I’ll never forget the first time it rained after we moved to Southern California. I had tried running outdoors, and the air quality was so poor it made me wheeze. I gave up and decided that I would run on rainy days.
It finally happened. Not just a “thick mist” sort of rain, but a drenching downpour. I whooped and started getting my kit on. The dog followed me from room to room. He had about a hundred signals he could easily detect that indicated someone was going for a W or an R. (You couldn’t even use the words “walk” or “run” around him in any context, and then he started learning to spell, so we had to use initials).
“It’s raining, bud, are you sure you want to go with me?”
I opened the front door and showed him that it was raining just as hard out there as it was in the back. He signaled quite clearly that he wanted to go with me. We were both ready.
It rained so hard that he had to stop once or twice every block just to shake himself.
When we came home, all my layers were sopping wet, so wet I threw them in the tub. I gave the dog a rub-down with a thick towel, which made up for the soaking, and then I took a hot shower and put on dry clothes. An hour later, my husband came home to find us both bundled in blankets, poor Spike still visibly wet.
“What happened here?”
What happened was that I took advantage of weather conditions that most people in our region will avoid. I had the streets to myself.
The reason this matters in this year of grace, 2020, is that there are still so many mask deniers out there. I live in a hot zone in the state with the highest case count. The statistics don’t phase my neighbors at all. Any time we leave our apartment, we pass more people without masks than people who are wearing them. It’s scary.
I’m hoping that many of them are out to enjoy our “endless summer” for as long as it will last, and that they will then grump off inside over the “winter” to binge-watch something. That then it will be safe for me to exercise outside.
There’s another reason I hope I can run in the rain this year, and that of course is that I am a COVID survivor. If I can run at all, ever again, it will be a miracle.
Running is sort of what got me into this whole mess, but that’s okay. I forgive it.
Going by the dates, I was exposed on March 15. I remained asymptomatic until the 31st, sixteen days later. I went for a run on the evening of the 30th, and that was my first real indication that anything might be a little off. Later that night I found out I was exposed.
While I’m convinced that the exertion of that run is what tipped the balance for my immune system, I see being able to run again as a major victory over the virus that tried to kill me.
In fact, if I go out again, I have every intention of running the exact same route I did that fateful day.
I’ve done that before. Several years ago, we used to run in a regional park that was full of gloriously muddy and technical trails. I tripped over a rock, flew through the air, and landed on my face. Covered in bruises, bleeding, I limped home in torn pants. Did my first 5k a couple of days later. When I got home, I made a point of running that route over and over. Each time, I would shape my hand into a laser and “shoot” the rock that had tripped me. I recorded over the bad memory of that fall with dozens of uneventful trips, until finally I erased the anxiety that I had been feeling around that spot.
It became my power spot. I would go up there and stand on the bad rock when I had tense phone calls to make or emails to send. I would get it over with, and then I would pause for a moment to appreciate the victory.
There has been a lot of negativity directed towards runners during the pandemic, since apparently a lot of people have been out running with no mask on and they don’t distance from people. That is unfair and not how I roll at all. Honestly, when I see people coming I will sometimes go stand in some bushes or walk out in the road rather than pass near them. It ain’t me.
I deserve to be able to run outdoors without being afraid of my mask-less neighbors, just like my neighbors deserve to be able to go for a walk without being afraid of me running up and breathing heavily on them. There’s plenty of room for all of us.
The difference is, I’ve already been there. I’ve already been flattened by the coronavirus, and I was certain it was going to kill me, and yet somehow I lived when a million others did not. I know it’s real.
I still have after-effects months later. Fortunately, the heart palpitations seem to have stopped. I almost never get hand tremors anymore, but I do sometimes when I’m very tired. The symptom that has hung on the longest is the weird thermostat problem. I still wake up shaking with cold probably once a week, even though the night-time lows have been in the high 60s. I will also start shaking with cold outside in temperatures where my husband is right beside me, sweating in shorts. I want to run just so I can feel warm again.
It means a lot to feel like I’m starting to get well enough that maybe I could run a quarter-mile, like I tried to do on my very first day.
I believe that COVID-19 damaged my heart. That scares me. There were several moments when I was ill and felt like I was moments away from having a heart attack or a stroke. There were a few times when I thought, I should probably call an ambulance, but then it passed. Something interior happens that you have never felt before, and a deep alarm system goes off.
Yet running healed me, years ago, and I believe it can do it again. Obviously cells can grow, like we see every time we get a cut and it heals again. Just because there has been damage somewhere doesn’t mean it will never heal. Running helped heal my migraines and my night terrors. Running healed things I never knew it could.
I hope I can run in the rain one day soon, and wave my arms over my head, because that will mean I still can.
Something I have learned from working with chronically disorganized people is that they don’t tend to think in terms of categories. My people are fun to work with because they tend to be exceptionally nice and creative. It’s also funny to surprise them with patterns they hadn’t noticed until you point them out.
Others may ask, “Why are they doing that? How can they live that way?”
I know that the answer is, “It hasn’t occurred to them yet that it might be a problem.”
Why is there a pot on the kitchen floor?
Why doesn’t he have a shower curtain?
Why are there things behind the door so it can’t open all the way?
