We were an office scandal for a considerable length of time before we started dating. It was a classic case of “Something to Talk About.” When we found out people were gossiping about us, we thought it was dumb. Then we thought it was funny. Then we realized they might have a point. Then we spent a few weeks arguing about it. By that point, we had a solid collegial relationship, which stood us in good stead when it was time to spend a year negotiating whether to a) live together without getting married or b) get married without living together. We still negotiate everything. We also have a formal grievance procedure. Most things get resolved at our weekly status meeting, which probably sounds grim but is actually a relatively cheery part of our marriage.
Status meeting started as an offshoot of our annual New Year’s planning. One of the things that helped me choose this man was his willingness to spend New Year’s Eve doing resolutions with me. I make a giant hairy deal out of it. It takes hours. This last year, we decided to keep a spreadsheet and check in on our progress every month. We set up a calendar appointment to have breakfast together at Starbucks and review our plans. It was really fun, and we decided to try it on a weekly basis. We very quickly realized the benefits of having a formal agreement and a set schedule for all the bureaucratic underpinnings of a marriage, which is like a business partnership with a roommate who walks around naked all the time.
What do we talk about?
Planning events, for the upcoming week, or anything in the near future. This is the time we lock down whether we’re boarding our pets or getting a house sitter; whether we have enough travel miles to cover our tickets; whether we’ve booked all the relevant hotel rooms, rental cars, etc. We put business trips on the calendar. We make decisions about wedding invitations, graduations, and other distant family events. We try to figure out what we’re doing for the holidays. We look at movie times for the current weekend.
Money. We look at our account balances. We talk about moving stuff around in our retirement accounts. We fist-bump when we hit any kind of financial milestone, however tiny. We talk about our credit reports. We decide on things like whether to renew the lease on our rental house or go month-to-month. We price out purchases we intend to make, often months before we finally get off our wallets.
Career planning. We are each other’s sounding board. We strategize about various places where we could lean our career ladders. We give and take advice. He’s a convergent thinker and I’m a divergent thinker, so we both have a good track record for bringing totally unexpected insight to each other’s problems. Whenever I hear his advice, it’s so practical and sensible that I really have to ask why I couldn’t have figured it out for myself, though I never have... The only advice I can really offer him in return is usually an educated guess about someone else’s possible motives, interpersonal dynamics, or ways to phrase a delicate communication.
Health. We made an agreement when we got married that we would be “accountability partners” for our health. We’ve lost 100 pounds between us, and we’re usually in different phases of being on or off a fitness plan, ignoring something like a sore knee, pretending we’re not gaining weight, or being on a diet. It is really, really hard to walk the tactful tightrope here. I sometimes resort to crying and wailing “Don’t leave me a widow!” For my part, I’ve had to receive some stern (and accurate) lectures that I’m uncoachable and doing something that will lead to poor long-term training outcomes. We’ve had to change each other’s bandages, wait on each other due to sports injuries, and see more of each other’s blood than we would prefer. But we stick to it, sharing our lab reports and annual health assessments and weigh-ins and all that stuff.
Major decisions. We’ve had to have more conversations about relocating than we ever thought possible. We’ve been married six years and we’ve already been through four major job changes and five moves between us. My step-daughter is in college, so her name comes up a lot. We’ve had to make some veterinary decisions, some pretty bad ones, in fact. Usually, we’re lucky enough that most of our conversations about future events are hypothetical, so that we’ve come to conclusions about many things well in advance.
Gossip. Family drama comes up, more than we’d like, but you marry each other’s family, too. We talk about the news, including celebrity gossip. We gossip about our friends. Gossip is a very handy way to bring up something important by a circuitous route. Circumlocution, don’t you know. It’s helped us navigate all sorts of issues, from step-parenting to cleaning the garage to how to plan separate vacations. (I “let him” go on a five-day motorcycle trip with his friends that included time in Las Vegas; he “let me” go backpacking for three nights with my girlfriends and *gasp* no male chaperones!)
The thing about our Saturday status meetings is that we have a built-in valve for issues of any description that have the power to disrupt a relationship. Most of the topics on the agenda are relatively trivial, boring, or predictable. We always discuss some silly, inconsequential things, such as the meaning of the more cryptic emoticons. We reminisce about some of the week’s better jokes – having a thousand inside jokes is the bare minimum for a good marriage. When the scary or frustrating stuff comes up (i.e. “I’ll be on a different continent on your birthday and you can’t come with me”), we have a structure that helps us figure it out together. We agreed early on that we would commit to root cause analysis, and immediately resolve anything that had the potential to become a perpetual problem. On a scale of 1 to 10, annoyances are to be brought up before they intensify to a 3. This means our calendar and finances are always up to date. We’re fully informed about whatever is on each other’s minds. We have a system for most things, like housework, so we can focus on the anomalies. The majority of the time, we can just enjoy each other’s company, which is the whole reason we got married.
I screamed during “E.T.” I was 6 and a family friend sat with me in the very front row. Needless to say, that movie blew my little mind. One of the things that stood out for me was the contraption Elliott helped E.T. build so that he could “phone home.” Remember? It had a Speak & Spell and an umbrella. Pretty cool stuff. It makes me wonder what they’ll use if they ever do a reboot. They’re welcome to my old iPhone 4S; it would run a Speak & Spell app, and maybe it could do everything else, too. If space doesn’t have wi-fi, I don’t want to go.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how much having a smartphone has aided my transition to minimalism. Much of this is due to the fact that it basically serves as a spare brain – a smarter, better organized spare brain. It turns out that more and more of my “stuff” exists only virtually. Most of what I use and most of the work I do lives on this little screen in my pocket. The best part is that if I break it or it gets stolen, the important parts can be quickly cloned and loaded onto a new one. The new one might even be a better model.
Ten years ago, I went everywhere with a huge bag I referred to as my “filing cabinet.” It probably weighed 15 pounds. I would have textbooks, library books, a cookbook, a day planner, my mail, a journal, a bunch of pens, old receipts, a wad of paper napkins, my lunch, gloves, an umbrella, a hat, lip balm, and who knows what else. Now I don’t carry most of those things. Almost all of them are represented digitally. I don’t need to carry as much outerwear because Dark Sky tells me whether it’s likely to rain later. I don’t need to go to the chiropractor anymore, either.
