It's a mystery to me why some people like to shop. I hate it. It's not just the odious clouds of perfumes or the bad lighting or the "music" or the people accosting you from kiosks. It's not just that I'm alienated by almost all patterns and most fashion colors, or that I'm more utterly befuddled by cuts and styles with every passing season. I just hate spending money. It makes me break out in hives sometimes. All of these reasons combine to make me an under-buyer. That's why my only bag threatened to disintegrate before I deigned to replace it.
The irony here is that in my work with compulsive accumulators and chronic disorganization, all of my clients, universally, have uncountable numbers of bags. Shopping bags, gift bags, plastic bags, paper sacks, tote bags, purses and messenger bags, bags of every description. The reason is that they always have piles of unsorted stuff skewed everywhere, and bags are irresistible "temporary" sorting depositories. Some of my people will cast off previous handbags, like a snake shedding its skin, when they get too full of receipts and other detritus to use anymore. The more I see this in my work, the more I respond by swinging to the other extreme and avoiding bags in general.
The lining of one section of my particular bag had been ripped out for at least a year. This regularly resulted in stuff migrating from one section to another. I put a new bag on my wish list last year. This is a convenient custom in my family; you make a wish list of stuff you want in various price ranges, and if someone is assigned to get you a gift for some reason, they can choose something off your wish list and still surprise you. My husband is relieved by this tradition and finds it useful. It wasn't so useful when the bag I had chosen, after looking at dozens, turned out to be back-ordered. Then the back-order was canceled and the price was refunded. But! THAT was my bag! What am I supposed to do, pick a different bag? I remembered this as Christmastime, but it was really my birthday, which means I already knew my work bag was falling apart nearly a year ago.
Then I noticed that one end of the strap was tearing loose.
Here is where I confess that I bought the darn thing at the Hollywood Goodwill for $7 in the first place. In my defense, it still had the original tags on it...
I'm not a purse person. What baffles me the most is the appeal of all these brown-and-tan bags with logos on them that don't match anything else in the known universe. Unless it's bags that cost more than a car. I went a long stretch without carrying any kind of handbag; I could just put my wallet and keys in my pocket. Then the stuff started to catch up to me. Wallet, keys, phone, sunglasses. If I wanted one single additional item, like lip balm or tissues, it started to get more complicated not to carry a bag. Then I got my iPad and started writing anywhere and everywhere, and I had to carry that, too.
Where it really starts to get complicated is when you don't have a car. Long hours on public transportation tend to attract additional stuff. Consolidating errands tends to mean there's always at least one small extra item to carry. Today it was business envelopes, as shown in the embarrassing photo above. I realized how frustrating it would be if this strap finally came loose while I was still two hours from home. As much as I hate carrying a bag that crosses the line from 'purse' into 'luggage,' it was time. My purse is my car now. I went into Ross and came out with a $20 commuter bag that has lots of inner pockets. I transferred my stuff into it and threw the old bag in the trash, right outside the store.
I walked in the door with the new bag, and my husband looked right at me and didn't notice. I did a little curtsy and moved my arm to draw attention to it. Still didn't notice. That's a sign that you've picked a sufficiently utilitarian bag, when your pet engineer is unable to detect it.
The first thing I did was to sit down and pull some things out of the bag. That's because I need them. The envelopes went with the other office supplies. I took out my charger and plugged it in. There's a daily homecoming ritual of pulling out the flotsam and jetsam of the day, the receipts and paper napkins and earrings and whatever other stray items find their way inside. It only takes a minute - literally like 60 seconds. The absence of that homecoming clear-out ritual is what leads to Bags Everywhere.
Bags Everywhere. We've got the shopping bags with items still in them, tags still on, receipt still inside. We've got the donation bags that are now mixed in with the keepers again. We've got the plastic bags filled with random stuff, usually car clutter that got scooped up and carried in, mostly including junk mail and coupons. We've got the purses, each partially filled with a combination of receipts, mail, hair ties, coins, and useful stuff we can't find. We've got the gift bags from various occasions with the gifts still inside. Then we have the boxes with a couple of bags inside, like Russian nesting dolls. Then there are the piles, usually laundry, with bags on top. That's the nature of my work. We gradually go through the bags, one by one, recycling all the junk mail and the excess bags, realizing that there really isn't all that much in these bags after all. I guess bags are just so friendly that they like being surrounded by others of their kind.
I can accept that it's useful to have a bag. I can even accept that I'm allowed to have more than one bag, or to buy one before the previous one turns into shreds and scraps. In the same way, my clients can accept that their lives would be easier if they had fewer bags to manage. Every day is simpler when you know where all your most important daily stuff is. Streamlining your daily bag, whether you're an accumulator or an under-buyer, is one of those small projects that can have disproportionately awesome effects.
The Compound Effect is the kind of book that is incredibly motivating and inspiring for people who are already motivated and inspired, yet intimidating for people who are not. I say this as someone who probably would not have bought into it in my younger days, while knowing, through later experience, that everything in it is true. Believing is seeing.
Darren Hardy begins with his origin story. He had a tough dad who drilled discipline into him from a young age. These few opening pages could be off-putting to the majority of us, who would find such tough-love parenting tactics a bit scary and depressing. Just keep reading. I can attest that reaching your goals does not require drill-instructor parents or early success. You can build positive habits even if you're a late bloomer like me.
