I insist on being a heretic and taking New Year's Eve seriously as a magical time for inventing Future Me 2017. This is why I'm sharing my New Year's strategic planning process. The more I refine this process and check in throughout the year, the more I do awesome things and the less often I annoy myself.
The first step is to review the prior year. Where were my pain points? What were the most difficult events, who and what annoyed me the most, what would I gladly erase and forget ever happened? Where were my successes? What went well through pure serendipity? What unplanned awesomeness showed up on my doorstep? Where did I stick to my vision for the year and how did that work out? I want less of the bad (especially if it was my fault) and more of the awesome. For instance, one of the dumbest things I did in 2016 was to get a second-degree sunburn on my legs from uneven sunscreen application. I'm still blotchy five months later. I also pitched my tent on a fire ant nest, so now... now I know what fire ants look like. And feel like. One of the best things that happened was that a monkey jumped on my head, which could have been very not-awesome but which was a serendipitous peak experience.
Next, I want to pick something specific to work on for each area of my life. I define these areas as Personal, Physical, Couples, Home, and Career. 'Personal' includes my end of relationships with my husband, family, and friends, as well as inner growth and fun projects. 'Physical' includes health and fitness. 'Couples' goals are choices that my husband and I agree on together, like going on a trip or expanding the garden. (No fair choosing a "couples" goal and springing it on your partner). 'Home' has to do with both the physical infrastructure of where we live, interior and exterior, and the more abstract areas of routines and systems. 'Career' has to do with my work, income, and further professional development. Most years, one of these areas will be running smoothly and one will be somewhat in the tank. I want to do a little in each area, while putting the majority of my focus where it is needed the most.
I also have bonus areas: A quest, a wish, a lifestyle upgrade, a 'stop' goal, and Do the Obvious.
When I'm done with my planning process, I sum it all up on a slide and put it on my lock screen, where I can see it several times a day. I go back and edit the image whenever I accomplish something, so I can see how close I've come. I do a quarterly review at each solstice and equinox. This has been working really well, and now I'm adding a monthly review period as well. I made some slides with my photography in the background, which was fun, and I love how they look.
This is a summary of my 2016 projects:
Personal: Join Toastmasters and conquer fear of public speaking. SUCCESS+
Career: Order business cards, start newsletter. COMPLETE
Physical: Cross-training, micronutrient blood test, hopefully start running again. SUCCESS
Home: Interior design, plant garden. SUCCESS
Couples: Set a dinnertime, do quarterly review. SUCCESS
Stop goal: Stop beating myself up on stuff, stop rage-crying in TSA secondary screening. SUCCESS
Lifestyle upgrades: Use patio more for meals and writing area. SUCCESS
Do the Obvious: Earn more money. SUCCESS
Quest: Go to World Domination Summit, be a polyglot. SUCCESS
Wish: To make a new friend. SUCCESS
Making ambitious goals can have one of two effects. It can make us try harder, bringing out our inner strivers. Or it can cause us to fall into self-delusion, a trance state of fantasy in which we block out any and all external evidence of reality. When we occasionally snap out of it, we can feel so crushed by the failure of the goal to magically appear that we rewrite our self-image as that of 'loser' or 'failure.' The only things that truly matter are 'works' and 'doesn't work.' 'Action' and 'inaction.' 'Results' and 'no results.' When I give to charity, I'm charitable. When I listen to someone, I'm a good listener. When I eat vegetables, I'm taking care of myself. The human mind can only pretend to believe labels and descriptions without the accompanying behavior for a limited amount of time. Talk the walk, but then make sure to walk the talk.
What I try to do each year is to choose actions that I believe I can and will take, and then judge myself by whether I did take the actions. The results may go beyond what I predicted, or they may fizzle. It's a testing lab and I'm the test subject. If something doesn't turn out as planned, then I have more years to tackle it in other ways, or to change my perception of the issue. Last year, I was ambitious, and this resulted in exceeding my goals. I didn't just crush my fear of public speaking, I started doing stand-up comedy. I didn't just get business cards made and make more money, I started a new business, got a product in stores, and made an agreement with my husband that we would work toward becoming financially independent.
Now it's time to work out what I'll do for 2017.
Personal: My biggest personal area right now is my free-floating schedule. Sometimes I wind up on the elliptical at 11 PM, or writing at 2 AM. This never works out well, because sometimes I find myself still awake at 4 or 5 AM, and then the ubiquitous landscaper sound effects start up at 8 AM. The greatest change in my life right now would probably come from adjusting to more of a set, diurnal schedule. When I ask myself, "What feels the most unnatural, least palatable, that I most resist?" this is that thing. What I resist is most likely where the power is hidden. It worked with running and it worked with my diet and it worked with public speaking. Will it work with a clock?
Career: File papers to create LLC.
Physical: I'm finally healed from two years of ankle injury, open wound, and missing toenail. I CAN RUN AGAIN! I want to complete P90X and run five miles injury-free. I want to run a 50-mile ultra marathon for my 50th birthday and I still have 8 years to train.
Home: It's time to clean out the garage. In this smaller house, it's become obvious that we still have excess stuff we don't use. Time to finish digitizing and minimizing, especially books.
Couples: Go to World Domination Summit for the second time. Find source of pickling cucumbers and can more pickles.
Stop goal: Stop being the last person to pack up my tent. I plan to go backpacking at least twice a year, and no matter whether I'm one of two or one of six, I'm always the last to get ready. I'm pretty sure that this is related to being cold and waiting until the last minute to get out of my sleeping bag, so I'm going to get a second base layer and more hand warmers.
Lifestyle upgrades: In November it will be three years since my last phone upgrade, and I plan to upgrade again. I need to upgrade my worn-out work bag. I also need to fix my tent, since a raccoon tore open a mesh window. (Thanks jerk)
Do the Obvious: Work on my appearance. Now that I've been working on public speaking, I've started to realize that certain circumstances demand preparation. People look different in photographs, on video, and under a spotlight. I've been realizing that one of the major factors holding me back from various pursuits is my extreme reluctance to be captured on film. I even avoid being in pictures with friends and family because I only want to look at them, not myself. I'm going to try to reframe everything about how I think of external appearance, my negativity about fashion and cosmetics, and my perception of others' self-presentation. I'm starting by trying to look at it as a professional costume, something that will help my audience to trust my competence. Do I look like someone who can inspire, inform, and entertain? Do I look like I belong here and that I'm the appropriate person to be doing this job?
Quest: I'm going on a quest to test out every single project, game, or stunt I ever thought I'd do, bought the equipment for, and then put aside. This includes juggling, riding a unicycle, and making my own pasta, among other things. I'm turning 42 in July so I might as well get some RIDICULOUS out of my system. (Or into it). My quest to BE RIDICULOUS should help me to reframe my appearance-related goal as well. I can commit without taking myself too seriously.
