The Top Five Life Simplification Plans for 2014

The theme for this year’s Get A Grip project is “Don’t even tell me you don’t have time!”  But, what if you don’t?  What if you have so freaking much happening, so much new information coming in, so much noise and stuff and nonsense that you just don’t know where to even begin looking for 15 minutes every day to get something done?

My dear,quite simply, it is about simplification.

There are 46,000,000 ways to simplify your life according to The Google.  Similarly overwhelming results come up on Pinterest.  And they’re ridiculous.  “Five Hundred Ways To Simplify!”  Trust me, honey, five hundred of ANYTHING is not going to be simple.  Ever.  “A 365-Day Project for Simple Living”.  Um, I don’t know anyone who isn’t overwhelmed by the thought of committing to a 365 day project.

So I did some digging.  I think any list for simplifying that has more than about 15 things on it is missing the point.  I found some that I really like, though.  Check them out:

  1. Checklist:  Tips To Simplify Life  I love this one.  It’s all about setting boundaries–storage, time, and your personal commitments.  If you have lots of storage space, you’ll need lots of stuff with which to fill it.  If you have lots of junk mail coming in, you’ll find yourself surrounded by it or the stuff it leads you to buy.  If you’re in a group that makes you uncomfortable, you’ll spend time and energy trying to fit in with people you don’t even like.  Lose it.  Lose it all.  Unsubscribe from every last bit of it.
  2. 8 Ways to Simplify Life This one focuses on the stuff that we need to do and have, and looks at it from the perspective of simplifying processes.  Yes, you have a yard.  Does it have to be a complicated yard?  Yes, you have to eat.  Does everything have to be a 3 course extravaganza every night?  Yes, you need potions and pastes with which to make yourself presentable.  Do you need a hair style that takes 45 minutes every day?  Do and have what you need, but there’s no need to put on a show.
  3. 10 Tips To Start Living In The Present  This one is about how we feel about where we are in our lives.  It’s deep.  Only one of them is about stuff, and the other nine are about you.  I keep coming back to it–think  beyond old solutions to problems?  BOOM.  He’s talking about fixing from the inside out, because what’s going on inside of your head is likely reflected in your surroundings.  Ouch.
  4. Almost Amish:  10 Principles for a Slower, Simpler, More Sustainable Life I love me some Amish.  I love the quiet community of it.  I love quilts and barnraisings and buggies.  I like that this article includes the idea of knowing your neighbors and sustainability by shopping locally–money is important, and keeping it close to home and spending it wisely provide such peace of mind.  It also touches on God and faith, and while I’m not outwardly religious, I find great comfort in my concept of a higher power.
  5. 10 Ways To Simplify Life By Color Coding Those papers in your office that are just all over the place and you know what’s in there but finding any one thing involves messing all of it up?  Yeah, they go here.  Anything, any process can be color coded.  The first time I ever saw the true genius of color coding was in the movie “Yours, Mine & Ours”–the original with Henry Fonda and Lucille Ball.  Two people with 17 kids between them fall in love, and Henry Fonda comes up with a system that assigns them a bed and a bathroom schedule.  Holy crap, it was genius.  Color coding will revolutionize how the people in your home identify and use stuff.

BONUS:  Zen Manifesto:  72 Ideas To Simplify Your Life OK OK I know, 72 ways to be simple CANNOT by definition be simple.  But I like ZenHabits, and I like Leo Barbauta’s blog.  And this isn’t a list of 72 things to be done, at the end of which your life will be simple.  Pick five, ten things on the list that fit your life and go with them.

Simplifying your life is about setting boundaries.  Anything that adds stress to your world, and this includes people, should be subject to the boundaries you set.

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Pauvre De Moi

I’m not so good with handling The Stress.

Seriously, is anyone good at absorbing 50 things that are happening all at once with increasing degrees of involvement required from them?  Without pharmaceutical assistance?  And I’m not talking about catastrophic Oklahoma Tornado kind of stuff.  I’m talking about normal life stuff, that ebbs and flows and usually you can just handle it because not all of it flows in at the same time.

In the past month, I’ve felt like the tide’s coming in, and it’s just kept coming.  And coming.  And holy crap still coming.  And usually it’s just “Eh, lots going on, it will slow down” but this time I couldn’t get a grip (HA!) on the “it will slow down” part.  I didn’t really let on that I was on edge about everything.  I figured that the old adage of “fake it till you make it” would apply and shit would just work itself out as it so often does.

