We sold our car over a year ago. We still don’t have one. We’re an upper-middle-class, middle-aged married couple. Supposedly a car (or two or three) demonstrates our social status. Conspicuous consumption is supposed to advertise our relative wealth. Since we prefer actual wealth to the perception of it, we don’t particularly care. What do we have to prove? No matter what car you drive, you still have to look for parking just like everyone else and get stuck in traffic just like everyone else. Or, if you go car-free, you can skip both. Avoiding the conspicuous consumption trap of automobile ownership is a subversive, fun way to broadcast conspicuous leisure!
As a quick note, we had a VW Jetta TDI that was recalled due to the emissions scandal. We took the buyback offer. Due to our low mileage, we got a big check that meant we had essentially been driving it for free for two years. It was a great little car. We don’t really miss it, though; for the last year we owned it, we’d have to take it through the car wash every time we drove. I work at home and my husband walked to work, so we really only ever took it to the movies every couple of weeks. We were car-free in most ways, except for the payments and the insurance and all the other expenses.
Cars are EXTREMELY EXPENSIVE as a proposition. Between the payments, the insurance, gas, oil changes, parking, bridge tolls, and maintenance, it was running us $700 a month. Cars are also socially expensive. Take a look around at all the single-occupant vehicles and ask, is this really the most efficient way to run things? Take a look around at all the pavement, the parking lots and roads and viaducts, and ask, is this really the best use of our space?
Let’s go back to that $700. We could certainly have qualified for a loan for a more expensive vehicle, or leased one at a higher bracket still. But why? Unless you’re absolutely in love with the physical experience of driving, it’s a little silly. I in fact loathe driving and find it to be THE least pleasant adult activity. I’d literally rather scrub a toilet, do taxes, or take a load of trash to the dump. Driving sucks! Neither of us are particularly impressed with the aesthetics of automotive design, either, and if we were, we could just go to the car show every week, or put up some car posters or something.
So we bought a practical compact car. Great. Fine. It was still $700 a month.
IRA contributions for one person under age 50 are currently, as of 2018, $5500 a year. That works out to $458.33 per month. Two people, since we’re a married couple? That’s $11,000 a year, or $916.66 per month. ($12,000 if one of you is over 50 and $13,000 if you both are). By not owning a car, we were able to redirect that money to fully fund one of our IRAs and half of the other.
Oh, hey, I just remembered. A lot of couples have two cars! Crazy, right? One for each of you! Why not have a house for each of you, too?? Two refrigerators and two ovens! And YOU get a car and YOU get a car...
Add up all of the expenses for both of your vehicles over year and compare that total to the $11,000 to $13,000 that would go into your IRAs each year. If you already fully fund your IRAs as well as making car payments, awesome! Good for you! Celebrate by skimming through some vacation packages and comparing those prices instead.
I want to tell you that five grand can buy a really excellent three-week vacation for two.
Not owning a car. Isn’t that extreme? It depends on how you define ‘extreme.’ I’d say it’s extreme to carry credit card debt and pay 16% interest on it. I’d say it’s extreme to “buy” a $30,000 car that depreciates the moment you drive it out of the dealership, and then make payments on it for five years or more. I’d say it’s extreme to age one year every year and not have solid plans for how you’re going to support Future You in your old age.
It’s truly not a big deal. My husband rides the bus to work, and he has a little folding bicycle that he uses between stops, because the bike rack is often full by the time he gets on the bus. His work pays for his monthly bus pass. He’s able to use that pass every day, even if we’re going to the movie theater or something. I work at home, and I walk to my gym, so I only generate transportation expenses when I go into the city once or twice a week.
Instead of driving on Southern California freeways, we can sit back and relax. Play games, read the news, read books, take catnaps, chat with other passengers, generate all sorts of wacky stories, and even get in a few steps on the pedometer.
But how do we do our errands???
We’re within walking distance of the post office, a UPS store, a hair salon, two pharmacies, two dry cleaners, a pet food store, the public library, several boutique gyms, a couple of restaurants, and the veterinarian. For everything else, there’s online delivery, which again is cheaper than car ownership just for the sake of a couple dozen errands per year.
There’s a grocery store a quarter-mile from our apartment. When we lived in a house, the nearest grocery store was about a third of a mile. The house before that had a store directly behind our back yard. They’re everywhere! We’ve also ordered grocery delivery and found that it was pretty reliable. Without that $700 monthly carrying cost of a vehicle, there’s a lot more latitude for tipping delivery drivers.
We sometimes use a ride-share service, like when we go to the airport, or when we’ve left the movie theater and it’s forty minutes until the next bus. The occasional $15 fare for two people is nowhere near as expensive as car ownership. Like paying for deliveries, ride-sharing is a way for us to contribute to the economy. I like the idea of jobs with no dress code, where drivers can choose their own schedules and play the music of their choice.
We’ve rented a car once since we sold our car. We also rented a moving van, but we would have done that anyway because our mattress wouldn’t fit in a car. We always planned that we would rent a car about once a month for running errands, but in practice it hasn’t happened. We just haven’t needed it.
When we first returned our Jetta to the VW dealership, my hubby was a little nervous. I didn’t learn to drive until I was 29, so I didn’t really care, but this was the first time he hadn’t had his own car since he was 16. He used to talk quite a bit about buying a motorcycle, or getting a new car, and I would remind him that we could take a Lyft to the dealership that very night if he so pleased. No call for anxiety. We wanted to test out being car-free for a year, using that time to move more quickly toward our goal of financial independence. That year is now up.