Wish: I wish to pay off my student loan.
This is the summary that will go on my lock screen:
Personal: Follow a set schedule
Physical: P90X, run five miles
Home: Digitize, downsize, minimize
Couples: WDS, homemade pickles
Stop goal: Stop being the last person to pack up my tent
Lifestyle upgrades: Phone and work bag, tent
Do the Obvious: Transform my appearance
Quest: BE RIDICULOUS
Wish: Pay off my student loan.
This is a two-parter. At the New Year, I share my annual strategic planning session, and that starts with a review of the previous year. This helps me to figure out where I've been annoying myself (and others) and where I'm being my own obstacle as I set out to do fun and awesome things. It's so easy to go through life on autopilot, where every day feels like yesterday and tomorrow will, too. What did I do today? Get up exhausted, try to multi-task while gasping down uninspiring meals, drive in heavy traffic, stare at my phone a lot, skim through 200 emails, get wound up by something that annoyed me on social media, stay up too late staring at various screens, and finally collapse in bed? 20,000 times?? Is any of that on James Bond's to-do list? I think not. How about Glinda the Good Witch? Nope. Awesomeness takes planning. Both James Bond and Glinda are most likely spending New Year's Eve at white-tie formal parties with superb catering. Maybe they'll meet each other and dance cheek to cheek. This stuff doesn't happen by accident.
So anyway. Here's my year. First I'll share some highlights, and then I'll share where I kept or dropped my resolutions from 2015. Tomorrow I will post my resolutions for 2017.
Started running again!
Got jumped on and hugged by a wild monkey
Visited five countries on two continents, plus whatever category is Gibraltar
Touched a camel
Saw a hoopoe
Did three backpacking trips, including two weeks in Spain
Started a business and got a product onto store shelves (!)
Went to World Domination Summit
Had my first-ever room service
Stayed in a five-star hotel and wore a bikini in the pool
Went to a drive-thru and got vegan cheeseburger, fries, and a strawberry shake. EPIC!
Joined Toastmasters and became a Competent Communicator
Started doing standup improv comedy (!)
Wrote a blog post that was shared on Facebook over 4,000 times
Got a mountain goat selfie
Realized that I can suddenly eat spicy food again without getting a migraine, after 18 years
Found that I can sleep without melatonin, after five years
Learned to make sauerkraut
Noelle started saying a pretty clear 'Good Morning'
Decided to go car-free; now just waiting on the paperwork
Did not pack, unpack, or relocate during an entire calendar year
Digitized all my old writing notebooks
Read through my entire news queue
Read 251 books
Posted on this blog every business day all year
Made my activity goals on 362 days
We had some major disappointments, grief, and struggle this year, one of the toughest since we've been together, so it really helps to focus on the positive.
Personal: My major personal goal was to join Toastmasters and work on my dread of public speaking. I wrote that "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." It did indeed make my legs shake, as recently as November, but I've stuck with it. TOTAL TRANSFORMATION. I won several ribbons, mostly for Best Table Topic, which is an impromptu speech on a topic you don't find out until seconds before your speech. Terrifying, right? Not only did I start getting great feedback, but everyone kept telling me how funny I was and that I seemed like a natural. I was encouraged to try stand-up comedy! I ACTUALLY DID THIS because there are a couple of venues for open-mic improv in my city, and it's gone well. Last New Year's Eve, imagining myself speaking on a microphone under a spotlight in front of a roomful of strangers would have probably made me faint. Just the idea of it. Now I'm like Hey, no problem, tip your waitress. My instinct about resistance is starting to feel true: the more I hate the very idea of something, the more I will get out of it. If I learned to love running and public speaking, what else do I hate and fear right now that could transform into curiosity and passion?
Career: I resolved to get my own business cards for the first time. Then I promptly forgot to bring them to the major networking opportunity of my year, which was World Domination Summit. Duh. I loved how they looked when I first got them. Now I sort of hate them and don't feel like they are relevant to what I'm doing. But I did follow through. I had the goal of expanding my coaching business, and wound up instead making it more exclusive. I had the goal of starting a weekly email newsletter, which I did for a few months, until realizing that my subscribers were in the single digits. I didn't have a clear vision for what the newsletter would offer that would be different from the blog. These are examples of how goals can sometimes be too specific and not always effective for the ultimate purpose, which in my case was to Earn More Money.
Physical: My focus was on experimenting with a cross-training schedule while healing my ankle injury. I can happily report that I have started running again after a two-year hiatus! I worked with a recovery trainer and a shiatsu massage therapist. I learned that some of the exercises I had been doing were exacerbating my problems, which were tightness in certain muscles and weakness in others. What we want is strength and flexibility everywhere. I learned that my issue with constantly banging into stuff is related to proprioception. 'Clumsy' is not my personality. I also resolved to get a micronutrient blood test done. This turned out to cost twice as much as I had thought, and we didn't have enough in our HSA account to cover it. While I won't complete it during 2016, it has been scheduled for January. Lesson learned: Research first, resolution second.
Home: I wanted to learn more about interior design. We wound up acquiring new living room furniture. I realized that my major issue was that the overstuffed bookshelves made an unattractive focal point. Over the course of the year, I got rid of about 2/3 of my books. I also digitized about two feet of notebooks and paper files, making room in the office closet and eliminating more of the visual clutter. Not only does the living room feel more relaxing and homey, but the office is more functional, too. We had another goal, to put in a vegetable garden, which we did. We grew kale, collard greens, basil, parsley, peas, tomatoes, and rosemary. I planned to put in some saffron, but changed my mind based on the product reviews of the saffron corms I could find. Expensive for a dicey experiment. This still interests me, and I'm now on the lookout for a local source as opposed to an internet operation.
Couples stuff: We decided to have a set dinnertime. That basically worked. We've been eating at least an hour earlier, sometimes two hours, than we did in 2015. We've also been cooking fancy breakfasts on the weekend, and sometimes lunches too. We were going to do quarterly reviews of our goals. That turned into a 'me' thing, because my husband is a do-er and whenever he makes a goal, he just instantly crushes it. We have continued to have our weekend status meetings, so we're tracking our mutual bureaucratic stuff far more often than quarterly. We were talking about ballroom dance lessons, if my ankle behaved, which it did not. Only now that it's December do I feel like this would be plausible. We were swing dancing at the store earlier this week, though.
