Change is in the air. Can’t you feel it? I sure can. More than a mystical sense of unseen forces, what I have is rock-solid trend analysis based on tangible physical evidence. Something is about to happen in the Southern California real estate market.
I noticed the first signs at the beginning of summer. I currently live in a beach resort community, close enough to downtown Los Angeles that quite a few people have homes here and commute there. Most days of the week, I ride my bike along a row of million-dollar-and-up beachfront homes. Much to my surprise, I spotted a For Sale sign. Gossip has it that most sales and rentals in our community go through a subscription-only property listing service, and since I’d never seen a For Sale sign anywhere in town before, this caught my attention.
Over the summer, I started noticing more For Sale signs. A couple of these high-end homes are starkly empty, and one is being gutted and remodeled. (That might mean something else entirely).
About a year ago, my husband and I priced out a few of these beachfront homes, just to be funny. The first three in a row went: one million, four million, eight million. These are not special or extravagant homes. They’re... small, for one thing. Anywhere other than on the beach in a destination city, they would look quite ordinary. They also have zero in the way of a back, front, or side yard. Just yellow sand and the Pacific Ocean. Along the same row, though, there are a few large houses that could charitably be described as “mansion-like.”
I have really strong opinions about architecture and interior design, which is part of why I can’t bring myself to take out a mortgage. I can’t commit to a house and I’m just not ready to put the key-ring on it.
Okay, a few empty upscale beachfront properties during a particularly beautiful summer? When unemployment is low and the stock market is high? The economy is booming! What gives?
Eh, what do I know, right? I’m not an economist, nor a financier, nor a Realtor, nor any other profession that starts with a capital letter. I’m just an historian.
Our home is a wee little studio apartment on the other side of the marina from all this splendor. We noticed back in January that the unit next to ours stood empty. We noticed because we wanted that one, and they told us the cabinets weren’t ready or some such nonsense. Now it’s October and still, nobody has rented that unit. Maybe it’s haunted? As each studio gradually emptied of near neighbors, we noticed more and more. We’d been counting: “They must have lost ten thousand dollars on that unit alone this year.” Obviously the rent is too dang high.
We got a survey from a third party contracted by the property management company. How did we feel about our apartment, the management, the maintenance; would we be renewing our lease? I wrote a very detailed series of notes about the design issues that could be fixed, such as our distinct lack of air conditioning, washer, dryer, and dishwasher. I gave the maintenance guys five stars.
Two months later, a crew came in and started gutting the empty studio units. It’s hard not to notice, because they keep running an air compressor outside our apartment, and because the blinds are left open, so we can spy inside. They tore out all the carpet and put down either Pergo or, possibly but doubtfully, actual wood floors. They redid the countertops and the cabinets. They put in new appliances. Earlier this year, they repainted the entire complex, and despite this, went back and began replacing all the wooden balconies. Now they’re completely remodeling the gym. Interesting, we thought, they must be upgrading so they can attract tenants at their desired rent.
Then the real dirt came in. We always make a point of befriending the staff and crew of any place we hang out, not because we are pretentious but because they tend to be nicer than our neighbors. My husband was chatting with the night security guard, who says there are at least fifty empty units in our complex right now!
There are 332 units total.
When we moved to this place, a year and a half ago, rental listings were skimpy and scant. There were only three houses for rent anywhere within our price range, and two were not available for a full twelve-month contract. As far as we could tell, there were about four empty apartments for rent in the entire city. That seemed weird, since it was wintertime and the summer-only rental market wasn’t in play. Today, well, it looks like we can pretty much have our pick.
We also noticed an empty house for rent up the street from our place. A house! A house with a yard! It’s a 2/1 and it has a detached garage. It’s going for a few hundred a month less than the two-bedroom townhouse units in our complex. Hmm. If it weren’t for the $7300 fee for breaking our lease, we might consider it... which makes us wonder how many of our neighbors are also simply counting the months until they can escape and get either lower rent or a nicer place somewhere else. In town, in Nevada, in...?
We’ve been planning to move when our lease is up. We’ve been planning that since before we actually moved in to this studio; it’s just a temporary part of our long-term financial strategy. Now we’re starting to wonder if we can negotiate a significantly lower rent on one of the two-bedroom units with a sea view. We’re even starting to wonder if the real estate market crash is on its way, in which case maybe we’ll hover like vultures and wait to buy our own place.
Real estate is like any other market. Sometimes values drop and never return, because the neighborhood declines. A house is not a smart investment for everyone, and it can in fact cause financial ruin and devastation (like marriage) if made at the wrong time for the wrong reasons. If I owned a house right now, I’d operate under the assumption that we are just over market peak, and if I weren’t selling it like, this week, I wouldn’t plan to sell for the next three-four years. If I planned to buy a house (which, maybe) then I would also hang out and watch for an opportunity sometime within the next year or two.
“Are you an underearner?” The opening sentence of Earn What You Deserve should give you a strong hint as to whether you need this book. The rest of the first page should confirm it. For the right person, it could be galvanizing.
Jerrold Mundis is relatable, at least to broke people. He describes digging through his couch cushions for enough change to buy food for himself and his son. After years of recovery, and even years of being completely debt-free, Mundis keeps finding himself on the financial brink. He describes his condition as self-created lack.
