Curating Closets: When You Have None

It’s been a while, since I’ve written about curating closets, but closets have been at the forefront of [our] minds lately. Mostly, because we have none. I revealed in this post that our living space on the second floor has absolutely no closet space, not even in the bedroom.

Or pantry space.

Or a bathroom door.

Or a bedroom for that matter, technically. Loft living for the win.

So where to put storage? Our lifestyle is salvaged by a lone closet underneath the stairwell, located on the first floor (in the business space). We’ve placed a rod in this “coat closet” and have hung most of our clothes there, underneath the linens. There’s shelving above it, wherein sits our few sweaters that avoid hangers, to prolong their sweet little lives. The space is limited, and what minimalist closets we once thought we had have proved to be, well, not minimal enough. The husband owns too many tees, while I own too many formal a dress. So, a few words on curating, once again.

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It’s dawned on me that the de-cluttering process is one of the most mindful practices I engage in. And I do it repetitively, because there’s still room for self-improvement, as well as self-reflection. Here’s what this new “space” has reminded me:

Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.

I keep returning to this quote. I first discovered it perusing a shelf of cards at Daydream Surfshop in simple black lettering across a blank card. I loved it so much that I gave it as a birthday card to our roommate. When curating closets, I ask myself these two questions: “Does it have a purpose?” and “Do I love it?” Some may say “love” is a bit too extreme of an emotion, but I have found that liking something is not enough to stand the tests of time.

When you must choose between practicality and an item you love, sometimes it pays to choose the loved and less practical.

I was standing in a dressing room stall, holding two pairs of pants in my hands. I had been hiding away in there for thirty minutes or more, and the dressing room lady has checked in on me five times by now. Surely, she must wonder whether I’m in there solely because of the free AC. Not entirely untrue. But also, I was going through a tough dilemma, arguing with myself back and forth. Do I get the pair of practical denim which goes with everything in my closet and which can be worn on most days in casualness, or do I go with the auburn pant that wears beautifully, matches with a lot of my basic tops, but that I might hesitate doing some cooking in, lest it gets dirty? The truth of the matter is, I needed neither. In the end, I had walked out of the store with the pair of red pants in my hand. While practicality would have landed me a pair of denims that have everyday usability, I chose the thing that will make me ultimately the most happy. With something practical, one can wear it every day and never notice anything different. The practical one would not add anything to my life, except maybe a reason to de-clutter other denim pants that I already own. The red pair, on the other hand, will add joy to the every day. Plus, I’ve come to realize that when you love something, you end up using it as much as you possible can anyway. The moral is to choose actions that makes life happy, which is ultimately what we are living for. And when it comes to having items around,  living surrounded with items that you actually care about is the thing that matters most.

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Know what you need for your particular lifestyle.

Speaking of having items around, know what works for you. I have been guilty before of buying things that other people have, with the illusion that I myself may need them too. However, as I grew to know myself, I have found that my lifestyle is quite different from other people’s lifestyle. There were so many things we owned previously that we found we didn’t use at all. A toaster that we had asked for on our wedding registry. Cosmetics that I thought every girl required. A beer tasting set, ’til I realized I no longer wish to consume beer. Specifically for wardrobes, I used to think I needed high heels to compensate for my height, and short dresses to make my legs appear longer. I used to think that tight clothing helped me, and that having my hair curled made me appear more adult. Today, I’d likely grab a tee, prefer overalls, and get itchy when my hair is anywhere near my face. Also, I enjoy the freedom that walking, running, jumping (?) in flat shoes afford me. My lifestyle has slowed down quite a bit, so blogging on couches does not require the same attire as going out to happy hours do. Coffee shops are more forgiving than clubs and house parties. Denim pants are more suited to bread baking than mini skirts. You get the gist.

Learn to recognize sentimentality and guilt. Learn to let the burden go.

The most difficult, and final advice. Too many times have I stared at an item which has not been touched, used, or even looked at for many months [ahem, years], yet still it remained in my possession. Always, the culprit holding me back from saying sayonara was sentimentality, followed by guilt. Handkerchiefs handed down to me from my mom when I was 8 years old, for example. The thought of letting something go makes me feel like I was stabbing someone I cared about in the back with a knife of betrayal. The wild imagery pulls me towards being a “good person” and keeping it for the sake of sentiment, and also, to avoid hurting anyone’s feelings. We must learn to recognize these moments, and then to ask, “what is it’s purpose?” If the only thing the item does is weigh us down with emotional burden, is that really worth keeping? Surely, your loved one did not mean to cause you such turmoil. I have found that creating space gives a higher ability to receive, while releasing negative physical, emotional and mental energy. Be kind to yourself, and know that the weight of the relationship should not come down to material things.

