New Year’s Resolutions are seriously unhip, as far as I can tell, but that’s never bothered me. I thought I would share my process publicly as I work on my goals and resolutions for next year. Maybe it will change someone’s perceptions about the usefulness of an annual review and strategic planning session. Yesterday, I posted my annual review, sharing my successes and failures from 2015. I like to make plans for all the areas of my life, plus at least one ‘stop’ goal for a habit I want to eliminate. These are decisions. Formalizing decisions and holding ourselves accountable for them has radical power.
First, allow me to recommend the book on which I have based my New Year’s planning for the past 16 years. It’s called Your Best Year Yet! by Jinny S. Ditzler. I always used the 1994 edition, but I decided to buy a digital copy and realized that it’s been through a few editions since then. As I flip through it, it appears to have been upgraded! The life wheel illustration on page 172 changed my life. If I ever meet Jinny Ditzler in person, I’ll have to restrain myself from shaking her hand way too long, or tackling her in an unsolicited bear hug.
A resolution is a commitment to do or not do something. It’s open-ended. An example of a resolution is when I decided to double my cruciferous vegetable consumption. Other examples include walking every day, setting a bedtime alarm, flossing, and packing a lunch. Resolutions can wind up significantly exceeding any goal we might have set. The main pitfall is when we shrug and give up the first time we “blow it” and “break” the resolution. The idea is to bring our attention to the area of the desired habit, hitting the mark more and more often until it becomes a natural part of our day. First we’re aware of it, then we’re trying it, then we’re doing it a few days a week, and eventually we no longer have to focus – we just do it. Flossing two days a week is better than no days. Perfectionism is the death of resolutions. The idea that a habit takes “21 days” is a totally false urban myth. It varies from person to person, but the average is more like 66 days.
A goal is specific, measurable, and has a time dimension. (There are various definitions for the SMART goal acronym, all of which are helpful). An example of a goal is when I ran the Portland Marathon in 2014. Other examples are reaching a goal weight, getting rid of a storage unit, and paying off a credit card. The main pitfall of a goal is to feel “done” and not think about what happens afterward, meaning we often wind up right back where we started. This is why it helps to make goals and resolutions that work together, such as “weigh the ‘healthy weight for my height’ [goal] and cut back on treats or going out if my weight goes up more than 3 pounds [resolution].”
The concept of the ‘stop’ goal is a big part of how most people define a New Year’s Resolution. It might be something like ‘stop smoking’ or ‘stop biting my nails.’ I had a conversation last weekend with a grocery clerk that went like this:
Me: “Are you making any New Year’s Resolutions?”
Clerk: “MAYbe. I just decided to quit chewing my fingers after 20+ years, and it’s been three weeks.”
Me: “Wow! You have the power to make a decision like THAT [snapping my fingers]. That’s really strong. It’s like, ooh, what next?”
This happens all the time. We have a moment of clarity, when we realize that we are annoying ourselves and we don’t have to do it anymore. The sort of change that comes from a lightning bolt realization is a permanent sort of change. I’ve experienced these, for instance when I realized that I always spilled in my lap when I ate on the couch, and I started eating all my meals at the table instead. At the New Year, I rack my brain and try to come up with the most obvious areas where I hold myself back. Last year, it was my super-irritating habit of leaving tissues in my pockets and running them through the washer and dryer, where they shredded all over everything. Goodbye and good riddance to that!
Working on goals and resolutions with someone else can be tricky, but the fact that my husband was willing to do my New Year’s process with me is part of why we’re married now. Last year, we started meeting for breakfast every Saturday to go over our goals. We made a spreadsheet with goals on the 1-year, 3-year, and “Blue Sky” time horizon. He busted through all of his goals for the year in three months. For this year, I had the idea of taking off for a weekend every three months for a quarterly review. He liked that idea. We’re planning to go camping in March and September for this purpose. We already do a New Year’s planning session, and the summer is covered by my July birthday and our August wedding anniversary, when we also discuss goals. The reason this is a romantic, fun activity for us is that we see goal-setting in a positive light. We’re rushing toward things that make us happier and more fulfilled. We’re casting aside negative habits and traits that feel much better when they are gone. We remind each other of how far we’ve come. We are each other’s cheerleaders. One term for this is ‘accountability partner.’ It doesn’t have to be a romantic partner or spouse, but for Obligers especially it can help to have someone to remind us of our decisions.
Since we started dating, my husband and I have lost 100 pounds between us, stopped drinking soda, and paid off over $20,000 in debt. Those are big highlights, but we’ve also done a bunch of smaller-scale stuff. Our life together is more streamlined, both more relaxed and more productive than when we were single.
Okay, now for the process of setting down goals and resolutions for 2016!
Couples stuff: We decided to have a set dinnertime every night. We’re adding quarterly reviews to our annual planning, going camping if possible. We’ve had a years-long agreement to go to ballroom dance lessons for a few months, and hopefully this will be the year we make that happen. [glares at ankle]
Personal: One of my biggest regrets is that I decided to join Toastmasters in college, then never went back for a second meeting because it conflicted with an open mic night where this particular boy sometimes sang. “You have chosen poorly.” (Thus my past ‘stop’ goal of “Stop dating musicians.”) As with running, I feel that public speaking makes my legs shake, is extremely scary, difficult, contrary to my nature, and not something I would really voluntarily ever want to do, and thus likely to be really valuable. I REALLY REALLY HATED running for the first three weeks, but I forced myself to keep at it, learned to love it, and four years later I ran a marathon. I’m feeling similar resistance combined with awful curiosity, and knowing I will push myself to do this awkward, onerous thing. Future Self is shouting at me through a megaphone, and I hear her. “DO EEEET!”
Career: I’ve never had my own business cards, and it feels like time to get a set made. My goals are to expand my coaching business and start a weekly (free) subscription newsletter. I’ve decided not to announce new books and writing projects until they are released, because discussing my projects and deadlines seems to do something weird to my creative energy. I published over 700 pages in 2015, so productivity is not my problem.
Physical: I’d REALLY like to start running again and train for my second marathon now that my ankle is better. My overarching goal is to grow stronger, faster, and more agile at a pace that my body can sustain without injury. My focus will be on experimenting with a cross-training schedule that balances running with strength training and yoga. I will definitely run another marathon, and I’m allowing that goal to persist without a specific timeline. One specific goal I am making is to get a blood test to check my micronutrient levels. More Metrics, Less Guessing.
Home: I’d like to learn more about interior design and make our new place look cute. It’s clean and organized, naturally, but I’ve never taken it past ‘comfortable’ to ‘beautiful.’ We’re putting in a vegetable garden (the third one in 3.5 years, Hope Springs Eternal) and I’m going to try growing saffron.