So what did I do?  Well, I drank all the wine and ate all the carbs.  And that has helped me feel IMMENSELY more in control, because now everything that was freaking me out has paled in comparison to the fact that now I can’t fit into my pants.

This weekend, this Wine and Carbs Method of Handling It finally expired, and my stress manifested in a glorious eruption of hives and acne.  I saw my dermatologist today, because all things can be fixed with ointment.  He looked at me and said “Tell me about this stress…”

I’m so unusual, I know, with my Many Major Obligations.  I work full time!  I have a child!  My husband is also busy!  My relatives drive me nuts!  Yeah, I’m the only one sitting at that table, I know. I do have pharmaceutical assistance, and I’ll be the first to laud the merits of getting a little help in that manner.   I’m explaining this to my dermatologist and I just feel like an idiot, because you’d think by now at my age, I could handle my Suburban White Lady problems.

I now have some prescriptions (ointment! yay!) and a confirmation of something that I already knew, that perhaps Talking To Someone About It might help.  Oh lord.  Really?  Ugh.  I’m not a big believer in therapy, because I have a BA in Psychology so obviously I already know all about what they’re going to tell me.

Also?  I’m going to pay someone to listen to me talk about stuff that I’ve been talking to people about for the past 25 years?  The same stuff?  Has that stuff not been talked about ubi omnes recessit vinum?  Why is talking to someone who isn’t part of the problem going to help?  I can’t imagine.

And also again?  Have I discussed how Very Busy I am?  Because I am.  I have responsibilities and obligations, and I spend my days talking to people and then at the end of the day I’m tired of talking.  Why on earth do I want to actively seek out more opportunities to talk?  I’m an introvert.  Talking, especially about myself, is just an effort.  Pauvre de moi.

There are a ton of reasons why Talking To Someone About It just seems like a bad bad bad idea.  These reasons are overshadowed by the good reasons, though.  I’m setting a horrible example for Boo.  Do I want her to go on Oprah when she’s 30 (there will always be Oprah, I believe) to talk about how the coping skills she learned as a child include wine, carbs, and just letting the laundry simmer in the dryer for a week (true story…).  Well that’s just embarrassing.  I can’t have her telling Oprah that.

I also cannot have my husband telling whoever’s hosting Divorce Court (maybe someone fabulously flawed, like Lindsay Lohan) that he cannot take another day of my sad yoga pants and overall indifference that is only interrupted by the aforementioned hives and acne.

My house is organized, and I am a total mess.  This is my deepest darkest secret, and I’m putting it on the internets, and intentionally sharing the link with people who know me.

Get A Grip is going to go through some changes, because I’ve got to get my shit handled before I can say another word about how anyone else should handle theirs.

Living Like Nobody Else

This has been the year where Mr. Incredible and I decided to get our financial shit together.  Our accounting style has been kind of laissez-faire, and it was starting to catch up with us.  We weren’t living within our means–typical too much credit cards and frivolously spendy kind of stuff, and it was time to face up to it.  

Large steps have been taken.  One night we sat down, logged into the bank account, and did a budget in the Dave Ramsey workbook.  I like Dave Ramsey.  Sometimes he gets a little Thankful To Our Lord, but his system works.  Ask anyone.  It’s based on being honest about your resources, and living within them.  Putting on a show is expensive, you know?  Sure, keeping up with the Joneses is fun, but it makes keeping up with the mortgage a little tricky.  So before we went off a cliff, we assessed everything.  EVERYTHING.  To be honest, it’s quite a load off our minds.  

It was brutal. We’d already cancelled cable, scaled back on vacations and other extravagances.  It was time to tell the cleaning lady that we weren’t going to need her services anymore.  Sure, she was just coming every two weeks, but that was a chunk of change that could be better spent on other things.  Once we’re back in the black (I hit the sack, I’ve been too long I’m glad to be back…) we may start that back up (oh, it’s such a lovely time saver) but that just wasn’t something we considered to be essential.  Right now, it’s about essentials.

We had one car payment, and our other car was a charming little convertible that was 10 years old with 130,000 miles on it.  It was starting to need repairs that were just not going to be worth it the cost.  Selling it was our first hard choice.  

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I KNOW.