The Compound Effect refers to the way that our habits take us in different directions over time. Hardy offers the example of three imaginary dudes. One just keeps doing what comes naturally. One cuts 125 calories a day out of his diet, and the third starts cooking more recipes from the Food Network. Not quite three years later, Dude Two has lost over 30 pounds while Dude Three has gained over 30 pounds and the first dude is just the same as he ever was. I can scroll through my Facebook feed and point out several real-life examples of this phenomenon. In one case, I sincerely didn't recognize an old friend in a photo and thought she had been tagged incorrectly. I had seen her in person 2-3 years previously and she had somehow nearly doubled her body weight in that time. Meanwhile, another friend who had started in that weight range is now doing triathlon and is likewise nearly unrecognizable. Comparing the habit changes of my two friends would be instructive, although the first person would find that kind of question very hurtful and the second would be proud and flattered. This is what habits can do.
Hardy shares examples of various people he has coached, usually his employees. "Beverly" was overweight and lost her breath climbing one flight of stairs. Through his coaching, she lost 40 pounds and ran a marathon. Yeah, right, you might say. That story could have been about me! I only lost 35 pounds, but I not only got out of breath climbing a flight of stairs (at age 29), I would see black spots. I did wind up running a marathon, just like Beverly. I kept the weight off and I haven't been at my top weight in 12 years. I started just by walking 2 miles per hour on a treadmill for 30 minutes at a time a few days a week. Little habits really, really do add up. I didn't know that I would become a marathon runner when I started. I just knew that I was too young to have that much trouble climbing stairs, and there were people in their 60s with more energy than I had, and I wanted more for myself. Little by little, my efforts compounded. It works.
An idea I loved from The Compound Effect was to use your snooze button time positively. Hardy says his snooze lasts 8 minutes. In those 8 minutes, he does gratitude practice and then sends love to someone. I found this enchanting! What a lovely way to start the day. A variation on using your snooze time could be to record a video of yourself talking about how exhausted you are and how you want Future You to stop sleep procrastinating and go to bed half an hour earlier.
Ask yourself where you were five years ago, Hardy suggests. Compare where you were then with where you are now. Are you where 2012 You would have hoped you would be? Do you have the same negative habits you wanted to get rid of then? Have you built the positive habits you wished you had then? This is sobering. I found that I had indeed built some positive habits, but that I had slipped on others, and that some things I still don't seem to have figured out.
Only when you experience the compound effects of a habit do you start to feel and believe the power. It's delightful and addictive. You can change anything with just the tiniest increments over time! Hardy offers real-life examples, such as how he wrote down at least one thing he appreciated about his wife every day and then gave her a book full of the observations. I wouldn't have thought metrics could be applied to marriage until I read that. The Compound Effect is an eye-opener, with the kind of insights that can put everything in your life into new perspective.
Some questions from Chapter 5 to ask your friends:
"How do I show up to you? What do you think my strengths are? In what areas do you think I can improve? Where do you think I sabotage myself? What's one thing I can stop doing that would benefit me the most? What's the one thing I should start doing?"
I'm still totally not over United Flight #3411 yet. I wasn't even there and I can't get over it! I've been flying alone since I was 7 years old, and I've been a frequent air traveler ever since. So many changes have happened in the industry since that time that it's barely recognizable. I remember when there wasn't even a gate around the metal detector, just a person with a chair who sat next to it and waved you through. There was never even a line. I remember in-flight meals, magazine racks, free decks of playing cards, and many occasions when I had nearly an entire plane to myself. You could basically bring infinite checked bags and carry-ons of any size. I wear business casual when I fly, but back in those days everyone wore their Sunday-go-to-meetin' best. Now there's no dress code, everything but everything has an added fee, and it appears we're not even guaranteed a seat if we've paid for our tickets and boarded the plane. Times have changed. When times change, strategize. Make a policy decision for what you'll do when and if you get bumped.
A policy decision means no further decisions without game-changing new information. For instance, as a policy decision, I like walnuts in my cookies even though not everyone does. Most frequent travelers have policies. I am a one-bag traveler, by policy, and it would take very special circumstances for me to check a bag. I have a couple of weather-tested travel "uniforms" that I wear. Other policies might have to do with how early you plan to arrive before each flight, or whether you use your flight time to work, sleep, or catch up on reading. Making a policy about getting bumped is just one more aspect of this overall strategic plan.
I decided some time ago that I would volunteer to give up my seat if a volunteer were needed. This is partly because I am naturally altruistic, partly because I usually travel alone, partly because my schedule is flexible, and mostly because I freaking love money. A cash prize would be the best, of course, but I would actually use flight vouchers. Just don't try to buy me off with drinks coupons, because I don't drink. Last year, I had a layover at McCarran, and the ticket agent announced that they needed a volunteer. Woohoo! Four hundred dollars and possibly a night in Vegas? I'm in! Unfortunately, before I could finish standing up to claim my prize, a bearded guy in a tie-dyed t-shirt had bounded over to the counter. Clearly I am not the only person lying in wait for the golden ticket.
