Discipline

When my mind wanders, I have a little notebook that I scribble down blog post ideas inside the pages. I have this fun new series I want to start called, “Minimalism isn’t.” But this isn’t one of those posts. Ironically, today I wanted to reflect on what minimalism IS and what I’m struggling with.

This is my journey. It’s a chronicle of my pursuit of a more minimal life. And as the title suggests, I have some growing (or shrinking) to do.

There is a lot of discipline involved in minimalism. It’s the discipline to say no to extra things, to continue to clear things out from your head and your life indefinitely, to commit to a habit. They say 21 days makes a habit, and while that may be true, it only takes 3 to break it.

I know – a critic would tell me that once you transition fully to a minimal lifestyle, it’s not the discipline of having to make the choice to say “no,” but that you’re truly not interested in adding those things to your life and “no” is your heartfelt answer. I get that – and I strive to find that place. I truly think I’ve found that place with clothing. While it’s easy to get swept up in a mall or store, I generally don’t find myself shopping for thrills anymore.

I think there are many parallels to draw from my healthy-lifestyle transition to this stage in my life. Many outsiders threw words and opinions about my “diet” or “exercise” levels. The truth was, I wasn’t dieting. I wasn’t forcing myself to exercise. I had discovered that I loved my life more when I ate better – I felt better, had more energy, and looked damn good in the mirror. I enjoyed the taste of the foods I was eating. I loved my endorphin highs after a long run. I was hooked on the feeling of crossing finish line after finish line. I loved how well I slept at night. But if I’m honest – it didn’t always feel that way. It actually hasn’t always felt that way since. Turning down cookies, cakes, bread (that was a mistake), addictively delicious foods –that all hurt. It required discipline. It still requires discipline. It’s not like that pint of ben and jerrys got less delicious while I stopped eating it.

So I’m not going to be hard on myself. It’s part of the reason for my recent radio silence in this space. I felt like I hadn’t done anything to be more minimal. But truthfully, it hasn’t been “nothing.” I have continued to say no to things in life that are of little value to me. I try, little by little, to imagine my home with less in it. To identify trends in my purchase patterns. To really look in my closets, cabinets, floors, drawers, windowsills, bookshelves, and garage: what am I not using?

It’s going to be our one-year anniversary for home ownership soon! I think that to celebrate, we will spend a weekend walking through the house and getting rid of shit we didn’t use once the whole year. That sounds fun.

3 Things I’ve learned about myself since pursuing minimalism

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There is a mix of things I’m learning about myself and my life on this journey. I’m learning maybe I don’t know myself that well. I see tendencies emerge and habits form (or fray). Things I thought I’d love, but actually work against the grain of my natural tendencies.

I thought I’d share a few of those things today. Things that have made me think about this process and what I want to achieve through this.

  1. You’re in or you’re out – this isn’t an experiment you can dip your toes into. While yes, I can be simple and start with my bookshelf, ultimately my bookshelf isn’t what’s going to make me feel figuratively lighter. I need to commit to the big stuff. We hosted brunch for friends the other morning and it was the first time in months my dining room table was 100% clutter free. It felt wonderful walking into my kitchen every day. It’s the bigger, grander actions that are most impactful on this journey.
  2. I love the idea of structure, but I’m stubborn as hell – that two-week deadline scenario of finishing books? I love the idea of it. It seems so sensible and achievable! Except for one small detail. The idea of leaving a book behind in the context of this project is annoying to me. I touched on it before: I’ve never had a problem leaving books half finished. They go back up on my shelf for a day when I’m “more in the right place” to read it. But not finishing a book and sending it on its way into the big bad world, away from me forever? That’s a little terrifying. It hits a little too close to failure for me, and instead I’ll stick it out through some discomfort (or disinterest) to finish the damn book on principal. It’s definitely not constructive – but maybe I need to sort back through my approach.
  3. This steady little adventure keeps me grounded – there has been a lot of swirl in my life lately. Between my “real” job, adulting (hello, taxes?), starting a small business on the side, planning a wedding, training, and maintaining relationships (or not), my time is a little squeezed. You’ll notice – this little blog suffered. But that’s okay. It’s always here for me, waiting. It’s always ready for my words and my ideas. It’s a great listener. And it gives my ideas a place to grow roots. So even though my minimalism journey doesn’t look like other people’s – it definitely looks just right for me.

What keeps you grounded?

