Tag Archives: minimalism

Home control disease

Do you have home control disease?

This is another concept I learned from Tiffany Dufu’s book Drop the Ball. I already passed it along to a colleague that I thought could benefit from the book. I may have to re-buy it… So many great lessons and stories that she told in the book that really resonated with me when I read it last year, so I will share another in this post.

There is a link to a short summary piece about home control disease here. Or if you look up Tiffany Dufu on You-Tube, she has a bunch of really interesting short videos. I will summarize and add my take on the issue. I am so enamored of the minimalist concept, and yet I live with someone else, so I struggle with how much I want to control, versus how much I need to let go.

I used to live with someone who was a slob. He owned a huge house and would allow piles of junk to accumulate in the corners, and just ignore them. He might be considered a hoarder if he had a small home. Hoarding is usually cast as a “lower class” behavior, so we do not normally think of people with large houses as hoarders. They have so much more space than the average person. So if they have rooms that are reserved for books, or a room that is called a “parlour” then it does not seem to matter. If they have a room that is piled with junk, over which they throw a sheet when company comes over, they may be viewed as eccentric. But they are not labeled hoarders, because they are middle-class people with college degrees. I digress.

drop the ball

Anyway, I’ve been determined NEVER to live up to the stereotype of Latina housewife, who cooks and cleans for everyone. So I cultivate a well-practiced habit of ignoring messes at home. One might think this makes me a slob. I don’t encourage you to ask my husband… he probably would agree.  😉

Learning to ignore the mess means I could avoid becoming the default “cleaning lady” for that former house-mate.  I certainly tried to keep my own possessions and areas neat so I could function in those spaces, and not to contribute to the overflow of junk. Having a.d.d. makes it a bit harder for me to focus unless I have an orderly space in which to function. I am a little embarrassed to admit I currently have a spare bedroom at home that I aspire to use as an office. But right now It is too full of stuff: boxes, books and random things I want to clear out this year. I work from the dining room when I work at home.

Common spaces like the kitchen are shared, which means I take turns at doing dishes or clearing the counters. I’m the one who usually takes out the garbage and recycling because it bothers me a lot more to see those pile up. I also tend to do the laundry. Since I have the option of working at home a couple days a week, and it seems pretty easy to throw in a load while here, or fold when I take a break from work. But:

Making the bed = optional, not done most days

Vacuuming the carpet = optional (did we do this sometime in the last two months?)

Dusting = optional.

Full disclosure: we both work full-time and do not have children. So our income allows us to have a cleaning service come in once a month for a couple hours of cleaning in the kitchen, bathroom and living room. It was a promise I made to myself when he moved in 3 years ago that I would NOT be the housemaid, and that we would spend some money getting help, since I did not want to be stuck with it all.

But I still find myself taking responsibility for household tasks probably more than my husband does. It is a default switch for me that I am working to change.Maybe women feel like we cannot be in control at work very often. Especially if we work in corporations with large amounts of bureaucratic junk we have to shovel. So we want to be in control SOMEWHERE. And home is the place that society considers our “domain.” Ugh.

But what if we recognized our home control disease and learned to live with some amount of mess? What if we dropped the ball and let others pick it up? And if they do not pick it up, then is it really a requirement? If living in a neat house is more important to us than to our partners, perhaps we need to negotiate and work together as a team.

If my suspicions are correct, more women than men are judged over having a messy house. If a guy has a messy place, he’s a “bachelor.” If a couple has a messy home, then she is the one blamed for the state of affairs. It is not fair. For sure. But I would suggest living with some level of mess may be an adaptive strategy when we live with others, unless we share the chore.

Try it. Tell me what you think. Is there more or less conflict in your life when you give up home control disease?

 

 

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Flowing vs Overflowing

Do you ever have a sense of marvelous ease in your day? A sense that you are in a “flow state” and things are proceeding exactly as they should. You just ride along as the current carries you.