One of the most significant innovations for me has been the advent of the e-reader. Many book lovers are stuck in the 18th century, and they like it that way. I love books at least as much as anyone else, but I’m firmly in the digital camp. I can read in line at the post office. I can listen to an audio book while I fold laundry. No more discovering that my library book has a page torn out. No more food stains or smashed bugs. No more 15-pound carry-on bags just for my vacation reading. No more melted book lights. Even if digital books were the only feature on my phone, it would still have changed my life. The best part is that every year, there will be thousands more e-books available. In my lifetime, essentially every book ever printed will be there at my fingertips. Why, then, would I need to keep hundreds of pounds of printed books in my house, only to relocate them over and over again?
Frequent relocation has been a catalyst for me. It’s helped put my possessions in perspective. Even professional movers will only pack the stuff and move it. They don’t unpack it for you. I’ve realized that everything on my phone is available whether everything else I own is taped inside a box or not. I traded in all my DVDs and CDs two years ago, and I haven’t missed them. The books, including cookbooks, are steadily getting culled. What’s left is furniture, workout equipment, kitchenware, linens, clothes, tools, cleaners, and food. The handmade items I still have cause a certain amount of stress, because it’s so sad when something like that gets ruined during a move. Virtually all of our stuff is functional, rather than emotionally relevant.
Meanwhile, my phone is full of emotional relevance. Any given day, I’m texting my husband, my parents, or a friend, and usually I wind up laughing until I cry over something. I’m playing games with my brothers, both of whom win 99% of the time. I’m skimming Facebook and finding out who’s engaged, who’s pregnant, who’s moving, who got a new job, and who adopted a puppy. I’m obsessively reading the news, playing podcasts, and looking at dazzling nature photography. I’m checking stats on my website, looking at my bank balance, or replying to e-mail. My life is conducted on my phone. It does everything but cook dinner, and I’m probably looking up a recipe for that, too.
This makes it sound like I’m looking at my phone every 5 minutes, which I’m not, but only because my schedule is managed by a digital brain. I set up reminders for everything I need to do daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annually. I don’t think about those things anymore; I just follow the instructions from Past Self as a favor to Future Self. I can focus on writing and know that no matter where I am, I can drop everything and take notes, research something, take a picture, or email or text someone. My house is my base of operations, unless it’s temporarily a tent or hotel room. My home is this magical device of portable work, instant information, entertainment on demand, and emotional connection on impulse.
Loopholes are not actually a breakfast cereal. Loopholes are the rationalizations we make when we decide we want to do something that is contrary to one of our values or commitments. We give ourselves an out. We justify. We talk ourselves into it. We play rules lawyer. A classic example of this is the “14-Second Rule,” which allows us to eat food that has just hit the floor, even though it has just become a subject worthy of a microbiologist’s next article for Microscopic Gross Things Quarterly.
The main difference between humans and animals is our ability to create loopholes. We do it constantly, everywhere, for every possible occasion. Animals just do what they want. My parrot, for example, does not appear capable of guilty feelings. If I leave a bag of whole nuts on the table, she will walk right up to it, stick her head in the bag, take a nut, throw it to the dog, take another one, crack it, and eat it. She blinks her tiny little silver eyelashes and looks quite satisfied with herself. When she’s done stealing nuts, she waddles off, leaving all the shells for me to clean up. There is not so much as an infinitesimal pause where she looks around to see if anyone is watching. She doesn’t even seem concerned that it might be a trap, that she might wind up inside the bag, which I guess makes sense since captivity is working out pretty well for her. Free food, warm showers, her own Spotify playlist… She does have excellent manners, though; she would never dream of grabbing off someone’s plate. If someone is eating in front of her, she will either stare in a peremptory manner, or turn her back throughout the meal, occasionally glancing forlornly over her coverts. If she is offered a tidbit that doesn’t interest her, she acknowledges it by tapping it with her beak, as if to say, “No, thank you.” I have no idea what she would do if she found food on the floor, because, well, we have a dog. And he doesn’t subscribe to Microscopic Gross Things Quarterly.
It’s been about two years since I finally decided I had had enough of my weight fluctuating back and forth over a 20-pound range. (It started at “18 pounds over” and ended at “clinically obese.”) I knew that extra weight is, for me, both a symptom and a cause of feeling constantly physically cruddy. The heavier I am, the worse I feel, the more often I get migraines, and the longer they last. It feels like I pick up every cold and flu. I don’t feel sexy or voluptuous and I don’t particularly revel in hedonism. I just tend to live in my head most of the time, and I have a tendency to treat my body somewhat like the desk that the computer sits on. I went out the door one morning with a pair of panties stuck to my sweater by static cling, and I didn’t notice until lunch, when they fell in my lap. Absent-minded, okay? Evidently I believe I have more important things to think about than this earthly vessel known as MY LIFE SUPPORT SYSTEM. Anyway, the state of my physical form was interfering with my metaphysical business, distracting me from my intellectual playland. It was time to figure out what the heck was going on in there.
I started running again, and I was dropping maybe a half pound a week. After a few months of that, a friend suggested that I should keep a food log, which I received with about the same grace I would have exhibited if someone suggested I join their church or their swingers’ club. Not for me *SLAM*. I had to do it, though, because I had just started my practice of Do the Obvious and the food log counted as obvious. During the next three months, which I treated as a science experiment, I discovered that I had a long list of loopholes.
· Eating differently at restaurants than I would at home
· Eating differently on vacation than I would at home
· Eating differently in the car than I would at home
· Eating things I normally wouldn’t after a long workout
· Eating things I normally wouldn’t when hosting a dinner party
· Eating extra dessert, as long as I ate it as “part of a healthy breakfast”
· Eating extra “treats” because I had a lot of vegetables that day or the day before
· Eating extra “treats” because I was tired and “needed to get through the day”
· Eating more if I had just hit a weight goal, because I could “afford it”
· Generally not knowing how much I ate in a day or a week
So basically, I routinely overate. My breakfast was probably about right, but my lunches were about 50% larger than they should be, I ate multiple things that qualified as desserts each day, dinner was maybe 25% bigger than it should be, and if we went to a restaurant, I was eating double or triple. I ate more sweet things than vegetables, by volume. When I visited my family or went on vacation, I gained a pound a day, as a rule, and if I ever lost it again, it took about a year. Changing any one of these patterns would have been a good thing, but it certainly wouldn’t have been enough. My main problem was Food FoMO. I ate reasonably healthy meals at home. Elsewhere, I never passed up a single opportunity to eat something I wanted to eat, and if I ate it at all, I often ate until the poor 32-ounce organ known as my stomach could take no more.