Organizing books and techniques tend to focus on the items in a home and where to put them. I prefer to focus on the living space itself, which is usually the absence of any and all items, and whether my person has room to do anything.
Can you sleep in the bed? ...The whole bed?
It’s surprising how common it is for my people to pile clutter of all types on their beds, and then sleep on only a narrow little sliver of mattress. Or the couch, or a chair.
Can you open all the doors? All the way?
Again, incredibly common for stuff to be piled behind doors. It may have fallen back there. Maybe nobody noticed. There may just be so much stuff that it’s the only space left. My people don’t tend to realize that they may be subconsciously blocking their doors for protection, a barricade that insulates them in their comfort zone.
Can you walk safely up and down the stairs?
I try not to be judgmental in my work, because people are entitled to arrange their personal space however they see fit. I do set the boundary early on that I ask people not to keep “anything with DNA” and to please fix obvious safety hazards. Storing stuff on the stairs is one of them. Putting fabric like dish towels on top of the stove is another.
Can you use the shower, sink, and toilet?
I have been in a lot of homes with nonfunctional plumbing. These are usually the “ones” on the Readiness Scale, the people who are absolutely not ready to do the work. They are fine with the way things are. I don’t work with them - they wouldn’t want me to - but they do make great case histories for my twos and threes.
Note: Any professional who does home visits, whether it’s a mover, a cable installer, an exterminator, a plumber, electrician, or whoever, has seen it all. Every single day. (I know because I always ask them for stories). Don’t be embarrassed to call and get something repaired. Your place probably won’t be the worst they’ve ever seen, and it might not even be the 500th worst. The only thing I’ll say is that an exterminator will charge more to service a place that is packed with stuff than they will for a more streamlined home.
Are you constantly annoyed by rodents, bugs, mold, or broken stuff?
See above. Please take action and take care of yourself. You deserve to be safe and comfortable.
Some of you may be reading along and thinking, Whoa, maybe I’m not as bad off as I thought. Probably true! Pop culture has developed an awareness of hoarding, squalor, and chronic disorganization - although it doesn’t distinguish between them - but it isn’t well-known how very common it all is. I would estimate that maybe 10% of people are so clean and tidy they could do a magazine shoot, while 80% are basically messy most of the time. The bottom 20% are totally like what you’d see on TV. Yes, I said 20%!
Almost all of them either think it’s their dirty little secret, or they don’t care at all and they’re essentially rebelling against what they think other people think.
The truth is that most people are too busy worrying about how they themselves are being judged to worry much about anyone else. They’re not thinking about you, they’re thinking about themselves.
For those who are more in the middle, there are more practical questions to spot issues that could be fixed by Getting Organized.
Are you often running out the door late, in a panic?
If you have kids, does someone start crying in the morning more than one day a week?
Do you have to go to the grocery store more than twice a week?
Can you remember the last time your car ran out of gas?
Can you remember the last time you had no piles of laundry, either clean or dirty?
Can you eat at the table if you want to?
Would it take you more than five minutes to find: your keys, driver’s license, phone charger, prescriptions, passport, umbrella, or a postage stamp?
Most of these issues reveal the lack of a system. That’s all. Often one simple change can get rid of a whole series of hassles. For instance, out of the above list, most of those items in my home are within ten feet of each other.
Organizing issues aren’t graded. There isn’t a report or an audit. (Unless you’re in an apartment or townhouse, in which case you might have 24 hours to prepare for a habitability check).
What it really comes down to is your tolerance for a background level of stress, anxiety, or confusion.
Where most of my people have issues, besides not being highly skilled at putting things in categories, is that they are reluctant to ask for help. They’re embarrassed, they don’t know where to start, they don’t even know whom to ask. They blame themselves for “being lazy” or “procrastinating” when the real issue is that they have no idea what to do. How is that someone’s fault?
One way to approach it is to collect stories. Simply ask other people what they do in a certain situation, like whether they have trouble getting themselves and their kids out the door on time. Maybe they’ll share similar stories and you can laugh about it together. Maybe they have some tricks that would work for you, too. Just don’t go it alone, and please, don’t keep tolerating baseline misery. You deserve better.
We’re thinking about saving up for a house. This is more interesting than it probably sounds, because where we live, even a very ordinary house is stupidly expensive.
How ordinary? How expensive?
Picture a 1200-square-foot house with a tiny yard and no garage. This modest house has not been remodeled in at least a decade, has a tiny kitchen and a tiny bathroom, has almost no storage, and can best be described as “funky.”
If you’re lucky enough to find a house like this in our zip code, it’s going to cost significantly more than our entire retirement portfolio.
We can actually qualify for a mortgage in our area, because we’re middle-aged and we have great credit. But that mortgage would get us a condo or townhouse, not a house-house. Not something with its own yard.
We did it to ourselves. We chose to live in an area where even our boss’s boss can’t afford to own a house. Our colleagues either live in tiny apartments just like ours, or they commute, in many cases over 90 minutes each way. We know more than one person who lives in an entire different region over four hours’ drive away and only goes “home” on weekends and holidays. There are multiple van pools.
It’s a California problem, to face paying quadruple for the same house almost anywhere else. It’s a beach community problem, to face a real estate base that is shabby and crumbling because it’s been a seller’s market for over a hundred years.