You look up hours later and realize you have been so engaged in a task that you have lost awareness of time, and maybe it’s already dark out. Or you suddenly realize you are hungry, but you were absorbed in something so deeply that you did not notice at the time. It is kind of a beautiful experience for someone like me (or maybe you?) who struggle with distractions.

But how often to we achieve this state? How often do we give ourselves the opportunity to do uninterrupted work? How often do we single-task, instead of spreading out our focus?

deep-work-cover.jpg

According to Cal Newport, author of Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, we do not do this nearly enough. When I first read the book summary, presented by my “GetAbstract” subscription at work, I felt immediate resonance with the concept. Then I heard an interview with him on the Hidden Brain podcast last July, and I knew I would need to figure out how to do more deep work in my career.

In the age of social media, overflowing email boxes and communications technologies like WhatsApp and Jabber (my company’s instant messaging platform), it is a challenge indeed. But I like a challenge. And I think the ability to focus deeply and intentionally on things we care about is worth it. Some may argue that this is what makes a happy life.

So how do we make that more possible? For me, it has involved cutting WAY back on my daily consumption of social media. I used to turn on my phone in bed in the morning, read facebook posts and the news from the coziness of my bed (it was -12F when I got up this morning -26F with windchill – ugh). Then I would usually open up the email, first personal and then work to see if there were any urgent items.

This would put me into “reactive” mode, taking in all of this information before even giving myself a chance to truly wake up. Not the best way to start the day. That practice shifted to consuming podcasts rather than FB and news about a year ago. I decided my emotional state was not equipped to consume news in the same way I used to devour it daily. I really love public radio, and I still listen sometimes in the car on the way to or from work.

We all have choices about what we do, and how we engage with the world. It is pretty mind-blowing to realize we have more control over our thoughts and emotions once we learn to separate them out from circumstances. Learning this has helped me understand when my “anger” button has been activated, or in neuroscience terms, the amygdala. Anger can be a useful emotion, when we are fighting injustice, but rage tends to be destructive. Fear can be a useful emotion, when we are outrunning a predator or facing a potentially dangerous situation, but panic is rarely helpful.

So I choose to cut back. I need to keep flowing, keep working toward things I believe in. I work toward more peace, more justice, more access to the rights and freedoms I enjoy for more people. Overflowing with inputs, distractions, material possessions, entertainment, and other “over” indulgences does not serve me. So I make deliberate choices about how to spend my time.

Distractions may always be a factor for me. My mind runs and plays like a puppy, roaming around, picking up random scents and running down those trails. But that is also conditioned behavior, following the urge of distraction. And it can be unlearned with practice, thankfully. My meditation and yoga practices are teaching me that.

May you be clear-headed and focused today. May you engage in whatever deep and important work you are doing right now, with full mind and heart. Thank you for reading, and now go get back to your creative effort. Namaste.

 

Motorcycle, open road and 2 fresh-air junkies

This Tuesday as my hubby and I escaped weather that was -20F (windchill factor -30F), I had an impulse to revisit a favorite trip of ours from almost 5.5 months ago, when the weather was quite different. Photos are either from his phone or mine, and/or grabbed from the web with attribution where not original.

This past July my husband (then fiance) and I took a trip around Lake Superior, starting on the Minnesota side from the Twin Cities and running clockwise. It was a wonderful journey, made precious by the fact that we had never made that trip before, and the fact that my husband had taken care of 95% of the planning beforehand.

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Camping trailer, VTX, and our bear canister.

He even re-furbished a motorcycle camping trailer that we were able to use for 6 out of the 10 nights we were away from home. It would have been 8 nights but we opted to upgrade to a hotel on two of the nights when the campgrounds seemed to soggy for us as 40-somethings who enjoy comfortable beds. With hubby doing 100% of the driving, it was important for him to get adequate rest. See how good I am at justifying my desire for comfort? 😉

We wanted to explore one of the wonderful treasures of our Midwest home: Lake Superior. We love Canada and have traveled many times to Thunder Bay and that area. The first time we traveled there was just after we had gotten engaged, and we stayed in the McVicar Manor B&B. I am sad to see when I look online that this may have closed. I know Dorothy and Tom, the owners at the time, were planning to retire.