'Stop' goals: I had a goal to "Stop beating myself up on stuff." I had been pinching my fingers and bruising myself on the furniture. I knew this was something I could figure out, and I was right. Proprioception. Yoga is helping. I also had a stop goal to "stop rage-crying when I go through TSA secondary screening." I flew more than usual this year, and the ONLY time I got picked for secondary screening was in Germany, due to my boots. The last time I flew? Get this. The agent played Simon Says with me! I think I'm over it. It makes me wonder more about the Law of Attraction and how much I was creating my own tense experiences through my focus on negativity.
Lifestyle upgrades: We were going to spend more time eating on the patio, and I was planning to use it as my new writing spot.That worked out really well on the days when it wasn't already too hot by 9 AM. Noelle my parrot loves it so much that she resists going back inside, which is great incentive to get us out there.
Do the Obvious: "The most obvious thing for me to do right now is to focus on my business and start earning more money." I wound up going into business with a close friend, and within weeks we actually got a product onto store shelves! There was nothing obvious whatsoever about that course of action during the first 3/4 of the year. However, without my focus on the topic, our ideas never would have converged or become what they are now, which is a formal entity. Again, this is an area where resistance is the real problem.
A quest: We went to World Domination Summit, which completely changed our lives and our relationship. We talk about it constantly. Now, one of our big motivators is to "have this done before WDS next year." I had wanted to go to a Polyglot Gathering, which I knew I wouldn't be able to do in 2016, and I was hoping to do a language exchange as consolation. This turned into speaking German with a German in Germany and French with a French person in France. In Spain, I was able to buy train tickets in Spanish, and we got to the correct destination! This experience completely revolutionized all of my ideas about language study. I need to spend 80% of my study time on active listening and bureaucrat-speak, dealing with pragmatic transactions. "Conversation" is usually going to be about getting something done, such as booking a tour. I now feel much more competent, yet also much more ignorant!
A wish: I wished to make a new friend in 2016. One summer day, I was walking to the library, when I ran into an acquaintance from Toastmasters. He saw me and said, "Hello, friend!" I about fell over. Not only did I make several new friends, I deepened an existing friendship. On the other hand, I basically fell off the radar of social media.
It looks and feels to me as though I followed through on every single thing I planned for 2016, with the exception of planting any saffron corms. I'm willing to throw that particular item under the bus in exchange for the major stuff that did go well. This was a painful, sad, exhausting year for us, for several reasons, but somehow having goals to focus on was really helpful and effective.
Only 8% of people who make formal New Year's Resolutions actually keep them. If that sounds terrible to you, crunch the numbers. It represents about 11 MILLION PEOPLE, more than the entire population of Los Angeles County. About the same number of people are kicking butt at New Year's as the amount who watch the Emmys or Monday Night Football. If you have been sitting around believing all the pop culture naysaying about how "ner-nuh-ner, resolutions don't work, myeh-myeh-myeh," then you're certainly not listening to anyone in the 8%. It's like you want to take an art class, but the instructor is all, "you guys suck, why bother, just snap your paintbrushes and head back out the door. It'll never work."
Never believe anyone who says something will never work, unless of course they're explaining why you should not get sucked into multi-level marketing.
I've been making written resolutions since I was 10, most of which I kept. I haven't kept every single one of them, or at least I haven't done all of them in the first year I wrote them down. I have, however, learned a lot about how to make resolutions that I ACTUALLY WANT. Resolutions are the best way I know to figure out awesome things to do and then to do them.
The first thing to know is that you can basically write off January as a free period. What everyone does is to start out on New Year's Eve with this terrific motivational charge. Fresh slate! I am now going to do everything perfectly for the rest of my life! Then we wake up late on the morning of January First, exhausted and crusty from staying up too late, and the only perfection we feel is the feeling of PERFECT FAILURE. This is the primal New Year's mistake. True, it does feel great to do something awesome on the first day of the New Year, and if you have the energy, definitely do it. This is a great day to play with a new musical instrument or art supplies, to crack open a new journal, start a new book, try a new recipe, or do a foreign language lesson. If your resolution feels like giving yourself a gift, great. If it feels overwhelming and scary, 1. You wrote it wrong and 2. You think you're supposed to do a whole year's worth of change in one day. All of January is just for exploring the new idea, playing around with it.
I put my resolutions in multiple categories. A quest, a wish, a lifestyle upgrade, Do the Obvious, and a 'stop' goal. What I'm trying to do is to take the initiative to make my life better in certain positive ways, and also by stopping anything negative I'm doing. One foot on the gas, the other foot off the brake. Taking your foot off the brake can get you going faster than anything else. On the other... foot?... if you don't have your foot on either the brake OR the gas, you're just sitting there in a parking lot. That's why I try to have a long list of fun, interesting, positive things and a short list of negatives for the year.
Resolutions and goals work together, and they work best when they are pointed toward a specific vision. Let's say I want to learn to play guitar. My vision needs to be clear. Acoustic or electric? What kind of music do I want to play? Am I seeing myself performing, or just sitting on my bed? Do I want to sing too? Do I want to be in a band? Thinking out the details of this half-formed desire might make me realize, hey, it would be cool to already know how to play guitar, but in reality, I don't want it enough to follow through. Maybe I'll just listen to more guitar music. If I think about giving up this vision and I feel a rush of regret, I can push forward. My goals might be: choose and buy a guitar; choose a beginner piece to learn; schedule practice time a couple of days a week. My resolutions might be to display the guitar in an impossible-to-miss spot, like next to my couch, and to touch it every day. Ultimately, what I'm trying to do is to remake my image of myself into that of Someone Who Plays Guitar. I'm creating a new identity. Presumably what Someone Who Plays Guitar means to me would change each year, as I got better at it. My resolutions of keeping the guitar readily available and touching it every day might eventually look more like my carrying it around to parties or gigs.
Here are some examples of the different categories of New Year's Awesomeness:
Quests: Visit every country in the world; ride a unicycle from Seattle to Portland; run a marathon on every continent; meet your favorite celebrity; raise $10,000 for a charity; something so personal that every single person who hears about it thinks it's bonkers
Wishes: Friendship, true love, healing. I wished for a parrot and I got Noelie. This year I wished for vegan candy corn and I got that, too. If you are still cynical in your heart, skip this part, because your main wish will always be to protect your cynicism, and it will override anything else.
Lifestyle upgrades: A new pillow, getting your teeth fixed, getting an extra hour of sleep every night, packing a fancy sack lunch for yourself, learning to download podcasts, carrying a smaller/lighter daily bag
Do the Obvious: Get a job. Break up with that selfish jerk. Move out. Clean up this mess. Cut back on caffeine. Go to bed already. Pay off your debt. Throw your TV out the window. Clear out your storage unit. Delete that app.
