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!

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.

Valentine’s Our Way

I hope you had a lovely 14th of February, however you spent it and whomever you were with.

The hubby and I ended up celebrating last night, which isn’t something we always do. But some other plans got canceled and we’ve been meaning to go on a date for a while, so we took advantage of the open evening and decided to check out Dumpling Darling, a new restaurant not far from us.

Patience is a virtue I only sometimes possess, so I loved that we weren’t fighting the Valentine’s crowds.  We got a dumpling flight, which let us sample all their steamed dumplings.  To my surprise, my favorite was the kimchi dumpling, although all of them were delicious.  We debated trying the dessert dumplings, but in the end decided in favor of Molly’s Cupcakes, which is right across the street. The hubby got a German chocolate cupcake; I had a peach cobbler one.  Since the dumplings were not particularly filling, it was the perfect end to the meal.

All other things aside, I’m in love with those cupcakes. Heavenly.

It we’d stopped here, it might have gone down as our most traditional Valentine’s Day in years. We’d gone to dinner early, though, and had time to kill.  Our post-cupcake destination is a place we love dearly, but very few people would consider romantic: REI.  We left with a similarly-beloved-but-not-romantic present for me: my own Wahoo Kickr Snap bike trainer.

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I was just a little excited.

Of course, you could argue that the second Kickr Snap is an instrument for marital felicity.  No more do the hubby and I have to argue over who gets the trainer first; like toddlers, it seems that we only want to use it when the other one is already planning on doing so, and we have literally raced each other to get our leg over the bike on occasion.  How many people can say they were gifted the end to a recurring argument for Valentine’s Day?

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We rearranged the living room last night to accommodate both trainers, where they have displaced our couch and will stay until we move in a couple weeks – I can’t wait to have space for both trainers AND the couch!  And so, Valentine’s Day evening found us both pedaling away, headphones in and not particularly pleased with each other.  (I didn’t have the trainer set up to my satisfaction and was not impressed with the subsequent workout.  In turn, the hubby was unimpressed with me.  I’m going to be magnanimous and say we both had a point.)

It’s an evening that would have horrified several of my girlfriends, and I can only hope they spent their Valentine’s Day in a way that brought them joy.  That said, it’s no less fair to put down my unconventional enjoyment than it would be to demean a day filled with flowers and chocolates and wine.

True love is about being yourself, about understanding each other, and about finding ways to make each other happy.  Tonight, our love was an hour sweating four feet apart from each other and an order to stop complaining.  And honestly, I might appreciate that even more than cupcakes.

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Cool down!  Kitty wants to know why it’s been a full hour since we pet him.

On the Ball

20190212_073129.jpgI broke out the exercise ball at work. To clarify, I moved back to our main office from my previous location onsite and finally got around to re-inflating it to use as my chair. I’d been pretty hesitant – the guys onsite didn’t give me a hard time about it, but some people in my office are quick to tease. Did I want to open that can of worms?

In the end, I decided my continued health and happiness was worth a bit of teasing, if it came to that. And so far, no one has said a thing. This morning, though, I heard the sound of a bouncing object pass my cubicle and went to investigate. Someone else in the office is now, as my mother phrases it, “on the ball.” Maybe not everyone thinks I’m crazy, after all.

Don’t be afraid to be the odd one out. You never know who else might join you once you take that first step.

More Living, Less Chores

I’ve been getting frustrated with chores lately.  Not “I’d rather read a book than straighten up the kitchen” – my inner thoughts have sounded more like “if I have to touch another piece of laundry or dirty dish in the next year I am going to SCREAM.”

There’s no reason for me to be so upset.  Nothing has changed.  We’ve had a long-time policy of doing small batches of dishes after each meal so they don’t pile up, and (after growing up without one, this still doesn’t come naturally to me) I’ve gotten much better about utilizing the dishwasher.  Laundry has always been “my” chore, but since the hubby no longer works on Saturday mornings, he now helps me put the clothes away.

Apparently, none of that matters.  I’ve still just been pissed.

