The thing about goals is that they’re often too small, too easy to reach. It takes something on a grander scale to be really exciting and worth chasing, and that’s the visionary scale of a dream. Just like goals, though, dreams may not be what we had imagined when once we actually make them real. As time goes by, we may not realize that what we really want is something entirely different.
That’s when it’s time to release an old, expired dream and start chasing a new one.
When I was a kid, like a lot of children, I wanted to be a veterinarian. It’s fun to say big words and impress adults. As I started to realize what veterinarians actually do, I changed my mind. All I could picture was having to give shots to puppies and kittens all day, and owie! Now, as a middle-aged person, I know a few vets, and the truth is that theirs is a very difficult and often sad profession. It’s been over thirty years since I thought I wanted to be a veterinarian, and I was okay with letting that dream go.
(But thank you ever so much to those of you who pursued it!)
Optimists like myself have a fairly easy time of it, recognizing and letting go of expired dreams. We’re future-facing, and we’re more interested in moving forward, toward something appealing. The reverse is true of a lot of people, those who lean toward melancholy and regret. Releasing an expired dream can feel achingly sad in these cases.
I have a dear old friend who is at the top of his profession. This is funny to me, because I’ve known him since he was a university student, filling his study area with towers of cola cans. He is literally working his dream job, the only thing he’s ever wanted to do with his life, and he’s wildly successful at it. He’s making more money than he could have imagined, living in his dream city, married and traveling the world. Yet he’s constantly wistful about his teens and twenties and in some ways feeling like life is passing him by.
Why? What could have been better than the outcome he got? Staying twenty forever, battling bad skin, being broke and not knowing how to cook?
As we get older, the past starts to put on this golden, hazy glow. We forget the bad parts and the rough edges. This really seems to start to kick in after we hit our sixties, and it’s part of why older people tend to be happier. We can see it in action if we compare the stories someone tells us with the version they were telling ten or twenty years ago. We can compare their notes with those of their friends and family who were there, we can compare it with photos, we can compare it with journals and letters and news headlines. Gee, that sure isn’t how you were telling it when it happened!
Come to think of it, *I* was there, and that’s not how I remember it either!
It’s probably for the best. Our shiny new versions of tawdry old events are part of what keeps us going.
Nostalgia isn’t a very good bargain, if you ask me. Why trade future visions for feeling like our best times are behind us? I know that isn’t true in my life. I wouldn’t even want to go back two months, much less two years or twenty years. I look better today than I did in old photos. My life is easier and better, and why? Because I’ve always chased my dreams and continued to dream bigger.
I live the life I do because I’m specific about what I want, and that motivates me to go out and get it.
The easiest of the expired dreams to let go is the dream of being with your old crush. One of the greatest things about social media is that it’s easy to find people and see how they’ve turned out. In my case, my crushes are now of an age to have grown vast wizard beards, which is awesome, but my husband can do that too.
Any single one of my old crushes would not result in the marriage that I have today, and that’s a thought that makes me feel small and panicky. Trade this for that? No thank you.
Dreams can be of any size or duration, just exactly like clouds. Is yours continent-spanning majestic size, or a house-sized bit of fluff? Is it going to drift away before you can grab it?
Here are some dreams that I’ve released, and why.
I used to dream of having an electric car, when they were new and uncommon. I’ve released that dream because I hate driving! My dream is not to have a car at all, and I’ve been living that out for nearly three years now.
I used to dream of being 5’10” - six inches taller than my adult height - and I’ve released that dream. Now I understand that my size is efficient for things I like to do, such as distance running and backpacking. It’s easier for someone of my size to do pull-ups and other body weight exercises, too.
Once upon a time, I dreamed of earning a degree in Classics. I released that in my senior year, when I changed majors, because I finally realized that nobody understood what it meant, and I got tired of explaining it. Also, it struck me that I could spend my time learning modern languages rather than Latin and Attic Greek. (I did come away with rather splendid Greek handwriting, though).
It’s interesting to picture myself as a tall woman driving around town in an electric vehicle and wielding a Classics degree. What am I doing? Am I a professor of antiquities? Hmm. A valid life, an intriguing dream, but... nah. I’ll take what I have today, thanks.
Aspirations usually show up in physical form, and they’re far more likely to manifest in small consumer items than in bigger things, like acceptance letters or class syllabuses. We buy little trinkets as placeholders for our wildest desires. I see this all the time, and in fact I can usually pinpoint someone’s expired aspirations within minutes of entering their home.
Foreign language dictionaries, unopened packages of art supplies, dusty fitness equipment, books with pristine spines, mute instruments, clothes that don’t fit... signs and relics of unlived personas, untouched fantasies, untested dreams.
These are objects of power, mind you. There is vast energy stored in these sigils, these artifacts of past dreams.
Let’s all agree to forgive ourselves for having lived our actual lives. Let’s let go of this idea that things might have been better if only we had been someone else. Imagine if everyone you loved was someone else instead: would anyone be left to love you? Love yourself the same way, just the way you are. Then box up your old aspirational clutter and offer it to someone else, someone for whom that dream still has bits of sparkle to explore.
