Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Great Knick-Knack Purge And Why I Chose To Become A Minimalist

Over 60 books once gathering dust in my home have now found new purpose at my local public library. The man who accepted my box of books seemed super excited to have them. I also donated another full carload to Goodwill this month. I carefully itemized everything before I brought it over, and will submit that information come tax season. Who knows... if our country falls off this fiscal cliff, these donations might really help my with the extra costs I would accrue!

There is a pile of items in my basement that I plan to sell, and each item was noted in detail and photographed before being put into storage. Now I can post them online at my convenience and watch them slowly find new homes where they will be more appreciated.

I also have one (yes, only one) box filled with sentimental items from my childhood. This box is mostly photographs and papers (which I plan to digitize) and precious small toys or stuffed animals. The box is only half full.

My attic currently only stores my window air conditioner, my suitcase, a bin filled with Halloween costumes and decorations, and a bin of outdoor winter gear. I've reduced my Christmas decorations to one box, along with one box for ornaments, and one box that contains my fake tree.

I have also been filtering through the items in my old room at my parents' house. I used to hoard a lot of paper, because I'd see an article or an image that inspired me and I'd tear it out and save it (these were the days before Pinterest). I ended up recycling about 9/10 of that massive stack. What's left are some personal documents, a few images, and some posters that I can sell to forever fans (people still collect Linkin Park stuff, right?). I've already made some money on items I've sold, and it has happily padded my savings account while stripping away unwanted things.

There is an inevitable moment during the minimizing process where the question arises: "Why did I ever think I needed all of these things?" It's taken me years to acquire all this stuff, and I'm sure it will take me a while to whittle down my possessions... if anything, to adjust to the change it brings along the way and how it forces me to live a little deeper than what I own.

That brought me to ask myself a follow-up question: "What was the watershed moment, one that made me realize I wanted to change and live more simply?" Just three years ago I was writing in my blog about how I wanted a massive closet filled with clothing and how I wanted a gigantic record collection, etc. It was all about quantity, or so I thought. Then... I got married.

I wed someone who very much enjoyed having things. It was about acquiring more, because if he had things, that meant to others that he had the money to buy them. It was a representation of what he valued; appearance was the priority. I found myself becoming disgusted with the stuff he accumulated, without really understanding the correlation that I was collecting things I thought valued, too.

When the marriage ended, it left me with a lot to think about. I was about to start a new chapter in my life. How did I want it to look? He had taken his things with him, and I found that a more spacious home really appealed to me. I began reading inspirational blogs (listed on the right hand side of my page) and understanding that what I craved was a simpler, more minimal lifestyle. It became apparent to me that I still wanted nice clothes and great records, but it became more about the quality of what I acquired. Will I wear this dress? Do I even listen to this band? Should I buy it because it is cheap or on sale or given to me for free? Should I keep it even if I paid full price but I never use it? Assessing what I really wanted to keep made it easier for me to part with the rest. I still have a healthy wardrobe and a record collection, but I've pared it down to what I use frequently and love the most.

One would think this is a common sense approach. Honestly, I thought what I was buying had use and value to me at the time. Before I knew it, I felt more tied down by my stuff than excited by it. The consumer bug had his claws in me, big time, and I hadn't even seen how it was changing me. I was also seeking happiness in things to distract myself from the unhappiness in my marriage.

The divorce had me looking at other areas of my life that I wanted to improve. I discovered I was utterly disgusted with materialism and ended up going very much in the opposite direction in a very short time. Though I dove into minimalism rather assertively, I have found I truly enjoy it. There has not been one regret as I donate, sell, or give away something I once deemed worthy enough to take up space in my home. My life has become more about quality, in many ways.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Attitude Adjustment

I hadn't written a blog entry in a while, mostly because I hadn't felt like writing. Stress and frustration had whittled down my energy and left me with a sour attitude. Everyday factors tend to add up and start to feel overwhelming, especially around the holidays. There is plenty to be thankful for, and I am indeed blessed, but every now and then the burdens start to weigh me down.

All of that yuck came to a pleasant halt recently. I was having a particularly bad day at work. This time of year is busy because I'm filming a lot of holiday programs in various schools. It's easy to fall behind when other tasks are assigned and when technology glitches hold up the assembly line. I narrowly made a deadline by late morning, then rushed to a school to do some filming... only to realize I had forgotten to bring tapes for the camera. I'd already missed one appointment to film at this school, and now I was going to have to postpone it again. I was so frustrated and felt terrible.