‘Stop’ goals: I’m struggling with how to phrase it, but I have been having a real problem injuring myself lately. In the last month, I’ve smacked my head three times on furniture and doorframes, drawn blood slamming my thumb in a drawer and pinching my finger in the gate, and generally bruised and banged myself up. “Stop beating myself up on stuff.” This is classic ADHD attention and body awareness stuff. I suspect that more yoga, dance, and meditation will help. I need to slow down and pay attention to what I’m doing, and to focus on being calm and graceful. My other ‘stop’ goal is to “stop rage-crying when I go through TSA secondary screening.” I need to find a way to “bend the knee” and deal with this obstacle. Obviously being a “Trusted Traveler” does not mean what I thought it meant, and IT IS WHAT IT IS. Suck it up, Buttercup.
Lifestyle upgrades: We’re going to eat on the patio when the weather is warm enough, and I’m going to use it as my new writing spot.
Do the Obvious: The most obvious thing for me to do right now is to focus on my business and start earning more money.
A Quest: I took on a quest last year to be ready to go to a Polyglot Gathering and have at least a short conversation in more than one foreign language. Due to a sad ongoing family circumstance, I can’t make firm plans for the next unspecified number of months. It’s unlikely I’ll be able to attend the May event I wanted, but there are two positives. One is that there are also Polyglot Conferences in various world cities throughout the year. The other is that we’re signed up for the World Domination Summit in August! That’s a different sort of a quest, but a pretty great one. I need to dip my toe in and have at least one language exchange in which I talk to another living human. There’s no point spending as much time as I have in studying other languages without speaking them, although it is nice to go to the movies and understand at least parts of the dialogue in French, German, or Spanish.
A wish: I wish to make a new friend in 2016.
That’s a lot of stuff! I feel about 90% exhilaration and 10% pure dread. I have a couple of easy, specific, one-shot goals, like ordering my business cards and finding out where to get the micronutrient blood test done. I have a few habit and perspective changes to work on. I have a few special events scheduled. I have a few new projects. I have this public record of commitments, which is actually pretty intimidating. I do, though, have a long track record of positive change in my life, even counting all the times I’ve overcommitted or completely failed. I can look forward to liking at least parts of my life better by this time next year.
How about you? What are your hopes and plans for the New Year?
Doing a life review every year can be a delightful and revealing process. I started doing this in 1999, during my divorce, and I would say that my New Year’s review process is the single biggest factor in my ability to overcome problems in my life. It’s the driving force behind all my accomplishments. It’s also the main reason I ever do anything fun; I tend to be driven and hyper-focused, and I have to remind myself to fit in things like “listen to more music.”
I want to share a list of highlights and neat things from my year. Then I’ll talk about my resolutions and how I did.
Saw an orca family in the wild, complete with baby orca!
Saw a mountain goat family in the wild, complete with kids, and one of them SQUEAKED!
Saw my first pine squirrel and rough-skinned newt. Birds seen for the first time include the black skimmer, black-necked stilt, cinnamon teal, Forster’s tern, little blue heron, and reddish egret.
Learned about virga and lenticular clouds.
Did two backpacking trips totaling six days and four nights. (Goal: at least one trip). Learned to hang up and securely tie a bear bag. Carried my heaviest pack ever. Building my confidence and independence in managing gear.
Went on three planned trips, to Victoria, BC, San Diego, and Las Vegas.
Started this blog and posted over 700 pages, with more than 200 original illustrations and photographs. Maintained my schedule of publishing every business day.
Surprised my parents by showing up unexpectedly at their 40th anniversary dinner, making my mom cry.
Started my coaching business.
Moved to a new house.
Met and spoke with Gretchen Rubin and Robert Reich face to face.
Completed an online course, The Science of Happiness. I highly recommend it! You can take it for free, self-paced, starting 1/5/16.
Read 163 books, 70% nonfiction, 50,074 pages (averaging 307 per book).
Listened to complete queue of 22 podcasts.
We started a new habit, Saturday Status Meeting, in which we meet for breakfast and go over our goals every week. This has been so awesome that it’s like Marriage 2.0. My husband blasted through all his goals for the year by the end of March.
I wanted to get a guitar and learn to play as a 40th birthday gift to myself. I changed my mind about this a few months into the year, because I developed a problem with tennis elbow and I was in a lot of pain. That pain is still resolving many months later. I still want to learn to play guitar, and I probably will start within the next few years, whenever I can do it without a repetitive stress injury. Disappointing.
My top financial goal was to pay off my student loan early. This did not happen. I paid $1182 toward it. What happened was that I did not publish the book I had planned. Apparently I have an emotional block about bringing in money, on top of my known issue with finishing projects. My real goal should have been to push through my monetizing block.
I had a physical goal about healing the tendonitis in my ankle and learning what kind of exercises I could do to develop my body more symmetrically. I’ve made progress here. I learned a lot about physical therapy, yoga, the foam roller, and ice massage. I learned a few simple new exercises that have been really helpful. I was able to go on two backpacking trips in the fall, putting a lot of weight on that ankle with no problems. Just as I had started running again, a couple miles a week, I got blisters under my nails (from the hiking), and now I’m working on resolving that. I made a resolution to learn more about anatomy, and I guess I should have been more specific!
I had a goal about working with my grandma on a family history project. That didn’t happen either. I am learning that making resolutions that involve another person’s participation rarely, if ever, works as planned.
I had a goal of changing my relationship with books. I have definitely succeeded with this, although it was much harder and took much longer than I thought. My lifetime romance with the public library seems to be over. The last 3-4 times I went into a bookstore, including POWELL’S BOOKS, I came out empty-handed. I’m still working on reading through my personal collection, which represents maybe 10x more stored reading time than I had thought. I’ve become more interested in my own writing than that of others.
I had a goal of reading and writing more poetry. I succeeded at this, and it was great! I read an average of a poem a day, some of which did nothing for me, some of which lit me up and took my breath away. In December, I discovered the poetry of Mary Oliver, and that alone made this resolution worthwhile. I wrote a few things of my own, mostly doggerel, and that was fun.
I had three ‘stop’ resolutions, all of which I did. The first was to stop bringing home books until I had read everything I already have. I am proud to say that we moved with one fewer bookshelf (about 6’), I have no library books checked out, and I don’t even have a library card in our new city. The second ‘stop’ goal was to stop leaving tissues in my pockets. It seems that as soon as I brought my awareness to the constant problem of shredded tissues in the dryer, I was able to change my habits. The third ‘stop’ goal was to “stop sticking my oar in on no-hope conversations.” That has been huge. Of course it’s also resulted in my spending very little time on Facebook.
