As a divorced person, I understand the cynicism. What's so inherently wrong with a holiday about love, hearts, and flowers though? Seriously? Once we cut through the consumerist message from advertisers, we can make it whatever we want. Who says our pets or our friends can't be our valentines?
I can't have children, but I don't begrudge people who celebrate Mother's Day or Father's Day. I haven't eaten a traditional turkey dinner since 1992, but I still celebrate Thanksgiving by cooking huge meals for my family. I like the concept of having half a dozen special days during the year as an excuse for get-togethers and decadent food. In some ways, Valentine's Day is my revenge for having to wait out three months of tacky Christmas displays.
My husband is not a lover of holidays, or at least he wasn't. After ten years, he's starting to come around. I make it a practice to think of things he would like and to do little favors that would appeal to him. Part of what's wrong with the treacly, smarmy consumerist V-Day is this sense of generic, all-purpose gifts. Not everyone likes or wants champagne, chocolate, red roses, stuffed animals, or helium balloons. If my man brought me a $60 bouquet on Valentine's Day, I'd kick his butt. We have to demonstrate that we know each other better than that.
That's why, on Valentine's Day one year, I bought him an anvil.
Being a dream date for someone is extremely, meticulously specific. Nobody has the same dream. The core idea is that you are curious about this person who is spending time with you. What are you like? What DO you like? What's your favorite sandwich? What's your guilty-pleasure musical playlist? It's fun to be able to spoil someone and surprise them in a way that nobody else would know how to do properly. There's no reason why this person has to be a romantic or sexual partner.
The other night, I was coming home from my walk when a woman pulled up in front of my neighbor's house. She had a small crate with a helium balloon tied to it, a balloon shaped like a monkey wearing boxer shorts with a heart pattern. She set the crate at the gate and dashed back to her car. I peeked at the crate as I walked by, and it had a pair of wine glasses and a teddy bear, among other things. My neighbor is a nurse and he often works the late shift. I begrudge him nothing. It's cute to see people in their forties finding love, especially when at least one of them works a non-standard schedule. Good for them. How likely is it that this gal would go out of her way to drop off a package like this on an ordinary work night?
There are some elements of romantic love that we can keep, even while ditching traditional gender role stereotypes and creepy stalker-ish love songs. The idea of committing to a relationship with someone, even when that person is occasionally annoying or confusing, can be rather inspiring. There's a potential for deep dives into extended philosophical conversations that can't be matched through most other types of relationships. Being 'with' someone over a period of years is a way to have a mirror, someone who knows you better than yourself in some ways, someone who will call you on your BS and help you to be closer to the ideal version of yourself. I don't feel that I know any of my friends or relatives anywhere near as well as I do my husband, and I doubt they'd want me to.
I "got me a man" by wearing comfortable shoes and completely eschewing cosmetics, by being extremely opinionated and having a big mouth, by Reading All the Things and completely being myself all the time. This is the best policy. When you always act like yourself, you wind up with people who like the you that you are. We were both single for a long time and would never have settled for just anyone. Not much about conventional romantic advice would have worked for us.
Just be a human and do what you want, and when you find someone interesting, be a good friend and leave space to talk to them. True friendship is a miracle, something worth celebrating, and if it turns into something a bit more schmoopy, allow it. We are social animals, and this world could certainly use more love in it. What else are we going to do in February anyway?
If you've tried other organizing and decluttering books and been stymied, then you need Scaling Down: Living Large in a Smaller Space. While the book is aimed at a more mature audience who are downsizing to smaller homes, the way it addresses the thought processes and emotional work of decluttering would be good for anyone.
The authors, Judi Culbertson and Marj Decker, have been professional organizers for many years. They have obviously heard it ALL. Scaling Down includes many anecdotes of various people who succeeded (or failed) at downsizing in different scenarios. There are cartoons and a lot of humor, although there are some sad moments. For instance, it never ceases to amaze me how grown adults will allow a trivial family trinket to destroy relationships, and there are examples of that here.
The most valuable part of the book is the way it walks through the way to make different kinds of decisions about stuff. Not just physical possessions, but downsizing to a smaller home, clearing out storage units, disconnecting from a career at retirement, setting boundaries in new marriages or with adult kids, and more. There is a chapter on dealing with the possessions of an older relative who has become incapacitated or passed away. For those of us who haven't yet had to confront the types of issues that are common to senior adults, it brings true perspective to the effort of downsizing. Future Self is simply not going to need all this stuff. It's so much easier to make the decisions and do the sorting now, while we're relatively hale and hearty.
I'm currently living in a space slightly less than half the size of the house we moved into as newlyweds. We've had to downsize the kitchen four times in seven years of marriage. We've found that we prefer a cozy, snug, human-sized space, the type that was common in the early 20th century. It feels more homey. It's also easier to clean, easier to find things, and cheaper to heat and cool. With two middle-aged adults and two messy pets, we can attest that everything in Scaling Down is true.
It's all because of the paper towels. We have an unshopping list, just like I have a To-Don't list. When I first met my husband, we were platonic friends, and he had me come over to help declutter his garage. I sat on the washing machine, pointed, and asked questions. He would look surprised, realizing some of the funny stuff he had, and generally decide to get rid of it. During this process, we found no fewer than FOUR CASES of paper towels. We laughed when we found the second one. By the fourth, we were in hysterics. Later that week, he found a FIFTH case of paper towels hidden by something else. It turns out that when you shop at the big box store without a list, certain items just jump in the cart on every trip unless you remind yourself to take them back out. Paper towels are hardly the only things in life that turn up, unwanted, on autopilot. We have to plan to avoid certain things. If we don't plan not to have certain things happen, they will happen.
If you're eating an ice cream cone and you're sitting next to a dog, you have to plan not to have the dog steal a lick of your ice cream.
If you know you can sleep through your alarm, you have to plan not to turn it off in your sleep and be late to work.
You have to plan not to have a sunburn.
You have to plan not to get gum disease.
Alas, as much as we don't want dogs stealing our ice cream, these situations don't always seem obvious until afterward, when our friends are laughing at us. Well, nobody really laughs at gum disease. But you get the picture.
What we should be doing is building a better life for Future Self. What we actually do is usually to make our own Future Life more difficult all the time. We treat Future Self like an adversary. "Hey, Future Self! You suck! I just spent all your money and now I'm going to eat an entire extra large pizza with thick crust, just so YOU will have a bigger butt! None of your pants are going to fit! Oh, and? AND? I'm going to stay up late binge-watching Golden Girls episodes so you'll be exhausted at work tomorrow! If you try to complain about it, I'll give you a HANGOVER! BWAHAHAHAHA!!!"