The librarian, who had asked me to shoot this video for her, was incredibly understanding. I'd never met her before, as she had just been hired one month ago. She wanted me to tape a group of her best-behaved kindergarten students checking out books in an orderly manner, to use as an example to show other classes. Not only was she gracious enough to reschedule with me yet again, she offered to let me stay and watch the kids so they could "practice" acting in front of the camera.

The next half hour was such a pleasant experience. She sat the students down in a group on the floor, and told them, "Boys and girls, I have a surprise for you.... Did you know that we are a FISH school? Do you know what that means?" And she used this method to proceed to tell the kids about the FISH philosophy and the rules to abide by FISH. She had printed the rules onto giant paper word balloons, laminated them, and placed them on various posters in the library. Aaron Rodgers, a crocodile, puppies, and One Direction were all "speaking" these guidelines for FISH.

Then she read "The Gingerbread Man" to the students. Part of the way through, when the Gingerbread Man runs away from a sow, she set down the story and asked if anyone understood what a sow was. Her voice never came above a soft-spoken tone, never lost patience, and the kids obediently listened and read along with her. They stayed put in their seats and always raised their hand to answer her inquiries. I was astonished by the effectiveness of her communication.

When it came time to check out their own books, she would look at one individual kindergartener and say, "You, my love, may go." She did this one at a time for each student, to keep the flow of traffic down.  Eventually she changed her compliments and began addressing kids by different names: "You may go, Cutie Patootie. Mr. Muscles, you may go." Some kids didn't return their old books so they couldn't check out new ones. She kindly asked, "Remind me dears... what happens when you don't need to check out a book today?" One child excitedly responded, "We get to go read a magazine!" The librarian smiled and said, "Oh! I knew you'd remember!"

Afterwards, I pulled the librarian aside and thanked her for the opportunity to shadow her class. I told her that I spend my days in a stuffy office building with a bunch of grumpy adults. This was the refreshment I needed to change my attitude. She beamed at me and referred to a poster in her library that said "Attitude is Everything. How will you choose to see today?"

I realized at that moment that part of my stress was in how I viewed the situation. I decided that in spite of a tough economy, a job where I am overworked and undervalued, my stubborn weight not budging despite my efforts to change it, my worries about gifts this year for loved ones, family obligations, and the feeling of drowning in my own stuff... I was going to look at it differently.

First, I needed to be honest with myself. I've been logging all of my food intake and fitness minutes on SparkPeople. Since I started tracking on September 1st, one third of the days have been over the limit for calorie intake. How can I expect to see results when I'm overeating 33% of the time? Many times it wasn't by much, but having two or three cheat days a week is not a lifestyle change. I needed to admit I was being too lax with my self-accountability. (Since remedying this, I have only gone over on one day, and the scale has started to tip back in my favor. Who knew?)

Secondly, I was able to convince my beau to get a gym membership. He had been interested in it for some time, but he needed to be ready to commit. Now we're workout buddies and we go at least twice a week. On other days I work out from home, or we play dance games on the Wii. Not enough time has passed to see real results yet, but I am increasing my lifts on the weight machines. I can feel by body strengthening and toning. I also started taking a kickboxing class at the gym every Thursday. Because of my Insanity workouts, I can run with high knees longer than anyone else in the group! I know what it feel like to push myself past the level of discomfort and know that it won't kill me. If I am not a sweaty panting heap by the end of a workout, I now feel like I've cheated myself. I sleep so much better after I exercise, too!

Next, I sent an open letter to my relatives, encouraging them to think about our Christmas traditions and if we might consider changing them up a bit. I wanted to know if anyone else would be open to foregoing the gift exchange this year to eliminate a little time and financial burden. I didn't get any response, but I feel good about throwing my idea out there. Maybe they'll think about it. We're all working-age adults now, and most open gifts with their immediate families anyway.

Finally, I committed a weekend to putting a bunch of my stuff on eBay. I was quite surprised to discover there has been a bidding war on my 3-foot-tall plush Bugs Bunny toy from childhood; it's up to $60. And here I was just going to donate it to Goodwill! It feels great to get rid of things I don't want and lighten the load on myself. It's also great to ensure these items go to someone who wants them instead of just winding up in the trash.

As far as work goes... there isn't a whole lot I can do, but I'm working with what I can. I'm in the process of moving out of my shared office and into my own space. It's just a corner of a large room that is mostly used for storage, but now I won't be interrupted when I'm editing. It gives me a quiet space to concentrate and do better work. I've been trying to get a meeting with my boss since July, but I can't even get his secretary to e-mail me back. I'm not sure why it is so difficult to make an appointment, but I will keep trying.

