Raise your hand if you’re ever confused about what you’re supposed to eat and not eat.
Oh, everybody? Okay then!
I learned what I know about health food as an adult. When I grew up, grocery stores all had a predictable range of stuff, and most people had never heard of stuff like goji berries or hummus or bioflavonoids or whatever. We definitely didn’t have purple potatoes! In fact, when I started learning to cook as a little kid, standard cookbooks didn’t even have pasta recipes. That didn’t start showing up until like 1985.
From my perspective, you can see why learning more about new foods has felt progressively more awesome. More variety, more flavors, better quality, more recipes, even how-to videos! It also helps that I now have better quality kitchen hardware than I did as a young broke bachelorette. Learning to cook and learning more about nutrition has been an adventure, a tasty, tasty adventure.
I started learning about new foods because… because I didn’t have a car. The closest food source to my first apartment happened to be an organic member-owned co-op grocery. It was small, and they only sourced health foods, almost none of which I’d ever heard about before. I would go in there, totally hungry, and wander the aisles like a little ghost. What was all this stuff? How did you cook it? Where were the Froot Loops?
I quickly learned that there was very little overlap between what Food Front had on its shelves and what was available at, say, the convenience store where I worked my first real job. It was also readily apparent that the people shopping at the co-op were pretty different from the people shopping at the convenience store. Nobody was giving soda to a baby, for example. The people at the co-op kind of… looked healthy. Whereas, some of the people at the convenience store were impatiently waiting at 9:55 AM for the alcohol coolers to be unlocked so they could buy malt liquor. And cigarettes. Nobody at the co-op was buying anything with cheese that came out of a pump. Without necessarily even realizing it, I started to identify with the health-food eaters, even though I was an extreme picky eater who refused to eat vegetables.
I had no idea how to cook. I once blew up my stove while boiling water for hot dogs. I’m a legend in my family for burning instant mashed potatoes. I made an oatmeal volcano in the microwave at my work. I made cookies and put in a tablespoon instead of a teaspoon… of baking powder. I made brownies once, and all the salt wound up in a little glob in one brownie, which fortunately I ate, because I’d never wish that on a friend. I have started cooking something on one page of a cookbook, and then the pages got stuck together and I started cooking a completely different recipe. It’s safe to say that I was on the extreme low end of I Have No Idea What I’m Doing.
I just kept trying, though. I kept trying new foods, because I’d be on a date and the boy would suggest it, or because it was the only restaurant available within walking distance, or because I was too hungry to go to a different store. I kept reading through cookbooks at the bookstore and the library. I kept trying stuff, and it wouldn’t be great, but then I’d try something else, which also wouldn’t be great. Little by little, I started recognizing the names of weird new foods and learning what to expect on the menus of various ethnic restaurants and actually developing some taste preferences.
When I really got serious, it was because suddenly I was a mother. Well, a mother of sorts, more specifically a step-mom. All this vestigial tribal memory stuff bubbled up from the primordial ooze. Must Grow Child. I never knew before that deep inside me was this alien image of a Wife and Mother Cooking Proper Meals. Uh, who are you and what have you done with me? I threw myself into the project with about the same energy that I put into learning to write all three Japanese language systems in high school. In other words, an arcane, difficult subject only assimilable by the rare few who were willing to hit the books hard enough. Something totally foreign but possibly interesting.
Then the confirmations started happening. I started making stuff that tasted good. My prep work started going a lot faster. We had appetizing leftovers in the freezer. My new family started asking for more stuff with cabbage. Cabbage! I ask of you.
The food started to look pretty.
Then things got really interesting. I started learning about micronutrients and experimenting with trying to hit all my targets every day.
That was when my migraines and my night terrors “coincidentally” disappeared.
Learning about health food is like learning about anything else, whether that’s music or a language or a new friend. First it’s a total unknown, then you explore it uncertainly, then it gets kinda interesting, then you start to learn that wow, this is really fascinating actually! The more you know, the more familiar something is, the more you’re able to appreciate it. Then you start building up this case for why this new thing (or person) is awesome. Time goes by, and you’re so sold on this thing you formerly knew nothing about that you want to tell everyone else about it! It comes from direct experience, and experience comes from experimentation.
I had every reason to avoid “health food.” I hated vegetables, I was a terrible cook, the health food store seemed to keep putting eggplants where all the good stuff was supposed to be. I had no idea what anything was or what to do with it. Little by little, as I learned more and tried more, everything changed. As my food intake changed, my body changed and my experience of life changed. It started to become obvious that the more I learned about food, the better I felt and the stronger I got. I don’t even miss eating cheese out of a pump.
Before we begin, allow me to state again for the record that motivation doesn't really exist. We'll do anything as long as we WANT TO and we KNOW HOW. Otherwise, forget it. Not happening. The only trick is to figure out how to convince yourself to want things you don't already want. This can be done, yes, and it's a major secret to success. Easier, though, is to figure out how something actually does get you something you want, in ways you didn't realize before. You can be motivated by things you already find motivating. For a lot of people, a party or social gathering is one of the most powerful and delightful motivators.
When I was a kid, we often had people over. My parents and their friends were all in their twenties, and they hung out a lot. Sometimes we would all go to a park and toss a Frisbee and have a barbecue, with chips and soda. Sometimes a bunch of us would go camping. Mostly, though, various friends would come over for spaghetti and garlic bread. I remember that we had a party when Michael Jackson's Thriller video first premiered, because we were the only ones in the group who had MTV. Another time, we had friends over for pizza and we rented Roadhouse on video. Awesome, right? What we always did before these informal parties was to clean the entire place top to bottom.