We’ll be on a walk, see a house for sale, and check the listings just out of curiosity. Then we will stand there with our mouths hanging open because of the sheer temerity of asking two million dollars for a heap like that.
I can see the future, and it’s a future with a lot of plaster dust and mallets. I come from a family that is constantly remodeling something, anything, somewhere, somehow. At least one of us has had a project underway since 1990 and it’s never stopped. I’m quite good with tools for someone who usually has a book in my hand.
Then I went and married a tool man who loves gardening.
This is what’s going to happen. We’re going to wind up remodeling a house together, because it’s our destiny and there is no escape. Then we’re going to drive each other crazy with it, because remodeling is hell. Then, as soon as we “finish,” we’re going to have another project in mind. Once it’s started, it’s like a tractor beam, dragging you towards it with galactic force.
This is where strategy comes in.
There are only a few ways for someone to buy a house in our area.
It’s like this. If I sold a screenplay for two million dollars, after taxes, I could put down what was left on a house here. And *then* we could qualify for a mortgage on the balance.
That’s the bar.
Where we are right now, our entire combined annual gross income wouldn’t be enough for the down payment on the kind of house we would like to buy.
Oh, wait. There actually is another strategy we could use. That would be to give up on the impossible dream of buying a fancy-pants beach house in a foo-foo beach community. If we just let it go, we could save toward a realistic, modest house almost anywhere else in the world and then retire there quite comfortably.
Where’s the fun in that, though?
What we’ve learned from downsizing over the past several years is that we can do it, yes, and we have enjoyed the results in most ways. Taking the financial pressure out of our marriage has been wonderful. We’ve also eliminated entirely the stresses that most families face - almost all of them - including commuting, yard maintenance, and most housework. We don’t even have carpet to clean. Where we are right now, we’re on track to be able to retire.
(Although neither of us really believes in traditional retirement, because sitting around with nothing to do seems boring beyond compare).
Working at home together, though, has revealed some shortcomings in our lifestyle. We’d be enjoying ourselves more if we had an office - or two - like we did for the first half of our marriage. It would be so helpful to have our own washer and dryer again. We miss having two bathrooms. We’d also really love to have at least one more closet.
Each of these desirements adds another notch to the expense of our “dream house” and takes away another notch of our current daily satisfaction. It’s better, so much better, to find ways to be content where we are. Better, cheaper, and easier.
Yet there’s that itch to be scratched. If we’re going to continue living and working here, do we really have to do it in a tiny apartment where we carry our laundry up and down three floors every week? Do we really have to sit twelve feet apart while we take calls, with nowhere to go to isolate each other from our background noise?
We accepted long ago that we are both ambitious, restless people who aren’t all that good at sitting around and adjusting to the status quo. Might as well acknowledge that we’re ready to un-downsize and give each other another door to shut, a little more privacy. If our future is going to include both of us working from home, then that’s the new baseline.
The question is, if we are to buy a house of our own here, a dream house, how are we going to do it?
Another question would be, how would you do it where you live? What are all the different ways that you could make that happen?
This is a sleep book by a woman, for women. (Take ‘women’ to mean ‘people with proportionally more estrogen, progesterone, etc.’) Shelby Harris is a psychologist and sleep expert, and also a mom of young kids. She gets all the social, parental, and technological pressures that impact our sleep. The Women’s Guide to Overcoming Insomnia may actually help where nothing else did.
I read a lot of insomnia books because I have a parasomnia disorder, and I’m always looking for new tips. Not every insomnia book mentions more serious problems like mine, and it did come up, but I will give the caveat that what worked for my night terrors isn’t really addressed here in explicit detail.
The basic idea behind this book is that changing any one factor will not solve sleep problems by itself. That is 100% true. The premise is to use tracking methods and very specific behavioral techniques to improve the ratio of time spent in bed to actual time asleep.
This stuff works. I know because many of the things I did to resolve my sleep issues show up in here.
I kept meticulous records of my sleep - with more detail than the sleep diary in the book - and I am sure that if I hadn’t done this, I never would have figured out the root cause.
I became very careful with the timing of when I ate and hydrated. Start early and cut off three hours before bed. (If you get night terrors, or your kid does, please don’t eat anything right before bedtime!)
I ruthlessly eliminated naps and forced myself to go out in bright sunlight and stay awake if I needed to.
I took up running, dropped my extra weight, and got fit.
I cut out soda, anything with high fructose corn syrup, and basically all junk food. Then I increased my vegetable consumption fourfold.
One of the most important points in the book is to distinguish between sleepiness and fatigue. This would have been really helpful for me to know 15-20 years ago. “Tired all the time” doesn’t always mean insomnia or a sleep issue; it may be fatigue, and fatigue may be a sign of something else.
I encourage anyone with sleep issues - which is apparently about 2/3 of all women - to read The Women’s Guide to Overcoming Insomnia. Take its recommendations seriously, do all the steps, and keep records of your results. If you respect the process, you can free yourself of the problem.
Even as a psychologist and a sleep expert, I’m not immune to a poor night’s sleep now and then. I just know how to prevent it from becoming a regular occurrence at this point in my life.
One of the goals of insomnia treatment is to have you think less about your sleep overall—just as you probably were not too focused on it in the past, before your sleep problems began.