Underearning, in this formulation, is something you do, rather than something that happens to you. It can apply to people from every field, every socioeconomic level, every educational level. It comes in three types: Compulsive, Problematic, and Minor. It can also be active or passive. The key is understanding that money alone can’t solve the problem of underearning. Pattern recognition comes first. What is it that we do that is different from what other people do?
Earn What You Deserve has enough practical financial advice in it to help even a complete novice figure out where to start. How do you set up accounts, categorize your expenses, pay off debt, negotiate a higher income? There are also some really excellent and even quirky ideas for negotiating with a partner. Apparently one of the chief signs of underearning is that we blame it on our mate rather than taking responsibility for our own end.
There’s no harm in exploring a book like this, even out of curiosity and skepticism. As Mundis explains, you don’t have to do anything or change anything. You can always go back. Why, though, go back to underearning? If you earn “too much” you could always slough it off and give it away, right?
No matter who you are or what your living conditions, this is precisely how difficult your own situation is—more difficult than some, less difficult than others.
Money is a highly charged subject. And most of the emotions people feel around it are negative: fear, shame, embarrassment, anger.
Worry and fret never swayed a single decision in your favor, paid off a penny of your debt, or brought in a dollar’s worth of income.
Breakups can be hard to explain. It can feel like we owe not just the disappointed partner an explanation, but the entire world. It can feel like we’re only allowed to break up with someone if we have a “reason.” Like, what did he do? If he didn’t “do” anything, what happened? It’s like firing an employee and worrying about a lawsuit. Romance isn’t like that, though. Either you have strong feelings for someone, or you don’t. Either the relationship is mutually satisfying, or it isn’t. It can’t be mutual if you aren’t feeling it on your end. Respect, affection, and love are the bare minimum. Respect is probably the most important of these, and without it, no real love relationship is possible.
If you realize you don’t respect the one you’re with, it’s over.
Looking back at my early dating life, now that I’m a married person, I realize that Young Me put up with a lot of absurd behavior. What built the marriage I have now is that my dating standards gradually improved over time. I quit tolerating a lot of bad behavior, making me more selective and helping me to recognize when I met someone I could appreciate and admire.
The truth is that young people will generally all act alike until external pressures cause them to be more accountable and responsible. A lot of common dating problems come from someone just being immature, sloppy, and selfish. These aren’t personality traits, they’re bad habits. Given higher expectations, many people will pull themselves together and stop acting that way. Given a permissive, forgiving enabler, they may carry their juvenile antics decades into the future.
As an example, I had a boyfriend when we were both teenagers. One day he called me on the phone and accused me of stealing money from him! I was outraged. I yelled at him and hung up. Later that day he found the missing twenty in his pants pocket and called me to apologize, but I hung up on him again. He made his mom drive him across town where he showed up at my door, crying.
Imagine a pair of forty-year-old adults in this scenario. It’s almost impossible.
When I started looking backward for examples of times when a boy lost my respect, they popped up, one after another. Some were mine, some belonged to friends, some were just hopeful suitors. One way or another: grow up, boy!
The one who got tired of waiting in line at a convenience store and shoplifted a soda
The one who stole my laundry quarters
The one who never, ever washed a dish, cooked a meal, or did a chore
The one who admitted that he didn’t use soap in the shower
The one who let his mom pick out his furniture - and he was thirty
The one who shoved his laundry and clutter into his hall closet when guests came over - also over thirty
The one who drank malt liquor at 8 AM
The one who asked me over to watch him play Halo
The one who wanted me to drive over and clean his apartment on weekends
The one who admitted to $40,000 in credit card debt, with no plans to pay it off
The one who was married “in France, so it doesn’t count”
The one who sat and watched me pitch the tent, set up camp, and make dinner while cracking jokes about his own incompetence
The one who had his own apartment, but no bed, and just slept on the couch with no sheets
The several who had their own place but no soap or hand towels in the bathroom
The ones who hadn’t been to the dentist in eight years (translation: Mommy quit taking me)
The one who ate breakfast cereal, toast, or grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner every night
The one who replied to my online dating profile with two emails, one addressed to me and an identical one addressed to someone else
The one who hadn’t filed his taxes in three years
The ones with no shower curtain who just let water pool on the floor
The one who proudly shared about yelling at a major client at work, unprovoked
The one who took me on a surprise outing to the country to attempt to buy an illegal firearm
The one who gave my phone number to his friend after I broke up with him
The one who neglected his cat
The one who stole painkillers from his parents’ medicine cabinet
The one who got drunk and threw up in the bushes
The one who used the same pickup line on my friend as he had used on me a few minutes earlier
The threshold for romance - the barest minimum standard - is for someone to act like a mature adult, not a teenager or a child. This is why it stands out so much when someone old enough to vote has poor personal hygiene, doesn’t clean up after himself, and can’t or won’t cook a proper meal. You can’t be a lover to a man when it feels like you also have to be his parent.
Another non-negotiable is personal values. I can’t respect someone who steals, especially small amounts, because with standards that low, where do they stop? I can’t respect lying or any kind of dishonesty, whether directed at me or anyone else, because again, how can you communicate without trust? I can’t tolerate breaking the law, because that puts me at risk, as well as my friends, family, neighbors, pets, and anyone else in the line of fire. It’s also dumb.
