Love People. Use Things.

The first question my stepmother asked about my apartment in San Antonio was, “Are these all your clothes?” When we moved in July, the movers were surprised: “Only 36 boxes for a three-bedroom apartment?”

The accidental minimalist

I didn’t set out to be a minimalist. As a kid, I was the opposite: I had so many clothes, toys, and things that they filled two bedrooms. Some of those things — especially the books — were important to me, but most weren’t. It was impossible to keep it all neat and organized, much less use all of it. So it all became stuff I ignored, or got stressed about when I had to look through for something.

The fact that I didn’t need to keep all that stuff didn’t occur  to me until I was older.

I went to college in a city four hours from my hometown. Unlike many of the students there who lived 30 minutes away from campus, I didn’t have the luxury of making multiple trips on moving in or moving out day. Everything I needed for the entire school year had to fit in my car. At first that was stressful. But soon I learned to enjoy the process of deciding what would go, and what would stay.

I learned I didn’t need to keep all that stuff.

When I graduated and moved in with my husband, all I had with me was the stuff I had at my last semester of school. And I haven’t taken much from my childhood home since. There’s still two rooms of stuff there.

Why I’m a minimalist

It makes me feel better. My generalized anxiety disorder stuffs my brain with words and fears and fragmented thoughts — my brain is cluttered, so my house can’t be too. I’ll go insane.

I’m also monumentally aware of my privilege. I’m so lucky to be in a position where I’m able to donate things to Goodwill, or pass them along to friends who need them.

I need things to have a purpose and attain that purpose. I want emails I get to have something actionable — what do you want me to do? I want the things in my house to have a purpose, too. If something isn’t fulfilling that purpose, what do I need it for? I’d rather give it away to someone who will use it.

Challenges of minimalism

It all boils down to having family and friends who don’t understand, or are hostile about my choices.

  • You have so few things!” Yep!
  • “You’re giving that away?!” I sure am. You want it?
  • “You only have one [whatever]?” I only need one.
  • “You don’t want anything for [your birthday/Christmas]?” Just to spend time with you.
  • “You might need that someday.” Probably not. And if I do, I’ll buy a new one.

My house doesn’t look empty. I have three bookshelves stuffed with books; I have plenty of clothes; I have a big television; I have lots of art on the walls. I just don’t have much I don’t use or find valuable.

It’s about more than stuff

Minimalism doesn’t just mean I get rid of stuff. It also means I think carefully about the things and people I bring into my life. It means I take time to go to therapy, and consider my current schedule when I’m invited somewhere or asked to do something. I try to remember that my feelings matter just as much as other people’s. I try not to let guilt run my life. I try to enjoy the present.

“Love people. Use things. The opposite never works.”

What do you think about minimalism? Anyone else out there a minimalist?

Podcasts I STILL Can’t Stop Listening To

My days of long commutes are done (I hope), but I started listening to podcasts last year and I can’t freakin’ stop. You guys, I listen to 24 podcasts!

Between menial work tasks and endless chores at home, I mostly manage to keep up. Here’s what I’m loving the most recently.

My Favorite Murder

My Favorite Murder podcastWho says learning about murder can’t be funny? Every week “murderinos” Karen and Georgia read about murders — new or old, solved and unsolved, it’s all fair game. They also post “mini-sodes” where they read emails from listeners who talk about their hometown murders. Every episode is hysterical, despite the macabre subject matter. With a motto like, “Stay sexy and don’t get murdered!” what’s not to love?

The Popcast with Knox and Jamie

The Popcast podcastAlso known as the podcast with “the wheezy guy and the lady who hates everything.” This Southern lady and gentleman talk about all aspects of pop culture, from television shows to things people need to chill out about (looking at you, Pumpkin Spice Lattes). They are so funny, and Jamie’s accent in particular makes me feel right at home.

Lore

Lore podcastHost Aaron Mahnke shares the truth — or the theories — behind the scary stories we tell around the campfire. Episodes have titles like “Going Viral,” “Quarantine,” and “Within the Walls.” They’re creepy, well-researched, and make you take a closer look at the people around you. Plus the music is spot-on.

2 Dope Queens

2 Dope Queens podcastComedians Phoebe Robinson and Jessica Williams host a show featuring female comedians, comedians of color, and LGBT comedians. Not only is everyone funny, they also share different perspectives on life.