We built a thing. I’m calling it a hummingbird tower. It’s both a fun and pretty project, and a direct example of how manifesting works.
(Or does not work).
I have a friend who has lived in California for many years, but she and her husband both grew up in different parts of the country. Apparently they don’t have hummingbirds in those areas, because my friend had no idea that you can get hummingbirds to fly right up to your window throughout the day. If you live in a hummingbird area, nothing could be easier.
I looked them up out of curiosity, and it turns out that in North America, they live on the West Coast. That means if someone lives far outside the region, say, Maine, a project like ours would be unlikely to work.
First rule of manifesting: Start with something simple and straightforward that has a high chance of success.
What I wanted was something nice for a wedding anniversary gift for my husband. He is notoriously almost impossible to shop for. (When in doubt, may I recommend dried blueberries). I wanted to get him a hummingbird feeder, because he had been commenting on the one bird that occasionally showed up in the tree outside our apartment.
There are some constraints with our current apartment. We can’t drill into the stucco and we can’t hang anything from the roof. I would have to find something that either clamped to the railing or stood on its own.
As I looked at free-standing hooks, I stumbled across one that also had rings for flower pots. It looked sturdy and had good reviews. Great, I thought. I can get him the hummingbird feeder, and then he can pick out some hanging baskets and some flowerpots of his choice for the rest of it.
Then I ordered it and somebody broke into our building and stole it from the lobby, which was very annoying, and the company refused to replace it since it had been delivered inside our locked building. All I can do is hope that young thief didn’t throw it away, since it was fairly expensive, but rather gave it to an unsuspecting older relative. If someone somewhere is enjoying it, I suppose I can tolerate that.
I ordered a second one and fortunately got an email notification when it was delivered. By that time, our anniversary had passed, and the moment was somewhat spoiled, but I handed it to him and told him what it was.
He set up the plant stand that weekend and immediately mixed up some hummingbird food and hung the feeder.
This is where the manifesting part works.
I had two wishes. One: More hummingbirds! Two: Make man smile!
I had strong reason to believe that I could do both, attract the hummingbirds and please the man, if I took action. I was right.
There he was, hanging around the window, looking around, waiting and waiting for the hummingbirds to come.
It took about six hours before one came to take a drink.
By the next day, there were three distinct birds quarreling over the feeder, chasing each other out of the tree and buzzing around from early morning until sunset.
The next thing that happened was that my man took me up on my offer for the rest of the gift. Let’s go to Home Depot, I said, and you can pick out any flowers you like. Having known him for fifteen years, I was 100% certain he would enjoy this.
This is one of the secrets to long-term love - and friendship, too. Understand what the other person truly loves and facilitate it as often as possible. Usually it’s a very modest, easy, and inexpensive thing. Sometimes it’s the opposite of a thing, like knowing which people hate having their birthday acknowledged or don’t like listening to talk radio.
I happen to know that gardening is one of my husband’s very favorite things, something he misses keenly and something that is hard to do on a small, shady, rickety balcony.
We went to Home Depot, somewhere we used to go together all the time when we lived in a regular house. I knew it was going well when he got a certain bustling manner about him, and we left with a cartful of plants and pots and a bag of soil.
The first thing he did when we got back was to pot everything and arrange all the flowers. Almost immediately, one of the hummingbirds came out and sampled several of the blossoms, even though the feeder was hanging inches away.
The next weekend we went back, to get a few more pots to put around the base of the hummingbird tower. I laughed to myself, because this gift was going even better than I had hoped, and the entire thing was less expensive than, say, a new electronic gadget.
The hummingbird tower has turned out to be a really great anniversary gift. It’s something we both can enjoy. The hummingbirds are endlessly entertaining, and my little parrot likes watching them too. The flowers have utterly transformed our dinky patio, an area we didn’t use at all last year, but which is now the highlight of our apartment.
Best of all, something about this gift really seems to have touched my chosen mate after all these years. He has been extra-sweet since then. He’s also picked up something like 20% more of the housework, with no discussion.
I offered to get a second one, but we decided there wasn’t really enough room. It’s just right.
Now, there’s something missing from this story. I mentioned my friend who didn’t know that in California, you can basically snap your fingers and have hummingbirds start hanging out in your yard all year round. Her birthday is in a couple of months and I secretly got hold of her mailing address. For about ten dollars I can send her a hummingbird feeder. Her husband likes to garden, too, and I have a pretty good feeling about how it’s going to turn out.
I’m sharing this as a COVID survivor, so if you insist on finding a way to associate my personal story with body image issues, I guess I can’t stop you, but that is not what this is about.
I started 2020 with the declaration that I was going to “get my body back.” At the time, I meant that I had gained weight and it was getting in my way. I had no idea that just a few months later I’d be fighting for my life, and that “getting my body back” would include the ability to walk across the room without hanging on to anything.
Maybe some people can put on weight, and it’s mostly muscle, and it gives them power and vigor. I’m guessing. That was only ever the case for me for a couple of months out of my life, when I was training hard four days a week, right before I got my orange belts in Muay Thai and Krav Maga. I could do fifty burpees!
Usually, on my body and in my life, extra weight represents fatigue and illness.