I don’t like being around people who are in an altered state. That’s my preference. It’s not worth anyone’s time for an ascetic like me to hang around people who like to get drunk and party.
I have no use for players and never did. Knowing that some boy is looking over my shoulder, hoping for a better opportunity, never worked for me.
Being worthy of respect isn’t complicated. Simply give your word only when you intend to keep it. Be responsible for your own material needs, clean up after yourself, and live intentionally. Have some kind of consistent ethical standards. Be willing to stand up for what’s right and speak out against what’s wrong. Tell the truth about your life. Simple, right?
Clarity around what we can and can’t respect tends to change things. Those who aren’t interested in meeting a higher standard will simply drift away. Those who remain are the ones who make solid friends. Among them may be some options for reliable mates, and among them, maybe one who will rise to meet your expectations.
It was going to happen eventually anyway. My husband joined my martial arts gym, and despite my determination to give him space, I showed up in his classroom only three weeks later. How would I set appropriate boundaries and let him train at his own pace?
Simple: I asked him.
When I walked in, his was the first face I saw. He was holding forth, telling a story, his classmates gathered around. This is what he does. I’ve known him nearly fifteen years, and no matter the group, he winds up at the center of it. It’s part of why I wanted him to join my gym. I knew he’d fit in. I also suspected I could convince him to build a catapult that fires watermelons into the sea, but that’s a story for a different day.
He didn’t wave at me when I came in. That’s fine. As I got within range, I could hear that I already knew this story, could probably tell it for him. I’m not always his audience.
I went into the changing room, put my stuff away, and swapped out my shoes. These are the things I do before I train. Whether my mate is in the hallway or not, I have tasks. I have my own training goals. I’m here for myself, he’s here for himself.
I came out and said hello. I walked up to my husband and asked quietly, “Do you want to train with me or not train with me?”
There can be no wrong answer to this question. There can’t be any strings, there can’t be any pitfalls. If we’re both going to train here, in a few months we’ll be in classes together a few times a week. We have to establish the ground rules.
This is true of anything, from where we sit in the movie theater to what format we use to share documents. If we don’t set up some kind of guidelines, we have to keep figuring it out as we go along. That demands more mental bandwidth, more decisions, more time, and more discussions. It allows for a lot more miscommunications.
In martial arts, it also allows for some physical consequences.
Training with a partner is an intimate act. You have to be profoundly aware of each other’s physical space, facial expressions, range of motion, speed, fitness level, breathing rate, and pain threshold. You find yourself accidentally punching someone you like right in the face, or connecting your elbow to your friend’s chin. If you aren’t paying attention you can really hurt each other.
That’s bad enough with any friend, acquaintance, or even frenemy. If you bruise up your spouse, well, it can get people to talking. Try to avoid this.
I said I asked my husband whether he wanted to train with me or not. That’s not entirely true. First I had to have a conversation with our teacher.
I came in to train with the white belts because I was getting over a chest cold, and I knew I couldn’t handle the advanced workout yet. That’s what happened the last time; I wasn’t quite at 80% yet, we warmed up with “fifties,” and I wound up getting sick again a couple of days later. I didn’t realize that I was about to break the rules.
(Advanced students pay more for classes, and masters students sometimes drop in to train at lower levels, so it didn’t strike me as a problem).
Our teacher tactfully explained that advanced students don’t train with beginners out of respect. I had wondered if it was to keep the room from being too full, or if we hit too hard. Really the reason is that it’s discouraging for white belts to compare themselves to more advanced students.
This made perfect sense. My first class showed me that I couldn’t do a single pushup, that I had to grab my thigh to do a sit-up, and that I didn’t even know a lot of fitness terminology. What the heck is a jump squat? I used to turn pale when I’d watch the advanced class warming up. They seemed to move at triple speed, and their warmups seemed three times as hard. (True, all true, as it turns out).
I apologized and offered to sit out the class, because OF COURSE. I also explained that I was coming back from a chest cold and wasn’t operating at my peak. I was allowed to train, because of course - I’m known for my grit, good cheer, and positive attitude, but not for my stamina or athletic prowess. Nobody would be in any danger from me.
That includes my husband, who tactfully rejected my offer to train. He looked away and said he figured it was best to train at least once with everybody. (Technically that would include me, the new person in the room, but I didn’t need it spelled out).
I had to laugh when we went in, because my husband’s partner bears a very strong resemblance to me! We’re close in age, same height, and not only could we share a wardrobe, but I think we could even trade shoes. I liked her right away and knew I would have chosen her, too. As a shy person, she gravitated to my hubby for the same reasons I did. I felt somehow comforted that he was there for her, a safe option, something like a natural resource.
It’s a privilege to be able to train with men, especially men of exceptionally large build. I can flip another woman of my size, sure, but how often do I get to test my mettle with men over six feet tall who weigh over 200 pounds? How could I deny access to my bearlike mate to other ladies who want to learn self-defense?
Instead of my new friend, instead of my husband, I got to train with a power lifter who helped me improve my roundhouse kick. I’m sure I got the best bargain out of the four of us.
Both ladies are promoting in a couple of weeks. Not only will I be training with both of them soon, but by January all four of us will be in class together.
