I burst into sobs. The alarm has just gone off. My poor husband snaps awake to two urgent inputs, his chirping phone and his crying wife. I’ve been awake since 4:00 AM and I’ve slept maybe twelve hours in the last three days. It’s a fight and I’m losing it.
We’re under an unusual amount of stress. We’ve just moved, a chaotic process that is not quite finished, and our dog is in the midst of a serious veterinary crisis that has him up and whining several times throughout the night. Our upstairs neighbors are active from 6:00 AM to 11:00 PM or later every night of the week, and they start their day by launching into vigorous housework. Their blender, washing machine, dishwasher, garbage disposal, and vacuum cleaner have all been running eight feet over our bed by the time the clock strikes 8. I take a day off to try to nap, and coincidentally the maintenance crew runs an air compressor twenty feet outside our door from 8 AM to 5 PM. Plus a second air compressor about a hundred yards away just for good measure.
“I feel like a desperate, wounded animal,” I text to my husband.
I rack my brain, trying to think where I can go, just anywhere I can get away and sleep somewhere silent, even for an hour. I consider burying myself in sand at the beach nearby. I consider dragging a comforter to the laundry room and trying to stretch out on the floor. I run through nearby hotels and motels, realizing of course that the middle of the day is the time when maid services throughout the world are running their vacuum cleaners.
My hands shake. My hands shake all day.
I’m so tired that I somehow bonk my head on the bathroom door while standing still. I stumble and trip on the sidewalk. I’m so tired that I can barely walk in a straight line.
I try again to take a nap. I’m startled awake by the 77-decibel sound of the neighbor child jumping onto what is their floor and our ceiling. Either he’s jumping off the last few steps of their staircase or he’s leaping off a piece of furniture. This happens unpredictably multiple times a day, often several times in a row, anywhere from 8 AM to 8 PM. There’s no way it’s as loud in their home as it is in ours. Nobody could survive the demands of parenting under that kind of constant bombardment.
The first couple of days, I pray for two consecutive nights of decent sleep. Then I realize what I really need is two consecutive hours.
Sleep deprivation can drive a person insane. I feel a kinship with a homeless man in our neighborhood, who often walks down the sidewalk shouting at nothing. Trying to sleep outdoors in a city or in other loud places, like a shelter or a jail, must feel this way all the time. A fractured, fitful few hours at best. An exhaustion that settles into your bones, a weariness that feels like it will never end.
People who are sound sleepers have a lot of trouble getting their heads around this. My husband knows, because we’ve been together for twelve years and he’s had to chase me through the house during the occasional episode of pavor nocturnus. Otherwise, he’s one of the lucky ones. He can sleep under almost any conditions and slumber through bright lights and loud noise. I’ve seen him fall asleep before his head has actually reached the pillow several times. He’s an extreme lark and a heavy sleeper, and his hearing isn’t so great. This is probably true of a lot of people who have no idea how many noises they aren’t registering.
Me? I can hear myself blink. I can hear my eyelashes brushing against the pillowcase. I once woke up because I heard a spider’s footsteps, and sat up to see it crawling toward my face. Don’t believe me? I have a witness, a female friend who happened to be in the room while I took a nap.
I buy a special eye mask with built-in speakers, designed specifically for light sleepers, people who work the night shift, business travelers, and others of my ilk. I try a sleep hypnosis app and various types of white noise, such as ocean waves. It’s a great product but it’s helpless against the 63-decibel spin cycle of the upstairs washing machine.
Our dog finally gets through his illness, with the help of five separate veterinary drugs. He starts sleeping through the night again. He sets his favorite toy next to my foot and wags his tail. I start sleeping closer to six hours a night instead of four.
At this point I’m probably operating under a sleep deficit of at least twenty hours.
What I want to know is, why do so many people choose to stay up and deprive themselves of sleep voluntarily? What is behind sleep procrastination? Why would anyone who has a quiet room and a soft, warm bed stay up binge-watching TV, playing games, reading, or anything other than getting a full night’s rest? Why do people do it to themselves?
I try to look at my situation as an opportunity to become more robust. If I can learn to sleep here, I can sleep anywhere. If I ever want to fulfill my dream of traveling the world, it will be really helpful if I can sleep under conditions of jet lag, erratic schedules, and culture shock. Eventually, I’ll be tired enough that I’ll start sleeping through my neighbor’s laundry cycle. Eventually, I’ll be able to rest my weary head on my pillow and be asleep before 10 PM every night. At some point, either I’ll be getting enough sleep to survive or it’ll be time for us to move house again. Sleep, sleep and plenty of it, is my sole priority in life right now.