The scenario changes when I am flying with my husband. Unlike me, he has a normal office schedule, or more so, because he works 9/80s. It's a big deal for him to get time off. We would be unlikely to volunteer as a unit unless the conditions were optimal. Maybe we'd be on the last leg of a flight with no connections to make and the payout sounded attractive enough. This is somewhat of a moot point, though. The salient feature of a getting-bumped scenario is that we may not have a choice. What if one of us got bumped and the other didn't? We talked it out and decided that we stay together, so if one of us gets bumped, we both disembark. Other couples might go the other way, figuring that it's better for one person to arrive on schedule. One of you might volunteer as tribute. Some couples might have a multi-faceted policy that factored in multiple inputs. It's much easier to do these calculations in advance than to try to figure it out in a crisis moment, when you're both exhausted.
Consider Flight #3411 again. Here is this poor elderly doctor, traveling with his wife. He says in one video that he's been traveling around 24 hours. These are hardly optimal conditions for making difficult decisions. Then she agrees to depart, changing the nature of the stakes for his own decision and adding to his stress level. Quite frankly, most travelers would not have found vouchers for $800 and a night in a mediocre hotel to be enough enticement to get off a plane, fearing the loss of their bags, and cancel their plans. Cold hard cash, hand-carried valet service for the luggage, and a suite at a high-end luxury hotel, plus limo to the runway and Michelin-starred restaurant vouchers? Then we're starting to talk. Then we're getting to the stampede-to-the-counter level of incentives. All of that still would have been significantly cheaper than an international public relations disaster. Don't hold your breath waiting.
Until we're collectively willing to pay higher ticket prices, seat availability is going to get tighter and conditions are going to deteriorate. We might as well accept that one of these days, we're going to wind up in an unfortunate scenario. I've sat out five-hour weather delays more than once, usually when all food service in the terminal has closed for the day. Stuff happens. While advance planning can't make these problems go away, it does help to have some idea of what we would choose to do if they happen to us.
News flash: Not everyone has to eat the same thing. It helps to understand this before anyone in the household sets out to make dietary changes of any kind. Changing what you eat is hard enough. Adding power struggles between household members can only make it harder. When you decide that you want to take ownership of your body and make positive changes, this will immediately change the power dynamic. Others around you will get nervous and try to restore equilibrium by pushing back and trying to making you quit. It is known. Plan around them. This is also true if you're the one who wants snacks and someone else is trying to change. The only rules are the rules that work for everyone concerned.
Power struggles come in every variety. You can have a power struggle about who goes to bed when, who gets to use which bathroom for how long at what time of day, who unloads the dishwasher, who cleans up cat barf, who gets to spend how much money on what, and on and on. You can make every single thing a power struggle every day if you like. If you have children, you can have power struggles with them about whether the left shoe goes on the left or right foot, whether you can wear the same outfit after it technically no longer fits, or how many times to reread the same storybook. A popular child-oriented power struggle is whether one needs to eat any foods that contain insoluble dietary fiber or micronutrients, or whether one can simply get rickets or pellagra instead. Look at the snacks/diet plan spectrum as a non-binary, non-zero-sum choice in the context of power struggles in general.
Non-binary means there are more than two options. Non-zero-sum means there can be multiple winners. For example, if I wear a t-shirt, everyone else can also wear a t-shirt, or a sweater, or a T-Rex costume, or whatever. It only becomes an issue if I'm trying to enforce a dorky dress code on a family photo.
That's the thing about food intake. In our culture, apparently anything other than 24/7 cheese-covered deep-fried super-sized buffet is preachy and body-shaming.
There is food everywhere. If you haven't noticed yet, you're going to. Vending machines! Candy bowls! Free breadsticks and chips and salsa! Ice cream trucks! Restaurant delivery! All-night drive-thru! You can get pizza delivery by drone on two continents already. I anticipate 3D-printed food on demand, just like Star Trek, in only a few years. Before we know it, we're going to be accosted by little R2-D2-type robots trying to give us free samples and take our orders for third breakfast, second lunch, and eighthsnack. Drones can fly through our windows and drop food bundles straight down our funnels, directly into the esophagus. It'll be great.
Things changed for me when I realized how deep my scarcity mindset went around food. I had spent at least four minutes chasing a single pumpkin seed around my plate, trying to get it on my fork. I froze. I asked my husband, "How long have I been doing this?" He said, "As long as I've known you." I had this rule somewhere in my psyche that I had to absorb every single molecule of food that had been served to me. I sat with this feeling. I taught myself that because I have 24-hour access to all foods known, I can relax. I will not starve. In fact, if I got anywhere within 40 pounds of starving, a committee would chase me down, wearing matching hats that read GIRL, EAT A SANDWICH, and would in fact force-feed me sandwiches until I reached the new zaftig ideal. I don't have to have food in my mouth during every waking moment, and it turns out my dentist agrees.
I lost 35 pounds, and I haven't had a migraine in over three years. I'm never going back.
My husband has struggled with his weight all his life. His top weight was 305. He taught me everything I know about weight loss, and the irony of this is that we're never trying to lose weight at the same time. I've learned that to support him when he's on a mission, I simply can't eat certain things in front of him, or store them where he will see them. When I was training for my marathon and he was cutting calories, I had: first and second breakfast, first and second lunch, afternoon snack, Frappy Hour, and of course my fanny pack o' fig bars and trail mix for the run itself. I had a secret container of Birthday Cake Oreos hidden in my office. I bought Nutter Butters because he doesn't like them. (Neither do I, but COOKIES). We ate a sensible dinner together after he got home, and if I wanted late-night snacks, I would just stuff them in my pocket when he wasn't looking and "go for a walk." I do everything I can to be courteous and supportive around his eating plans, just as I would for any of his other plans.