This is where self-compassion comes in. I try to think of Future Me with the same tenderness I feel toward my grandma. I try to do what I wish for my own parents, which is to save for retirement and eat healthy. I just imagine that I am them. This helps to inspire me to offer to do things for them when I visit, like changing lightbulbs in the ceiling fixtures and carrying heavy objects. Not that they can't do these things, just that it's much easier for me. At this time in our lives, we probably feel exactly as nervous as one another when contemplating the other standing on a chair. Be careful!
What sorts of things should we plan not to have happen?
Some things are easy. I planned not to smoke, and I never did, and thus I've never had to quit smoking. It's a lot easier to plan not to shoot heroin than it is to go to rehab. Planning never to commit a crime is a lot easier than going to prison. Planning not to get a tattoo while drunk is a lot easier than paying for laser removal.
Not to say that I've never done anything wild, crazy, or outrageous. It just seems to me that these things make better stories when there were no major negative consequences. I have: ridden a mechanical bull, marched in a parade, been on TV, been in the newspaper, done live improv comedy in front of an audience, gone downtown in a FREE HUGS t-shirt, and had my toes sucked on stage in a movie theater, among other things. We want to focus on maximum fun with minimum downside. This idea that all future planning is joyless and strict is a false dilemma.
In fact, if we want to have maximum fun, we should plan more. Don't make any plans for the weekend and you'll probably spend it on the couch. In this case not planning to have fun is planning not to have fun. Peak experiences usually take advance plotting, scheming, and machinating. As an example, I got concert tickets for my husband for our wedding anniversary, and it took signing up for alerts when the band did not even have plans for further tours, waiting over a year, and getting up early to buy the tickets six months in advance. He was pretty impressed when he realized we were sitting in a sold-out show. That made it three experiences: enjoying the band, gloating that we were enjoying the band, and feeling extra loved because I went to so much extra effort. Anything for you, babe.
This is an area that is not fun to talk about, but divorced people will understand and nod along. You have to plan not to get divorced. Everyone plans to be happily married, but we can't all pull it off. That's because we're more likely to get divorced because of the things that are going wrong than we are to stay married because of the things that go right. All you have to do is cheat once, or run up secret debt once, or be physically abusive once, or tell a lie once, and the love flies right out the window. Cheaters always say it "just happened." Well, plan for cheating not to happen. If you meet someone hot, immediately put your finger in your nose so they'll stay away from you. That's what I always do.
Well, not really. But I am a divorced person who married another divorced person, and we both talk frankly about such issues.
There are two other areas where we fail to plan not to have bad things happen. Those areas have to do with our health and our finances. These are the two most commonly procrastinated goals. In the regrets of the dying, people consistently say they regret not having taken better care of themselves. They also consistently say that they wish they had saved more for retirement, and they worry about whether their loved ones will be okay financially. My clients have a bizarre trait in common, which is that they all think they'll die young. This pessimism can be a good thing if it inspires us to tell people how much we love them and to work as hard as we can to leave a legacy. It's a terrible thing when we're completely wrong and wind up living many years longer than we had supposed, fearing every minute of it. I have a family member who was given "six months to live" over fifteen years ago. Living a long life should be a beautiful blessing, for oneself, but mostly for the loved ones who don't want to say goodbye. Living a longer life while destitute is a challenge for all parties. It also means uncountable missed opportunities.
We have to plan not to be broke when we're old. Lifespans keep increasing, and it's almost humanly impossible to truly believe that we will reach such advanced ages. In 1919, when my grandmother was born, the lifespan for women was 56. For men it was only 53.5. Yet my grandfather lived to be 75 and my grandmother lived to be 86. They were quite frugal all their lives, like most people of their generation, but they probably assumed that they would have enviably long lives and pass in their early 60s. It's hard to plan how much to save when you have no way of knowing that you're going to live THIRTY YEARS LONGER than the statistical probability. It's also difficult to image how much things are going to cost when you can remember going to the grocery store with a dime.
This is why I plan. I became aware of my grandmothers' major concerns in my thirties, when I had begun to do things like plan my retirement account and set up an advance health care directive. It is all too real to me. All elders say that they don't feel old, that they still feel like young people inside. I do, too. But I know I'm likely to be an old person on the outside one day, and that includes my wallet and the bills on my desk.
I was born in 1975, and as of that year, the lifespan for women was 76.6. Even my great-grandmother who smoked lived about that long. To plan not to be poor when I'm old, I have to assume that I am going to live to be *at least* 86, and then tack on 15 years for good measure. In 2014, there were over 72,000 living centenarians in the US. If I plan for that and my money outlives me, great! What I have left can go to my family, or to charity. I have all kinds of great plans for when I'm an old lady. I'll wear rainbow tie-dyed shirts, whack people with my umbrella, and take my dentures out at night so I can eat candy in bed. It'll be awesome. It'll be even more awesome if I'm wealthy enough that my young relatives feel motivated to come and visit me. Eh heh heh.
If Learning to spot naysayers can be a huge help when trying to achieve anything in life. Naysaying is nearly universal, and people can be really taken in by it. Negativity and criticism can give the impression that the critic is smarter than average, which is the payoff for engaging in it. It takes a lot of confidence to withstand a barrage of criticism, and we tend to be short on confidence when we're uncertainly feeling our way toward a new state of being. Expect that the more awesome the goal, the more naysaying it will draw out. Criticism can be seen as an Awesomeness Detector.
Note that every celebrity and public figure has detractors. The more famous the person, the meaner the haters. If nobody is criticizing you, then you aren't doing anything, even leaving your house, because there are always random bystanders willing to pick on you just for walking by.
Now, to state the obvious, not every idea is a great idea. Not every great idea is great for a particular person, in a particular situation, at a particular place and time. It is foolish to disregard all input and advice. Sometimes they have a point. What we want to do is to distinguish between naysaying and constructive criticism, which do not overlap.
People tend to fall into a temperamental setting. Some people are snarky. Some are cheerful. There is a broad spectrum in between. Most people are going to fall within a predictable range of responses regardless of the situation. Think of the proverbial "Russian judge" who gives out lower scores at Olympic events. When receiving commentary, consider the source.
Credibility. Does this person have credentials or experience in what you are trying to do?
Motivation. Was this feedback solicited or unsolicited?
Track record. How accurate was this person's advice in previous situations?