How about your closet space advice? I could use some inspiration. One day, I hope for that downstairs closet to have decent breathing room.

Property Ownership: Taking Renovations Nice and Slow

Buying a home comes with so many strings attached to your emotions, and its got you moving in all sorts of directions. One of which is this desire to create your fantasy dream home, RIGHT AWAY. In this post, I am going to avoid digging into the recesses of our social upbringings to address how we are shaped to want such a thing (*cough* HGTV *cough*) for the sake of time, which I am admittedly currently short on amidst all the property fixes, the packing, the moving and student loan tackling. Rather, what I am going to say is this: Take renovations nice and slow.

First off, Congratulations! You have a new home! Have you even  taken the time to celebrate that? We are trained to seek more, more, more, that few of us take the time to be grateful for what we have. I know I am much the same. It isn’t long after I’ve accomplished something that the following words are out of my mouth: “Okay, what next?” How about stopping, taking a breath, and seeking the NOW? As cliche as it sounds, take time to smell the roses.

Now, if you’re like most people, you likely had to take out a mortgage for your newfound space. Which also means you likely spent a good chunk of change for the down payment. Dare I say that for a number of people, the down payment makes up a majority of your life savings, especially if you are young and just out of college like me. I can attest. We took 100% of our emergency fund, and spent it ALL to make a 5% down payment on a $499,900 home in Orange County, CA. While you judge us however way you wish in the way we spent that money, we are now starting from where we were two years ago, when I graduated with $575,000+ in student debt while owing my then boyfriend, now husband, an additional $20,000. Except we have paid down $100,000 towards that debt and we now have a home. I have faith that we will be just fine.

If you could get over the judgement, here is what I have to say. The focus is not to renovate the space into a dream home. It’s to build your life around something that makes you ultimately happy. Comforts of an emergency fund included, digging yourself further into financial debt is not. Rebuilding our emergency fund is where a majority of our focus will be for now. So what if the counters are cheaply made of wood, and have minor signs of water damage? So what if the sink does not properly fit into the counter-tops and caulk was used to seal it up? Never mind that the cabinets have multiple holes in them from the handlebars that were there previous to the current ones. Or that the bathroom stall has glue stuck to the walls. Yes I want a brand new couch to replace the hand-me-down that I received from my college roommate in dental school. But I’ve lived with it for five years, and looking back and seeing what I’ve done with my life says maybe it’s worth sitting on that couch a few years more.

I can tell you that most buyers, myself included, can find unlimited furniture upgrades, faulty appliances, and remodeling projects, all of which will quickly deplete the incomes of even the rich and famous. In the voice of Admiral Ackbar, “It’s a trap!” These temptations will prevent the most frugal among us from saving their hard-earned incomes. Some even rack up high interest credit card consumer debt! Feeling a squeeze in the budget is normal, but you have control over that constriction. I would recommend taking a very lean approach to your budget, and take renovations nice and slow. Personally, my goal is to go ham with the student loan debt while rebuilding that emergency fund (substitute your important financial goal here). I assure you that you will be able to transform your place into something beautiful, in time. Meanwhile, be glad that you have a comfortable place to sleep, a functioning stove, a roof over your head – all things that many people around the world can only dream about.

If you are at the point where you want to take on renovations, you may be asking, where to start? Surely, not with the cosmetics. We are fixing only those that require most attention. For example, the bathroom in our roommates space only emits hot showers. And while hot showers are nice, we do need to add cold water for fine tuning. Additionally, the fridge that’s included with the space has no water filter. So we’ve installed a water filter under the sink, to avoid plastic bottles. Lastly, we spent our entire weekend taking off the shelving and wooden floorboards that the previous owner left behind. With that comes wall spaces that needed patching and re-painting. There was a closet door on the first floor which they’ve cut a hole into, so we bought a piece of wood and cut it to create a new door. I then painted it to match the rest of the house. A majority of the work we did on our own, with the help of a cousin and uncle. Someone quoted us $500 to remove the floorboards, so we did it for free instead. Alas, here is the “nice” part to the “nice and slow”. Doing the work ourselves saved us a lot of money, taught us a few things about property maintenance, and strengthened us as a team.