A strategy that was helpful for me, when I was untraining myself from EATING ALL THE THINGS, was to remember the grossness of some former coworkers. People be touching the snacks. There was this one guy my husband referred to as "Mister Poopy Hands" because he had seen him walk out of the restroom many times without ever going near the sinks. I never ate out of communal office bowls ever again. If there's something I want to not eat, I just picture that particular dude scrabbling around in the bowl or working in the kitchen. Bleah.
The truth is that nobody is responsible for what goes into my mouth but me. I just make a decision and then the decision is made. If I'm going to eat cake for breakfast, so be it, the Word has been spoken. If I decide to trim the four pounds I gained over Thanksgiving weekend, so be it, the Word has been spoken. If I struggle and resist Past Self's policy choices, I can give myself R. Lee Ermey-style coaching or I can wear a thick rubber band around my wrist and snap myself. I can remind myself that I'll be at my goal in a few more days. What I can do for anyone other than myself is significantly more limited.
Good luck ever trying to change anyone else's eating habits. Good luck ever trying to change anything about anyone. The very fact that your intention has become obvious sabotages any chance of a positive result. Assuming the mantle of Nutritional Gatekeeper is nuanced and complicated. It does tend to work on children, though, because they don't have money, they can't drive, and they generally can't cook, either. What your kids eat, if you have children, IS entirely up to you. Just because they demand nutrient-free foods does not mean you have to provide them.
Scarcity mindset will poison your best attempts, whether for yourself or others. Put joy back into your life, there and in other areas. More good stuff. More music, more color, more nature, more laughing, more making of things rather than consuming of things, more hugging, more fascination. If food is the highlight of your day, then you have a devastatingly boring life. Find a way to make your life more interesting and pleasure-filled overall. This may have a ripple effect on the people closest to you, changing the power dynamic, or it may not. What you eat can't really be about what everyone else eats. Do what works for you, and it will work for you.
Hoarding is a lot more common than people realize. That's because people hide anything having to do with shame. I've worked with hoarding, squalor, and chronic disorganization for twenty years, and at this point I think it affects roughly 20% of the population. Here in the US it does, anyway. Some cultures seem to be somewhat immune to it. It's just so easy for us to bring home excess stuff that it's almost harder to avoid it. I just see it as a sign of the times, that we have food excess and debt excess and entertainment excess and texting-while-driving excess and, also, clutter excess. I don't blame anyone. It just interests me. It's a problem I know how to help solve. So when I find out someone hoards or has an organization problem, I'm never surprised.
Don't feel judged. My friends do, even after I've talked to them about it. Honestly, nobody you will ever meet will be more sympathetic and less judgmental about a little mess than I am. I have seen it all and smelled it all. Granted, if you're suffering, I don't want to see you live that way, but it's not like I'm going to climb in your window and start alphabetizing your socks. I'm here to help, not to boss someone around. I don't even boss myself around.
I'm not the kind of organizer who teaches you to use a perfect little label maker and make perfect little bulletin boards and perfect little... I dunno, terrariums or something. I'm not a Pinterest princess. I can't even really wrap a gift or frost a cake. Everything I try to make turns out lumpy. What I try to do is to find the pain point and remove it. That's all.
What's a pain point? A pain point is the thing that bothers you the most. Shame, anxiety, depression, sure. I probably can't do much about those, but I can help you do something about the situation surrounding those states. Practical philosophy. Also, if you're ashamed of, say, a hoarded room, it's hard to feel that way once the room is just a regular room again. If you're ashamed of an unpaid debt, pay the debt and the shame can go away, like fog burning off in strong sunlight.
Everyone has something, a secret shame. Often it manifests as a stack or a sack, like a bag of receipts and unbalanced bank statements, or an incomplete baby album, or a package of blank thank you notes. Alas, the people who most should be suffering from shame apparently don't feel it at all. Those are the people who wantonly go through life being nasty and hurting people just for the entertainment value. Casters of insults and spreaders of false gossip. They're out there. Think of whatever shame you feel and just mentally wad it up and toss it through the ether toward one of those people. You have more than you need, so just share a little, huh?
I'm never surprised by a hoarded house, just as I'm never surprised by grief or shame or anxiety or depression or any of that. That's because those feelings are nearly universal. All of us are the walking wounded, doing our best to get through the day and feeling alone. Oh, gee, obviously I must be the only one who can't cope. We see so many photographs these days of other people turning cartwheels on the beach or having a big ol' free hugs party, and we wonder what's wrong that we aren't feeling this constantly perfect joy and elation. Well, guess what? Those photos are staged. Personally, I've never turned a cartwheel in my life. If I do have a free hugs party, by all means, drop on by. If you know a hundred people, and each one shares the one perfect photo of the best moment of the best day they've had all month, it does prove that there's fun to be had, but it does not prove that everyone else is having it in a constantly running scintillating stream. Just like a clean house does not prove that other people don't have to wash pots or fold laundry.
I know who you are. If you refuse to let people in your house, you're one of mine. If you refuse to ever open your drapes, you're one of mine. If you offer someone a ride and then frantically try to scramble around clearing off the passenger seat, you're one of mine. The problem here is not what you think it is. The problem is that feeling of embarrassment, guilt, anxiety, and trying to hide the evidence. Your making it a big deal is what makes it a big deal. Remove the shame, and the situation becomes easy to resolve. You could simply ask for a little help, and one of your friends most likely would step in and help. Some of your friends may just be waiting to be asked. The guilty feeling of being helplessly trapped in procrastination is the thing that separates us. I recognize this feeling the instant I see it, and the only thing that surprises me about it is the strength of its force.