I continued to maintain my new goal weight of “healthy weight for my height” according to Google, and now I’m closing in on two years as a size zero. I’ve figured out where I can buy clothes that fit. I’ve also continued to win the battle against night terrors and migraine. I DIDN’T HAVE A SINGLE MIGRAINE IN 2015! January 6 will mark TWO YEARS WITH NO NIGHT TERRORS! It has not escaped my notice that going two years with no migraines and two years with no night terrors both correlate perfectly with being at my goal weight and maintaining our decision to double (then double again) our cruciferous vegetable consumption.
We had a three-year goal horizon for getting patio furniture (after we moved to a new place, which didn’t have a specific timeframe yet). This unexpectedly came about when we rented our new house, and it’s much nicer than the modest vision I had in mind.
Overall, it was a hectic and sad year in many ways. The Grim Reaper has been hanging around and we’ve had a lot of depressing family news. For the first time, we traveled more than we wanted. We moved again, which was a good thing, but it came at a stressful time. I’ve had constant pain from one part of my body or another every day this year. Imagine being grateful that at least you still have all your toenails.
On the other hand, our lives have improved. We love our new neighborhood. Our marriage is stronger. I started this blog, and somehow I seem to have reached a point at which someone in the world is reading it, somewhere, every hour of the day and night. I started my coaching business, and with it, a new income stream. I’ve reached a level of productivity and engagement with my work that I never knew was possible. We’ve been dealing with several very unfortunate things that can’t be controlled, but we’ve managed to shape our world in ways that were in our power to control.
Tomorrow I’m posting about my New Year’s planning process. I’ll include the goals and resolutions I’ve chosen. My hope is that my idiosyncratic, sometimes silly and small-scale goals will make this kind of planning more interesting and lower-stakes for others.
New Year’s Resolutions get an F. Only 45% of Americans usually make resolutions, as opposed to the 38% who absolutely never do, and only 8% are successful at the resolution. I’m part of that 8%, and I’d like to say two things. One, only 5% of applicants to Harvard University are accepted, so at least accomplishing a resolution is more likely than that. Two, EVERYONE IS DOING IT WRONG.
Resolutions are magic. Choosing just one is a reliable indicator of an awareness that something in life could be better, that someone has an outrageous dream or heart’s desire going unheeded, or that something is seriously screwed up and needs attention. Blurting out a resolution on New Year’s Eve is much like standing before the Sorting Hat. It has some very important things to say about character and happiness.
Say I find an old lamp at Goodwill (likely) and when I pick it up, I rub it and a genie floats out (possible)! The genie offers to grant me a wish, or three if I like, or an unlimited amount if only I commit to stating them out loud. What do I do? What do I say? I say wishes are stupid. I say I don’t know what I want. I say I’ll probably screw up somehow and wish for the wrong thing. I say I can’t make wishes because I don’t have the motivation or the willpower. I say I’ve tried making wishes before, and it didn’t work. I say I refuse to make a wish because I know I’ll just let myself down, like I always do. I say I’m fine just the way things are, that I don’t need a wish. I say wishes are for narcissists. I say this is a tough time of year for me.
I look up, and the genie is still there, waiting with the patience of an immortal being for whom time has no meaning whatsoever.
Although I do have a genie who grants infinite wishes, this story isn’t about me. It’s about everyone. We suck at making wishes. We talk ourselves out of them. We go all sour grapes over anything that causes a glint of passion to shine from our hearts. We grow more cynical every year. Not only are we our own naysayers, but we love to be naysayers for others, too. We’re jealous when others succeed at things we are perfectly capable of doing.
The thing is that wishes are good for everyone. Every time I’ve ever coaxed a pure wish from anyone, it has been a very humble, pragmatic wish. People wish to get better jobs, to be debt-free, to be physically stronger, to move to different cities, to travel, to ride horses, to take classes or resume practices of art, dance, and music, to learn foreign languages, to be free of addiction, to get organized. Raise your hand if it bothers you that anyone plans to do any of these things. Okay, you with the raised hand, see me after class. We are always free to make changes, starting with our attitudes, our thoughts, our behaviors, and our words. Most entropy-driven changes are neutral or negative. Conscious choices in the direction of change are positive for the individual, and they also ripple outward, benefitting others.
What is it about resolutions, that they seem so simple, yet we can never seem to pull them off?
What is the wish behind the resolution?
A lot of us wish to lose weight, and we usually screw this up in every way we can devise, many of them involving gym memberships. I’m at my goal weight, a weight I had never experienced since before I reached adult height, and almost everything I ever did to move in this direction was misguided and ineffective. More on that later. The wish behind the resolution to lose weight is a wish for body pride. We’re wishing to feel right inside our skin. Sometimes we’re also wishing to escape critical scrutiny, to ignore health concerns, or to swap lives with a phantom of perfection.
A lot of us wish to get organized, and this can mean many different things. When I first made this wish, what I really wanted was peace of mind. Being organized in the women’s magazines way does not necessarily lead to peace of mind, though. Peace of mind tends to lead to organization more often than the reverse.
The idea here is that it helps to start with the emotional state or mood that we wish to feel. We almost always start with a list of feelings we DO NOT WANT, what we want to wish away. Wishes take space. They push other things out of the way. Passion burns hot. When we focus on what we don’t want, rather than what we do want, it burns away our initiative. It’s like letting the propellant out of a can of whipped cream while there is still cream in there. We have to look toward what we want, and name it, and call it towards ourselves. I wish for love! I wish for confidence! I wish for patience! I wish for friendship! I wish for self-mastery! I wish for peace of mind! I wish to see the fairies!
I’m not here to talk about fairies today, but I can say that if you never look for them, you certainly won’t find any. There is plenty of enchantment in this world to go around.
My recommendation is to start from a place of curiosity. What would it be like to have my wish come true? How would it feel? How would I feel if I were living that reality right now? Who do I know who knows more about this? We turn the knob on an inner door and open that door a crack. Does the door pull inward or push outward? Do the hinges squeak? How much light is coming in?
I finally reached my goal weight because it occurred to me that I didn’t know how it felt to be at that weight, and my curiosity overcame my perceptions that I would somehow be submitting to the patriarchy by doing so. I started keeping a food log while I was on my strict, tear-inducing diet, and then I became curious about micronutrients. Magically, I accidentally managed to cure myself of night terrors and to start sleeping 8-9 hours a night. Resolutions done right can lead to other things falling into place, effortlessly.