I constantly gained weight, rather than simply stabilizing at a particular size, because I always ate too much. My weight only ever went down on accident, usually if I was broke. I had only one rule, which was: “If it’s vegan, I’ll eat it.” Of course, I also overate before I switched over, but nobody ever said anything because I was “still growing.” The only times anyone ever said anything about my weight or what I was eating had to do with whether I was eating “enough,” rather than too much. I learned that people will say “be careful” when you lose weight, not when you gain. In our culture, being 1% underweight is more frightening to bystanders than being 200% overweight. (Not that I’ve ever been underweight; I’d have to lose another 18 pounds to risk that). I’ve also found that many people view ten pounds over as ten pounds under. Part of the reason I was able to remain oblivious to my weight was that I was often the smallest person in the group. I didn’t know anyone who was athletic or who would pressure me to pay more attention to my health.
When I trained for my marathon, I gained 8 pounds. Loopholes! Loopholes everywhere! I felt ravenous all the time. On distance day, I would eat three waffles. I would snack continuously on trail mix and vanilla fig bars while getting my miles in. I would come home, eat lunch, shower, and eat my second lunch. Then I would text my husband and beg him to bring me a Frappy after work because I was only at net 400 calories for the day. I get a kick out of tracking my fitness metrics, so I believed my food log when it told me how many calories I had supposedly burned on my run. It turns out that is variable from one person to another, depending on intensity, body composition, astrological sign, etc. I should also have realized that I was swapping more vegetables for more starches. I could have been eating more or less unlimited quantities of soup or stir fry instead of quite so many cookies.
I travel a lot these days. It’s gotten to where it’s irrelevant whether I am at home or not. I can only eat what makes sense to eat. My marathon training seems to have caused some permanent changes to my appetite for sweets (they taste yucky now) and altered how my blood sugar is leveled throughout the day. I’m not attracted to most of the things that used to tempt me. I start to notice when I’m at a 5 or 6 on the Hunger and Fullness Scale, instead of an 8 or 9. I can take one look at my plate in a restaurant and know whether I will need to save half for tomorrow. I don’t like the feeling of being stuffed anymore. I don’t enjoy recreational eating the way I used to. I’ve learned that I can eat any specific thing I want, as long as it fits in well with the other things I ate that week and as long as it’s only a quantifiable amount. I don’t feel the need to hang onto multiple clothing sizes. Every day, I eat a predictable breakfast and a predictable lunch and a predictable snack. Maybe a slightly less predictable dinner just to whoop it up. The result is that I am predictably lean and fit. I have a predictably high energy level. I can now save my loopholes for some other occasion, such as splurging on fancy camping gear I probably will never, strictly speaking, actually need. Now I understand that “treating myself” with food is not really a treat at all, and I lean more toward real treats that I enjoy more.
On the 55th day of Christmas, my true love sent to me:
55 yesterday’s Halloween candies
54 lights a twinkling
53 carols tinkling
52 cards a mailing
50 texting drivers
49 pumpkin lattes
48 cookies baking
Now begins Diwali
Prosperity and triumph
Of goodness over evil
It gives props to marriage
And the bond of siblings
42 boycotting Christians
Duped by profiteers
And manufactured outrage
39 days until Christmas
Which suddenly lasts two months
Why not 'til Valentine’s Day?
Buy more gems and candy
Ching ching ching ca-ching
Register bells are ringing
Veterans are homeless
Now it’s Thanksgiving
Boycott Black Friday
If you’re for “family values”
Shopping isn’t worship
It’s still November
Now it’s December
It's not Christmastime yet
That's the 25th
That's not persecution
Hanukkah starts the 6th
A minor festival
Of spiritual over material
More commercialized than Yom Kippur
The holiest day in Judaism
But that's in September
Jews don’t proselytize
For which they deserve credit
Not a pseudo-Christmas
11 Tweeters Tweeting
10 horns a beeping
9 crazies ranting
8 brands a bilking
7 brawls a brimming
6 speakers playing
5 useless things
4 galling words
3 French fries
2 Starbucks cups
And a pointless controversy.
Happy Holidays and Season's Greetings, which traditionally were festive expressions that referred to the upcoming New Year, and which are effective ways to respect many cultural attempts at getting through wintry weather, at least in the Northern Hemisphere.
Peace on Earth and Goodwill to All.
Now let's get back to Fall.
Zombies will be mentioned. Now that I have your attention, let’s talk about a key component of your zombie apocalypse survival strategy. Since you’re probably skipping that whole ‘CARDIO’ part. (Auditions for my personal zombie squad have stringent physical fitness requirements). The majority of preparations we make for zombie attack will coincidentally help us survive other scenarios, and that certainly includes your go bag.
This illustration is a picture of my go bag. It weighs 8.8 pounds, or the same as the food portion of my pack from my four-day backpacking trip last month. There are two important factors here. First, I have recent verification that I can carry this weight for hours without getting tired. (A 9-pound pack is, for me, like wearing a jacket). Second, I am well aware of my daily caloric needs under different activity levels. What I have in my go bag (two protein bars and 16 ounces of water) is only intended to get me through a few hours until we can find a place to buy water and food.
Here are the contents of my go bag. They are relevant to my personal situation. I live in a hot climate; I’m prepared for temperatures from about 50F to about 100F. Given the way I dress in cold weather, if I still lived in the Pacific Northwest, this entire pack would be filled with a parka, hat, scarf, gloves, thermal underwear, and hand warmers. I have old, well-worn clothing for two days, including underwear, bras, socks, shirts, a pair of shorts, a pair of jeans, a light jacket, a bandanna, some sneakers, and some hair ties. My main criterion for these clothes is their practicality. They need to fit me today, and they need to accommodate a high activity level outdoors under a range of temperatures. The second criterion is that they help me blend into an urban environment. Under no circumstances do I want to look like a person with any money or awesome stuff. In fact, if I were doing this right, the backpack should be considerably more scuffed and broken in. I can make that happen by taking it out on a few day hikes.
Included in my pack is the shower kit I bring every time I go on a trip. It has shampoo, conditioner, face wash, shower gel, deodorant, toothpaste, dental floss, nail scissors and clippers, tweezers, a razor, a container of cotton swabs, a couple of cotton balls and a nail file, spot remover, moisturizer, a hairbrush, more hair ties and hair clips, some clips that can hold curtains closed, a container of melatonin and ibuprofen, perfume, and even a little vial of massage oil. Silly, but honest. This shower kit stays in the go bag, partly to keep me aware of its presence. I refill the little bottles of supplies after every trip. I usually also keep a backup packet of my prescription (vitamin BC), and I write the day I started the previous pack in Sharpie on the package.