Context. Is this a one-on-one, private, in-person conversation? Is it part of an anonymous discussion on social media? Big difference.
Relationship. What is this person's relationship to you? Parent? Friend? Boss? Mentor?
How does this assessment work in practice?
Let's say I'm training for a marathon. I have two sources of advice to consider. One is a relative whose overall fitness level is low and who has no running background. This person warns me that I'll hurt my knees. The other source of advice is a random guy my age whom I met at a crosswalk, who runs ultramarathons. He says he only trains two or three days a week, back-to-back on weekends and maybe one weekday, shares his weekly mileage, and then wishes me good luck. How do I weight this advice? Can you spot the naysayer?
When I want to do something that is far outside my comfort zone, and I don't know anyone who has done it, I want to be wide open to new information. I want to attract knowledgeable and helpful mentors. I want to demonstrate that I am serious, I am committed, and I am making progress on my own. At that point, my actions will inevitably draw nods from my target mentors. I may not recognize them, but they'll recognize me, just as the ultramarathon guy saw me in my running gear and asked if I was "training or just running." I am expecting that the advice I will hear from mentors will be contrary to at least one thing I'm doing. I expect that I will hear brief mentions of books I should be reading, documentaries I should have seen, websites and podcasts I should be following, and experts I should know about. I take notes and follow up. I can't let anything I hear disappoint me or hurt my feelings, because my goal is TO LEARN. I need to adapt to the material and to the rules of the game, and be grateful for the help, even if the advice was unsolicited and the expert annoys me in some way.
The trouble is that naysayers also share their opinions for free.
Naysayers are motivated by dissatisfaction. Happy, fulfilled people don't waste their time worrying about what other people are doing; they keep their eyes on their own homework. A good barometer is how many hours a day the individual is spending on social media. Naysaying is also motivated by social comparison, pessimism, a desire for attention, unfulfilled ego needs for respect and status, aggression, and hostility. Who knows what else. Naysayers are similar to trolls in these respects.
Naysayer tactics include bringing up your past failures, sharing stories of similar failures by others, and declarations that what you are doing will never work. Naysayers will start with the assumption that you have no idea what you are doing and that you haven't done any research. Naysayers will attribute your motivations, methods, and results to character flaws. Your goal is selfish. Your goal is stupid. Your goal is elitist. You think you're too good for everyone. You're conceited and all you do is talk about yourself. Your goal is too expensive. If it involves ridicule or shame, it's naysaying. If it involves discouraging you from even getting started, it's probably naysaying. If this person has had a similar response to other things you have done, it's certainly naysaying.
Constructive criticism is motivated by a desire to help you reach the goal. A critic will interview you, trying to ascertain where you are in the process and how much advance preparation you have already done. Constructive criticism can be just as uncomfortable as naysaying, but at the end, you should feel either validated or better informed. For instance, if someone else wanted to run a marathon, I would offer that it costs around $200, that many races sell out months in advance, and that some races require a qualifying time from another race. All of this information could sound discouraging, but the purpose of sharing it is so that the new marathoner can avoid disappointment and plan ahead.
A naysayer will attack WHY you are doing something, while a critic will examine HOW you are doing it.
Naysayers think they're helping. If you have a problem with it, you have a thin skin and you need to toughen up, plus you need to quit being so dumb and unreasonable about this goal. There is a point to be taken in any advice to develop a thicker skin. Naysayers are like NPCs (non-player characters) with whom you cannot avoid interacting whenever you are on a quest. If you're going to encounter them every single time you set out to do something cool, might as well get used to it. Try to laugh about it. Of course, another underrated technique is to keep your plans absolutely secret until you're already done. For instance, once I got my race medal, I stopped hearing any naysaying. Naysayers don't like talking about your successes and accomplishments, because the conversation might shift to how they aren't exactly fulfilled and thriving in their own lives.
Naysaying tends to be more concentrated the closer you get to your inner circle. This is for two reasons. One is that perfect strangers will assume you accomplish goals like this all the time, and that this is an interesting feature about you. Another is that we only tolerate a certain level of negativity from people we can't escape, like family or roommates. Family members will badmouth, cheat, steal, and backstab each other in ways that nobody would ever tolerate from a stranger, neighbor, or colleague. Not MY family, of course! It's true, though, that I've seen family members sever relationships with each other by bickering over inheritances, stealing boyfriends, etc. Expect a minimum standard of decency and civility from people in your inner circle, and if they don't meet that standard, quit telling them personal details about your life.
A goal is like a warm little egg with a chick inside. It's your egg. Your goal is to incubate it until it hatches. You protect it and hover over it and turn it so it heats evenly on all sides, making soft little clucking sounds. You don't let anyone near your egg. Hopefully predators don't even realize you have an egg, because otherwise they're going to try to take it from you and eat it, and it will never see the light of day. You tend your warm little egg faithfully for the days or weeks it takes to hatch. Finally, little cracks begin to form. A naysayer would tell you that these cracks are flaws, and that you should never have laid this egg in the first place. Believing in the advice of a naysayer is like dejectedly trudging away from the nest just before your chick is about to hop out. Finally, your goal hatches! The next time you set about a new goal, you'll recognize the signs, and you can tell your naysayers to flap off.
Dedication to the discipline of Inquiry includes scrupulous honesty. We’ll lie to ourselves worse than we would ever dream of lying to anyone else. It’s human nature. I have a Dostoyevsky quote scrawled in the front of my journal, and it goes like this: “Keep watch on your own lie and examine it every hour, every minute.” I could profitably have rephrased it: “Keep watch on your own pie” (and maybe stopped examining it every hour; if a pie is leaving my kitchen, it’s going one forkful at a time). Lying to ourselves includes our secret motives, our true priorities, our intentions, what we eat, how much we exercise, how much money we give to charity, how much we save, and how much time we spend on various activities. If we can catch ourselves in the act even occasionally, we can start getting better results in building a life we want.
I read that women over-report how much time they spend on housework by 68%. Don’t laugh. The same study indicates that men over-report how much time they spend on housework by 150%. I know how much time I spend on housework because I use the Hours app on my phone, and I clock in and out of various activities every day. Since I work for myself, there is no built-in structure to my day other than whether it’s daylight or dark, or whether I’m hungry or not. I wanted to make sure I was really spending as much time writing as I thought I was. (It’s more). I got curious about all the other things I did during the day, including my foreign language study, pleasure reading, and sleeping. Tracking my time carefully has revolutionized several things in my life, such as dealing with my parasomnia issues. It’s also made me aware of the fact that I spend more minutes per day on “personal care” (bathing, personal hygiene, grooming) than I do on housework. That was an eye-opener. Now, rather than feeling resentment or counting brownie points against my husband, I’ve turned my chores into a game of efficiency and beating the clock.
