As long as I’m making a contrarian stand, I might as well toss out there that a house most likely isn’t an asset, either, but that’s a topic for another day. An “asset” is an economic resource, something valuable that produces income. If a thing generates expenses, then it is not an asset, it is a liability. The concept that a car may actually be costing someone money, that it might not qualify as an asset, is something that can really be upsetting. Let’s explore it, though. At the end of the thought experiment, anyone who owns a car will still own it, and nothing has changed except for a bit of a brain workout. Let’s go. Why is a car not an asset?
When I owned a car, I was utterly shocked to realize that it was costing me a quarter of my net income. A friend of mine who drives a low-mileage pickup truck disputed my figures. Look, I’m sorry, but I didn’t have a very high income at the time. Almost everything I earned went to the three categories of rent for my cruddy apartment, my car, and my student loans. There are probably a lot of people in my situation, who have never thought about how much it costs to have a car in their life but who could technically be getting to work by other means.
Note: Driving your car to your workplace to earn an income does not make the car an asset. The job is the asset.
There are only three ways that a car could ultimately be an asset, which I would define as bringing in more money than it costs. That would have to be more than a break-even rate, too. I imagine a car could be an asset if it 1. Earned its own income, such as a classic car being used in commercials, but does this even happen? Would that income actually exceed the total cost of the car, including purchase price and lifetime carrying costs? 2. Sold for far more than its original purchase price plus lifetime carrying costs, but does this ever happen, either? Like a, um, what do you call them, a Maybach or something? 3. Enables the owner to earn more money than could be earned through other means. I don’t think this is true of 80% of ride-share drivers, for instance, because it looks like most of them aren’t calculating externalities such as depreciation of their vehicle. They also aren’t paying themselves for the time they spend waiting or driving the unpaid legs of their trips.
The reason most people think of their vehicles as assets is that the thought of trying to get through life without one just seems hopeless or extremely annoying. Never put people in a position where they feel that they are going to lose something or have something taken from them. It’s the same with personal finance or fitness - people feel that “giving up” an inefficient habit is not worth the gain of being debt-free or more agile. It’s hard for us as humans to realize that letting go of one thing can be a significant upgrade, a tradeoff for something better.
I claimed that a car is not an asset, because it depreciates in value and because it incurs significant carrying costs. I also claimed that a bicycle is an asset. Let me back that up.
When I was 22, I got a windfall at my $9/hour job, a retroactive pay increase of $400. I sat on that money for about two months as I decided what to do with it. Then a sale came up at a local bicycle warehouse. I bought the new bike that I still own 20 years later. I had been paying between $30-$35/month for a bus pass, and I wanted to cut that expense from my budget. At just $30/month, the cost of the bike would be fully amortized in 13 months. That bike was my main source of transportation for the next three years, and sporadically in the following years, depending on where I was living. My bike became an asset because it allowed me to save money I had previously been spending.
There are other reasons why I regarded my bike as an asset:
At that time in my life, on $9/hour, I could not afford to own a car. I wouldn’t have dreamed of paying to join a gym. My bike, which paid for itself, was a major life upgrade. I felt stronger and safer, and I had more time and slightly more discretionary income.
After I originally sold my car in - I think it was 2007? - I got my old bike tuned up and started riding it around again. I paid off my credit card balances. I paid off one of my student loans six years early. I bought a new couch. Then I went on vacation to Cancun. I’ve remained free of consumer debt for over a decade now, and I’ve gone on yet more vacations, just longer, more often, to more interesting places, in much nicer hotels. Car ownership was draining a quarter of my income, and after I eliminated that expense, I was finally able to start saving for retirement in earnest.
I got married in 2009, paying for my share of our wedding in cash, and we both drove my husband’s pickup until it died a little after 200,000 miles. We switched to a sedan and got a great rate on the loan, because my credit score is over 800. It was still a loan, though. We sold it back to the dealership after the big emissions scandal, and due to that weird situation, we essentially drove it for two years for just the cost of the gas. The improvement in our cash flow since we’ve been car-free has meant an escalation in our retirement planning. We save and invest 35% of our income, a number we couldn’t pull off while our practical, economy car was bleeding off $700/month in total costs.
I got my old bike tuned up again. My hubby and I have started riding around and exploring our neighborhood together. It feels like we’re dating. More than that, it feels like we’re on a date on a vacation! There’s just something indisputably romantic about riding bikes on a bike path together. I can’t say I ever felt that way when we were spending our weekends driving through freeway traffic to go to the warehouse store. I know neither of us ever felt that way when we were commuting in freeway traffic to get to work. Riding our bikes is helping us to save thousands of dollars for our retirement, stay fit and mobile as we get older, avoid the worst annoyances of standard commuting, and even feel more connected and affectionate with each other. For all these reasons, I continue to claim that a car is not an asset but a bicycle is.
It’s been over a dozen years since I was on the dating market, so when I read dating manuals, it’s always with the question, Would this work? Often that’s followed by the question, Would I even want it to? I distinctly recall reading The Rules and throwing it across the room. I also followed my husband around a bookstore, reading sections of Fascinating Womanhood aloud and making him shudder all over. It’s in this context that I say I think The Love Gap is an excellent, very smart book that could really lead to a strong marriage, a win for both partners.
