I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.