Seriously.  But it was time.  And to be honest, it wasn’t an accurate representation of the life we actually live.  I bought it when I turned 30, and I was single and it was awesome and then when I wasn’t single anymore it became kind of ridiculous.  Still awesome, but… yeah.  Ridiculous.

So we sold the BMW (whose name was Lilli Von Schtupp) and we have acquired a new (to us) car that should surprise pretty much everyone who knows me.

Meet Bessie.

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I’ma take your grandpa’s style, I’ma take your grandpa’s style,
No for real – ask your grandpa – can I have his hand-me-downs?

You know what?  We paid cash for that bad girl.  It’s a pretty smooth ride (which is why the blue-hairs love them) and it’s in impeccable condition.  Bessie is the quintessential “little old lady drove it only on Sundays” car, and it’s all good.  We’ll put some better tires on her, and tint the windows because summer in Vegas is not for the faint of heart when you have a leather interior.

And this is where we are.  Bessie should give us a year, and then we will be in a position to get something nice for the long term that fits who and where we are.

The Epitome of Letting Go

Yesterday was my daughter’s fourth birthday.We decided to have a simple birthday party at the house, with friends and family and a few of her friends from school.  And it was pretty simple. I asked her a while back what sort of party she wanted to have.  “Pink and purple and race cars”.

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Also? Sugar. Sugar was our theme.

That bundt cake on the left was my own creation.  I thought, “I have fancy pans that can make a cake look like a rose!  How hard can it be?”  Then this happened.

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If you squint, you can see how it looks like a rose.

Fortunately, we had a second box of mix.

When I say that we had a simple party, I really do mean it.  Our decorations were balloons and a plastic tablecloth.  The plates didn’t match the napkins, and neither matched the cups.  We used what we had, because the last thing we needed another year’s worth of leftover party supplies.

We didn’t have a bounce house or an organized activity.  No super awesome balloon animal guy (although we do know of one, and he can make ANYTHING out of balloons) or magician or science demonstration.  We served pizza, pizza rolls (best appetizer EVER), candy, chips and crackers and veggies with dips, and the cake and cupcakes came from the grocery store.  There was beer and wine, which I have decided are utterly acceptable at children’s birthday parties.

I usually wear myself out in the days before Boo’s birthday party, worrying about whether the day will be perfect, will everybody have a good time, will they think I’m lame, will their children destroy the house, and on and on.  I’m a classic, textbook introvert, and when too much is happening, I get overloaded.

This year, Mr Incredible actually commented on my lack of freaking out.  I was remarkably calm, to the point of even taking the time to get myself ready before people arrived (I’ve been known to be the one non-impeccable thing at events that we host, because I’m too worn out to fix myself).

I finally figured out what made this year different. This year, I didn’t try to put on a show.  Yesterday was, start to finish, quintessentially us.  We’re not fancy people.  But we’re a boatload of fun and freaking hilarious, and we have managed to surround ourselves with others who are also boatloads of fun and freaking hilarious.  And our kid?  Shoot, her friends and their families?  FUN AND HILARIOUS.  And that’s why yesterday was so awesome.  I let go of what I thought my daughter’s birthday party SHOULD be and I just let it happen.

There was this moment after the cake and presents had happened, when all of the adults were just hanging out and all of the kids were tearing up and down the stairs like maniacs (there was stair diving, which was at once exhilarating and terrifying to watch) and the boys started stomping on balloons and the girls were squealing, and I felt like Mary Steenburgen in Parenthood.

This morning, the house looked like Jake Ryan’s house in Sixteen Candles

It looked like a bomb had dropped.  Toys everywhere, kitchen counters piled two feet high, just chaos.  It took about 4 hours to get it back to normal.  Totally worth it.  As much pride as I take in having a nice clean house, I felt like the Champion Of All Mothers because my kid got to have a blast with her friends on her birthday.  There was no fussing about the mess, no “now now you’re getting too rambunctious, something’s going to get broken” (although we did calm them down occasionally for purely safety reasons).  Nothing broke.  There were a few bumps and bruises, as should be expected when you’re popping balloons with your bottom on a tile floor.  The kids and the adults had a good time, and so did I.

I’ve come to appreciate the value of just letting stuff happen.  Because stuff’s going to happen whether you bust yourself trying to orchestrate it or not.  I decided to enjoy the day, and that made it possible for everybody else to enjoy it as well.