So you want to make a resolution and keep it? First, stop being a naysayer. Catch yourself every single time you start a sentence with NO. “No, that won’t work for me.” “No, I tried that.” “No, I heard fifth-hand that that doesn’t work.” Remove the resistance, remove the obstacles, remove anyone who persists in treating your dream with contempt or mean-spirited criticism. Refuse to take “advice” from anyone who hasn’t done the thing and anyone who lacks credentials in that area.
I’ve become more of a believer in the power of New Year’s Resolutions every time I have accomplished one. I don’t always succeed at every resolution the year I make it. FLAT ABS took something like 15 years from the first time I wrote it, and DRINK MORE WATER took longer than that, but once I’ve decided I have a wish worth pursuing, I will eventually get there. What is improving is my skill at researching a problem, my persistence in exhausting multiple approaches, and my ability to devise ways to track metrics that reveal patterns in my behavior. What works usually has nothing to do with what I thought would work. For instance, becoming an endurance athlete made me so thirsty that my chronic dehydration became impossible to maintain, but it never crossed my mind that highly strenuous activity would solve my water problem. I didn’t realize that my sleep problems had at least a dozen different inputs, all of which would have to be addressed independently. Now I understand more about the aggregation of marginal gains and about how all our behaviors interact in a network.
Resolutions can be complicated stuff. Looking for the true wish buried inside can be hard, because sometimes we hide them so deeply that we forget they’re even there. Fortunately, New Year’s Resolutions are one of my greatest passions in life, so I’ll be writing about them all through the month of January. It is my wish that you feel completely smug by this time next year, knowing you have granted your wish to yourself and that you know how it feels to have it.
Screw New Year’s Resolutions. We are all perfect just as we are. Why change? Why change a thing? Let entropy do the work. Let’s make next year just like last year!
By this time next year, I am going to:
Be further in debt
Have less money in savings
Lose at least one more friend via social media
Hold a grudge
Take more things personally
Add body fat
Lose muscle mass
Lose cardio endurance
Have more clutter
Leave more projects incomplete
Keep paying on my storage unit
Spend more total hours watching TV and movies
Spend more total hours playing games
Generally stare at a screen as often as possible
Forget old skills, like playing an instrument or speaking a foreign language
Spend more time consuming than creating
Sleep-procrastinate and be as tired as possible every day
Replace any passion in my life with food
Convince myself that New Year’s Resolutions are for suckers
Try to be more cynical
I have all the motivation and willpower I need to do everything on my list!
The timing of this post is intentional. Many of us would do well to give ourselves at least a small portion of what we give to others. When we take care of ourselves, we are caring for something that is very important to our friends and loved ones: our happiness. Self-improvement always ripples outward to benefit everyone in our midst. Coaching of various types can be a great way to make progress.
I’m a life coach, and there are other disciplines that could be considered coaching. Music and dance instructors, personal trainers, art teachers, therapists, financial planners, and business coaches are some. Working with any mentor helps us to be more receptive to constructive feedback, which can be challenging at first. While most people really are trying to be helpful when they make critical comments, coaches are better versed at getting the point across in a sensitive manner. We’re also more likely to know what we’re talking about! Working with someone whose intention is to help us overcome specific issues and improve specific skills can quickly demonstrate how much better life is with a growth mindset. Everyone can improve at something; the question is, how much?
What it’s really about is living a bigger life. It’s like each of us is a balloon, expanding and floating higher, and more of the world is visible as we rise. (The coach is the one blowing all the hot air!) We never know just how much we can do until we’ve mastered something. It is then that we understand we still have capacity left. Every now and then we have to stop and say, “I’ve reached all the goals that I never thought were possible. Now what?”
When I started running, I was in terrible shape. I had to lie on the floor after my first jaunt (1/3 mile) because I was seeing black spots. My lungs were burning. My husband “ran” with me, and tried to help by suggesting that I pull my shoulders back so my lungs could open more. I swore at him. What I suggested he do is probably not biologically possible. He ran with me for a few months. Then he told me that I was uncoachable. I was so stubborn that I was holding myself back and hurting my own performance. He started doing team sports at four years old, and one of the first things he learned as an athlete was to be receptive to advice. I never had that experience, and it was tough for my ego. I ran hundreds of long, lonely miles and read stacks of running manuals. After a couple of years, I finally started to understand how a sports coach could be helpful – and more so, after I had to work with a physical therapist instead.
If I ever write my memoirs, I shall entitle them, “I Should Have Listened.”
I coach running, because I have the very rare perspective of a novice who became an athlete in middle age after overcoming chronic illness. Most sports trainers are the sort who have been fit and active their entire lives. I’m more like… Teddy Roosevelt. Chronic fatigue is my nemesis. I’m determined to stamp it out wherever I find it.
Clutter clearing is my main focus. It seems that clutter can easily get to a point at which an individual can’t handle it alone. We don’t usually realize where it came from, and we don’t know how to Get Organized. I come to the work with the perspective of a chronically disorganized person. I never understood that I had attention deficit problems until I was an adult. I was already doing clutter work by that point. In some ways, working with clients has given me perspective into my own issues. As with my running, I have strong compassion for this effort. It’s not so much “being organized” as finally having some clarity and peace of mind.
The way I do most of my coaching is through a platform called Coach.me. I do chat-based coaching, which means my clients and I can send each other messages without a time constraint. Sometimes we are online simultaneously, and we can have an in-depth conversation. Other times, we can send each other messages late at night, or early in the morning, and the other can respond whenever it’s convenient. I like the flexibility. It takes the stress out of so many aspects that could derail a coaching relationship:
· Finding someone compatible in your geographical area
· Commuting to my office
· Scheduling appointments
· Getting to appointments on time
· Finding childcare
· Fitting in a solid hour
· Getting a cold
· Making eye contact
· Having to wear pants
· Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera
Anyone can work with me for any length of time. Even the shyest person never has to meet in person, talk to a video camera, or speak on the phone. We can attach photos, which is really helpful in my clutter work, because I can look at a room or wall or closet and read it at a glance. We can postpone or resume at any time, if it feels like it might be best to take a few weeks or months off. Of course, all of these things are true about the Coach.me platform in general. There are many areas of personal coaching beyond where I put my focus. I’d love to see more people working with a coach of some stripe, even if they never feel the need to work with me.
The cost is $14.99 a week. The first week is free, a gift I am happy to offer. That’s true for all Coach.me coaches. With focus, a lot can be accomplished in a short time period, although there’s no need to rush.