Perhaps it is a seasonal closing, as I know they do spend some months of the year traveling.

In any case, hubby found many great camp sites where we could stay all around the lake, as well as a B&B in Sault Ste Marie and some other hotels where we spontaneously stayed when we encountered rain a couple of days in July.

At the start we arrived in Canada during their national holiday, just before the U.S. Independence Day holiday. It was Canada Day, eh! And we found an abundance of people camping, with Canadian flags on display at campsites. The provincial park system in Canada is amazing, and has generally more secluded sites than the typical American camp groud.

My favorites were Sleeping Giant Park and Lake Superior Provincial Park. Hubby took this wonderful photo from Agawa Bay in Superior Park, where we camped right along the shoreline. It was gorgeous, and quite warm that evening. But we started a camp fire anyway, because it is our tradition.

Agawa Bay - Superior

Original photo taken by husband of mexi-minnesotana. Use with attribution only.

The views from the Canada side were rather spectacular and hubby has hours of unedited video from his Go-Pro which attached like an antenna to his helmet. I kept teasing him about looking like a Martian with that darn thing stuck to the helmet.

Awww, but this is why I keep reading that spending money on experiences rather than things proves to be the most satisfying. There is the excitement and anticipation of the event, then the event itself and then recalling fond memories of the event.

As we cope with the dark months of winter, and I recover from the last dregs of this winter/holiday cold, these thoughts of an enjoyable vacation in the summer of 2017 warm my heart. Where are you planning your next vacation? 

O Canada

O Canada! Another view from a similar vantage point, taken by mexi-minnesotana.

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Tis the season to unsubscribe

‘Tis the season when everyone in your email contacts or your subscriptions sends you a pitch for products, services, last-minute holiday gifts. 

I understand it. I do. Why not get in on the frenzy while it is fully in play? Desperate shoppers click on a button and might wind up with a gift that they can have delivered. Then: relief.

I like the way Gmail categorizes emails into primary, social, promotions and forums. Gmail categories

This way I can focus on the primary mailbox, and then ignore the others or re-assign things from my primary folder into a different one and then prioritize which order I read things. I have spent some time re-categorize emails so that my Inbox is much more manageable.

But I also try to do something this time of year to just clear out the junk and constant communication – unsubscribe! It is something I spent time on yesterday, while procrastinating the shopping I did not want to do. I was tired, and I am still recovering from a cold. So I decided to do something useful as I sat and drank my tea.

I have written before about how how I take media breaks now and then to keep my sanity. I suspect I will be doing this a bit during the holidays, and I may drop in with a haiku now and then. But I want to take at least a couple of days cold-turkey from the phone and the computer.

Remember the old days when people actually had conversations face to face and did not have a phone near them? The phone was on the wall, and someone had to call us before we would pick it up.

Okay, I’m dating myself here…I can see the millennials rolling their eyes. But what if you did some of this? Maybe you would have JOMO instead of FOMO! Instead of the fear of missing out, you would have the JOY of missing out. Try it, and you might like it.

Go easy on yourself if you get bored. Your brain is used to the dopamine hits it gets from being reinforced by the phone. But boredom is good for you! You may end up thinking a little more. You may end up getting a little creative, without the constant distraction. Maybe you’ll have some great new connections with people. Maybe you’ll have a little more sex… who knows what awaits?

Enjoy.

 

Drop the ball

Drop the ball – and other surgery-related wisdom.

Some of you regular readers to my blog might know that I was hospitalized 10 days ago for an emergency appendectomy surgery. Fortunately my recovery continues to go well, and I am truly grateful for the wonderful care I received, and for my husband picking up the ball as I dropped it.