For context, I’m the sort that author Jenna Birch refers to as an “End Goal” woman. I’m a Mensan with a degree in History. As a bachelorette, I had already paid off my consumer debt, and I had a really cute apartment where I did a lot of recipe testing. I knew where my life was going, and after an early divorce, I was in no hurry to remarry. My current husband had only been divorced for a year when we met, and he was still in the midst of a custody battle. Simply put, when we met, we were on different tracks and not in the same emotional reality. The Love Gap makes a lot of sense for anyone trying to evaluate the potential of a romantic prospect in a challenging situation.
What does Birch mean by the “Love Gap”? It’s the reason why men don’t always pursue the women they claim to want, namely the smart, independent, successful ones. There’s a gap between their desires and their actions. What sets The Love Gap apart from earlier generations of romantic advice is that it holds these men accountable for their cognitive dissonance, immaturity, and poor behavior, rather than burdening women with doing the emotional homework for both sides. The major lesson of the book is in how to evaluate a man’s readiness for a relationship, and then plan accordingly. Read: avoid all the heartbreaking nonsense.
The Love Gap includes research and profiles of relationships from all levels of commitment and long- or short-term results. The premise is that a smart, independent, successful woman can be herself, live a full life, and still build a relationship without compromising, settling, or selling herself short. A marriage of equals is possible, and it’s a lot more likely when we’re not wasting our time tolerating shabby treatment. I recommend buying several copies and using them to replace any old copies of The Rules that might be lurking on a shelf somewhere.
You’re settling if you feel like you are.
...love is the most idealistic of all our goals.
If you never see a flaw, it’s not real.
If you live and die by the health of your relationship you’re not in the best position to be in one.
Least favorite quote:
“...no matter a woman’s level of physical attractiveness, the researchers found men rated optimal intelligence level to be right around 7 out of 10.” [Though I can’t blame the author for this].
There are two obstacles to finding love: Not being emotionally available, and locking yourself up in a non-loving relationship with the wrong person. That’s it. Both are equally likely to lead to long-term loneliness. Not being open to love harms two people: yourself, and your potential mate who lies awake at night in a state of longing. Being in the wrong relationship harms at least four people! You, the person you should be with, the person you are with incorrectly, and the person your wrong partner ought to be with. It may also ripple outward, teaching a lot of bad lessons to anyone who sees how wrong you are together. This is why it’s a good idea to consider falsification of your relationship.
Falsification is the process of proving yourself wrong. For instance, if I see my husband talking to another woman, I could have several reactions. I could think, “That cad! I married a womanizer.” I could think, “That man-eating wench! She is trying to steal my husband.” I could think, “That must be his new intern.” Or I could think, “My husband is having an interesting conversation; I bet I’d like her.” I need more information about the situation before I automatically assume that I understand what I think I’m seeing.
Who are you going to believe, me, or your own lying eyes?
I look at my marriage as a blood oath. I took this man, and that day, I took his family as my family. Anyone who belongs to him belongs to me. As such, if anyone in my new extended family needs me, I’ll do anything I can, in any way, to be there for them. ‘Wife’ is a job, just like ‘husband’ or ‘parent’ is a job. It’s my mission to be the best wife I can be, to be supportive and to further his interests and back him up in every way. I’m on his side and he’s on mine.
However. If the contract is ever broken, then all bets are off.
I would instantly break off a relationship with any man who scared me, threatened me, or physically attacked me. Once. That’s a 100% dealbreaker. I would also break off a relationship with a man who lied. If I don’t have total honesty then I don’t have a relationship, I have an association. I’d stay with him if he went to prison, but only if he was innocent; if he committed a crime I’d drop him like a hot rock. My love is based on the belief that I’ve chosen and married a good and honest man. If he lied, attacked me, or committed a crime, any of these actions would falsify my belief in his fundamental character.
As a rational person, I have to accept the statistics. A marriage between two people who have both been divorced previously is statistically unlikely to last. A second marriage between divorced people over a certain age is even less likely to last. Our chances are low. Knowing that going in, we have to be more careful. In the back of our minds, we both have this little closet of All the Bad Thoughts. Cheater. Liar. Betrayer. Spendthrift. Screamer. We both had our series of little tests that we put each other through, up to and including blood tests and credit reports. Are you worthy of my love? Can I trust you?
The sad truth is that a lot of people are not trustworthy at all. They may wish they were. They may have made a bunch of promises to themselves. When it comes down to it, though, they revert to type. Over and over again, they’ll hurt different people in the same way that they’ve done before. Cheaters cheat. Liars lie. Most people do neither. I mean, who needs that kind of drama? Tell the truth and you don’t have to keep your story straight. Be honest and faithful and you don’t have to explain where you were the other night. Integrity is just easier.
What are some ideas about romance that we should attempt to falsify?
Nobody will ever love me/Nobody except this person will ever love me.