I just moved, and this book was a big help to me. What Your Clutter is Trying to Tell You, sometimes, is “either pay for a bigger apartment or get rid of some stuff!” Unlike most clutter books, this one focuses more on the inner work and less on the routine organizing aspects of space clearing. In this sense, it’s a better pick for those of us who sometimes struggle to let go.
Q: Why is my house so full of stuff?
A: I have no idea!
Kerri L. Richardson gradually downsized from a 2,000 square foot house to 500 square feet. I’ve done a similar process, and I can verify that this experience definitely clarifies what you do and don’t need! On the other hand, I’ve also found that when people discard a lot of stuff in a short period of time, they can feel so distraught that it becomes traumatic.
This is exactly why it’s so important to focus on the emotional aspects of why we care so much about our stuff.
What Your Clutter is Trying to Tell You covers everything, from sorting through clothes and books and papers to setting boundaries with people. This is a very rich topic, because so often a person’s family members have made more choices about the stuff in the home than the owner has.
Richardson’s book is an excellent companion for the intense work of space clearing. If you’ve been feeling stuck or struggling with why you can’t seem to motivate yourself to get rid of clutter, maybe you should find out What Your Clutter is Trying to Tell You.
I define clutter as anything that gets in the way of living the life of your dreams.
What am I tolerating in my life?
Organizing your mental clutter begins the process of establishing realistic expectations.
Once my clutter is gone, I’ll be able to _______________.
I’ve been telling my friend she should propose to her boyfriend. There’s this terrible habit I have of encouraging people to get married. I’d quit doing it except that I have such a good track record! I can tell when people are going to be happy together, and the reason seems simple to me.
They boost each other.
This is more or less the opposite of the “Four Horsemen” indicators of divorce, two of which are criticism and contempt. It should be obvious that criticizing and insulting someone is not a great sign of contentment! Unfortunately, these behaviors are incredibly common, and the longer a couple are together, the more likely they are.
What we’re looking for here is not just the absence of criticism or contempt. There are literally seven billion people in the world that this couple are not criticizing right now, because they don’t know them and aren’t thinking about them. That doesn’t mean they’re wearing seven billion wedding rings.
Boosting someone is something special, something that many people don’t do for anyone. It’s not just a secret to a happy romance, it’s also a magical key to popularity and success. Might as well include a bit of that here.
See, people tend to treat romance differently than all other relationships, and this is a major reason why there are so many breakups and broken hearts all the time. A long-term love affair feels very similar to a long-term friendship (because it is), or being with family (because you are, after a while), or having a buddy at work.
Tell each other everything
Glad to see each other
Can be yourself, without feeling self-conscious
And, perhaps most importantly:
Celebrate the good times together, even the small stuff!
Someone who boosts you is genuinely excited when something goes well for you. They recognize even tiny little milestones, sometimes before you do. They give you credit when you aren’t willing to give credit to yourself. They remind you of who you are on your best days and shrug off the rare occasions when you’re having your worst days. They regard your funny little quirks with affection. They respect your dreams and want to magnify your image of what is possible. Basically they just think you’re great.
This is why I think my friend should marry her boyfriend, because the way she describes him, he is like her personal fan club. I don’t know if she sees him that way, but I know it when I see it. He’s always rooting for her success, the more the better. He loves it when she wins.
As her friend, I feel the same way. I see her as staggeringly talented, a personal role model of grace and generosity. I also see that her biggest issues are her shyness and reluctance to push forward, because I have the same issues. They just seem to make sense for me in a way that I wouldn’t say they make sense for her. Of course she should follow her ambition and go big. Of course she should!
It’s easy to like him because he loves my friend for the same reasons that I do. We both want the best for her and we’ll be waiting, side by side, every time she crosses a finish line, with a hug from me and a kiss from him. Figuratively.
This is by no means the model for every romance, or every friendship. There are so many:
The rescuer who loses interest when the wounded bird starts flying again. The sadist. The competitor who’d rather you both lose than watch you win. The dreamer who will never become a doer. The distracted one with nothing much to give. The one who’s checking the boxes of external approval and looking for a mate to pass the panel interview. The one who doesn’t want a romance but rather a personal servant.
They’re all out there.
People can be activated by your success for their own reasons. You have no control over whether someone else envies you or targets you as their personal benchmark. Somehow, some people will make your life about them. It would be nice if people just thought, “My colleague’s success is our company’s success,” or “My neighbor’s success is the neighborhood’s success,” or “My relative’s success is our family’s success,” but how common is that?
In a happy marriage, it should definitely feel like “My mate’s success is my success.” “When one of us succeeds, our marriage succeeds.” The question is just whether both of you are defining success in the same way.
If you and your sweetie are both aligned in the same direction, if you share values, then the natural result should be that you boost each other.
If you can’t boost each other, then something is misaligned. What is it? Your communication, your direction in life, your values, your affectionate regard for each other? Your ability to be excited for someone else and to express your delight to them?
The best way to find boosters for yourself is to be a booster of others. Show them how it’s done. One person can gradually set the tone for entire social groups. For instance, the quickest and best way to stop negative office gossip is to praise colleagues when they aren’t there. Promoting other people’s successes can be sneaky in that way. It establishes what traits and behaviors are valuable and what kinds of things can earn praise and positive attention. It also makes you look good!