Mess is surely no worse than other common things people do, like drunk driving or bouncing checks. The natural reaction when we don't feel like we measure up is to isolate ourselves to keep the secret. The more we feel like we're in trouble, the less likely we are to speak up and say we can't handle it alone. Sadly, the wider the gulf between our perceived results and those of the people around us, the more likely it is that they know a simple solution to our problems. If it looks easy for them, maybe we just need to ask how they do it. Nobody would want someone to suffer alone, wallowing in bad feelings. Tell the truth about your life and you may find that nobody is surprised.
My clients have weird things in common. I've worked with single people and with families, with pre-kindergarten kids and retirees, with bachelors and parents, PhDs and people with various mental health conditions. What they all tend to have in common are the tendency to put fruit stickers on their fridge, collections of old magazines, scattered coins... and the belief that they will die prematurely. They all think that. (Well, except the little kids). They're pessimists, and they think that dying young is the saddest thing that can happen to them. The real pessimism, though, is that they'll live to a ripe old age and that they will outlive their savings.
How long are you going to live?
No, I'm serious. What's your best guess as to the age you will be when you die? You knew this post was going to be dark when you started reading, so stay with me, here. Write down your number.
Mine is 96, but I'm pretty sure that if I get that far, I'll keep on keepin' on and shoot for centenarian. Why not?
Understand that this is not an optimistic thought for me. I know something you do not know. I know the balance in my retirement account. Right now I think I have enough to retire for... one year. Maybe two if I can spend part of it hiding in my brother's garage while he's at work. I hope he's not reading this or he'll change the code on his security alarm. Dang it. I hope my backpacking tent lasts that long. Sorry, I got distracted there. Back to planning for old age.
Well, my first plan is not to be old.
If that doesn't work, well, then, I'll just keep working. Never mind the fact that almost nobody actually pulls this off. Usually, our health fails us and we just can't hold down a job anymore. There's also no guarantee that we'll be able to get and keep jobs that pay enough to make our nut. My grandmother worked until she was 75, because her company loved her and she enjoyed her job. But then she got Alzheimer's. The gap between 75 and 86 was something I won't discuss here. Just say that I know it can happen to me and I know it's expensive. An expensive eleven years of being unable to operate a microwave safely, much less drive to work, much less actually work. Don't plan on it.
How's that for pessimism?
Unfortunately, I'm a health nut. I had the lack of foresight to never start smoking. I don't drink, either; it just gives me the spins and makes my mouth sour. Oh, and also I don't drink coffee. I ran a marathon two years ago. I'm at the healthy weight for my height. I eat more than the recommended number of servings of fruits and vegetables every day. I drink green juice because (shh) I actually like it. Do you have any idea how dumb all this is? My great-grandmother lived to be 75, and she smoked until her last day. Just imagine how much she would have had to save if she never smoked! My family tree on both sides is almost entirely made up of people who lived to a ripe old age, people who ate red meat and smoked cigars and drank hard liquor and didn't have seat belts and inhaled asbestos and all that fun stuff.
When my grandmother was born, life expectancy for women was 56. Her mother lived longer than that, so she probably assumed that she would also make it into her early 60s. My grandparents were frugal savers and they had multiple streams of retirement income set up. I am positive it never once crossed their minds that Nana would live to be 86. THIRTY YEARS longer than the average life expectancy at the time of her birth. We don't think it's possible.
We just don't think we'll live to be that old. We have no connection to Future Self. Old Me is a complete stranger to whom I will bequeath dirty dishes, bills, and wads of crumpled receipts. You're welcome. Now, I have two neighbors within fifty yards who are over 90 years old. My grandmother-in-law lived to be 96. It's just not that uncommon anymore. It would be nice to think of it in a cool way, that we'll be here to see so many amazing technological advances, to read more books by our favorite authors and hear new albums by our favorite musicians. Ah, but pessimistically, what will really happen is that we'll spend all our time grumbling about our aches and pains and trying to remember whether we took our pills.
Seriously, I hope everyone reading this lives a long and full life. If you have the misfortune for that to happen to you, I hope you had the good sense to save money and make sure you can take care of yourself. Remember that number I asked you to write down at the beginning of this post, which you absolutely did not do even though I made a big fuss over it? Take that non-existent number you refused to imagine. Now add fifteen years to it.
There's the real pessimism for you. I think I'll live 31 years past what I think of as retirement age, and I'll need to save enough money for that, but in reality, it might be 46 years. I'm only 41 now, so that's completely unimaginable. To try to sum it up, all I can do is to imagine my scariest and saddest day of being young and broke, but then try to add in my most tired feeling on top of it. This is why I prefer optimism. I prefer the idea that I'll be a lively old spitfire, writing my memoirs on safari somewhere. I'll pull out my gold Future Phone and call Present Me all the time, demanding that I save more money.
Why is it that, as soon as the technology became available, so many of us started working around the clock? Between email and cell phones, 'evening' and 'weekend' barely exist anymore. Carson Tate wants to help us to Work Simply and reclaim our free time.