Not only is that a ludicrous thought, but if you’re with someone because you think that nobody else will ever love you, then you don’t love that person. That “reason” has nothing to do with this partner’s qualities as a human. It’s a selfish thought based on insecurity and scarcity mindset. I need to cling to this person so I won’t be alone? Don’t do them any favors.
I missed my chance.
As we get older, it’s true that we’ll never look like Romeo or Juliet again. Thank goodness! In my late twenties, I got down on my knees and prayed that I would never feel infatuated with anyone ever again. I wanted a mature love, not a teenage crush. I wouldn’t want to have to go through my teenage skin, my teenage cluelessness, or my general teenage incompetence ever again. Give me an adult and a practical, long-term love! I’ve always looked forward to the sweetness of elderly romance, and I hope my hubby and I make it to our fiftieth anniversary, even though we’ll be well into our eighties when it happens. I’ve met a few couples who fell in love and married in their sixties and seventies, and if anything, the romance is much stronger later in life. People of every age are single and looking to mingle.
I “always” wind up with [a cheater, someone who can’t commit, whatever].
This kind of thought makes us emotionally unavailable. What, some kind of fate sends us only people from the Cheater Store? What happens is that we communicate with other people based on our expectations of how other people behave. We may close ourselves to certain types of relationship; we may even provoke people into uncharacteristic behavior based on our own words, beliefs, and actions. When we fixate on how someone is inevitably going to mistreat us, that is cruel and unfair to that person, an honest bystander who probably started out with genuine attraction and pure intentions. It’s like starting an exciting new job and constantly having your supervisor accuse you of embezzling from the company.
What I have to expect from myself is that I have a loving heart which is sometimes fogged in by my personal, idiosyncratic history and beliefs about romance. I may be reacting to fantasies and images of my own creation, then projecting them and overlaying them onto an innocent person who has no idea what’s going through my head. I need to be aware of how this person is actually behaving, not falsely blaming them for my anxieties, and also not giving them undeserved credit for being a great partner based on wishful thinking.
What has this person actually claimed about our commitment?
What has this person done to demonstrate caring, affection, and reliability?
What are the reasons I find this person to be endearing, fascinating, and irreplaceable?
If we broke up, would I be sad? Scared? Angry? Relieved?
Do my friends and family like this person? If not, do people who don’t know each other have the same issue with this person?
Is it possible that this person is something of a con artist?
Do I trust this person enough that I feel safe to be fully honest about my life?
When I think about us being together ten years from now, how does that feel?
A funny coincidence came up the other day. Someone I’ve known socially for about a year asked what gym I go to, and then told me that he went to the same place for three years. Wow, really? It’s a martial arts school with a couple hundred students, not exactly a huge 24-hour commodity gym. He said he was in the best shape of his life at that time, and then added ruefully that he should get back on that. I paid attention to that, because he is at least ten years older than I am, and the older I get, the more I realize that matters.
Then I thought: What exactly does “best shape of my life” mean? When would that be?
Am I already there, was I there at some point in childhood, or is there still a “better” “shape” somewhere in my future?
I should throw in there that using the term “shape” is a bit ambiguous. It seems to refer to externalities like physical appearance, and that inevitably touches on What Other People Think. It’s much harder to discuss an internal sensation or overall experience of... what? Strength, agility, speed, power, peace of mind, potentiality...? Harder still when trying to get our heads around internal physical feelings that we may never have felt, like trying to explain a flavor or a musical genre without comparing it to other things.
I can easily imagine a few time periods that could compete for “worst” shape of my life. Crawling on the floor with the flu. Walking around during finals with my eyelid twitching from stress. The first time I ran down a flight of stairs and suddenly felt my back jiggle. The first time I walked up a flight of stairs and my vision started to go black. Swallowing radioactive iodine for my thyroid scan, and then struggling not to cough for an hour even though the enlarged gland caused a constant tickle in my throat. Being strapped to the table for my first nerve conductivity study. Et cetera. Hard times, scary times, sad times.
It’s because of this background of chronic pain, illness, and fatigue, though, that I’m so ready to embrace anything better. This is why I can’t give a care whether other people approve of my external physical appearance. Go ahead and fit-shame me; you won’t be the first. My health is somewhat fragile and I can’t live a conventional lifestyle in a conventionally relaxed, standard physique. I do what I have to do and that tends to result in certain external physical signs.
The body changes tend to be a mix of good, bad, and neutral.
When I was training for my marathon, my feet looked kinda terrible. They wound up growing a half size bigger and I had to get rid of every. Single. Last. Pair. Of shoes I had owned before.
Then I got more into backpacking and I wound up losing the nails on my two big toes. Took six months to heal.
As a cyclist, I learned that I always sweat out the crotch of my clothes first.
Now I’m boxing and doing martial arts, and I’ve had at least one visible bruise at all times since January. I’ve also scraped off my knuckles and broken off a chunk of toenail. Sexy stuff. I get teased because I have yet to find a successful method of controlling my frizzy hair during class, and I’ve resorted to wearing a dorky bandanna as a sweatband.
Athletic me: Frizzy, sweaty, bruised, muddy, looking like a laundry basket.