One of those unfortunate signs has been respiratory issues. At one point I wound up coughing up blood, had to use an inhaler for months, and the nurses kept asking if I was sure I didn’t have asthma. (If I did, nobody told me). I was at least 30 pounds overweight back then.
I made the connection when I was sick with COVID. I spent a lot of time feeling very low and mopey, very much in the mood to blame myself for everything I ever did wrong in my life, wondering how I had brought this on myself. (By going to stupid brunch, that’s how). It occurred to me to wonder if I would have remained asymptomatic if I hadn’t put this extra weight on in the past year.
What the average healthy person does not feel is the sheer weight of having stuff on top of your lungs. It doesn’t matter what it is - a bag of flour, a book, a hefty cat, a pile of laundry, or an impressive pair of bazongas. When you’re having trouble breathing, you feel it. Your chest muscles start working much harder to get air into your lungs, and *shrug* weight-lifting is weight-lifting.
Same with the throat. The single biggest risk factor for sleep apnea is neck circumference, and that is probably why it is common in professional football players. Big necks.
Nobody ever says, Hey, if you drop some weight, your sleep apnea might go away, your asthma might improve. But they probably should. It makes me angry whenever I find out that a doctor has been withholding information from me that I could have used to make different choices.
Anyway. I’m finally starting to feel well enough post-COVID that I decided to try to drop some of this extra weight again.
I resisted Doing the Obvious, which I usually do because The Obvious is always annoying. Otherwise we’d all do it right away. In this case, I knew that keeping a food log was the only thing that ever helped me reach and stay at my goal weight. I did it for an entire year, and maintaining a steady weight was simple and easy. Then I figured I knew what I was doing, so I quit keeping the food log.
Then I started boxing, and I would need a three-hour nap after training, and my husband said, “You need to eat more, babe, you’re putting on muscle.” Nobody ever needs to tell me twice that I need to eat more! Almost instantly I put on 15 pounds.
Almost instantly, I started having health issues. Even as I was kicking butt (literally) in the mat room, working out harder than I ever had in my life, cranking out pushups like a teenage athlete, I started getting every cold and flu. Whatever I was doing, it was demonstrably not helping my immune system.
What a food log would have revealed at the time was a series of double helpings of oatmeal, two-hander sandwiches, energy bars, oh, and, a lot of pizza and Mexican food and donuts.
I’m not eating that way anymore; haven’t been since I quit the martial arts gym. As the months went by, I was stuck at a plateau and I couldn’t figure out why. Surely I eat sensibly!
I had gained ten pounds since I contracted COVID and I had no idea why. It wasn’t like we were going anywhere. No travel, no restaurants.
This is what I found out. It’s easy when you’ve done it before and you’ve learned the basics. It’s easy when you have a sincere desire to learn the truth and you know you are ready to make a change. That readiness usually comes out of frustration, annoyance, and maybe even a certain level of disgust with the current situation, such as: Why do I keep getting sick??
I was eating too much for breakfast.
I was eating too much for lunch.
I was eating an afternoon snack that I probably shouldn’t have been.
I was eating too much for dinner.
I was snacking too much on the weekend.
There ya have it. Same story as last time. Eat 5% too much at every meal and any mammal will steadily gain weight. Will a hummingbird or an iguana do that? Not sure.
I rolled my eyes, sighed passive-aggressively, and determined that I knew what to do. It’s straightforward when there is consistency across a day and across a week. I learned several years ago that it’s a lot easier to do body transformation if you eat basically the same things for breakfast, lunch, snacks, and beverages every day.
I cut back the double helping at breakfast. I cut the afternoon snack. My hubby and I both agreed, since we take turns making dinner, to add in more greens and cut back a little on anything that is not green. I’m giving a side-eye to our weekend popcorn and what exactly goes into Fancy Breakfast, but I’d rather make adjustments on the five days than on the two days.
Sure enough, I finally broke through the plateau that I’ve basically been stuck at since January.
I was so excited that I jumped off the scale, my mouth hanging open. What, already??
Body transformation projects will be different for different people. Mine is mostly about my lived experience, my mood and my energy level and my health results. It’s somewhat about awareness. It’s also about bodily autonomy. This is my vehicle to do with as I will. When I pay more attention to what I’m doing in default mode, I like my results better.
For complicated reasons, we had brief access to a car. We were going to have to return it, obviously, and I wanted to use the opportunity to drop off some donations at Goodwill. There is one about a half mile from our apartment, quite close in walking terms, but only if you’re not lugging a 15-pound box of stuff.
I checked the website in advance, because these places are notorious for having different hours and rules of operation. Five p.m. Great. It was not quite three.
We pulled up at 3:05 pm. I got out with my basket.
Apparently the donation hours had changed the day before and they were now closed at 3:00 pm.
Uh, but, I’m standing right here, and the door is still open, and it’s now 3:06?
I felt wilted and humiliated and frustrated. Now what was I supposed to do??
Of course none of that was the fault of the young employee who relayed this message. It was probably not her policy and she was probably quite tired of getting pushback from people about things that were outside her control.
I’ve been that person, berated by hoi polloi because I wouldn’t sell them alcohol during prohibited hours or take returns without a receipt, among other crimes against humanity. Far be it from me to ever be the worst transaction of someone’s day.
