Why is it that, as soon as the technology became available, so many of us started working around the clock? Between email and cell phones, 'evening' and 'weekend' barely exist anymore. Carson Tate wants to help us to Work Simply and reclaim our free time.
The first chapter introduces us to "The Myth of Time Management." It really isn't about doing everything more efficiently; we've all tried that by now. This is strategy. For instance, one of the most helpful ideas I found in the book was to get your manager to define what constitutes an 'emergency.' So much of "time management" is really about "manager management."
Tate provides a quiz that distinguishes four different types of organizers, and offers custom tips that will appeal to each type. This includes software, physical changes, and negotiating tips for the other types. I found myself identifying various people I know as one type or another. I'm a Visualizer and my husband is a Prioritizer. I suspect that a good chunk of chronically disorganized people like my clients are Arrangers, who have a greater need for social connection. Understanding the type of your boss is perhaps even more useful than understanding your own type.
Work Simply offers the suggestion to think of time as money. Calculate your hourly rate and then figure out how much fifteen minutes of your time is worth. In many situations, we would never give someone cash outright but we will squander our time, paying for it later with long days and late nights.
This book is a product of the modern corporate workplace. It deals frankly with problems like working so much your kids prefer the other parent, having a boss with no sense of priorities, or being too busy to use the restroom. Mastering these issues is the only way we can reclaim our time and mental bandwidth and find room to breathe again. In the words of Carson Tate, "Work simply to live fully."
I'm bossy and I have a big mouth. Another way to say this is that I am an assertive woman, or, if I were a man, ordinary. It's an extremely helpful and important trait in dating. When people meet each other for the first time, they want to know: Who are you? What are you like? What would it be like to hang out with you and talk to you? Be who you are, all the time. That way people know what to expect. It's reassuring. It can also quickly weed out anyone who won't be a good match anyway. This is important when first meeting, and it's even more important when it's time to consider whether to take things to the next level. There is no rule book for this stuff. There are only the "rules" that you and your potential new partner make up together.
This is roughly the boundary speech that I would give to contestants:
"I'm a one-man woman. I don't cheat and I also don't share. If you have any questions in your mind about whether long-term monogamy works for you, go in peace. If you want to be involved with me, then it needs to be exclusive. If you want out, just be honest, and we can do it without drama.
If you cheat on me, I will break up with you and tell your mom.
If you ever use physical violence on me, I will break up with you, press charges, and tell your mom and your boss. Not that you would ever do that, of course - just saying.
I don't do raised voices. It's unprofessional. In my opinion, there is no need for yelling at any time unless someone's life is in danger. I have completely cut off contact with more than one person for yelling at me. Let's just be nice to each other.
I have brothers, male cousins, uncles, and a lot of close male friends. I hang out with them, text them, email them, and talk to them on the phone. So I totally get it if you want to hang out with your female friends. It would be a little weird if you didn't socialize with women, actually.
What are your deal breakers?"
This probably sounds painfully awkward and horrible. It might be, if it were sprung on someone you'd just met, rather than a friend you've known for a while. Oddly enough, it is a conversation that has led to a couple of long-term relationships, one of which is my current marriage. It turns out that many men appreciate the direct approach. Many men have been befuddled by the game of "if you don't know, then I'm not going to tell you." Most people do not like guessing games or "tests" or hidden rules.
Some guidelines: First, be a good listener. It's about a thousand times more important to LISTEN and pay attention to this new person in your life, because you already know what YOU think, and you really, really need to know what HE thinks. The better a listener you are, the more he will relax and open up, and the more you will know about him. If he starts talking about jealousy or evil exes, listen even more closely. Ask yourself what version of this story the other party would tell.
Second, set your boundaries firmly in your own mind, and stick to them. It's always when we start rationalizing bad behavior to ourselves that we reel ourselves in. We set ourselves up for trouble, sometimes for danger. We should never have to talk ourselves into being with someone. It's not our job to make excuses for anyone.
I dated a guy who cheated. I forgave him and he did it again. I forgave him and he did it again. I broke up with him and he cried. Aww.
I dated a guy who was extremely jealous. He flipped out when I told him my uncle was staying at my apartment for a few days and he accused me of lying and cheating on him. He hacked into my email and read everything in my inbox and even my sent folder. I broke up with him.
My first husband spent our entire house savings behind my back and lied about it. I forgave him, and a few months later he asked for a divorce. I moved out, and six months later he managed to damage my credit by trashing our rental house and not paying the power bill that still had both our names on it.
These are things that happen when you trust someone who breaks your trust, and then continue to trust them after they have demonstrated that they are not trustworthy. What else would have happened if I'd stayed with them longer? I'm glad to say that I have no idea.
These are the reasons that I became so mean and suspicious. Actually, I am not mean or suspicious at all - I simply decided to reserve myself for an honest gentleman. I wanted someone who was capable both of trusting and of being trusted. Once he made it through the gauntlet, I could let my guard down. I've been married nearly eight years now, together for eleven.
In a world of seven billion people, almost everyone who exists is going to remain a stranger. We have to reserve our energy for the relatively small group of friends, family, and lovers who will reciprocate our affection. We can't make room in our lives for people who will mistreat us or lie to us. Letting someone in is exposing our family and friends to them, too. Everyone in our circle becomes vulnerable. It's our job to check new people out first before introducing them around and vouching for them.
Vulnerability is hard. It's at least as hard for men as it is for women. The goal when setting boundaries is to protect all hearts concerned. We don't want any 'meh' relationships and we don't want anyone to feel like we're "settling" for them or "putting up with them for now." We want to avoid spending long periods of time with people we could never love deeply and fully. That's why we should be grateful for the end of weak relationships and the freedom to begin strong ones. Strong relationships require strong boundaries, an agreement on how to love one another properly.