Last February I encountered a Good Life Project podcast with Tiffany Dufu, who had written a book bearing the title: Drop the Ball: Achieve More by Doing Less. In it she explores the her journey as a feminist woman and the issues she discovered about managing things at home with her also feminist husband after returning to work post-pregnancy.

Women still experience the Second Shift (a term coined by Arlie Hoschild in 1989) which describes the process of the second job many of them work when they return home, to take care of the housework and child care, even after working a full day outside of the home. But Tiffany Dufu helped me see it at another level. She helped me understand that the kind of perfectionism we apply to our home lives does not serve us as women. She refers to it as “home control disease.”

We often fail to ask for help from our spouses or male partners, instead taking tasks on because we “know he won’t do it right” or have higher standards for cleanliness. In my previous relationship, I was very conscientious about learning to put up with mess and clutter. I know that he didn’t care about it, so I wasn’t going to become someone’s idea of a Latina housewife, or maid or cleaning lady. I simply blocked out the mess in my mind.

drop the ball

I was recently noting the Christmas cards I received this year, and the fact that ALL of them (save for one, but he has an assistant who I am sure sent them out) were from women. It is Moms, Aunts and Grandmas that send holiday cards, not Dads, Uncles and Grandpas.

I caught myself chiding myself for not being organized enough to get cards out this year, especially because I was planning to put wedding pictures in there. But then I thought: my husband is not doing that. He has no expectation that he must do things like Christmas cards each year. Most husbands are not expected to do that, nor do they chide themselves for being disorganized. That’s already been delegated (in their heads) to their wives.

Then I considered the fact that I always clean up and de-clutter before our cleaning service arrives once a month to clean the kitchen, living room and bathroom. Usually this means excess clutter gets dropped in the bedrooms, where we do not ask them to clean. I continue to cut down on clutter, but it still seems to multiply, maybe when I am not looking…

But why is it that I run around (usually frantic) trying to clean each month? This time, my surgery recovery really slowed down that process and I had to think it through.

I realize it reflects a lot of privilege on my part to have someone to come in to clean. My husband and I do not even own a house together yet, but I knew this would be a non-negotiable if we moved in together. I simply will not become someone’s housewife, and I know that would be my temptation.

But I still de-clutter and ask my husband to do the same each month. He has no worries about others’ judgment of him for his messy habits (as I do, apparently). But he usually obliges unless he is sick or something, in which case I pick up the slack.

Holidays are like this too: how often is it the women you see planning the holiday meals, decorating and making things festive? How often do we come down on a guy for not hosting a party, or not picking up his home? And yet, as women, how often do we self-criticize for a bunch of household chores that really are voluntary to complete?

I realize this is a bit of a rant, but I think it deserves some thought. What is it you REALLY have to do today, and are there places you have not thought about sharing the load with a spouse or partner? 

 

 

 

 

 

Greetings from up north

It is a holiday weekend so I am taking a little hiatus from writing, but I am enjoying the clean, fresh air of the north woods in Bemidji. I also wanted to share a few photos of one of the places my husband and I think of as “home” (where his mother lives).View of the water from Shannon LaneIt is nice to get away from the Twin Cities sometimes, and I always find that I sleep so well here in the fresh air of the north woods. We had a fire in the fireplace last night and it feels so cozy here, despite the cold outside.

Wood stacks dryingMy husband really enjoys cutting and splitting wood so his Mom is prepared for winter, so there are many stacks drying and getting ready for use in the deep cold months that are ahead.

Home with wood stacks

As I consider all of the things I am grateful for this holiday, I realize what a lovely privilege it is to be able to get away from the city at times. Even though I love living in and around a city, with its activity and options, getting away can be a real treat as well.

 

Hope you are able to enjoy some quality time away from the stores and in a cozy place this weekend. A retreat from the madness of every day life is a wonderful thing, and I shall not take it for granted.

Dock in November

 

Decision fatigue

This entry will pick up on a theme I covered in a recent post about “driven to distraction” which got an unusually high number of views and likes, so I suspect there are many out there who can relate. These themes are related and intertwine because we live in a world that is ever more connected, and our expectations have gone up in terms of having access to what we want, instantly and without delay.