Still I was pretty cheesed off.
We wound up still having access to the car the next day. I thought, what the heck, let’s give this another shot. I have zero closet space, and this box is taking up valuable real estate in my tiny apartment. I recalled the hours of drop-off as 10 to 3, so I called ahead to triple-check.
Oh, we close at 1:00.
What?? Okay, seriously.
I kept those thoughts to myself and simply asked, “Is that every day?”
It was noon, so we hustled it over there, hauling the big clunky box back down the elevator for the second time in under 24 hours. We weren’t convinced they would actually take it off our hands until the trunk was slammed shut, at which point we did a victory dance.
Then we took the borrowed car down the street and had it washed and vacuumed, because that’s how we roll.
It remains a mystery how these charities that exist on donated goods and volunteer labor can pick and choose what they take and when they take it. This experience of being sent away with my attempted donation has happened more than once, in multiple cities. That’s why it’s good to do a bit of research ahead of time. Who takes what?
There are some surprising items that most charities won’t accept.
Plastic garage shelving
Furniture of any kind - depending on location - but especially not glass furniture
Baby stuff like high chairs, cribs, or strollers
Electronics - and this completely depends on size and type
We tend to give things away rather than sell them, even if they might fetch a decent price, because my patience has been completely worn away by dickering with cheapskates. I mean, I’m a tightwad, but there is an ethical code to this stuff. Don’t ask for an 80% discount on something that is already 80% cheaper than retail.
I’ve used Freecycle, Craigslist, and Nextdoor to give stuff away. Each of these services has resulted in a barrage of frantic emails and texts asking if they can get whatever it is, only to ghost and not pick it up. After a certain amount of time, I’ll move on to the next person. It has taken as many as four tries to get someone to actually pick up the thing they wanted. This is true when it’s listed for free, and it’s also true when it’s something for sale. I can only guess that some people get that eBay-type thrill of winning an auction, without any real desire for the item in question.
There’s a limit. There are only so many individual listings that I have the patience for. I’ll usually only do it for large items I know I can’t donate, like a table or a box of Mason jars.
That leaves smaller, random things. Clothes, old housewares, maybe books. I’m not going to sit around waiting for my neighbors to finish fighting over a lamp we bought at IKEA for $10.
It would be nice if there were somewhere in the neighborhood where we could exchange stuff. We have a few “little free libraries” where the trade in used books is brisk. They really aren’t big enough for other types of items.
In other neighborhoods, people have been known to leave free stuff on the curb, or set it on the ground next to the dumpster. Neither of those things are an option where we live right now. Logistically I can’t imagine where we would host a yard sale, either, even if it weren’t a pandemic and even if I hadn’t sworn off them several years ago.
Throwing stuff in the dumpster and sending it to the landfill, when there’s nothing wrong with it and someone could still use it, is the line I just can’t cross. Landfills are a pretty extreme problem even when they’re filled only with useless trash - why make it worse?
Also, I remember the long years when thrifting was my best option. I wonder what all the young families and student households would do if there were no thrift stores?
Things are weird due to the pandemic. There are millions of people looking for work who will be feeling the financial effects for years to come. There are also tens of thousands of people who have used the stay-at-home order to declutter their homes and garages. News reports have shown donation centers packed full with lines of cars waiting to drop stuff off. It will take a while before it starts flowing out again at the rate it went in.
In the meantime, I’m thrilled to have two square feet of space back in my little apartment. Here’s hoping I won’t have to arrange another drop-off until the next time we move.
I have some stuff to figure out. Don’t we all?
I work 8-6 at my new job, and it’s been hard to find the time to write my blog five days a week as well. Essentially all I do is work, try to put together a blog post, do chores, and sleep.
I hate the thought of just... having a job... forever and never doing anything else.
Also I’m like: ‘side hustle’ - on what side?? There are no sides??
I’m tired all the time.
(Isn’t everyone though)
But most people aren’t post-COVID tired, which is a different order of beast.
My big logistical plan for the past couple of months has been to brainstorm a list of blog topics, and then “catch up” on one of my three-day weekends so I can free up some time in the evenings.
But then all I do on the weekends is sleep.
I’m barely even reading any more.
Worst of all, I feel absolutely starved for alone time. I’m not an introvert, I’m a shy extrovert, but introverts will recognize this problem. I’m in meetings for as much as 7 hours a day. I have to be “on” and listening and ready to be called on at any moment. While it’s exciting and interesting, it’s also pretty draining. Sometimes I shut off my computer at the end of the day and just walk into the bedroom and sleep for two hours.
At the beginning of the year, what I thought I would be doing was finishing my book proposal. I had an outline and a lot of material, I was jazzed and productive, I was “in talks” about it with a publisher...
And then COVID happened and the entire premise of my book kind of just blew away. The world changed and my book was for the old world, the world that was.
Gosh. I’d love to write a new book for the new world... but when? When exactly is that supposed to happen?
I’ve always felt that the fountain is ever flowing and that the ideas are always there.
That, though, requires carrying the bucket to the fountain and hauling it up.
Maybe all of this is just because I’m so physically tired, and still trying to heal my lungs and my heart after nearly dying five months ago. Or maybe it’s just reality.