'Stop' goals: Stop texting and driving. Stop biting your nails. Stop being a gossip. Stop snacking at night. Stop wearing hurty shoes. This is the type of goal that most people think of when they think of a New Year's Resolution, and this is also why we usually fail. 'Stop' goals only work when we realize we have been annoying ourselves and we are beyond disgusted and frustrated with our own behavior. This is not who I am anymore. I'm so done.
Sometimes something awesome occurs to me and I realize that it would be great for a different year. It's important not to over-commit. If you're pregnant and finishing grad school, that's plenty to be going on with! We overestimate how much we can do in one year, while seriously underestimating how much we can do in three years. What we're trying to do is to create a Future Self, and that takes tremendous compassion, because Future Self is already tired of cleaning up after us and paying off our debts. We want Future Self to have an easier and yet more interesting life than we do today.
Stuff I have successfully done due to my New Year's Resolution process: learn to raise one eyebrow, learn to make a decent pancake, learn to dance the merengue, run a marathon, get to the healthy weight for my height, have a conversation in a foreign language, learn to play ukulele, get my drivers license. This year my big one was to join Toastmasters and get over my fear of public speaking. It worked. Resolutions DO work if you yearn for them, if you believe they will make your life more fun, if you want them to come true, and if you know how to do it.
The closer we get to the New Year, the more wound up I get. This is partly because I'm a summer person, and I need things to do during the dreary, cold, wet, dark days of winter. I'd rather do house-related projects now so that when summer comes back, we can take off for the beach. Another factor is that when we receive gifts, sometimes space needs to be created so they have somewhere to go. One of the things I do in the last week of the year is a perimeter check of my house, garage, and yard. It's part of my closing of the metaphorical books for the year.
My dog Spike is an American Rat Terrier. That's a "vigilant" breed. It means he barks when someone comes to the door, sure. It also means that he gets up periodically and checks around the back yard. He cruises around every room of the house at least once a day, even in the dark. This is part of how he finds every single crumb of bird kibble that hits the floor, and eats it, even if it's basically microscopic and burns more calories to find than it contains. It's his job. I call him Roomba Two. In his doggy brain, two or three minutes of snuffling and looking around helps to ensure that all is well in our world. No wolves, no pumas, no hidden dog treats. Okay then. At least once a year, I can be like my little buddy Spike and check all the nooks and crannies. In fact, he always goes with me, because you never know when a bucket of racquetballs might pop out.
My goal is to glance at every single item in our home for at least a nanosecond. I'm just walking around, opening cabinets and drawers and looking at what's in them. I'm going for a big picture, negative space kind of scan. What stands out? Is there a creak? Is a drawer or a door sticking? Am I seeing sawdust or a water leak or cobwebs or a trail of insects or a forgotten bag of moldy potatoes? When I open a door, does a scary smell waft out? Does this area look orderly or messy? Would I be comfortable sharing a photo of it or would I want to manipulate the scene a bit first?
I do like to clean the entire house top to bottom before the New Year, partly for good luck, but mostly so that I can lounge around and be a total hedonist on New Year's Day. 1/1 is just for fun! The perimeter check is done before the cleaning, in case I spot something that needs extra work or in case I spill something.
One room per day is plenty. There's no hurry. Since I do this exercise at least once a year, there's never really all that much to do. I keep in mind that I've already moved something like 28 times as an adult, and that anything I get rid of now means one less box to move next time. You're welcome, Future Me.
I look around the living room, asking myself whether any of the furniture or artwork has had its day. Right now there is a compatibility issue with the Roomba and our one end table, and I make a note to figure out how to raise the legs a quarter inch. I look at the books and DVDs and ask whether we are going to consume them or whether they've passed their use-by date.
I go into the bathroom, looking at all the bottles in the shower and asking whether they are getting used. I look at everything in the medicine cabinet, checking expiration dates, since I know someone who was hospitalized from expired anti-inflammatories once. I crouch down and open the cabinet under the sink, looking at all the cleansers and asking whether I use them all. Are we running low on anything? I throw out the old sponge. I open the drawers and look over all my little travel bottles, throwing away stretched-out hair elastics and broken hair clips.
I go into the bedroom. I open the closet and start with the top shelf. Am I wearing all these clothes? The end of a season is the best time to purge the past season's clothes. I ask myself whether I really think I'll be wearing these sundresses, tank tops, shorts, and sandals next summer. Three years is about the amount of wear I tend to get out of clothes before they start getting threadbare. My closet rod is only four feet long, so there's a constant process of examining what's on the hangers and making it fight for its place. My real problem area is with my collection of athletic shoes. I am really tough on shoes, since I walk three to six miles a day, even in Vegas when I'm wearing rhinestone heels. It's hard for me to say goodbye to my running shoes or hiking boots even when layers of the soles have worn off and you can almost poke your finger through them. Like other people, I keep things in my bedroom closet that are not clothes, such as my yoga mat and my race medals. I force myself every year to look at these objects and consider whether they are still relevant to my life. For instance, there's a buckwheat travel pillow in there that I really don't use.
I go into the office. Out of all the rooms in our house, this is the most stuff-saturated. Most of what's in here represents information, and it can be hard to assess and make decisions. Two bookshelves! A box of paper files! Our desktop computer is nearly eight years old, and the peripherals are, too. We're considering all our storage media, like CDs, thumb drives, and the external hard drive, and imagining what we're likely to be using in another eight years. Most likely it will all be cloud storage. I've been scanning my paper files and notebooks all year. Still, this room is a complicated one. Since we share the desktop and the file box, we'll spend a few hours together going through everything and deleting or shredding as needed. I see that I'm close to being able to downsize one bookcase, and I plan to do that at our next move.
I go into the kitchen. This is complicated in different ways than the office. Not so much information in here, but I love to cook and I was once obsessed with obtaining every possible kitchen gadget and small appliance. I even have a restaurant-grade French fry cutter. There are two areas to assess: the food and the utensils. I try to have everything in the fridge and freezer consumed by New Year's Eve so that we can start the New Year with a totally clean fridge. Nothing scary left over from who knows when. Right now there are three bottles of salad dressing, a jar and a half of capers, and two jars of mustard, so this should be interesting! I'm also looking at everything in the pantry and targeting anything that is almost used up. I plan recipes around these ingredients. Again, I want to make sure we're getting our money's worth out of what we spend on groceries, and that we're not wasting food. Overbuying is wasting.
I go out to the garage. I want to turn right around and go out again. I have a resolution to clear up the garage in 2017, and I want to keep this fresh in my mind. A job of great magnitude! It's not that bad, not really. We can and do actually use the workbench, and I work out on the elliptical out here several days a week. But there are a half-dozen storage shelves full of stuff we rarely or never use. It's time to process it and figure out whether we're really going to keep hauling it around for another eight years. It's about two orders of magnitude bigger than the old desktop computer, so this is a decision with impact. It's also a huge favor we can do for Future Us. The next time we move, we'll be high-fiving and laughing.