Now that we’ve done it, we’re most likely never going back. I won’t say “never” because innovation is happening quickly, and who knows what game-changers might hit the market in the next decade or two? For me, a car-free life is about the same as it ever was. For my formerly freeway-commuting husband, it’s a whole new world. He now sees car ownership as an unnecessary, extravagant expense. Car-free and carefree!
I wish there were a better euphemism to use for translating the Swedish word döstädning than the phrase “death cleaning.” Okay, that may be the most metal thing of all time, but it may cast an unfairly gloomy pall over what is really a very charming and sweet book. Maybe let’s call it... life sifting. Then let’s move on and talk about how this is just the best book, one that deserves worldwide success.
The author, artist Margareta Magnusson, claims to be “somewhere between eighty and one hundred.” She put together The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning while sorting her own belongings. She did the same process after the deaths of her mother, her husband, and her mother-in-law, among others, and she points out that this work usually falls to the women in the family. She says: “I have death cleaned so many times for others, I’ll be damned if someone else has to death clean after me.” One of the reasons for doing this work ourselves, Magnusson says, is to prevent fights between family members. For instance, rather than have her five kids quarrel over an heirloom bracelet, she sold it! In my work, it is more common than not for my adult clients to have siblings, aunts, uncles, and sometimes parents or kids who have not been on speaking terms in years over some piece of jewelry or furniture. If death cleaning can prevent these stupid materialistic arguments and keep families together, that is reason enough to do it.
The other reason is that as far as I can tell, the majority of bereavements result in grief clutter that is still hanging around, years or decades later. Almost every storage unit I’ve encountered in my practice includes boxes of the ordinary domestic wares of a relative who has passed on. Often, the boxes are stacked up in the adult child’s home. There has never yet been a time when anyone has been “ready” to process and clear this type of grief clutter. I know of one home with three generations’ worth. Clearly our culture is in need of some new mourning rituals and traditions. Swedish death cleaning, why not?
My beloved mother-in-law did this process after her fifth lymphoma diagnosis. She spent the last months of her life systematically sorting through all her things. She had a lifetime’s worth of wacky costumes, hats, costume jewelry, and stuffed animals, including all sorts of prizes and joke gifts from her different clubs. She invited her friends to visit, one by one, and had them choose things that spoke to them. She sorted through every shelf and closet. When she was done, she taught her husband how to cook all of his favorite recipes. I believe this methodical clearing work helped my mother-in-law to make her peace, while also pacing those inevitable goodbye visits that might otherwise have been overwhelming. She wasn’t Swedish, but that process is reflected in this book, which even closes with some bonus recipes.
The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning is a light-hearted, breezy take on a situation that could really use it, viz. mortality. The author’s illustrations add just the right note of whimsy. Read it, share it, bring it to book club, and give out copies to everyone in your family. Then let’s all push up our sleeves and get started.
Saying that you hate smalltalk is like saying you’re terrible with names or that you don’t like standing in line. Hello and welcome to the human race! These are universal conditions. The point of smalltalk is that it’s not supposed to stay small; it’s temporary. Those who resent it are misreading how it’s supposed to work. Smalltalk is a ritual formula, just like summoning an elevator or opening a door. Whether you choose to use it to exit the conversation, express kind regard for someone, transition to more interesting topics, or actually make friends, that’s all up to you. The feeling of hating smalltalk is a clear sign of a lifetime of missed opportunities.
One of the things that people claim to hate about smalltalk is that it’s boring. What is funny about this is that most of us probably talk about totally vapid, boring things with our friends, families, and coworkers every single day. We just don’t mind because we know these people, and ordinary, routinely boring conversations are necessary to getting life done. What really bothers us is the feeling of being forced to talk to strangers, people we don’t already know, people who are unfamiliar. If we already knew them, we would of course talk about the weather or how their day was going.
The other funny thing about thinking that smalltalk is boring is that it’s a virtual guarantee the other person feels the exact same way about talking to US!
I’m a very shy person. I still have vivid memories of my first day of first grade, when I stood on the playground and watched groups of other kids laughing and chatting together. I ran into the school building early, found my classroom, and burst into tears. My teacher, Mrs. Lundgren, asked me what was wrong. “I don’t have any friends!” I wailed. “I’ll be your friend,” she said, and she was. That conversation probably doomed me to my fate as teacher’s pet, socially awkward and lonely. As an adult, though, it has given me empathy for fellow shy people.
I’ve chosen to see it as my duty to help other shy people to feel less uncomfortable at parties and social gatherings. Introverts feel better talking to only one person at a time, and it’s not hard to cut away from a larger group to have a more private conversation in a corner. This also helps me to feel like I have a mission.
One way to get out of the social duty of smalltalk, of course, is to help out. Help clean up, help with the food, help introduce people to one another. Whatever else people have to say about you, at least then they can say that you’re useful.
Rather than try to escape it, what if we just lean in to it? What if we see smalltalk as the opportunity that it is?
Some of the most fascinating people walk among us, masquerading as normal folk. The only way we’re going to find out is if we get to know them, and that starts with smalltalk.
This is something I’ve learned from Toastmasters. Beginners who join a public speaking club often don’t realize the tremendous power of their own personal stories. We’re trained to give evaluations, which is part of the process, and this tends to build one of the strongest smalltalk skills of all. This skill is to cultivate genuine curiosity.
Each person I meet has something I don’t have and knows something I do not know. The thing that they have is a unique and irreplaceable story. The thing I don’t know is how to see the world from their perspective. Almost all the time, they also know something else I don’t know, and they’ll share it with me for free. The title of a book or a movie or a podcast, the name of a new musician or a restaurant or a travel destination, a recipe, a clever way to do something. When I avoid smalltalk, I lose out on all of these fabulous gifts. My world is smaller and blander and grayer. I’m missing the point of the party and the point of living, living fully and well.