Now that we've been in our new apartment for a month, we decided it was time to wander over and figure out how to get into the fitness center. The amenities were what sold us on this place; there's little other reason why a middle-aged married couple with other options would move into a tiny apartment with shag carpet, a popcorn ceiling, and only one closet. (I'm belaboring this point just in case I need to ward off the Evil Eye). Both of us are fairly experienced gym rats. We have our preferred equipment and our preferred default workouts. We also know that no two gyms are alike, even in the same chain. Taking fitness seriously means accepting that no gym is perfect.
Regard the photo above. That is my view from one of the two elliptical trainers in our gym. Regard the sea. Regard the swimming pool. Regard the palm trees. What is missing from this picture is the persistent squeaking of the flywheel behind me. It's loud, yo. Every other step produces this screech that would not be amiss in a recording of a traffic collision. Meanwhile my husband is jouncing away to my left, no doubt listening to Five Finger Death Punch on his headphones. There are half a dozen other people trying to work out, and everyone knows that I am the source of this irritating squeal. It's kind of like farting in an elevator, except you're trapped with it for half an hour.
Oh, do you think I quit using the thing just because it made a horrifying sound? Ha.
We began our workout by casing the joint. I wanted to see if there was a pull-up bar, because we don't really have a good spot to store the one I built for my office door frame - you know, the office doorframe I no longer have because neither of us has an office anymore. There is indeed a pull-up bar. Unfortunately, it appears to have been designed by Dutch people or something, because I literally have to jump a foot in the air with my arms over my head to grab it. Freaking tall designers, I tell you. My husband offered to do an assist.
"You mean like when you push my weight up and down from my knees and I pretend I'm doing real pull-ups?"
"I'm not holding that much of your weight."
"I'm not here to do fake pull-ups."
Needless to say, the home pull-up bar is staying, at least for now.
The second piece of equipment we were hoping to find was a squat rack. If you only have time in your schedule to do one exercise, five minutes of squats is the exercise for you.
"I know you like squats."
"It's not that I like squats, it's more that squats like me."
No squat rack. We went over to the free weights instead. My husband picked up a pair of twenty-pound dumbbells. I figured I'd use the same ones when he was done. Then he reminded me that this is a body weight exercise, and reminded me again of how sad I would be if I overdid it and then tried to walk down stairs the next day. Or the day after that, as DOMS often doesn't hit in its full glory until the second day. DOMS stands for Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, and I delayed explaining that to mimic the effect, which clearly can't be done with text because we don't have enough vowels OR enough consonants for HEEAUUGHHHHkfff. Five pound dumbbells it is!
The third piece of equipment I hoped to find was an incline board for doing crunches. No such luck. For some strange reason, I have been feeling this physical craving to activate my core lately. I'm a physically restless person, which is why it's fortunate for everyone that we live on the ground floor, so nobody has to listen to me pacing around all the time, which I do. Yet the urge to fold myself in half over and over again has never made itself known inside my body before. My abs are speaking to me and saying 'HEY LADY.' I always pay attention to these inner messages because who knows? Maybe if I ever find a genie in a bottle that's how it will want to communicate. My first wish will be for a strong core, my second wish will be to be able to do muscle-ups, and my third wish will be to be a billionaire so nobody kicks the back of my seat in the movie theater anymore.
Anyway, back to the lack of incline board, there was an abdominal cruncher, so we both used that instead. I kinda hate it when my husband goes first, because he very ostentatiously moves the pin back to a lighter weight. He does it deliberately to provoke me, I know it. Well he'd better be careful because before he knows it, I'll be shifting more weight than he can even though he's twice as big as me. Watch it, mister, that's all I'm saying.
We don't do all the same machines because I have some chronic tension issues in my neck and shoulders. I worked with a trainer and I have a laundry list of specific exercises I'm supposed to do to balance myself out. When we start from a zero fitness level, it results in tightness in certain areas and weakness in others. That pulls the body out of alignment. That's when we start to get the chronic tension and the snapping, crackling, popping sounds. "Pain comes last," says my trainer, and I'll tell you, that spooked me to my weak little core. I already have pain! You mean to tell me I don't have all the pain yet? All I have to do is look at any given person who is older than me, and my commitment to avoiding more pain is redoubled.
I used to think that people only worked out if they had nothing better to do. What, you can't read a book? Then I found out that I could read on the elliptical, and I could listen to audio books while I run. I would read while doing squats if I could convince someone else to hold my book for me. Also, I started to learn that working out is how non-young people such as myself avoid the slow slide into grinding pain, worsening posture, and unbalanced gait that eventually lead to walkers, wheelchairs, and hospice. I remember how nervous my Nana was about stepping onto an escalator at age 75, and I take the stairs, and I recommit to retaining my mobility as long as I can.
No gym is perfect. No body is perfect, either. Nor should there be such a thought. Every body is just the vehicle for the person inside. What we find in an imperfect gym is a place to rectify the crookedness that time wreaks upon us. We're here to stand up straight and tall while we can, and sometimes to try to jump up and grab things that are barely within reach. We're here to get sweaty and make annoying noises, accepting that nothing in this room will be pleasant or easy. We do it because life isn't perfect, either, but it's both easier and more pleasant with more muscle power.
Now that you have it, what are you going to do with it?