I am in the market for a new laptop, and I find myself with an abundance of options. This may seem like a really good thing. But I find the process of choosing to be rather paralyzing. I have always loved my Macs and was leaning toward the MacBook Air with its 13 inch screen and less than 3 pound weight. Then I realized there are many options for several hundreds of dollars less, some that can do even more things! The Lenovo Flex 5 is what I am leaning toward today, given an employee discount I can get from work, and the fact that has 2-in-1 capabilities to act as a tablet as well. My iPad died a few years ago, and while I liked the convenience and compact design, I prefer a real keyboard when I am doing a lot of writing.

I told my husband that I am NOT the kind of person who want to do days of research on this process. I just want to have a machine that is adequate for my needs, compact and light for travel, durable because I am rough on my technology, and not too expensive. It comes down to the fact that I am willing to settle for a “good enough” option rather than researching every possible choice. In fact, constraining down to 2 brands is my way of taking away at least SOME decision fatigue, but the options within those brands are so numerous as well. I guess this reflects the economic principle of “satisficing” versus maximizing, a concept I learned about a few years ago from an book written by Barry Schwartz, a professor from Swarthmore College where I am an alumna.

In The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, Schwartz explains how too much of a good thing has proved detrimental to our psychological and social well-being. People who feel they must maximize and make the “best” choice, and who do exhaustive research before making a decision sometimes feel analysis paralysis when it comes to making a decision. For sure, as a “questioner” I can relate. Maximizers tend to have greater regret when it comes to past decisions, and they can ruminate on whether a better choice could have been made. In general, I am a satisficer because I like to limit the decision fatigue of not making a choice and spinning in analysis paralysis.

Brooke Castillo speaks about constraint as a way of giving us better focus and better results. She has a great podcast episode about how constraint helps us to reduce “overwhelm” in our lives and lets us be more productive. We eliminate decision fatigue when we do not allow ourselves every possible choice. This is why the minimalist lifestyle appeals so much to me, as a person who suffers from the distraction that comes from too many things to which my brain wants to attend.

Most people know about President Obama’s deliberate constraint to wear only blue or gray suits. He has enough really important decisions to make every day that having to choose clothing should not tax his mental energy, of which we all have a limited amount each day. It is one reason why it may be easier to make difficult decisions in the morning, when our brain energy is fresh and has not been depleted. I know one reason I like to work from home is that I have fewer agonies over having to pick out “grown up” clothes to wear to the office.

I recently discovered a blog I like called A Small Wardrobe and she has some great insight on this minimalist approach. The Functioning Minimalist podcast (and website) is another source of insight on this principle. Notice though! I just gave you two more choices to make if you want to explore this principle… Ha! You thought I was going to simplify your life in this post. Gotcha! 🙂

In all seriousness though, the principle here is that we all have so many choices. And yet, we must find ways in which to constrain those choices to live a happier, less burdened life. I have learned to be more satisfied by choices I have made in the past by telling myself that nothing can be re-done now. Those choices were the perfect ones for me, in the moment, and with the knowledge I had at the time. So what if I use that for this decision I am making now? I will give myself a certain amount time to make the decision, and then will move forward, knowing that this choice is a lot less momentous than, say, picking my next career move… (you know that will be a future post, right?).

For now, let me leave you with an image I made with pastels some time back, a representation of what my brain feels like sometimes when there is a lot of “static” of indecision. Happy Friday! May you, my dear readers, free yourselves from too many decisions, and enjoy to the fullest all of the ones you make.

Decision fatigue

This is how my brain feels when I am trying to make too many decisions.