These are some of the ordinary-looking people I’ve met, at gatherings or while traveling or waiting in line for the restroom:
The woman who met Muhammad Ali and whose dad ran with the mob
The man who grew up taming parrots and wild animals in the Central American jungle
The woman who walked across a bed of coals
The man who took a class from one of my favorite writers
The woman who built one of my favorite apps
The man who woke up to find an elk staring at him through his tent door
The woman who rode an ostrich
The man who was a back-up astronaut
Lots more, so many more! All of these people are going about, living their lives, carrying around all of these mega-fascinating stories that feel unremarkable to them. Sometimes they sit back, surprised, to say that they’d never realized something before or that they’d never told this story to anyone else. Sometimes a story can be a double gift, a gift for you as the listener and also a gift to the teller, who never knew what a gem he had, who never saw her story as valuable or interesting before you came along.
This is boilerplate, entry-level advice that everyone has heard a thousand times, but it’s still true: join a club. When you choose something that interests you, everyone else there has that interest in common. A formal structure to meetings and gatherings also helps the time to pass. You can interact with people in short bursts and you aren’t left with a lot of dead air to fill. You get practice talking to people who want the same thing you do, which is to hang out. Social skills are skills, which means they can be learned. It also means they’re valuable and useful, just like other skills.
Clicking with someone you’ve never met before often takes serendipity, intuition, and luck. There’s emotional intelligence involved, a certain amount of cold reading and guesswork about what sort of person this is. The main thing is that it’s possible to escape the horrid feeling of self-conscious shyness by thinking instead about other people. When I think about myself, I feel awkward; when I think about others, I feel open and curious. How are they feeling? What are they like? What is interesting to them? How would they get along with my other friends?
I enjoy smalltalk because it helps me know how to start. Just like dogs wag their tails at each other, smalltalk gives us a signal we can use to show that we’re friendly. It’s possible to get it out of the way in only one or two sentences. A greeting, and then a question or a statement that has the power to open the door to new friendships, new opportunities, new stories, and new ways of seeing the world.
There should totally be “lady size” burritos. It always amazes me that every person gets the same size portion in a restaurant, even people like my husband and myself. He’s ten inches taller than me and weighs twice as much as I do. In what universe would we eat the exact same size of meal?
Same thing with little kids. People are always hovering over them and telling them to finish what’s on their plate, even when they effectively have an adult-size pile of food. Maybe part of why kids will always prioritize snacks and treats is that they come in child sizes?
I’m 5’4” and I have a small build. I usually find that if I try to eat an entire restaurant meal, I’m in physical pain afterward, like a manatee that’s about to go into labor. I will feel ill and too lethargic to do much of anything. Meanwhile, Future Me is already opening the fridge and sadly looking for leftovers that aren’t there. There are several ways that I deal with the absurdity of 21st-century foodways, and one of them is to package up half the meal for the next day’s lunch. Another is simply to make small changes to my order. This is a lot easier than it sounds.
My hubby and I don’t eat out that often, partly because it makes it too hard to keep our weight under control, partly because we’re trying to become financially independent, and partly because... we don’t have a car. The only place within walking distance of us that we like is a local build-your-own burrito bar. (Not the national chain that’s renowned for putting people in the hospital with food poisoning! I wouldn’t touch their doorknob). The fact that we really only have one option we like is another help, because really, how often are you going to pay to eat the same meal at the same place?
The foil-wrapped imitation submarine in the photo is my hubby’s choice, a classic bean burrito. He asks for no rice in his. Just: “No rice, thanks.” The tortilla is plenty.
Mine is a “bowl.” I do like rice, but when they start mine, I just lean over and say “Just half the rice, please.” They give me one ladle instead of two, and it’s just right. Slightly less effort, slightly cheaper for the restaurant. Nobody cares. This way I get the amount of food that I want and I don’t have to throw any of it away.
I’ve tried saving half my Mexican food for lunch the next day, but it’s never really very good. The lettuce gets all wilted. Almost all of my meal is vegetables, because that’s how I roll, and also because I can eat a big meal in one sitting without feeling like I’m going to explode.
What’s in there? Lettuce, red cabbage, grilled onions and peppers, corn, jicama, mango, tofu, guacamole, mild salsa, cilantro, and of course the black beans and brown rice. SO GOOD.
I know what my hubby has under that foil because I keep his regular order on a note in my phone. Flour tortilla, pinto beans, grilled onion, salsa, lettuce, pico de gallo, and cilantro.
What’s most important here is what’s missing, or, where about two-thirds of our calories would have come from ten years ago.
When we were both obese, that amount of food seemed normal. It WAS normal, because everyone at every table around us was eating the same amount.
It also felt normal to feel bloated and sluggish after the meal, too full to do anything but lie around and watch TV.
Most people go out to eat because it’s fun. It’s fun! We like sitting around a table, laughing and talking and enjoying a delicious meal. It’s fun to choose from a menu, it’s fun to get appetizers and desserts and specialty drinks. It’s most fun of all to get up and leave the cleanup to someone else! What isn’t always as fun is making the connections, like we did, to our credit card debt and to our energy level and to our size. There’s also a connection between me wearing a white shirt and us choosing a restaurant with tomato sauce, but that’s for a different day. What we’ve found is that we can keep the fun parts of dining out - the laugher and conversation and the atmosphere - while dropping the bogus parts, like the debt and the tight pants. Just a few tweaks in what and how we order and we’re there.