Then I found an old notebook while going through my desk at work.  Even with the majority of my personal and work life digitized, I’m still a sucker for notebooks.  There’s something so inviting about them, so promising.  They make me feel grand, like each page is my ticket to the perfect life, and all I have to do is pick up my pen.  So with nothing better to do on my lunch break, I wrote “Spend more time living and less time existing” at the top of a page and started jotting down ideas.

The first few were obvious – we’d discussed getting a maid to come in once a month after we move to our new house, and I’ve been toying with the idea of services like PrimePantry for a while.  Sure, they were all valid ideas, but none of them would change the problems that were bothering me.  And then, about four lines in, it hit me.  I’m not sure where the phase came from – some old Pinterest post?  a joke I heard in college? my frustrated brain throwing out a solution when I actually did something other than complain? – but it popped into my head all at once.

Buy more underwear, do less laundry.

I paused.  Ran the thought through my mind again.  Flipped it over and examined all sides for any evidence of tampering or sorcery or other things that you consider when something is maybe just a little too good to be true.  Nothing.

Buy more underwear, do less laundry.

So I wrote it down – the pen didn’t break, the notebook didn’t catch fire – took a picture, and sent it to my husband.  He responded immediately: “OMG yes.  And more dress shirts?”

Fair enough.  I’d been meaning to get him more shirts ever since he started his new job this fall, now was as good a time as any.  Feeling thoroughly out of my funk now, I ran through all the specific reasons laundry has been driving me crazy.  Thanks to our record-breaking lows of the past month, I’ve been wearing my thickest sweaters on repeat, all of which require air-drying at the very least.  Same with our wool socks.  Unless I hire a weekly maid/housekeeper (not happening any time in the near future) or figure out a laundry service (now I have to talk to someone to get my laundry done? and deal with their schedule?), laundry will never be done for good.  But I can get rid of the parts that annoy me the most.

That was when part two of my epiphany hit.  Growing up, laundry was a long task.  We air-dried everything on clothes lines strung up along the porch of our detached garage, so the process included hauling the loads up and down the path, wiping off the clothes lines, shifting the clothes pins so you didn’t end up with creases in your favorite shirt, and keeping an eye out for rain – and we did this every Saturday.

I’d already done away with most of the process, thanks to the in-unit washer and dryer in our apartment.  Why not change the rest?  Just because my parents wash their clothes weekly doesn’t mean it’s a requirement for me.  Duh, honey.

I looked up the brand and type of my sole tumble-dry-low sweater and bought it in three more colors.  (Bonus: it’s sale season for sweaters!)  The hubby picked out some button downs that aren’t blue.  He got more underwear.  I ordered another bra.  I even found some machine-dry camisoles, although I haven’t convinced myself it’s worth the price yet.  Pulling out the drying rack isn’t that bad, after all – as long as I don’t have to find room for half my wardrobe on it.

We’ll see how much the changes help.  For now, I’m feeling a lot more optimistic.

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Kitty wins for enthusiasm at chore time.

Do you have any “more living, less chores” tips?  What has made the biggest difference for you?

 

Identity Crisis?

I’ve discovered something about myself in the past six months, although I have a feeling the issue has extended back much further than that.  In short, I struggle with combining – or perhaps acknowledging? – different aspects of my personality.

20180407_175749.jpgI don’t just run; I need to be A Runner.  I love having a decorated, comfortable apartment – but when I’m feeling outdoorsy, it isn’t enough to GO OUTSIDE and do things.  Nope, I need to get rid of all those things that made me so happy and proud only a few months ago, to clear space and go minimalist so there are no distractions from the view out my window.  (It should be noted that the latter is my parents’ decorating technique and it drove me absolutely insane during the last few years I lived at home.  Plus my views aren’t nearly as good as theirs.)

Strangely, the one area where this has never fazed me is my education and career.  I’m the girl who majored in civil engineering and minored in English without batting an eye.  I spend my days buried in technical drawings and hanging out with a field crew that is 99% male, and come home to write romance novels for fun in the evenings.  And yes, some of them do end up with the occasional damsel in distress.