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Meanwhile … we have started the re-financing process!!

Intentional Living: Produce Twice, Consume Once

I would like to start the conversation by saying that I am not entirely against consumption. I am only against excessive consumption. This doesn’t solely allude to buying, or consumption in the physical sense. It also refers to the immaterial, such as the way we consume media and the way we spend our time. In an effort to live an intentional life, I implement a simple rule to combat this tendency: Produce twice, consume once.

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Excessive consumption does not refer to us consuming more than we need, but rather, consuming at levels that are NOT sustainable. Our resources are finite. While it’s easy to define it in terms of material goods, how can we delve deeper in aspects of our life that involve intentional living? The easiest way is to analyze the way in which we spend our time. Do we pile on too much stuff on our to-do list? Do we waste time doing things that does not add value to our lives? We have limited time, limited energy, our souls have limited light. There gets to be a point where our activities are no longer well-sustained by our bodies. With resource depletion comes degradation and reduced health, which applies to us on a personal level, too.

Situated in an environment where consumption opportunities abound, I understand it can be difficult to resist the temptations of everyday, “normal” consumption. But the resistance gets easier with the awareness that we get mired down by the things that we own, and eventually, they begin to own us. The wonderful thing is that we have control over how much we consume. The greatest way to do that is to physically limit the amount of time we have to consume, by filling it with efforts to create.

Purposefully setting aside time in the day to do yoga, jot my thoughts down, make coffee, cook meals, practice guitar, learn a new language, et cetera, means less time to do other things. It’s funny too, but what I do with my life ends up shaping what I consume. As I delve more into getting my finances in shape, I surround myself with podcasts and books on personal finance. As I write about dentistry, I start to network with other tooth-lovers and learn more about the trade. As I make more cups of coffee and bake more loaves of bread, I consume videos and blogs that would improve my skills most. In essence, the goal is to snuff out wasteful activities. I am not advocating total elimination of consumption, but I think what you will soon find is that consumption can be healthy. It just needs direction, and creativity can be really good at directing it.

Like social media, excessive consumption is a self-induced societal disorder – an addiction that can rob us of the life we wish to lead. The question is, will you let it?

Try out my simple life trick. Creativity and production really are just as addicting as consumption. All of them give you that jolt of euphoria, but I’d rather limit the latter. Produce twice, consume once.

Intentional Living: Setting Boundaries

Once upon a time, when I was young and naive, I thought it would be most ideal to become the best “YES”-woman out there. That was my life goal. To take on the role of a fictional superhero, one that was capable of juggling a million things, and additionally, excel at them. I was deemed a bright star, but like all bright stars, I eventually burned out and, to some extent, was reborn. Existential notions aside, today I aim for a different life. One that is of a slower pace, one that has awareness with each step, and mindfulness with each passing thought. With this new life comes a new role, one that involves setting many boundaries.

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Intentional living cannot be achieved without knowing how to set boundaries. Have you ever felt overwhelmed by a to-do list, social obligations, or financial debt? All of this may indicate that you’ve bitten off more than you can chew, making it difficult to be intentional about any of your actions. You are doing so many things on such a short timeline, how would you have the time to consider what the repercussions and consequences of your actions are? How will you have time to explore alternatives? You won’t have time to think about what’s good for you, let alone what’s good for others.  Nothing about a fast lifestyle is intentional.

Some may argue that setting boundaries is selfish, but I beg to differ. Not having enough boundaries indicate a low self-esteem. Essentially, you are saying, “I am not important enough to be put first.” You spend your life trying to please others. I myself was once a people-pleaser. It made me extremely happy to make others happy. The problem was that my happiness was dependent on others, which was ultimately, destructive. It’s nice to make others feel good and to help others, but our own happiness has to come from within. Therefore, self-love is a key to happiness. Self – love is not equivalent to selfishness. Self-love invigorates us with life.

Off course, recently, I have been trying to separate boundaries from barriers.

Boundaries are always shifting, are growing with you, and are forgiving and kind. Barriers are definite, closed-off, and distancing.

Still, I struggle between the two, but I am learning. I have a tendency to require myself to show up and be accountable in terms of absolutes. I have difficulty allowing myself failure, allowing missteps and set backs. But once in a while, I am reminded of the need to be flexible, to mold with situations, and to move in a way that defines freedom rather than constriction.

Where to begin?