Dust and vacuum! Polish everything with Lemon Pledge! Take out the trash! Wipe down the mirrors! Make the beds! Mom would scrub the bathroom until it sparkled, because that was a grownup job. We all ran around doing chores and checking the clock. Then the really great part happened: the FOOD. Mom would always make clam dip and we would have a bag of Ruffles potato chips. For the really big stuff like Tupperware parties, there would be deviled eggs. On birthdays, the birthday person got to choose what to have for dinner and what flavor of cake and frosting to get. (I liked strawberry shortcake with whipped cream). Days when we knew we had company coming were filled with mounting excitement, topped by certain party foods that we only, only ate on special occasions.
When in doubt, link to a food reward.
(Incidentally, I just figured out that my dog is just as happy to get an ice cube for tricks as he is to get a cookie).
The real reward for all our dusting and polishing was the fun of having people over. The hugs, the new jokes, the laughter. Watching new movies. Playing cards or board games. Telling stories. The time would fly by. Before we knew it, it would be time to say goodnight. Then it would be just us.
Those of us who live alone often don't feel any pressing need to clean up after ourselves. We're not hurting anybody, right? We can start to feel lonely and isolated. This is especially true if we have had roommates we really liked, or if we hate to be alone, or if we're single and not loving it. I admit it; I've cried at night, crying myself to sleep because I was new in town, with no friends and nobody to love. WHERE IS EVERYBODY?
I kept my place clean, though, because that's a luxury to me. I can't think straight when I have papers and stuff everywhere. It depresses me to have sticky floors or crumbs on the counter. I've had several extremely messy roommates, including a Rebel who later made the local news for hoarding and squalor. My motivation for cleaning is that I like it clean. Given a choice between living alone or living in a mess, I'd choose to live alone. A lot of people feel the way I do, but most don't. Most people would rather have a lively, full house with a lot going on, and not care all that much about a bit of mess.
These are questions of degrees. What is a 'mess' to one person is the 'after' photo to someone else. What it looks like after a full day of cleaning may still be 'messy' by other people's standards. How we feel about mess is one way we sort ourselves into social groups. The ideal is to settle into what makes us happy and proud, and also makes our friends feel relaxed and welcome. What that looks like is up to you, and it's up to them. Get it right, and they start coming over and hanging out all the time.
No matter how your place looks, people need somewhere to sit (or at least stand). When I was a kid, adults sat on the couch and chairs, and kids sat on the floor. I still sit on the floor, because I still can! The majority of my clients have so much stuff in stacks and piles that even sitting on the floor is a challenge, because there just isn't enough room. Goat trails from one room to another. For a lot of my people, it's a major victory just to clear enough room to open the front door all the way, with nothing behind it. Then at least people can come to your door to pick you up without seeing your secret shame.
The next area to tackle is the bathroom, or at least the bathroom closest to the front door. Even someone who is just knocking on your door to pick you up may surprise you with a sudden request to use your bathroom. It'll go better if the fixtures are clean and there's hand soap and a clean hand towel.
If you want people to come over and hang out, they'll need not just a clean bathroom and somewhere comfortable to sit, but also somewhere to put their stuff. Bags, coats, potluck dishes, whatever else they may be bringing.
If you want people to stay long, they'll probably want to eat, and that tends to mean somewhere to put food. Whether that's bags of chips and snacks, pizza boxes, a potluck, or a full fancy sit-down dinner is up to you.
This kind of visualization can help to motivate even the biggest cleanup job. We can imagine a pool of acceptability spreading from the front door through the entire home, whether that's a tiny apartment or a huge house. It also helps to realize that we don't have to work on basements, attics, sheds, storage units, bedrooms, cabinets, closets, or other hidden areas before starting to have social gatherings. We only have to focus on visible areas first.
The thing about isolation and shame is that they feed on themselves. It's our awkward, weird, lonely feelings that create the problem. Being honest and revealing the secret shame to someone can be a huge breakthrough, as long as it's a nurturing rather than critical person. You may well know someone who will come over and sit with you while you sort out your stuff and get your place ready for company. Or you can just print out a picture of someone you admire and tape it to the wall. Oh my gosh! Chris Pratt and Adele, you made it! Thanks so much for coming over!
A party doesn't have to be anything fancy. You can have a board game night, dance battle, LAN party, lip sync battle, coloring night, crafting, a movie marathon, or whatever you want. You can invite one person over, or ten, or however many will fit. I used to have an open house one night a week, and friends would bring friends of friends. People came over to our place because we had plenty of room, they didn't have to RSVP, and we didn't care if they brought five friends. We frequently had twenty-odd people over. (How many of them were 'odd people' is a matter of debate). In the first two months that we lived in our new place, we had three visits from various friends from out of town. That feeling that my place is always company-ready is a friendly feeling. It's all about the atmosphere, demonstrating that you're glad to see everyone and you want to make sure they know their visit matters to you.
Minimalism is an intentional lifestyle. It means we choose to focus our energy, attention, awareness, and money on what is most important, according to our own values. Quality over quantity. Paradoxically, the less we have, the more we appreciate it, and the less we buy, the more we can afford to spend. Minimalism is cheaper overall.
Too much is never enough. This is the major drawback of scarcity mindset. When I feel that I Can't Afford things, I have a constant feeling of deprivation. I am Missing Out. Therefore, I have an inner drive to buy as much as I can of what I do feel I can afford. That means I may be buying all sorts of two- and three-star items instead of one four- or five-star item. Not only am I spending significantly more time, space, and money on items I don't like as much, but it often turns out that I actually could afford the one five-star item I really wanted all along.