I use a fitness tracker because I realized that I had no better idea of how much I exercise than I would have a chance of estimating the number of pennies in a jar. I’m hopeless. There are three ways of getting around this: 1. Do it every single day, 2. Develop an intensely alert self-awareness, or 3. Get a robot to track it for you. I’ve proven to myself quite conclusively that the first two are never going to happen in my life, not with an unassisted human brain, anyway. I can’t lie to my Apple Watch; it’s not impressed by being waved back and forth in the way that my first pedometer was. I have failed to impress it even by jumping up and down, doing jumping jacks, hiking 4000 feet of elevation, and jogging laps around a parking lot. If my heart rate isn’t elevated high enough for long enough, it doesn’t count. (The nice thing is knowing I can hike up 4000 feet (slowly) without my heart rate going up. Pretty fit, hey?)
I keep a food log. I have different reasons now than I did when I started two years ago. At first, I wanted to prove that there really was no reason for me to need a food log, because “I eat nothing but health food.” Then, I wanted to finish getting to my goal weight, and I realized that I needed the discipline of becoming more aware of what I ate and being meticulously honest about portion size. It turned out that the amount I ate varied wildly from day to day, making it impossible to find a trend line or to see if any changes I was making were having an effect. Scientific rigor in weighing and measuring and recording helped me learn to eyeball and guesstimate more accurately. After three months, I understood why I always tended to gain weight. After six months, I understood how much extra I could/should eat on workout days. After a year, I discovered that I was deficient in a key micronutrient, and everything changed. I started keeping the food log to make sure I was getting the right nutrition. I still keep the food log, because I find it amusing to calculate everything I ate over an entire year, measured in gallons of broccoli, kale, cabbage, etc. During my marathon training, my waffle count alone was hilarious.
I use a personal finance app, Mint, although I don’t know whether other finance apps would do an equally sufficient job. I’m not a habitual spender; I’m more of an under-buyer. I find it interesting, though, to be able to pull up data on how much we spend at particular stores, how much we spend at the movie theater or on gas, what we spend on utilities, etc. One of my financial disciplines is to try to pay everything possible with my debit card, so there is a data trail of everything. Before I started keeping a food log, the only times my weight ever dipped downward even slightly were when I was following a strict budget. Keeping track of money matters has ripple effects in other areas of life.
I’m data driven. I believe in using metrics whenever possible, because I want to know what I’m actually doing as opposed to what I’m pretty convinced I’m doing. I weigh in every day, in the same way that I use a clock, an oven timer, and a speedometer. I log my workouts. I log what I eat. I log my spending. I log the time I spend doing different things. I check off a list of various habits, and I can see my stats on those. Everywhere I have applied some basic arithmetic and some objective criteria, I have been able to measure an improvement. It’s really helpful, on days when it feels like we’re stuck in the doldrums, to look at a trend line on a spreadsheet and SEE that the change is really happening.
Not everything can be quantified, though. Can we count how often we blame other people for things we had a part in? Can we count how often we call ourselves rude names or mentally beat ourselves up? Can we – do we? – count how often we hurt other people’s feelings, rather than how often they hurt ours? Can we count how often we have been unfair or selfish or overly critical? Is there a way to count how often we’ve been there for others when they need us? Is there a way to measure how attentively we listen or how considerate we are? Would we want to see these metrics?
I want to know. If there was a Rude-o-meter, I would buy one and wear it. Every time it ticked upward, I would slap myself right in the face. Until that day, though, I have to keep watch on my own lie and just try my best to catch myself not quite living up to my own standards.
We can’t quantify our character traits, not yet, anyway. If we could, I’m guessing the first measure available would be tracking which people in the conversation spent how much time talking vs. listening. It would work like a chess clock. Maybe it could also track tone of voice and tell whether we were being gentle or mocking or defensive. We would know ourselves for the complainers and blamers we are, and we’d understand why we never feel like anyone is listening as much as we do. (Hint: probably almost nobody is listening to anyone, ourselves included). When I was a little girl, I was fascinated by the story of Anubis weighing the hearts of recently dead people against a feather. I committed that I would do whatever it took to keep my heart light, lest it be eaten by the crocodile-headed demon Ammit. Whatever happens on the other side, whether there is an afterlife of any kind or not, it is often said that our lives flash before our eyes when we die. I worry that my movie will be full of embarrassing moments when I was thoughtless and inconsiderate, and I do what I can to mitigate that.
I quantify what I can quantify, because I know that inside myself is a greedy little liar. My ego always wants to be right. My ego wants what it wants, and that means dominating every conversation, making myself look good, and rendering myself blameless in every interaction. My ego wants everything that winds up ending badly; it wants to sit and eat without limits, to trade sleep for cheap entertainment, to procrastinate anything that doesn’t have chocolate in it, to shop ‘til it drops, to blather on endlessly, to ignore boundaries. Every time I turn around, there it is again, talking with its mouth full and accidentally elbowing people in the ribs. I throw numbers at it. I show it what we ate (“No I didn’t!”) and what we spent (“No I didn’t!”) and how much time we spent idly sitting around (“No I didn’t!”). The interesting thing is that my ego has its way of taking ultimate credit, no matter what I do. I reached my goal weight, so now my ego is proud of that, rather than being too proud to admit the shape we were in. I paid off my consumer debt, so my ego is proud of that, rather than demanding to buy things we couldn’t afford. I ran a marathon, and of course my ego thinks it’s responsible, rather than the self-discipline it was too proud to exert for so long. I’m trying to train it to respond to metrics in the same way that Pavlov taught dogs to salivate at the ringing of a bell.
A moral hazard is something that tends to lead us down the dark path of self-interest. It’s anything that tends to make us complacent or entitled. An example would be playing Scrabble with my Alzheimer’s-diagnosed grandmother, and helping her make a higher-point play that “coincidentally” opened up a higher-point play for me on my turn. A key part of living an ethical life is to try our best to spot moral hazards, and observe ourselves dispassionately. What do we actually do? What choices do we actually make? How do we actually spend our time? When we learn to be accurate observers of our behavior, we have the power to make informed changes. While they always redound to our own benefit, they tend to benefit everyone else around us even more.