Know Yourself: You can’t set boundaries if you don’t know what you need. Many people have difficulty avoiding the stresses of the grind, because they don’t know what sets them off. When you are feeling tense, take time to identify the cause. Try to figure out how you can prevent it from happening again. Trust your feelings, honor them, and learn who you are and what values you uphold.

Select Your Crew: They say that you are only as good as the average of the five people you spend the most time with. While that may be oversimplifying things, it’s true that sometimes, we keep relationships that are negative. Surround yourself with people who build you up, who invigorate you, who make you feel passionate about something. Keep those who support  you. For those that are unaligned with your values, set boundaries, not barriers. One of the ways in which I have a tendency to put barriers up is by cutting out negative people from my life. It’s been for the better, but it wasn’t entirely kind. Additionally, cutting people out entirely does not allow room for growth, in either party. Even I can learn in this regard.

Limit Social Obligations: As an introverted couple, we exercise this more heavily than others. Social parties for us can be draining. One-on-one situations are better than group events, and shorter gatherings at home feel more comfortable than long weekend vacations. We know this about ourselves. I limit my social obligations because I know that I need time for myself, too. I let close friends and family know that we need time aplenty to mentally prepare, and to plan for a recovery period of recluse afterwards. It’s about knowing who you are.

Work Responsibilities: Work should never be taken home. That’s a rule that we practice in our household. Once we clock off, we respect our time to be spent with our loved ones and with each other. Once the lines between work and home start to blur, so do your priorities.

Web Surfing and Social Media: This is a recent one, but one of the utmost prevalence. Eyes have a way of gravitating to screens and hands have a way of reaching for phones. It’s like a magnetic force pulls us towards our electronic devices, and we must resist our ingrained tendencies. Setting aside specific times to use social media or surf the web is a great way to set boundaries. I try to limit use of Instagram to the morning hours on weekdays, before I head off to work. That includes using the Gram for blog stuff as well. I also have implemented the practice of consuming once, producing twice. Meaning, for every hour I consume media (whether that’s movies, videos, podcasts, reading blogs, and scrolling through social media), I try to spend two hours creating (examples of which include coloring, drawing, practicing guitar, writing on the blog, singing, or working on something else productive). What I’ve found is that the act of producing has this snowball effect that then fuels even more creation, which ultimately affects what I choose to consume. It keeps me from consuming random, unrelated stuff, but rather, I am spending my time learning about things I am working on. I consume other blogs that I could learn from, or music that inspires me to learn guitar. I listen to podcasts that motivate me with my financial journey. Et cetera. By allocating where I spend my time, I am also limiting what enters my life. Need help? Try these.

What I Need to Work On:

Mostly, I need to focus my attention on setting boundaries of the mental kind. Warding off worry, or negative perspectives of certain situations. Trying to grasp more control over my own happiness, by controlling the way I react to situations and people. Trying to be more fluid rather than rigidly standing strong. Despite all our trials, we need to keep our hearts warm. We need to remember the words of N. Waheed.

Stay soft. It looks beautiful on you.

 

Intentional Living: Logging off

My recent experience with an overwhelming amount of working days has lately made me extremely sensitive to the value of time. It seems that when time was of the essence, I made running amok as a chicken with it’s head cut off a daily occurrence. The imagery may be a bit vulgar, but it’s an accurate depiction of my panicked emotion. Now that I have more time on my hands, I am not of the inclination to use it wastefully. As in, lying in bed daydreaming, sleeping into the late morning, or scrolling through Instagram ALL DAY LONG. Those type of mindless activities would have been acceptable if my body was drained from the stresses of a crazy work schedule, but they are inexcusable when I’ve asked specifically for more time. Some things just shouldn’t be taken for granted.

So I’ve made quite the habit shift, specifically with the only social media platform that I am admittedly hooked on, Instagram. The habit: Logging off. Now, this isn’t to say I’ve completely deleted the app and forever forgotten about it. It has its usefulness which, mostly, is related to the workings of this blog. But it also has its wastefulness, specifically while I am sitting at work scrolling endlessly while waiting for my next patient. Or when I take a break from writing and slump onto the couch, phone in hand. An hour can pass by miraculously quickly when your head is in the clouds, up in cyberspace somewhere.