100 items at $50 each costs less than 300 items at $20 each. If you can't imagine someone having a cumulative 300 t-shirts, sweaters, tank tops, pants, shorts, tights, skirts, dresses, purses, shoes, earrings, necklaces, rings, bracelets, scarves, hats, pajamas, socks, etc, come with me on a home visit and prepare to be amazed.
My people have tons of everything. That is, they have so much of certain items that they can't find their favorite, most important stuff. They also tend not to have certain other items that most of us would consider necessities. Stacks and stacks of old magazines but no passport or first aid kit. Tubs and tubs of yarn but no kitchen sponge. Piles and piles of clothes strewn everywhere, but only two pairs of pants and three shirts that fit today. A house chock-full of stuff of every description, but not a single clear flat work surface and no savings. Books everywhere, but good luck finding that gift certificate before it expires or that missing bill before it turns into a final notice.
We can learn to focus on experiences rather than possessions. That includes the felt experience of daily life. Key to a constant background hum of contentment is a set of systems. We are able to relax and feel satisfied and grateful for life when everything is functioning well. This is much, much easier with few, easily managed possessions than it is in a burgeoning maximalist house.
I feel relaxed when I can get out the door with plenty of time to spare. That is easier when my important daily items are always in my daily bag, and there is no excess of stuff piled around my closet or my front door.
I feel happy when my husband and I are eating dinner at our dining table. We talk longer, like we did when we were dating and we would linger over a restaurant table. This is easier when we can use our kitchen countertops to cook and when we can set our plates down without having to move anything first.
I feel inspired when I can sit down to work with a clear desktop. I can do this when I'm processing information as it comes in and when I prioritize my use of the work space rather than storage space.
I feel content at the end of the day when I can climb into bed with the knowledge that I have plenty of time to get 8-9 hours of sleep. This is actually possible when I've written down all my nagging tasks and appointments, when there's no laundry piled on my bed, and when I don't feel like I'm missing out on anything by going to sleep.
Extra stuff interferes with all of these desired emotional and mental states.
When I feel deprivation or envy or boredom, I want to shop. Retail therapy helps me tune out, distract myself, get pampered by customer service, and give myself treats. I'll worry later about where I'm going to put one more shopping bag or where I'm going to somehow fit more clothes. Result: accumulated clothes, shoes, accessories, makeup, decorations, or other lifestyle upgrades.
When I feel confused or overwhelmed, I want to distract myself. I want passive entertainment. I want to veg out watching TV or playing with my phone. I definitely don't want to do any strategic thinking or planning, especially with my finances or career ladder. Result: accumulated electronics, books, music, movies, magazines, games, toys, craft supplies, coloring books, etc.
When I'm burned out and exhausted, I don't want to cook, I want to go out or get takeout. I don't want to eat leftovers, clear out my fridge, make a shopping list, or plan meals around what I already have in the pantry. Result: magical exploding kitchen.
I can change my attitude toward shopping when I realize that I can afford to spend 5x more if I buy 20% of the amount I used to buy. I can start to see my home itself as a desirable product. I can see my lifestyle as a unit. Physical space is valuable to me. Work surfaces are valuable to me. Mental bandwidth is valuable to me. Functioning systems are valuable to me. I'm going to get a lot more out of a smoothly operating, comfortable living space than I am out of any given consumer item. Even more so, waking up in a high-energy, fit, well-rested and well-nourished body gives me a feeling of general well-being that money can't buy.
Estimates are that Americans waste 40% of our food supply. That will vary from household to household, but it's such a huge number that we'll be wise to figure out our own cost and plan around it. Spending less time on multiple shopping trips per week frees up time to cook at home, and maybe even learn enough skills to actually start enjoying it.
The toughest discipline for me has been to read through all the books I already own before buying anything new. What I thought would take months is actually taking years. The truth is that I have plenty to keep my mind occupied. What will it cost to keep me supplied with reading material once I'm caught up? That's hard to say, but I do know I'll be more likely to buy the new book I really want in hardcover rather than to settle for an older discount paperback. That's minimalism right there: I'll buy what I really want, if and when I really want to buy something, because I didn't waste my time or money buying lesser items more often.
The more I delve into minimalism, the more obvious it seems that owning less is the easiest, most satisfying way to live. Stuff is a poor substitute for a satisfying life.
I love Jen Sincero. I loved You are a Badass so much that I caught myself bouncing up and down in my chair while I was reading. I kept writing down quotes in all caps. My boundless anticipation for the sequel, You are a Badass at Making Money, has been fully satisfied. Now the only other thing I can ask for is a third book, maybe something related to fitness or romance. Or just You are a Badass at Being a Badass. Let’s not be getting ahead of ourselves. Being a badass at making money is plenty to be going on with.
The most fascinating thing is how negative people can be about the idea of making money. I certainly used to be this way. I had a deeply ingrained belief that having lots of money made people selfish, greedy, and cruel. A belief like this makes scarcity into a virtue. How can I pay off my debts and increase my income without incurring an automatic moral hazard? I had no room in my imagination for the earning and spending of money to be done with joy, delight, generosity, altruism, or inherent interest. It was only as I gradually learned to understand the abundance mindset that I started to feel like I could afford to give to charity and do pro bono work like I do today. Having more money has made me more generous, and because I know that is true in my life, it stands to reason that the more money I have, the more good I will do with it. This is how I know that You are a Badass at Making Money is a positive message desperately needed by this world.
What most people do when they suddenly have more money is to: go to more social occasions and weddings, give nicer gifts, do more recreational stuff, go on cooler vacations, laugh more, and set up more opportunities for their kids. These things have a way of rippling outward and benefiting others. Why is it so hard to reconcile the reality of abundance with our internal dogma that work is hard, work is boring, and money is poison? Wouldn’t it be easier just to ditch the dogma?