Thank you for reading this. The link to my coaching profile is always available on my About page. For convenience, here it is:
December is my month for planning the New Year. It’s a good way for me to stay home and avoid the cold weather, bad traffic, and holiday earworms. I have spent four straight days with the words ‘simply having a wonderful Christmastime’ going through my head on a constant loop. By November 30 I was already heartily sick of jingle bells and anything red, green, or twinkly. Why people are so worked up about Christmas, when they could be hyped up about the New Year instead, is beyond me! The New Year: a fresh start, a built-in milestone, a natural marker for strategic planning, wishing, and dreaming.
There are two parts to developing a vision and forming resolutions. One is to vividly picture what we want in life. What emotions do we want to experience more often or more deeply? What creative projects do we want to bring into being? What do we want in our personal environment? What do we want for our relationships, our bodies, our finances, our moods? What skills do we want to learn? What contributions do we want to make to this world? This side of planning is what I think of as the gas pedal.
The other part of this planning process is what I think of as the brakes. Bad habits. Negative tendencies. Things we want to release or stop doing. Where do we want closure? What do we want to put behind us? What are we tired of doing to ourselves? Where is the fear? Where is the anxiety? Where is the boredom? Where is the depression? What no longer fits? What would we wish away, if all we had to do was to snap our fingers and banish it forever? How are we holding ourselves back?
Coming back to the car analogy, it’s obvious that taking your foot off the brakes can get you farther ahead, faster, than pressing harder on the gas pedal. If you’re parked in the right spot, simply easing off that brake may allow you to coast quite a ways.
I analyzed my eating habits and quit doing the most destructive, ineffective ones. This helped me lose the weight that exercising more and eating more healthy foods did not.
I went on a spending freeze while paying off my consumer debt. This got me to financial solvency more quickly than I was able to start earning a higher income.
I cleared my clutter. This got me to a clean, organized home more quickly than trying to “organize” the excess stuff.
What is a bad habit, exactly? The idea correlates with the concept of sin, this idea that certain activities are BAD and that if we do them, we are BAD PEOPLE. Murder? That’s bad. Don’t murder anyone or that will definitely make you a bad person. You heard it here first. Most things, though, are not particularly moral issues. Morally judging ourselves for our weak spots tends to drain the energy we need to make positive change. It catches us in a loop of fixating on the negative tendency, rather than thinking of positive ways to replace it. We sit and ruminate rather than get up and deal with it in a tangible way.
The most common time we morally judge ourselves is when we are talking about eating goodies or treats. “Ooh, I was BAD.” “Ooh, this is decadent.” We are bad and naughty when we eat stuff we really, really like to taste. THIS NEVER WORKS. Thinking of food and body fat in moral terms is the short route to weird emotional eating patterns. I prefer to think of it in terms of EFFECTIVE and INEFFECTIVE. Did it work, or did it not work? Does it have adequate micronutrients, or does it not have adequate micronutrients? Is it nourishing my body or merely stimulating my tongue? Is it a value-add or is it stressing my organs? Is eating ‘bad’ and ‘naughty’ food the only time I really enjoy myself or feel lit up by life?
Food is just one example of something we turn to as a warped coping strategy. Almost everything we do when we are out of balance or feeling emotionally needy tends to have negative impacts on our lives, both in the short and long term. We WANT. We feel like we NEED. We are empty, numb, bored, sad, lonely, in pain. Sometimes we step outside ourselves and let our bodies or our mouths take over. That’s when we start putting things in our mouths on autopilot; that’s when we let cascades of negative words spill out onto ourselves and others. We can’t seem to pull together the inner resources to control our behaviors, our thoughts, our actions. The aftermath – damaged relationships, mess, financial issues, scary health metrics – can quickly and easily add to the negativity that started the whole process. Downward spiral, here we go.
One problem is thinking of things in moral terms. Another is confusing willpower, motivation, and self-discipline. I’ve written about this many times, and I continue to believe that WILLPOWER AND MOTIVATION DO NOT EXIST. Unicorns, maybe. Willpower, no. Motivation, no. Willpower only lasts for about 15 seconds, exactly long enough to remind oneself to keep one’s mouth shut and not say that destructive thing. It lasts long enough to push away a dish or to stand up or to tie one’s running shoes. Willpower is a pinky finger when what we need is a bicep. Motivation? Give me a break. Motivation is what people think is going on when they watch other people do things that they convinced themselves to do. You may “hate running,” but you’ll give it everything you have if you’re running after a child who is about to step into traffic. We can always find the ‘motivation’ to spend money on things we want to buy, to get up and procure sugar when we want to taste it, to watch shows we want to watch, to play games we want to play. We do an astonishingly efficient job at taking action to do whatever we want, whenever we want. We find the time. What is missing is a story to tell ourselves about wanting other things, things that take discipline and planning and hard work and sometimes sacrifice.
Self-discipline is not sexy. Nobody in my hearing has ever said “I wish I had more self-discipline.” This is because we know that self-discipline involves EFFORT. There may be sweat or blisters involved. When you really put your back into something, it tends to result in awkward facial expressions. I sometimes stick my tongue out or make grunting sounds when I am exerting myself in important ways. There don’t tend to be many selfies taken of people who are doing self-discipline. We put such a negative spin on it, we call it “adulting” and talk freely of how we’d rather spend our lives in our pajamas than “adult.”
Personally, I love adulting. I’m the boss of my life and it pays well. I have a strong marriage because I have the self-discipline not to be rude to my husband when I’m frustrated with stuff. I have the self-discipline to apologize and take ownership when I have been selfish, unfair, inconsiderate, or careless. I have a great credit score because I have been self-disciplined about following a budget and diligent in paying my bills. I have a fit, strong body because I have self-discipline in eating and exercising effectively, putting in the miles and the reps even when I’m “too tired.” I eat more cabbage than ice cream, more broccoli than brownies, more kale than crackers, more Brussels sprouts than bagels. I have a clean, organized house because I do chores every day. I always pick up after myself every time I leave a room, and I set aside the time to clean up after myself each day I work on a project. Self-discipline is a mental habit that becomes stronger with focus and attention, and this self-discipline leads inexorably to better and better results in life.
The fun stuff we do is more fun when we’ve applied self-discipline to it. We have more fun traveling because we are disciplined about how we plan, how we pack, and how we save money. The leftover change from budgeting our expenses on groceries, utility bills, and random small items can add up to impressive amounts over a year; amounts we barely notice wasting each day we definitely notice when they are going toward event tickets or a room upgrade. We can do more fun things with fitter, stronger bodies, such as having the physical capacity to hike to special places or walk the Vegas Strip day and night without getting tired. We avoid annoying each other the majority of the time, because we manage the small details and watch for how our words, actions, and belongings impact one another. Which is better? Waking up fit, solvent, and organized next to someone who likes having you around and finds you attractive? Or waking up in pain and poor health, broke, in debt, in a dirty house, next to someone who is justifiably irritated with you? It’s not genetics or personality or fate that makes the difference here – it’s character, which is largely composed of behavior, which is largely composed of self-discipline or the lack thereof.