The habit I’ve created is this: I’ve allowed myself Instagram time in the first few hours of the morning, as I work on my blog. Anything I want to post is fair game, whether that’s recaps of the day prior, or anything going on the morning of. However, once I leave for work at 10:30am, I make an effort to not use Instagram for the rest of the day. Even on a day off, such as yesterday, I limited Instagram to only the morning. Which then forces me to create rather than consume. If I have downtime at work, I will type away on the blog. If I get tired of writing, I will pick up a book instead. If I am at home, there are endless chores that I haven’t gotten around to.

We detox our guts with diets. We detox our surrounds by de-cluttering. It’s time we detox our minds too. I would admit to a dependency on my phone. Embarrassingly, I would also admit to an addiction with Instagram. But that realization is the first step in getting our time back.

How have you curbed your social media time? I would gladly take any pro tips and what not. 

 

 

 

Intentional Living: Life Without TV

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It’s shocking to most that we do not own a TV. Neither have we ever. If you’ve been around this space for a while, you will know that it is partly due to my need to be minimalist. Having a screen around (and a large one no less!) to me seems a bit cluttered, unsightly, and makes me feel a bit like a character out of 1984. Additionally, they are heavy, expensive, and seemingly always upgrading to bigger and better qualities. As you all know, my life goal is to NOT spend my days keeping up with the Joneses.

Why I do not watch TV.

Historically, I have not had any strong affiliations with the tele. I am every grateful to my mother for limiting my TV time to 30 minutes per weekday, and am also grateful for her ‘forcing’ us to watch whatever she wanted to anyway, aka DragonBall Z or Sailor Moon. By taking away the paradox of choice, TV became this thing that we simply did together as a family activity, and my fantasies laid with the many fiction novels I could choose to read, instead. It also helped that my tolerance for movies and television shows lied within a small range of genres, since I could not watch anything scary, suspenseful, or action-related, unless I plan on not sleeping that night due to my wild imagination and tendency to have very vivid imagery prancing around in my head. I also disliked a lot of grossly romantic stories, while documentaries in those younger years bored me. So I only had cartoons or comedy to entertain me. Instead, I filled my time with books, from which I got my fair share of crime and murder mysteries, classic novels, and sci-fi fiction. By the time I was in high school, my life was filled with so many extra-curriculars, that I was hardly ever in the same room as a television screen.

Perks of a life without TV.

Upon deep thought on the topic of having a TV versus not having one, there were many reasons that I came up with as to why I do not want a TV in my home:

  • Frugality: TVs are expensive. No joke, but TVs these days are so expensive. No wonder people line out the door on Thanksgiving night for crazy slick deals. That’s not the life I want! TVs can easily cost over $1k. For the price of a small sized TV, you can get a projector that has a screen that would probably cost you $3k or more!
  • Frugality: Cable is expensive. Part of the success we’ve had in paying down $550k in student debt is due to the ways in which we have decreased our recurring monthly payments. We have NEVER had cable. I doubt we ever will. I would rather spend those few hundred dollars a year on things that are more meaningful.
  • Everything is online, these days. If we want to watch a show, we will just log into Netflix and look to see what they have. Mike’s dad has a Netflix subscription, which gives access to the gramps and grams, the parents, and the kids. If you are looking to do a subscription, may I suggest asking around and seeing if friends and family are willing to share access? Most likely, you will find someone who won’t mind, or a group of friends who would be willing to split the costs. It seems a bit wasteful for every household to pay for their own subscription.
  • Intentional Living: Avoiding commercials and consumerism. This is a big one! Firstly, does anyone else get bothered when the program is interjected with little mini-breaks? It ruins the flow of the movie, the suspense of the series, or my train of thought while watching a documentary. Secondly, those mini-breaks are ways in which companies can stream advertisements into households that promote consumerism. Steady streams of ‘updates’ as to the products out there can only induce one thing: the need to buy. Lastly, hidden underneath those ads are socially constructed ideas about what is ideal. Subliminal messaging about gender roles, racial stereotypes, ‘covetable’ status symbols interspersed with not-so-subtle messaging about an ideal lifestyle. I would like to avoid that all-together. Nothing warms my heart more than when mothers in our dental office change the channels for their little ones every time commercials come on because they refuse to allow their kids to be influenced at a young and early age by such propaganda. Go MOMS!
  • Intentional Living: Avoiding the news and negativity. Of a similar token, I absolutely dislike the news. Why? Not because I prefer to live under a rock. But I find that the news contains a disparaging amount of negativity bundled up in reports. I actually consider much of the news as not news at all. I recognize that all news is biased. There are motives behind each minute. The job of the news channels is not to keep one informed but rather, to keep one watching. That’s the truth of the matter. I am not less informed by not watching the news. And I am not stuck sitting on a couch thinking the whole world is falling apart. Instead, I am actively learning by other mediums, and more importantly, actively trying to create change in the every day. Instead of feeling like there is no hope, I see all the positivity in fellow, active citizens. I am motivated by the change others make and inspired by groups of people who are creating a better tomorrow, rather than sitting at home watching a worse yesterday.