An exit strategy is a plan for what to do in a given situation when the circumstances change. For instance, say I have a job. I'm not going to work there for infinity years. At some point, I know I'm either going to retire, quit, get laid off, get fired, or die with my face planted in my inbox. Even if I get promoted, I still have the same set of options. It's the same thing with my car. At some point, I'm either going to sell it, trade it in, or donate it, or it will get totaled. Same idea with my house. At some point I'm going to move, because I'm a renter and I know we won't retire here. Nothing lasts forever. That includes our stuff.
Most of us never think about exit strategies for most of our possessions. It just doesn't cross our minds. Every brand-new, fluffy sock will one day either lose its mate or become threadbare. How lonely and tragic. Ever gotten a blister from wearing a worn-out sock one too many times? Things are made to be used, and at a certain point, they get used up. We give worn-out socks to our dog as a toy, and it's not long before they're too torn up even for that. Into the trash they go.
Our culture generates more material artifacts than any culture in human history. We number our garments and books and action figures in the hundreds. We have dozens of copies of things that never even existed in the recent past. For instance, my household contains an entire box of power strips, chargers, connector cables, and backup batteries. Remote controls, headphones, splitters, tablets, phones, protective cases, electronic equipment I'd have trouble explaining to a child. What does this do? No idea, honey. I think it has electrons in it. We have all this stuff, and where is it going to go? Into a museum? Maybe not if there exist hundreds of millions of iterations of it, and a new version is coming out this November.
The Beanie Babies alone could make an extremely weird monument if they were all gathered together in one place. A desert pilgrimage site, perhaps. Living wild animals could hop up and curiously take a sniff. Birds could nest in it. Otherwise what are we going to do with them all? Do we really, truly think that people a century from now are going to want millions upon millions of disintegrating stuffed toys?
There are three reasons why the people of antiquity created small midden piles instead of landfills that can be seen from outer space. One is that they used things until they wore out, and then had a secondary market for the broken stuff. There was an entire profession of "rag-pickers" who would repurpose worn-out clothes and linens. Old newspapers, letters, and sheet music were used to wrap fish and meat. The other reason is that people have had an enduring, millennia-old tradition of ritual bonfires. You had a holiday full of revelry and a big fire, with a need for things to stuff in it. That's where you sent your snapped chairs and other dangerous old junk. Of course, by far the most important reason that people of the past did not generate landfills is that they didn't make, own, or waste even a tiny fraction of the stuff that we do.
One day, we'll be able to feed our friable old plastic junk into a 3D printer or a home power generator. We'll mine our landfills for more materials. Hopefully. What else are we going to do with cracked plastic buckets, stained food storage containers with melted lids, and warped lawn furniture that won't support a person's weight? Times a hundred million?
Many of us experience strong feelings of sadness, nostalgia, and regret when we think of the fate of unwanted or useless stuff. Jigsaw puzzles with missing pieces. Worn-out shoes. Scary space heaters with frayed cords. Ugly lamps. Close-up photographs of a million thumbs. Engraved decorations from the weddings of divorced couples. Broken Christmas ornaments. THIS USED TO BE COOL! I think we sometimes project our own feelings of rejection onto misfit material items. Sure, I'm a little funky, but can't you love me anyway? Deep inside, we truly believe that physical objects have souls and emotions, that they suffer when they aren't polished or displayed in some way. We demonstrate that by bringing them home and storing them in mildewed, crumbling old cardboard boxes.
Many of my clients are compulsive accumulators. Some shop as a hobby, whether online or in stores. Others will cheerfully accept limitless amounts of bags and boxes of other people's castoffs, stacking them up and never using them, but resting peacefully in the sense that they have "saved" these items. Books that will never be read again. Torn or stained garments that will never be remade. Fabric scraps that will never be used. We can't accept the fact of ruin. We can't face the pressure of a world of seven billion people that seems to require the manufacture of trillions of small, consumable objects and the waste of 40% of our food production. We never spare a second thought to what will happen to these objects after they come in our front doors.
We probably don't spend enough time sitting around and crying about it. Suppressed grief over our lost loved ones. Suppressed grievances over lost glories of the past. Suppressed disappointment over the way our lives have failed to live up to our dreams. Suppressed sorrow over the state of the world. Wasting today fussing over yesterday, rather than making tomorrow happen the way we'd prefer. Living in a personal landfill rather than accepting that our existence adds to collective landfills.
The only way out is a grand exit strategy. A policy decision to quit buying so much stuff. To put our attention on food and energy waste rather than the fate of a couple hundred pounds of random objects. We waste far more when we throw away spoiled groceries week after week than we do by junking old junk. If we stacked up all our single-use packaging for a year, we'd quickly see that it adds up to far greater volume than any amount of old furniture and knickknacks.
My husband and I are continually divesting stuff from our household. We've realized that there's no point in keeping anything we don't use. It's expensive to rent a bigger house just to provide shelter for more stuff we don't even need. It all tends to get banged up when we move. What really makes our life together is our habits: our inside jokes, our favorite recipes, our conversation, our shared presence. The more we downsize, the smaller the house we rent, the nicer the neighborhood we can suddenly afford. Our bills get smaller and we spend less time cleaning house. In light of all these benefits, the stuff we still have has to justify itself more and more.
A lot of things go when you realize you don't need or want a car anymore. The car itself. The car payments. The garage. The insurance policy. The roadside assistance account. The automotive tools and various bottles of chemicals. The shop rags. The extra shopping bags. The special electronics and adapters for riding in the car. Then you start to realize, more and more, how much of your stuff and your lifestyle is built around access to your own personal car. One of these things for us is our Costco membership, which we decided to keep.
