Dream BIGGER

Your satisfaction with life is only as large as the goals you put in front of yourself. It’s okay to be a bit crazy. Push yourself. Dare to do the things that scare you, because every insane step makes the next one look easier. You have the capacity to do more than work and die.

Be the person everyone is talking about. Be the person that you’re jealous of today.

Spring Cleaning

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I like to throw things away when I’m stressed. Okay, maybe not actually throw things away – but I’m the person that comes home from dropping off a few bags at Goodwill and promptly starts another donation bag. It’s a fact of life I’ve long ago accepted, in part because my dad has a similar setup, and that my husband has learned to live with. But what happens when it’s a stressful month and I’ve already been through the house three times to get my cleaning/organizing/purging fix?

If you’re anything like me, you may be aware of the enticing articles on Pinterest: 100 Things to Throw Out Today! 89 Things to Remove From Your Home and Your Life! How I Got Rid of 91% of Our Stuff! 50 Things You Can Toss Right Now! (The fact that I didn’t have to look up these titles should concern me. It doesn’t. And no, I didn’t make up the numbers.)

The problem is, most of these lists are made up of obvious, miniscule items. They’re full of old receipts, holey socks, and wrapping paper scraps. Do I really need a list to tell me to toss things that are, by definition, trash?

It took about three months of annoyance with these articles that I realized that throwing things out wasn’t the key. It was just part of the process. What I really wanted was a list of things I could live without, things that could be gotten rid of so I had to spend less time looking for what I actually like and use. I want less things so I have to spend less time cleaning, or can pack up in short notice and GO SOMEWHERE without digging through all the crap to find the right gear. I was looking for a list that said “Get Rid of These Things and Then You Will Be Free.” Free to do what didn’t really matter – I just don’t want to feel like my things are holding me back. (If you ever find that article, let me know.)

Like most things, once I’d identified the actual crux of the issue, it became considerably easier to solve. It also became easier to ignore the voice whispering just throw it all out. No, I don’t need to get rid of my ski jacket just because I have a different winter coat. I use both of those. One of them lets me go outside when it’s -10 and windy. I use the other one every winter on the ski slopes. Isn’t that a kind of freedom right there?

On the flip side, I absolutely do not need to keep that shoulder bag. I bought it when I was feeling insecure and I’m only keeping it because I paid too much money for it, and maybe someday I will be the kind of woman who takes a pretty shoulder bag to work. Except there is no way it could replace my beloved North Face office-in-a-bag backpack that has kept up with me on multiple jobsites in three different states and will continue to do so for years. At this point, keeping the shoulder bag is the opposite of freedom. It makes me feel guilty and conflicted and just generally less every time I see it. And to go back to the wisdom of all those articles I read – if I ever do become someone who works in the office full-time and needs a pretty bag, won’t I want to buy one then?

With that in mind, I decided to come up with my own list of X Things to Get Rid of Today!

  1. The notepad, pen, and keyboard stickers you were given for serving on a panel that you will never use because you have too many notepads and pens and never use keyboard stickers.
  2. The bowl you got as a wedding present that you LOVE but will never use because it’s “too pretty” for mundane items and the lid doesn’t seal at all. Find someone who will actually USE it.
  3. The kitchen whisk that made you feel like a grown up but has never been used because you grew up whisking things with forks and will always, always, always reach for a fork first.
  4. The horseback riding boots you used in high school that you were planning to replace years ago but haven’t because you never actually got that horse and quite honestly have no desire to get a horse anymore because bicycles don’t eat or poop and can be put in the closet and ignored all winter without animal welfare groups breaking down the door.
  5. The book that is signed by the author but you’ve never finished because while the premise is great you absolutely disagree with the main points the author makes.

So there it is, my list of things to clean out this weekend. Have you found a secret to letting go of things guilt-free? Are you holding on to anything for reasons that are irrational to anyone but you? I’d love to hear about them!

I’m okay – Wait, what?

Show of hands, who has locked themselves in the bathroom to have a minute where no one can see your face?

I know I certainly do it. It’s a chance to let out some tension, take a deep breath, reset yourself, and flip your hair back into something fabulous (or whatever is passing for fabulous on the given day).

Usually, I do this on purpose. Today, however, I was more than a little bemused when I caught myself whispering “it’s okay, you got this,” on what I’d thought was a cut-and-dry bathroom break.

Really, J? You need to do this today? Are you just so conditioned to stress that this is Pavlovian now? Are you going to be telling the bathroom walls you’re okay for the rest of your life?

Well… Yes, probably. About halfway through berating myself, I realized I had been stressed, even if I hadn’t noticed it. And as for a Pavlovian response – telling myself it would be okay had worked. I’d acknowledged the scary task bothering me (hello, leading a training for an out-of-state office) and was ready to move on to actually tackling the task at hand. How cool is that?

I apologized to my subconscious. After all, it’s nice to know she’s got my back even when I don’t know I need it.

And now to plan that damn training….

Spring Forward

I’ve been hearing a lot of grumbling today. Early alarms. Dark commute. Why do we have Daylight Savings Time, anyhow?