Not everyone likes being boosted. They can’t trust it because their cynicism runs too deep and they suspect praise as sarcasm. That’s fine, and it’s also good information.
Not everyone is emotionally capable of boosting other people. Sometimes they are just too damaged, too angry, too competitive, too something. That’s good information too.
The truth is that feeling happy for other people is always a reliable way to feel happy in general. We’re all stuck in this dumb old world together, and it’s easier when we recognize that. We don’t have to walk alone. We can cheer each other on along the way.
Keep watch on your own lie and examine it every hour, every minute. Who am I quoting?
That’s Dostoyevsky from The Brothers Karamazov. It’s my favorite literary quote and I keep it inscribed in my journal. That doesn’t, of course, make me any less susceptible to fooling myself or giving myself BS explanations of my behavior. It just reminds me to check in more often.
Right now I’m confronting my own sketchy stories about this supposed goal that I have and how much progress I’m making, which is... not much.
There are a bunch of different types of goals, of course. There are:
Other people’s goals for us, type 1, that we think we want but really don’t
Other people’s goals for us, type 2, that we pretend to want even though we know we don’t
Other people’s goals for us, type 3, against which we rebel rather than pursue our own plans
Goals we know how to reach
Goals we don’t know how to reach
Goals we hold in tandem with mutually exclusive goals
Goals we try to reach simultaneously with other very demanding goals
Goals we publicly set without privately forming a clear plan
At this moment, I am supposedly doing something that I already know how to do, which I have successfully done before, and that is to drop excess weight. I have made zero progress in the last week, even though I set myself a really appealing incentive.
See, I lost my AirPods in Belgium. This has been driving me up a tree. My daily routine is built around listening to audio books, and now I have to do it with cords dangling down my torso, just like the bad old days. They keep catching on every single door handle and drawer pull. I can’t help but notice several times a day that one of my favorite personal objects is now gone.
I decided I would wait to replace them until I hit a certain body weight milestone. Not the ultimate one, which is “healthy weight for my height,” but the closest that ends in a zero.
This incentive is very lively and real to me. These are two things I want, so let’s go! *clap clap* Get a move on!
What is happening is a classic example of a hollow goal without a system.
I have the clearly defined metric. I have the highly desirable incentive. I know both how to reach the goal and how to attain the incentive. I have the next steps of the plan laid out.
(Get replacement AirPods, start outdoor running again as soon as fall temperatures kick in any week now)
What I have not done is the one thing that I know really works, which is to keep a food log and write down everything I eat. I did this meticulously for over a year, out of sheer interest, and then I quit, and then I gradually gained weight again.
There are a lot of cute little lies that many people tell ourselves. The crowd will join in. “It’s muscle!” they cry. Uh, no. “You don’t need to lose any weight!” they cry. I could make a bingo card with all the predictable responses. Everyone understands a bunch of things that pop culture demands of us around body image and women’s body transformation, to wit, adding weight makes people smarter and sexier, losing weight drives women insane. Simple, right?
In my case, I understand that gaining weight on my own personal body, the body that I inhabit and which is my only possession in this world, causes me suffering. It is highly correlated with migraine and night terrors. I was free of both of these conditions for four years, and then I gained weight, and then at a predictable level, they came back. I snapped awake with night terrors again just last night.
The Venn diagrams of “body image” and “quality of life” don’t overlap in my world.
How can I care whether other people think I look cute during a migraine? OR during night terrors?
That’s not what this is about.
What it’s about is whether I do the things that make sense to me and whether I can tolerate the consequences.
It’s true that there is a lot going on in my life right now. We just moved, and we had a chaotic summer, and our dog has been ill, and my husband has been traveling a lot for work, and our schedule is all over the place. Those are elements of background information, not explanations.
The root cause of my problem is that I don’t want to spend three minutes a day writing down what I eat.
Then I remind myself that night terrors are also annoying, and through my inaction I have bought myself an extra week of stasis.
This is where self-compassion comes in. It is more compassionate of me, toward myself, to work toward inner peace. That comes not from ignoring my body or tolerating the intolerable, but from caring for my body.
I could try to fake some level of pretense that I don’t really mind night terrors, that at least it isn’t something else. Actually no. In the moment, my limbic system is busy telling me I’m being chased by bears and wolves and snakes and I’m about to die. There is nothing further from inner peace. It is the worst feeling that I have in my life.
I just don’t think about it much when I’m on vacation, eating dessert every day.
I’m always going to be a “live to eat” person and I’m always going to be tempted by the whole package. Large portions! Desserts! French fries! Five meals a day! I have the appetites of a backpacker, boxer, and distance runner even when I haven’t done any of those activities in months or years. I have to balance that against reality, my desires in the context of my behaviors.
I have to keep watch on my own lie, every hour, every minute, either that or scratch those lines out of my journal.
How long would it take to wear everything you own at least once?