The thing about big box stores is that they normalize massive volumes of stuff. "Family-size" looks like normal size. This is like that point in the mid-Eighties when 64-oz drink cups came out, and what used to be a "large" cup was suddenly a "small," while "small" was "child size." That's back in the day when a can of soda was supposedly 2.5 servings, and my two brothers and I would share one on road trips. Stuff used to be smaller.
Buy large packages of stuff when you shop, and you need a bigger vehicle. Buy large packages of stuff and drive a large vehicle, and you need a bigger house and garage. I don't know of any single person who parks in the garage. Even though our vehicles are our most valuable possessions aside from the house itself, we will leave them out in the elements while we fill our garages with stuff. A lot of that stuff originally came from the big box store.
It's not mandatory, though. It's not required any more than we're forced to buy the $10 butter at Whole Foods Market. It's not where you shop, it's how you shop, what you buy, and how you store it once you get home.
We just moved into a tiny apartment. It comes with an itty-bitty kitchen with a small fridge that has a tiny freezer. As a result, we don't buy bulk groceries anymore. Have you ever brought one of those sleeping bag-sized bags of tortilla chips to a party? No amount of people can ever finish one of those off. A lot of super-ultra-plus-sized groceries wind up getting thrown away when they go bad. The only reason we buy this stuff in the first place is that it looks normal now. We still think we're saving money even when we're throwing away as much as 40% of the food we buy.
Beyond the sheer waste, a lot of people fill their kitchens up with so much food that the kitchen itself is barely usable. Every cabinet full to bursting. Countertops covered with food packages and collectible canisters. Boxes of cereal on top of the fridge. Cases of soda stacked on the floor. Second fridges with accompanying chest freezer. I've even known of people who store food inside the oven for lack of space. Houses were not built with the infrastructure to handle this kind of volume.
The last time we had a Costco trip, my husband went on the bus on his way home from work. He bought: shampoo, conditioner, a quart of minced garlic, and a bag of dried blueberries. He put them in his backpack and got back on the bus.
This is going to sound absurd, and it is, but our minced garlic consumption pays for our membership. I go through that stuff in greater volume than we do ice cream, breakfast cereal, booze, or coffee (none of which we buy). It comes in tiny containers at the grocery store for $2.99, or we can buy it in big ol' garlicky tubs and I can ladle it out with an ice cream scoop, which, now that I think about it, is a great use for our ice cream scoop.
We also buy fresh fruit and vegetables at Costco from time to time. This works for us because we're into juicing, and in fact we bought our Vitamix blender at Costco. We also eat massive amounts of vegetables, and we rotate through them quickly. In fact, the only vegetable in my fridge right now is a head of cauliflower, which is basically emergency rations and means I have to go to the store.
Sometimes we buy stuff at Costco from the fridge or freezer, although this tends to get us into trouble. We can't be trusted near that much hummus.
I don't buy clothes there, because they start at a size 8 for women, and I haven't been an 8 since 25 pounds ago. I can't even buy my underwear there. My husband will buy stacks of slacks and work shirts. This is crazy-making for me. Imagine a world where women can flip through a stack of pants, pull out our size, and know they will fit without having to try them on!
What we will continue to buy in addition to shampoo and garlic are dog cookies, software, and the occasional vitamin or pharmaceutical. We'll probably buy sheets and towels like we have before. We might buy electronics or patio furniture, although now that we don't have a car this will involve a Lyft. Mostly, our trips to Costco are going to be a thin disguise for my husband's desire to get more blueberries.
What I like best about box stores is that purchasing decisions are simplified. They're only going to buy something if it's widely satisfactory. I haven't had any bad experiences that led to buyer's remorse, other than perhaps the five-pound sack of baking soda I'm still trying to use.
Okay, full disclosure, I own some Costco stock, and also some Whole Foods. I figure if I shop somewhere, I know enough about it to have a reasonable sense of how the company is doing. I like Costco because of how they treat their employees, and I have friends and family members who have worked there, or still do. Just because I don't buy King Kong portions of crackers, cake-sized muffins, or barrels of mixed nuts doesn't mean I don't appreciate them as an entity.
The thing about minimalism is that we try to be as intentional as possible about daily life. We want to choose what we want for ourselves. We want to spend our money consciously and create a living environment that we find enjoyable, relaxing, and inspiring. This can include visiting the monuments of hyperconsumerism, consuming them rather than finding that they've consumed us.
Out of all the books I've ever reviewed, A Guide to the Good Life is the one I highlighted and bookmarked the most. In fact, it looks like I marked a full 20% of the pages! Who knew Stoic philosophy had so much to say? William B. Irvine subtitles this book: "The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy." I knew a bit about the Stoics going in, but this book is a true marvel. A prudent person would consider reading it.
An approach I found interesting was that Irvine sets out to compare Zen Buddhism to Stoic philosophy. He discovers that they have a lot in common and that Stoicism is more appealing to his questioning nature. I have to say that I agree with him. Quieting the mind is a serious challenge for most people, whereas Stoicism provides the means to grapple with life's most complicated dilemmas. At the very least, while we are sitting meditation and the monkey mind keeps acting up, we can use Stoicism to resolve some of these questions.
How do we respond to insults?
How do we deal with annoying people?
What do we do with regrets about the past?
How do we avoid hedonic adaptation, or, what do we do when our latest tech upgrade fails to satisfy?
How do we handle grief?
"...a life plagued with negative emotions - including anger, anxiety, fear, grief, and envy - will not be a good life." - William Irvine
A philosophical tool I had not seen anywhere else had to do with the desire to commit suicide. Suicide is wrong if our living "is helpful to many." Anyone who thinks philosophy is too abstract can surely see how a thought like this might change a life, or many lives. If you don't value your life, then you have an excellent opportunity to use it in service of a greater good, since nothing else is going to distract you or seem like a better use of your time. Social duty was a preoccupation of the Stoic philosophers, and we can probably use more of that line of thinking in our own time.