 

 

 

Grown-up clothes

I often tell my husband how grateful I am that I can work from home a couple of days a week, when I am not traveling. One of the great benefits of working at home is that wardrobe choices can be a tad more casual. I am a morning person and I have some daily practices that I enjoy in order to help me be more present and grounded throughout the day. I make my coffee (usually half decaf, as I am trying to cut down on caffeine) with full-fat cream or coconut milk. I sometimes listen to an inspirational podcast, with my coffee, possibly a cat on my lap. I meditate for at least a few minutes, and right now I am trying to ramp up my practice to at least 30 minutes a day. After that, I usually spend 15-20 minutes on a hand-written journal entry.

Some mornings (like today) I can fit in a brief run of 2-3 miles, which really gets my synapses firing for the day. After that, a second cup of coffee – make it decaf this time – and then a shower before sitting down and starting the work day. When I work at home, the attire is typically jeans and a t-shirt, or a tech long-sleeve shirt if it is chilly.

In the summer, sometimes I have a casual dress I wear, made from super comfy t-shirt like material. Or if I really need to write before my shower, because I had an inspiring idea on my run, I sit and work in my robe and get the words out before my shower interrupts my thoughts.

Working at home gives me the luxury that I have time for all these preferred daily activities before I have to give myself over to my “real job” and all the attention it requires. On days when I go to the office, I need to leave time for picking out something to wear that is appropriate for a clinical research operations manager at a large medical device/health care services company. I have done some culling of my wardrobe in recent months after suffering far too much decision fatigue on making these choices in the morning, and having that indecision slow down my morning too much.

When I officially became a manager in my current role, I decided to upgrade my wardrobe, because I wanted to come across as confident and in-charge. I was called upon to speak more in big meetings, and I wanted to appear as someone to be respected, but also comfortable in her own appearance. Since I was under some stress that first year, I gained some weight and did not like how I looked in clothes that were too tight.

In previous posts, I have referred to my weight loss journey, but suffice to say that a 15+ pound weight loss helped me to feel more confident in a variety of clothes. But that led me to narrow down on which clothes really felt like “me,” which was another matter entirely.

I work with a team in Latin America and so I often travel to Miami and to cities likes where my colleagues and direct reports work. I have always admired the fashion sense of particularly my Latina colleagues, who always look sharp, but often seem utterly comfortable with their fashion and personal style. For me, this is not a natural instinct and has been an evolution.

I rejected the notion of style or fashion in college – liberal arts undergraduates at Swarthmore were comfortable in their t-shirts, flannels, jeans and Birkenstocks on campus, and I was no exception to that. The notion of standing out was never a goal to me, but I do not think I was truly comfortable in my own skin at that point in my life either.

More recently I have come to realize that our personality can be reflected in the types of choices we make in our clothing, and I now have a better sense of what styles reflect “me” versus some new trend. I hate shopping for grown-up clothes so much that I used Stitch Fix and MM LaFleur to send me selections that I could try and then send back the items that did not work.

While it was a somewhat expensive process, reflecting on what to keep and what to donate during my KonMari de-clutter this past Spring was a good way to recognize my own taste. Grown-up (work) clothes fit for a corporate setting have never really been my favorite, and this perhaps reflects my ambivalence about being in a corporate setting at all, but I now have a set of clothing that seems to fit more of who I have become.

Stitch Fix snip

Stitch Fix snip from their home page

When I get home from work, I typically change right out of my work clothes immediately. This comes from my Mom’s admonition to change out of our “school clothes” and into our “knock-around” clothes when we were young, to keep the nice clothes from getting dirty or worn out too soon. Also, having two cats at home pretty much guarantees that anything in black will pick up cat hair immediately when I sit down, so it just saves me time not to wear my work costume around.

When given a choice, I prefer to work at home, where I do not worry about selecting grown-up clothes versus my comfy jeans and tech shirts which feel more authentic to me. When I go to the office, I still feel a little like I’m playing “dress up,” something I seldom did as a child, because it was not my interest. That helps me feel a little more playful about the clothing choices rather than stifled by the culture of corporate fashion. But I am still evolving those choices, and I still dream of a time when I do not have a separate work wardrobe from my “in real life” wardrobe. That seems to me a supreme luxury and something I continue to seek.