Back in the beginner class, I felt two things. I felt winded and a little sad at how much ground I’d lost while coughing all night. I also felt a little smug that I was still comparatively quite strong. I skipped rope the fastest and didn’t need to pause. I did my tens faster than anyone else in the room. I did walking lunges and bear crawls like they were routine - although I was still feeling it two days later. Part of me felt entitled to be there, trying to rebound from a respiratory illness, working just as hard as anyone else. Part of me also felt kinda evil, that my very presence could be discouraging, could interfere with other people’s motivation. I got it.
Not training with my husband means two things. It means we don’t have to calibrate and avoid kicking each other in the ribs. It also means I don’t show off for the brief time when I’m more advanced. I’m not going to want him to flaunt his prowess when he surpasses me six months from now, so I’m not going to do it to him today.
Ultimately, we’re training together, even when we’re not even in the building on the same days of the week. We both study under the same teachers. We both wear school t-shirts. We both follow the same cultural norms. We’ve even befriended some of the same people without realizing it. A few months from now, we’ll both go through a belt promotion together, doing brutal amounts of squats and pushups in a large pool of communal sweat. One day, we’ll meet face to face in the shark pit, and when it happens, we’ll have to manage it in the same way that we would with any other partners. We’ll respect each other.
Churning is a favorite activity of my people, the chronically disorganized and the compulsive accumulators. What it means is that someone is constantly sorting, handling, relocating, or “organizing” their possessions. Often this is done under the guise of downsizing, minimalism, or frugality. Churning might involve donating a lot of bags of stuff to the thrift store, and then going inside and buying more. It can look like someone is making serious efforts to streamline their home. What’s really going on is a cover story, a reason to spend even more time interacting with physical objects than usual.
The root of hoarding is the deep-seated belief that stuff is “worth something.” Some of it is there because there’s a story behind it; it represents a memory or a relationship. Some of it is there because the owner really likes it, likes to look at it or play with it. Some of it is there out of scarcity thinking, the belief that “I can’t afford” to wait and buy something later, that “they don’t make them like this anymore,” or fear of not having enough. Some of it is there because it represents the owner’s self-image, something flattering like ‘artist’ or ‘intellectual’ or ‘thrifty homemaker’ or ‘chef.’ Underneath all of this is a fundamental preference for interacting with inanimate objects rather than human beings.
Churning isn’t obvious or overt. Someone doesn’t tend to say, I’m going to spend the day touching and playing with my craft supplies or my clothes. We say it’s time to get organized, or we think we’re doing the “full KonMari.” In fact, my people tend to adore the KonMari method because it means more time folding tea towels or rolling socks, and that’s more time in Stuff Land. My stuff, my stuff, all my great stuff!
From the minimalist perspective, you only really need to Get Organized once, when you move in to a new place. Everything you own is there for an obvious reason, and it’s obvious where to put it. There’s plenty of room because when you don’t shop for recreation, you don’t need much. Kitchen utensils and dishes go in the kitchen. Towels go on the shelf, for those of us who don’t have a linen closet. Clothes go in the closet. After you’ve figured out how to align your furniture, well, you’re done.
Then you eventually move to a new place. It’s time to pack. You look around at your stuff, realize there are things you haven’t used since the last time you moved, and you get rid of some more. Maybe 10% per move? Then you pack everything up and move it into the new place. As you unpack, maybe a few things don’t fit, like a picture that doesn’t match the new color scheme or an appliance that won’t fit in a cabinet. You shrug and dedicate a few moving boxes to charity. Out it goes, and now you’re living in a new home with even less stuff than you had before. The less you own, the less time you spend interacting with your things.
What do you do instead of churning your stuff? Talk to your friends, spend time in nature, play with your pets or your friends’ pets, get to know your neighbors, go to community events, volunteer, take up new hobbies, work out, make art, get promoted at work, lie on your bed listening to music, or whatever you want to do.
As an example, the kitchen in my studio apartment is stupidly small. I have one square foot of counter space for cooking and only half the cabinet space I’ve ever had before. We don’t even have a cupboard for food; we keep flour and other pantry staples in the refrigerator. There’s one lonely can of soup in the half-cabinet above the microwave, where we keep our cooking oil and salt. I still have a set of baking pans from our newlywed house. They have to fit in the cabinet above the refrigerator, though! Neatly stacked up there are all the cake pans, muffin tins, loaf pans, sifter, and even the electric mixer. I used to always use that space for holiday stuff like my cake stand, gravy boat, and platters that only came out for Thanksgiving. In the past, I had to ask myself why I would keep anything that only gets used three or four days a year. Today, well, keeping anything like that isn’t even an option.
Churning tends to happen when there is more stuff than storage space. People are often churning their stuff to try to make room. Take the average bookcase. Who do you know who is an avid reader, who also regularly unloads books to have an empty shelf? Nobody? I do know readers who will take a carload to the used bookstore now and then, but it tends to bring their shelf capacity from, say, 150% to 100%. It’s only when they start getting double-parked (or should I say, double-BOOKED) on the shelves, or stacked up on the nightstand and the floor, that urgent action feels required.
Personally, I like to have a free shelf available for library books.
Here are some questions to ask if you realize you’ve been spending your one precious life churning your stuff over and over:
What does ‘done’ look like?
What do I want for this room, for this space?
When will this be done?
What do I spend more time doing, making crafts or shopping for craft supplies?
Do I have a free shelf?
Do I have a free workspace with at least one square foot available at all times?