Ah, but then there’s the inner experience. It starts when the scary stuff gradually fades away. My thyroid nodule disappears and never comes back. I realize I haven’t had a migraine in a year, then two years, then three years, then four years. My shoulder quits spasming. I stop feeling like a human trainwreck.
Then I start to be able to keep up. I can keep up with the other students in class, I can do moves that would have left me quivering on the floor a month earlier, I can ride my bike or run at the same pace as my friend.
Then I start to notice that I’m doing weird things, like opening the pickle jar in one try, or running up a flight of stairs two at a time without losing my breath.
Then I start feeling very, very strange feelings, such as the desire to do core exercises. I read that an Olympian athlete does 700 sit-ups a day and I feel curiosity. Oh? How long does that take? All in one set or throughout the day? What else does she do?
In spite of all the evidence that my body is changing, because my experience of being in my body is undeniably different, it still surprises me when these changes show up on the outside. Brushing my teeth, I suddenly see the new definition in my triceps. Leaning forward, I’m surprised by the roll of my trapezius muscles. Getting dressed, I see the shadow marking my hamstrings. Whoa, what’s going on there?
Arguably, I’m in the best shape of my life right now. I’m about to turn 43. I can do stupid human tricks today that I couldn’t manage as an 8-year-old child. I still feel slow and ungainly in class, and I work out next to women and men who are as many as 35 years older than I am now. I can only assume that I’ll continue to improve, especially because I’m due to switch to advanced classes this summer. This makes me feel about 10% scared, 25% excited, and the rest just nonchalant, because it’s inevitable. What’s going to happen, though?
What will the best shape of my life look like, and when will it happen? How will I know?
The hardest thing to do is to make decisions. Action is easy. Take action toward something that you know is important and valuable to your life, and you’ll find it satisfying and absorbing. Most likely, you’ll also find that it’s a fairly automatic process. Almost everything we need to do in life is routine once the decisions have been made. I always say that we’ll do anything if we want to and we know how. When we’re stuck, it’s either because we don’t really know what to do next, or we’re not really committed because we haven’t really decided whether we want it. Once we have all that figured out, all that’s left is turning the crank.
Turning the crank is doing a rote task over and over again.
Turning the crank is doing something relatively mindless that needs doing.
Turning the crank is executing on something with a consistent level of quality and output.
Turning the crank is production, rather than design or strategy.
The great thing about turning the crank is that it leaves the mind free to focus on other things. Something is getting done almost without your realizing it. Sometimes it feels like the work does itself.
Everyone knows the feeling of turning the crank. We just don’t always realize that that’s what we’re doing. Driving a familiar route is turning the crank. Playing an addictive game is turning the crank. Binge-watching TV is turning the crank. Eating favored snack foods is turning the crank. Ordering the same drink over and over is turning the crank. We’re absolutely fantastic at turning cranks! We just don’t always turn the cranks that can move life forward. We prefer the cranks that keep us running in place on a treadmill, exhausted, burned out, but doing something predictable that doesn’t use extra decision power.
I turn the crank on my laundry system because I accept that I will want to wear clean clothes most days for the rest of my life.
I turn the crank on my personal hygiene system because the alternative is repugnant to me.
I turn the crank on my meal system because I’ve got it going on. I know what to do to cook stuff I like to eat, that my husband likes to eat, that we can eat every day without weight gain or health problems. (Example: he has a sensitivity to limes, of all things).
I turn the crank on our mail system because it keeps the desk clear, and because it prevents predictable crises. (Example: some of my airline reward points will expire soon if I don’t use them).
About 80% of life is maintenance. This can be unutterably boring and stultifying. It can feel too unfair for words. You mean I have to fold laundry EVERY DAY??? UGHHHHHH! The stuff that makes the maintenance list is the stuff that gets worse when it’s ignored. We do the maintenance because when we abdicate and avoid it, it winds up taking longer. It’s usually also stickier, greasier, smellier, dustier, more depressing and annoying in every way if it gets put off. Future Me, you’d better appreciate this.
The point of turning the crank is to free up mental bandwidth. Automate every possible thing. Anything that can be put on a System 1 basis, where it can be done without conscious thought, frees up focus and awareness for more interesting things. The most important of these is strategy, and after that are creative output and entertainment. It’s also possible to turn the crank in an emotional or spiritual state such as gratitude, satisfaction, awe, compassion meditation, harmony with nature, ecstatic musical appreciation, or all sorts of other mindsets. Just because there’s a toilet brush in my hand / doesn’t mean that this isn’t my jam.
We tend to miss these rarefied states because we’re usually boiling with resentment, steaming with annoyance and frustration, trudging in dejection, or maybe even fuming with rage that we have to waste our precious time doing these horrible tasks. SO UNFAIR! It’s only when we accept that spending 80% of our time on boring, unfulfilling chores is the lot of humanity that we’re able to tune in to other frequencies.