We still order French fries occasionally. It’s rare, though, and by quantity we eat significantly more broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, chard, and kale. We also skip the fries when we know they’re mediocre, just like onion rings are either awesome or horrible.
We never, ever, never ever never ever never ever order soda. Not anymore.
If we get dessert we usually split something.
Sometimes we split an entree and add a salad or side. When we do this, we tip the same as we would if we had ordered two entrees. This keeps the staff glad to see us when we go back.
Personally, I almost never order a soup, because restaurant soup is usually way too salty.
Neither of us eats any dairy whatsoever. No sour cream, no cheese, no whipped cream, nada. I haven’t touched it in over 20 years, and my husband quit when he started Weight Watchers and realized that even one ounce of cheese used up a huge amount of points. (He then memorized the list of “zero point” foods and gamed the system, or, lost weight and kept it off).
We try to stick to only one starch, either bread OR rice OR pasta OR potatoes OR a tortilla. It feels like combining two or more at the same meal leads straight to a major nap attack.
We almost never eat waffles, pancakes, muffins, or scones. I don’t like croissants or bagels and I can’t think of the last time I’ve seen my hubby eat either of those.
We go out to brunch maybe once a year. If we do, it definitely serves as two meals and we’re only eating dinner afterward.
On vacation, we’ve also started having just two meals. Sleep in, eat a late breakfast, and then eat an early dinner. Alternately, drink tea for breakfast followed by a proper lunch and a late dinner.
All of this might sound like a list of personal preferences. What could be more boring than that? The reason it’s relevant is that we’ve lost a hundred pounds between us. We started paying attention to what we eat and taking notes on how we felt afterward. Not just that night, but the next morning, and the next month. This is how we’re still able to feel like we’re indulging ourselves, without feeling punished afterward.
I’ll always say that we can get more mileage out of taking a foot off the brake than we can in pressing harder on the gas. Whatever annoys you the most, wherever you find your biggest pain point, work on reducing or eliminating it. That’s how you get to Easy World. For some reason, taxes seem to be high on the list of universal annoyances. It doesn’t have to feel that way.
There are two reasons that taxes seem to bother people: the fact that we have to pay them, and the effort involved in doing the work. I’ll offer some perspective on both.
If it weren’t taxes, it would be something else. In Ancient Rome, people were expected to personally maintain the pavement of the road in front of their house. As far as I’m concerned, paying taxes is a sweat-free, comparatively easy and low-maintenance way to participate in an advanced society.
Oh, you want to argue about that? Big hair, don’t care.
What I’m talking about here is *my* perspective. From where I sit, I simply don’t give a care about taxes. The only times I’ve cared are the two occasions when I was erroneously assessed taxes for income that I didn’t actually earn. I would enjoy writing checks that large if I had the earnings to match! I found that the IRS has terrific customer service, and I wouldn’t necessarily mind if I ever had to talk to them on the phone again.
We pay more in taxes now than I used to earn. A LOT more. If it keeps going at this rate, which I hope it does, then we’ll eventually pay more in taxes than I earned at my highest-grossing day job. I look forward to the day when I have a ten million dollar tax bill. Come at me! C’monnnn, taxes!
Big money equals big money problems. Only, it doesn’t have to be a problem.
I choose to see all my bills, including my tax bill, as manifestations of abundance. My rent would make you cry, but dolphins are my near neighbors. On the other hand, I don’t have a car payment because I don’t have a car, and my utility bills are small because I live in a studio apartment. On yet another hand, my phone bill is atrocious because I have a billionaire phone.
That tickles me. It tickles me that I have the same phone I would buy as a billionaire. It also tickles me that we do our taxes at the beginning of every spring, again just like billionaires.
I could choose to continue to let money bother me and stress me out. I used to. I used to cry myself to sleep at night, thinking there was no way out and it would always be that bad. I cried the first time I did my own taxes. I misread the tax tables and thought I was paying on my gross, rather than taxable income. I called my mom, sobbing because I “owed” thousands of dollars I didn’t have. “That can’t be right,” she said, and because she is an accountant she offered to look over my work. Imagine my surprise and delight when it turned out, forty-five minutes later, that I was actually getting... a refund! That’s the feeling of lightness and joy that we can all feel when we think about money.
Money is nothing more nor less than a convenient way of storing and transferring energy.
I cried when I was in debt. It was dreadful. Then I determined that I would be debt-free before I pass from this world, and if I did nothing else, at least I’d be able to pay for my own funeral. (Shortcut: I am a whole-body donor and those expenses are included). I put my head down and hustled. I checked my accounts every day, I focused, I earned side income every chance I got, I read library books and worked on domestic contentment, and I got free. I sawed the shackle of consumer debt off my ankle. Now the other side, the student loan side, is nearly free as well. Soon I’ll walk tall, walking the walk of perfect financial freedom. That’s something we all can have, with a little focus.
Part of why taxes are easy for us is that our lives are unencumbered. We don’t owe back taxes; neither my husband nor I ever have. We don’t own a house. The complications mostly come from me and my weird ways of earning money, from royalties and dividends rather than a salary. We take the standard deduction because we don’t have enough reasons to itemize. We just get the software, and my hubby spends not quite an hour clicking through. We have our refunds direct-deposited and we’ve usually already put them in our IRAs before our friends have even bothered filing.
If you need and want to Get Organized with your taxes, set it up now so that you can make it easier for yourself for next year.
How would it feel if you loved money and you found that every financial process in your life was hilarious and simple? What if doing taxes made you want to do a happy dance? What if doing your taxes made you want to rush down the sidewalk, skipping, flinging flower petals in the air and hugging the mail carrier?