Bad habits are things we do that lead to poor outcomes. They are often unexamined tendencies. Even more often, they are our preferred activities. The bad habit that is sucking all the juice out of our lives is often our absolute favorite thing, the very last thing we would ever want to give up. We call on morality again. I’m a good person and I DESERVE JUST THIS ONE THING. We frame it in terms of loss. We can’t bear to contemplate giving it up. We don’t want to say goodbye.
Bad habits can go away on their own, wafting off into the ether when we become consumed with passion for something else. Bad habits often go away when we relocate, get new jobs, or become parents. Contrary to popular belief, the vast majority of substance abusers quit on their own, because they decide to, or because they decide to make some other positive change. It is not just possible, but standard, for someone to have a moment of clarity, to make a decision. ENOUGH OF THAT or I’M DONE or TIME TO DO IT or STOPPING NOW.
Let’s reframe some common ‘bad habits’ and look at what would be desirable instead.
I’m BAD when I overeat or eat the “wrong” things / I want to nourish my body with healing foods.
I watch too much TV or game too much / I want to explore a true, life-consuming passion.
I have an ADDICTIVE PERSONALITY / I am fine and normal and I want some better ideas of things to do.
I have bad taste in romantic partners / I am ready to meet someone wonderful, whom I will love with everything I have, and if I have to wait a while, it will be worth it.
I’m bad with money / I want to explore my natural interest in money and bring in more.
I hate my job / I want to contribute my considerable gifts to an endeavor that inspires me and feels worth it.
I need to “get organized” / I want a home environment that is peaceful and comforting and lives up to my aesthetic standards.
You’re not bad. You’re normal. Bad habits are the norm. The question is, do you want to be ordinary? Ordinary is okay. It’s fine. Your “bad habits” are likely no worse than anyone else’s, unless you are a serial hammer murderer, in which case you have the power to turn yourself in, sell your memoir, and use the royalties to fund a children’s charity or something. All you have to do is to look inside yourself, meet your own eyes, and say, “I am ready for something better.”
There is a lot of crispy brown cardboard in my life right now. I was staring into space, thinking about all the details involved in our latest move, when my gaze settled on one of the boxes in the tower across from me. It has a time estimate printed on it. It says: “Moving – 4 moves. Storage – 10-12 years.”
Let’s talk about this.
First of all, raise your hand if you’ve kept at least one box in its unopened state for four moves or more. Double points if it’s spent any of that time in a storage unit.
Second, do you have any cardboard that has been in your life for “10-12 years” or more?
I have a particular box with a lid that I realize dates back to the second year of my first marriage. That would be 1999, folks. I used to have six of them. It’s an Avon box that one of my coworkers brought over for me as my first husband and I were moving into our third and final home together, not that I knew that then. I guess I’ve kept this box because it’s still structurally sound, it’s small enough that I can carry it even when it’s packed full of heavy stuff, and it has a lid. The realization that I’ve hung onto something that is crawling with DIVORCE COOTIES has just poleaxed me into the Beyond. Of all the stupid things I’ve saved over the years, why a cardboard box, of all things?
The fact that something is stored in a box is a clear, unmistakable signal that that thing is not getting used very often. If that box is taped closed, we can venture that that thing is not getting used ever, at all. Why do we keep things we don’t use?
If the answer to that question were obvious, I’d be out of a job.
It wouldn’t be just me out of a job, either. It would be everyone involved in the $30 billion self-storage industry. It would probably signal the end of a lot of other sectors of the economy. If we never bought anything we didn’t need or use, craft stores would be much smaller, I can tell you that right now. It’s a little chilling to think how many livelihoods depend on our living surrounded by stuff the way we do. Not just buying stuff and using stuff, but cramming it into every nook and cranny, stacking it literally to the ceiling in some cases, strewing it across the floor (in the house and in the car too), and even going so far as to rent extra space off-site to store it where we can’t even look at it.
I work with squalor, hoarding, and compulsive acquisition. The way I am living over these few days of our move is not dissimilar from the way my people live ALL THE TIME. They do this every day. It makes me feel claustrophobic to think about it. Cardboard sucks in a lot of ways: it can attract termites and other insects, it’s a fire hazard, it gets damp and mildewed, it crushes and tears, and it really is not up to the task of trying to preserve our personal archives. I have comforted some very sad people who have realized that their treasures and keepsakes were ruined long ago, when that cardboard exterior had obscured the entropy that was happening inside. Most of all, though, there is that great mystery of why we are willing to live in Box City, among all these cartons and bins and tubs and totes and stacks and piles. It’s dreadful. We’ve spent half our time the past couple of days trying to find common housewares such as water glasses and scissors. I’ve packed logically and labeled carefully, but there is nothing about a stack of boxes that makes life easier.
I want to finish unpacking and bust down these boxes as quickly as possible. It’s annoying to have them there, blocking my way. They look awful. Any time we need something that can’t wait until the box is unpacked, it always seems to be the one on the bottom of the stack, or behind the stack, on the bottom of a different stack. It’s impossible to relax while the darn things are there, mutely accusing us of sloth. Our TV hasn’t been turned on in two weeks, and we had just started a new season of Game of Thrones, if that tells you anything. Mainly, everything in those boxes is a useful thing. Almost all of it at the moment consists of kitchen wares, because this house was undergoing a kitchen remodel that is not yet complete. The best we have been able to do is cook in the microwave and make a taco salad. We need to unpack so we can get back to living a normal life.
It’s funny, or actually it’s really sad, that other people have no trouble at all in living the way we have this week. They can cheerfully sit and watch TV, or play games, five hours a day or more, regardless of how much stuff is stacked around them, because they’re not really using or interacting with it. They may never cook a proper meal at all. As long as the electricity stays on, all they need is somewhere to sit and something for entertainment. (This does tend to imply that most of us could live happily with little more than a bed, a couch, a computer, and a TV). I truly believe that a major factor in our post-1980s clutter crisis was the advent of cable TV and home electronic gaming, followed shortly afterward by the Internet. Box City has some great shows.
Our stuff says a lot about us. If it didn’t, we wouldn’t be interested in it, and we certainly wouldn’t form emotional attachments to it. For instance, if someone sent me a pair of boxing gloves, I would be puzzled, and then I would check to see if it was a mistake. We buy or keep things that speak to us in some way. I now have five boxes of books (it used to be closer to 20), and half of them are cookbooks. That’s my thing. I also have an ukulele, a unicycle, and four hula hoops, none of which, incidentally, fit well in boxes. I don’t have a wine rack, a curling iron, a gaming system, a recliner, or a barbecue. This is an inventory, not a personality assessment, but it does seem that someone could learn a little about me and my life by looking over that inventory.