What else is in the go bag? I have a small charging cable for my phone, and a solar charger with a backup plug for a wall outlet. I have some index cards (for durability), a roll of masking tape, a Sharpie, an ink pen, and a red pen. (You’ve got red on you). The cards, pens, and tape are for leaving messages in case my husband and I get separated. I have sun block, a sewing kit, hand sanitizer, and a copy of the Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook. (The most important thing about this book is that I have read it and made sure I have at least a passing familiarity with the contents, BEFORE I ever need any of the information, which hopefully I never will). My husband's pack has a large first aid kit.
One of the most important items in the entire go bag is that folded wad of paper. That represents three pages of various identification. There is a scanned page, in color, including my driver’s license, AAA card, health insurance, advance health care directive, the number for Science Care (where I’m registered for whole body donation), and my passport. There is a page of emergency contacts, including our parents’ and kid’s phone numbers, the veterinarian, poison control, police and fire non-emergency, etc. (I haven’t had a phone number memorized since the early 2000’s). I keep a copy of this page of emergency contacts on our fridge, where emergency responders can find it, and I update it every time we move. There is a copy of our marriage license in case something happens and I need to prove that I have the right to see my husband. I also have a little wallet with an emergency credit card and a small amount of cash. (Best to use crumpled, small bills when possible).
The main impetus behind my emergency preparations is my abiding love for my animals. If anything happens and we can’t stay in our house, I need to get them out and make sure they survive. I need to remember how terrified they will be if there are earthquake tremors, smoke, fire, sirens, or whatever other pandemonium might be going on. They both completely freak out when so much as the smoke detector goes off, and it might. Their go bag, which we call “the pet bag,” goes with us on road trips. It has four days’ worth of kibble for each of them, a water bottle, poop bags, styptic gel (stops bleeding and includes a topical anaesthetic; also works on humans), and both their nail clippers. (This is their version of my shower kit; every time we trim their nails we are reminded about the pet bag). There is also Spike’s old muzzle, in case we are confined somewhere with other dogs, and a couple of toys. Both our pets are crate-trained, meaning they sleep in a cage, so they don’t panic and hide during the few minutes we would have to evacuate them at night. The parrot has an acrylic carrier, which I store next to her sleeping cage. I keep some old sneakers tied near my side of the bed, in case our window or mirrored closet doors shatter during an earthquake, so I’m not stuck in bed barefoot in a sea of glass shards.
Part of our household routine is keeping the go bags stocked. I have a reminder set in my phone to refill all our water bottles with fresh water every two weeks. That’s probably a little gross, and it wouldn’t be that much more work to do it every week, but we are in a drought and I’ve been doing this for years without needing to use them. Every now and then, we eat the protein bars and put in fresh ones. Every time a bag of pet kibble gets emptied, we feed them what was in their pet bag, and refill the baggies with food from the fresh kibble bag. That way all their food is the same age. In another region with more seasonal temperature variation, someone might set up quarterly reminders to swap out the clothes, too.
It is really important to make sure that your go bag makes sense for you and your situation. Other people might need to include more medications and copies of their prescriptions. If you need glasses, your go bag is a good place to keep an old pair, or a set of contacts and contact solution. If you have kids, obviously you’re going to want to consider their ages and what they would need on the road or in an emergency shelter. You really want to sit back and visualize, in meticulous detail, what you would need if you had to flee your home at 3 AM and couldn’t go back for a week. We’re talking about wildfire, flood, landslides, hurricanes, tornados, blizzards, earthquakes, or several days off-grid with no phone signal, electricity, water, gas, or sanitation. Or, of course, zombies.
Plan A: Stay home, lie low, keep an eye on our neighbors, and help with emergency response wherever possible. My husband is an emergency medical responder (EMR), which is a layperson version of an EMT. We have a fire extinguisher; three days of drinking water in a closet; 1-2 weeks of full meals and pet chow; first aid kits and reference manuals; tools; a UV water sanitizer; and of course a roof, walls, and all our household goods. The pets’ water dishes hold enough for a few days, in case anything happens to us while they are home alone. They deserve a chance to make it until our neighbors wonder why the dog is howling.
Plan B: Evacuate. We have a chosen location roughly four hours away, in a different region, which should put us well out of the range of any natural disaster in our neighborhood. (We live within walking distance of the epicenter of the 1994 Northridge earthquake, which you can tell from our seriously mutilated sidewalks). This assumes we’ll be able to get through the roads in our car.
B1: Throw everything/everyone into the car and drive. If he’s at work and has the car, I get stuff ready to load up as soon as he gets here. If we’re lucky, there will be enough time to make a few sandwiches.
B2: I grab the animals and our go bags and speed-walk down the street to our chosen “in case of fire” location. In your neighborhood, this might be a park or very large parking lot; in mine, it’s a sod growing business surrounded by pavement on all sides. Our biggest risks here are wildfire, or fire caused by earthquake damage, downed power lines, gas leaks, etc. In this scenario, I’m alone, with my pack on my back, the pet bag and my husband’s pack slung over my shoulder, the dog leash in one hand, and the parrot carrier in the other. I can do it, but would be ungainly at best, and that’s why the plans stop at a quarter-mile.
Plan C: Go to a designated emergency shelter.
We are both accomplished backpackers. We have the gear and the experience to head to the woods and camp; we’ve camped together for three straight weeks, so this is not hypothetical. However, we live in the center of the San Fernando Valley. At best, on clear roads, it would take us three hours to drive to a viable campsite. We can be in a number of more appealing, well-supplied urban areas in that amount of time. We also have to assume that any public or private land will probably already be inhabited by people who live closer. In my opinion, urban areas are safer because there are more supplies, more services, more hiding places, and more witnesses. What we’re looking for is distance from any disaster area, plus availability of water, food, phone reception, working ATMs, and functional businesses such as grocery stores, gas stations, restaurants, and hotels. In 1994, my husband simply drove his wife and kid several hours north to stay with relatives for a few days, until the water and power were back on. The kind of event that would wipe out our entire civilization is going to be bigger than my little go bag can handle. That’s when training, physical and mental stamina, communication, strong relationships, leadership, and problem-solving ability come into play.
Emergency preparedness is a civic duty. First, we want to avoid being someone else’s problem. When we can take care of ourselves, emergency responders are free to take care of someone in greater need, such as a frail, elderly, or ill person. Second, we want to contribute as much as possible. At least three of our near neighbors are elderly, and next door is a stay-at-home mom with tiny kids. We know who has how many of which pets, and we’d try to get them out, too. We are strong and physically active, and we have built useful skill sets. You would definitely want us on your zombie squad.