I turned the crank today. I woke up and wrote, formatted, and posted an article for this blog before I had even had breakfast. That’s one of the main cranks that I turn, and I haven’t missed a business day in over three years. Then I read and reviewed a book, which I also formatted and scheduled. Turn the crank. I went to the gym, coached my clients, and caught up on email. Turn the crank. Listened to eight podcast episodes, or another way to put that would be that I changed the sheets, washed three loads of clothes, cleaned the bathroom, ran the dishwasher, vacuumed the bedroom, sorted the mail, cleaned the birdcage, and walked the dog. Turn the crank. Did two tasks for my volunteer position. Turn the crank. Wrote out my strategic plan for the next 13 weeks. That’s the crank that turns all the other cranks.
Turning the crank feels like competence. It’s a game, if you want it to be. When I was a kid, I hated washing dishes because I “had” to do it. Now I just shrug and do it, because it’s my kitchen, my home, and my rules. I hated cleaning my room, quite frankly because I didn’t know how to do it and I had stuff I had no authority to discard. Now I just shrug and do it, or more accurately, there isn’t really anything to clean.
I turn the crank because it’s a major part of how I do what I want, almost all the time. I choose. I choose to have a certain emotional state and a certain energy level. I choose to have a certain amount of mental bandwidth, which I then apply to various interesting projects, also of my choosing. It’s not acceptable to me to live in chaos and entropy, and neither is it acceptable to me to put my attention and precious mental focus on rote tasks. I let my hands do the tasks while my mind is free. It’s because I turn the crank every day that my mind is released from duty.
“I could never do that” is most people’s automatic response when hearing about an alternative of some kind, whether that’s getting rid of their TV, waking up at 5 AM (same), or not eating dairy products. Nobody is asking; generally people are just talking about something that they do, not campaigning for other people to do it. Living without a car is definitely, definitely on that list. For those who are curious, it’s not really all that complicated. Resolve how you’re going to get to work, and that’s almost all of your trips. Shopping and errands take different strategies than the work commute. This can be an interesting game in its own right.
The first secret behind car-free errands is to realize that many errands are really just excuses for something to do. Going straight home every night can feel boring and restrictive. Errands can be set up to include fun stops, like picking up some ice cream. In fact, I think the majority of the time we’re looking for reasons to swing by the drive-thru. Guess what? They don’t let you through the drive-thru unless you are, in fact, driving thru. Gotta go inside. If the treats and fun side trips are a hidden motive behind errands, those can be rewards for using an alternative mode of transport, whether that’s a bike, unicycle, donkey cart, or the city bus.
The second secret behind car-free shopping is that so much of it can be either eliminated or delegated. For instance, I refuse to buy any garments that are dry-clean only, so we never have to go to a dry cleaner. We order a lot of things online and have them delivered. Judging by how many different delivery services come through our apartment complex, more and more people are doing this, and it seems pretty efficient. It’s also possible to special-order various products, from groceries to books, that a conveniently located store doesn’t currently have in stock. Occasionally, we’ve been known to have groceries delivered. This feels like a true luxury, and it’s definitely cheaper than the carrying costs we were paying when we still owned a car.
The idea here is that we’re only making side trips when it’s fun, when we want to. We refuse to be daily freeway commuters, and we also refuse to spend our precious free time on evenings and weekends circling around looking for parking. When we go out, it’s an excursion.
Another very important strategy behind car-free shopping and errands is to consolidate them. We have various hubs where we group errands together, and most of these trips can be delayed until we have enough of them to make a real outing of it. Examples:
Movie theater/favorite casual restaurant
Movie theater/mall/chain bookstore
Independent bookstore/nicer restaurant/specialty dessert place
Grocery store/pharmacy/haircuts/UPS Store
Bike shop/bookstore/REI/nicer restaurant/indie movie theater
For many errands, there are multiple options. We may be going to one place because we’ve always gone there, because it was close to our old apartment or our old job, or because it’s close to our hidden destination of frozen yogurt or whatever. We can often find an equivalent, or a different location of the very same chain, that’s closer to another stop we need to make. Finding these places is a big part of the fun. Often we run across hidden gems, expanding our sense of possibility and enjoyment of where we live.
Another aspect of car-free shopping and errands is to choose what type of car-free option to use. My husband and I go places on foot, by bike, on the bus, and using ride-share services. We choose which way to travel based on what we’re trying to do and what time of day it is. For example, we rode our bikes together to get breakfast on Saturday at the cafe near my gym. On Sunday, we took the bus to the movie theater, walked to a restaurant to get dinner afterward, and caught a Lyft for the trip home. The local bus is cheaper, but it only runs once an hour at that time of night. We’ll eventually ride our bikes for more of our trips, as we get fitter, because our increasing physical strength will start to redefine what we consider to be “biking distance.”
A bicycle is the most efficient way to get around for anything within a 7-mile radius. I confirmed this for myself when I first bought my bike twenty years ago. Not only could I beat the bus home, but I sometimes made it home before my evening bus would have made it to the stop by my work. Almost all errands involve items that can easily be carried in a backpack or panniers (which are special bags designed to hang off a rack on the back of your bike). An easy pace on a bike is about double a fast walking speed; I can speed-walk to my gym in a sweaty 35 minutes, or bike it in 15-20, including the time messing with my lock and helmet. There are only a few occasions when a bike is less efficient: When picking up very bulky or unwieldy items, like a garden rake; when combining a trip with bus travel, if the rack on the front of the bus already has two bikes on it; and, for us, if we’re trying to bring our dog somewhere. The existence of affordable delivery services and ride-sharing make these anomalies something of a moot point.