Reach Your Dream Life Faster Without TV

The most important perk of not having a TV is that it takes away from “wasted time”. If you are having trouble reaching your life goals or catch yourself mid-sentence stating again and again that you “don’t have time”, maybe it would behoove you to analyze where your time is actually going. That is the first step to fixing the time problem. I am not here to hate on TV, because this applies to a great many things, like social media and video games as well, but what I am trying to say is that maybe there IS TV time that we can cut out of life in order to achieve bigger, better, dreamier things. Here are a list of a few things that you can do in lieu of TV.

  • Experience new things, like traveling to some part of the world, or discovering some street in your neighborhood that you’ve never taken the time to walk through before.
  • Learn something new, like how to play an instrument or how to speak another language. Likewise, learn something new that will get you towards reaching your dream faster, like how to invest and let your money work for you, or how to do household repairs on your own to get you closer to achieving the house of your dreams.
  • Strengthen your relationships. So many people I know lament not having enough time to be with people they care about. Cancel that two-hour TV time or that binge-watching session, call a friend, and spend some much-needed quality time.
  • Do ACTIV-ities. Have you been saying you need to get the gym for years? Cutting out TV can get you an hour’s worth of time, which will allow you to finally get that exercise in. And it doesn’t have to be a gym membership. Why not go to the park, throw a frisbee around, kick a soccer ball, and run with the family dog? Or go to the beach, play volleyball, swim in the ocean, and kayak in the marina. Whatever it is, your body will thank you in the future for putting in the active time instead of sitting lazily on a couch.
  • Do things around the home. Is de-cluttering on your to-do list but you can never seem to get around to it? Are there things to organize? Have you been wanting to make some home improvements, but you don’t want to hire an outside source to do them? Now’s the time!
  • Make extra money. Okay, sometimes we DO need money in order to fuel our dreams. So instead of complaining about the money we don’t have now, why not make extra money instead of fantasizing about other people’s lives on TV? There are so many side-hustles one can pick up, and many of them CAN be related to things you’re actually interested about.
  • Help others and make change. This, I think, is the most important and most rewarding. People always lament about “the world these days” with a slight shake of the head but nary an inclination to do something about it. I think that TV helps with that disposition of feeling like there’s nothing one can do to make an impact. But we must not ignore the power of small changes. The best things I have ever done is to try to help others, and the rewards have been plenty fold. On top of the gratitude, there is a realization that there are many others trying to make an impact as well for a better future. Getting out there and just doing is better than sitting at home and hoping. What I have learned is that the future IS a positive one, not a negative one like the newscasters would like for us to believe. Likewise, it lies not in our histories but in TODAY. How can we make the world different so that tomorrow is the world we want to see? I can guarantee it’s not by sitting at home and taking in what other people have to say. It’s by putting out there what YOU believe in.

How many hours do you spend watching TV or Netflix per week? Of the same token, how many hours of social media do you consume per day? Just like budgeting money, we can also budget our time. In order to start doing it wisely, start keeping track of where your time goes. You may be quite surprised at how many hours PER DAY you dedicate towards your screens. I hope this post gets you out there and one step closer to living the life you seek!

Freedom: From the Grind

Previously, I had written about why I chose to stay part-time on the blog, wherein I delved into the benefits of working less than forty hours a week. Sometime in between the writing of that post and today, I got carried away by a desire to reach a goal of ours, at a FASTER pace. It was an all-consuming drive, not too far from the push resulting from a desire to own more. Needless to say, I was swallowed whole by this need, and for a while, it did control a part of my life. Yesterday was the day I said ‘Goodbye’ to that lifestyle on the fast track to disaster. I regained my freedom from the grind! I share my story today, because I believe that we can learn from each other’s mistakes. While Instagram, Facebook, and other social media outlets are there to highlight the best moments of our lives in tiny square boxes and endless scrolling pages, there is a sort of disservice that we do to each other by ignoring the realities of every day living. There, you will see the freedom from the grind, but here, you will read the story about how I got there, lost my footing, and then returned, once again.