Or what if, you know, what if it just wasn’t all that hard?
Today is the day. Today is the day that you can transform your feelings about taxes. If you so choose, you can dial up a different emotional reaction. What is it going to be? Easy, I hope.
Didn’t you talk each other into falling in love? Didn’t you talk each other into the story of your romance? If you can talk to each other at all, you can talk each other into financial security. FIRE could mean “financially independent, retiring early” or it could also mean “fund it: romance everlasting.” It’s a loving, caring way to say, “I want to be with you for the long haul.” Choosing each other means you choose your lifestyle, you choose your livelihoods, and you choose your ultimate destiny as long-term partners. It’s entirely likely that you’re “the saver” and “the planner” and if that’s true, then it’s up to you to take the lead. Come to me, my love, and we’ll be strong together against the whirlwinds of fate. Decide you want to be with this person and decide that you can do this together.
First, let’s avoid the pitfalls:
Don’t have ANY financial conversations at night. EVER!!! Willpower is low, everyone is tired, and if you get into a really deep trench you’ll both be up until midnight fighting. Number one priority is that you trust each other. Number two priority is that you can bring a high energy level to your job, and that includes plenty of sleep. Nighttime is cuddle time.
Don’t say “we have to talk.” Too scary. One way to approach your first FIRE conversation is to ask for advice. Another is to share a story about someone you know, perhaps an inspiring story of security and independence, or perhaps a gossipy tale of financial folly and destruction. Make this just one of many interesting topics that you discuss, something that’s not totally loaded with emotion.
Don’t blame. Guilt and shame are not going to get this conversation anywhere. If you find fault, start with yourself, and stop with yourself. You can say, “I’ve been spending too much on lunches at work” or “I really want to pay off my credit cards” or anything else in which you claim full responsibility. Make it easy to be accountable. Show how it’s done.
Don’t criticize. The key here is to give positive feelings for positive actions. Criticism leads to defensiveness. It’s much, much harder to stay motivated when you’re trying to avoid criticism than it is to move forward in the direction of infinite rewards. Celebrate even the most minor victories! Congratulate your partner for every baby step in the right direction. High five and yell, “YAY!” Rehearse for your victory party, right?
Now for what TO do.
Always be honest. If you keep financial secrets, let it be a surprise investment account. Guess what? My side hustle is paying for our vacation this year. Or maybe, Guess what? I just wiped out the balance on our last credit card. The only surprises and secrets between you should involve parties, celebrations, and gifts. Remember that you can do all of those things on a shoestring budget.
Always be accountable. Any time you spend too much or go off plan, you’re dumping responsibilities on your partner. That’s mean. It’s mean! Be nice to each other. Set the example and show your partner how you want to be treated. Hopefully that’s with kindness, affection, respect, and dignity.
Compliment your partner on a job well done. You both probably have a long list of traits that will help you in the journey. You’re good at fixing things. You’re a good cook. You’re organized. You have a long attention span. You bring the party everywhere you go. You have a cool and inexpensive hobby. You have a knack for turning side projects into money. You’re ambitious. You’re easy to talk to. It’s fun to be with you doing basically nothing. Pay tons of attention to everything your partner does that could lead toward financial independence.
Create a comfortable love nest. Be nice to come home to. Plan around fun and free stuff as often as possible. Go to the park, watch astronomical events, take naps. Hang around your home and yard relaxing, talking, joking around, being casual. It’s possible to forget that you’re “saving” and “paying down debt” and “being frugal” if your default mode is relaxing together at home.
When you initiate the conversation, rehearse it ahead of time. Choose your moment. Go slowly. You don’t need to try to dump the whole package on someone or teach the intricate details of the philosophy to someone in fifteen minutes. If you love this person, you know how to do it. Is this person more likely to read an article, watch a documentary, go to a workshop, have a long conversation, play a game, compete, look over spreadsheets or charts or graphs, or what? Are you dealing with someone who is sometimes stubborn, flighty, weepy, distractible, or...? Avoid the obvious triggers. Make it easy to agree with you.
When I first met my husband, we were casual work buddies. We talked about money quite a bit, because I had just graduated from college with tons of debt and he was only a year out of an expensive divorce. I told him about Your Money or Your Life, and I brought it up from time to time over the years. It wasn’t until we went to World Domination Summit together and went to a workshop with Mr. Money Mustache and Money Boss J.D. Roth that everything clicked for him. Little did I know, he needed to see more math, more spreadsheets, and more graphs. I’m not strong in that area and my pitch didn’t do the job.
Start with the vision. What would financial independence look and feel like? What would you be doing with your time? Approach your partner with what’s in it for them. Express sympathy for their stress level and their persistent problems. Bring up their outrageous dream and some ways you think it might be more attainable. List off some specific ways you are making changes that will help. Like this:
“I was thinking about how you said you want to go on sabbatical and ride a motorcycle to Alaska.” Or “Remember when we were talking about moving to Costa Rica?” Or, “What if you actually went back and finished your degree this fall?” Or, “Do you think [your project] could maybe turn into a side hustle?”
Starting with your partner’s big dream is a guaranteed way to get their attention. It shows that you were paying attention. It shows that you trust them to find that happiness within the bounds of your relationship. It shows that you’re willing to prioritize their goals just as much as your own. It shows that you’re interested and that this dream makes them more attractive to you. It makes you into the ally and cheerleader they’ve always wanted. It makes them want to please you and impress you. It also creates massive motivation.