If you want to cut back on how much you drive, because driving is really a very annoying chore when you think about it, you can do it gradually. Test out one errand or one trip through an alternative method. If that didn’t work out so well, try the same errand a different way, or try something else. Then start keeping track in your mind of every time someone cut you off, honked at you, or stole your parking spot. Remind yourself every time you have to clean out your car, buy new tires, or send in your quarterly insurance payment that these are just part of the price you pay for car ownership. Or you can look at some of my vacation photos and see where else that money could be going!
See you at the beach. There’s plenty of room for you to lock your bike at the rack right next to mine.
You Need a Budget if you have any stress, anxiety, or confusion about money! Jesse Mecham’s book is brilliant in that it’s the opposite of most budgeting books. There are no spreadsheets! There are no formulas! There are only a couple of spots where numbers or budget categories even show up. This book is about strategy and mindset, which makes it perfect for possibility thinking rather than scarcity.
The Mecham family includes six children. Perhaps because of this, most of the advice in You Need a Budget is geared toward married couples who plan to (or already do) have kids, own a home, and drive a car. While there’s nothing radical about this, there are some contrarian elements to the YNAB financial philosophy. One of these is that it’s good to revise your budget if you realize you aren’t sticking to it and you can’t make the numbers work. Several real-life examples back up why this is a really smart idea. Desire for something specific is an excellent motivator to go over your expenses and rejigger them, shifting money from less interesting areas of outlay to your real passions, whether that’s Korean lessons or a diamond dog collar. Mecham is not here to judge.
This book derives from a web-based community, which is where the success stories arise. Real people are using this method to pay off six-figure student loans, pay off mortgages, save for extravagant weddings, and go on lavish vacations. A core element of YNAB is to “age your money,” which means you’re putting aside money in advance rather than looking backward and paying off past expenses. This feels positive and effective.
Most people don’t want to make budgets because they feel restrictive, because they’re confusing, or because even thinking about a bad financial situation is emotionally overwhelming. YNAB focuses on feelings of freedom, options, and power. Your money is here to serve you! You might not have realized it, because you may have associated the term with restriction, panic, or boredom, but guess what? You Need a Budget.
Rejection is one of the greatest miseries. Why is it that we can remember every time we’ve been rejected, dumped, or excluded, but not every time we’ve been approached, befriended, and included? As painful as it is to be unfriended or rejected, I’ve come to appreciate it as fair play. Why would I want to be friends with someone who doesn’t want to be friends with me? In some ways, if someone declines to make friends, it’s actually doing me a favor, because I’d rather deal with the relatively minor pain of that brush-off now than with a bigger, more painful break further into a deeper friendship. It also makes sense to me, because I have my own set of standards for why I would avoid spending time with someone. Sometimes we just have to cross people off the list.
Standards of behavior are slightly different depending on the type of relationship. For instance, the list of reasons why I would quit going to a restaurant is not the same as the list of reasons why I would break up a romance or quit speaking to a family member. I once moved out of my apartment because my new upstairs neighbors ran a CPAP machine ten feet above my head every night. I couldn’t blame them, but I couldn’t sleep, either. We never met so I doubt I hurt their feelings. Ultimately, everyone is just as free to avoid me as I am to avoid them.
I’m not generally going to ask people why they don’t want to hang out with me. I’m going to assume that we’re just not on the same frequency. There are over seven billion people in this world and not everyone can be best friends with everyone else.
Okay, so what gets people crossed off the list?
These are my personal standards. Other people will obviously have standards of their own.
Angrily yelling at me. I believe people should only yell if they’re cheering or if there’s an emergency. I don’t care who it is, if I make you mad, just tell me and I’ll make it right. I don’t yell at you, so don’t yell at me.
Arguing about politics. People have the right to believe whatever they like, and I have the right to spend my precious free time not discussing it. I refuse to participate in political “debates” or arguments, and in fact I prefer that nobody actually knows how I vote or what my political views are.
Drug use. Pot smoke is a migraine trigger for me and cigarette smoke gives me nosebleeds. Anything else, I used to work at a drug rehab and it’s just not my scene. When the pipes come out I stand up and say goodnight. I’m not necessarily going to not be friends with someone who uses legal weed, I just ask that they not partake while I’m around.
Being rude to my other friends. Absolutely not. If you don’t like someone else who comes to my open house or game night or potluck or whatever, either avoid them or tell me why. If I have twelve friends who get along and one who doesn’t, I have to ask what’s wrong with that picture.
Being a taker. I’m a giver, and I prefer it that way, but it needs to be my choice to give the gift. Someone who never reciprocates or goes out of their way to do things for other people is not on my wavelength. I’m not looking for a quid pro quo, I’m looking for a kindred spirit who is altruistic and generous.