Twice Removed

Twice Removed podcastHost A.J. Jacobs meets with a celebrity guest and tells them about interesting people in their family tree. At the end of the episode, Jacobs introduces them to a “mystery relative” they didn’t know they had. It’s fascinating to learn about people’s history, and then be surprised by the mystery relative. The show is between seasons right now, but the first season is up on iTunes and is well worth a listen.

What podcasts have you hooked lately? What should I add to my list?

Want to change the world? Educate a girl.

2016 is almost over, and with it my reading challenges. Normally this is when I look at how I’ve done with the year’s reading, and gloat a bit about completing the challenges. But this year it’s different — this year, one of my challenges helped me find a new calling.

Let’s back up

A little over a year ago I was surfing around Netflix, looking for something to watch on a night when I had nothing else to do. In the documentary section I found Girl Rising. It follows nine girls living in places like Nepal, Cambodia, and Haiti as they stand up for their right to an education and freedom.

Girl Rising opened my eyes to some pretty horrifying statistics:

  • 65 million girls are out of school globally.
  • In a single year, an estimated 150 million girls were victims of sexual violence.
  • In developing countries, the number one cause of death for girls 15-19 is childbirth.

It made me so mad. I loved school so much, and couldn’t imagine how horrible it would have been to not be able to attend just because I was a girl. Everything I am is the result of what I have read and learned, and it infuriated me that so many girls were being left behind.

Especially when I learned things like:

  • A girl with an extra year of education can earn 20% more as an adult.
  • 10% fewer girls under the age of 17 would become pregnant in sub-Saharan Africa and South and West Asia if they had a primary education.
  • If India enrolled 1% more girls in secondary school, its GDP would rise by $5.5 billion.

I wanted to do something, but I didn’t know where to start. I asked a friend of mine who works for Child Legacy International (they do some amazing things, please check them out!) if she knew of any organizations that focused on girls’ education.

That’s when I learned about Camfed. Their mission — to educate girls in some of the world’s poorest regions — is critical to making the world a better place for everyone.

But you know how it goes. You read an article or watch a documentary that gets you all fired up, you follow an organization on Twitter and you sign up for their newsletter…and then you never put your money where your mouth is. And that’s where this story almost ended.

First steps with the Charity Reading Challenge

In late 2015 I learned about the Charity Reading Challenge, in which participants pledge to donate a certain amount per book they read to the charity of their choice.

I liked the idea that my reading could help fund another girl’s education. So I pledged to donate $2 for every book I read in 2016 to Camfed. I signed up and started reading, glad that I’d found a way to give a little to a good cause.

But fate wasn’t done with me yet.

A heartbreaking email

In early September I got an email from Camfed that broke my heart.

Every September we face one of our most difficult decisions. We have to draw a line between the girls who will go to school and those who will not – we simply do not have the resources to help every child who needs support

We are facing a crisis that will condemn even more girls to a life of exclusion. A reduction in funding due to recent global uncertainty has pushed 3,500 more girls below that line.

I imagined what it would be like for those girls to hear that they wouldn’t be able to continue — or start — their education. What would it be like to see your brother head off to school while you have to stay home? What if not going to school meant being married off to a stranger because you are a burden on your family’s resources?

When I visited Camfed’s website, I read that $240 can send a girl to school for a full year.

$240. That’s less than my monthly car payment. I donated that night.

Since then I’ve imagined over and over someone from Camfed telling a girl in Ghana or Malawi or Tanzania or Zambia or Zimbabwe that she will be able to go to school this year. How did she react? What’s her name? Her favorite subject? What does she want to be when she grows up?

Then I remembered that the company I work for matches charitable donations — I’ve submitted that paperwork already, which means two girls get to go to school.

Just getting started

I’m still planning to donate $2 to Camfed for every book I read this year, but that won’t be the end of this adventure. I’ve found something that ignites my passion, that makes me want to participate in something bigger than myself.

I don’t know exactly what that participation looks like yet, but I do know that it includes others. If you’re passionate about girls’ education and empowerment, or think you could be, I encourage you to:

  • Read Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s Half the Sky. Take at least one of the actions they list at the end.
  • Read more about Camfed and the other organizations Kristof and WuDunn describe.
  • Consider donating to Camfed so they can meet their goal of educating 1 million girls by 2020.