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is everywhere right now. People keep bringing it to my attention, and finally I have caved and decided to address it. I’ve been reading every book about clutter that hits the market since around 1994, when I forgot to cancel my paperback book club order and received a new copy of Simplify Your Life. When I first read Marie Kondo’s runaway best-seller, I intended to review it, but changed my mind before I’d read a quarter of it. Her tone seemed so strict and critical, I didn’t think my readers would find it appealing. I also thought her methods were so successful because of her personal charisma and coaching skills, and because of Japanese cultural differences. For my people, working alone in standard American hyper-accumulation, it seemed that the KonMari method could lead only to self-recrimination. It felt to me like a diet book based more on motivation than nutrition, dashing initial high hopes when results were slow in coming.
Let’s start with house size. According to 2012 figures, the average total floor area of a Japanese home is 1021 square feet, including 4.77 rooms. American homes have steadily increased in size, with newly built homes expanding in size by roughly 300 square feet each decade, so that 2600 square feet is the new average. (My own modest SoCal rental house dates from the 1960s and is roughly 1700 square feet). 1000 square feet of living space in the US now qualifies as part of the “tiny home” movement. [In December 2015, I moved into a 728 square foot house built in 1939]. Many Japanese families sleep on futon, which they roll up and store in purpose-built closets during the day so that the room can be used for other functions. The self-storage industry has only taken off in Japan within the last decade; as of 2009, 79% of the entire world’s storage units were to be found in the US. While both live in wealthy nations, Japanese and American families are by no means identical in lifestyle. We have a lot more space to fill with clutter, and fill it, we do.
Like Kondo, I am a clutter coach. My people are a bit different than hers, because it’s my calling to work with squalor, compulsive acquisition, and chronic disorganization. It’s absolutely standard for me to have to climb over piles of stuff when I do a home visit. Closets have to be opened gingerly, with one hand slipped in to balance box towers and prevent cascading waves of loose items from falling out. The scenarios shown in Hoarders are far, far more common than most people realize. It would be interesting to do a cross-cultural clutter-off, pitting families from Southeast Asia, Europe, or, say, Australia against North American families. The trouble is that my people tend to go in one of two ways. Either they think they’re alone in their struggles, meaning they are reluctant to ask for help, or their friends live the same way they do, so they think squalor is no big deal. Either way, space clearing can be a monumental undertaking.
That’s my main issue with this book. Even with a team of physically strong assistants, it is an extremely challenging task to clear a single American-style hoarded room over a weekend, much less the entire home from corner to corner. My husband and I have had professional movers, whom I like to interview, and we’ve been told stories of families who had more boxes come out of one room than we had in our whole house. That’s by volume, weight, and total count. Kondo appears to work with ordinary, slightly disorganized people who have a bit more stuff than they need. My assessment is that what counts as “needing professional organizing help” in Japan would qualify as “doing great” here in the US. I believe as many as 20% of American households live in what qualifies as level two squalor, depending on neighborhood.
Three elements seem to attract people to the KonMari Method.
1: Does the object bring you joy? That’s a great question that has the power to create instant paradigm shifts. I don’t think it’s nuanced enough, though. While it’s important to me, for example, to have a fire extinguisher, a first aid kit, and a go bag, I don’t feel joyful about those objects. Perhaps what I feel is closer to sensible or relieved. It’s like parsing the emotions felt by Sirius Black as he fought the Dementors in Azkaban.
2. Regarding objects as emotionally responsive, perhaps sentient, and considering their needs. This comes directly from the animistic, pantheist religious traditions of Japan, and I can see how it would translate well, as many of us grew up watching cartoons and playing with stuffed animals that embody this attitude. Unfortunately, the sense that stuff has feelings and needs is a massive part of why my people get so emotionally attached to their material possessions. I’ve seen it in action over and over again. Indeed, it’s why my people universally keep stuffed animals into adulthood. The core of my work is reminding people to redirect their affections from stuff to humans. Please think more of your loved ones than you do of how you fold your socks and dish towels.
3. The specific methods of folding and storing objects. I laughed ruefully when I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, because I have been folding my shirts and socks and doing my drawers the KonMari way for many years. I hate folding socks the traditional way. There is nothing funnier to me than the appeal of Kondo’s folding and storage methods, because my people loathe folding and putting away laundry as a rule. It seems like adding one more layer of complexity to this task would be a way of ensuring it never gets done at all. Maybe the addition of the concept of hurting your laundry’s feelings by leaving it in the basket is the missing psychological aspect, though getting rid of most of it would certainly help as well.
GET ORGANIZED seems to have taken the place in women’s magazines that sewing and knitting patterns did just two generations ago. We’re on the receiving end of a continuous stream of advertisements in every medium, morning, noon, and night, indoors and outdoors, exhorting us to BUY ALL THE THINGS. Then, when we snap into alertness and realize that all this stuff is burying us alive, they hit us again with more purchasing opportunities for “organizers,” not to mention the entire custom closet, home remodel, self-storage, professional organizer stuff-abatement industry, of which I am an active part. It is precisely like the model of overfeeding us at one window and over-prescribing pharmaceuticals at the next.
I agree with Marie Kondo that having only what we need and enjoy around us is key to a happier life. Fighting over-consumption is a worthy goal in itself. I also agree that it’s possible to push through and be “done” once and for all. I just don’t think the Konmari Method is suitable for my people, the American-style accumulators. It’s a teaspoon in place of a backhoe. I hope I’m wrong, and if I am, I salute her for fighting the good fight.
I woke up in Past Self’s bed, wearing Past Self’s nightgown. I took a shower and used her soap and shampoo and even her razor. I know she won’t mind; she’s Past Self and she won’t be needing it anymore. The trouble with Past Self is that when she moved out, she left all her junk behind. My closet is full of her clothes, my shelves are full of her books, and my fridge is full of her leftovers. What. A. Slob. Past Self, I’m so tired of cleaning up after you all the time.
Past Self isn’t completely selfish, though. In fact, her rationale for most of the clutter she brought home was that she thought I would want it. Apparently she thought a bunch of crumpled receipts were my thing. Judging by my bookshelves, she also had some pretty misguided ideas about what I would want to read. She made all these queues and playlists for me, not just of books but of movies and music and articles and YouTube videos. It’s like, doesn’t she have anything better to do? Why does she have to keep trying to decide what I do in my spare time? At least she finally quit buying me craft supplies, like I was really going to want her to plan my next 10-15 years’ worth of leisure time. You don’t own me, Past Self! What a control freak.