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The Desire for More

Embedded in our culture is this desire for more. We want more things in order to satisfy our “needs”. We want more friends, in order to feel loved and complete. We want more achievements in order to be seen as “successful”. Having more, culturally, is a positive thing.

Two months ago, I became obsessed with an idea. It’s an idea that has been brooding inside my mind since I was a young child. Socially ingrained, it was a desire for both a physical object and a psychological concept: which was a desire for a home. Additionally, I was very adamant on achieving another dream, which was, to open a coffee shop. Both required adding more. More work, more responsibility, & more loans (ick!). Additionally, it required more means to fund these dreams. So what did I do?

I voluntarily decided to add an extra day at work. Actually, I insisted on an extra day of work, and my boss warned me that I would get burned out, but he was kind enough to let me figure it out on my own. It didn’t take long for the stresses of a five-day and six-day alternating work weeks took a toll on my life.

The funny thing about adding more, is that in reality, you end up with LESS. I had less time for myself, and if you don’t help yourself first, you will have difficulty helping others. I was able to spend less time with people I cared about, which then put stresses on some relationships. I had less to offer to my patients, since my tired brain and body couldn’t perform to the best of their abilities. I found myself being pretty conservative about treatment, which is fine and good, but failing to give them the alternative of doing more for themselves also has its drawbacks. I had less patience, and poor Mikey got the brunt of all of that. I had less inspiration, since I was so brain dead after work. I had less motivation, since my body just craved crawling into bed every night. Most importantly, I felt less like myself. There was a rigidness to my body, a robotic beat to my motives, and a hollowness to my being.

What you see on Instagram are pictures of our adventures, accomplishments, and hobbies. What you don’t see (what we NEVER see) are the difficult moments. The nights of crying on the floor. The burning desire and the anger for anything that falls short. The zombie-like walk through the house. The frustration of having to do chores. The  mindless decisions we have made. The resentment one starts to feel for their work. These are things we never say. And why would we? People will start to think less of us.

After two weeks, I knew it was bad news bears. But I also knew that I had asked for this. So Mike suggested I try it for four weeks more. At three and a half weeks, I talked to my boss. Earlier that week, I had finished a day of work, only to realize at the end of the day that I had not diagnosed anything. “Observe, observe, observe.” It was a sign that I may have subconsciously been telling myself that I can’t add anything more to my plate. The next day at work, I had difficulty doing simple things. Extractions that should have taken ten minutes took thirty. Kids that I usually am able to do well with were crying. Inside, so was I. By Wednesday, I realized that it was really a mess. It dawned on me that I had not paid rent, which was due the day before. I have never missed rent in the entirety of my adult life. On Thursday, I asked for a day less. My boss, all knowingly, said he thought that was better for my health.

Having more is sold to us as something AMAZING! But is it really so?

The Benefits of Less

On the flip side, having less is seen as not so desirable. When I wrote about Intentional Living: Create Empty Space, I touched on our discomfort with emptiness, and our desire to constantly fill that emptiness. We are raised to “not settle for less”. But having less is arguably much more important than having more.

Having less gives you the freedom to pursue things that you want, or need. Having less gives you the space to create the lifestyle you want. Freedom from the grind restored a healthy balance to my life. I gained back so much of myself that I lost to the rigorous hours. I had a weight, that had just as much a physical impact as a mental and emotional one, lifted from my bony shoulders. I restored a healthy relationship with my husband, who I had been turning to every single day to pick up the slack that I had brought into the relationship due to my extra day of work. Most importantly, I feel as if I can breathe again. It’s important to take a step back and ask the question, “Am I working to live, or living to work?”

I asked for the extra day to work in order to live the life I want. Namely, in order to get a home and have a coffee shop. Ironically, the result was me giving up the life I want (namely, a slow, mindful and intentional life style) in order to work.