Those in the world who, like my upstairs neighbors, seem to be able to get by on fewer than eight hours every night, those people should pause a moment in gratitude. They should pause another moment and double-check that they don’t have downstairs neighbors. Those who, like me, are chronically tired, should maybe pause and see whether they have underestimated their opportunities. If anyone out there has a chance to spend more time in the dream world, spend an extra hour there for me.
I used to have a bookcase that covered an entire wall of my bedroom. It was made out of wooden crates, boards, and concrete blocks. In earthquake country, it wouldn’t do at all. Most of that bookcase contained books I hadn’t read; I just accumulated them. I bought sacks of books at library book sales. I bought books for a nickel at Goodwill. I brought them home and put them on my rickety shelves, feeling somehow safer and more satisfied to have them there. I would tell people that I felt like something was going to happen, and I was saving these books in case of some unspecified calamity. I never realized that these books wouldn’t save me.
Stuff won’t save you in general.
My people are chronically disorganized. They are almost always compulsive accumulators, bringing stuff home, feeling the impulse first and conjuring a justification afterward. Not all of my people feel a serious emotional attachment to particular objects; there’s just something they get out of the selection process and they prefer the aesthetics of jumble. Getting rid of stuff, any stuff, is a problem because the thought of loss makes them profoundly anxious.
What if I need it? WHAT IF? WHAT IF I NEED IT?
One of the greatest delights for a hoarder is to prove other people wrong about the uselessness of their hoard. If they can, even one time, pull out the perfect object and solve even the most minor problem with it, then the entire collection is vital and necessary. Justification!
There are so many arguments against this, arguments that will fall on deaf ears. The goal and purpose is to be surrounded by stuff. Interacting with stuff fills the hours that would just be stressful if instead one were interacting with people. Churn it, shuffle it, sort it, stroke it, stare at it, tell stories about it, collect it, get more of it. Never let it go.
The thing about my looming sense of approaching catastrophe was that having a bunch of used books couldn’t possibly help. I had this image of myself contentedly reading my way through an apocalypse. Yeah, but... How was this going to help? I couldn’t eat books. I couldn’t use books for transportation. I couldn’t trade books for tools, food, a water filter, or anything else I might need. If there really were some kind of apocalypse, presumably I could loot books on demand. Maybe reading books on disaster preparedness might help, but only if I knew the information cold. Knowledge might help me, but thrift store novels would not.
In most crises, what really helps is money. My people are so deep in scarcity mindset that they tend to believe stuff is more valuable than money. Nobody can take your stuff from you (nor would they want to!) but money seems to go out faster than it comes in. Money goes to your landlord, the auto mechanic, the heat bill, the emergency vet clinic, anywhere other than into an emergency fund. This is part of why broke people sometimes spend money on silly stuff.
The saddest thing is when anxiety plus compulsive accumulation turns into a dangerous firetrap of a home. It’s so common for people to be trapped in their hoarded homes that emergency responders have names for it. People get seriously injured when trying to climb through mountains of stuff to get someone onto a stretcher and into an ambulance. The guilt and shame that this image inspires will tend to cause someone to dig further in, rather than to decide to clear a wider path. The stuff they feel is so integral to their lives, so much a part of their identity, sometimes simply kills them. Crushed, suffocated, burned. Logically, the stuff has to go. Emotionally, the stuff has to stay.
My people tend to be the most deeply attached to clothes, books, holiday decorations, and fabric and craft supplies. Explain to me how a single one of these items could help someone in an emergency? Oh, sure, maybe a raincoat or some thermal underwear. More than fifty shirts, though? A tub of yarn?
Food hoarding is another common problem, a cultural issue that affects even mainstream homes. Food is so cheap and plentiful that most Americans can afford to stack up cases of it. Unfortunately, the cheapest food is also the most useless in a crisis. Cases of soda, chips and snacks, pastry, cookies, candy, breakfast cereal, crackers... We often feel a sense of security from being surrounded by food, not realizing that what would really get us through a crisis would be hot, hearty meals. Dinners. Not snacks. Entire pantries and freezers might be filled with only a few hundred calories of foods like cans of green beans or jars of salsa. We can harness the inner drive to have a burgeoning, full pantry by planning and rotating our food stores more practically.