This is a bit of math that always confounds my people. I have them do an assignment called “How many shirts?” We count off how many they need, according to their own standards and preferences, and then we count what’s in the closet and compare the numbers. They always have at least triple what they thought they needed.
Then when it’s time to sort and cast off some of the excess, they freeze.
There’s another classic indicator of unwillingness to proceed, and that is the concept of taking inventory.
Count everything you have in this category.
What if you needed to file a claim with your renters insurance because the upstairs neighbors broke their waterbed?
If the thought of taking inventory is overwhelming, then the stuff is taking over. Your home is for you, not for a bunch of inanimate objects. YOU live there. The stuff just takes up space.
I’ve been very aware of this lately because we just moved into a much nicer, slightly larger apartment with about half the storage of our old place.
I’ve started the Wear Everything project.
The goal is to put together an outfit featuring each article of clothing in my wardrobe at least once. When I wear it, I can take notes. Do I like it as much as I did when I first got it? Do I still have at least three other garments that I can combine with it? Does it fit the same? Is it getting worn out?
As an under-buyer and someone who hates shopping in general, I tend to hang onto things until they are really getting past the point of acceptability. I had to reluctantly put something in the rag bag a couple of weeks ago because I realized the entire chest area was becoming threadbare, exposing undergarments that I did not intend to become outergarments.
That’s one thing for pajamas, and quite another for a professional wardrobe.
Unlike most people, I was carefully taught how to do mending, ironing, and stain removal. I can even darn socks. The trouble with this is that I lean toward a Depression-Era sensibility. I don’t need to be walking into a conference room looking like an extra from Oliver Twist.
In my closet, things tend to fall into two categories: Stuff I rarely wear, and Stuff I wear until it’s ready to fall apart. The Wear Everything project is meant to bring attention to both categories. Should I be wearing certain things more often, or is there a solid reason they aren’t in regular rotation? Are there things I rely on a little too much that have served their time?
For the past twenty years, I’ve followed a cost per wear formula. How much did I pay for something, and how often would I have to wear it for it to work out to $1 per wear? If I pay $50 for something, I should then wear it about once a week for a year, or twice a month for two years. The exceptions to this guideline are formal occasions, like evening clothes or, most especially, an interview outfit.
How much is appropriate to pay for a garment that helps you get a $10,000 annual raise?
This was a challenging lesson for me to learn. I remember waffling over an $80 discounted interview suit for weeks, going back to visit it three times before I shakily handed over my debit card. I got the offer ten minutes after the interview, and that suit had paid itself off by the end of my first day on the job.
BUT… think of how many thrift store outfits I could buy with $80! (not the point, knock it off, Scarcity Brain)
Scarcity is the single biggest issue behind the clothing issues that my people have. With a single exception, all of them have had absolute mounds of clothes. Three dressers in one bedroom is standard for my people. Most will have a range of at least three clothing sizes - I personally have retained six sizes at one time.
Why? Why do we keep things that don’t fit, that we don’t like to wear, that we may never have worn even once?
Example: a brand-new pair of men’s formal slacks, the inseam of which had never been sewn together, due to postponed alterations
We keep things because we like how they look (on the hanger, not on our bodies), because they were gifts, because of what they cost, because the act of sorting is overwhelming, because we strongly identify with the aspirational image that these clothes represent, because they remind us of a moment in time, because we can’t even see or find them in the depths of the wardrobe.
We should be keeping them because we wear them regularly, they fit great, they work well with other things that we also wear regularly, and we look good in them.
There can easily be a wide gap between these two standards!
Most of my people wear a small selection of clothes over and over again, pulling them out of a laundry hamper, when 80-90% of their total wardrobe languishes on hangers, in drawers, on top of the dryer, on the floor, scattered across a dresser, piled on the couch, in the back seat of a car, et cetera.
Get rid of everything that doesn’t get worn and a huge series of problems magically disappears!
What I’m finding as I methodically Wear Everything is that I don’t always LIKE everything. I wore a top the other day and felt like, This is so low-cut, why did I even buy it in the first place? (The answer: it probably didn’t fit the same way when I bought it four years ago).
As I do the laundry, I pull out the awkward space-fillers in my wardrobe, fold them, and put them in the donation bag. Inevitably they will suit someone else better than they suit me today.
Or not. Excess clothing is a global problem. What we really need to do is to slow our roll, to buy fewer things in the first place, cut back demand and manufacture less.
Bulging closets are one symptom among many. When we have too many clothes, we often also have too many books (yes there is such a thing), too much in our pantries, too many papers, too much in our bags weighing down our shoulders, and too many demands on our time and attention overall.
At this transition between one season and another, I’m Wearing Everything because some of it has to go, just like autumn leaves turn color, fall off, and turn into soil. It’s time for me to replace many garments that have served me for several years - ten years in a few cases! Considering what I will be wearing this fall, and the next few autumns as well, helps me to look forward, imagining fun times to come. I release what I no longer need, making space for the new.
From the perspective of a Gen Xer, one of the brightest lines separating us from Millennials is their uncanny comfort in front of a camera. Any camera. They always seem to know how to shape-shift into a photogenic pose with milliseconds of notice, transforming from ordinary people to professional models. That’s, uh, not me.