That’s what this book is all about. It’s about examining our negative beliefs and replacing them with awesomeness. It’s about unleashing our creative potential. It’s about contributing to the world at a higher level than we’ve ever done before. It’s about allowing ourselves to be fabulous. Jen Sincero is the best and funniest at getting this message across. Start here.
“I just suddenly couldn’t take listening to myself complain anymore. I just finally woke up. Which is how the desire to make massive change kicks in for most people.”
“One of the biggest obstacles to making lots of money is not a lack of good ideas or opportunities or time, or that we’re too slovenly or stupid, it’s that we refuse to give ourselves permission to become rich.”
“You have to want your dreams more than you want your drama.”
Honestly, it's more about not getting most men. [For 'man,' read 'human person-unit.'] There are roughly three and a half billion people of your preferred gender out there in the world, so the one you're going to want to wind up with is a statistical anomaly. A blip. First you have to rule out all the non-contenders. That means establishing your non-starters, deal breakers, and game changers right from the beginning. Next, have a sense of how you want to feel in a relationship, and try to create as many elements of that as possible through platonic relationships with other people. If you ever do settle down with someone, it should be a value-add, an improvement on the rich and fabulous life you have when you're alone.
If you have to ask whether someone is right for you, he probably isn't.
Friendship first. If it's the right person, it will still be the right person five years from now.
Only date people who are nice to you.
Never sleep with anyone you wouldn't want to share custody with.
Guard your DNA materials carefully.
Spend time with people you respect, people you like, and people you love. Not all your friends need to fit all three of those categories, but a love match should AT MINIMUM be someone you respect, like, and love.
Would you date yourself?
Make space for someone. Whether that winds up being a romantic partner, a new best friend, or a talking crow, have somewhere for them to sit and somewhere for them to hang their hat. If you make friends with a talking crow who wears a hat, get a third chair and invite me over, too.
There is nothing that all men like. No fashion trend, activity, or type of food, anyway. The few things you can say about "what men want" are that they want to be regarded as individuals, they generally appreciate knowing what to expect from you, and they respond to ambivalence about as well as you do. A man once told me he just wanted "someone who digs me." Find someone you like, and like him. Find more people you like, and like them, too.
A relationship is demanding. It only works if you're honest, if you're willing to be vulnerable, and if you're willing to take responsibility for yourself. These are things you can do alone, and should do alone for a while before inflicting yourself on someone else. Make a list of your expectations about a fantasy romantic relationship, and then set about creating those conditions for yourself. Don't expect someone else to come along and solve your problems, whether those are self-esteem problems, body image problems, financial problems, or homemaker problems. I was my own wife long before I remarried, and I was good at it, too.
What do men like? I only know what the men who have liked me have liked. Several men have told me that "you're not like other girls." I am by no means broad-spectrum appealing. I snort when I laugh. Sometimes I have witch hair. I have an extremely coarse and uncouth sense of humor. My ex-husband told me that "the amount that you read is unnatural." What I have always done is to speak my mind, prodigiously and at great length. Sometimes I'm funny, mostly I just bloviate, but I always let them know what I think. I don't do guessing games or "if you don't know, I'm not going to tell you." I fake nothing.
I set strong boundaries early on. First, I have a questionnaire. "If you answer my questionnaire, I'll tell you anything you want to know." I will toss in random questions with serious questions. "Have you ever been to clown college?" Followed by "do you own a firearm?" "What is your name, what is your quest, what is your favorite color?" Followed by "are you legally married or can you be said to be in a romantic relationship of any stage right now?" "Will you take me to Funky Town?" Followed by "what does monogamy mean to you?" "Do you have kids? Crunchy or creamy peanut butter? Have you ever been arrested?" In under five minutes, I can quickly weed out all the non-contenders. Any man left standing is laughing, shaking his head, and really starting to be intrigued. What Will She Say Next?
If it looks like we're going to get involved, I spell it out. "I am a one-man woman. I don't cheat and I don't share. If you don't think you can be satisfied with a monogamous relationship, go in peace, but if you want to be with me, it needs to be exclusive. All your body parts are belong to me." The kind of person who prefers exclusivity finds this reassuring. "If you start to get bored with me, just tell me. I expect honesty. I need to know what you think and how things are for you." This has to be backed up with genuine action. The first time you get a critique, be receptive and responsive. Always reward what you claim to want.
Ask for what you want. Every man I have ever talked to about this agrees: Ask for what you want. Be specific. Be reasonable. Be fair. Don't make any rules or ultimatums that you wouldn't want to be applied to yourself. Be willing to go first, initiate challenging conversations, and expose your own vulnerabilities. Make it easy to agree with you and easy to please you. It should be obvious what it takes to make you happy.
What works for most people is usually pretty straightforward, simple, and low-maintenance. Do the things that work for this individual human. If you aren't sure what those things are, ask. "What is best in life?" Let him get in the door and have a few minutes to unwind before striking up a conversation - about any subject, not just the urgent stuff. Respect his personal space as you would want yours respected. Constant togetherness is unrealistic. If you freak out at being left to your own devices for a couple of hours at a stretch, you're not emotionally ready for dating yet. You're probably also not very interesting. A relationship is something you make space for out of your busy, fulfilling, complete life. It is not a substitute for a complete life.