Christmas is exactly like a wedding in several ways. Both supposedly last only one day, yet planning can go on for months. Both can involve extravagant outfits and special headgear. Both involve color combinations never seen in ordinary contexts. Both can incur vast debt, because entire industries are built around both. This last is why we've been trained to believe, in our hearts of hearts, that gifts equal love. Who came up with this idea that an engagement ring is "supposed" to cost two months of a man's salary? Marketing geniuses, that's who. Who came up with this idea that family togetherness means nothing without piles of gifts, decorations, and food? I'll give you three guesses, one for each Wise Man.
My family doesn't do wild and crazy gift exchanges anymore, or at least not any that I'm involved in. Part of this is out of necessity. I live about a thousand miles away, and anything we gave or received would either have to be put in our luggage or shipped. It's not practical, not to mention the grim thought of a TSA agent tearing off all the wrapping paper. There's also the matter of our frequent moves. We aren't in a position in life to collect any extra material objects, no matter how cool they are. In fact, the more personal the gift, the harder it is, because eventually we'd be surrounded by nothing but hand-crafted presents that would be impossible to cull.
My work with hoarding has made me skeptical about gift-giving. In every home visit I've ever done, we've found at least one out-of-season gift bag that was never unwrapped. Often there are several years' worth. Another guaranteed find is a stack of expired gift cards. Not everyone is like my clients, but most of us can honestly say that we don't want for anything, that there's nothing we truly need. Not stuff-wise, at any rate. What we need is the company of our friends and some kind of occasional ceremony to mark the passing of the years. We need a reason to get together, hug, and make eye contact. There are no rules that say these get-togethers require a gift exchange.
My favorite type of gift exchange is the white elephant. Here, the idea is to give something absurd and watch as people swap to get something equally absurd that actually appeals to them. If you ever want to see a group of people laughing until their shoulders shake, a white elephant party is the place. The memories that come from a white elephant party will last longer than the memories of yet another sweater or bath set. As an example, I went to one of these parties at work, and someone wrapped up another employee's framed family portrait from his desk. He had quite a time swapping to get that picture back, and nobody laughed harder than he did. We still talk about it years later.
I tried and failed to get my family to adopt the white elephant theme. I'll try again, eventually. What I did get everyone to agree to was a dollar limit on our gift exchange. The kids would have a normal holiday, with the normally extravagant gift-giving. The adults would put our names in a hat, then be matched up anonymously by one of the kids. We would each buy a special gift (or gifts) not to exceed the predetermined price cap. Everyone in the family makes a wish list with multiple items, so there's no real way to know what you're getting. The anonymity means you also don't know who is buying your gift. This worked out well. Everyone started out with ideas of what to buy, everyone got something truly useful or exciting, and the focus stayed on the kids, where we all wanted it.
How do you bring it up? Go to the family member who seems most likely to buy in to your idea. Say, "What do you think of just drawing names this year?" Suggest a family activity that you know will generate real enthusiasm. If there are young kids in the family, it should be child-oriented. One year, for instance, we went downtown to look at the big tree and the animated department store window displays. We've also played a lot of holiday-themed games that work over Skype, including copying a drawing while blindfolded and gift-wrapping an empty box using only one hand. These activities make for fantastic photos, they're free, and the kids have a blast. It's been a big improvement on the over-stimulated shrieks and wails of an over-gifted, overheated, over-sugared, over-tired toddler who just wants to play with the bows and ribbons anyway.
Our family has always made wish lists, and they have certain rules. There should be enough items on the list that you know you won't get everything, and thus you won't know what's in any given package. The price range should cover a wide range, from grocery-store level to something that would require several people pooling their resources. Sometimes a gift will cover more than one holiday. Some gifts, like new interior doors, also include an offer to install the item. Tech support is another non-material gift that would be appreciated by anyone who tends to be overwhelmed by new gadgets.
We forget how much we have to offer one another throughout the year, not just when the cookies come out. I know I'd rather go on a camping trip with my family in the summer than get stranded in an airport in the snow, as has happened. If I'm spending five extra hours in an airport, I fully expect the equivalent five hours in board game play the next time we see each other in person.
What my family is trying to do, now that we're older and caught up in our own careers and homes, is to spend time together. Cook together. Go out to dinner together. Hang out and play with our pets together. Play games together. Tell stories and come up with new inside jokes together. In our family, someone is always working on a holiday, so we're more likely to do these things on more ordinary days. What is precious is not the date, not what can be stuffed in a box or a bag, but the simple act of sharing our attention and physical presence.
A lot of my clients are single. This isn't a personality issue; my clients, as a rule, are lovely, sweet-natured, talented, bright people. Often, they are dating, but they can't seem to get the more permanent commitment they would like. It doesn't take a professional organizer to see why. Any married person could tell. There just isn't room for a second person in the house.
It starts with the bed. There needs to be enough room for two people to sleep there. Unfortunately, some of my people store clutter on their beds. Ideally, there would also be a night stand or semblance thereof on both sides. Everyone gets a reading lamp and somewhere to put a glass of water. Good luck with that, though. Flat surfaces are magnetically attractive and they quickly get buried.
The next question is, where would someone else put a change of clothes or a shower kit? Is there so much as a single empty drawer or shelf in the entire place? If this particular main squeeze is supposed to be around for the long term, is there an empty closet? Women often unfairly take over more than half of the available closet space, and every man I have ever talked to about it is resigned to this. What if your packed closet was the one true reason you're alone right now?
We don't always realize all the payoffs to the things we do. One of the many hidden payoffs of living with clutter is that we subconsciously create a buffer zone around ourselves. We guarantee a certain amount of privacy when there isn't physically room for anyone else. It took me a long time to realize that I kept finding myself in long-distance relationships because they allowed me to maintain my independence. I had to spend some time thinking that over and figuring out how my life would look if I let someone else in. Almost all of that emotional shift had to do with living space and schedules. How much was I willing to let someone else come in and decorate? How much private time would I be willing to give up to let love in?
Some people may realize that they prefer to be alone, when it comes right down to it. That's fine. It may even come as a relief to be able to make that decision. Do what you like.
Others of us, well, we get chilly at night. There is nothing like having the flu when you're alone to make you realize that 100% independence is an extreme position. Being alone means you never have to compromise on anything. It also means there's nobody to bring you a glass of water, scratch your back, go to the pharmacy for you, or check on that weird noise you now have to investigate by yourself. Other people are useful! Not to mention cuddly.