What do we keep? Why? More importantly, where? Are we stuffing our homes and lives with things we could never possibly use or enjoy? Are we spending money we don’t have and going into debt in order to keep buying and storing more stuff? These are good questions. I’m more interested, though, in how we want to live. How do we want to spend our days? What do we want out of life? How do we want to feel as we experience each day? If the answers to any of these questions have much to do with material possessions at all, is there enough space to use them in the way we have intended? When I spin my hula hoop, and my dog tries to jump in while I’m inside it, that gives both of us (and any onlookers) an experience that transcends the hoop itself. Keeping things is fine, but it’s better when they are actively contributing to our life in some way.
[I lost track of this post during the move, but it still seems worth sharing. I can hardly believe that it was written just two weeks ago! This feels like a proper home now. The kitchen has been fully operational and there are no remaining boxes in the house. The pictures are hung, the closets are organized, and even the garage is done. In another week, we’ll have forgotten the stress of the move. Hopefully that won’t stop us from continuing to release possessions we don’t want to move to our next house, however many years down the road that might be].
Before I ever learned that ‘minimalist’ referred to a lifestyle as well as a design principle, I started hearing about the trend of taking a complete inventory of one’s personal belongings. There seems to be a sort of contest among avowed minimalists as to who can detach from the most things. Surely a monk who owns nothing but a yellow robe and a begging bowl is the all-time winner of this game? (Although the last time I saw a yellow-robed monk, he had a tote bag with a 16-oz plastic bottle of Coke peeking out…)
I have tried taking my own inventory of personal items. It didn’t take long before I realized I should work out a list of must-haves, sort of like the accessories that are stapled to the inside of the display box of a new doll. It’s the middle-aged suburban writer model! She comes with a laptop bag, Scrabble board, battered notebook, parrot carrier, ukulele, and four hula hoops. Wait, that’s the custom version.
What I found during my attempt to devise a minimalist inventory checklist was that everyone who has done this… has cheated! The main cheat is to consider an entire category of objects as a single object, namely: BOOKS. You have got to be kidding me. Books are the heaviest and bulkiest aside from furniture! Of course books count as single items! The other pitfall is CLOTHING. Okay, no. I work with hoarding and compulsive acquisition, and I have only ever had one single client who was an exception to the rule that Clothes Will Take Over All Available Space and Then Some. There is a subcategory of minimalist inventories, and that is the cult of the capsule wardrobe. If they can do it, anyone can. If clothing, shoes, coats, and accessories don’t count as separate, individual items, then there is really no point to the exercise of trying to take the inventory in the first place.
I think I’ve hit on the problem here. I look at my belongings in the context of having to pack, move, and unpack them on a regular basis. Most of the minimalist thought leaders exclude shared or household items, such as furniture, linens, and housewares. That’s legit: it can be a real minefield when one person in a household becomes enamored of minimalism and tries to drag everyone else into it without the proper emotional adjustment period. From a more nomadic perspective, every toothpick, safety pin, and spare button has to count, because all of it has to be tracked, packed, and stacked.
I’ll never win the minimalist inventory game. My “go bag” alone has a few dozen items in it. My backpacking gear fits in a plastic tub, but it also consists of dozens of separate things. I’m not counting my sewing box as “one item” because, well, where does it stop? Do we just limit ourselves to, say, 100 categories? Do we then merge categories to capture everything? How about just calling it “MY STUFF” and leaving it in the singular?
My household consists of my husband, a dog, and a parrot. Hubby is better at minimalism than I am in some ways; I have seen him pack his entire work wardrobe into a single suitcase for a three-week international business trip. My minimalist project makes sense to him, and it supports his career development. We’re in it together. We have to be, as we’ve been married 6 years and we’ve already moved together 5 times. Our focus has been more on downsizing furniture and workout equipment – the big stuff. There is a base level of material goods that makes a comfortable home. We’re still in the process of unpacking from our latest move, and it is astonishing how much space is taken up by the blankets, pillows, soup pots, towels, mops, brooms, and hangers. Even such mundane items as a laundry basket and a dish rack start to add bulk and numbers quickly.
What counts? What doesn’t count? There are a lot of standard household items that we don’t have. We don’t have a barbecue, a roasting pan, a recliner, a wine rack, a second vehicle, a gaming system, holiday decorations, a stereo, a collection of CDs, or, well, actually we don’t even have a couch right now. Many of our ‘things’ are virtual. Do they count? Does it somehow not count that I have a couple dozen e-books, three movies, and hours of podcasts stored on my phone? How about all those digital photos? We are now entering a twilit world where we can be emotionally involved with things that aren’t there, whilst surrounded by physical things we don’t even notice anymore. My response to this has been to try to be more portable.
We are now living in a 728 square foot house that was built in 1939. We love it. It doesn’t feel small at all, perhaps because the ceilings are maybe a foot higher and the ratio of window to wall is higher, too. This place is 53% of the size of our last house. We’re not going to have to get rid of 47% of our stuff, though. The closet rod is 40” long – that’s THREE FEET FOUR INCHES - and all my existing clothes (and two hanging shoe racks) fit on it. We were able to contemplate moving here because we realized that we had a lot of wasted space. Each time we’ve moved, we’ve gotten rid of a certain amount of stuff. Either we had too many redundant spatulas or whatever, a piece of furniture wouldn’t fit the appropriate room, the colors were off, or we realized that time had gone by and we hadn’t been using it. Every time we cull items, we think about our desire to eventually live and work overseas for a few years, which means most of the basic housewares are completely expendable. All our media will eventually be digitized, from books, music, and movies to our few remaining binders and handwritten notes. The important things aren’t things at all. What we want to bring is our marriage, our pets, and our lifestyle.
The core of minimalism is to focus on what is most important in life. We are too prone as a society to focus on shopping and interacting with STUFF. Counting every item in the house is a great way to return our focus to STUFF instead of our loved ones, our values, and living our purpose. What I want to be thinking about are enduring topics like: Can I make my husband belly-laugh today? Can I teach my parrot to whistle any part of the Harry Potter theme? Can my dog learn to jump rope? The idea is to live life. We want to break our cultural addiction to debt, driving, staring at screens, overeating, under-sleeping, and clutter. We want to live within our means. We want to have the strongest relationships possible with all the people we care about. We want to find out just how big life can get. There needs to be room for it. We make space by turning away from material things and turning toward one another.