My first marriage was a disaster. I got married to the wrong person, at the wrong time in my life, for the wrong reasons. It took a long time to recover from the aftermath. The blessing in disguise was that it really helped to clarify what I want, what I'm willing to give, and how to appreciate even minor things that work well. I had to make a conscious decision about whether I still believed in marriage and romantic love, and I chose Yes. It is so very definitely better to be single than to be with a bad match that there are no words adequate to express this fully. Be available when the right one comes along. Never settle for a maybe or an almost. It's either a heck yeah or a heck no.
Being with the right person is one of the great goods in life. That's true whether it's a colleague, teammate, friend, sibling, pet, or romantic partner. We would probably do better to raise our expectations for various Platonic relationships and lower our expectations for romance. I mean, there are a lot of weird ideas about 'soulmates' and 'love at first sight' and simultaneous whatevers that only serve to confuse us, complicating what should feel natural and comfortable. True love includes a lot of hanging out on the couch together, as well as a lot of concentrating on work and mundanity and sometimes briefly forgetting your special someone exists. Sample conversation with my husband: "What are you thinking about?" "Motors." A man is not a cardboard cutout of a bridegroom. The company of an interesting, mature adult person who likes you is a worthy goal, and actually quite a big ask. Appreciate it.
What is a dessert, exactly?
This probably sounds like a dumb question. It’s something sweet that you eat after a meal, right? Duh.
The reason I mention it is that getting more precise in what, exactly, constitutes a dessert changed my eating habits in a way that nothing else probably would have. That in turn led to the complete physical transformation that I enjoy today.
I have a set of little glass bowls that I use as “ice cream” bowls. (I call it “ice cream” because “frozen non-dairy dessert” is a mouthful, and I’d rather that mouthful be creamy sweet deliciousness, wouldn’t you?). Using these bowls means that we actually get four servings out of a pint, like it says on the label. Before the acquisition of these small bowls, I used a cereal bowl, just like everyone else, and that means that my dessert used to be much larger.
If you sit down and eat a cereal bowl full of ice cream most nights, is it still a treat?
My thought is that anything done on a routine basis is just a routine. It’s not special anymore. Having “treats” so often puts us on the hedonic treadmill, searching farther afield for what used to give us a thrill. In the same way that we always find a way to spend a higher income, we are pretty good at just incorporating extra food into our bodies. I mean, speaking for myself here, if I’ve already eaten a slice of cake at dinner, that’s no reason why I’m not going to eat another slice for breakfast the next morning.
Here’s the thing I figured out about desserts. I was eating what I would now think of as a dessert at least three or four times a day. I would eat a large bowl of cereal for breakfast (or sometimes, if I had it, a slice of cake or pie or a handful of chocolate chip cookies with walnuts). I would have a soda at work (or, in college, at least three cans a day). I might have a bag of candy at my desk. I was “good” at lunch, usually eating dinner leftovers. Then I’d go home and eat dinner, another “healthy” meal, after which I’d have a little container of soy yogurt. And another big bowl of cereal. And possibly also a can of peaches or a bowl of “ice cream.”
It wasn’t until I spent a year writing down everything I ate that I started to see the problem. I was eating a lot more calories than a 5’4” frame can handle. Much of it was from various forms of sugar. I either needed to raise my activity level to match my fuel intake, or I needed to change what I ate to match my affinity for melding into my couch cushions with a book in front of my face.
A couple of years later, I managed to make another connection. I had been driving myself and my husband crazy with my night terrors, and no matter what metrics I tracked, I couldn’t seem to figure out what I was doing wrong. Finally, I realized that the trigger for these terrifying episodes was eating too close to bedtime. Blood sugar fluctuations. As soon as I quit eating three hours before bedtime, the problem went away. I’ve only had two episodes in the past three years.
As a simple guideline, look at the ingredients list of anything you’re eating. Find the section on the label that says Total Carb. If it has more than 30mg, it’s a dessert.
Or at least, that’s what worked for me.
I’m not a low-carb dieter. I’ve tried increasing my protein intake and cutting carbs, and it made me feel horrible, low-energy, headachy, and nauseated. It’s hard to find any endurance athlete who will even bother to try eating low-carb; those are things that don’t go together. Low-carb may work for weight lifters but it doesn’t work for marathon runners. The thing about that 30mg guideline is that some people eat that much carbohydrate in an entire day. I’m talking about consuming that in one single food item.
As far as the “carbs” thing goes, I don’t generally eat white bread, pasta, rice, or anything that comes from a supermarket bakery. I do eat tons of potatoes, I eat whole-grain sandwich bread most days, and I almost always eat oatmeal for breakfast. I eat gluten, I eat wheat, I eat yeast, I eat grains… I’m just not really about white foods. That’s why, when I decide to eat cake or cookies or pie or donuts or more cake, I just go ahead and eat it.
When we were in Iceland, we noted that Icelanders are about three notches leaner than Americans. Yet they have the world’s highest consumption of Coca-Cola and we saw them eating little ice cream cones all the time. It turns out their Coke has 30% less sugar that ours. It also turns out that, due to the price of imported foods, almost everything in their food supply contains only a few ingredients, all of which can be pronounced and understood, and they don’t really do added sweeteners. Most stuff we saw had four ingredients or fewer. Also, their portions were significantly smaller and food was much more expensive. About half the portion for twice the price, with none of the added sugar… and you can start to understand why almost everyone on the entire island had visible muscle definition.
I’m totally in favor of desserts. I happen to think that they should be special occasions. It’s not so special to have something every day, or several times a day. In my case, I guess you could call “running through the house screaming in my sleep” “special” - in a bad way. When I cut my sugar intake in favor of high-fiber, high-micronutrient vegetables and fruits, my sleep problems and chronic migraines resolved themselves. Having a body that functions properly and being pain-free is a major upgrade over any dessert you could put in front of me. When I indulge, I want a dessert, exactly that and no more.