Things I would rather do than appear on camera:
Be splattered with mud
Stand in line for two hours
Get my teeth drilled
I can say this with aplomb because I have done all of those things in recent memory, and none of them made my heart palpitate, caused me to break out in a cold sweat, or forced tears from my eyes. Being on camera does.
As a professional, I understand that comfort on camera is now not just a key business skill, but a simple social requirement. People want to take lots of photos, tag their friends, and post them on social media because that’s how people relate. I appreciate this, too, because I love seeing pictures of my friends and associates smiling and looking good. It shouldn’t be any bigger of a deal than, say, having people drive by and catch a quick glimpse of your lawn.
Alas, the way I look on camera is the way I look all the time. I look like myself, my self-conscious and nervous self.
What makes for a bad photo is an awkward, unnatural facial expression. The attitude, not anything about the person. For instance, my dog is perfectly happy to have his picture taken even when he’s sprawled on his back with his tongue hanging out sideways and his ear inside out. In one sense he looks like a contorted mess of a creature, but in another he looks cheerful and friendly.
What I want to look like:
What I feel like I look like:
This is just in still photos. Video is even worse.
I had occasion to appear live on video for two minutes. I had several weeks’ notice. Everything was going my way:
I had hours of experience with the software
I had already submitted my official written report
I had participated in the same event the previous year
I personally knew almost everyone involved
My presentation was scheduled around the midpoint, with plenty of people both before and after me
I had checked in and tested my volume
I had rehearsed my material, triple-checked my data, and set up the lighting where I would sit
I got up early to do full hair and makeup
I was sitting on my own couch, in my own living room, with my husband by my side for moral support
Then I got the heads-up that I would be on in a few minutes. That’s when the trouble really started.
The previous night, I had gone to bed early, knowing my alarm was set and everything was prepared. I barely slept a wink all night. First I dreamed that I woke up at 9:30 and missed the whole thing. Then I dreamed that someone had smashed my phone, pulverizing the screen to the extent that it peeled off the device, but nobody would admit who did it. All this over a two-minute, unmemorable blip of a routine presentation.
By the time my turn came to speak, I was in bits. My heart was hammering, I felt waves of nausea, and tears started in the corners of my eyes.
I choked. I turned on my microphone but left my camera off, knowing full well I was supposed to turn it on.
I delivered a perfectly adequate report and returned control to the chair.
Then I spent the rest of the meeting tormenting myself. Why am I like this?? What the heck was I thinking??? Cheater! Screwup!
I debated apologizing to my entire team, then realized that everyone probably shrugged it off and forgot all about it five minutes later. Assuming they noticed or cared at all. Bringing up my petty personal concern would constitute 1. Drama and 2. An unprofessional waste of others’ bandwidth. The way to deal with it is to FIX IT before next time.
This is a common issue for me. I’ve been actively battling stage fright for three and a half years. At this point it’s my single biggest personal issue. I continue to put myself into situations where I can confront myself and hopefully improve, and I continue to suffer waves of unwelcome physiological response in return.
Body! Y U do this??
There are two ways to go when emotions and neurochemistry stand in our way. We can quit and back away, knowing we will continue to smack against this obstacle over and over again. Or we can start throwing ourselves at it, hoping to crack it and break through.
Recognize that plenty of people are passing this way, simply opening the sliding door and walking through, or going around and using a different entrance. We make it difficult for ourselves by fixating on it and believing it is a legitimate problem.
My stage fright is not a legitimate problem. Literally nobody cares about it except for me. The only reason I discuss it is because someone else may benefit from my analysis.
If I ever get past this, “stage fright” will no longer be a thing on my to-deal list. I won’t be thinking about it. The more I dwell on MY STAGE FRIGHT the more it will be engraved on my foolish brain. I have to figure out how to think and act like people who enjoy being in the spotlight, who strut on camera. I suspect some of it is attitude and some of it is technical skill in practicing poses and facial expressions. (?)
When I started with public speaking, I thought someone might need to call an ambulance. I almost collapsed on the floor once after standing up and speaking for thirty seconds. Now I only feel that way when I’m on stage with a microphone in my hand, in front of a large audience, and I know I’m being recorded. Small room, not such a big deal. Off camera, not such a big deal.
I’ve felt the change in becoming relaxed during situations that used to be stressful and scary. I know I have it in me to keep grinding away, buffing off the rough edges, whenever I wish that something about myself were more streamlined. Panicking on camera is not part of my personality and it’s not something that benefits me in any way. I can let it go, and when I do, my life will be easier.
The answer is to create more situations where I am on camera until I just quit caring. I did it with running, I did it with martial arts, I did it with garden-variety public speaking in a conference room. Millions of people appear on camera and find it neutral, uninteresting, exciting, or emotionally fulfilling. There is a way if only I can find it.
Quit Like a Millionaire is one of my favorite financial independence books of all time. Not only does it have more specific details about the technical details of FI, it also made me laugh like a sea lion.