If only we could have a brief glimpse, on our loneliest single day, of our perfect person, somewhere out there, with a faint ETA. I remarried nine years after my divorce was finalized. That's a long time, but it gave me plenty of time to enjoy always picking what movie to watch, always going wherever I wanted for dinner, having rainbow colored sheets, and generally spoiling myself all the time. By the time I met my husband, I was ready to make room for someone - a family, really, as I became a wife and (step)mother on the same day. He was ready to get married, too, because he'd been to my house and it was much cozier than his.
You know a man is in love when he's willing to share his life with a parrot cage.
Everyone comes with baggage. For some of us, most of this baggage is physical. I happen to know that it takes us one hundred boxes to move, because we've already done it four times as a couple. We have moved some weird things together, including a Battle Bot, a unicycle, a crossbow, a brain-shaped Jell-O mold, a milk crate full of motors, and a partially knit double-headed sweater. We've downsized with each move, and some of these things have fallen by the wayside. After seven years of marriage, most of our stuff is "our" stuff now. Our bed, our couch, our towels, our dishes, etc. We can't be as territorial or emotionally attached to things once they aren't "mine" or "yours." It becomes a question of "are these towels too threadbare?" rather than "are you questioning my taste in towels?"
My people tend to pack triple the stuff in a standard amount of space. They don't make room for themselves, much less anyone else. More extreme cases, generally not at a stage of readiness for my kind of work, will encroach on their kids' closets or further into their rooms, staircases, hallways, bathrooms, and other constrained spaces where most people would not see a viable storage area. In some cases, getting rid of half their possessions would still not leave my clients with enough room for a mate.
There are three possibilities when it comes to evaluating the stuff of a new love interest. Either they have the same amount of stuff as you, they have less, or they have more. Simple, right? What if you fell in love with someone who had the same amount of stuff as you did? Add together the square footage of both your homes and check rents on homes of that size. Can you even afford to be together? You can also get estimates on how large a moving van you would need based on how many rooms are in your home and how full they are. Can the two of you handle the physical labor involved in moving your stuff in together? Sometimes being a perfect match tends to be more of a hindrance than a help.
Sadly, I've seen several instances when one of my charming, cute clients has had a flirtation going strong, and then the new love comes to visit, and soon it's over. The more serious people get about long-term love, the more pragmatic they become about practical considerations like money and home furnishings. Friends and relatives are pushing them to perform due diligence, meaning things like criminal background checks, psychiatric assessments, health records, and credit reports. What they really start looking at are things like personal hygiene, housekeeping and cooking skills, and, of course, interior design. Can I live with this person's toenail clippings / cat litter / greasy stovetop / favorite fugly chair? When we get married (or facsimile), we're marrying the person, the person's relatives, the person's children, the person's pets, the person's habits, the person's finances, and the person's stuff. It can be a lot to take on.
The compromises we make on Moving Day are just the beginning. Loving your snuggle bunny enough to share a roof involves a million decisions. That includes the potentially earth-shattering stuff like death and disfigurement, of course. It's the little stuff that gets us, though, like realizing that being together means I'll be lucky to get as much as 30% of the available space in the house. Or I'll have to look at someone else's stacks and piles every day. Or I'll have taped-up boxes in my world for the rest of my life. Or we'll be spending our vacation money on a storage unit. Or or or. My advice to anyone who is single and hating it is to look around and start chiseling out some space now. Make it inviting, the same way you would build a birdhouse. Imagine how nice it will be to have your sweetie sitting there, smiling at you. Hopefully not saying, "You know, I always hated that lamp."
Dating is like a job hunt in all the worst ways. Both are tied up in all sorts of romantic notions about passion and purpose and the meaning of life. Both can feel like the wait that will never end. Both tend to involve a history of at least one terrible match that was really hard on the ol' self-esteem. Both tend to start with the optimistic feeling that YES, this is finally the one! It's hard to get sympathy from employed/coupled people, in the same way that students have trouble getting sympathy about Finals Week from people who have graduated. If you're doing it right, you're spending at least a little time wondering, Is It Me?
Take it from a remarried person. It's probably not you.
Here's the thing. There IS someone exactly like you in all important respects, sitting alone right now and feeling exactly the way that you do. Introverts specifically have a lot of trouble believing this, but it's true. If you hate going to nightclubs, there are plenty of other people who also hate going to nightclubs. If you're a morning person or a night owl, you have a roughly 50/50 chance of meeting another one. Whatever pet peeve you have, someone else has it too. Most of the things that make a relationship work are not qualities of personality or appearance. They're lifestyle components. When it works, it works because you can be comfortable with each other on a lot of identically ordinary days.
This is the great thing about being uncomfortable "on dates." Dating is a weird, unnatural activity. It's the single thing that makes dating the most like a job hunt: it's an interview! You're both wearing uncomfortable shoes and feeling like you're hooked up to a lie detector. Awkward. If only we could skip straight to the part where we're both just sitting around the living room, trying to decide what to make for dinner. Now there's a speed dating idea - sit on a couch and start asking, "What do you want to do tonight?" "I don't know, what do you want to do?" If you can get through the gauntlet of not knowing each other, within an hour you'll at least be a little more familiar with one another. It is imperative that you BE YOURSELF. If not, who's supposed to be you while you're trying to be someone else? If you act like yourself all the time, then the people who stick around are there because they like you. Trust in that. You have something to offer that nobody else does, which is your unique take on life. There is no other correct way to do this.
The other thing to know is that the objective on a date is not "acquire soulmate." It is to get to know someone and practice being together with someone. The worst case scenario would be that you both walk away with a little more focus on what you do and don't want. I once went on a terrible, boring blind date with a hot, blond, vegetarian firefighter. He was probably the dream date of someone else. We had nothing to say to each other, though, despite our similar dietary preferences. It confirmed for me that there is no replacement for great conversation. You can't force a click, no matter how much you wish for it.
Sometimes you meet someone and "all that happens" is a platonic friendship. This might be a better outcome. Each friend you make expands your social circle. The friend of the friend of that new friend might be the love of your life. What you're really trying to do is to meet more people in general, almost all of whom will stay in your life in a casual, non-sexual way. You'll give each other leads on new jobs or go on road trips together. Maybe you'll trade recipes or cat-sit for each other. Expecting that every connection will turn into romance is too high-stakes, not to mention discouraging.
They say you meet the right person as soon as you stop looking. It's true, but not in the same way that you quit looking for your keys once you find them. You can only meet the "right person" when you stop looking, because "looking for the right person" is an extremely strange way to introduce yourself to new acquaintances. "Hi, are you the love of my life?" "Um, I don't even know you?"
There is no one right person.