We'll go through our earthquake supplies together. Time to swap out the water jugs and rotate the emergency food in our go bags.
I look around the front and back yard. Uh-oh, the leaves on the rose bush are turning yellow. I'm looking for anything out of place or anything that is not turning out to be as weather-proof as I might have thought. I also like to look at all the windows and the fence and see if anything is going on. We're renters, but I still like including the structure and landscaping in my perimeter check. It helps me to feel like I have an accurate mental picture of where we live. Any surprises in our life should not be coming from the house itself.
One thing I pick up from my perimeter check is that I'm really a pretty good housekeeper. Even my baseboards are dusted. "Clean the entire house top to bottom" is going to be a matter of about two hours, and that's the once-yearly deep clean. The main thing I'm noticing is how many of our belongings really represent a data stream, such as books and CDs, that can now be digitized. How much of our stuff is useful and how much is just there because we don't really notice it anymore? How much more do we really need than a soup pot, a couch, and wi-fi? Does our home environment reflect the way we actually live, the way we wish we lived, or both?
Maybe it's heartless to post something like this right after a major gift-exchange holiday. It's true, though. Not everyone loves every gift every year. When we're under pressure to come up with a gift for a specific occasion, "it's the thought that counts," not the relevance of that gift to the person's life. The gift itself might be great, something that someone else would find delightful. It's like dating. It's not you, it's me. I'm sure you'll find a forever home someday, and I wish you all the best. The simple fact is that there's only room in my home for one of you, and I already have one. Fly free, unwanted gift, fly free.
The day after Christmas was always depressing to me. All the anticipation gone. All the wrapping paper crumpled up in a ball. Pine needles falling off the tree, which was soon to be dragged out and discarded. Nothing but terrible weather. That's when I started fixating on New Year's Eve as my favorite holiday. Now THERE is something to look forward to! A new year full of exciting resolutions to try out. That was before I knew about White Elephant parties.
A giveaway party doesn't have to be arranged like a White Elephant party, but it can be. For those who haven't done it, this is how it works: Everyone brings a wrapped item. The items are put out on a table or piled in the middle of the floor. Each person takes turns choosing one item and unwrapping it. They can choose either to keep the item or swap it for someone else's item. (The first person just waits, since they won't know what any of the other "gifts" are). The point of the White Elephant is that they're supposed to be so awful, silly, or useless that nobody would want them - but someone almost always does. I went to a White Elephant work function once that included a brass fireplace screen shaped like a peacock, and it must have changed hands eight times. I went to a family version and came away with an amaryllis bulb in a pot, which I couldn't believe someone would give away! Apparently it was a good gift, because my neighbors stole it off the porch a few months later when they moved. Gifts are made to be given - over and over again, sometimes.
A less structured way to do a giveaway party is just to bring as many items as you feel like, and everyone else can, too. With friends, this can include items that couldn't be donated, such as partial bottles of beauty products like shampoo, lotion, or nail polish. There could even be a potluck with items like opened jars of mustard or salad dressing that didn't turn out to be your new favorite. I brought a box of random trinkets to a gathering once, and my friends couldn't believe I would just give this stuff away. They took 90% of it, and I donated the rest to charity. I occasionally receive bottles of alcohol (I don't drink) or boxes of chocolates (I don't eat dairy), and one can imagine how eagerly these are received.
Another version of a giveaway party is called a "Naked Lady" party. These are specifically for clothes and accessories. The idea here is to arrange to trade with people you don't already know, such as coworkers, whom you don't want to see you wearing their outfits. Friends and acquaintances of friends and acquaintances. The gal you just met at the coffee shop. "Hey girl, I like your style, please come to our clothing swap!" Just bring everything from your closet that you don't want to wear anymore. Everyone dives into the pile and plays dress-up, modeling outfits for one another. It's fun to see your old favorites turn into someone else's new favorites. This can work particularly well if there are at least a couple of participants who have changed clothing sizes.
A housewarming for a young person, or for someone who has "lost everything," can be another occasion for a giveaway party. Most people have extra kitchen supplies, linens, tools, lamps, blankets, and even furniture hanging around. We'd never "just get rid of it," but when we feel touched by someone else's bare, non-functional home, we suddenly realize that they could make better use of our extra supplies than we can. Shortly after my husband and I got married, we were informed of a newly formed household of men in transition. They didn't have a single stick, not so much as a spatula or a set of pot holders. We went through our kitchen, realized that we had as many as four versions of everything, and quickly came up with several boxes. Enough to outfit a complete kitchen, complete with pots and pans. We've never once missed any of those things, and in fact we downsized our kitchen four additional times after that. We have to remind ourselves that broke people will be searching thrift stores for these items, too, and we don't have to wait for announcements of the perfect personal acquaintance in need. The point is to focus on how very, very much we already have, and how much of it is more than we need.
Giving things away can sometimes feel disappointing and sad. We feel that we're Getting Rid Of Things. We don't tend to feel that way when we're eating food that will never exist again, or taking out smelly trash, or cleaning out our scary refrigerators. Things are made to come and go. We can't wear baby shoes anymore, and we usually don't want to wear the same favorite shirts or pajamas we loved in kindergarten. We understand that there's a time and a place. We might tell a child, not that we're Getting Rid Of a crib, but that "You're getting a big boy bed!" Yay! When we let things go, we're giving someone else a chance to make use of them. We're also freeing up space for new things to come into our lives. Goodbye old socks, hello fabulously comfortable new socks! Goodbye book I already read, hello new book that will surprise and delight me!
After holidays, when we are faced with a collection of unwanted gifts we can't use, we can focus on the thoughts that counted. People took time out of their schedules to think of us. In some of these cases, we can build stronger relationships by sharing more of ourselves, learning more about the people who could be closer to us, and finding ways to exchange more meaningful or useful gifts. In others, it's better to keep it cordial. When we receive generic, impersonal gifts, we can think, "Ooh, perfect, now I have something to bring to the White Elephant party!" Perhaps one day this will be as much of a trend as an Ugly Sweater party. We can all acknowledge that traditions change, and try to make something fun and silly out of what used to feel like expensive duty and obligation.
Jason Navallo's book, American Dream: Interviews with Industry-Leading Professionals, is an ideal inspirational read for the ambitious person who is looking for direction. Due to the interview format, the book takes on a conversational tone. The industry-leading professionals selected are not household names, just a diverse group of people in various fields who happen to be multi-millionaires through their own effort. It starts to seem as though any ordinary person really could create a successful career out of modest beginnings. All it takes is an idea and the will to succeed.