Forget looking ahead

There is only a slight contradiction between current life-happenings and the title of this post…but more on that later.

Sunday, I posted a photo to Instagram and was trying to think of something philosophical to resonate with fellow #minimalists in order to get them to follow my account. (spoiler: I didn’t get any new followers). I got to thinking about cliches of minimalism and realized that the predictable thing to do is say “Sunday is for preparing for the week.” I could go on about setting intentions, mentally preparing myself, going over meticulous to-do lists and setting goals. All those list-esque things usually resonate with me.

But that wasn’t at all what I was doing. In fact, I relished the fact that I spent all Sunday indulging in myself and putting off the Monday-through-Friday thoughts/agendas until Monday morning. And it felt great.

In the listicle, rule-driven, meticulous box we sometimes try to fit in, it’s easy to forget that today is only here now, and by tomorrow today will be gone. So carpe diem, friends. (cliche).

Force it, but take your time

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I haven’t been posting. In fact, I’ve been avoiding the I-don’t-know-what-to-say ailment by working on my piano playing skills. This week, I’m learning a Mozart minuet and practicing two-handed major scales. I’ve been avoiding this blog.

This morning, as I was wrapping up a quick 30-minute practice sesh in between slurps of coffee, I turned around and saw a short stack of empty journals and 3 unread books. I had to fight the urge to pick up one and start it on my commute today. I’m supposed to be finishing Everything is Illuminated. It’s obviously not hooking me in if I’m ready to jump ship and start a different book.

All of the sudden, I was overwhelmed with the desire to do the things I love: read the books I want, write, work on playing piano again, and keep toiling with powertools in my garage so that deconstructed pallet becomes a beautiful work of art. I felt overwhelming drive and inspiration to DO. These are the things I want right now. I’ve also started running again, for my sanity and for my health. How can I find my balance? Right now, I’m not fitting all the pieces together very well. I’m “wanting” too many things.

I’m also feeling a little discontent about other things in my life, which is making me strive for satisfaction through creative outlets. But I need to be intentional about it. I can’t just start grasping and reaching for so many things that I create a feeling of being overwhelmed and general failure. Pick my goals.

My goals are: use this blog to keep be balanced and intentional, which means writing about it. Use this space to quell my desire to write. Keep up with piano, use weekends to use powertools, and run. Maybe I’ll do a day-in-the-life, how my brain optimizes (or doesn’t) my free time and what sort of things I learn about myself as I document. That’s an idea for you.

 

Giving Permission

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Did you notice?

It’s been 3 weeks since I gave myself 2 weeks to finish On the Road.

I’m full of reasons why it’s taken too long to write about it; but let’s break it down and be real, shall we?

TRUTH: I’m disappointed that I’ve spent 150% of the time I intended to spend on this book, and I’m only 66% of the way through it.

TRUTH: I spent 7 days traveling for work, missing out on my typical train-commute where I spend most of my time reading.

TRUTH: The above line is an excuse.

TRUTH: I’m not disappointed that I opted to spend time yesterday doing a long run instead of reading a book I’m not really into.

Did you see that? My priorities have displayed themselves in my actions. So, as this title suggests, I gave myself permission to break the strict guidelines and give myself an extra week to finish the book. (Is it breaking them if I never held to them? You decide).

The book hasn’t really drawn me in. It hasn’t hooked me or made it impossible to put down. I don’t find myself anxious in the evenings  to pick it up and resume the tale. It fascinates me, and I’m trying to pick apart the pieces that make it so notable and historic, but honestly, I’m disappointed.

At the risk of sounding feminist, I’m finding myself annoyed at the writing of ALL OF THE female characters. While I can get sucked into the adventure and rush of the unexpected, I feel like a little piece of me writes the book off a little more each time I read about another abandoned wife.

Because I absolutely hate failing (it’s a flaw), I’m going to finish this dang book. It’s going against the entire principal of the exercise, but I’m doing it. I’m also giving myself two weeks to finish Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safram Foer. So that’s 1.3 books in 2 weeks, when I only finished .6 book in 3 weeks. This post just got strangely mathematical.

Somewhere above, I tried to make the transition where I come full circle and bring together the title of this post. Long-windedly, I’m giving myself permission to break the rules and adjust as I find my way on this journey. This blog is by no means a guide; it’s a place for me to talk about my journey: what works, what doesn’t, and how I decide what qualifies “working.”