Restoring Balance

By taking away the extra day of work, I pretty much am re-instating my previous lifestyle. I am also setting aside that dream of opening a coffee shop. I was obsessed with opening a coffee shop by the following year, but I now realize that slow and steady wins the race. The dream of a coffee shop will have to wait for a few years. However, there are also exciting news ahead! We are currently working on securing a live-work loft in our community!! Our ideal place has always been a loft. Even before we got married, while we were still dreaming up our future life on an Ikea bed with bed bugs in a house infested with termites, we both said that a loft was our ideal space. We have been living in our current one for over two years now, and we love this community and this space. We found a neighboring one that is being offered for sale. So we are putting an offer, like, today! It has a business space on the first floor, which you know, is fantastic for any future business endeavors we choose to do. Meanwhile, our beautiful roomie has decided to stay (we want to keep her as long as we possibly can!), and that’ll still continue to be a win-win co-housing relationship. We are so excited for the future ahead. If everything goes through, we will have a loft, a home, a business front, and a beautiful roomie. All of this on top of paying down the massive student debt in ten years! So please, keep your fingers, toes, legs, arms, eyes crossed for us!

Lastly, we couldn’t have achieved any of this without:

Intentional Living: Create Empty Space

A question was posed by a dear cousin of mine this week on Instragram: “How do people get good at the ‘mindful living’ thing?” Not easily. “Does it ever come naturally?” I find that no, it does not. It takes a lot of work, which makes mindful living intentionally slow. For myself, I prefer the term intentional living. In my personal journey, I’ve found that it’s quite difficult to do. Once in a while, I find myself slipping, too, getting caught up in life’s quick pace, getting tangled in the feels.

I figure we could all remind each other how it is that we get to intentional living. How it is that we slow down. Since it’s not something that just happens because we wish it upon ourselves, we need to remind ourselves to reset, and re-orient towards the path we want to be on. There is a process in making an intentional life, with actionable steps along the way. An experimental journey, there are little equations that are reproducible, just the same as with any science. Having this lifestyle requires creating an environment for this lifestyle. This is where I suggest we all start. Because without the proper environment, a mindful life will struggle to thrive.

The Challenge: Creating Empty Space

I discovered ‘slow living’ closely after I discovered the process of de-cluttering. It only makes sense that the two come hand-in-hand. The aftermath of creating space in my life resulted in a slowness. Something that was once filled now had an emptiness to it, and because of that, there was either an opportunity to fill it with more, or to keep it intentionally empty.

Becoming Comfortable with Emptiness

Poor emptiness! The word itself has this negative connotation around it. It seems as if we are all terrified of emptiness. We associate the word with having “less than”. I mean, just look around. Every surface in our homes is filled with stuff. We don’t want an empty shelf, or an empty table. We are uncomfortable with sitting in emptiness. We turn on a TV, we turn on music, we grab our phone, or we open a book. We break the silence. We do everything we possibly can to fill empty space. At least for myself, it was an almost immediate reaction.

Having empty space gives us a place for eyes to rest. Gives us space to expand, or to enjoy, or to feel peaceful. That space and time of nothingness is where we unpack things. It’s where we process thoughts and create ideas without being distracted. It’s the environment that we need to help facilitate all other modes of intentional living.

The challenge

Empty one surface in your home every week for a month. It may be a dining table, a bedside table, a coffee table. It may be a drawer or a shelf, in your closet or your pantry. It may be an entire wall wherein you remove all of the picture frames and decor hanging from it. Remove every single item on the surface you have chosen, and live with it empty for the entire week. It’s a practice to start to get you to feel comfortable in the emptiness.

The mindful part? Pay attention to your reactions to that empty space. Listen to the stories you tell yourself. Do you feel weird at having an empty dining table? Do you ask yourself if guests who come over will think your unprepared, or boring, or dull? Do you start to fear that others will think that you have too little, because a shelf is empty? Are you scared that people will think you don’t have enough things? Pay attention to the voice inside our heads telling us why we think there ‘should’ be things there. It’s a great start for realizing the motivations behind the stories and reasons that explain why we are so uncomfortable with the thought of emptiness.

Additionally, there is an added benefit to this experiment, and that is the realization of what stuff we actually miss and what stuff we don’t. Living with it for a week, you will soon see which things you hardly miss, and which things you miss dearly. It brings awareness to the items you actually value. So often, we live with stuff just because it’s there and that’s how it’s always been and we forget what their roles are in our lives (if there ever was such a role). Doing this experiment gets you asking questions and makes us more intentional about the things we keep. It gives you an opportunity to just put back the things you really like, or the things that you use.

“Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”  – William Morris

And you could, as well, miss everything you put away, and that’s fine too. But this is when you should interject and dig a bit deeper and ask yourself, “Why is it that I miss the stuff I miss?” And if you enjoyed this process, maybe start to apply it to every surface. Just remember to take it slow, a week at a time, otherwise, you’re back to a fiendishly hyperactive life.