The first chapter introduces us to "The Myth of Time Management." It really isn't about doing everything more efficiently; we've all tried that by now. This is strategy. For instance, one of the most helpful ideas I found in the book was to get your manager to define what constitutes an 'emergency.' So much of "time management" is really about "manager management."
Tate provides a quiz that distinguishes four different types of organizers, and offers custom tips that will appeal to each type. This includes software, physical changes, and negotiating tips for the other types. I found myself identifying various people I know as one type or another. I'm a Visualizer and my husband is a Prioritizer. I suspect that a good chunk of chronically disorganized people like my clients are Arrangers, who have a greater need for social connection. Understanding the type of your boss is perhaps even more useful than understanding your own type.
Work Simply offers the suggestion to think of time as money. Calculate your hourly rate and then figure out how much fifteen minutes of your time is worth. In many situations, we would never give someone cash outright but we will squander our time, paying for it later with long days and late nights.
This book is a product of the modern corporate workplace. It deals frankly with problems like working so much your kids prefer the other parent, having a boss with no sense of priorities, or being too busy to use the restroom. Mastering these issues is the only way we can reclaim our time and mental bandwidth and find room to breathe again. In the words of Carson Tate, "Work simply to live fully."
I'm bossy and I have a big mouth. Another way to say this is that I am an assertive woman, or, if I were a man, ordinary. It's an extremely helpful and important trait in dating. When people meet each other for the first time, they want to know: Who are you? What are you like? What would it be like to hang out with you and talk to you? Be who you are, all the time. That way people know what to expect. It's reassuring. It can also quickly weed out anyone who won't be a good match anyway. This is important when first meeting, and it's even more important when it's time to consider whether to take things to the next level. There is no rule book for this stuff. There are only the "rules" that you and your potential new partner make up together.
This is roughly the boundary speech that I would give to contestants:
"I'm a one-man woman. I don't cheat and I also don't share. If you have any questions in your mind about whether long-term monogamy works for you, go in peace. If you want to be involved with me, then it needs to be exclusive. If you want out, just be honest, and we can do it without drama.
If you cheat on me, I will break up with you and tell your mom.
If you ever use physical violence on me, I will break up with you, press charges, and tell your mom and your boss. Not that you would ever do that, of course - just saying.
I don't do raised voices. It's unprofessional. In my opinion, there is no need for yelling at any time unless someone's life is in danger. I have completely cut off contact with more than one person for yelling at me. Let's just be nice to each other.
I have brothers, male cousins, uncles, and a lot of close male friends. I hang out with them, text them, email them, and talk to them on the phone. So I totally get it if you want to hang out with your female friends. It would be a little weird if you didn't socialize with women, actually.
What are your deal breakers?"
This probably sounds painfully awkward and horrible. It might be, if it were sprung on someone you'd just met, rather than a friend you've known for a while. Oddly enough, it is a conversation that has led to a couple of long-term relationships, one of which is my current marriage. It turns out that many men appreciate the direct approach. Many men have been befuddled by the game of "if you don't know, then I'm not going to tell you." Most people do not like guessing games or "tests" or hidden rules.
Some guidelines: First, be a good listener. It's about a thousand times more important to LISTEN and pay attention to this new person in your life, because you already know what YOU think, and you really, really need to know what HE thinks. The better a listener you are, the more he will relax and open up, and the more you will know about him. If he starts talking about jealousy or evil exes, listen even more closely. Ask yourself what version of this story the other party would tell.
Second, set your boundaries firmly in your own mind, and stick to them. It's always when we start rationalizing bad behavior to ourselves that we reel ourselves in. We set ourselves up for trouble, sometimes for danger. We should never have to talk ourselves into being with someone. It's not our job to make excuses for anyone.
I dated a guy who cheated. I forgave him and he did it again. I forgave him and he did it again. I broke up with him and he cried. Aww.
I dated a guy who was extremely jealous. He flipped out when I told him my uncle was staying at my apartment for a few days and he accused me of lying and cheating on him. He hacked into my email and read everything in my inbox and even my sent folder. I broke up with him.
My first husband spent our entire house savings behind my back and lied about it. I forgave him, and a few months later he asked for a divorce. I moved out, and six months later he managed to damage my credit by trashing our rental house and not paying the power bill that still had both our names on it.
These are things that happen when you trust someone who breaks your trust, and then continue to trust them after they have demonstrated that they are not trustworthy. What else would have happened if I'd stayed with them longer? I'm glad to say that I have no idea.
These are the reasons that I became so mean and suspicious. Actually, I am not mean or suspicious at all - I simply decided to reserve myself for an honest gentleman. I wanted someone who was capable both of trusting and of being trusted. Once he made it through the gauntlet, I could let my guard down. I've been married nearly eight years now, together for eleven.
In a world of seven billion people, almost everyone who exists is going to remain a stranger. We have to reserve our energy for the relatively small group of friends, family, and lovers who will reciprocate our affection. We can't make room in our lives for people who will mistreat us or lie to us. Letting someone in is exposing our family and friends to them, too. Everyone in our circle becomes vulnerable. It's our job to check new people out first before introducing them around and vouching for them.
Vulnerability is hard. It's at least as hard for men as it is for women. The goal when setting boundaries is to protect all hearts concerned. We don't want any 'meh' relationships and we don't want anyone to feel like we're "settling" for them or "putting up with them for now." We want to avoid spending long periods of time with people we could never love deeply and fully. That's why we should be grateful for the end of weak relationships and the freedom to begin strong ones. Strong relationships require strong boundaries, an agreement on how to love one another properly.