A Summary: Set goals, adjust, and make sure they’re attainable. Make space for the priorities in your life by giving yourself permission to let the less important things go. I can’t do it all, but what I can do is make sure that I’m making space for the most important things that add the most value.

Pick Three

The other day, a friend and female business owner posted an article on Facebook titled Work, Sleep, Family, Fitness, and Friends: Pick 3. It was an article based on a statement from Randi Zuckerberg, sister to the Facebook guru and former Director of Market Development turned entrepreneur. As is customary, the comments displayed a colorful array of opinions.

I was the first comment, “Yes. This.” I felt happy that someone with influence was sharing that you can’t do it ALL. Put it out into the world: to do things well means sacrificing other things – for the sake of sanity and also for the sake of integrity. In the comments, this woman piped up calling Randi an “enabled coat-tailer” which made me sad; why would you make such a crass generalization about a woman you don’t know at all? Then another woman stated “Clearly they haven’t met me – I do it all!” She (somehow) (and I’m not making this up – literally she said this) is a single mom, wakes up and makes her kid breakfast, works a regular job until 5, gets her kid, does some evening activity like a park or a walk, then makes dinner, reads with her kid, puts her to bed, then she runs her business by answering emails/setting appointments, works weekends as a wedding hair/makeup artist, yet somehow makes time for friends, exercise, and get enough sleep to feel rested.

I call bullshit.

I assume some of the following is at play here:

a) call up her friends and they’ll tell you they barely see her b) she looks haggard and tired all the time c) her idea of being fitness-conscious is her evening walks with the kid? d) her business isn’t really lucrative

I’m not saying this to be an asshole, I promise. I think this is a textbook definition of that “busy” trap you keep seeing in articles on NYT or huffpost. Maybe she has to do all work to make enough income – but I can’t believe her personal time, social life, or health aren’t sacrificed to achieve the full time job + part time business (and single mom) responsibilities.

I say all of this because I’m reflecting on the fact that personally, I can’t do it all. Well, I can’t do it all well. I like being good at things. Because I can knit, run, shoot (decent) photos, sew fairly well, I like to write, freelance, and want to start my own business doesn’t mean I can do them all. I’m learning to accept that’s okay. Focus on the things I love most – the few most important things (family, fitness, work – those are my 3) – and be stellar. The rest? They’re just not a priority. There is nothing wrong with that.

The success rate of Cold Turkey

Let’s be real here, cold turkey has a success rate of about 3% (don’t quote me). My case studies include:

  • New year’s resolutions
  • My attempt at a capsule wardrobe
  • My “write an album in the month of February” goal that I tried for the last 3 years, despite the fact that I can barely write 1 song per year for those other months (sigh)

This blog is totally (hopefully) going to help keep me honest in this journey of removing the crap from my life that keeps me from living the life I want to live – but if I’m setting myself up for success, I need to snap out of the delusion that this is going to happen with the stroke of my keyboard and the camera shutter of my iPhone.

The Picture of Dorian Gray

Let’s start small, shall we? The Bookshelf.

I am absolutely not the minority when I say I have a weird unjustified attachment to (the contents of) my bookshelf. I love the feel of a good paperback, the smell of crisp pages, the look of an un-bent spine. I love tangible progress – so I cherish the change in balance from the “unread” to the “read” side of an open book. I’m obsessed with cover art and will buy multiple copies of my favorite books with different covers, collecting different sets of notes in the margins for each time I read it. Sound familiar?

But if we’re sticking to the theme of being real with ourselves, how many of the books on your bookshelf make your heart swoon so strongly as the passion in that descriptive love letter I just penned for the paperback book? Probably not many. I learned this like a smack in the face during my recent move.

One of my bookshelves was sacrificed during the move, which meant that when I unpacked I had to find a new system for organizing them. I had to decide which books might temporarily remain in the cardboard box and which books got to be on display. I quickly learned I could fill a whole shelf of unread books. Some I had only had for a couple months, some I had had for years. Some I had started 3-5 times but could never get through. Why am I holding on to these?!

So in my attempt to have less and do more by getting rid of the things that don’t add value to my life, I’m going to begin by plowing my way through that “unread” shelf that is busting at each end. Each book gets 2 weeks – if it’s not done, I shouldn’t waste any more time (or space) on it. I can accept that it’s not for me and send it on its way. Up first: the classic On the Road by Jack Keuroac himself. See you in two weeks.

 

“Action expresses priorities.”