Can I use all my counters, tabletops, and chairs?
What would I do with my time if I won the chance to live rent-free for life in a five-star hotel, never had to cook or clean again, but everything I brought had to fit in two suitcases?
I’m about to churn my stuff again. We’re heading into autumn, and I always go through every shelf and cabinet before the New Year. Our lease will also be up in a few months, and as usual, they’re going to try to raise our rent. A move is probably in our near-term future. I’d like to bring as few things with us as possible. As it turns out, we need and use very little. If we spend most of our time either working or being together with our pets, friends, and family, why would we think we need so much stuff? Let what we have serve us, rather than the reverse. Let it stand at the ready, with no demands on our free time to clean it, organize it, move it, or especially not churn it.
In the home stretch of 2018! Anything that’s going to be attributed to this year needs to happen within the next three months. This sense of impending deadline tends to make me perk up and push a little harder.
How are things going?
Um, not great. I had a major personal loss and my family is going through some Category Five drama. Aside from that, I went down with two colds - that’s six times I’ve been sick this year, if anyone is counting - our building has been under construction almost constantly, the apartment gym is closed, and my husband has been traveling for work basically every week for two months. It’s been really hard to focus or get much done. I’m just... sad. Sad, tired, and unmotivated.
Life goes on, though. No matter how I feel, I have obligations, both to other people and to Future Me. I have to recognize that now that I’m in my forties, I probably won’t go a single year without someone close to me either being hospitalized or dying. That means I have to remember to show up for my loved ones while they’re here, while they can appreciate it. I also have to decide if my life is going to be about more than sadness and processing grief.
So, gratitude. Also in third quarter, our wedding anniversary happened. We managed to fit in a full two days in Las Vegas. This is how it happened: my hubby flew back from a business trip on a Thursday, came home, repacked his suitcase, and we flew out again the same night. We came home on Sunday and he flew out again on another trip the next day. A little crazy but with points and miles we made it work. Even when life is hard, we have each other. We have memories to make.
I added a few things to my usual yearly planning. I made a ‘43 for 43’ list for my birthday, and I’ve done a few things from that. I made another list of things to do during the last 100 days of the year, and so far I’m completely on track, because it’s fun. I also made a fall reading plan. I chose six books for September, and read four of them. In retrospect, I should have chosen the books first and then set a deadline, because, surprise, all of my choices were on hold at all five libraries to which I have access. Or, what, buy them with cash dollars? Part of goal-setting is creating rules that you can follow, setting yourself up for a win.
My personal goal was to explore a martial art. I did my second belt promotion, and now I have two orange belts. Given the way the program is structured, it will probably take me roughly a year between belt promotions now. I’m still feeling out of my depth and extremely challenged at the advanced level, but not to the point of total vapor lock. In other news, my husband recovered from his back injury and joined the school as a beginner in Muay Thai.
My career goal was to launch a podcast. Believe it or not, this is in progress! Even more surprisingly, it’s going to be two, not one, because my hubby and I are doing one together. We’ve had to learn how to use the equipment and the software, but we’re recording some good stuff and making each other laugh.
My physical goals were to do the Shamrock Run back in March and to build a daily stretching routine. I crushed that, and in addition I’m doing my advanced martial arts classes and riding my bike. I was doing a few hours a week on the elliptical trainer, which I’d like to resume when the apartment gym opens again. Now that the weather has cooled, I plan to get back to running. I’m tossing around the idea of training for a half-marathon with my brother next year. Also I lost eight pounds on the Grief Diet.
Our home goal was to lower our rent, which was a success. I’m about at my wits’ end with this apartment complex; the whole place has been under construction much of the year, in addition to all the other issues. Was it worth it? We’ve been pricing out comps and scoping out neighborhoods. I also put in some new closet organizers, which is the kind of thing I do for stress relief.
Our couples goal was to go on an international vacation together. Then we discovered that the best season to travel to the place we want to go would put us in early 2019. We probably won’t be able to count this as a win unless we have tickets in hand by the New Year.
My stop goal was to stop losing focus on incomplete projects. I think I’ve turned the corner on this. I’m reframing how I define a project and retooling how I set up my schedule.
My lifestyle upgrade was to upgrade my laptop. It took half the year, but I finally realized that I don’t want a laptop at all! It’s a combination of the keyboard arrangement, weight, and the questionable wisdom of carrying a fragile, expensive work tool around on mass transit. I’ve started to feel out what I want in a desktop computer.
My Do the Obvious goal was to speak more slowly, with more pauses. I am making considerable progress with this. Recording our podcast conversations and editing them is bringing yet more focus to this.
My quest was to travel to Asia and/or a fifth continent. This probably will not happen until after the New Year.
My wish was to find an amazing pet sitter. Our pet sitter moved, but she still has clients in our building, and we’re working it out.
Mantra: PAUSE AND BREATHE. It occurs to me that having a cold or flu more times than usual is one way to reflect on this. Every time I choose a mantra for the year it winds up having a hidden meaning that makes me wish I’d picked something else.