Think of it like a pyramid. On the bottom level are flirtations that didn't turn into anything. On the next, smaller level are people you might have gone out with casually or briefly. Next are longer-term relationships that were really painful. Above that are more serious relationships that simply ended. At the top would be the Mutual Admiration Society. There may be people in your Mutual Admiration Society with whom the romantic potential was explored and consumed. You still like each other, while realizing you don't want to live together or be romantic any more. That willingness to part due only to circumstances is what leaves room for The Person.
Not every pyramid is the same height. Putting too many expectations on love tends to cause us to cling to relationships that weren't a strong enough match. We don't get as much practice relating to other people. This is probably true of friendships and family relationships, too. The only way to succeed at loving someone in a romantic way is to also be good at loving people in friendly or familial ways. This is another set of traits that do not involve personality. Patience, compassion, generosity, listening, respecting someone else's boundaries, communicating your needs in ways that make sense, being a good roommate - these are skills. Whether someone puts his socks on the dining table or not is about behavior, not personality. The better we get at behaving in kind, loving ways, the kinder and more loving people we will bring towards us. The more practice we have at being with someone, the more and more likely it will work with the next person. It's not so much who we are as how we act.
A person with a bad temper may attract all sorts of people, but will only keep the kind of person who can tolerate angry outbursts.
A person who expects to be cleaned up after will only keep the kind of person who is patient enough to do this, and probably not for long.
A person who has trouble trusting or needs constant reassurance will keep a different sort of person than a person who is more confident. That could be the same person at different levels of emotional maturity.
Character determines everything. That's why this idea of The One doesn't make any sense. What if The One came into your life when you were both four years old and throwing a fit on the floor in preschool? Perfect for each other in every way, right? How silly. I think instead that there's a potential match for someone at each level of personal development. Think of it as an elevator that stops at fifty floors. A narcissist is only going to make it to the lobby, where the big mirrors are. An ordinarily selfish person may make it to the first floor. Someone who still carries emotional scars from a breakup in their teens or twenties is going to get stuck on a different floor. As we shed our fears and heal our wounds, we go up to higher floors. When we can give of ourselves, when we can think about someone as a person rather than a love object, then we start to see how this whole thing works. Then, one fine day, the door dings, and on the other side is someone who takes your breath away. There you are, you both think. There you are.
Childhood mementos are one of the all-time hardest things to let go. I tend to fail in this area with clients even when I succeed elsewhere. This is because the tiny socks and shoes feel like the infancy itself. The thing about children is that they quickly become teenagers. Are you raising a child, or raising an adult? The better a job you do of raising an independent, mature, productive future citizen, the quicker the kid starts pushing away and developing a distinct identity. It's so hard to hang on and remember the smell of their downy little heads as they sweetly snuggled in your lap, especially after they start in with the rebellion and the door-slamming. The toughest thing about parenting is that realization that there will always be a last baby, that childhood ends, that their mortality is our mortality. Life is fleeting but the memorabilia just keeps on repeating.
There are two types of things that parents want to save for their kids: stuff from their own childhoods and stuff from their kids' childhoods. We save the stuff from our own childhoods out of a desire for connection. We want our kids to love the same things we loved. We want them to feel the same joy that we felt. We don't know how to communicate these emotions other than through physical objects. Why a pile of old toys, books, or stuffed animals rather than a love of nature, stargazing, or music? My mom saved a bunch of books and dolls in the hope that she would have a daughter one day. What I feel I got from her was her social conscience, her natural altruism and compassion, her love of musicals, her habit of bustling around cleaning and cooking in preparation for guests, her frugality, her voice, and her physical frame, among many other things. She taught me to love books and she taught me to ride a bike. I never felt much sentimental attachment to her childhood toys, but surely they were nothing in comparison to her values? My dad didn't particularly hang onto childhood relics, but he spent countless weekends taking all three of us kids into the woods, where we all developed a love of the wilderness that has passed to the next generation as well. We can't help but pass things on to our kids. Perhaps we should look more to the intangibles than the dusty physical ones.
I don't have biological children of my own, so my outlook on family heirlooms is perhaps unusual. If I save anything "for posterity," it would come from a belief that my nephews and niece might want it. This seems improbable. I have a baby album with a lock of my hair and the wristbands from my delivery. Why would they want that? (Come to think of it, why do I still have it?) I have a plaque with my first grade handprint. It has a certain aesthetic appeal, but it's hard to imagine someone hanging it on their wall; even I don't do that. This idea of my brother's kids appreciating my childhood relics feels even weirder and less likely when I picture them at my age or older. When I start to think about their possible kids and grandkids, well, at a certain point my memorabilia are just mysterious old junk. One of these moves, I'll most likely snap a few pictures and let it all go. The more photos I save, though, the less likely that any particular one will be appreciated, or even viewed.
We're generating massive amounts of life relics, and the rate is only increasing. There are kids now who have had their own social media accounts since they were barely a heartbeat in the womb. Many of them will enter adulthood knowing that naked bathtub pictures of them were shown to the public. There will be a digital record of every embarrassingly "cute" thing they ever did. We have hours of video! We have thousands of photos! We have voicemail messages and audio files! The more we save, the less valuable it is. Aside from our digital records, we also have more physical possessions than any previous culture in all of history. We can't conceivably save every article of clothing or every piece of every plastic playset. Where the heck would we hope to put it all? If we expected our kids to save it all, where would they they save their own kids' things? Four generations from now, every citizen will need a personal warehouse for the family hoard. We can drive by and point at them, guessing at how many action figures and little t-shirts might be inside.
Working with kids is one of the easiest and most rewarding parts of my professional home visits. That is, it's fun until the parents show up. What I do is explain to the kid what I've worked out with the parents. "Let's go through and get rid of any of your old baby stuff that would embarrass you if your friends came over. Then we'll sort out anything you don't play with anymore. We can sell it at the yard sale, and all the money you make can go toward a new game." "OKAY!" says the brilliantly grinning child. First we set aside the top favorite toys to keep. Then we pick up items off the floor, one at a time, and the kid makes quick choices. Almost all of the stuffed animals and about half of the action figures wind up in the Go pile. Many of the clothes do, too, as kids don't usually like dressing the way their parents and relatives would prefer. Children have countless gifts foisted on them, crowding their space, getting them in trouble when they can't keep their rooms clean. They don't like it and it isn't natural to them. When I show up, it's usually the first time they've ever been allowed to express an opinion or assert a claim on their own private physical territory. It feels like independence, it feels like empowerment, and they really enjoy it. The notion that they only have to keep what they actually like is a big one. It's saying "You're REAL, honey. Your voice matters." But then the parents come in and flip out. "That was a gift! That was expensive! That was mine when I was your age!" They allow maybe 10% of the discards to go, and guilt-trip or outright force the child to put the rest back. Share your room with things we chose for you. Believe that stuff has feelings. See that we care more about these old things than we do about what you want. Let us determine your taste preferences. You are a chattel and you won't get to have opinions until you move away.