I’m in this limbo period right now. I’ve finally managed to wind down my compulsive media acquisition, so I can work through the backlog, either reading/listening to items or editing them out of the list. I’m trying to develop a sense of how many books, articles, podcasts, etc. I can process in a day and in a week. I want to be current. I want to let go of any attachment to the idea that I will “catch up” with items that may date back to 2007. Similarly, I am working on a vision of how Future Self is going to live, and what her material surroundings will look like.
See, the thing about Future Self is that she is going to wake up in my bed one day. She’ll have to deal with the ramifications of my choices, for good or ill. I can leave her stacks of bills, piles of dirty laundry, and boxes full of clutter. I can also choose to treat her to something nice. I could get her a bouquet for tomorrow. I could send her money. I could surprise her with her dream home one day. All I have to do is to figure out how she would want it decorated.
What kind of stuff will Future Self have? What is she going to want? If we started with a clean slate, how much of my stuff and Past Self’s stuff would she wish she had? Unless she goes to live full-time at a luxury resort, I can assume she’ll want furniture and dishes and laundry detergent and all the dozens of other basic household items. Those are things she can get anywhere. It’s the personalized stuff that’s under scrutiny. How many hard copies of photographs and documents and academic papers will she want? How many ornaments and decorations and bits of bric-a-brac? Is she really going to want to re-read everything I think she will? Is she still going to like the same music as me? Is she going to fit in my hand-me-down clothes, and will they still be in style? I know I’ve had to have these same conversations with Past Self, because she kept buying me clothes that turned out to be four sizes too big. She also left me a lot of boxes of random stuff. It’s not that I’m ungrateful, Past Self, I just wish you’d saved your money and sent me on a Parisian vacation instead.
When I picture Future Self, I like to think of her having more freedom and more options than I do now. I like to think she’ll be able to travel more than I do. I like to think that her house looks intentional, that she has some kind of readily apparent design sensibility on display. I like to think that she’s fit and stylish and that she has better hair than I do. When I think of the technology that will be available to her, I quiver a little. She’ll be reading books my favorite authors haven’t even written yet and listening to music that doesn’t exist. GPS will be better, search engines will be better, and there will be hundreds of incremental improvements and innovations I can’t even imagine, but she’ll be able to take them for granted. If I saw her phone right now, I’d probably cry.
In my lifetime so far, I’ve seen a lot of things become obsolete and fall by the wayside. For example, I used to have a push-button phone that picked up AM radio in the background, but only on my end. It had a three-foot cord. I’ve also spent countless hours in thrift stores that are chock-full of fugly castoffs, like an “Aisle” of Misfit Toys, but for clothes and lamps and plates. It makes me skeptical about material objects. They seem so desirable, until the zeitgeist blows by and they start looking shabby and lame in comparison. When Past Self and Future Self are separated by more than five years, it’s safe to assume that Future Self is not going to feel aesthetic delight in Past Self’s tacky, shopworn choices. Future Self may be traveling the world, living out of a suitcase, and not interested in most physical possessions of any kind.
Sometimes I cry when I run. Not for the same reasons I would have guessed! I started running as a twisted way to influence someone else, never anticipating that I would fall in love with it. I expected that it would be grueling, so tough that I gave myself a year to train up to 2.25 miles, figuring I would add one sidewalk square a day. I reached my goal in six weeks. I thought I’d hate every minute of it, and that pushing myself so hard would be this terrific character-building experience. Was I ever wrong! Distance running started bringing up emotions I never knew were part of the human package. Sometimes I feel a victorious, elated sensation that makes me thrust my arms into the air, like I’m breaking a finish line ribbon, which is hilarious at my pace. Other times I feel a physical connection to the natural world around me, a kinship with the plants and birds and animals I see on the trail. I’ve felt an almost absurd sense of well-being, a happiness that sounds so fake it’s like I’m selling something. Other times, of course, I bawl like a mother of the bride.
The first time it happened, I was running my first 5k. I had only been running for a few months, and I wasn’t at all confident that I could finish three miles. But I’d paid $38 to register and that meant I was committed. A few days before my race, I tripped on the trail and took a nasty fall. I hit my face on a rock, had scrapes and bruises on every limb, and banged up my knee pretty badly. I could barely walk the next day. There was no way I was going to skip my race; it wasn’t just the $38, but the fact that I’d made a public announcement that I was doing it.
I met with an old friend who had encouraged me and agreed to run with me. I couldn’t keep up with her pace, though. She dropped me around the first mile, at about the same point that I finally managed to pass this eight-year-old girl whose swinging ponytail had been taunting me. I kept going, lungs burning, swollen knee throbbing, feeling like an exhausted old wreck. In the last half mile, I was passed by a heavyset man around my age. He had been saving his strength and pacing himself. We were heading uphill. My morale dropped. This was when I reminded myself that a lot of people were following my progress. I knew I could inspire my friends with my example. Truly, if I could do it, just about anyone could! I started mentally listing off everyone I knew who had health problems. I would chant his or her name with each step, pattering along the asphalt. Every eight steps, I would switch to a new name, picturing my beloved friend or family member. I felt as though I were somehow taking their pain into myself and burning it off into harmless vapor. It wasn’t long before I was practically sobbing. When I crossed the finish line, I was absolutely stunned to see that I’d taken about 20% off my usual time for that distance.
The next time, it was the December that marked my first year of running. I had made a resolution to run a half marathon, but there had been travel and a chest cold and we were reaching the end of the year with no official race. I decided it was fair to run 13.1 miles on my own. It was the distance I was after, not the race bib. I posted about my run on Facebook. At about the halfway point, there happens to be a bridge. As I crossed it, I started talking to myself, saying I had made it halfway and I’d be home in no time. “I’m doing it… for my friends!” I completely choked myself up and started weeping. Then I turned around and started heading back. Unbeknownst to me, one of my local friends had figured out my route from my live posts. About two miles from home, there he was, standing on the corner with his kids, holding up signs with my name in glitter and cheering me on. I lost it. I was crying so hard I could barely keep my feet moving. I kept going, though, and made it home without walking.