A part of American Dream that I found compelling was the question, "Do you believe in the Law of Attraction?" The six people featured all gave very different answers. In this way, success is like longevity. There's more than one way to achieve it. What these successful people do have in common is that they've clearly spent a lot of time thinking about it and planning around it. In some ways, some individuals agree that there was a certain amount of luck involved in what they are doing, but that has mostly to do with choosing a field. In all cases, they most likely would have worked just as hard at anything they had chosen.
There are many parts to the entrepreneurial mindset. Reading a collection of interviews like this helps to make the commonalities stand out. Thinking like an entrepreneur is a mental skill set. You're looking for opportunities that others have missed. You're looking for something you can create that customers may not even realize they want yet. You're finding ways to get financing when the banks tell you no. You're building different kinds of networks and relationships outside of the traditional business community, because they don't understand what you're doing yet. You have a personal connection to your enterprise, and you feel sure that nobody else can supply this need to the market in the way that you can. You're so obsessed with doing the best possible job that you work around the clock for years on end if necessary.
American Dream was a really inspiring and fascinating book. It made me feel that I have at least one idea that has the potential to turn into a solid business. It also made me feel that if I do this thing, I could potentially create hundreds of jobs for other people. There is a lot of power in this idea, that anyone with the dedication can learn how to start and run a successful business. Read it, share it with your spouse, and give it to your ambitious young people.
Imagine waking up one morning, a la Freaky Friday, in a totally different life and a noticeably different body. What if you were you, only with no problems? You had no chronic pain and all your blood work checked out, which you intuitively felt it would, since your body felt strangely vigorous. Not only did you have no debts, but your bank balance showed a number you thought would have to be a mistake because it was much too high. As you checked out your weirdly new muscle definition, you couldn't help but notice that your surroundings were beautiful, orderly, clean, and welcoming. Then you checked your phone and had a bunch of sweet texts from your family and friends.
What would you do with yourself?
What would you worry about?
(If you're a chronic worrier, you'll quickly find something. I'd list a bunch of examples, but I wouldn't want to include one that hadn't occurred to you yet).
If you suddenly found that you could power-lift enough weight to set a new world record... would you go off and do it?
If you suddenly found that you were a multi-millionaire, would you set up a foundation to correct that tough world problem that has always broken your heart?
If you suddenly found forgiveness from and for everyone you'd ever encountered awkwardly, what would you do then?
If you were selected to test out a new cleaning robot that went around making your house immaculate, would you use it?
I've been somewhat obsessed with this idea lately. What if you had no problems? What if I had no problems? What if they had no problems? Would we collectively re-create some or all of our problems? Would we create brand-new problems never before seen, just for something to do? Would we have a giant block party, times a million?
Would we recognize ourselves?
Would we like ourselves?
I suspect that many of us, certainly including myself, derive our identities from our problems. This has come to my attention because I've changed so much over the years, in so many areas, due to my penchant for Fact-Finding Missions.
I paid off all my consumer debt well over a decade ago. Yet I still have to talk myself into buying things for myself, such as new socks. I know with absolute certainty that Past Me would think of Present Me as wealthy, but it doesn't feel like it fits.
I lost all my excess body fat three years ago, and I've had no trouble maintaining the "healthy weight for my height" now that I know how to do it. Yet it's still sometimes hard for me to adjust to how other women sometimes react to my presence. I see myself as an unthreatening nerd, but I guess I don't look like one as much anymore. Someone close to me lost a significant amount of weight years ago, then promptly gained it back because she didn't like any of the clothing styles available in her newly smaller size.
It seems that one of the things that holds us back from making change is contempt for People Like That. I'd love to be debt-free, but, ugh! Rich People! It would be nice to be able to fit into my old favorite clothes again, but I don't want to go farther than that because Skinny Bitches. Maybe life would be easier if I get organized, but Dull Women Have Clean Houses. I can only go so far down this path, but no farther, because the people a mile further down are too gross for words. You can't sit at our table.
It can really mess with your mind when you look up and realize that you have, indeed, become one of Those People.
I used to hate it whenever I saw someone jogging in place at a stoplight. Oh, SHUT UP! I would say. I would go on rants about it. I knew with certainty that these people were showing off, looking for attention, and that they had no other thoughts in their shallow little brains than whether they had chosen the right shade of neon Lycra to best show off their vain little bodies. Men and women both. Mm hmm. I'm clairvoyant and I can read everyone's minds. Look out, you might be next. Then I sort of accidentally fell in love with running. One day I BECAME That Person who jogs in place at a stoplight. I had to admit to myself that I had been wrong. The only reason I did that thing I so hated was because I knew that if I quit for even one minute, I'd probably quit running for the day, and possibly quit running for the ever. I ran for my health and I didn't give a care whether other people glared daggers at me. I did care a bit when they shouted abuse at me from car windows, but not enough to quit. When I turned 40, I gave myself permission to do whatever I want, as long as it's harmless, and to stop noticing other people's reactions. They as well have my permission to do what they want, even if it includes judging me.
If your only problem is what other people think, then in reality you have no problems.
One benefit of the No Problems thinking exercise is that it can speed up our work on our existing problems. Curiosity can move mountains. What will I do with my newly beautified space once it's cleaned up? Make art? What will I do with my money after this debt is laid to rest? Go on vacation, save for a house, start a business, or invest it? What charity will I choose? What will I do with my awesomely strong body once I reach my goal weight? Run a 5k? Learn to swim? Climb a rope? Taunt my siblings? (Never underestimate the motivating power of the desire to taunt one's siblings).
It's easy to find hundreds or thousands of examples of other people in our situation who have reached our goal before we did. Plenty of people have paid off over $10,000 of debt in a year or lost a hundred pounds in a year. I've worked with clutter clients and cleared an entire house of many years' accumulation in a long weekend (although squalor takes longer). The first step is to feel sick of the previous situation, to feel that This is Not Me and that I Want More For Myself Than This. The second step is to visualize yourself in dramatically unfamiliar form, having achieved the goal, and to find some excitement for the truth in that image. All that's left after that is action and adjustment.
New Year's is coming. This, as far as I'm concerned, is the most wonderful time of the year. There's just that big red-and-green speed bump to get over. I've already written my New Year's Resolutions because I couldn't help myself. As with every year, one of my areas of focus is physical fitness. It was that way when I was obese and out of shape and had no idea what I was doing. It was that way when I was fumbling around, trying to learn how to think and act and live like an athlete. It's that way now, when I'm confident about my strength and abilities and ab definition. My goals and resolutions about my body have been different over the years, but the one thing that has stayed the same is that I've always taken my physical needs seriously.
