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?

The Importance of #AnxietyGirl

The last 12 months have been the worst of my life. But they’ve also been the most liberating. I lost my job, went on unemployment, moved to a new town for a new job that was almost immediately dissolved, and spent the next six months searching for yet another new job. My savings took a big hit, and now I’m too far away to see the therapist I really liked.

I also learned that going on unemployment is not shameful. I applied to so many jobs (around 170 since last April) that writing resumes and cover letters became as easy as breathing. Even interviews lost most of their terror. I learned I can book movers, stand my ground with stupid apartment complex managers, and drive myself through downtown Austin during evening rush hour.

Through some of my favorite people — Jenny Lawson, Wil Wheaton, Linz DeFranco — I learned that anxiety lies to me. It tells me I’m a bad employee, a bad wife, a failure, that I constantly disappoint those around me.

I learned that one of the best ways to fight anxiety is to be open about it. I’ve started blogging more about it, and using #anxietygirl in some of my tweets and Facebook posts. Some things I’ve shared:

  • It’s incredible how fast I can go from being okay to hating every single thing about myself. ‪#‎anxietygirl‬
  • What I hate most about being ‪#‎anxietygirl‬ is how my anxiety saps all of my energy. I’m sitting on the sofa, exhausted and paralyzed by all the things I know I have to do before bed. And this is one of my good days.
  • Things only I think when about to meet strangers: “Damn it, I should have looked at my small talk flash cards!” ‪#‎anxietygirl‬
  • When the prospect of attending a social event full of strangers in a few days makes you have to stop what you’re doing now and meditate. ‪#‎anxietygirl‬

I don’t post these things to gain sympathy. I post them because 40 million people in the US have an anxiety disorder, but only about a third receive treatment.

I want my friends who count among those 40 million to know that they are not alone; I want those who don’t have anxiety disorders to understand a bit better what’s happening in my brain.

Being more open is scary — it might mean that some people will think less of me, or that I could face prejudice at work.

But I’m tired of hiding, of pretending that I don’t have to fight my brain every day for who gets to control my feelings. I’m being honest, I’m using my anxiety against itself, and I’m better off for it.

Anxiety girl

My Life Plan is to Have No Life Plan

As an anxious introvert, I love planning and loathe surprises. Unexpected changes, even if they’re good, can throw all of my plans and to-do lists out the window. Planning makes my serotonin-starved brain happy in a way that few other things can, and I’ve gotten really good at it.

Which is why it’s so unsettling to not have an answer to the question, “Where do you see yourself in five years?”

Planning for a life I no longer had

Not having huge life goals never bothered me until a couple years ago, when a former boss really started pressing the subject. The pressure came from a caring place, and it distressed me to be asked the same question over and over again, and still not have an answer.

So I started trying. I thought about where I was at the time (professionally, personally) and tried to think of places/situations I might want to find myself in down the road. What mattered most to me? Where did I “see myself” in five years?

I was in the middle of trying to come up with my Grand Life Plan when my current life went tits up — so for awhile, my only goal was finding a job that could pay the bills.

Then, just when I thought I’d found something that would not only pay well but also give me room to grow, it fell apart as well. This collapse wasn’t as catastrophic, but it yanked me back almost to the same place I had been just a few months previously. Plus now I was angry.

Fuck the Grand Life Plan. What had it ever done for me? Here was all this societal pressure to “choose a career,” this magical path that would take me to…what, exactly? Financial stability? Professional fulfillment? Happiness? I had none of these things, plus I had seen any plans I had crumble right in front of me. How the hell was I supposed to plan for five years from now when couldn’t even say what I’d be doing tomorrow?

Ditch the Grand Life Plan

It was around this time that I heard one of my favorite former college professors say something incredible:

I hear too many people saying, ‘Well, I need to know what I’m gonna do with the rest of my life.’ Nope. Just the next few years, and then it’s gonna take you somewhere. I think you may have been given the impression that you decide on a career and then you have that career the rest of your life, and everything falls into place like dominoes. That’s kind of a huge lie.

It feels like you’re supposed to everything that you’re supposed to do, and you’re supposed to have a life plan. Ditch the idea that you have to know what you’re gonna do. You have to start looking for opportunities and next steps that will take you to a place that you like better than where you are now. And after that, it’s always that kind of, ‘What now? Where are there opportunities? How do I advance?’

Hearing this was a revelation. It had never occurred to me that changing jobs was anything but total failure, a sign that I wasn’t strong enough to stick with something, even if I didn’t like it and it wasn’t what I wanted.

I’m not sure where this belief in a single lifelong career comes from. Maybe it’s something I picked up in school (“You need to do well so you can go to college and then get a good job”), or from my family (“What do you want to be when you grow up?”).

I don’t fault the people in my life for saying and asking these things — they wanted me to be able to take care of myself and be successful — but I think it’s time to adjust how I respond to them, and how I do my own life planning.

My plan is no plan

I don’t know exactly what I want, so I took my professor’s advice and searched for “opportunities and next steps” that would take me to a place that I would like better than where I was. It took me about six months, and fortunately I think I’ve found that place.

During the interview process I was confronted with my favorite question: “Where do you see yourself in five years?”

I said I didn’t know, and that I preferred it that way. I want to leave things open-ended, give myself the chance to see what all my opportunities are — there’s probably something out there that’s a million times more exciting than anything I could plan for myself. Why risk missing out on that by making something as practical as a five-year plan?

This fits in nicely with my attempts at focus and presence, and I believe is helping my tired, hamster-wheel riding brain finally find some measure of peace.

I don’t know where I’ll be in five years (or even one), and for once I’m not freaking out about it. And that’s pretty damn awesome.