Jealousy. If you need to control someone then I am definitely not the girl for you. I am monogamous by nature, but I come and go as I please and I have a lot of platonic male friends. If you have a problem with not owning my time, may I recommend meditation?
Trying to badger me into kinky stuff I already said I don’t want to do. The less said, the better, but I am in fact a person and not a vending machine.
Lying. Why? To make yourself look better? To trick me? To be free to do what you want, because you know that if I knew the truth I would have a problem with it?
Selfishness. For those who’ve asked: No, I’m not going to sew your Halloween costume / go to your baseball card convention / clean your apartment on the weekends I visit after cleaning mine during the week / get up half an hour early to make you coffee, because I don’t even drink coffee / give your junkie brother a job reference / drive two hours to pick you up from the airport / pretend we’re not dating in public / have unprotected sex / do all the traveling in our long-distance relationship / stand around while you talk to your friends without introducing me. I hate to ask, but what have you done for me lately?
I used to say that I would never get married again without a criminal background check, a blood test, a credit report, and a psychiatric assessment. That’s sort of true. I did remarry. We had done a full open-book financial planning meeting together (his idea) a few months before he proposed. We shared our credit scores, bank statements, credit card statements, and retirement account balances. We also ran up forecasts for our investment returns under different scenarios. I knew about the background check because he had Secret clearance for his job, and he knew about mine because I was a notary public. We both did a full STD and HIV screening when we started dating. Part of why we work as a couple is that we both agreed on the basic common sense and fairness of all this disclosure.
I won’t go into it, but I have cut off family members before. Just because we’re blood doesn’t mean I endorse everything you do. Ethics still apply. The reason so many people get burned by their relatives is that if they weren’t related, they would never tolerate the shenanigans, whether that’s verbal abuse, fraud, theft, violence, false witness, or any other kind of high drama and hijinks.
I quit a job because the owner and manager kept going upstairs to snort cocaine together. One day I found some of their paraphernalia in my work space. I quit another job because my manager wanted to break labor law and have me oversee it. There’s always another job up the street, especially for an ambitious person.
Living consistent with your values means you proudly work for or with organizations whose values you support. Your romantic partner, if any, also shares your values. Your friends and associates, again, basically live in the same ethical universe. You teach your kids your values and explain why they are so important. Your pets mind their manners the way you taught them. When everything in your world is there by choice, because you endorse it and support it, you have massive leverage and very little drama. Anyone who operates by values that are inconsistent with yours can go about their business elsewhere, and that’s why they’re off the list.
My bicycle is celebrating its 21st birthday this year. In some ways, I feel like it’s a birthday for me, too, because I believe this very same bike may have saved my life. I credit it with the surprising and sudden disappearance of a thyroid nodule that could have been cancerous. I’ll never know, and neither will my doctors, because I was lying on the gurney waiting to be wheeled in for the biopsy when an ultrasound revealed that it was gone. I got to go home without any holes in my throat. The next day, I was back on the bike.
This poor old bicycle has moved with me something like twenty times. We’re on something like its fifth set of tires, second seat, second set of grip shifts, second quick-release, second chain, fourth set of brake pads, third headlight, second tail light, and even a second lower bracket, because the first one was filled with water when they did our last tune-up. I’m ashamed to admit that my dear old bike spent the past year on the porch, mere yards from the cruel salty sea. I hadn’t been for a ride in something like three years.
I called a local bike shop that offers free pick-up and delivery. Since my husband and I no longer have a pickup truck, it was this or push my flat-tired old rust bucket a mile and a half down the road. When the repair guy came to get it, one of the brake pads actually fell off. So that was embarrassing.
They came back a week and a half later. Repair guy lifted my old bike out of the back of the truck. The light hit it, and it gleamed a deep red, just like the day I first saw it in the warehouse. My bike, Old Paint. A frisson of delight and excitement hit me.
Hey! There you are!
Monday morning, I set off on my first ride. Two miles and a bit, straight up a grinder of a hill to my martial arts gym.
I was a mess. I was leaving late and I didn’t realize that my helmet and all my other gear were still packed away in a storage tub. Executive decision: Be careful and get it out when I get home. My center of gravity was off, and every time I came to a stop light I’d feel like I was going to tip over sideways. When I would pass another bike going the opposite direction, I’d instantly have this strong visual that we were going to smash into each other head first. The only thing that really went well was that I still remembered my hand signals.
Then it came time to lock up. I had to go around the building looking for the bike rack I hadn’t thought to scope out in advance. Then I had to remind myself of how to position my bike so that the U-lock would go around both the rack and the frame.
I walked into the gym, late, with the crotch of my tights sweated out and looking very not glamorous at all.
The return trip was downhill. A couple of times, I got off and walked, because I felt like I was just going too fast.
That’s fair, because I had to get out and push uphill a few times, too.
By the time I came home, I had ridden almost five miles. That was enough to reawaken my forgotten identity as A Bike Commuter. A Cyclist. An adult child, tooling around on a bike known as Old Paint. My seat was adjusted to the right height and it just felt right, like comfy pajamas if they made your butt hurt later.
