In late 2014, I hit the reboot button on my life. I ended a marriage that had become toxic, a lifestyle that was completely counter to my values, and quite a few friendships that were unhealthy, or were based on an illusion and my ability to maintain said illusion without screaming or jumping off a cliff.
I’ve now spent an entire calendar year living this new life–starting over from scratch, and building my world in a way that fits my soul. Some of you who know me personally are aware of the fact that I view my existence as a grand experiment, with me as the guinea pig. I try things. When I find things that work, I tell people about them. A lot of the things I try, I learn about from you–it’s only fair that I share my toys, too 🙂
So, here are things that are working for me. ‘For me’ is important–this list might not work for you. But maybe you’ll see some things you’d like to try. Or maybe you’ll understand your weirdo friends better by reading it. Or maybe you’ll have another thing to add to the ‘why Irene is a nutter butter bar’ list. Good times, either way.
- Go small.
I downsized from a five bedroom, three floor house that was beautiful but ultimately made me miserable. I now live in a two bedroom apartment that I absolutely love. I can deep clean it (like pull all the furniture away from the walls, Marine Corps Field Day clean it) in two hours. A tidying up takes 45 minutes or less. It’s amazing. The reduced stress of not having to care for and maintain that much house is beyond price. I hadn’t realized just how bad that was until I got away from it. Small is freeing. Seriously.
- Declutter. This ties into the first one. If you’re going to live in a smaller space, start by getting rid of all the useless crap you’ve accumulated. Even if you don’t plan to downsize your domicile, get rid of your useless crap. Obviously this doesn’t apply to disorders like hoarding, but for most of us, clearing space is psychologically good medicine. It frees up energy in our homes, puts us back in control of the consumption cycle, and means that Great Aunt Bertha’s hideous tea set is no longer hiding in wait, hoping for an unsuspecting houseguest to open the cabinet. Start with your closet. Most of us wear the same 8 to 10 outfits over and over again because we like them. Turn all your hangers the wrong way out (like in the photo). In three months, the clothes you still haven’t worn will be obvious. Give them away.Want to keep going? Start in one corner of one room. Look at your possessions. If you do not love it and use it, chuck it into the center of the room. That’s the give-away/yard sale pile. If an object belongs elsewhere, make a second stack for ‘will return to proper home later.’
Then from that corner, move in one direction along the wall, cleaning and purging as you go. If you are holding onto something out of guilt, let it go. If you are holding onto something because of the memory attached to it (but not because you love it or use it), let it go. The thing is not the memory. The memory is yours forever. The thing is just a thing. Finish that room. Start on the next. Keep going. I made over $600 from my yard sale. And I don’t miss a single thing I got rid of.
- Don’t buy stupid shit. This is tough. There’s a constant push by our culture to purchase things. Decorations. Organizers. The new clothes for the new season. Knickknacks, nerdy bric-a-brac, stationary supplies, kitchen gadgets…. Just stop. If you are standing in Target, holding a super-cool-but-will-ultimately-end-up-collecting-dust-on-a-shelf Star Wars lightsaber/letter opener/can opener, PUT IT DOWN. Walk away.
The easiest way I’ve found to do this is to envision that object’s place in your life in 6 months. In a year. In two. I’m corvid – I love shiny things. But you know what? I don’t wear jewelry. So every time I pick up yet another set of super-cute dangly earrings, I try to imagine them fitting into my life. And promptly realize that the only life they’ll see is the inside of my jewelry box. So I put them down. The same goes for clothing. With kitchen gadgets, if it won’t save you a metric fuckload of time, put it back. There are lots of cute gadgets, but most of them aren’t actually helping enough to justify the space they take up in your cupboard or checking account.
- Buy experiences instead. Go to the museum. Walk in the park. Rent a bike and ride around town.
Start saving the money you’re not spending on impulse purchases toward a trip you want to take. And focus on microadventures if big-ticket trips just don’t fit your financial situation. Microadventures are trips within driving distance (say 4 hours). I love these, and take lots of them. The memories are far more valuable to me than yet another booster pack of MTG cards would be.
- Declutter your schedule. One of the aspects of the life I blew up was a constant state of busyness. Some months are still hard, but most months out of the year I have at least one weekend, often two, where I have nothing planned. And I’m careful to keep that weekend open. Just because there’s a blank space on the calendar doesn’t mean you need to fill it with something. This allows you to…
- Cultivate spontaneity. Let go of your plan. I think we’ve all figured out by now that the Gods just laugh at plans, anyway, right? So let it go. Elect not to adult in favor of going to a trampoline park or botanical garden. Stay home and color.
Build a blanket fort. Allow those little nudges to spread their wings. You don’t lose anything by letting go of the plan. So you didn’t get groceries that exact day. So what? You’ll just get them tomorrow, and not having them means you get to have pancakes for dinner after going to the zoo for the day. Everyone wins.
- Kill the screens. This one is hard, but incredibly rewarding. No devices after dinner. Nothing with a screen. Put your phone away, don’t touch the computer, do not turn on the television. Sit and talk with the person you love. Take a walk. Read. Play an analog game. I also couple this with low or no electric light. We eat dinner by candlelight (also no screens allowed) and after that we keep the lights low. It’s tough at first, but you’ll find the quality of your off-time increases dramatically.
- No media in the bedroom. This is also tough but awesome. No devices, and no books/magazines/other distractions. Your bedroom is for sleep and sex, and that is all.
Believe me, you’ll come up with ways to amuse yourselves if there aren’t books in the bedroom, and those ways are a good deal more fun (and healthier for you) than yet another re-read of Good Omens. I do, of course, make an exception for illness and injury. Nothing like the flu to inspire a binge-watch of West Wing. But for everyday? Read in the living room. Then go to bed to actually go to bed. Or…you know…pursue bed-themed activities.
- Set an intention every month. Every dark moon, we have a check-in. We talk about how things are going in our relationship, in our lives, if there’s anything that needs to be addressed. We also set an intention for the coming month. Those intentions are phrased as affirmations (‘I am making healthy choices’ as opposed to ‘I need to stop eating junk food’) and are written on a white board that we see every time we leave the apartment. It’s been an incredibly powerful tool for helping us stay focused on the kind of energy we want to cultivate.
- Choose your partner.
Every morning, we take a moment (right before we sit down to breakfast) and choose each other. There’s a tendency in long term relationships to take partners for granted. Remind yourself of why you’ve chosen your partner. Remind them that you do choose them. Take a moment to sink into how much you love them. Do it every day.
- Be patient with your process.
Many of us are so busy doing that we forget to be – to grow, to become, to transform as people. Don’t let who you were, or what your own ideas about yourself were, slow you you down or scare you away from uncovering a beautiful new layer. And know that it takes time. I’m still sifting through the pieces of me, figuring out what is truth and what is leftover illusion or people-pleasing. Go gently, and with love. Allow yourself time to grow. And allow your own Mystery to be just that. You don’t have all the answers, not even about yourself. And that’s actually okay.
So there you go. These are the things that have been working for me. Hopefully they help you too.
I wish you a beautiful New Year. May the coming days bring ever greater joy, laughter, love and adventure into your life. Have a wonderful 2016, everyone.