Basking in the glow.

Basking in the glow.

 

 

Get off the couch.

I think the hardest part of Getting A Grip is figuring out how to keep that grip.  It starts out like a New Year’s Resolution:  Oh YEAH I’m gonna get on top of this mess, and I’ll get rid of all that stuff and I’ll cook dinner using locally sourced ingredients every night and I’ll have fresh flowers on the table and the house is going to be no more than five minutes from clean at any time.  And you do it.  You get a routine in place (need one?  Email me.  I’ll help you put one together) and for one month or three months or six months you just kill it.  Everything happens as you hope it will and you have a smile on your face.

One day it stops.  I have clean dishes in the dishwasher and dry clothes in the dryer, and I’d think, “eh, it can wait” because I KNOW it only takes 10 minutes to take care of either one.  And instead of baking a loaf of bread on a Sunday afternoon, I’d watch five episodes of The West Wing.  The house is so nice and quiet when the laundry’s not going all the time…

And I’m at square one.  Again.  Ugh.  How do you snap out of it?

My old tricks didn’t work, either.  When the house is a disaster, I could guarantee a miracle would happen if I turned on an episode or two of Hoarders and saw where five bad decisions could lead me.  BOOM, I’m up and the kitchen is clean.  The whole point of Get A Grip is not to be all Gwyneth Paltrow and provide ridiculous examples of how your life could be more fabulous if only you were slightly more perfect.   I didn’t need a revolution.  I just needed to get off my couch.

The excuse I was using for being on my couch was that my job made me sad.  And it did make me sad.  But that didn’t mean I suddenly got to go on a housework strike.  I’m very fortunate in that I managed to marry someone who would let me wallow in self-pity take time to assess my options and he’d pick up the slack let me work my way toward a solution when I get like this.

There was a lot that I couldn’t control.  What it came down to was identifying what I could control, and focusing on that.  Work wasn’t going to improve on its own; I had to get off the couch (omg seriously) to make that happen too.  Being a grown-up means that when life hands you lemons, you get to decide whether or not you even want the damn lemonade, and if you don’t, you can opt for something else instead.  Like Diet Coke, or even a martini.  And a snack.  Not that you’re medicating with food (anymore…), you’re just calling your shot.

This week, I started a new job.  I’m working with a colleague I’ve known and respected for years, and I will be doing what I enjoy.  I took a bit of a pay cut to do it, but in the long run it’s going to be worth it.  Taking control doesn’t mean you’re a control freak.  It means that you have the means to decide who you are and what you will be when you grow up.  It also means that there are no more excuses to let the laundry pile up, and that this family only works if everybody does his or her share (even Boo, who knows she needs to pick her stuff up at the end of the day).   So when I go four months without entering a grocery store, that means somebody else has to or we become hungry, and neither of those are valid options in this house.

The catalyst for my getting up off the couch was the unfairness of it–poor freaking me, all sad because of work, because everybody else has such a perfect life.

someecards.com - Oh, you hate your job? Why didn't you say so? There's a support group for that. It's called EVERYBODY, and they meet at the bar.

I got over it, and by “it” I mean “myself”, because I had the power to fix it all along.

It’s good to be off the couch.

Using my words

We spent most of Boo’s second year of life encouraging her to use her words.  She would become frustrated about something and would get all stompy and arm-swingy.  “Use your words; tell me what’s going on and I can help you fix it.”

Of course now that she’s got the vocabulary of a 45 year old truck driver, we spend a lot of time telling her to hush.  I digress.

Using your words is powerful, because it means that you’re able to identify and articulate what’s going on in your head.  I know that when I don’t have a forum–like a blog, or even a group of real life people (fancy that!)–I tend to lose focus.  There’s nothing being said, so there’s nothing to be done.  I’ve always sought outlets for expressing what’s on my mind.  In the immortal words of Hedley Lamarr, “My mind is a raging torrent, flooded with rivulets of thought cascading into a waterfall of creative alternatives.”  Ditto, Hedy (“That’s Hedley“).

The flip side to this coin is when I have something to say about something important, but nobody is listening.  It’s a given that not everybody is going to care what someone thinks all the time, but there are instances in which it’s necessary to pay attention to what the stakeholders are thinking.  That really bothers me about my job–nobody ever asked me what I thought about it, or gave me a say in the matter. It just happened.  It was just decided that henceforth, I would be over there, doing that other thing.  My skillset, my background, my plans, my goals, none of that mattered.  I’ve spent a lot of time in the past year devising responses to the questions and conversation that I feel should have included me.