There are a few material objects that might, in fact, actually save someone. My people almost never own these things, or if they do, they won’t be able to find them. They may never have taken the time to learn to use them or make sure they are still usable, because shopping and churning are always the main goals. Buy it, pet it, stack it. The useful things we can never find are first aid kits, fire extinguishers, and go bags. Whenever I talk about go bags, someone always asks, Tell me what to buy. This isn’t a good enough response. Buying something is never the safest response. It’s information that will save you. It’s running scenarios and teaching yourself how to troubleshoot in an emergency. It’s having a plan and understanding how to adjust it when Plan A fails.
Sometimes, what saves you is no more complicated than a clear path through a room.
Money is the single most common factor in divorce, or rather, fighting about money is. This is tragic, partly because of the heartbreak and the lives destroyed, but also because marriage is such a truly golden opportunity for teamwork and wealth accumulation. Figure out how to work together, and you can quickly reach a point at which you never need to argue about money again. Then all you have to do is learn to negotiate the housework, and the rest is a cakewalk.
There are only a few things more expensive than a contentious divorce. I’m thinking: gambling addiction, multi-level marketing, timeshares, and maybe smoking. My husband and I were both the “saver” in a marriage with a secret spender. That was how we first became friends, comparing notes about how badly we got burned. When we realized that our financial philosophies were very similar, it strengthened our friendship and mutual respect. By the time we eventually started thinking romance, we were already aligned, already giving each other valuable advice and emotional support. This was only compounded by our prior experience. We used our terrible divorces to teach us what to avoid.
Money is only part of the conversation. Really the money is just a symbol, an outward representation of the real discussion. What are we going to do with our lives? How are we going to contribute in this world? How are we going to turn energy into money into energy? As Jim Rohn says, don’t become a millionaire for the million dollars, do it because of the kind of person it will make you into. A resourceful person, a planner, an initiator. Learning the money game is no less legitimate than learning how to excel in art or athletics or academe. Games have rules, that’s all.
How do we get out of the game, around the game, above the game? What’s the strategy?
This is why it’s so valuable to have a partner. You want someone you can talk to, someone you can trust to keep your secrets and advocate for your interests, someone who knows you in some ways better than you know yourself. You want someone with a different skill set, someone who sees what you can’t. Ideally your chosen person is a good sounding board, someone who is afflicted with mood pollution or flagging enthusiasm at a different rhythm than yours.
For instance, my husband sometimes gets frustrated and glum when he can’t solve a complex technical problem. I always laugh because I know the answer will come to him within 36 hours. It always does! As a working artist, I see his wrestling match with the muse in a different context than the STEM people in his office. What’s obvious to me is never the same stuff that’s obvious to him.
I’m a divergent thinker, he’s convergent. I make my investment decisions based on business news, CEO biographies, and trend analysis; he reads P&L statements and looks at the charts and numbers. I’m ultra-frugal; he’d rather just earn more.
Part of why we make a good team is that we respect each other’s input. I play defense, he plays offense. Really, though, our secret is that we strategize and help boost each other’s earning power.
Early in our friendship, I felt paralyzed by the magnitude of applying for a job I really wanted. My future husband stood over me and wouldn’t let me get out of my chair until I’d finished the exhausting three-hour application. He brought me Chinese food. I got the job. Then he did it again the next two times, knowing my tendency to procrastinate until the deadlines had passed. Three buckets of takeout translated, over five years, to a 70% pay increase. My skills, my resume, and my work ethic wouldn’t have meant much without his cheerleading.
I’ve played a similar role in his career path. It helped that we met in the workplace and that I learned about his professional skills from a neutral outsider’s perspective. One of our first collaborations was when I taught him how to set electronic boundaries to keep his ex from distracting him constantly via phone and email. It worked almost instantaneously, of course. It also demonstrated that I understand how mental bandwidth works. I’ll do anything to protect and defend my husband’s ability to focus on his work. To me, that’s the bare minimum. Don’t be an obstacle to your mate’s earning power.
Don’t seek to spend it all, either!
His philosophy is that it’s our money, that what he earns is for both of us. My philosophy is that what’s his is his, and if I want more, I should go out and shake the tree and earn it. I started working for money when I was ten years old. It’s a huge part of my personal pride. It’s also part of why I still have my own personal bank accounts and why I manage my own portfolio. I could never have risked putting on another wedding ring if I’d felt financially dependent on anyone but myself.