The truth is that kids do become adults, no matter how much we want to stop time and keep them sweet. First, their favorite colors will change. They'll develop their own musical tastes. They'll choose their own hairstyles and dress however they like. They'll come home with romantic partners they met whether we approve or not. They'll even vote however they want. I grew up to have a thing for a minimalist modern aesthetic, for example, while my parents like antiques. If we've done a good job, our kids will grow up to be awesome, the kind of people we'd want to be friends with if we didn't already know them. I feel like I'd make friends with my own parents if they were "only" my neighbors or coworkers. Those qualities and those emotional connections have nothing to do with the physical possessions we want to hand down.
What we really want is emotional connection. We want to remember that we're family, as though we could ever forget our blood relationship whenever we look in the mirror or hold out our hands. What we need from the parent-child bond is memories. We need to be putting more hugs in that emotional bank account. We should be treasuring our heart-to-heart talks. We should be making memories together and teaching what we have to teach. We should be passing down a family heritage of stories and a legacy of values and character traits. We should have a bunch of family in-jokes. Why on earth we think we can put any of that into a musty old box is beyond me.
Do you have to change anything when you're single and hating it? There's an old saw about marriage. Men get married thinking their wives will never change, while women get married thinking they can change their husbands. I have no idea how this is supposed to work in non-traditional, non-hetero-normative marriages. What I can say is that being in an established relationship in no way stops the process of change, from both internal and external pressures. Might as well get a head start on it while you don't have to take input from anyone else.
"I'll still be the same person." This is a top concern for people with a fixed mindset. I'll consider changing my attitude at work/getting organized/losing weight at some future point, but only as long as I'm still the same person when I'm done. What I want to know is, why on earth would I want Future Self to be exactly like Past Self? What past age was I supposed to get stuck at? Am I supposed to stay as weepy and inclined to write poetry with a purple felt tip pen as I was at age 14? Am I supposed to be as bad a cook as I was at 18? Is it a requirement that I keep managing money as badly as I did at age 22? Should I have the same attitude at age 70 that I had at 35?
What's the point of aging then?
Getting older but not wiser is the path of pain. Repeat the same mistakes over and over again so you can live the same consequences as many times as possible. Be self-absorbed. Resist feedback from all sources. Always put yourself first, except when it comes to making choices that lead to better conditions for Future Self. At the end of the game, it's easy to wind up broke, ill, and lonely, even then not realizing that change is the solution. It always was and it will always be. Change is what we do with the power of free will.
Change doesn't even require free will. A wild animal will move away from negative situations without giving it a second thought. A wild animal will eat biologically appropriate foods and maintain peak physical fitness, because those are survival traits. A wild animal cultivates social bonds, because that is also a survival trait. They accept and reject potential mates based on... something? They focus on earning a livelihood from the moment they wake up. In a sense, they're organized; either their lives are effective or they're not alive for long. If only I could be as perfect as a worm or a bluebird for one day.
So what do we change and what do we not change? The ultimate goal is to be the best version of you. If that's a snarky, sarcastic you in jeans and a t-shirt, so be it. Keep going until you are satisfied with yourself. The corollary to that is to be satisfied with the Right Things. Does it hurt other people's feelings, infringe on their personal bubbles, or annoy them? Quit doing it. That has nothing to do with romance or dating, but it will affect your chances. Make it easy for people to spend time with you, or, if that's too much to ask, at least convince yourself that it's worth making the effort for one particular person.
Married people annoy one another all the time. We refuse to go to bed at the same time, and then make a bunch of noise while our long-suffering partner is trying to sleep. We insist on hashing out arguments at bedtime or later. We make messes, leave them there, and then get all snotty when it's brought to our attention. We nag. We refuse to apologize. We spend money in secret and we eat the last of the pie without sharing. We put on the ring without any sense that we should try to be good roommates. The First Law of Marriage is that you are precisely as annoying as your partner, only in a slightly different way. Changing yourself first is the only way to nudge your partner into changing, and even then, it's almost guaranteed not to work. The only possible change is self-change.
That's why it's best to change as much as possible before marrying. That way, the person you meet will be at your level, the highest level of which you are both capable. Improving after marriage is making yourself incompatible with your old love. I've seen long-term marriages capsize many times over this. One partner gets fit, gets an advanced education, starts making significantly more money, develops an artistic skill, or whatever. The other partner doesn't change at all. Even though one person is now theoretically more attractive and interesting, boom, divorce. Now we have to add to the plan: change as much as possible before marrying, and marry someone who also is dedicated to growing and improving.
There are many comforts to long-term love. Inside jokes. You can almost read one another's mind and speak in shorthand. You can order for each other in restaurants and you know how to cook each other's favorite meals. You can give each other massages correctly. You can take care of each other when you're ill, which is usually out of sync by a couple of days. Someone is generally on your side. The most valuable thing a mate has to offer is the capacity to notice and tell you when you're off track somehow. We call each other out on our BS. We shore up each other's confidence and remind each other of our best selves, sure. Those are good things, too. But everyone really needs a truth mirror, and a long-term romance is probably the one with the clearest surface and the best lighting.
My husband and I started changing each other before we started dating, before any romantic feelings even developed. I talked him into saving more in his retirement account. He taught me how to get better at shifting gears in my car. I convinced him to switch from iceberg lettuce to darker greens. He talked me into getting rid of my storage unit. Since we met, we've lost a combined total of over fifty pounds. The more we changed, the more attractive we became to one another. One day, we realized it would be foolhardy to ever let each other go. How would either of us ever know how far we could go without the other's counsel and support?
Most things don't require change at all. Listen to whatever music you want. Wear whatever you want. Read whatever you want. Make friends with and hang out with whomever you want. Make your own decisions about your career arc, your personal electronics, your fitness plan, whatever. You still get to have your favorite color and vote your own way when you're dating. Where it helps to change is in how we communicate, what moods we tolerate in ourselves, what attitudes we cultivate, and whether we take responsibility for our own lives. Still yourself, just the self that is easier to get along with.
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.