One way to know that there is a hidden source of power in your life is when you find yourself acting like a defense lawyer about it. Whatever you're defending is something you know you've outgrown in yourself. Imagine being an adult and trying to wear your baby shoes. Not happening. Why would anyone want to hang on to past versions of oneself from younger, more immature ages? Simply move in the direction of the resistance. The power that will be unleashed is like the eruption of a subglacial volcano.
For some of us, the resistance will be found around an expired personal relationship. For others, it will be around a safe but annoying job. For others, it will be around a substance addiction, and bless you if that's you. Enough of that now, it's time to live. For most of us, the resistance will be around body image. It's an American problem. Two-thirds of women and almost three-quarters of men in the US are overweight. I've traveled over four continents now, in nine countries, and the one thing that's clear is that everyone can always spot the Americans. There's something different about the way we do things here, and we can have a lot of discussions about what that might be. The upshot is that what has happened to us is not genetic, it's not fate, it's not a natural result of aging, and it has nothing to do with becoming a parent. That means that it is within our sphere of influence. What we resist persists, so desist and feel blissed.
(I just made that up!)
I chose to start running because it was the worst thing I could think of. I had an ulterior motive, which was to encourage my husband to work out, and I knew I would get his attention by doing something extreme. I asked him to help me. He would do anything to help me, of course, and when I couldn't even make it 1/3 of a mile, it was clear just how much I needed him. (Not sure if it would have occurred to him that I wouldn't "need" him in that way if I simply stayed on the couch with my head in a book). I didn't love running but I did love my man. I knew I had the grit to sacrifice my own comfort if I thought it would benefit him. The joke was on me, because I fell in love with running, and I didn't even make it four years before I finished a marathon.
Then I took two years off while recuperating from a series of sports-related injuries.
Now I'm getting up to speed again. I have the mentality of a marathon runner and the cardio endurance of a beginner. I went out last week and managed to make it barely over a mile. I got a stitch in my side. I was pleasantly surprised with my pace, but saddened that I probably couldn't even make it through a 5k right now, even if my family was watching. During marathon training, I never bothered with a distance shorter than four miles. I ran at least four to six miles even in 90 F heat. It's tough on the ego to feel like you're struggling to handle something which in the past wouldn't have been worth the effort of lacing your shoes.
As a grown-up, I realize that I need to respect my limits. This is part of why a middle-aged person can always out-distance people in their teens and twenties. Kids have no idea how to pace themselves. They'll sprint as hard as they can until they have to walk, then start sprinting again, and then fall back. I've been passed by people half my age dozens of times, only to pass them again and leave them behind by the halfway point. Meanwhile, I'm getting left in the dust by someone twice my age. I've seen octogenarians crush me running up a steep hill, unfortunately more than once. I love it, though. It gives me something to look forward to. One day I'll be a little old babushka thumbing my nose at all those forty-year-olds trudging behind me.
Choosing a body-related goal means including the beginner level. If we're trying to get back a fitness level we had in the past, it also means including things we might find boring or embarrassing. It's hard on the old pride. It's hard to tip over in yoga and it's hard to have the instructor come and work out next to you in step aerobics because you keep getting on the wrong foot. It's hard being stuck behind an eight-year-old child in a 5k. (Sharing all my secrets here). Just like any game, though, the challenge rounds are more interesting. That's why we play. The resistance that we beat when we reshape our bodies is the same resistance that holds us back in every other part of life. We have to remind ourselves why we're doing it: A better life for Future Self while we're still young and strong enough to make it happen.
Clutter comes from somewhere. At some point, a building stands empty. Then occupants move in, and with them, their stuff. Then they carry more stuff in. At a certain point, if more flows in than flows out, the house becomes cluttered. Understanding stuff as an energy current is the first step to eliminating clutter. One in, one out, rather than one in, none out. Or worse: many in, none out.
In a house like a steel trap, almost everything that goes in the door is never coming out again. This includes things that other households would treat as compost, recycling, or trash. The most interesting thing to me about working with clutter and hoarding is that the root cause is different for every household. Completely different personalities, life stories, and emotional atmosphere, yet visually similar results. It's when we get into the reasons behind the clutter that we start figuring out where it came from.
The trap metaphor suggests that someone purposely set out to attract and keep clutter. That's definitely true, and these are the hardest cases to help. People without more advanced financial knowledge can become hooked on the idea that personal belongings store cash value. Watching too much Antiques Road Show, perhaps, or watching too many advertisements in general. Some of our things are bought because we're simply captivated by them and find their presence comforting. More, though, are bought or acquired out of the fantasy that they were a bargain or that they can later be resold. Almost all of my clients have a stash of yard sale stuff or things they were planning to list on eBay. Sadly, some of these are paying steep rents every month on a storage unit so that they can maintain that stash, the one that never goes anywhere or turns into cash.
Cash, not stash!
In a surprising amount of cases, the clutter originally belonged to someone else. When we talk about clutter, we're excluding anything useful, such as vehicles, appliances, furniture, or electronics that are actually being used. What we're talking about are the boxes of grief clutter. The first time I saw grief clutter, it was contained in large moving boxes, stacked to shoulder height, filling the entire living room, dining room, and part of the kitchen. There was only a goat trail free to shuffle sideways between rooms. The owner, a grieving adult daughter of grandmother age, would come home every night and sit on the couch among these boxes. There was exactly enough room to see the TV. Half of the couch had things piled on it. Her parents died and her life effectively ended, too, when she built this cardboard monument to them in her formerly functioning home. I've seen similar cases in which one or more of the adult children move in to the estate and leave it as-is. Parents, imagine your children living this kind of half-life after you go. Heartbreaking, isn't it?
What's in the boxes? Your guess is as good as mine. I'm guessing there would be photo albums in there, which is horrifying because photos do not survive long when stored in cardboard. Paperwork and files that may well be hiding urgent and important information. Mostly, though, it's probably garden-variety housewares. Linens, dishes, bric-a-brac, things that we remember from our childhood kitchens. Nostalgic tablecloths and tea towels. Things that would be much more effective as stores of memory if we put them out and used them the way they were meant to be used. I did that with my grandmother's orange pot holders for several years.
Other cases of houses as clutter traps come from simple anxiety. It's more common in single people. We're afraid to go out after dark and haul out the trash. We don't like driving, or leaving the house at all. We feel overwhelmed by the process of clearing closets, bagging up our excess, and hauling it to a donation center. We aren't great at making decisions and we don't always know what to do. We shut down and seek out distractions rather than make those decisions and take action. Chronic procrastination falls into this group. Given any crux point, we will choose delay and temporary mood repair every time. We'll only do things when we're "in the mood" or when we "feel like it," which means virtually never.