“Action expresses priorities” – Mahatma Ghandi

This has been a personal subliminal mantra of mine for as long as I can remember. When people told me their ideas or aspirations – I pushed them to do it. If they didn’t do it, they didn’t want it badly enough. The same with myself: if I wanted a new job, I got one. If I wanted to run a marathon, I trained for it and did it. If I wanted a house, I saved and bought one. You can do anything you set your mind to. The key is not to have it “easy” or be be lucky or privileged – it’s about setting realistic goals and being creative in solving the inevitable obstacles you’re presented with. I promise, there are lots of obstacles. (Let’s be real: brunch with bottomless mimosas will always sound more appealing than your Saturday morning long run – but your action (brunch vs. run) expresses which is a priority in your life).

It wasn’t until recently that I came across this quaint little quote that I realized it perfectly described my philosophy for life. Thank you Ghandi, for this and your articulate wisdom. But something this quote is also helping me with the realization that I’m being a hypocrite. Back up, let’s save the melodrama.

I’ve been reading blogs for 5 years. I’ve started many blogs. I’m having trouble finding my rhythm because I keep asking myself “what is me?” “what do I have that I can share with the world on an ongoing basis that will continue to fulfil me for the unforeseeable future?” These are hard questions – and I always came up blank. First, it was an adventure blog of my life moving to a new city. Then, a healthy living blog. Then, a positive attitude blog. Now? A minimalist lifestyle blog? Tomorrow – who knows. The undeniable truth here is that I want to blog, but I’m feeling unconfident, hesitant, and indecisive in my decision to start. Action Expresses Priorities. Blogging hasn’t been a priority in my life (or I’m mistakenly procrastinating by adding more things to my plate that don’t add value to my life – more on that at another time).

I’ve bought the domain. I’ve chosen a a title. I have a theme, and post ideas. I have the intention. Now all I have to do is show up. Keep showing up.

Setting Intentions

I have a lot of ideas.

I’m also not a person that is very passive with her ideas.

My life philosophy is all about “HOW can I do that?” Figuring out how to make these crazy ideas a reality.

Since finishing grad school and starting my career, I’ve started all of those things that you “should” be doing, “buying a house, getting engaged, owning a dog.” It’s fulfilling. I love my life. But I’ve found it’s really easy to start letting things fill up space in your life, limiting your ability to actually get shit done.

It’s not only the physical things that get in the way. It’s mental, it’s hypothetical, it’s people, it’s rules, it’s money, it’s all kinds of “things.”

I’m at a point in my life where I have a lot of things I want to do, to accomplish, to achieve, to experience. I’m ambitious. But I can’t even get close to accomplishing any of them if I have all this “stuff” weighing me down, blocking my creativity, or filling my up time.

As I said – I have some really big ideas right now. My life is on the cusp of a million changing pieces and I want to seize every single opportunity in this transition. That means I need to be nimble, flexible, open-minded, and portable. I need to be independent, sustaining, and entrepreneurial. I’m ready.

I haven’t started because I need to start

I’m so excited to be here, now, telling you this. It’s something I’ve been thinking over for months. On the corner of my notebooks and on scrap paper, I sketch up ideas for posts and content. So many times I do something and I think to myself, “that would be perfect on the blog!” Yet, I haven’t even started. Which is exactly why I need to start.

This place is my place to be creative. So many times, we get lost in the lists and requirements of life. I’m there, guys. I’m fully submerged and completely overwhelmed by all the “stuff.” The stuff I should be doing, the stuff I’m not doing, the stuff I want to be doing, the stuff I wish I wasn’t doing, the stuff I’m procrastinating, and the stuff I’m prioritizing. There is a lot of stuff.

I want this to be my white space. My clean slate. The white wall, the white piano keys, the empty notebook page. The place that’s all mine where I get to take time and create something I’m proud of. It will be where I show you how I get rid of the extra stuff in my life to make room for the stuff I love. Because we all hit our limits. There is such thing as too much – and I’m there. This is my gesture to slough it off, to be light and to be free.

I have a lot of the things in life that may weigh people down: 2 dogs, a home, a fiance. Let me tell you, those aren’t enough for me to sit down and sort through laundry on all of my off days (okay, maybe some of them). This is the time to make my dreams, ideas, and failures shine through.

I’m taking tiny steps, guys. My house is a mess, I have no photo to upload with this post. And I have no idea what tomorrow will hold. But tonight – today – this is a victory. I set an intention to do this thing, and here I am following through. Hell yes.