I didn’t want to get up, either, especially since our thermostat didn’t get set forward and the bedroom was FREEZING this morning. But I’ve been working on increasing the positivity in my life, and this seems like a good place to apply that idea. So yes, today I drug myself out of bed in the cold and dark. But…

I got to watch the sun turn gorgeous colors on my commute instead of staring into the sun.

Apparently everyone else was struggling too, because traffic was a lot lighter this morning. No showdowns!

The sun will be up long enough tonight that I can go for a run around my new neighborhood.

We’ve had sun two days in a row, so the sky eventually did get brighter.

And the high today is 40! (not exactly related, but still very, very exciting! Maybe spring is coming after all.)

Kitty is very happy with his sunlight… And the fact that I left something soft where he could lay on it.

Home Sweet Stress

I’m wrapping up a two-week hiatus from all things normal. The hubby and I closed on a house two Thursdays ago, and it kicked off all sorts of insanity. Luckily I have a light workload currently, meaning I could leave at noon more often than not last week. The poor kitty got to spend his evenings alone while we got the house ready to move in, and I’m pretty sure we spent more money (and calories) at restaurants in that fortnight than we did in the two months prior. Oops.

I’ve also been running the gamut of emotions. Excitement, stress, exhaustion, annoyance (seriously, did the previous owners not have a vacuum??) and just about every variation in between. Overall, it’s positive, but damn, will I be happy when we’re past the paint-and-unpack stage.

The move has also brought me face to face with several of my demons. I’ve known for a long time that what I am “supposed to do” holds a huge amount of weight with me. If I feel like someone else has expectations of me, then IT IS GOING TO BE DONE. Hard stop. (I was the kindergartener who was terrified of track day, because I was supposed to be fast and win, and what if I failed? Everyone was watching me. They’d all be disappointed.) While that gave me extra motivation in chasing down grades and scholarships and extracurriculars, it’s not the healthiest impulse in, say, life. Or buying a house and then setting it up for the people who live there every day (me and the hubby) opposed to all those people peering down the rose-tinted Pinterest lens.

I have a house now. It needs to look perfect.

On the other hand, I am the daughter of two people who were minimalists a long time before it became a buzz word. My dad cleans and reorganizes for entertainment or when he is stressed, and we had a constant pile of items to be taken to Goodwill. During a seriously rough year in middle school, I think I got rid of half of my possessions. Did it make sense? Probably not. But in my mind, they were holding me back. I was going to run away and escape the annoying realities of being a pre-teen. I wanted a duffle bag and a ticket to anywhere. Freedom.

Of course, to a teenage girl, the other side of minimalism is a lack of the pretty things my friends and cousins had in their houses. Rooms painted something other than white, soft rugs, unnecessary throw pillows. On the days I didn’t want to go nomad, I’d dream about what I could do when I had a house and money of my own. And after a long time of oscillating between these conflicting desires, I’ve finally figured out the key:

When I feel inadequate, I want everything. When I’m stressed, I want nothing.

Which is great, because I’m currently stressed about feeling inadequate.

Luckily, the hubby does not have these opposing desires. He wants a comfortable house with a mad scientist lab in the basement (that’s a whole other story) and he’s pretty good about honing in on what will work for us. Which is why it’s a good thing I drug him along when we went to look at tables. I’m waiting for the stress to die down before I make any other big purchases, but since our last two apartments had a built-in counter and we don’t have a table, this was a pretty high priority.

I like to sit down while I eat my food, don’t you?

It was an “inadequate” type of day, and I made a beeline for the dark wood tables with extra leaves for entertaining and matching chairs with leather upholstery. We’re adults now. We need a nice table. People will judge us by our table.

The hubby let me go over the finer points of the “good” tables for a few minutes, then turned decisively to one I’d bypassed without a second though. “I like this one.”

It didn’t have optional leaves or fancy stools. It wasn’t bar-height. The best way to describe it, in fact, was an indoor picnic table. The light golden top was a single piece of wood with slightly wavy live edges supported by simple black metal legs, and it came with two matching benches. “It’s like your parents’ table,” the hubby went on. “That was always one of my favorite things at their house.”

I took a look around the show room again, visions of fancy dinner parties slowly fading. The picnic table matched our golden oak cabinets and trim. The lovely espresso bar-height monstrosity to my right, gorgeous as it was, did not. Could I make it work, or would it just look out of place? My husband wasn’t the only person to say they’d loved my parents’ table. This was subtly different, but all the highlights were the same.

Slowly, I made my way over and sat down on the bench, running a hand along the raw edge as I pictured this table against our newly-painted blue wall. In my head, it looked lovely. I sighed and thought about a normal day: work bags dropped on one of the benches, mail and magazines scattered around coffee mugs and brunch plates. We could still fit 6-8 people around the table for a party, sure. But on every other day of the year, this table would be exactly what we needed.

Punchline: we bought the table. We even paid to have someone bring it inside since getting a solid slab of wood through the door at a weird angle sounds like a recipe for disaster. I’m re-creating my visions for our future kitchen/dining room.

And honestly, I think this option might end up making me a lot happier.