Depression and illness are other reasons. This is one of the saddest reasons a house stays cluttered. I know I'm not alone in being "the kind of person" who would come over and clean for someone who is ill. I have ridden my bike in the rain to bring fresh, homemade soup to a friend who was recuperating from surgery. Caring for the sick is a time-honored tradition of charity and good works. We worry and we want to make sure you're okay. It's hard for most people to reach out and ask for this kind of help, though. We always want to be the givers, not the receivers. Depression seems to rob its victims of the ability to take any kind of positive action at all, and social isolation is the rule of the game.
Probably one of the most common sources of clutter is clutter-blindness. People quit seeing it, or never saw it. A certain percentage of my people, maybe 20%, were raised in a hoarded environment. They never learned any other way to manage a household. Most people do not receive any formal training in how to keep house, sometimes because the parents believe in a dream of childhood innocence that does not include chores, a.k.a. adult life skills. Sometimes they themselves never had the skills to teach. Most of my people seem to lose their sense of smell somewhere along the way, and they can't detect odors like spoiled milk, rotting garbage, mold, or pet waste. If I hadn't been there so many times, I wouldn't believe that could be possible, but it is. How can you live like this?? Answer: Like what?
A house is only a house when its main function is as a storage warehouse. A house is a home when it's there for love, affection, friendship, and cheerful daily routines. All of these are much easier to attain when there is enough space for them. None of them require very many material objects. Let's return our focus to creating comfortable, welcoming homes and removing whatever physical things get in the way of that.
Adulting is out of fashion right now. We're supposed to be eating cereal for dinner, just as soon as we finish putting on our pajamas and coloring. The last thing that sounds fun is to ORGANIZE OUR FINANCES. You know what is fun, though? Having money is fun, because money is power and money is freedom. Take charge of your money and you can buy all the cereal, pajamas, and coloring books you want! It's not nearly as complicated as it sounds.
Money is power, money is freedom, and money is also information. It all starts with knowing where you stand financially. That happens when we consolidate all our information in one place. When we start treating money seriously, as a wonderful tool, we become more aware of the way it flows through our lives. How much is coming in? How much is going out? Where is it going, and why? Am I keeping any of it, or does someone else have it all now? When we're not in a place of financial clarity, the idea of knowing how much we owe and how much we're spending can feel like ripping off an emotional band-aid. Remaining in a place of vagueness, confusion, dread, or boredom is a guaranteed way to continue to have money worries.
My clients universally always have coins scattered around their homes and vehicles. Sometimes bills, too. They also universally always have expired checks that were never cashed, expired gift cards, and expired coupons. This kind of clutter creates an odd illusion, that of being surrounded by financial vehicles, while in reality being perpetually broke. My clients are such bright people, I can always clearly see ways for them to increase their earning power. Yet they are stymied by chronic disorganization. There are two areas where my disorganized people need to create systems: choosing a designated spot to keep important money-related things, and having a routine for when they come home every day.
What are money-related things? Your wallet. Cash. Coins. Checks. Checkbooks and check registers. Bank statements. Bills. Stamps, pens, and envelopes for paying bills. Gift cards. Coupons (although please, please don't waste your life clipping coupons). Tax documents. Receipts. A current calendar. Anything related to earning money, such as an appointment book, business cards, marketing materials, and especially your phone. Anything that is not one of these items should be stored somewhere else. Don't mix in non-money stuff with the money stuff. It's too confusing.
What about the homecoming routine? Just like everyone else, my people come in the door carrying a bunch of stuff. Wallet, keys, phone, coffee mug, jacket or sweater, bags of takeout or groceries, possibly dry cleaning, and, of course, MAIL. This is one of the top three areas of chronic disorganization. We're stressed out, we're tired, we're overwhelmed, and 80% or more of our mail is junk. Yet we still have to sort it. Almost always, it goes in a pile, and the important stuff is quickly buried under the irrelevant garbage that someone else maliciously sent to our house. Ye gads, do I ever hate junk mail, scourge of our era. Junk mail is completely unfair. It's the main reason why so many of us can't find those checks we were going to deposit.
I have some unconventional ideas about finances. One of them is that you don't have to balance your checkbook. I suspect most people don't do it. If the difficulty of sitting down and balancing a checkbook against your bank statement, on paper, is holding you back from taking charge of your financial life, then let that go for a while. It's antiquated and it's simply too difficult for a lot of people. I don't even USE checks, and I haven't used a paper bank statement in maybe ten years. I track my entire financial life digitally. All those numbers are accessible from my phone, where I can check them within seconds. I can tell you within $100 (without looking) how much is in my investment accounts and how much is in my debit account. The goal is not "do a bunch of complicated things on paper and give myself a headache." The goal is "know how much money I have and make sure I don't incur fines or fees."
My people typically tend to be paranoid about digitizing their finances. I have no idea why that is. I used to feel the same way back in the early 90s. At some point, I changed my mind. I have never once had a problem with direct deposit or electronic billing, not in twenty years. On the contrary. I receive automatic alerts every time a charge hits any of my accounts, and I can examine or dispute them on the spot. It is SO EASY. I can scan checks and deposit them from my phone, while plonked on my couch. Why on earth would anyone conduct financial transactions on paper anymore?
As we're consolidating and organizing the physical tools related to money, we can start organizing the information. The ultimate goal is a financial statement that shows everything you have and everything you owe. This is precisely like a "before" photo or a starting weigh-in, which means immense resistance, dread, reluctance, and sometimes sobbing. It's okay. We can't get anywhere without data. Reality, the world as it is. If the numbers are really scary, that's all the more reason to take charge and do something about it.
Step One: Make a complete list of every bank account, credit card, and lender. In my case, that would be my personal checking and savings accounts, our household checking account, two IRAs (different types), my student loan, my PayPal account, and three credit cards, two of which I never use and the good one that earns hotel points.
Step Two: Look at the balance for each account. If you're still working on paper, write them all down in a list. When I was super-broke, right after college graduation, I kept all this on a spreadsheet that I obsessively checked every day. At that time, I also had a car loan, a second student loan, and three personal loans that I have since paid off.
Step Three is to calculate your monthly nut, or how much it costs to be you if you don't buy anything cool. Rent, electricity, cable, phone, car, etc. That can take longer to figure out, though, if you're still sorting through depressing snowdrifts of junk mail and finding past due statements or pink envelopes. For now, we're just trying to get organized.
It's hard to believe right now, but I promise, if your financial situation is making you cry, it won't be that way forever. Getting clarity is how you get out. I mean, if you become a millionaire one day, you'll have to know how much is in all your accounts before you figure out that HEY, you're a millionaire!
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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.