"Vain is the word of a philosopher which does not heal any suffering of man." - Epicurus.
One page of this book may well have changed my life. It has to do with receiving criticism. I have held back from writing on certain topics, publishing or hosting certain things, or posting on certain sites because I did not want to deal with moderating trolls. Irvine references the philosopher Seneca saying that "if you are going to publish, you must be willing to tolerate criticism." The fact that he formed this opinion two millennia ago, not only before the Internet but before the printing press, was the kick in the pants that I needed. If I have something to say, then perhaps it is my social duty to say it publicly.
Irvine presents a picture of active philosophy during antiquity. This includes philosophers walking into people's homes uninvited to harangue them about philosophy, or accosting people about philosophy on the street to the point that their interlocutors beat them up. He wishes at one point that philosophy would become so relevant to modern society that someone gets arrested for it. We don't have to go that far; Irvine also tells us that Stoicism is risk-free because we can practice it in secret and test it out for ourselves. There is little to lose and potentially much to gain. Reading A Guide to the Good Life is even easier than that.
Whenever I use the term 'man,' I use it in the original sense of 'person.' I am a 'man' as opposed to a pine cone or a lizard. In this sense, I am a Tool Man just as much as many of the males in my life. Mysteriously, tool use seems to be less about what distinguishes hominids from other mammals than about traditional gender roles. Let's talk about this.
Being a Tool Man is extremely useful. It comes in two parts, fluid intelligence and crystallized intelligence. Fluid intelligence includes the ability to solve problems and learn from experience. Crystallized intelligence includes training and the lore of how things are done. The difference between the two can be illustrated by the frustration of novice cooks when they hear that someone "doesn't use a recipe."
Someone who has been taught to be a Tool Man knows the names of all the common tools and what they do. He (I'm just going to say 'he' as a shortcut) can pick up a screwdriver and turn it in the correct direction without thinking about it. He knows that certain types of hardware exist, he knows where to buy them, and he has brand preferences. He can do basic repair tasks quickly, because he's probably done them before, or at least stood by and watched. He can tell at a glance when other people don't know what they are doing. He has knowledge and experience. Not everyone who has been taught how to use tools is all that good at troubleshooting or solving problems in novel ways, though. That is a separate cognitive skill entirely.
Interestingly, everyone who is skilled with tool use thinks of it as 'common sense' when it's really more of a guild specialty. It's also a reliable indicator of demographics and social class.
I have a blue collar background, which is why I know how to use tools. For me, tool use is closely bound to the concept of masculinity, even though I don't think of myself as masculine. In my world, people know how to do things. It feels weird to me when someone doesn't have practical skills, such as cooking a meal or pitching a tent. One of the light switches in our house was wired upside down, and this offends my sensibilities in a moral way. When I meet a man who has no ability to use tools and no interest in learning how, it's hard for me to respect him as a completely mature adult. If I can do it, why can't you?
I probably read too much Robert Heinlein when I was a kid. He wrote about the concept of being a representative of the entire human race to space aliens, and it really caught my attention. People should be good at as many things as possible. I learned how to use a sewing machine, change a fuel filter, build furniture, knit socks, tie up a bear bag, care for a baby, do first aid, use a water filter, make pickles, fix a running toilet, and all sorts of other things. The more practical skills I learned, the more obvious it seemed that acquiring practical skills is useful, convenient, and interesting for its own sake. It also felt empowering. Tool use is girl power!
My husband and I are both Tool Men. We respect each other for this. We can both cook and sew and clean house and change diapers, and we can both light the camp stove and chop firewood and assemble furniture and carry heavy loads. We have a joke where I say, "You're the man, fix this!" It acknowledges the burden that is placed on men by traditional gender roles when anything difficult, scary, or strenuous comes up, like removing a wasp nest. We try to meet each other in the middle and not act out negative stereotypes.
That being said, traditional gender roles got that way because they are efficient. Sometimes, when you are both equally good at something, it's more challenging to figure out whose job it is. Sometimes it can lead to a tendency to keeping score. (Actually, more score-keeping would probably be a good idea in some relationships, because it helps us to respect how much our partners are contributing).
If you're not a Tool Man, but you want one, because you think it's the "man's job," then you have to accept the package deal. If you want a man to be a traditional man, then you have to step up and act like a traditional woman. Quid pro quo, baby.
If you expect him to be the one to do all the heavy lifting and strenuous physical labor, then you should be offsetting that in some way. Respect it as a gift. Shoulder massage? Cookies? Find out what he likes, because he's not a caricature. If you take this labor for granted, you'll start seeing less of it. Reward what you want to encourage.
If you expect him to be the one to take on the strain of mental bandwidth whenever there is a complicated technical problem to solve, it had better be worth his while in some way. What are you offering in exchange? If he's the one who has to diagnose engine problems at the side of the road, or troubleshoot leaky plumbing, where is the tradeoff on your end? Also, you are shortchanging yourself if you stand idly by during these episodes. Who will do this stuff for you if he quits one day?
If you rely on him to pay more than half on dates, do all the retirement planning, or earn the majority of your household income, then you'd better have something to bring to the table to make up those discrepancies. Personal charm? Beauty? Good luck with that. The traditional model means that he carries more of the financial load and the female carries more of the domestic load. Financial dependence is vulnerability in a bad way.