And of course, there's the perk of making friends with that new librarian. She and I plan to have lunches together from week to week. Most of my office building consists of people at least twice my age, with adult kids of their own, so it's really refreshing to have a co-worker near my age to hang out with! She's just such an encouraging influence, and a reminder that I have more control over the state of things that I may realize.

There are some circumstances I can't change, but I can change how I approach them. Also, check out this well-written guide to getting what you want. And good luck to you on pursuing what you want! It may only be as far away as an attitude adjustment.

"You, my love, may go..."

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Cutting The Majority

Since turning my Spending Diet into a Spending Fast, I've made quite a bit of progress. I did learn that I pay more per month in medical bills than I thought. A co-pay here and there really can add up, and I should have been paying attention more closely. That aside, I've also made some strides in changing the trajectory of my finances. I have avoided excessive spending in the following ways:
  • I gave my nephew a birthday gift that I already owned. He wanted the game of Twister, and I had actually purchased it for myself a few months ago. It was in my closet, still unopened. I made his birthday card using existing scrapbook supplies. That was easy!
  • I purchased groceries using coupons and a $20 voucher I purchased last month for half price. I'm still using up produce from my CSA, and my freezer and pantry are very well-stocked, so I only bought a few things: tomatoes, peanut butter, almond milk, hummus.
  • I have dined with the beau several times this month, but he has always generously picked up the tab. He knows about my spending fast and doesn't pressure me to pay when we go out, but I am starting to feel bad and don't want to seem like a mooch. I paid for my share of dinner one night. I also bought lunch while out with a friend I hadn't seen in a while. Otherwise, I have not purchased any other beverages or meals at restaurants or coffee shops.
  • I have not purchased any clothing, accessories, or luxury items. I did pay $25 for a haircut... my first in four months.
  • I have minimized my driving by not going out to restaurants or bars or entertainment venues, so I've only had to fill my tank once this month.
I calculated my average monthly spending in these categories: mortgage, energy, water/sewer, internet, cell phone, car insurance, gym membership, credit card payment, groceries, gas, entertainment, clothing, house repairs, medical bills, tithe, and miscellaneous. I did this by adding up the total spending for each of the past four months, then combining the total and then dividing by four.

I have been on budget for this month's fixed expenses (mortgage, energy, water/sewer, internet, cell phone, car insurance, gym membership, credit card, tithe). I have spent $126.56 less on groceries. I have spent $100.17 less on gasoline. I've only shelled $16 all month on dining expenses. For entertainment, I've maintained my Netflix account but nixed any other spending in that category. I have spent zero on house items, clothing, and accessories (and donated over $700 worth of items to Goodwill!). My medical bills have decreased by half. My miscellaneous spending (a gift for a baby shower and a haircut) totaled $57.

When comparing my November spending to the average of the previous four months, I have cut my expenses by 51%. Yep, you read that right... I spent less than half of what I normally do... cutting the majority of my expenses. And I didn't even have to cut out my Netflix or internet or gym membership. It was that simple. It seems so wasteful, in hindsight. I didn't need to spend money on any of those things I used to, all while believing I was being fiscally responsible. Just goes to show the belt can almost always get a little tighter.

My spending fast has been so successful that I plan to continue it into December. It will be a welcome challenge to navigate the national holiday spending frenzy in a minimalist way.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Giving in the Season of Buying

Miss Minimalist's string theory has been on my mind a lot lately. I referred to it in an earlier post:
Francine Jay (Miss Minimalist) mentioned something in her book "The Joy of Less" that rattled me and will stick with me forever: she asked readers to imagine tying one end of a string an item you own, and then tie the other end to a part of your body. Imagine doing this for literally every single item. This includes every sock, every fork, every pen, every bathroom product, every DVD, everything packed in those boxes in your attic. Would you feel trapped and weighed down by your possessions? Jay's book goes on to explain in further detail how to pare down your stuff so you can help lift that burden. It's a short read and I highly recommend it for anyone anywhere who buys things (in short, everyone).
Over the weekend, I severed a lot of those strings. Just in time for the season of "buying"--- the season of "giving" doesn't have to involve layaways and credit card payments, in my opinion--- I took an entire truckload of my possessions to Goodwill. I wrote down each item as I packed it so I could itemize the list for tax purposes later on. My mom was in town for a visit, so we loaded up her SUV to full capacity and drove it to the nearest donation center. It felt like a huge weight had been pulled off of me as I watched men haul away half a dozen garbage bags full of clothes. They lifted from me boxes of household items, outdoor gear, Christmas decorations, bedding, and DVDs. (I even saw someone donating a pair os skis! How cool is that?) I also have a box full of books, but I plan to donate them to my local library.