Personal: Explore a martial art - SUCCESS
Career: Launch a podcast
Physical: Run Shamrock Run 2018, build a daily stretching routine - SUCCESS+
Home: Lower our rent - SUCCESS
Couples: Go on an international vacation together
Stop goal: Stop losing focus on incomplete projects
Lifestyle upgrades: Upgrade laptop
Do the Obvious: Speak more slowly, with more pauses
Quest: Travel in Asia / a fifth continent
Wish: To find an amazing pet sitter - SUCCESS
Mantra: PAUSE AND BREATHE - ha, yeah
There are roughly a hundred days until the New Year, and I stumbled across this book while making my year-end plans. What a great idea! Let’s find out. Can You Be Happy for 100 Days in a Row?
Dmitry Golubnichy designed this book as a challenge. It includes a hundred perfectly valid, often unexpected ideas. They should be regarded as a jumping-off place, with plenty of room to revamp and customize.
The happiness prompts in the book are occasionally weather-related, meaning that they might be challenging to do in order, depending on when someone started the book. It’s definitely worth skimming through it first to see what’s coming up in the schedule.
I just posted my own list of things to do for the last hundred days of the year. Mine included quite a lot of organizing tasks and ordinary household chores, as well as meal plans that we rarely cook. As such, my personal list could probably use less planning and more fun.
What do we mean by happiness, though? This is another area of customization, I think, because what will lead one person to happiness may be a bit more of one thing than another. Domestic contentment is where I put much of my focus, because without it, it can be very hard to maintain any other type of happiness. Joy, celebration, companionship, anticipation, awe, curiosity, adventure, tranquility, wonder, delight, and laughter can be attained as well. Notice that different types of happy feelings may arise from totally different types of activities, often without much overlap. The happy feelings that come from doing something kind are different, for example, than the happy feelings that come from learning something new.
Can You Be Happy for 100 Days in a Row? Yep! It takes a little planning and remembrance that there can still be happy moments, even when most of life is totally routine and ordinary.
“If you lower your standards, then your standards are lower.” We were setting up for a day-long meeting and debating whether the nearest cafe was close enough to give us time to grab breakfast. One guy rejected the coffee at the event, saying he didn’t want to lower his standards. I responded in the manner above. We made eye contact, burst into simultaneous laughter, and instantly became friends.
I don’t even drink coffee.
The reason my new friend and I connected was that when you share a philosophy, it often takes only one sentence or one behavior to make that connection. A lot of people signal this sort of thing through their clothing, which is of course why they wear it. (Otherwise, wouldn’t jumpsuits, togas, or Star Trek-type uniforms be so much more convenient?)
Context says a lot all by itself. Here I am at seven AM on a Saturday, an hour before this day-long event, with maybe a half-dozen other lost souls. My very presence says a series of things about my commitment, interest level, ability to be organized, and willingness to volunteer for thankless tasks. Add in my wardrobe choices, facial expressions, vocal tone, posture, and mannerisms. You can’t tell everything about me, but you have a lot to go on. Maybe you don’t have enough information to figure out biographical details like whether I have kids or what kind of car I drive. You do know a few things, though, about my values and my behavior.
I was blind to all of this as a young person. When I look back, I can’t help but wonder how different my career path might have been if I’d understood at twenty what is now so obvious at forty-plus.
At that age, I would have been seriously offended by the implication that I had low standards.
As the Future Version of that callow youth, I can only laugh. Young Me DID have lower standards in all sorts of ways. Young Me was a terrible cook, for instance. Young Me accepted dead-end, low-paying jobs when she could have gone for more. Young Me neglected to advocate for herself in obvious situations when she could easily have negotiated better. Young Me tolerated shabby treatment from friends, coworkers, bosses, and boyfriends. Young Me wound up taking jobs, renting rooms, giving door keys to roommates, signing contracts, and doing favors for friends in situations that Today Me would never consider for five minutes.
Not only did Young Me have no clue how to negotiate, Young Me also had no idea how she constantly demonstrated that she was not a “first in line” first-choice kind of person.
Waiting by the phone for calls from a selfish, inconsiderate young man when we both should have known better.
Accepting the first offer from the first employer who called, with the first wage they suggested.
Being there, over and over, for friends who vanished rather than reciprocate.
Tolerating bad behavior, like stealing my laundry quarters or bouncing rent checks, not knowing what to do other than feel hurt.
Young Me saw a lot of specific incidents as misfortunes, rather than as indicators of an untrustworthy person or red flags for obvious behavior patterns. It took a lot of disappointment and a few very nasty surprises to start developing some street smarts and setting better boundaries. Today Me knows to ask more questions in the first five minutes.
Today Me still does favors for people, although usually they are different kinds of favors. Today Me gets asked to be a reference or review resumes for job-hunting friends. Today Me evaluates a lot of speeches and holds a lot of volunteer offices and staff positions. Today Me will still visit people in the hospital, help people move, pet-sit, or occasionally slip someone a secret envelope if they’re having cash problems. Having higher standards and better boundaries does not mean being more selfish, cold, or unkind. It means being more discriminating, offering help where it can make a real difference. Feeling taken advantage of can only happen if you have certain expectations or if you come from a position of scarcity. Offering a gift of time, energy, or resources comes from a place of love, and that means no strings.
There are, of course, many other areas where Today Me has higher standards. Young Me was a walking disaster in some ways, chronically disorganized, constantly late everywhere, and helplessly lost in the professional wardrobe category. These are not moral issues and they are not character issues. It still feels unfair sometimes to be judged by what are really superficial traits. They are, though, extremely potent signals that show whether someone is operating in the same system or not. I always believed myself to have a strong work ethic, to be committed and dedicated, bright and sincere. In some ways, it’s convenient to have ways to demonstrate that visually, just by walking in the door at 7 AM on a Saturday and making a single comment.