Today is Thanksgiving. This year I have more than ever to be thankful for. I’ve found a calling, a cause, and I hope you’ll join me in this fight.

Update: Donations from people in September and October got 343 more girls above the line and into school. So badass.

Scare Yourself Silly with These Spooky October Reads

October is a bizarre time of the year, especially in America. It’s a weird mix of history, the occult, slutty costumes, and candy corn. The weather is finally starting to cool off, which means winter isn’t far behind. As the world turns colder, humans draw closer to their hearths and homes. Wrapped up in the winter’s silence, our minds are free to dwell on the things that go bump in the night, the things that may be just outside our windows…

Now is the time to read dark things, frightening things that make you question the world, its inhabitants, and even yourself. Any of these books is a good place to start.

The Seeker

Aine Cahill arrives in Concord, Massachusetts in search of the truth about her ancestor. The more she digs for the truth, the faster her world unravels. There are old, evil things lurking in the forests, things that Aine slowly realizes have been with her since childhood. This one kept me up at night.

The Woman in Black

A young solicitor arrives in a remote village to settle a client’s affairs. There he is terrified by a ghostly figure in black. He’s determined to discharge his duties, but he has no idea of the horrors in store for him. This book is atmospheric in the extreme — the house itself is the best character — managed to terrify me without using a single jump scare.

Heart-Shaped Box

Judas Coyne loves the macabre, so when he’s given the chance to buy a “haunted” suit he does so gleefully. But it turns out the suit is truly haunted…and its ghost has a score to settle with Judas. This book was too scary for me, but if you enjoy being absolutely paralyzed with fright, this could be the book for you.

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher

Sometimes true things are the scariest of all. The big house a little way out of town is locked up for the night, the 12 inhabitants asleep in their beds. In the morning one of them, a four year-old, is dead. A London detective nearly destroys his life uncovering the truth — but we may never know the whole story. I’m just as obsessed with this book as I am with author Kate Summerscale’s other book, The Wicked Boy.

Trekking Through The Undiscovered Country With My Dad

Star Trek bathing suitIn the 1991 film City Slickers Billy Crystal’s character says, “…when I was about 18 and my dad and I couldn’t communicate about anything at all, we could still talk about baseball.” For me and my dad, it was Star Trek.

As a kid, I took in the original series, bits and pieces of The Next Generation, and the films. By the time I was in middle school, Dad had taught me the Star Trek lessons he considers most important:

  • Spock is the most interesting character;
  • Kirk is the best captain (with Picard as close second);
  • The even-numbered films are the only ones worth watching; and
  • Strong friendships can get you through anything.

I’ve lost count of the number of times we watched the movies together, but I do know that we watched The Undiscovered Country the most. It’s got the best setting (crazy ice planet), the best supporting characters (Iman as the shape-shifting Chameloid), and the most irritating villain known to man (seriously, no one quotes Shakespeare that much).

The film pits Captain Kirk against the Klingons, who blame him and Dr. McCoy for the death of their chancellor. The pair is sent to a penal colony from which they must escape in time to thwart another Klingon assassination. Shenanigans ensue.

Oscar-winning material it ain’t, but for me that was never the point. The Undiscovered Country was a silly-but-serious movie my dad and I could watch together and then talk about. It gave us a framework for talking about bigger things, like the value of friendship, of planning, of intelligence and humility.

My dad and I are logical like Spock, but hot-headed and stubborn like Kirk. The Star Trek movies gave us insight into each other’s personalities and helped us understand each other’s perspectives. They helped us talk when all it seemed we could do was fight.

I’ve watched later series and movies with my husband, but I always find myself texting my dad about the latest plot twist. I take a picture of my television with The Undiscovered Country playing for the billionth time and text it to him along with, “Guess the movie!”

Star Trek has helped me in countless ways as I journey through my own undiscovered country. Kirk bashes around in my brain, pushing me to speak out and be brave; Spock sits quietly nearby, reminding me that my anxiety is something I must control so that it does not control me.

And in my mind’s eye, I see my father, explaining what a Chameloid is and giving me a fake Vulcan nerve pinch. I remember conversations we’ve had and jokes we’ve shared. I pop in the DVD yet again and send him a text: “Three guesses what I’m watching today. I love you!”