My mother taught me traditional housewifery. I have the full complement of June Cleaver-style abilities. I know how to darn socks, sew buttons, iron shirt collars, turn hospital bed corners, clean an oven, and all that kind of thing. I call it "geisha stuff." I can't bear a dirty, messy house. I know how to clean quickly and efficiently, so to me there's no reason to let things get out of hand. I would clean all of the same rooms whether I lived alone or with half a dozen housemates, and it only takes about 10% more work to do it for two than for one. I don't feel oppressed by this labor because I don't see it as "women's work" and I also don't feel degraded by it. I feel that it demonstrates my mastery of my own home. It's a way of marking my territory. Professional chefs clean their own counters.
Also, my husband does his share. We negotiated.
The more you do, the easier it is to ask someone else to do something. A clean house is its own supporting argument. The tidier it is, the easier it is to keep it that way. It explains itself, making it obvious where most things are stored and what 'clean' looks like. It also makes necessary home repairs stand out as urgent problems rather than chronic annoyances.
Nagging doesn't work. In my opinion, one of the reasons that it doesn't work is that it leaves out all the thousand things that the other party is doing right. It fails to acknowledge other types of contribution. It's accusatory and critical, rather than appreciative and welcoming. We often fall into sloppy habits of treating our partners like bad roommates or annoying coworkers, rather than lovers and mates. Another reason that nagging doesn't work is that we put the burden of something we want on someone else. "Fix that toilet!" rather than "Hey, I'm trying to figure out how to fix the toilet," or, "Hmm, why don't I think this is my job?"
A hazard of being in a relationship is that it can lead to arrested development. We get together and we quit learning new skills. We get together and we fall into bad communication habits that a new love (or total stranger) would never accept. We get together and forget what it's like to live alone and depend on ourselves alone. We give up our independence and get little in return except entropy.
I use tools for the same reason that I clean my house: it's what humans do. I master my surroundings. I am the boss of my life. I want to live the way I want to live, and I rely on myself to make that happen. It's great when I have someone else to pitch in, but ultimately, I'm my own responsibility. Knowing that I don't need anyone else makes more room for me to want someone else, to want him for who he is and not just for the practical roles he can fulfill in my life. A Tool Man, not a man I use as a tool.
There are a million myths about exercise. One of them is that it leads to weight loss, which is silly. Another is that you just go to the gym and "work out" and live happily ever after. The truth is far more complicated. Our bodies are very efficient in adapting to anything we ask them to do. That means that whatever workout we choose, within a few months, it will seem relatively easy. That's why it's called a routine. It's true what they say, that today's challenge is tomorrow's warmup. We want to periodically reevaluate our physical activities and make sure we're getting the most of our sweaty-fun-times.
The best time to start a new habit is right after you move or change jobs. That way, it just seems like starting a new chapter, or a new book. There was that time when I lived at 123 Main Street, lounged around on the couch watching Game of Thrones, and ate a lot of cereal for dinner. Then I moved to 1212 Shakethatbootay Street and suddenly I was in training.
'Training' is somewhat like working out, except for something very specific, in the same way that shopping for a wedding dress is somewhat like regular shopping.
Two and a half years ago, I ran a marathon. I over-trained and injured my ankle, and the road to recovery was long, significantly longer than 26.2 miles. This is one of the many reasons that we must periodically reevaluate our workouts, so that we don't hurt ourselves. I had heard of cross-training, but I didn't truly understand what it was. It means that no matter how often you dream you are wearing a unitard and a handlebar mustache while crossing a finish line at the Olympics, you do have to mix it up and not run every single day.
Cross-training means that some days of the week you do one activity, and other days of the week you do something very different. Ideally, this will be a mix of cardio, strength training, and flexibility. There is no end to the information out there on physical culture. What tends to happen is that you dabble a little and read an article here and there, and then you get sucked into the vortex. The more you read, the fitter you get, with the catch that you are also more aware of how slouchy and slow you really are. Well, I don't know about you. You might be able to deadlift a tractor tire. I myself look very much like the bookworm I have been since I was two years old.
If I were a man, I would probably be more embarrassed about my lack of upper body strength, although it's pretty typical for a runner. As a middle-aged lady, it just means I can pass for a schoolmarm. I would say 'librarian' but most of the librarians I know can kick my butt.
Here I am, finally unpacked in my new apartment. Despite the past few weeks of packing and hauling and unpacking boxes, I haven't been working out much lately. By 'lately' I mean two years. My daily workout has been walking three or four miles, punctuated by the occasional yoga class. I'm feeling tense, crooked, slouchy, sloppy, weak, and tired. Welcome to your forties, right? WRONG! I refuse to feel like an old lady until I'm at least eighty. I know how good it feels to be in great physical condition, and I want that back. Now it's time to reevaluate my workout.
It starts with the brutal truth. All the truly rewarding journeys in life do. If you want to be wealthy, it starts by confronting your financial balance sheet, including any and all debts. If you want to be organized, it starts by confronting all your disorder, including anything you've procrastinated or hidden from yourself, such as a cluttered storage unit. If you want to be strong, well, that starts by finding your weak points. In my case, that includes chronic neck and shoulder tension, a weak core, and a sadly flat marathoner butt. I know from working with a trainer that I need to strengthen my core, glutes, and quads, and I need to work on hip stability. The strength training exercises that I do will therefore be different than what another athlete would do, such as a swimmer or tennis player.
Check that 'need to.' Whenever we find ourselves saying 'need to' or 'have to' or 'should,' we're telling ourselves and others that we're trying to fulfill a duty or obligation or responsibility. It's helpful to reframe it as 'want to.' IF I want to run another marathon, THEN it will be helpful if I do high-knees to strengthen my hip flexors. IF I want to release my shoulder pain, THEN I ought to start running again, because the micro-movements of pumping my arms really help with that. I WANT TO cross-train effectively so I can do what I love (or used to) without hurting myself. Faster and farther than ever before.