Now that we've been in our new apartment for a month, we decided it was time to wander over and figure out how to get into the fitness center. The amenities were what sold us on this place; there's little other reason why a middle-aged married couple with other options would move into a tiny apartment with shag carpet, a popcorn ceiling, and only one closet. (I'm belaboring this point just in case I need to ward off the Evil Eye). Both of us are fairly experienced gym rats. We have our preferred equipment and our preferred default workouts. We also know that no two gyms are alike, even in the same chain. Taking fitness seriously means accepting that no gym is perfect.
Regard the photo above. That is my view from one of the two elliptical trainers in our gym. Regard the sea. Regard the swimming pool. Regard the palm trees. What is missing from this picture is the persistent squeaking of the flywheel behind me. It's loud, yo. Every other step produces this screech that would not be amiss in a recording of a traffic collision. Meanwhile my husband is jouncing away to my left, no doubt listening to Five Finger Death Punch on his headphones. There are half a dozen other people trying to work out, and everyone knows that I am the source of this irritating squeal. It's kind of like farting in an elevator, except you're trapped with it for half an hour.
Oh, do you think I quit using the thing just because it made a horrifying sound? Ha.
We began our workout by casing the joint. I wanted to see if there was a pull-up bar, because we don't really have a good spot to store the one I built for my office door frame - you know, the office doorframe I no longer have because neither of us has an office anymore. There is indeed a pull-up bar. Unfortunately, it appears to have been designed by Dutch people or something, because I literally have to jump a foot in the air with my arms over my head to grab it. Freaking tall designers, I tell you. My husband offered to do an assist.
"You mean like when you push my weight up and down from my knees and I pretend I'm doing real pull-ups?"
"I'm not holding that much of your weight."
"I'm not here to do fake pull-ups."
Needless to say, the home pull-up bar is staying, at least for now.
The second piece of equipment we were hoping to find was a squat rack. If you only have time in your schedule to do one exercise, five minutes of squats is the exercise for you.
"I know you like squats."
"It's not that I like squats, it's more that squats like me."
No squat rack. We went over to the free weights instead. My husband picked up a pair of twenty-pound dumbbells. I figured I'd use the same ones when he was done. Then he reminded me that this is a body weight exercise, and reminded me again of how sad I would be if I overdid it and then tried to walk down stairs the next day. Or the day after that, as DOMS often doesn't hit in its full glory until the second day. DOMS stands for Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, and I delayed explaining that to mimic the effect, which clearly can't be done with text because we don't have enough vowels OR enough consonants for HEEAUUGHHHHkfff. Five pound dumbbells it is!
The third piece of equipment I hoped to find was an incline board for doing crunches. No such luck. For some strange reason, I have been feeling this physical craving to activate my core lately. I'm a physically restless person, which is why it's fortunate for everyone that we live on the ground floor, so nobody has to listen to me pacing around all the time, which I do. Yet the urge to fold myself in half over and over again has never made itself known inside my body before. My abs are speaking to me and saying 'HEY LADY.' I always pay attention to these inner messages because who knows? Maybe if I ever find a genie in a bottle that's how it will want to communicate. My first wish will be for a strong core, my second wish will be to be able to do muscle-ups, and my third wish will be to be a billionaire so nobody kicks the back of my seat in the movie theater anymore.
Anyway, back to the lack of incline board, there was an abdominal cruncher, so we both used that instead. I kinda hate it when my husband goes first, because he very ostentatiously moves the pin back to a lighter weight. He does it deliberately to provoke me, I know it. Well he'd better be careful because before he knows it, I'll be shifting more weight than he can even though he's twice as big as me. Watch it, mister, that's all I'm saying.
We don't do all the same machines because I have some chronic tension issues in my neck and shoulders. I worked with a trainer and I have a laundry list of specific exercises I'm supposed to do to balance myself out. When we start from a zero fitness level, it results in tightness in certain areas and weakness in others. That pulls the body out of alignment. That's when we start to get the chronic tension and the snapping, crackling, popping sounds. "Pain comes last," says my trainer, and I'll tell you, that spooked me to my weak little core. I already have pain! You mean to tell me I don't have all the pain yet? All I have to do is look at any given person who is older than me, and my commitment to avoiding more pain is redoubled.
I used to think that people only worked out if they had nothing better to do. What, you can't read a book? Then I found out that I could read on the elliptical, and I could listen to audio books while I run. I would read while doing squats if I could convince someone else to hold my book for me. Also, I started to learn that working out is how non-young people such as myself avoid the slow slide into grinding pain, worsening posture, and unbalanced gait that eventually lead to walkers, wheelchairs, and hospice. I remember how nervous my Nana was about stepping onto an escalator at age 75, and I take the stairs, and I recommit to retaining my mobility as long as I can.
No gym is perfect. No body is perfect, either. Nor should there be such a thought. Every body is just the vehicle for the person inside. What we find in an imperfect gym is a place to rectify the crookedness that time wreaks upon us. We're here to stand up straight and tall while we can, and sometimes to try to jump up and grab things that are barely within reach. We're here to get sweaty and make annoying noises, accepting that nothing in this room will be pleasant or easy. We do it because life isn't perfect, either, but it's both easier and more pleasant with more muscle power.