Most dreams are not mutually exclusive. They can’t always happen at the same moment in time, but that’s fair. It’s easier to pay full attention and really celebrate when there’s only one victory at a time, and then take turns. Otherwise it can start to feel like a three-ring circus. As an example, my parents took turns working while the other one went back to school. Since they had three little kids, it would have been really hard for them both to take classes full time. The shared adversity of being working parents and full-time students helped them to know that they can handle anything together as a couple. They’ve been married now for 43 years.
Presenting financial independence as a far-distant goal that involves endless scrimping and sacrifice? That’s a loser of a conversation. If you want it, it’s up to you to make it compelling and find a way to make it attractive to your favorite person. If you’re going to do it together, make sure you’re with someone who is actually open to the idea. If you really trust and desire this person, you can find a way to build your case and make it as captivating to them as it is to you. Remember, this person is your chosen sweetheart, your partner in the zombie apocalypse, your ally as you work toward a better future.
The Self-Love Experiment is a story about Shannon Kaiser’s exploration of self-compassion. This is a very raw, immediate, real look at what it’s like to do deep inner work. It will speak to anyone who has body image issues or who struggles with self-loathing. Hence, nearly everybody.
Self-compassion is the antidote to shame. Unfortunately, the first level of defense that comes from toxic shame is to convince the ashamed that they are undeserving of compassion, or anything good in this world. It always boggles my mind when I work with clients who are so convinced that they are terrible people, even though everyone else around them sees them as kind, sensitive, caring friends. Trying to love yourself when you feel unlovable must feel like ripping off your own skin, like a nakedness beyond nakedness.
Shannon Kaiser talks openly about her issues with depression, eating disorders, drug addiction, and body dysmorphia. If she could learn to love herself while fighting all of these demons, then surely there’s something here for everyone.
Something I found really intriguing in The Self-Love Experiment was the differentiation between the “rebellion self,” the “reward self,” the “protection self,” and the “lonely self.” These are aspects of the personality with different drives, and they explain a lot about coping behaviors.
This is a very approachable, yet multi-layered and complex book. There’s enough here that some chapters could keep someone busy for a year. If you’re a Feeler, if you’re dissatisfied with your life, or if you are ever mean to yourself, it would be a self-compassionate act to read this book. Try the Self-Love Experiment for yourself.
It never occurred to me that trying to change my outside world was a desperate attempt to feel better on the inside.
To stop loathing myself is to reduce the negativity and pain in the world.
Despite what you might believe about yourself, you are not broken, you are not your problems, there’s nothing to fix, you’re not off track, there isn’t something wrong with you, your insecurities are not hindering you, and your flaws don’t make you weak, unlovable, or unsuccessful.
Learning to distinguish between different types of inner and outer voices is a key skill in learning how to think strategically and get better at making decisions. What are these thoughts that bubble up? Whose are these opinions that are floating around in my consciousness? Are these voices actually wise, or even correct? Which voice is truly my own voice?
What’s left of this identity known as “me” if I remove all of the anxiety, worry, received wisdom, memes, quotes, naysaying, and other external opinions?
My people tend to be almost unbelievably reluctant to make decisions. Sure, everyone can hesitate over the truly big stuff like whether to marry someone, have a child, or go in for surgery. I’m talking about whether it’s okay to throw away a receipt for a single bottle of water or whether it’s okay to delete a junk email. Utterly trivial non-decisions! This hesitation comes from total lack of trust of one’s own intuition, feeling that making personal choices is not permitted, absence of future vision, and emotional overwhelm. The ability to distinguish between the various types of inner voices can help with this.
First, let’s identify some external voices.
Family naysayers. The closer someone is, the longer they’ve known you, the more negative they are likely to be and the harder they’ll try to quash your every dream and wish. What makes them experts? What credentials do they have? What outcomes and results are they living?
Pop culture. News articles, blog posts, memes, posters, t-shirts, bumper stickers, coffee mugs, fortune cookies, and basically anything with writing on it will peddle generic pedestrian beliefs. Anything that commonplace is probably more valuable as a basis for “Do the Opposite” thinking exercises, because that’s the only way any original thought can be extracted from them.
“Authorities.” Interestingly, a Realtor will advise you to buy the house, a stylist will talk you into a shorter haircut that requires more visits, an orthopedist will recommend one more MRI, et cetera. Consider whether the person advising you has a vested financial, professional, or reputational interest in that advice. Get a second opinion, preferably from someone in a different field.
Note: Just because advice comes from a parent, authority figure, or a poster with a kitten on it doesn’t necessarily rule it out or make it wrong. Please first spend some time using your powers of discernment before relying on a single source.
Now let’s talk about inner voices.
Professional expertise. People who work in different fields tend to look at every problem through the lens of their professional expertise, which may be excellent most of the time and disastrous part of the time. Many great jokes are based on this problem. We want to pause and remind ourselves that in any given situation, an engineer, a lawyer, an accountant, and an astrologer will probably give predictably specific advice. It’s important to trust your own professional expertise over that of unqualified outsiders WHEN it’s your own field. When it isn’t, don’t let yourself be distracted by your own feelings of certainty and competence, which may be fallacious.
Anxiety. Anxiety correlates with intelligence. This means that the smarter you are, and/or the more educated you are, the more likely you are to talk yourself out of anything that feels risky. Where you identify risk depends on your personal temperament. For some people it’s romance, for others it’s finance, for others it’s physical. For my people, the voice of anxiety very firmly orders them to hoard material objects, avoid leaving the house, manipulate their emotions with food, and obsess over rejection and criticism. If the message is “stay awake far into the night perseverating” then it’s the voice of Anxiety that you’re hearing.