Kristy Shen starts by describing her experience as a poor child in China. This is an excellent and attention-grabbing foundation for the book, because anyone reading it in English surely has more resources and ability to earn and save money. If that statement seems challenging, at least agree that anyone reading this is not a little kid...? ...and then actually read the book itself. Shen also describes herself as a mediocre student, struggling with concepts and getting by on hard work rather than brilliance.
In other words, if Kristy Shen and Bryce Leung can do it, anyone can. The book is filled with charts showing the numbers for all different income and saving levels.
Shen goes over the financial principles she used to become financially independent very carefully. One of the most surprising of these is her Pay-over-Tuition score, which shows that a doctor or a lawyer may do only about as well as someone in an arts career due to the high cost of their education.
Something I particularly appreciated was the concept of “eating bitterness” and how Shen makes use of scarcity mindset. I have a bit of this myself, and have actually broken out in hives at the thought of wasting money on certain things. It definitely helps to draw on this attitude when engaging in extreme saving.
Quit Like a Millionaire explains Modern Portfolio Theory, capital gains harvesting, and geographic arbitrage, among other concepts. The section on insurance was enlightening. It can be hard to believe, but becoming financially independent actually eliminates whole categories of spending, and insurance can be one of them.
Kristy Shen and Bryce Leung retired just after they turned thirty, which is nuts, but possible. What is even crazier is that they accidentally discovered they could travel the world for the same cost as living at home. Now they’re at least three years into their retirement and it sure sounds like they’re having a lot of fun. I don’t know about you but I wouldn’t mind joining them.
Read this book and Quit Like a Millionaire today... or maybe eleven years from now, but who’s counting?
No one is coming to save you.
My boss didn’t care about my mediocre grades; he hired me because of my insane work ethic.
For them, failure was totally an option.
Since I knew that things could always get worse, the Scarcity Mind-set taught me that money was precious and if I wanted security and autonomy in life, I’d have to earn it.
“The past doesn’t matter. What do we do now?”
If you understand money, life is incredibly easy. If you don’t understand money, like the vast majority of people, life is incredibly hard.
It’s that time again. I went to the grocery store, walking in behind an employee with a massive display arch of helium balloons, because I live in a musical and that kind of thing is happening around us all the time. Out front the hay bales had already been set up. Technically it’s still summer, but the winds have changed and autumn is coming.
School is back in session and the pumpkins are out.
The winds are changing, blowing through, sweeping old dust out of the corners wherever they can.
What’s different this year compared to last year?
I’m a summer person, and in a lot of ways, fall makes me antsy. I know the days are getting shorter and the cold, wet weather is coming. I also start to count off the weeks that are left until the New Year. That’s my ultimate watershed moment, the way I measure whether I’m doing as well as I want and whether my plans are working out.
I also feel the glimmer of possibility, that what felt like an endless summer on an 80-degree day is now about to run out. Any warm and sunny day seems more valuable, perhaps the last chance to run around and enjoy it until next year. Have I had a picnic, have I sat under a beach umbrella, have I sauntered along in the park?
Those in the Southern Hemisphere can use my wistful feelings of summer passing toward planning fun things to do in the coming months. Please do!
There are other ways besides seasonal change to take notice when a fresh wind blows in. What’s changing around us? Is this indicative of a trend?
Your boss or a former colleague gets a promotion
Someone you know is getting divorced
One of your friend’s kids suddenly becomes a teenager, and how did that happen??
Someone is moving
The neighbors are cleaning up their yard
We bumped into one of our young ones at the coffee shop. She’s excited because she just started taking a class on American Sign Language. I showed her the few pathetic signs I learned in childhood, when my mom’s best friend happened to be Deaf. Cookie, I’m sorry, bathroom, parachute. Useful signs for a four-year-old! A wind blew in with her, a breezy possibility of learning new things and making new friends.
Why didn’t I take the opportunity to learn to sign more from my mom, my ex-husband, or any of my other friends or boyfriends who know how to sign? My dusty old brain needs sweeping out.
Like everyone, I’m surrounded by fresh opportunities all the time. Some of them I notice, some of them I don’t, and some of them I don’t even recognize or understand. Whenever a breeze kicks up it’s my job to perk up and pay attention.
This is something we feel in our new apartment, in our new neighborhood. The microclimate is ever so subtly different than it was in our old place, two miles away. On the top floor instead of the ground floor, we’re now able to get a great cross-breeze day and night. We actually have more than one window. This makes our daily life feel wildly different, even though we’re in a similarly sized place, quite nearby, with the same job and the same friends as before.
It’s always surprising how many people never open their windows. One of the indicators of hoarding that I notice in my ambit is when drapes are never opened, but are visibly pressed against a window by the stacks of clutter behind them. A dim and dusty room should never deprive a person of fresh air and sunlight, no matter what the neighbors might think.
We’ve just moved, into a place that feels breezy and bright, and it’s changing everything. We’ve rearranged our furniture four times in a month, constantly reconfiguring as we cull our stuff and adapt to the new conditions. We invited our friends over and the room filled with laughter, wall to wall. The best kind of breeze of all.
What if a wind blew in and it changed everything? What would that be like?
What if everything around us was arbitrary and subject to change? What if our petty annoyances simply blew away? What if we realized that our biggest problems were secretly only problems of perspective? What if the wind changed, and then our minds changed too?