The Long Drive: Podcasts I Can’t Stop Listening To

The Long DriveLike the breathtakingly uncool person I am, I’ve only just recently gotten into podcasts — possibly a little too into them. I listen to them while getting ready in the morning, while driving to and from work, during my evening coloring sessions, and any other time I can squeeze them in.

Listening to podcasts gives me the opportunity to learn (my favorite thing), laugh, and keep up with news and trends. I’m currently subscribed to 12 podcasts, and want to share a bit about my favorites here. All of these are well worth a subscribe!

The Way I Heard It, Mike RoweThe Way I Heard It with Mike Rowe

I’ve had a huge crush on Mike Rowe since the early days of his show Dirty Jobs. He’s smart, funny, seems like a genuinely nice guy, and I am a huge fan of the mikeroweWORKS Foundation’s mission. So when Rowe announced he was launching a podcast, I knew it was something I should look into.

The Way I Heard It claims to be “the only podcast for the curious mind with a short attention span.” Episodes are less than 10 minutes long (often closer to five), and have a Paul Harvey The Rest of the Story feel to them. Rowe is an excellent storyteller, introducing listeners to fascinating information about historical and cultural figures they thought they knew. The episodes are bite-sized, well-crafted, and fun. Give it a listen right now on Rowe’s website.

SawbonesSawbones

With a subtitle like A Marital Tour of Misguided Medicine, who wouldn’t want to subscribe? This podcast was recommended to me by my fabulous friend Lauren — we roomed together in college and it’s kind of scary how well she knows me and my taste in weird medical crap.

Sawbones is hosted by Dr. Sydnee McElroy and her husband Justin, and focuses on the history of medicine and all the ridiculous things humanity has done in an effort to prevent, treat, and cure illnesses. Not only is it interesting, it’s also hysterically funny — Justin in particular has a great sense of humor, and plays an excellent “dumb guy” against Sydnee’s clearly well-researched medical knowledge. My husband and I listened to several episodes on a recent long car trip, and they kept us laughing the whole way. Check out Sawbones online now.

Ask Me AnotherAsk Me Another

I subscribe to several NPR podcasts, and Ask Me Another is currently my favorite. Contestants and special guests (VIPs, or Very Important Puzzlers) solve puzzles, play word games, and answer trivia questions. The games are smart, the guests are funny and interesting, and I enjoy yelling out answers in the car on my commute. Listen to Ask Me Another on NPR’s website.

LimetownLimetown

“Ten years ago, over three hundred men, women and children disappeared from a small town in Tennessee, never to be heard from again. In this seven-part podcast, American Public Radio host Lia Haddock asks the question once more, ‘What happened to the people of Limetown?’”

Okay, I’m cheating a bit here because I haven’t actually started Limetown yet. But I’m so excited to get started! Not only because it sounds like a good mystery, but also because of the podcast’s format: it’s a fictional story set up to sound like a “ripped from the headlines” tale of an investigative reporter becoming obsessed with discovering the truth. The whole thing’s already aired, so you can listen to all of Limetown online here.

Honorable mentions

Other podcasts I’m loving and think you will too:

  • StarTalk Radio – Hosted by Neil Degrasse Tyson (and Bill Nye filling in occasionally), who does a great job of explaining some incredibly complex scientific concepts. Fantastic guest interviews.
  • Note to Self – Interesting intersections between tech and real life, and balancing the two.
  • Sorta Awesome – A little bit of everything, most of it falling in the “people are looking for ways to live better and happier” category. Very positive, interesting, silly, and fun.

What’s your favorite podcast?

I’m the last person hopping onto this bandwagon, so I know you’ve already got some favorite podcasts. Let me know what they are in the comments so I can subscribe, too!

Focus and Presence

I spend a lot of my time worrying. Usually it’s about normal stuff (like work), but just as often it’s about the weirdest shit that isn’t even relevant at the moment I’m worrying about it (like, “I have to go to that conference in two months and I’m not sure about directions and parking!”).

It doesn’t help that long-term planning is kind of my thing — I know how much I want to have in my savings account by the end of 2016, I have my calendar planned out for months, I’m researching tattoo studios for a tattoo I hope to get sometime in the next year, etc.

Balancing these two tendencies is a constant battle, one I’m generally losing. I get on what I call my “hamster wheel,” where I start worrying about one thing and then another and another, and before I know it…

via GIPHY

Fortunately I’ve just gotten back into yoga, which is something I didn’t realize was grounding me so well until I wasn’t able to do it for awhile.

At the beginning of each class, the instructor asks the students to dedicate their day’s practice to something: a person, a feeling, a concept. A couple of weeks ago the word “Focus” popped into my head at the beginning of class, and it hasn’t left.

Yoga class is one of the few places where it’s impossible for me to get on my hamster wheel — probably because I’m concentrating so hard on breathing and not toppling over onto the person next to me that there isn’t room for any other thoughts. I don’t really feel time passing, I’m not able to worry about work or how messy my apartment is or how I feel like a bad wife because I don’t cook for my husband every day. I’m focused, I’m in the present, and all that other stuff just doesn’t matter.

Since that class, I’ve been trying to incorporate the concepts of “focus” and “presence” into other aspects of my life. I’m doing my best to focus on daily items, rather than what’s happening next month or next week (or even the next day). For example, I know I’m going to have to approve and sign some important paperwork for a project soon, but since it’s not in my inbox I’ve pushed the worry away. If it’s not sitting in front of me, I don’t care about it.

This doesn’t mean that I’ve stopped thinking long-term entirely (work and personal stuff still has to get planned), but it does mean I’ve given myself permission to stop freaking out about shit that isn’t pertinent in the moment.

It’s not always easy, but it’s helping enormously. As is getting back into yoga and finding a therapist in my new city. Here’s to a happier and healthier 2016!