If you lower your standards, then your standards are lower, whether that’s your standard for how you behave, how you speak, what you believe is an acceptable work product, how you treat others or how you allow them to treat you. It’s also true that if you raise your standards, then your standards are higher. This is how you can personally contribute to a better world. If you raise your standards, you can improve your own behavior, speak kindly, influence and inspire others, create amazing, beautiful, and useful things, set the tone at an event, and ultimately contribute to the culture of a community or organization, however small. How you do one thing may actually be how you do everything. It’s an interesting project to see how raising your standards in even one area may affect everything else in your life.
Something momentous happened. My husband signed up to join my martial arts gym.
This isn’t a huge surprise; after all, we’ve been discussing it since I joined back in January. I’ve been talking him up to the instructors, and he’s met them and some of my friends either at promotions, around town, or at the summer barbecue. He has some martial arts experience and is generally about ten times the athlete I could ever hope to be.
Still, it’s a big thing when two spouses join a gym together. It’s even bigger when they’re on different schedules. Most of all, it’s really something to consider when there’s a ranking system involved, and one is a beginner while the other is advanced.
If you’ve ever tried to teach your spouse something, or been on the receiving end of any kind of lesson, solicited or otherwise, you probably know exactly what I mean. Tutorials that are interesting and helpful when coming from anyone else can be unbelievably obnoxious when taught by the one you hold most dear. This is exactly why my ex-husband and I wound up not ballroom dancing together; he couldn’t stand my being better than he was, and even more, he couldn’t stand the idea of me dancing with anyone else. It seems like maybe the reason a lot of people give up on hobbies and interests when they get married is precisely this, the skill differential and the attendant ego conflicts.
What I’ve learned is to be patiently available on demand, if I have a skill that my (husband, friend, relative) wants to learn. Otherwise, I stay well the heck away and keep my opinions to myself. It’s hard to do, a skill available only to those more advanced in age.
Mentoring people is fun, and it’s a big part of my life. That makes it easier. I have plenty of outlets to evaluate others in their speaking skills, or help encourage newer students at our martial arts school. I’m much more proud of my ability to cheerlead and inspire others than I am of my own skills, wobbly as they are. I know my husband will quickly surpass me as a boxer, and it’s exciting to me to know how quickly he will develop. He’ll learn from the same teachers as I did. I trust their teaching abilities, certainly more than I could my own.
Okay, so we have some hiccups in his onboarding process. He has his gym bag all packed and ready to go the day after Labor Day. He gets to work, only to find out that he’s expected to travel out of town later that same night. He has to come home after lunch, pack his suitcase, and turn around and fly out of town. Winds up traveling a few days every single week for six weeks and counting. Finally, I convince him that it’s worth it to meet me at the gym one weeknight to take advantage of a promotional discount. I bring his gym clothes and a water bottle and agree to wait and ride bikes home with him afterward.
Having your spouse watch you through a window while you plank and do crunches, that’s quite an act of courage, am I right?
So I’m standing in the hallway, grinning through the window, having already done my own workout earlier that morning. It’s uncommon for me to hang around in casual clothes; one of my classmates doesn’t even recognize me. He comes up and asks, “Do you do this?” Um, we’ve met? We’ve spent hours training together? The guys start asking questions.
Why aren’t you in there with him?
You know you can go in there, right?
(Advanced students can attend beginner classes, but not the reverse).
These are all guys around our age or a little older. As far as I know, all of them are either married, or used to be. I think they know better, and they’re just curious what I’ll say.
“Look, we’ve been married for nine years. I know how this works. If I went in there with him, his first class would be his last class. I need to give him space to do things his way, on his own time.”
One of the guys says his wife refuses to train with him. I have trained with him myself, and I don’t tell him, but I totally understand why. He’s super bossy!
Another guy just smirks knowingly. He’s with me.
See, I’ve already won the game. He’s signed the contract, bought the gear, invited me to watch him train, and now he’s actively in there dripping sweat on the mat. He’s doing exactly what I would wish he would do, which is to commit and form his own relationships with the instructors and the other students.
I prove my point two days later, when he puts on his school t-shirt and goes to Saturday morning class without me while I sleep in.
It wouldn’t be helpful for me to step in and try to correct his form, teach him basic combatives, help him put his gear on, or otherwise Tell Him What to Do. He’ll have most of that down by the end of his third class. Learning from the trainers and fellow students is a completely different experience than having his wife stand over him and boss him around. What I can do is to listen with genuine interest and full engagement, nodding and laughing because I know exactly what he means.
Also, I can create opportunities for him to make observations and teach me things. This was really tough for me when I first started running and asked him to coach me. He told me I was untrainable. I learned how challenging it is to humble yourself before someone close to you and allow them to be the expert. I also learned how much he loves coaching, how very good he is at it, and how silly it is of me to hang onto my precious ego needs when I could be taking notes instead.