Clutter is just a speed bump. It’s important to remember that when we actually start rolling up our sleeves and sorting it out. This isn’t meant to be a new hobby! It’s something we can do over a brief period of time, and once we’ve gotten it over with, we can move on to things we like better. All the things we couldn’t do when our homes were full of extra stuff… The point of space clearing is to make room for life to start happening again.
There’s a phenomenon that I call “churning.” This is when someone starts constantly rearranging and reorganizing and purging and shopping and reorganizing stuff yet again. The reason for this is that many of us strongly prefer interacting with stuff over interacting with other humans. This is why I discourage people from looking to their stuff to “spark joy.” Stuff shouldn’t spark joy; people should spark joy. Living a life filled with purpose should spark joy. Dance and music and art and nature should spark joy. Joining the great conversation should spark joy. Instead, culturally, we’ve traded in almost all of that for screen time and cheap consumer goods.
Maybe that’s too much to ask, though. Maybe we’re far enough gone that most of us can’t reach the threshold for pleasant interactions, due to a general societal lack of civility and kindness. If the choices available are sorting through a stack of books or a tub of craft supplies, or trying to have a conversation with someone who is sarcastic or belligerent, it’s easy enough to see why so many of us are turning to coloring books or games instead. If the main point of space clearing is to have a home suitable for informal gatherings of family and friends, maybe we just have to shrug that one off and move further down the list.
The point of space clearing is to have a functional personal living environment that supports the things you want to do. A bedroom for sleeping, a bathroom for bathing, a kitchen for cooking, a dining table for eating meals, a living room for relaxing. If this all sounds perfectly obvious to you, then you probably don’t have a clutter problem.
This is what I see in my work:
Bedrooms full of dirty and clean laundry
Dressers and closets full to bursting, partly with clothes that don’t even fit
Kitchen sinks full of dirty dishes
Kitchen counters covered with dirty dishes, packages of food, mail, and random objects
Refrigerators full to the gills, mostly with stuff that has expired
Bathroom counters covered with bottles and random grooming tools
Desks buried under drifts of mail and other papers
Garages full from wall to wall
Uncashed checks and unused gift cards
(Sometimes) “craft rooms” too full of materials to actually make anything
The point of space clearing is to get these systems up and running. Systems, you say? Yes. The missing piece in all the homes where I have worked is that they don’t really have any systems. Material objects come in the door and they never go out again. Without any overall system, stuff gets left wherever, and when it can’t be found, sometimes it’s replaced, adding to the overall stuff problem. Default patterns that contribute to this are buying things on sale, “stocking up,” recreational shopping (such as yard saling), and poor boundaries with friends and relatives who are compulsive accumulators. A lot of people use gift-giving as an excuse for compulsive acquisition. “I saw this and I bought it, and I’m not sure why exactly, but here, you take it.”
Putting some systems in place can prevent clutter and chronic disorganization from getting worse. Space clearing usually needs to happen at some point, though, for things to really start working.
Get rid of anything in your kitchen that gets in the way of actually preparing simple meals.
Get rid of anything on your dining table that gets in the way of sitting down to eat.
Get rid of anything on your desk that prevents you from sitting there to work.
Get rid of anything in your bedroom, bathroom, or entryway that slows you down when you get ready in the morning.
Get rid of anything, anywhere, that you might trip over or step on.
Get rid of anything in your garage that prevents you from reaching your cool stuff, whether that’s a workbench, a kayak, an air hockey table, your bike, or anything you like more than boxes.
Get rid of anything you think is ugly, broken, depressing, or smelly.
Get rid of anything that makes you want to turn around and leave the room. Include your front and back yard in that assessment.
Get rid of everything in your storage unit, unless of course you’re independently wealthy.
We tend to get caught up in the many fascinations and charms of an individual object, such as a tomato-stained spatula, a dusty wicker basket, any object shaped like any animal, or anything that could loosely be described as “cute.” We hold things up and we set them right back down. We get distracted and wander off. It’s hard for us to learn to think in terms of an entire room rather than one silly little material object. Thinking in terms of systems is harder still. We aren’t sold on the advantages.
Am I having fun?
How do I feel when I walk in my door at the end of the day? Relieved, happy, satisfied…? Or bummed out, drained, resentful…?
Am I getting where I need to be, on time, all the time?
How are my finances? Do I actually know or am I intimidated by this thought?
Can I move freely through my home or is it easier to sit down and stay put?
Can I easily put together a meal, an outfit, and a financial statement?
Am I a good roommate to myself?
Do I like my life?
Being in debt drives me crazy. I never stop thinking about it. It’s the major motivator for me in earning money, in the same way that a trapped animal will chew its own foot off to get free. Anything, anything. I paid off the last of my consumer debt over a decade ago, and the interest rate on my remaining student loan is so low that it doesn’t really make fiscal sense to pay it off early. It’s a psychological thing. Debt is a shackle around my ankle and I’ll file it off with anything I can find.
The other night, I decided it was time to pay off the smaller chunk of my student loan. There’s a subsidized part and an unsubsidized part, and the latter is only about 7% of the total. I thought I’d just nuke it. As it turns out, the debt is structured so that I have to pay off the entire thing. I’m not allowed to pay off the smaller part early! It’s one of the million bajillion little tricks that lenders set up to bilk us of as much interest as possible. This is exactly the kind of thing that enrages me and incites me to ramp up my efforts. I WILL be free! I WILL saw off this shackle! Even if all I have is a nail file!