Legacy. “If you can read, you can do anything” is a bit of legacy wisdom that I carry from a great-grandparent. Legacy is neutral. Sometimes it’s incredibly toxic, sometimes it’s obsolete, sometimes it’s harmless, sometimes it’s like rocket fuel that can propel you to the heights of happiness and accomplishment. Sometimes legacy voices can compete and give contrary, mutually exclusive advice. (After all, decisions are choices and strategy is guesswork. There are no correct answers).
Conscience. Attending to the voice of conscience will serve to increase conscientiousness, which is one of the Big Five poles of personality. (The others are openness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism). Conscience asks us to be more thoughtful and considerate, to care for others, to contribute, to apologize, to give more than we take, to act with integrity, to avoid regret. My fascination is when someone reports that the voice of conscience is asking more in a certain situation than the voice of legacy would.
Desire. Desire, like legacy, is neutral. Following your bliss is usually harmless, totally fair, fun, and ultimately in service of the greater good. Desire, though, does not always lead to bliss in either the short or the long term. An example would be the massive YES that I felt toward a rental house when my husband and I first got engaged. It cost 25% more per month than the house we moved into. But I waaaaaaaaaant it! Inside of many people is a spoiled wannabe celebrity whose demands will lead to chaos and disaster, no bliss in sight. The voice of desire often pops up as “my body wants.”
The Id. The voice of the id is selfish, narcissistic, greedy, restless, jealous, and destructive. The id is obsessed with “respect,” attention, and procuring shiny objects. I saw a gannet bird pick up a slice of pizza on the sidewalk in Iceland one day, and try to swallow it whole, pointy end first. That’s a pretty solid image of what happens when the voice of the id takes over.
Certainty. Oooh, poison. The inner sense of certainty is what we want the most when we try to foist our decisions onto others. My students, clients, friends, and occasionally family members try to abdicate decisions onto me all the time. Probably half of my text messages and DMs are of this nature. TELL ME THE RIGHT ANSWER! People absolutely stone-cold hate having to make their own decisions and live with the consequences because we hate the idea that we’re choosing our own future outcomes. It’s a rejection of the gift of free will. Certainty tends to equal stubbornness, stasis, stonewalling, fixed mindset, and, well, simply being inaccurate and incorrect. The only way to predict the future is to create it.
The Muse. Many artists of different fields talk about being in a creative state in which the work seems to produce itself. The book writes itself, the painting paints itself, the character takes over while the actor is merely the vessel. I suspect that this is the pre-verbal right brain being tapped. It doesn’t speak in text. Sometimes people refer to receiving this voice as “being in the zone” and I think it also relates to System II thinking.
Spirit. Here is where I talk a bit about what I call ‘woo-woo.’ The voice of Spirit speaks infrequently and usually in a baffling, unpredictable way. Spirit tends to demand things of us that are uncomfortable, confusing, challenging, and inconvenient. For instance, I knew it wasn’t Spirit encouraging me to pressure my newlywed husband into a house we really couldn’t afford; it was just desire. Spirit has pushed me to befriend people when I wasn’t in the mood, give money when I felt stingy and broke, and go out for errands at odd hours that then led to weirdly serendipitous meetings. The last time this happened, I went for a walk at 10 PM, gave someone directions, and then found a $20 bill in a bush five minutes later.
For the curious, there are perhaps other varieties of inner voices out there. The daimon, as referenced by Steven Pressfield. A tulpa. Ancestors reaching out from the other side. Maybe all of those things at once, in the craziest multi-dimensional cocktail party of all time! It could be fun to pretend, anyway.
Ultimately, no matter what inner or external voices someone might be hearing, what matters is how we react. What choices do we take? What actions do we make? Just because a random thought crosses your mind doesn’t mean it’s necessarily your thought, or what I refer to as your “final answer.” It’s unlikely that every possible voice will suggest the same course of action. This is why it’s sound policy (see what I did there) to distinguish between them. Give them names, draw pictures of them, assign them theme songs or mental ring tones. With experience and practice, your own true inner voice will start to speak more clearly and project more volume.
I’ve always known myself to be a tightly wound, restless, easily bored person. I’ve had chronic sleep problems since I was seven. These are all subjective states. Now it turns out that there’s actually an objective metric that corresponds with these feelings. True to my alpha nature, my first instinct is to go after this metric with the full force of my competitive drive. Blast it! Chase after it! Force it to submit!
Considering that the metric in question is “resting heart rate,” I’m willing to consider the possibility that this project will require a different approach.
What happened? My husband went in for a routine physical. I asked to see his lab results, and he cordially agreed, because he has reason to be smug. He just turned fifty, but his blood work would be on track for an 18-year-old. His doctor asked what medications he was taking. Answer: None. Among all the other numbers, one stood out to me. My husband’s resting heart rate is 55 beats per minute. That is considered athletic at any age. Nice work, babe!
I looked at a chart showing target heart rates for various age brackets. Because I wear a smart watch, I had easy access to my own health metrics, dating back a couple of years. I was distressed to see that my own resting heart rate averages about 77 beats per minute. While my husband’s data put him in the Athletic category, mine is... Below Average for someone over age 65.
Part of what is funny about this is that we do have a chronological age difference, and it works in my favor. I’m seven years younger, and it looks like more. People are still routinely surprised to find that I’m in my early forties, rather than my early thirties, while my hubby is more, um, distinguished. From some of the looks we get, I suspect people think I’m more like twenty years younger than he is. If these casual bystanders were looking at our medical records instead, they’d probably think I was his mom.
Or his grandma!