If I scrape the barrel, I can remember how happy I was when I ran all the time. I felt like my mood was at a 9 out of 10 most days. Regular Me runs at more of a 7. Chronic Illness Me runs at more of a 4. I've fluctuated back and forth through health and illness, happiness and pain, enough times to confirm for myself that Workout Me is the version I prefer.
One of the most interesting questions is not "Why should I do this?" It is actually "What is the most I can do, and how do I find out?"
I used to feel defensive about my activity level, and I felt the need to painstakingly lecture people and train them all about my various health problems, so I could prove (to them? to myself?) that I not only didn't have to exercise, but that I could not. Ever. Then I gradually realized that my state of health involved variables that I could control. One day I woke up pain-free, and I finally understood. If I was careful, if I kept records and tracked data, if I paid attention - I could stay pain-free. When the novelty wore off, I started to wonder what else I could do, and so far I haven't found anything that I could not. Why be satisfied with 'good enough' or 'oh well'? Why not try for HECK YEAH?
My plan is to run on the beach at least one day a week, as soon as I can figure out the tide charts. I'm also looking for a pleasant hilly area for my other training days. Next is two days a week when my husband can strength-train with me in the apartment gym. We're getting our bikes fixed, so we'll play around with that, and maybe I'll drop in on some classes around town. Whatever I do over the next few weeks probably will not bear much resemblance to what I wind up doing a few months further down the road. The important part is to continue to reevaluate, making sure I'm making the most of this earthly body while I still can.
An elliptical trainer
A stair stepper
A ten-top dining table
Ten dining chairs
A ten-foot ladder
Five sets of garage shelving
A shop vac
A circular saw
A metal bandsaw
A hydraulic jack
A weed whacker
A set of sawhorses
A fire extinguisher (we kept one)
Various scrap lumber
An insulated lunch bag
A travel mug
A salad bowl
A box of plastic food storage containers
Three potholders, two made by me
A coffee mug
A gravy boat
Three muffin pans
A glass baking dish
A roasting pan
A metal breadbox
A cake rack
A butter dish
A pasta maker
Four drinking glasses
Eleven wine glasses
A bottle of wine
Two tea balls
Three kitchen knives
A pasta server
Two sets of tongs
Three sets of measuring cups
A kitchen timer
A bag of refrigerator magnets
Two kitchen aprons
A dust mop
A plastic dish tub
A shelf organizer
An old jacket
A travel pillow
A set of colored pencils
A box of crayons
Three packages of index cards
A package of Post-It notes
A roll of wrapping paper
A stack of blank books and sketch pads
A box of CDs and DVDs
A CD organizer
Five thumb drives
A box of photographs (digitized and stored in the cloud)
A bulletin board
Three picture frames
A set of flannel sheets
Two bedspreads with pillow shams
Two bed pillows
Four throw pillows
Five small moving boxes full of fabric
Two sewing machines
A rotary cutter and cutting mat
A set of pottery tools
Two embroidery hoops and an embroidery frame
A set of gouache paints
A bag of paintbrushes
Three folding tables
Three milk crates
An extension cord
A coil of rope
A set of closet rod hardware
A package of wall hooks
A set of gardening gloves
A bag of seed packets
A set of loppers
A 12-pound sledgehammer
A pick hoe
A weeding fork
Two toy crossbows
A box of sprinkler heads
A box of drip irrigation hoses and supplies
A box of PVC fittings
A dryer duct cleaning kit, still in the package
A box of wooden hangers
A pair of rubber boots
A set of camping mugs
A set of tomato cages
A hummingbird feeder
A computer keyboard
A wicker hamper
Five wicker baskets
A set of wooden drawers
A wooden trunk
A plastic drawer organizer
A small jewelry box
A ten-foot shelf
Four board games
A bag of old shoes
A bag of old clothes
A box of sequined fruit
No idea how many books
Three potted plants
A bag of paper grocery sacks
Everything in our fridge and freezer
Sixty-two moving boxes
We're car-free now. Everything got so coincidentally hectic around that time that I haven't written about it in any depth. It just gets dropped in casually, like, "Yeah, we're middle-aged suburbanites and by the way, WE HAVE NO CAR." I'm trying and failing to think of anything else that makes a good analogy for this. Maybe the fact that neither of us drink coffee? Cars are so central to our culture that the idea is unimaginable to many people. When it becomes imaginable and practical for people like my husband and me, listen up, because the world is changing fast.
I didn't learn to drive until I was 29. I couldn't have afforded a car in my teens or twenties any more than I could have afforded a horse. It made no sense to me to work just to pay for my car so I could get to work to pay for my car. I lived in a city where I could take the bus to work, and that's what I did. I think I also walked at least three miles a day, and sometimes more like seven to ten. A few years later, I bought a commuter bicycle. People would sometimes ask me what kind of car I drove. When I replied, "I don't have a car," they would invariably laugh and say, "Ha, that's a good one! No, seriously." The conversation would go downhill from there, as in California in the Nineties, saying you didn't have a car was tantamount to saying you were in a weird cult. Probably weirder.
I can't socialize with you. You don't have a car. I mean, how are we supposed to do anything together? How will we get there? How do I categorize your personality and demographics and socioeconomic pigeonhole if I don't know what brand of vehicle you are?
That was then. Now, it's not such a big deal, partly because apparently a lot of Millennials don't own cars either.