Most people’s reaction to debt is to wince and ignore it. People hate talking about money. Nobody I have ever worked with actually has a balance sheet or knows exactly how much they owe. Usually they don’t even know their net take-home pay; they seem to operate on a vague sense that they can actually spend their gross. Plus a little extra, because things happen. The two biggest areas of procrastination across the board are planning for the future (read: money) and taking care of health issues (read: planning for the future). If it came down to a contest between heavy-duty weight training and going on a debt-burndown program, most people would… well, most people would probably start Googling “fake own demise” or try to enter the witness protection program.
This is sad, because becoming physically stronger and becoming financially secure are both tremendously powerful, satisfying feelings. We so severely underestimate how great these states would feel. I know, because I’ve done both.
I think the major reason that most people don’t go out and chase down better-paying jobs or launch their own side gigs is because they’re so discouraged by having a boss. Well, a bad boss - research shows that about two-thirds of managers are ineffective. It’s hard working for someone who is bad at their job, someone who is a bully or a bad listener or arrogant or afraid of confrontation or who has double standards. This doesn’t even address the frustrating coworkers and the let’s-not-go-there customers. It’s other people who make our jobs hard. Or at least it feels that way when we believe we have no power over our situation. And we feel like we have no power when we’re weak in the wallet. We think we need this job, this particular job, and that we have no other choice.
Most of us hate only one thing more than updating our resumes, and that’s going to a job interview.
Shouldn’t we hate the feeling of being broke even more?
When I still had debt, I laid it all out on a spreadsheet. I looked at it at least once a day. I was like Arya Stark, memorizing her list of names. I updated my balances every day. I estimated how long it would take me to pay off the next name on my hit list. I used to have a Perkins Loan, and I visualized it as a man, an odious man named Perkins. (Unfair to the real Perkins, I’m sure, but it worked for me at the time). He was a sniveling pencilneck who constantly shoved his glasses up his narrow nose and he spoke in a nasally voice. Every time I would make an extra payment, I’d punch the air and go: “Take that, Perkins!” When I paid off the entire balance six years early, I got a thank-you letter saying that now those funds could be made available to another student just like me. Which was nice, and also made me feel a little bad for my mean visualization games.
I’m not even going to share all the various things I muttered to myself about The Banks when I was paying off my credit card balances.
I had, I think, six personal debts, two credit cards, a car loan, and three separate student loans. It all added up to something like $34,000. Since I was making about $29k at the time, it felt pretty daunting! I’m a fighter, though. Anything that knocks me down just makes me mad. I used what could have been hopelessness, anxiety, or dread, and I turned it into a white-knuckled fury. I would not be a slave to interest payments, fines, and fees. I would be a FREE ELF! I made it my ambition to get every raise, promotion, and side opportunity I could find and turn it into silver bullets that I then fired at the monstrosity that was my debt.
I did get promotions and raises. I did pay off those debts, one by one, until all that was left standing was that last student loan. I moved from my rented room to my own apartment to my own little mini-house. I bought myself new furniture and I took myself on my first real vacation.
Along the way, my work buddy turned friend turned boyfriend started to get more and more interested in what I was doing. Only a few months after I moved into my mini-house, he proposed. I was the princess who saved herself, and that’s how I got my prince.
A whole lot of mixed metaphors in this story, but I told myself a lot of different stories over the years as I fought this grim, lonely battle. Little office temp versus mass global economic forces. Or, I guess, an elf-princess who fires silver bullets at debt-werewolves? Certainly that feels better than seeing myself as an animal gnawing off its own paw. Strength rather than desperation.
What they never tell us is that power is not given, it’s taken. Initiative and agency come from within. The decision to make your own plans and build your own financial security is something that you decide for yourself. Nobody can take it from you. Nobody will even try, not really, not unless you go around to all your naysayers and start telling them your plans… The important thing is only to ask for advice from people who demonstrably know what they’re doing. Most of our friends, acquaintances, and colleagues probably don’t.
Things change when you have money. There’s a big difference between walking into an interview with shaking hands because you NEED this job, and sauntering in knowing that you’d be doing them a huge favor by taking this job. The last time I went on an interview, they asked if there was anything else I wanted to say. I said, “It would be a good idea for you to hire me.” Fifteen minutes later, they called and offered me the position. That’s the confidence that comes from financial security.
The shackle I wear right now is really more of a length of twine. I could have taken it off some time ago. I no longer have the unstoppable, vein-pulsing intensity toward it that I did a decade ago, when I felt that the vastness of my debt was like a swallowing sea, undertow dragging me into an abyss. It’s just a little thing now. I’ll shake it loose with barely a pause in my stride.
This book is definitely for you if you read the full title and feel a little ping of intrigue. How to Be Everything: A Guide for Those Who (Still) Don’t Know What They Want to Be When They Grow Up. Emilie Wapnick gets it. The person who has one dream job, gets hired, and then does nothing else for an entire career is a rarity! (The only person I know who ever fit that description worked as a programmer in the games industry, but then he was promoted to technical director, so that may not count anymore). Most of us are going to fumble around, feeling at least somewhat adrift and dissatisfied. How to Be Everything is a handbook for all of us who know we have far more to offer than could ever fit in one ordinary job.
Wapnick introduces the concept of the multipotentialite. This is a person with multiple interests. For instance, Steve Martin is an actor, comedian, and author. I personally would not want him to stop doing any of these things, or focus on one to the exclusion of others. I wouldn’t even want him to focus his writing on just plays, novels, memoirs, or anything else he chooses to write. While there is only one Steve Martin, alas, the world can certainly use more multipotentialites like him.