Part of what makes us work as a couple is that we bring non-overlapping skills to the table. We’ve learned to respect one another’s expertise. We’re also really good at exploring new things together, being willing to be a good sport when the other wants to try something. In this case, I can expect that my hubby the lifelong athlete will be able to help me work on my form and some of the technical skills that have eluded me. This is leverage. This is a valuable opportunity for me to take leadership toward the goal of greater fitness for both of us.
If I went in there with him, with the goal of showing off, I’d fail. If I went in there with the goal of impressing him, my classmates, or the instructors, I’d fail. One day, a few months from now, we’ll go in there together, both in orange belts. We’ll go in as equals. If I go in there with him, we’ll probably still be training together a year later. That’s how the match is won.
I used to live in Santa Rosa. Areas where I lived, worked, rode my bike, ate lunch, and visited friends burned flat last year, and the same region recently came under threat again. The photos and videos of devastation are heart-wrenching and chilling. Whenever something like this happens, there are two things we can do. We can try to help, and we can review our emergency preparedness. Every person who gets out quickly is one less person for emergency responders to rescue, and one more person who can volunteer. Channeling our feelings of helplessness and sorrow into a plan of action may never be truly necessary - but it might.
One way of doing this is to make our emotional decisions now, while everything is fine, so that if a crisis does happen, we’re not distracted into foolish or deadly attempts to save our stuff.
People, then animals, then things.
Not everyone made it out of the Sonoma County fire alive. That’s because the fires sprang up so quickly and spread so far and fast that not everyone could outrun them. If you’ve ever spoken with someone who fled a wildfire, there is no time. THERE IS NO TIME. There is no time to wander around flapping one’s hands and trying to load up a bunch of bags and boxes of memorabilia. Every single time there is a natural disaster or catastrophe of some kind, people panic and start trying to bring all their favorite stuff. Just assume that if you do this, a firefighter will die. Let it go.
Most of us are in a good enough headspace that we can accept that yes, we might lose our homes and appliances and all our worldly goods. Some of us have already lived through such an event. A trauma like that is often a moment of crux, when we realize that we really are lucky to be alive and that if our loved ones are okay, then we’re okay. We realize that stuff is just stuff, and that we’re fine without it. Others go through a trauma and “lose everything” (read: material goods) and become ultra-attached to their belongings from that point forward.
What does it mean to “lose everything”? This expression makes me think of Alzheimer’s disease. You lose your memories, you lose your ability to recognize even your closest friends and relatives, you lose all your skills. You lose your vocabulary and your ability to read. You lose your ability to care for yourself or be safely alone even for brief periods. You lose your ability to understand what’s going on, so that even a routine doctor visit becomes confusing and terrifying. This is my definition of “losing everything.” I think about it a lot because it runs in my family and I worry it will happen to me.
This is when I start thinking about photographs. When my Nana was in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s, old photographs were one of the few things she still understood. Pictures can have meaning.
Not just photos, really, but other memorabilia, too. Anything that exists as only one copy, anything that is richly saturated with memory and legacy, anything that rightfully “belongs” to an entire family. These are items that can be preserved and stored in multiple copies in case anything happens.
Anything: anything at all. Fire, flood, mold, theft, termites, anything.
Not every photo is deeply meaningful. I tend to keep a dozen nearly identical versions of family photos, deleting only the ones in which someone’s eyes are closed. I must have thousands of family photos from the advent of the digital camera. No, I know I do! I have thousands per vacation or wedding! Many of these are landscape shots. Back in the days when we bought film by the roll, a dozen photos might cover a period of two or three years. Preserving photos takes some curation and editorial decisions, especially because we probably have more photographs than the rest of our possessions combined.
The best way to do this is to send digital copies of important family photos to every family member. Then it’s a simple matter of sending copies back if someone’s hard drive crashes or a hotel sprinkler goes off.
Older, print photos can be scanned too. My husband’s photo albums from the Seventies have started to deteriorate; the glue on the pages has become brittle and the photos have started to fall out. Others have stuck to the pages or to the glass of picture frames, causing them to tear if we try to remove them. In my organizing work I’ve seen entire bags of photographs pancaked and stuck together by moisture, moldy and ruined. Photographs do not last forever. The work of redundancy may do more to protect photos against ordinary entropy than against catastrophic loss.
Many people find that taking a picture of a sentimental item creates enough of a record to allow the original item to be released. Children’s artwork, trophies, worn-out concert t-shirts, lucky running shoes, old quilts or afghans, all of this stuff could potentially be digitized. The memory is preserved and the relic can be let go for recycling.
As an historian, the idea of families recording the artifacts of their daily lives is really interesting. I’d love to see decades’ worth of family albums recording the layout of furniture in each room, pictures of favorite family meals, pet beds, and all the other stuff that usually fades into the background. What I would not want to see would be family genealogies recording the deaths of people who ran back into a burning house in a foolhardy attempt to drag out a paper photo album.
Fall and winter are good times of year to sort and scan photos. At least in the Northern Hemisphere, the weather is cold and wet and the days are shorter. We can bundle up, drink cocoa, and look through old prints. As the various holidays come up, we can share albums with friends and family. We can do the emotional homework of detaching from material objects and making stronger connections to our beloved people and pets. Let us be grateful that we have these bright spots in our lives. Let us be grateful that we have the comfort and leisure to preserve our memories today.
'CURATE YOUR STUFF' WORKBOOK NOW AVAILABLE!
Download on the Products tab today!
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.