I’ve felt this in my life, as I’ve relocated, traveled, changed jobs, transformed my body. Body transformation is probably the weirdest one, wandering back and forth over eight clothing sizes, but it tends to show that anything is possible. Paying off debt is possible, training for a new career is possible, finding love is possible, forgiveness is possible. Certainly unloading clutter and redesigning a room is possible, and it can be done in a day with a little hustle. Bustle and bustle, hear the leaves rustle.
If you’re big into the holiday season, now is the time to start getting ready. There is still plenty of time to make space, to design a Halloween costume, to plan a Thanksgiving menu, to finish off some New Year’s Resolutions. All the stuff you will wish you had done the week before, you can start doing now, as a cute and fun gift for Future You.
Social deadlines are the best deadlines, as long as we’re doing something appealing and we’re genuinely looking forward to it. Decorating, hosting a party, and breaking out the special holiday treats are all excellent motivation for getting stuff done. As the wind blows in, telling me that fall is here, I’m looking forward to a full month of Halloween. I’m clearing the decks and making sure I have no reason not to indulge myself.
Open the window. Do you feel the wind blowing in?
Our fridge is still full. Not only did we buy a bunch of party food for our housewarming, but people brought stuff, too. Like every potluck, if everyone brings enough for 6-8 people then it’s a pretty big multiplier.
There was so much that we couldn’t even bring everything out, which is why there’s still a giant watermelon filling most of the top shelf.
The problem with this situation is that we’re only two people... well, unless you go by size, in which case we might get an extra quarter-person between us... and we can only eat so much. How are we going to reach our year-end goals of physical transformation when there are all these GOODIES laying around?
As I may have pointed out, the Halloween Store is already open in our neighborhood, in a place so close and conspicuous that we see it every time we leave our building. This is the first reminder of how we do it:
A month of eating candy and watching horror films
Mashed potatoes in general
And suddenly, oh dear, New Year’s Eve
What this all means is that our September party food problems are just the beginning, just the tip of the iceberg, an iceberg with chocolate sauce, whipped cream, and a cherry on top.
I’m a “live to eat” person. I can’t see why I shouldn’t enjoy something I do at least four times a day to the absolute maximum. I’m never going to stop eating and loving party food.
On the other hand, I’m also a tightwad who hates shopping, so it’s incumbent upon me to continue to fit in my clothes. The alternative would be to buy more, without being able to escape the memory of all the fries and cake that put me back in the changing room.
One of my secrets here is to make sure to buy or make very particular party foods. There’s a method to the madness.
First of all, there are a lot of perfectly great snacks and treats that I don’t necessarily like that much.
I’m a potato chip person, so we always have corn chips or pita chips, both of which I can walk right by. I’m also fussy about anything in a huge bowl where people are reaching in with their bare hands. I see that and it’s like that bowl isn’t even there anymore, it stops existing to me.
Not a big fan of salty foods in general, like nuts, pretzels, or popcorn.
I quit drinking soda of any kind back in 2013.
Probably most of all, I’ve been vegan for 22 years, and that makes it easy for me to skip anything with even one non-plant-based ingredient. Pie, cookies, cake, deviled eggs, anything with butter or whatever... I would no sooner eat those foods than I would walk by someone in a restaurant and grab something off their plate. Not mine, not for me.
The easiest way I’ve found to deal with party foods that I actually find tempting is to make them myself. Cooking in my kitchen is an intensive activity. I do a lot of bulk cooking or attempting to feed groups of a dozen or more - even when only three people are coming over. I’ve found that the act of cooking from scratch keeps me from snacking. There is nothing about flour, raw onions, or a teaspoon of spices that makes me want to pop it in my mouth. Other people sneak bites when they are doing food prep, and I can’t really imagine how, what, or why. Clean hands!
I made a platter of hummus wraps but never got around to eating one.
It turns out that being a hostess in a small space packed with people makes a conveyor belt of continuous snacks less possible. Every time you turn around, you’re either meeting someone, greeting someone, or trying to finish the story about how they got the purse out when it fell down a hole six feet into a bank of lockers.
It’s also different with a dog and a parrot. Our critters are both extreme extroverts who love meeting everybody and they were on their best behavior. Ah, but neither of them are trustworthy if there’s a plate of food within reach. There happened to be a lot of avocado on the premises, mostly in the form of guacamole or seven-layer dip, and it’s literally a matter of life or death to make sure nobody unknowingly offers some to Noelle. I kept my eye on her as she kept dancing around, asking someone to carry her to the kitchen or at least bring her a few pounds of snacks.
The reason to have a party is to be with your friends.
There happens to be a ton of food around, of course, but the grocery store next to our building is open eighteen hours a day. Just because there is food next to me does not mean I am required to continually shovel it into my cakehole.
It’s basically all there for sustenance so that we can focus on serious business, like fast card games, or conning an intern into trying to spin two hula hoops while juggling three balls.
Also cheaper than sushi for a crowd.