What I love about the book is, first, its embrace of people like myself who could never settle on just one thing. I’ve been called a flake and a procrastinator. Close friends greeted my plans with skepticism, until I learned never to announce a project until it’s complete. I was useless and bored as an office assistant, a job that will quite soon be automated away by artificial intelligence and software anyway. Right now, I’m a coach, organizer, writer, and entrepreneur, with (currently unpaid) side interests in illustration, public speaking, and comedy. In a few years I’ll probably be describing myself in a different way. I find it amusing that a significant part of my income derives from royalties and dividends, rather than regular checks, although I sure like those, too.
How to Be Everything is a manual for people who want to fit in more of their interests. There are several types of multipotentialites, each quite different, and the book includes profiles of many of them. We get windows into the ways other people have found to make a living around their various interests. I think I’m a Phoenix. [I’ve since changed my mind, or... have I???]. The book addresses issues common to creative types, like impostor syndrome, procrastination, burnout, and indecision. I highly recommend reading it right away.
I read this book and wrote this review before going to the World Domination Summit and taking Emilie’s academy. Now I love the book even more! That was one of the most highly charged rooms I’ve ever been in. Hundreds of us, chattering away, trading ideas, feeling like THIS IS A REAL THING. The most focused I’ve ever seen that many people was when we were directed to write a “master list” of all our interests. I have to say that meeting all these other multipotentialites and working through this material has changed my life and reorganized my brain. Thanks for that!
Coming home from a vacation should count as part of the vacation. End on a high note. Coming home late, exhausted, and knowing you have to get up early to go back to work is bad enough. Add the suitcases full of dirty laundry. THEN add the disaster area that was created while you tried to pack. No thank you! Planning in advance prolongs the excitement and anticipation of the trip. Planning meals around using things up can be part of this fun, and it can also help to defray the cost of the trip.
There are two main ways to use up food in advance of a trip. One, just eat the stuff. Two, cook it and put it in the freezer. (You can also ask some friends or roommates if they want it, but chances are that they’ll just wind up throwing it away).
We decide which way to use stuff based on how well it freezes. Once I tried putting a bag of carrots directly into the freezer, and let’s just say that didn’t work out very well! Right before a trip is no time to be experimenting on novel food preservation methods. Let’s just do things that we already know how to do.
Eat it now: Salad greens, leftovers, fresh fruit, anything you can juice
Freeze it: Anything that could go in a soup, pot pie, or stir-fry. Any bread or baked goods.
It took me forever to learn to do this, but I now plan meals over a 3-5 day time period. I buy frozen entrees for more like 1-2 weeks at a time, and canned foods for a few days, but the fresh produce circulates over a much briefer period. There are three reasons for that. Our fridge is small, I have to carry all our groceries over my shoulder while walking half a mile, and, most importantly… there’s no need for me to buy more. They call it a “store” because it “stores” things.
My previous method of shopping involved buying stuff out of curiosity when I didn’t actually know how to cook it, buying stuff I did know how to cook without having a meal plan, buying stuff on sale, and generally feeling like there was a “right amount” of food to buy. The result was more or less chaos. A kitchen full of every possible spice, herb, condiment, shape of pasta, and random item like umeboshi plums or canned chestnuts… but nothing that would actually represent A DINNER. As it turns out, the vast majority of stuff we buy for flavor has few to no calories. That sense of safety and security that comes from stockpiling food is a false sense of security. In crisis conditions, it won’t fuel us for very long. Thus, if we’re saving extra food at the behest of anxiety, we should be making sure that it represents whole meals in the least perishable format possible.
That’s a lesson for a different day.
What we’re focusing on right now is the OPPOSITE of crisis conditions. We’re focusing on being AWAY from home, on NOT having a stockpile of supplies. What we want is to avoid coming home to a bunch of moldy, spoiled food, all of which represents\ both a waste of money and a cleanup hassle.
Once I came home from a trip and I was talking on the phone with the man who is now my husband. Clearly I was not thinking about how long I had been away. (I think it was Thanksgiving weekend). I grabbed a container of soy milk out of the fridge and started to take a swig. Instantly my honey was subjected to a stream of swearing and gagging. The soy milk had gone bad. Approximately a single molecule of it touched my tongue, and I learned that the major function of the taste buds is to protect us against being poisoned. This is some limbic-system, deep survival stuff right here. I was scrubbing my tongue with a toothbrush and gargling with mouthwash. Then I poured out the offending container and everything in it came out in chunks. And that is the story of how I started meal planning before trips away from home.
The steps involved are simple.
Don’t go to the grocery store if you can avoid it. Definitely do not go until after you have taken inventory of the perishables in the fridge.
Try to use up all the perishables. That means “things that go bad.”
If your fridge is empty the day before you leave, great. Just get tacos that night or something.
A lot of typical American households have enough food in the kitchen to last for at least a month. Many frugalites and debt-payoff champions have proven this hypothesis by eating only the food supplies they have on hand until they run out. This can be harder to do when you realize that your stockpile includes three jars of mustard and five separate salad dressings. Also, how does someone wind up with two jars of capers?
One thing I like to do is to make a pot of soup and put it in freezer containers for the night we come home. The soup simmers while we pack our suitcases. Then we don’t have to stress out about what we’re going to eat when we get home, either. We can put off grocery shopping until the next day. We can also splurge on grocery delivery, which we used to do when our grocery store was more than half a mile away.
Travel anxiety is hard. I have found that it really eases my mind to take out the trash before I leave for a trip, and then do a final perimeter check. I can lock the door behind me, carrying the image of my clean and tidy apartment, with clear visuals in my mind that show I haven’t forgotten anything, and we won’t be coming home to a mess. Nothing but fun times ahead!
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.