Not having a say really pissed me off.  I spent a lot of time and energy being pissed off, too.  I cared a lot about them not caring.  I was like that crazy chick in Fatal Attraction (YIKES SCARY ALEX) and I was all “well I’m not going to be ignored!” and that’s quite possibly the least productive approach I could have taken.

Turns out, I was going to be ignored.  I’m likely still going to be ignored for as long as I’m there.  It’s probably to my benefit if they do, as they tend to manage like seagulls.  If they’re ignoring me, at least they’re not screwing my stuff up even more.

Which leads me back to my topic of using my words.  My voice is powerful.  I’m funny as hell (ask anyone).  When I am at my best, I have a way of bringing the people around me to their best as well.  I am one hell of a counselor because I know how to lead a conversation toward a solution without being all bossy and Lucy Van Pelt about it (five cents, please).

Why is this relevant to organizing?  Because organization is a solution.  It’s not the singular end-all, be-all solution to every problem, but sometimes just clearing a path through the chaos helps.  And I can help with that.  Clearing that path is like finding your own voice amid all the static.

Outsourcing

I saw this article in the New York Times today and it resonated.  This paragraph in particular really struck me as relevant to what I’m doing:

WE’VE put a self-perpetuating cycle in motion. The more anxious, isolated and time-deprived we are, the more likely we are to turn to paid personal services. To finance these extra services, we work longer hours. This leaves less time to spend with family, friends and neighbors; we become less likely to call on them for help, and they on us. And, the more we rely on the market, the more hooked we become on its promises: Do you need a tidier closet? A nicer family picture album? Elderly parents who are truly well cared for? Children who have an edge in school, on tests, in college and beyond? If we can afford the services involved, many if not most of us are prone to say, sure, why not?”

I love me some New York Times, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the Gray Lady is missing the freaking point.  We live in a society of more.  We want to have more, to do more, to know more, to be more.  Women are raised hearing some BS about “having it all” and we spend a whole lotta time and effort getting it all and then maintaining it all so we can continue to have it all because evidently we’re supposed to do it all as well.

Man, I’m tired.  I can’t maintain this mythical “all”.  I can do “some” very well. I’m also very good at handling “none”, truth be told. But I can only half-ass “all” until I’m blue in the face, and then I need help. And what Mr/Ms (hard to say, really) Arlie Russell Hochschild doesn’t seem to realize as s/he writes this think piece is that right now when so many of us have obligations and expectations placed upon us by powers beyond our control, we still need to hold it together well enough to get through to the weekend where we can crack open a beer and collapse in front of whatever remains on the Netflix suggestions that hasn’t been usurped by a pre-schooler’s endless tolerance for Kipper and Phineas & Ferb.  And we want to collapse in a fairly clean house.

I have a lady who comes in twice a month to clean the house (I’m suddenly working about a job and a half, and dammit I still need to have a clean house).  This “outsourcing” is a splurge for us, because it’s not like we have money shooting out of our asses growing on our trees.  And we pick up after ourselves and wipe off the counters and clean the toilets even though we have this help happening.  Having a cleaning lady (ohhhh so posh we are) is a choice we made because that is the sort of help we need right now.  

So this Mr/Ms Arlie Russell Hochschild to blast some judgement about people who realize that they are unable to do it all but still would like to have all of it done just grinds my gears.  How dare s/he!  I can’t even comprehend how s/he thought it would be appropriate to put “caring for elderly parents” with having a tidy closet.  Really?  So his/her (good lord how annoying is this androgynous name…) aging mother (or father, because who can tell?) (yes I’m getting huffy about this person) didn’t or won’t get the best care s/he’s able to provide, just out of some principle of “why pay for what you can do for yourself”?

Oh, OK.  It must be nice (HI I’M PASSIVE AGGRESSIVE NOW) to not need to ask for or pay for help.  Ever.  At all.  Rock on, Jeanne d’Arc, with your martyred self.  The rest of us out in the real world have learned that it’s OK to seek assistance when it’s just too much to deal with.  Even if that means we have to cut back somewhere to make the help accessible.  It’s worth it.