Entertaining at home can be a good bargain for all concerned. No parking, no traffic, no waiting for a table, no tips, no babysitters. If you’re in the habit of doing it on a regular basis, it takes off a lot of the pressure for perfection, and it can also take away the pressure of feeling like this is the one and only lifetime opportunity to eat snacks. Eh, that’ll be there next week.
I made it through unscathed. Rather than gaining three pounds, which is typical after a big party, I was still on track the next day. This is important, because I never want to feel like avoiding a social gathering just because there will be food there. People first, then everything else.
Free isn’t free. It’s better to understand that going in. Anything you take, any object that you handle, has strings attached.
One of the great paradoxes of clutter is that it’s usually harder to get rid of “free” stuff than things that we bought at retail price. Why? No idea, I just know that it’s true.
We had a give-away party after our last move, and one of the items in the pile was our last set of plastic shelving from when we had a garage. We were 100% sure the shelves would go, and we were astonished when they didn’t. The other half-dozen sets had so much traction on Craigslist that we probably should have sold them for cash.
We don’t look at it that way, because we don’t necessarily want to advertise our home as a place full of valuable stuff. (It isn’t). Giving something away attracts gratitude, while selling something seems to activate scarcity mindset in everyone involved. Do I really want to spend my free time dickering over $20? Do I really want a lot of random strangers driving to my specific home address, wondering what else I have?
The thing about shelves in particular is that they have no intrinsic value. They are not beautiful to look at, and their only use consists in storing and/or displaying other items. Nobody just wishes for a house full of empty shelves, and then leaves them that way.
I had a good laugh the other day because one of the apartment units in our building is visible from the pool. What we could see from our perspective was a wall of built-in shelving with about a dozen paperback books on it. There was room for several hundred and they looked a little lonely, all on their own.
This is dangerous, an attractive nuisance. Nature abhors a vacuum and for this reason, empty shelves attract clutter like nothing else.
Once clutter is stored or displayed on a shelf, it never leaves. It merges with the shelving unit and becomes an unremovable part of the whole. It becomes impossible to imagine the object and the shelves separately.
The strangest thing about shelves is that they tend to be inexpensive and easy to find. Yet the people who need them the most never seem to have any. I have a theory about this.
When my eldest nephew was a little boy, we had a conversation about money and stuff. He came running in breathlessly asking to get into his piggy bank because a neighbor kid was willing to sell him a plastic truck for ten dollars. What the heck?? [insert static noise] I told him that sounded way too expensive and that he’d have to ask his dad. Then I gave him a homily about how we save money so we can get something really cool later.
“I like to buy lots of small stuff and then I don’t have to wait,” he replied.
Yeah, you and all my hoarding clients, I thought.
My people, caught in scarcity mindset, all share a knee-jerk reaction that goes NO I CAN’T AFFORD THAT. They are unable to process the idea that a $40 set of shelves costs the same amount as ten $4 items or forty $1 items, which I can clearly see scattered, stacked and piled all over their home.
I “can afford” infinite amounts of $1 and $5 items. Never in life, in no alternative universe, could I even hypothetically afford any item over $X.
That’s the line. That’s how it works. In the scarcity paradigm, there is a permanent cutoff of any price tag over a certain amount, forever and always, for all time, the end.
The other issue with something like a set of shelves is that it needs to go somewhere. Any set of free shelving is virtually guaranteed not to match either the existing furniture or the dimensions of the room. In a cluttered room with a lot of big furniture, it’s never obvious where such a thing could go.
Our utilitarian beige plastic shelving wouldn’t look good anywhere except for a garage, and none of our friends has a garage, because few of the homes in our region do. We live in small apartments or condos because that’s mostly what is available. Who wants to live in a small place dominated by an ugly set of shelves? We all operate under the assumption that our homes should be comfortable and reasonably attractive.
My people, on the other hand, plan everything around THEIR STUFF, what they already have and whatever else they might carry in.
How could I set up these shelves? I’d have to move all these bags and boxes first.
The free shelves that are easy to get are only free because there’s something wrong with them. Either they are rickety or unappealing, or the original owner tried them and found that they didn’t do the job. They’re designed for a purpose. Our shelves are designed to hold medium-sized moving boxes or storage tubs. They work great for that, but they’re too tall for most stuff, either in the garage or indoors. Other “free” shelves might be designed specifically for DVDs or paperback books or some other standard size unit.
A standard shelf will either attract more items that fit it, because it feels right, or it will fill with random clutter that has nowhere else to go. It’s either manifest destiny or lebensraum.
Ideally, a shelf empties and refills. Clean dishes, clean towels, fresh groceries, they’re all supposed to come and go. It’s hard to tolerate clutter on shelves that are constantly in use, because anything that isn’t being used is always in the way. That’s what clutter IS, of course. So what is it that we think we’re doing with any shelf if it’s filled with stuff we don’t use?
The goal is always to be intentional. With something like shelving, it should be clear what is being stored, why, where, and for how long. Then it’s simple enough to find a set of shelving of the right size and dimensions. Maybe sell off some existing clutter to pay for them, thereby solving two problems: too much stuff, and nowhere to put what’s left. Good luck finding any free shelves that will magically do that job.
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.
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