Now that you have it, what are you going to do with it?
An exit strategy is a plan for what to do in a given situation when the circumstances change. For instance, say I have a job. I'm not going to work there for infinity years. At some point, I know I'm either going to retire, quit, get laid off, get fired, or die with my face planted in my inbox. Even if I get promoted, I still have the same set of options. It's the same thing with my car. At some point, I'm either going to sell it, trade it in, or donate it, or it will get totaled. Same idea with my house. At some point I'm going to move, because I'm a renter and I know we won't retire here. Nothing lasts forever. That includes our stuff.
Most of us never think about exit strategies for most of our possessions. It just doesn't cross our minds. Every brand-new, fluffy sock will one day either lose its mate or become threadbare. How lonely and tragic. Ever gotten a blister from wearing a worn-out sock one too many times? Things are made to be used, and at a certain point, they get used up. We give worn-out socks to our dog as a toy, and it's not long before they're too torn up even for that. Into the trash they go.
Our culture generates more material artifacts than any culture in human history. We number our garments and books and action figures in the hundreds. We have dozens of copies of things that never even existed in the recent past. For instance, my household contains an entire box of power strips, chargers, connector cables, and backup batteries. Remote controls, headphones, splitters, tablets, phones, protective cases, electronic equipment I'd have trouble explaining to a child. What does this do? No idea, honey. I think it has electrons in it. We have all this stuff, and where is it going to go? Into a museum? Maybe not if there exist hundreds of millions of iterations of it, and a new version is coming out this November.
The Beanie Babies alone could make an extremely weird monument if they were all gathered together in one place. A desert pilgrimage site, perhaps. Living wild animals could hop up and curiously take a sniff. Birds could nest in it. Otherwise what are we going to do with them all? Do we really, truly think that people a century from now are going to want millions upon millions of disintegrating stuffed toys?
There are three reasons why the people of antiquity created small midden piles instead of landfills that can be seen from outer space. One is that they used things until they wore out, and then had a secondary market for the broken stuff. There was an entire profession of "rag-pickers" who would repurpose worn-out clothes and linens. Old newspapers, letters, and sheet music were used to wrap fish and meat. The other reason is that people have had an enduring, millennia-old tradition of ritual bonfires. You had a holiday full of revelry and a big fire, with a need for things to stuff in it. That's where you sent your snapped chairs and other dangerous old junk. Of course, by far the most important reason that people of the past did not generate landfills is that they didn't make, own, or waste even a tiny fraction of the stuff that we do.
One day, we'll be able to feed our friable old plastic junk into a 3D printer or a home power generator. We'll mine our landfills for more materials. Hopefully. What else are we going to do with cracked plastic buckets, stained food storage containers with melted lids, and warped lawn furniture that won't support a person's weight? Times a hundred million?
Many of us experience strong feelings of sadness, nostalgia, and regret when we think of the fate of unwanted or useless stuff. Jigsaw puzzles with missing pieces. Worn-out shoes. Scary space heaters with frayed cords. Ugly lamps. Close-up photographs of a million thumbs. Engraved decorations from the weddings of divorced couples. Broken Christmas ornaments. THIS USED TO BE COOL! I think we sometimes project our own feelings of rejection onto misfit material items. Sure, I'm a little funky, but can't you love me anyway? Deep inside, we truly believe that physical objects have souls and emotions, that they suffer when they aren't polished or displayed in some way. We demonstrate that by bringing them home and storing them in mildewed, crumbling old cardboard boxes.
Many of my clients are compulsive accumulators. Some shop as a hobby, whether online or in stores. Others will cheerfully accept limitless amounts of bags and boxes of other people's castoffs, stacking them up and never using them, but resting peacefully in the sense that they have "saved" these items. Books that will never be read again. Torn or stained garments that will never be remade. Fabric scraps that will never be used. We can't accept the fact of ruin. We can't face the pressure of a world of seven billion people that seems to require the manufacture of trillions of small, consumable objects and the waste of 40% of our food production. We never spare a second thought to what will happen to these objects after they come in our front doors.
We probably don't spend enough time sitting around and crying about it. Suppressed grief over our lost loved ones. Suppressed grievances over lost glories of the past. Suppressed disappointment over the way our lives have failed to live up to our dreams. Suppressed sorrow over the state of the world. Wasting today fussing over yesterday, rather than making tomorrow happen the way we'd prefer. Living in a personal landfill rather than accepting that our existence adds to collective landfills.
The only way out is a grand exit strategy. A policy decision to quit buying so much stuff. To put our attention on food and energy waste rather than the fate of a couple hundred pounds of random objects. We waste far more when we throw away spoiled groceries week after week than we do by junking old junk. If we stacked up all our single-use packaging for a year, we'd quickly see that it adds up to far greater volume than any amount of old furniture and knickknacks.
My husband and I are continually divesting stuff from our household. We've realized that there's no point in keeping anything we don't use. It's expensive to rent a bigger house just to provide shelter for more stuff we don't even need. It all tends to get banged up when we move. What really makes our life together is our habits: our inside jokes, our favorite recipes, our conversation, our shared presence. The more we downsize, the smaller the house we rent, the nicer the neighborhood we can suddenly afford. Our bills get smaller and we spend less time cleaning house. In light of all these benefits, the stuff we still have has to justify itself more and more.
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.