That’s the tricky part. The next morning, when I got back on the bike, I remembered exactly what it means to feel saddle-sore.
I know exactly where my hip bones are!
Every single time that I’ve quit riding my bike for an extended period, I’ve had to suffer through a few days of saddle soreness. Every single time, I “remind” myself not to let this happen. “I should at least sit on the bike in the living room, even if I’m not riding anywhere. Just sit there and read a book or something.” Ha. It never happens. No matter what type of exercise you choose, the easiest thing in the world is to quit doing it, never noticing the 1% fade from day to day to week to week to year to decade. Until you try to get back on that horse, and then you do.
I found my helmet and my gloves and my panniers and my handlebar bag and the extra keys to my U-lock. I had to wipe everything down, because it was, heartbreakingly, covered with dust. Like my hopes and dreams of one day completing a triathlon.
We got rid of our car over a year ago, which is relevant. My husband bought a folding bike a few months ago, and he’s been using it to get between bus stops. Since my bike was a rust bucket on the porch, I hadn’t been able to go anywhere with him. Now that I’m back on the bike, we can go together. It expands our ambit and the types of things we can do as a couple. With my panniers, I can do more types of errands, carrying more types of loads. Most importantly, I’m cutting my transit time to and from the gym in half. Being back on the bike is a positive in every way.
The more I study productivity and positive psychology, the more I think that pop culture has everything backwards. How many trillions of articles are there going to be about these topics before everyone starts to realize? Common tactics don’t work. What we need is more strategy. Then we can finally speed up, bounce right over these little speed bumps, and move on to the next thing.
The thing about “getting organized” is that it’s far too vague to mean anything. How do you know what it looks like? I know my clients don’t. They punish themselves with guilt and shame, meanwhile living out the same frantic calamities day after day. The real problem is that they just don’t know what to do. When they start to realize that their problems have simple root causes, they’re always so surprised and relieved! We start with a pain point, like “always being late” or “not being able to find stuff” or “mixed up about money.” Changing just one keystone behavior can completely eliminate all the problems it causes, thereby ending the need to “get organized.”
Those keystone habits?
Almost all household tasks take about five minutes, except for putting away laundry, which is more like 10-15 minutes per load, and cooking, which can be under thirty minutes for dinner and 5-10 for breakfast and lunch. Not a very big time investment for living in a relaxing environment and eating nice meals!
That’s a major part of “weight loss.” I put that in quotes because it’s something that athletes only think about if they’re competing in a sport with weight classes, like boxing or wrestling. Right now, in fact, I’m thinking in terms of weight GAIN because I’m actively trying to put on ten or fifteen pounds of nice solid muscle. Weight loss is a problem for average people because the Standard American Lifestyle is ineffective. It’s ineffective for financial independence, physical fitness, health, ability to stay off pharmaceutical drugs, and also minimalist housekeeping. Whenever you look around and find that 70% of people are in the same situation you’re in, it’s a cultural issue, not an issue of “motivation” or “willpower” or whatever else. Stop “losing weight” and start trying to figure out how to beat the system, the system that is failing us all.
This is how I lost weight.
2, 4, and 5 were permanent. 6 is seasonal but ramps up every year.
I haven’t had to think about “weight loss” for four years. I just put on my clothes. The fit of my favorite jeans tells me more than a scale will. I maintain a capsule wardrobe all in a single size, out of the eight sizes I’ve worn in adulthood. Regaining a lot of body fat would mean replacing my entire wardrobe, and I’m too stingy to pay for that.
When you’re “organized” and you don’t have to “lose weight,” there aren’t that many things to put on a to-do list. I used to love writing lists to clear my head when I felt overwhelmed by life. Usually they would include basic household chores. I teach my clients an exercise I call the “101 List,” in which I ask them to walk around their homes looking for tasks that need doing and trying to write down 101 separate items. It’s a great help for a chronically disorganized person who hasn’t yet set up any systems.
That’s the secret, though. Well, one of two. First secret: Build systems and put everything on autopilot so you don’t have to think about it anymore. Basic tasks should not be eating up your mental bandwidth or taking up any more time than they deserve.
Second secret: Don’t write lists; schedule reminders. Put these things on your calendar. Then ACTUALLY DO THEM at the time slot that you decided would work the best for you.
The problem with writing out to-do lists is that it’s like a pressure valve. It makes you feel accomplished, and then you can relax. (This is obviously true in the case of people who add tasks to their list just to cross them off). This is great if you do the things, and if writing out the list helps you to fall asleep more quickly that night. It’s bad if writing the list is the thing you do INSTEAD OF doing the things. The existence of multiple lists in various stages of completion will indicate if this is an issue.
What I finally learned was that most of my energy did not go toward what was important to me. I beat myself up for being disorganized, feeling guilty and ashamed, when my real problem was not understanding what to do about it. I thought I was procrastinating, when my real problems were managing my energy level and mental focus, and of course battling my chronic disorganization. The better I got at managing my schedule and my stuff, the easier it became. That’s when I started to be able to help other people, which is important, because all of us have better things to do than to spend our lives trying to Get Organized and Lose Weight.
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.
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