Lately, some of this blase approach seemed to be translating to the rest of my life.  I’ve gotten rid of half my decorations enough times to know that I’ll replace them in a few months, so they can be tolerated.  The things that really bother me are evaluated for longer than 30 seconds.  Sometimes they really don’t fit my lifestyle anymore – but it’s not because I just found an awesome article about minimalism on Pinterest.

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Then I got my hair cut, and everything I’d made peace with came up again.  To be clear, nothing specific changed about my hair.  It was a trim, and not a single guy I work with could tell me the difference if held at gunpoint.  The impetus was, as it always is, the salon environment.  I know it’s coming, since I specifically picked my hair salon to also fulfill my bi-monthly pampering needs.  Complimentary glass of wine while I read your $10 magazine?  Don’t mind if I do.  Head and shoulder massage followed by a paraffin dip for my hands?  Please.

But.  When I specifically bring a dress and flats to work so I don’t have to go in wearing my typical polo, jeans, and boots, I can’t help but feel a bit like an outcast.  This leads to walking in feeling like I have a neon sign over my head, flashing lots of nasty “un” words.  Unfeminine.  Unladylike.  Unworthy.  My hands are too rough.  When I sit in the chair, I’m not used to keeping my knees tight together, and the full-length mirror in front of me is quick to point that out.  Did I actually shave the side of my knee?  How fat are my thighs, anyway?  And oh my goodness, what do I say to the infinitely more stylish person peering over my shoulder and asking what I would like done?  “Please do something with my hair that makes it look good and takes less than ten minutes a day to style.  And whatever you do, do not cut it too short to go up in a ponytail.”

Luckily, this is the point where I get a head and shoulder massage, and by the time we move to the shampoo chair I’ve remembered why I keep coming here instead of finding a place where they don’t look twice at steel-toed boots.  Either the stylist or I have managed to bring up something we have in common – cats and weekend plans are usually good – and I’ve mostly forgotten that my toenail polish has needed a touch up for about three months.  It’s not exactly comfortable, but I at least feel like a girl who resembles my normal self.

I think it’s getting easier every time I go in.  Or maybe I’m just more likely to remember leggings and close-toed shoes next time.  Progress!

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Hello and Welcome

20180720_193603Hello, there.  My name is Jen, and I’m the “girl” in Girl, Unabashed.  I’ve been writing for fun since I was about five, so I suppose it’s only natural that I would end up creating a blog–and to be honest, I’ve been thinking about starting one for roughly half a decade.  Whenever I sat down to make it happen, though, none of my ideas ever seemed to coalesce.  To have a blog worth reading, after all, one must have something worthwhile to blog about.

Then my husband made a comment that I couldn’t get out of my head.  “One of the things that I really appreciate about you is that you never make a big deal about being the only woman present.  You just show up and do your thing.”

Confession time: until he called it out, I hadn’t even noticed how much time I was spending in male-dominated activities.  I have a degree in civil engineering and work in construction project management (both 8-30% female, depending on who you ask) so I’ve spent a fair amount of time as the only woman in the room or on the jobsite.  Being the only female in the mountain biking group doesn’t even register – but after Anthony’s comment, I started paying more attention.  Sure enough, the next group ride we went on had a wide range of men, from a 12 year old boy to a man in his sixties.  But other women?  Nope.

I’ve been incredibly lucky: the men I work, ride, and climb with make it easy to forget that I’m any different.  However, the more I thought about my experiences (heavy period while camping the night before a mountain bike race, anyone?) the more I realized that I might be able to offer a unique perspective – and show other women and girls that there is absolutely a place for them among the men, even if the details aren’t all the same.

The topics on this blog will vary from week to week and certainly season to season, and not all of them will strictly address the things that make me “different.”  My plan is to approach each post with the idea that while my experiences might vary from my husband’s and coworkers’ by necessity, adaptation, not avoidance, is always the goal.  All of life is an adventure, no matter exactly what it looks like.