The difference between us is that my hubby started in athletics as a preschooler. His mom put him on the swim team when he was just four. The picture of him in his tiny little trunks crushes my heart. He kept swimming until he was old enough to make the football team, which he continued through junior college. As an adult, he switched to roller hockey, followed by ice hockey, followed by armored combat. In between, there was basketball and wrestling and who knows what else. While he was doing all of that, I was, well, I was reading. Sitting on my butt and reading, unless I was lying on my side and reading. He was already winning before I even knew there was a game.
Granted, I’m competitive. I always want that A grade. Not only that, I want extra credit, I want to test into the advanced class, I want to be on the Dean’s List, and I want some sort of award at the end of the year. That’s just as true of my health metrics as it is of anything else in my life, from the amount of my retirement savings to how low I can get my electric bill. The first thing I do when I’m confronted with poor test results is to research. These days I think they call it a “rubric.” What does it take to get that A grade in this class? What are the inputs that make a difference? Can I debunk it or, rather, replace it with a more valuable metric?
For my thyroid disease, I found that the key was strenuous exercise. For my parasomnia disorder, I found that the key variable was blood sugar, particularly how late I ate before bedtime. For migraines, I found that the two main factors were my body weight and micronutrient consumption. I’ve beat health issues that were far more pernicious than a high resting heart rate, and I’m fully confident that I can make measurable progress here, too.
What am I going after?
According to mainstream information, which is where I always start, because I believe in a measurable empirical reality, I’ll be best off if I focus on:
When I still suffered from an Unfit Mindset, I would have locked onto that ‘stress’ item and completely ignored everything else on the list. Well, at least I don’t smoke, but that’s because I’m a cheapskate and I’d rather spend that money on vacations. To be honest, I don’t believe in “stress” as a concept. I don’t think stress causes things, I think stress is a byproduct of underlying physical conditions. I think this for two reasons; one, I’ve felt it as I’ve improved my own baseline state of health, and two, I’ve observed that the three most laid-back people I’ve ever met were a Zen Buddhist monk, a competitive all-natural body builder, and a CrossFit dude. I met two of the three when they were just regular people, before they committed to their chosen sports, and the difference was quite noticeable. They... blink less than other people. They seem to exist in this permanent state of slow-mo, where they could plausibly catch a housefly with chopsticks, or dodge bullets, or pause time and prevent automobile collisions.
I want that for myself.
Going back to the inputs that I can control, I already know that losing weight and exercising are effective. My resting heart rate used to be even worse, if you can believe that, in the low eighties. I remember a big wake-up call for me at age 29, when I walked up a single flight of stairs and started seeing black spots. I knew there were people in their sixties and seventies who were more fit than I was, because I’d met them. I even worked with a few every day. I’m much more fit now than I was as a teenager, which is partly very sad and partly really exciting and hopeful. I don’t have much weight to lose, as far as that goes, so I’ll focus on trying to add muscle. For a restless alpha type, I need to have something tangible, a target, so I don’t simply pace a path into my carpet.
Being a stress case is not fun. It’s not fun under the hood, but it’s also not fun for other people. I’m not good at things like relaxing, having fun, taking naps, sitting through a two-hour movie, or, honestly, even sitting at all. I feel constantly driven to be up and doing something. Accomplishing something. Finishing something. Getting completion on something. Now that I’m looking at these tables of resting heart rates, I’m starting to realize that maybe that endlessly restless feeling comes from my high heart rate. I’ve never had much success in talking myself into a different mindset. Maybe I can go at it from the other angle, and see what happens as a result of physical change.
A moment of truth is a realization, an epiphany, a moment of clarity. In business and marketing, it’s the moment the customer decides to make a purchase. I like to think there’s more to life than deciding to buy things, but maybe that’s just me. In some situations, all we need is one moment of truth. With others, it takes several. Sometimes, maybe no amount of information is enough to get us to change what we’re doing.
Example: When I’m giving myself a paper cut, and all I can seem to do is to watch it happen in slow motion rather than drop the paper
What are some common moments of truth?
Realizing these leftovers are past the point of no return
Looking at the clock and realizing you’re going to be late
Not being able to button those pants
The thing about clutter is that it’s not a single object. Generally, any one thing has its reasons for being there. There’s a long list of reasons to keep every single thing, or explanations for how it got to be where it is. It’s hard to single out particular items from a cluttered space and eject them. How do you know what to pick? This is why clutter tends to lead to multiple moments of truth.
One of the reasons that it’s so common to clean up a space and then clutter it up again is that each of these steps needs more examination and introspection. If all we do is Step 4 and Step 8, we’re not pausing to consider why the space got this way.
Sorting clutter is a “bottom up” process. That means we’re starting with what’s already there and trying to impose order on it. The “top down” way to do it is to start with the function and appearance of the space, what needs to be there, and then remove everything that doesn’t work. Most American homes could shed half the stuff from every room. My people, the chronically disorganized and the compulsive accumulators, can usually get rid of 80% or more.
Sleep in the bedroom, cook in the kitchen, eat at the table, sit on the couch, work at the desk, go places on time, find everything on demand.
Or, if you’re one of mine: share your bed with laundry, books, papers, and food packaging; cook nowhere and never; pile the table with food, dishes, and shopping bags; bury the couch under a pile of laundry; which desk?; be late everywhere; search for stuff endlessly.
The longer I do this work, the harder it is for me to understand why so many people prioritize inanimate objects over and above their quality of life. They’ll shed genuine, bitter tears over a cracked figurine or a keepsake with water damage. But they don’t even seem to notice how cramped they are in their own homes, how their stuff interferes with their daily routine.
There are other realizations that can happen, moments of truth that allow for a new perspective:
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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.