What we’ve seen other couples do is really sad and transparently obvious. Here are the rules for ruining a perfectly good love match:
Classic example: He bought a big-screen TV for the Super Bowl party so she bought a high-end sewing machine. There, I showed you! Revenge shopping for the win. The divorce lawyer’s win...
True partners think of each other’s well-being. This is partly out of genuine high regard and affection, like the other day, when I got to see my honey do improv comedy for the first time. I always knew he’d be great at it! I knew it! He makes me proud and I just dote on him. The other reason we think of each other’s well-being is that we benefit from it personally. I mean, duh. When he looks good, I look good, and vice versa. I’ve been there to see him help a stroke victim, break up a fight between two drunks in a restaurant, and help a lost child at the fair, among countless other brave deeds. Knowing the other is cheering from the sidelines can be a very powerful motivating force. A love that spreads outward, a partnership that can’t help but affect everyone around us.
The thing about money is that it’s nothing. It’s just one form of energy among many. It’s a scoring system. It only has the power that we choose to give it. There are lots of ways to live outside of the money system, if you have the taste for that kind of thing. It’s easier and more straightforward to just go ahead and do it the normal way. Money is a way to buy ourselves a certain specific type of old age. It’s a way for us to give gifts and spend time with loved ones who live far away. It’s the most efficient way to do charity. It’s a tool that buys us freedom from various types of distraction. Most of the time, we have the luxury of never thinking about it at all. That’s partly because we share the load and partly because we’ve created a world together. What we do with money we also do with adventure, with exploration and learning and testing our skills and physical abilities. We’re partners in the climb, whatever the nature of that climb might be.
This is the companion book to Jon Acuff’s earlier volume, Start: Punch Fear in the Face, Escape Average, and Do What Matters. Readers and fans kept telling him that they had no problem starting projects, they just need help figuring out how to finish them. I can identify with this. There are at least two projects that I was working on when I read Start that I still have not completed four years later. If those projects were only four years old, that would be one thing, but, well, they’re older than that. I’m ready to Finish and give myself the gift of done!
This book is great both for chronic procrastinators and for multi-potentialites. Some of us may think we are procrastinators, when really our main problem is wanting to do everything at once. Acuff shows that he fits in this group when he describes his garage full of equipment that he’s only used a few times, including a telescope, a fishing rod, and a moped. Just because we’re curious, adventurous spirits does not mean we’re quitters or procrastinators, it just means we need to learn how to say we’re done with something.
One of the main reasons that we as humans struggle to finish projects is the planning fallacy. We’re just not very good at estimating how long it takes to do things. Another issue is perfectionism, the crazy idea that it’s better not to do something at all if we can’t meet our perfectionist standards. An example that Acuff gives is all the people who say they want to run a marathon but refuse to start with a 5k. Familiar as these are, there are loads more, and Finish gives us plenty of laughs as we recognize ourselves over and over.
Of course, knowing the issue is not the same as solving the issue. The real strength of the book, aside from its humor, is that Acuff knows what it takes to get people to finish projects. He tested these ideas with hundreds of real people, and the results were analyzed by a researcher working on a PhD. This is more than a motivational self-help book; it’s a description of what other people have successfully done. That’s important, because as we all know, motivation is like a shower. It works great and makes you feel good, but it only lasts for about a day.
We start by being less strict with ourselves, making our goals more manageable, and choosing what else to put on hold while we finish.
A tool from the book that I have used is strategic incompetence. I didn’t have that name for it, but I did it, all right. When I went back to school at age 24 to finish my degree, I decided that I would put fitness on hold until I was done. This wound up being kind of a bad plan, because it was a false dilemma and I unnecessarily gained 35 pounds. I did, though, get my degree. I had a clear vision in my mind that I would study during almost all my waking hours, and it worked. I used the same strategy when I decided to get fit, picturing myself doing almost nothing but going to work and being at the gym. That worked, too. I chose to just be bad at everything other than my goal for the window of time that it took to finish. Aim low, drop your standards, and win!
This book is a delight to read. Acuff emphasizes having fun and celebrating your successes. I’m dedicating 2018 to finishing, eliminating, or formally scheduling every incomplete project I have, and I certainly plan to celebrate when I’m done. That’s a party I know I won’t put off until later.
[Paraphrasing]: The opposite of perfectionism is not failure, it’s FINISHED.
“Might as well” is never applied to good things. It’s never, “Might as well help all these orphans,” or “Might as well plant something healthy in this community garden.”
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.
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.