After Daring Greatly, I would read any of Brené Brown’s books. I was excited to see the appearance of Rising Strong, and it definitely met my expectations. I knew it would be inspirational, moving, and emotionally challenging. I did not know just how much it would get under my skin.
The part that got to me was the chapter on whether we are all doing our best. I have had this exact conversation with several people over the years. I have always been firmly in the camp that OF COURSE we are not all doing our best! I know I very rarely do my best. My particular fixation in other people is when they do what I see as selfish, careless things, like texting and driving, littering, or sticking gum under public chairs and tables. Brown’s exploration of her personal work on this issue stopped me in my tracks, though. She said that the most compassionate and strong people she knows tend to agree that people ARE always doing their best. Then she shared an anecdote in which a friend of hers judged people for something at which she herself “failed,” knowing she had tried every possible recourse, although her friend didn’t know she was judging the person sitting right in front of her.
I want to share a bit about my work. My clients struggle with hoarding, squalor, and chronic disorganization. I know them as unusually sensitive, smart people. I find them incredibly endearing. I know how difficult they find most things that “normal” people find easy. I also know that this particular type of “failure” is judged very harshly by society in general. Disgust is stronger when we think about squalor and hoarding than it is over other contested issues like marital infidelity or addiction. There are multiple TV shows that address it in the most, um, vivid ways. It’s like a train wreck that we can’t stop watching. I get it – I have a strong sense of smell, although fortunately I also have a cast-iron stomach.
Some of why I do what I do is because I’m good at it. It’s my calling. Why this, I’m sure I’ll never know. I work with my people because it’s clear to me what needs to be done. I feel like I also have a real sense of how they think and what emotions are swirling around the room. Chronic disorganization, in particular, is an issue I’ve fought for most of my own life. Things that make sense to other people, things that seem simple and obvious, are not obvious to us. We have to learn what comes naturally to others, in the same way that some people struggle with dyslexia or math skills. How could anyone not have compassion for this? Homemaking isn’t taught in school, and the vast majority of people are not given formal training. Yet we are quick to pile shame on people who are fighting a hard battle.
It’s the shame that pulls us down. Shame spirals are behind squalor and hoarding in the same way that they are behind chronic homelessness. As though the friends and family members of these poor souls haven’t already spent years heaping shame on them, casual bystanders feel the need to join in. I’ve come to believe that it’s one of the favorite activities of all humans: mocking, ridiculing, and humiliating others of whatever group draws our attention. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, People of Walmart, Exhibit A. We love to go off on rants about how people who X are the worst. (Text and drive! *cough*) We love to dish out shame on others, even when we know how much it hurts when others shame us. We don’t see that those who are so critical and contemptuous of us simply see people with our behavior patterns in the same way that we see the people we prefer to shame. It’s a giant daisy chain of people pointing their fingers at each other.
Rising Strong is about a great deal more than shame. What I’ve done has been to discuss the chapter that affected me the most. In sum, it is a powerful book, and one worthy of a close read.
Time passing is marked in so many different ways. We remember major events based on their significance in our lives, and after a few years, we may have to rack our brains to figure out the date. My parents used to ask me how old I was, because my birth was one of their mileposts. We remember what car we were driving, whether we were still in school, who was born, who got married, who was still alive. For me, the main milepost is where I was living. This is the 28th house of my adult life. This time, the move closely corresponds with a new year, which is my other favorite time marker. It makes me think of everything that has changed in my life since the last time we moved.
When we moved into our now-old house, we had had a challenging year. We were coming to roost after three moves in about seven months, with two job changes to boot. We thought we were going to have to move to Alabama, a place thousands of miles from friends and family, where we knew nobody whosoever, on two weeks’ notice. Somehow, miraculously, my husband secured a better job here in Southern California instead. Our heads were still spinning, and I still had my Alabama road trip spreadsheet on my home screen. My stepdaughter had just started her first semester of college, and we were living as empty nesters for the first time in our marriage. We rented the house at the last minute, signing the papers electronically in the car on the way back to our old-old house. Neither of us had ever lived in such a tight rental market before, and we were bewildered by the way that every house we saw for rent was unavailable later the same day the listing was posted. The pace of life had changed in the same way as the speed of freeway traffic.
When we moved in, we had four things on our minds, aside from the matter of our kid’s fresh independence weighing on our hearts.
Losing the extra weight took a bit longer. I had put on 17 pounds in 2013, and my health was in a tailspin. I wasn’t sleeping, I was getting migraines on a weekly basis, and I was having fibromyalgia flare-ups for the first time in over a decade. The stress had caught up to me. I already knew quite well that all my various health issues correlate perfectly with weight gain, and there was nothing in the extra visceral fat that was pleasing or helpful to my life. I could only really fit in two pairs of pants and three shirts, and we couldn’t exactly afford to buy me an entire new wardrobe. I started running again: 38 miles per pound burned. Then I started keeping a food log, and I decided to make “healthy weight for my height” my goal weight. I went on a strict diet for three months. That changed my life. For most of the 2 years since we moved to that house, I have stayed in the 120-125 pound range (I’m 5’4”). I also trained for, and ran, my first marathon. Oh, and I did wind up with a whole new wardrobe, just two sizes smaller instead of two sizes larger.
We came to SoCal in a state of chaos. Our family life had been sundered, we were broke, our truck was on its last legs, our dog seemed to be dying, the movers broke some of our stuff, and we were moving into a dumpy little place down the street from a smoke shop, a massage parlor, and a Popeye’s Chicken franchise. Two years later, everything is different. The new vet put our dog on a new medication regimen for his Addison’s disease, and he’s so frisky at 7 that nobody would ever guess he is ill. I have transformed from an overweight, ill, headachy person to a lean marathoner. My husband got promoted into management. I started my coaching business. Our kid has been getting straight A’s. The old truck died with over 200,000 miles on it, and we replaced it with (don’t laugh) a VW Jetta, just in time for the emissions scandal.
Moving again is exciting. I can only wonder what will happen in our lives in the next two years, or rather, what we will make happen. Last time, we felt that we were at the mercy of fate. This time, we are moving under our own power, a steamship instead of a storm-tossed sailboat. We are “done” with many of the crises that distracted us last time. “Done” with the health problems and the weight gain. “Done” with the high-maintenance old vehicle. “Done” with parenting; she’s 21, independent, and thriving. “Done” with downsizing and streamlining our stuff. The new house was just remodeled and meticulously detailed by our landlord. There’s nothing for us to fix. In the New Year, in this new home, all there is for us to do is to live and to grow into a bigger life.
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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.