The last time, I managed not to cry. It was my first marathon, and I was stupidly, very stupidly running on an ankle injury. (Tendonitis of the anterior tibialis). I’d taken a few months off of training, running only on the elliptical for a few weeks before the event, but I wasn’t completely healed. I could only run the first 17 miles. The next mile or two, I tried to run-walk, but I was done. The last eight miles, I walked, and this was made worse when the race committee decided to switch to the alternate route at least a half hour early. At that point, everyone left had to walk on ordinary city streets, waiting at every single intersection for the lights to change. This was one of the most demoralizing times of my entire life. By the time I made the home stretch, I was limping. I fully intended to “run” the last half-block, so my family could see my running across the finish line, but I turned the corner and they could already see me. I choked up, not so much feeling sorry for myself as seeing my sad self through their eyes. Sweaty, frazzled, dragging my leg alone up the sidewalk. All I had left was grit and that was mostly gone. Gone, just like all the remaining t-shirts in my size and the next size up. I became a sad blue ghost with a Portland Marathon logo.
I started running because it was important to me to walk my talk, to avoid giving anyone advice I wasn’t prepared to follow myself. There were people in my life who worried me, and I had a strong desire to fuss over them. I know this does nothing more than annoy people and make them dig in their heels on whatever self-destructive behavior is their personal favorite. I knew it would change me to drop that impulse to try to change other people. I didn’t know how much running would change me through its own special magic. I also didn’t anticipate that my running would indeed influence other people in my life. (All of them run a faster pace than I do now). Running has been one of my greatest passions. It’s a sort of emotional crucible for me, just as it has taken me through so many physical changes. Among other things, it’s given me a newfound strength and confidence. When I have a goal, nothing stops me, whether blood, toil, tears, sweat, snow, rain, heat, gloom of night, hitting my face on a rock, or glitter glue.
Everyone loves pet peeves, right? I’m going to share one of mine. I FREAKING HATE all those memes and magnets and signs and pillows that say “Dull women keep immaculate houses.” Thanks to Facebook and Pinterest and various gift shops, I get to see this dumb, sexist quote on a regular basis. I’ve probably seen it more often this year than I’ve seen my own mother.
You know what’s really dull? Women perpetuating the gender role stereotype that housework is for women.
My father always taught us that housework is for children, and that’s why he had us.
Personally, I believe that housework is for robots. “ROBOTS keep immaculate houses.” I have one for the dishes, two for the laundry, two for my floors, and I’ll be buying the one for washing windows as soon as it’s out of development. I continue to hold out hopes for a laundry-folding robot that costs less than $40,000 and takes less than 45 minutes to fold a dish towel. It will happen in our lifetimes. Mark my words.
I happen to be a married woman who lives in the suburbs and does not have a day job. On forms and surveys, I check the box for “homemaker.” It’s a little inside joke I have for myself. I have to call myself a “homemaker” until I start earning more from my writing and coaching than I earned as a secretary. I spend less time on housework now than I did when I was living alone and working full-time, because I’m married and because we have all these bitchin’ robots. As a single lady, I did not have a dishwasher, washer, dryer, microwave, or the Roomba or the Braava (which hadn’t been invented yet). All I had was a breadbot. It is amazing how easy life can be when you have a roommate to share the load, much less all these labor-saving appliances.
The other side of the gender role stereotype that housework is for women is the myth of male incompetence. Men hate this. My husband raised two kids, and he is infuriated by advertisements that suggest men can’t be trusted to care for their own children, cook a meal, or manage a home. (Of course, he is an emergency medical responder, Eagle Scout, and aerospace engineer, so it’s hard to imagine him being seen as incompetent at anything). This “men are too dumb to hold a baby right-side-up” attitude was summoned directly from the smoky cauldrons of evil marketing people. The same marketers are responsible for the (somewhat more accurate) version of masculinity that shows men operating heavy machinery, driving four-wheel drive vehicles, using power tools, and roaming the wilderness. Wiping down a countertop is supposed to be more challenging than waxing a car? Come on.
Three of the best housekeepers I have ever met have been men. Most of the bachelors I have met keep clean homes, and we can learn from this. Men tend not to have clutter. In my work, I have spoken frankly with many men about housekeeping. One of the biggest issues with sharing the housework is that a woman will tend to be defensive and possessive about cleaning tasks. We claim certain tasks because we want them done our way, or no way at all. We refuse to delegate. We feel guilty if we haven’t met our own internalized standards, and we aren’t willing to negotiate about alternative ways to frame tasks. The other thing we do is to fill the house with extra stuff that a single man would not bring home. I’m talking about decorations, bric-a-brac, throw pillows, craft projects, bathroom counters covered with beauty products, etc. Men take it as a given that if they are sharing a closet with a woman, they are not getting access to a fair and reasonable 50% of that space. This is the price of the ticket for having a sweet-smelling female to snuggle at night.
My Facebook feed is full of complaints various women have about their mates. (Speaking of dull). If there is one thing I can guarantee, it is that nagging does not work. The fastest way to ruin a perfectly comfortable relationship is to start criticizing the other person. The more trivial the topic, the better. Sure, people differ in where they fit on the spectrum of conscientiousness. If you are the partner on the higher end of the scale, you have a teaching opportunity, which will be squandered if you use it scornfully. Respect and understanding are the only ways to bring about positive growth and transformation in a relationship. My husband feels the same way about punctuality that I do about organization and cleanliness, so we’ve been able to meet each other in the middle. As I’ve made a clear effort to learn to be more aware of the passing of time, and to be ready to leave when I said I would be, he has made more of an effort to keep house the way I like it. Housekeeping was something we formally negotiated before we got married. Other people might find room for a demonstration of good faith and willingness to change in the areas of finances, physical fitness, sharing a bedtime, or something else the mate wants as much as we want a cleaner house.
Starting with an attitude of respect helps us to learn new things from our partners. If you don’t think you have anything to learn from your mate, you’re either with the wrong person or you’ve pulled away from the connection. I put forth the standard that I wanted to live in the cleanest possible house with the least amount of effort. My husband taught me some principles of engineering, including “low side compliance.” This means getting the job done only to the standard that was agreed in the contract, with no extra frills. I set out to clean the oven one day, a job I estimated at three hours. He came in with a scrubbing attachment on the cordless drill and had it looking factory-new in about 40 minutes. Then we bought a $20 silicon oven liner, and we haven’t really had to clean an oven for five years. Another life-changing skill my husband taught me was to quit filing papers that I didn’t need to keep in the first place. I had been saving a lifetime’s worth of utility bills, bank statements, and other papers, including the instruction manual for a lamp. I was able to shred or recycle about 80% of the papers I had been hauling around for multiple moves. Men are smart and efficient, and due to gendered education, they usually bring a totally different perspective and skill set to problems. Much of the time, we’re better off letting them decide how to keep the house, and following their lead, rather than the pernicious example of sexist advertisements or our received, internalized, antiquated associations of femininity with homemaking.