What led us to get rid of our car was a casual interest that intersected with a coincidence. My husband's old truck finally died sometime after 200,000 miles. He took it to the shop and found that it was going to be a continual money pit. Time to let it go. We had a long discussion about how trucks can represent masculinity and potential, and how much our lifestyle had changed since he bought it. We talked about what we would do if we needed a truck for something, like buying bags of potting soil for the garden. Then we bought a Volkswagen Jetta TDI, a little sedan. Then there was a major international scandal, and VW instituted a buyback program.
We had that car for a little over two years. Between March 2016 and March 2017, we drove it 2000 miles. That included two road trips.
We drove so little that the car insurance company disputed our estimate and made us send photos of the odometer.
What happened was that we decided to build our lifestyle around not having a commute. Commuting is the least pleasant activity in most people's day. We figured we'd rather live in a tiny house or a sketchy neighborhood than have him on the freeway up to two hours a day. Every time there was a collision and he sat broiling in traffic, it brought home the idea even more. Driving is for people who actually like being in a car, and neither of us do.
We decided to move. We spent a few months looking in the neighborhood within walking distance of my husband's work. I work at home, so it doesn't really matter to me. We started finding places, and finding that they had been rented out before we managed to call. We developed our criteria and a sense of what we both wanted in a house. I got an email alert about a new listing while the phone happened to be in my hand, forwarded it to him, and he called within five minutes. We were the first of 83 people that day. Apparently a lot of people are willing to live in a tiny house so they don't have to commute! I happened to be out of town, so he took pictures of all the rooms and texted them to me, and I agreed, technically sight-unseen.
My husband started walking to and from work most days. He might drive if it rained, but sometimes he walked anyway, and wore a hat. One morning he found a wad of $84 on the ground. I did most of the grocery shopping on the way home from my various walking errands. I think of myself as my own car. If I want to go to the library, or the post office, or a club meeting, or the movie theater, I walk there, and I plan my route to swing by the store on the way home. We lived in a small, walkable community, and we walked.
After three years at that job, my husband got an offer on his dream job, working in the space industry. We decided to move again. We left our 728-square-foot house and moved into a 680-square-foot apartment. Coincidentally, the car buyback appointment with VW happened the week before our move. We were so busy moving that we barely noticed.
The best thing about being car-free was during the move. We both rode in the moving van. I was really stressed about the idea of driving the car and trying to follow the van, because I hate having to organize a caravan. It turned out it also would have been really hard for us to park next to each other at the Airbnb or during the moving process. Maybe I'm weird, but to me it was a relief.
Actually, I'm forgetting myself. The best thing about being car-free was when we got the buyback check! Now we have no car payment, no car insurance payment, and we're not spending money on gas or oil changes or car washes or parking or bridge tolls. I knew to expect this, because I got rid of my first car when I finally realized it was costing me a quarter of my (unimpressive) income. We used the buyback money for our IRAs. Future Us will appreciate this long after that car would have been a rusted-out clunker.
As a practical matter, there are three things we do with a personal vehicle, besides using it for storage. 1. Commuting to work, 2. Errands, and 3. Recreation. These can have separate solutions.
My husband decided to try riding the bus to work. His work reimburses him for his bus pass, so instead of a car payment, his commute is now free. He bought a folding scooter to use between bus stops. This has turned into a major source of fun, as he's been tying Spike's leash to it and having the dog pull him around. It's like they're puppies again.
Errands are no big deal, because our apartment complex is 4/10 of a mile from a shopping center. It has: a Whole Foods, a pharmacy, a dry cleaner, a UPS store, a pet supply, a barber, and the all-important taco shop. Across the street is the public library and the post office. Last weekend, we took the bus together to buy a large and awkward item from Office Depot. It turned into an outing where we both got some stuff resolved at the Apple Store and then went out to dinner. Most stuff, we order online and have delivered, as we've been doing for several years.
Recreation is sort of the point of the whole thing. We moved to avoid having a commute so we could free up time to be together at home. More time to take naps with the dog. More time for gardening. More time to sit around reading. More time to cook awesome stuff. We plan our vacations around not using a car, because most of the places we like to visit don't even allow cars. Historic districts, wilderness, archaeological sites, urban areas that are more advanced than most places in the US. The Las Vegas Strip, which I find exemplary for many reasons. Now we've moved again, and we live at the beach. Not just at the beach, but directly on the waterfront. We can hear sea lions when we walk the dog. We can kinda see a little bit of ocean from our balcony!
Going car-free is an urban choice. It really doesn't work for people in rural areas. Whether someone prefers one or the other is purely personal. It's a full-on lifestyle design decision. Both of us have lived in rural areas, near forests, near agriculture, in the suburbs, and in the city, although my husband hasn't lived downtown in quite as large an urban metropolis as I have. We've tried it all, and we're coming to find that trying it all is part of the fun. Owning a car nails down your finances in a similar way to a mortgage. Paradoxically, not owning a vehicle or house frees up so much cash flow that it's liberating, even though most people would regard not having a car as a net loss of freedom.
We're lucky in many ways. In other ways, we've made conscious choices, plans, and decisions to live one way instead of another. We're willing to pay higher rents per square foot in order to live in certain overpriced neighborhoods, and the tradeoff is that we get a living space that is half or one-third the size of what most Americans have. (Maybe less). We plan to have more experiences and less stuff. That's why we can now walk on the beach together during the time that other couples our age would be at the mall or watching cable TV. Less stuff, less screen time, and less time in a car translates to more time doing more fun things. What used to be fairly routine for most people, like living close to nature and having long conversations, has become special occasion date-night activities. We're enjoying flipping that and having special occasions every day.
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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.