Maybe most people really can’t have a challenging full-time job and write books at the same time. Maybe it really is a zero-sum choice, one or the other but not both.
Or maybe I’m just tired.
I hope that this dilemma speaks to you. As you read this, I hope you recognize where you have challenging choice points in your own life and that you’re able to make more time to think them out than I have been lately.
I’m not a caregiver, I don’t have kids, I don’t even have a commute right now. I don’t need an excuse to be tired, though, or to feel like I have trade-offs that I don’t want to make. I don’t need an excuse to feel like there are demands in my life that have me spread thin.
I certainly don’t need an excuse to feel like I often create my own issues in my life.
This is where strategy is so important. This is where it’s so important to pull away for an aerial view sometimes. We say, “This is how it is right now, this is the situation. Now what?”
What if it’s still just like this a year from now?
How about three years?
Nothing changes if nothing changes, and then nothing changes.
I’ve just come out of a three-day weekend, where I did almost none of the things I had planned to do, including writing in my journal and resolving some of this stuff. Where did the time go? It seems to have elapsed in long conversations with friends and family. That is a trade-off that definitely should not feel like a trade-off. I can’t very well say, “Will you please give me back that hour so I can do some writing, because I’m parched for time to myself right now?”
What would that become? Me at the end of my life, in a stack of journals and books, alone?
What I’d like is a day to literally sit inside of a closet, on the floor, with the door shut, and just have... nobody call me or talk to me or ask me questions or task me or assign me anything. Or look at me.
That’s why I’m going to bed now, facing another busy working week packed with people and conversations, not “caught up” (whatever that means) and still with nothing to write about. Except for my sorrows, feeling cut off from my creative well, wondering whether I have to just say goodbye to that part of my life.
Those of you who know exactly what I mean by all of this, do what you have to do. The task here, I believe, is figuring out a way to create time and space out of thin air, time and space to remember who we are and why we do what we do.
So far I have failed to make it past the first episode of any organizing show other than Hoarders. I keep thinking I’ll find them motivating, or that they’ll teach me something new about coaching clients. This time, I might keep going, because The Home Edit is good for my marriage.
I turned to my husband after watching the show and somehow not noticing the transition to Episode Two.
“Do you know why I foisted this on you?”
He paused for a beat and then said, “Because you don’t have any of that stuff.”
“Got it in one!”
The Home Edit seems to find time to help two households per episode with one area of their home. The first episode happened to include two women’s closets, and then the second episode had... a woman who needed help with her closet.
There are a lot of things I like about the show and about The Home Edit in general. I love that it’s a woman-owned business and that they’ve done so well for themselves, moving from consulting to the book to a product line to their own television show. I love the rainbows. I also went so far as to organize my own refrigerator based on their methods.
(My husband loves it, by the way - it’s the only organizing job I’ve ever done that he has particularly noticed or commented on more than once).
There are some things that I think are funny across the Home Edit universe:
The pantries in these homes are the size of what used to be big walk-in closets.
The closets in these homes are the size of... literally my entire bedroom.
People are paying big bucks to professional organizers to sort things that I don’t even own.
I thought about this a lot because my holdout friend finally called me for help. I have a local friend who I knew immediately was “one of mine.” I told her about my work and offered to come over and help her for free - because I love her and I’m nice that way. She wouldn’t even let me see her place, much less accept my help. (And then she got evicted twice in a row, from two different apartment complexes, for failing the habitability check). We talked on the phone for an hour, and then she sent me photos. Level 2. Then she busted her butt like a maniac, all by herself, and got rid of 80% of the hoard in her living room - in like five days.
I think about people like her when I see these shows that celebrate standard consumerism. For my people, the chronically disorganized and the compulsive accumulators, it tends to lead to even larger hoards. They believe that buying more stuff - organizers, matched sets - will solve their problem. Then they find out the hard way that they have 10x more stuff than will fit in the organizers.
Every time I did a home visit, I would fit “organizers” with the price tags still on. Bins, tubs, boxes, drawer units, and definitely clutter-busting books!
Getting Organized is aspirational. I didn’t realize, when I started, that what I really hankered for was an upper-middle-class lifestyle in an upper-middle-class home. My tiny, dark apartments were never going to look like the spacious, well-lit houses in those photos. There’s a reason a celebrity like Reese Witherspoon has multiple closets the size of my living room, and it’s because she can afford them.
Ever go around The Container Store and price out your ultimate shopping list? For most homes, it would easily be a couple grand. Not everyone is going to be able to spend $200 on organizers for their fridge and pantry, or specialty hangers and storage boxes for their ultra-closet.
Maybe spend that on new furniture instead, if you can?
There are two reasons my holdout friend finally started getting rid of her hoard. The first was love - her dad was coming to visit for the first time in many years and she was beyond excited to see him. The second was money - she started her own business and she’s probably earning at least triple what she was when we met. Those simple shifts, from isolation to hospitality and from scarcity to prosperity, are very powerful and effective.
I wonder if now my friend will take an interest in things like The Home Edit?
Recently we found out our company won’t be calling anyone back on site until there is wide availability of a COVID-19 vaccine. Today, I read in the news some speculation that that wouldn’t happen until summer or fall of 2021. Looks like we’re buckling in for the long haul.