Keeping house is for everyone. Use a dish, wash a dish. Eat a meal, cook a meal. Use a towel, wash a towel. Use a toilet, scrub a toilet. Having a clean, orderly house does not have to be any more complicated than having a base level of personal hygiene. In point of fact, it takes me longer to shower, dry off, and do my hair than it does to clean my bathroom. Housekeeping is something that can be done quickly and efficiently, if a predictable system is in place. My contention is that cleaning a dirty house takes more time and effort. A disorganized house results in a lot of wasted time and money when we can’t find things, don’t cook meals at home, waste spoiled food, lose track of bills, or buy extra clothes because we delay the laundry. A clean and orderly home speaks for itself. There is absolutely no reason for anyone to think that scutwork should fall to women, and we should refuse to acknowledge anything that hints at it. What we can do is to take the lead and introduce the concept of a rational, minimal-compliance system to the other people who share our lives and homes.
Appreciation is one of those vanishingly rare feelings that everyone wants to receive but almost never does. It’s like talking to a truly good listener. Either these things are not being radiated outward by very many people very often, or they don’t mean what we think they mean. When it comes to appreciation, there are three basic possibilities:
The first, being surrounded by ingrates, is unfortunately quite common. Anyone who has ever wiped out the office microwave or cleaned up someone else’s coffee mugs understands this. People who expect to be cleaned up after and waited on, and don’t even realize that this is entitlement, are probably in the majority. It’s not usually a deliberate policy; they truly are unaware that they leave a trail of mess and problems for other people everywhere they go. I’ve been a secretary and a maid and a nanny. I get it. It’s not just a gendered problem, though; there are plenty of steel-toe-booted men with grease under their nails who feel the same way. It’s all about what we notice. We want our contributions to be celebrated, but we don’t necessarily celebrate those of others on a daily basis.
The cure for this is to stop dwelling on it. Do the work for its intrinsic value to you, or get away from it and do something else. For instance, I’m on the extreme end of tidiness and organization, so I accept that the cost of having things my way is doing them myself. There is a certain base level of housekeeping that has to get done, whether I live alone or with other people, so it is completely irrelevant whether I am the only person cleaning this bathroom every week. I’d be doing it for myself either way. I do do it for myself, and if anyone else benefits from it, then it is my choice to offer my work as a gift. Whether it is received as such is none of my business, any more than it is my business whether people like the birthday cards I send. All those tedious years I spent working as a secretary gave me a solid skill set that I use every day in working for myself. Most of the hundreds of people I supported probably can’t even remember that I ever worked there, and wouldn’t recognize me or remember my name. That’s fine; the reverse might be true in many cases. I got paid then and I benefit from my work now. None of that work was ever going to lead directly to anything I wanted to do, or an income level I found exciting. Until I got out of it, I was stuck at the wrong level, in a limbo of my own creation.
That is the second issue with feeling appreciated. My work was indeed appreciated, but not in the ways that mattered to me the most (emotional connection, fat wads of cash, inspiration, and inherent interest). This tends to be a bigger problem in personal relationships. Several of the unhappiest people I know are dedicated readers of romance novels. Now, I’m married to the love of my life, my best friend, and an extremely interesting person – all one man, yes – but our marriage has no resemblance whatsoever to anything I’ve read in a romance novel or seen in a “chick flick.” Which is unreal? My ten-year relationship, or an entire multimedia genre? We set up a system to divide the infrastructural elements of our life (money, chores, privacy, personal fulfillment, career growth, decision-making), and we each hold our end up. We report back to each other, but most of our conversations are about wacky stuff, our projects, gossip, or the news rather than Our Feelings or Appreciating Each Other for Taking Out the Trash. I could wait a million years for him to write me a love sonnet about my terrific job folding laundry, or passive-aggressively wait for him to, I dunno, build me a custom closet organizer or something. Or I can just enjoy his company and occasionally ask him outright to do favors for me. Which he does. He’s not a mind-reader, and I wouldn’t want him to be, because can you imagine living with someone who reads your mind all the time? I just want to hang out with him in the lowest-maintenance way possible, because he’s my favorite person to talk to. Many relationships start out this way, only to die a slow death due to a lack of systems and defined boundaries.
This is where the third appreciation issue comes in. We don’t always merit the appreciation we feel we deserve. I remember my first real office job, when I was 18, and I believed I should be promoted directly to management because I was obviously one of the smartest people there. Didn’t work out so well. This is a fixed-mindset problem. If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room, and you’re probably not the smartest person in the room anyway, because that person ain’t talking. My folly was in thinking IQ has anything to do with context, competence, contribution, or mastery. I was in the wrong job (mortgage bank), had no experience (unless you count making nachos at 7-Eleven), did something even a child could do (making photocopies 8 hours a day), and did not have the demonstrated track record of kicking serious ass. That whole “pay your dues” thing is frustratingly real, whatever your age. Fast forward 15 years, and I was making triple the income for what I considered the same type of work, because I had a college degree and more experience. That’s fair. The older and more experienced I get, the more I realize that I’m not even qualified to shake hands with the people who really get things done. Do what they did or don’t expect to get their results.
Appreciation in relationships is not distributed based on the desire for it. We tend to give with one hand and take away with the other. Many relationships polarize into bitter nagging and resentment from the one, coupled with annoyance and rebellion from the other. Nobody is the boss of anybody when it comes to love. Many of us could love each other better if we didn’t have to live together or share a bank account. We have to look to ourselves first. Would I be my roommate? Would I marry me? Many years ago, I decided that whenever I had a thought that “I wish he would” or “He should” [whatever], I would immediately look to myself and make sure I was fully following my own advice. Then I needed to back away, leave him alone, focus on my own homework, and let him do whatever he wanted to do at his own pace. Our relationship has evolved over the years, not because I’m some perfect role model or highly skilled manipulator, but because people mature and grow and change. We have to leave each other room to do this. We also have to start suspecting that maybe our mates are really the patient, long-suffering ones. Maybe they love us a little more than we love them, and we haven’t noticed yet.
Getting hung up on feeling appreciated is a losing battle. It’s like waiting for opportunity to come and knock on your door. It doesn’t work that way. Feeling unappreciated is a sign that we’re either doing the wrong thing, spending time with the wrong people, or caught up in ego needs. We need a perspective shift. We need to let it go and start focusing on people and situations we can love on their own merits. Or, in other words, we need to find what we can appreciate, and radiate what we wish to receive.
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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