I bring this up because guess what, all the fall and winter holidays will pop up on the calendar regardless of what is happening in the world. We might as well plan now for alternative ways to celebrate.
I used to visit my family three or four times a year. We live a thousand miles apart so it takes some planning. I haven’t seen any of them in person since December, and it’s looking like we may not even be halfway through yet. Believe me, I’d love to be making plans to see everyone during Thanksgiving.
Which is what I’m doing. I’m emotionally planning to see them on a video chat.
I know a lot of other people are planning to meet in person. Or if not, they will have extremely intense family pressure to meet, which will ramp up in double proportion to any resistance from the more science-minded or cautious voices.
DO IT I REALLY WANT YOU TO
Look, I got COVID at a social occasion. I’m pretty sure the person I got it from, got it at the airport. That is my bias.
I’ve heard some pretty compelling talk about “love over fear” and people making choices based on how they interpret that. I feel the same exact way.
The way I interpret it, I choose love. Any sacrifice that is demanded of me, I’ll make it gladly, because I love my family. I will do anything to keep them safe. That means depriving myself of their physical presence for a while.
I choose this sacrifice of physical presence over fear:
The fear I know I would feel if my parents got sick
The fear I would feel if I realized I was the one spreading the virus to people I love
The fear I would feel, standing in the hospital parking lot, holding a big sign over my head
I don’t need to love someone from inside the same room. That would seem to me to be a very low-battery kind of love. A weak love.
Mine is a love that radiates across continents. I have no fear that it can’t be felt.
I know this because if anything, I hear from my family more often than I did before. They really pulled together for me when I was sick. We’re on family group chat every day, cracking jokes and sharing pictures. Of course we’d rather be able to see each other in person.
Which we will. One fine day.
Just not this Thanksgiving.
This is why I say we might as well plan now. There’s time to make it fun, if we’re all united in agreement that we’ll do things virtually.
For the rest of you poor souls whose families are going to try to guilt-trip you into risking their lives by carrying your body to them, there’s time to plan your responses.
Keep in mind, we might all be wrong. There’s always time for people to change. But you can probably write out a pretty accurate script of what each of your family members will say in most discussions. You can probably predict all the ways they’re going to try to “force” you to do what you don’t want to do, which is to go to their house, hug everyone with no masks on, and potentially have to plan a virtual funeral two weeks later.
A good friend of mine taught me how to do this. I told her I needed to learn to say no. She said, “Don’t say no. Say, “Um, no.” We practiced it together until I got the intonation right.
There are a few ways you can go about this. What you choose depends on individual temperament.
Passive-aggressive: Say yes and then claim that someone is too sick at the very last minute.
Workaholic: Say maybe and then claim you have to work on a report (school or work).
Tech-savvy: Make a recording of yourself saying No and play it on a loop so you don’t have to rely on willpower.
Executive: Pay someone to handle the guilt calls for you.
Honest: Say you have no intention of traveling during a pandemic and you aren’t going to do it.
This is what I’ve learned from being married to an Upholder. They just say what they intended to say. They don’t do guilt - they either do what they committed to do, or they do nothing, because if it isn’t part of their system, it kinda doesn’t exist. One simply does the correct thing, and in this case it is obeying shelter-in-place orders and working together to end the pandemic.
This is what I’ve learned as a Questioner. My answer to every possible situation is, Here, read this. Then I turn on the firehose and send mass quantities of links, articles, books, charts, and pre-review journal articles. I can genuinely do this ad infinitum. Wear ‘em out. Of course, there is the other variety of Questioner who gets sucked into the information vortex and does not necessarily have the academic rigor to distinguish fact from conspiracy theory.
I don’t think Rebels need any help giving people a firm No. Rebels don’t react well to peer pressure.
It’s Obligers who have the issue. There is a distinct Obliger tendency to operate by group consensus. If the Obligers in the family all got together and came up with a beautiful fantasy of eating and drinking in large groups, then by gosh you’d better not mess it up.
This is where I think planning can come in. What if we simply came up with a variety of plans that are more interesting and fun but still allow everyone to live until next year?
These are some of the things my family has done:
Try to copy a picture blindfolded, on a timer, and then give points for individual parts of the drawing. This could be fun to do with gluing tail feathers on the turkey.
Two partners try to wrap a gift and tie a bow around it using only one hand each. Also on a timer. Extremely funny on video.
Wear matching ugly sweaters.
Trade stories and jokes.
Simply put a laptop on the dinner table and casually hang out.
One thing we have not done, which would be great fun, is to learn a TikTok dance and have a family dance-off.
We also haven’t done any photo slideshows, although we probably should.
I tend to be the family tech support person, which is why this occurs to me, but some family members may be resistant to doing stuff remotely because they don’t realize the possibilities. They may be very uncomfortable using most of the features of the electronics that they already own. Sometimes they’ll try something for a cute grandchild or niece that they wouldn’t try for one of their own adult children.
There’s still time to practice.
One day, all of this will be over. I sincerely hope that on that day, all of us can celebrate together. I plan to run down the middle of the street yelling WAHOO! Might as well plan for it now. It will help to have something to offer as a distraction when you have the inevitable talk with your family about why this year is going to continue to be a little different.
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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