I came home, feeling great not just for giving someone else the opportunity to own and appreciate those items, I felt great for me... for my journey towards owning less and valuing what I do have.

Then I looked around my house and realized I'd only made a small dent in what I hope to eventually accomplish. Everywhere I looked, I started thinking "Do I really need that?" "I could get rid of that." "Could I sell that on eBay?"

Once I had parted with a fairly significant amount of stuff, I caught the bug. I wanted to have even fewer possessions. So I went through my closet again. I pulled another two garbage bags worth of shirts and dresses and pants to donate. I filtered through my shoes, throwing out my favorite pair of heels because they were so worn that they barely held together. I pulled boxes out of my basement storage and photographed more toys to post for auction online.

Still, it's not enough. I want to keep going. My first itemized donation was valued at over $700. That sounds great, but it also means I initially paid far more than that to own those things. The earth's resources were used to make those items. Energy was expended to make them, package them, ship them, clean them, fix them. And then there's the depreciation value of market price versus what they are worth upon donation. If I had been more discerning about my buying in the first place, I would have reduced my impact in all of those areas.

It is never too late to start freeing yourself from the cycle of spending, owning, and purging. In this upcoming holiday season, I challenge you to be very discerning of what you choose to buy. If you do make purchases, I recommend shopping at local establishments to help support community businesses. But don't feel compelled to buy just for the sake of it. Just because it is the popular thing to do this time of year doesn't mean it is mandatory, or even beneficial. Please consider giving homemade gifts or the gift of quality time over buying more stuff.

Remember, you could have more money in your bank account. You could have less clutter in your home. You could spend less time cleaning and fixing things, less time wrapping gifts, less time in the crowded store where you tempt the notion to buy even more than you really need. On a macro level, you could reduce the use of precious non-renewable resources. You could reduce your energy consumption and dependency on foreign oil used to power the factories that manufacture your purchases and the trucks that ship them to their destinations. You could reduce waste in landfills caused by throwing away packaging, or eventually even the items themselves when you're done with them.

(Even donating your goods doesn't necessarily mean those former purchases are going to be repurposed. Sometimes donation centers get overwhelmed and they need to sort through what they get, getting rid of some of it. And then where do you suppose it goes? That's right... the trash.)

My next donation pile is rapidly growing. I may have to undo a bit of what I've accumulated over the years, but now is as good of a time as any to reverse the process and continue my quest to minimalism.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Spending Diet: A Regression

Times are tough, people.

What started out as a very encouraging journey on this Spending Diet has become just another ball of financial stress. My pay(though my hours are the same) reduced by $4 an hour due to budget cuts in my current line of work. I was happy to score a second job, a freelance gig doing what I love, but I haven't been paid for my first project yet. This weekend I needed to get a new front door for my house, but due to issues installing a standard door into a formerly custom frame (in a stucco house, where nothing is square), I ended up shelling out over $500 for the new door, framing supplies, and a new kitchen faucet because mine conveniently broke. And now, I am conveniently broke.

I've been doing my best to remain optimistic about my finances. Christmas this year will consist of all homemade gifts like breads and cookies and mix CDs. My house is well stocked with food, so grocery shopping should only need to be minimal for a while. No need to eat at restaurants or buy lattes and snacks, so saving on that should be easy. I keep my thermostat at a brisk 64 degrees and wear lots of layers and microwavable slippers (yes, those exist!). And yet, still, I feel like the darkness is growing. I feel like there is only a finite amount of time to be able to keep paying my bills, let alone set money aside for the future.

I know I'm not alone in this, but it makes my stomach turn just thinking about it. I've already had to dig into my emergency fund, but it worries me even more to see that nest-egg deplete. My parents have been incredibly helpful in the past, but I feel like a deadbeat asking them for help when I'm 28 and should be able to handle this by myself.

I could blame any number of circumstances for my current situation (budget cuts, economy, divorce, home repairs), but the bottom line is that these things happen and blaming them is not going to fix the situation. I need to accept responsibility, to take action, to turn it around. I need to do more, like fight harder to get that appointment with my boss to ask for a raise (though I've been trying for three months just to get a meeting, in vain). I need to stop spending on anything that isn't absolutely necessary. I may even need to put out a want ad for a roommate, if that's what it takes.

So if you are my friend (and if you are, I love you dearly), please understand that I will be declining any invitations to outings unless it involves playing a board game in someone's living room. I won't be buying anything new, so please don't take offense. I'm going back to a Spending Fast for the time being, and my new favorite word is going to be (it has to be) "no."

Monday, November 5, 2012

Oh, Crap

Changing my dietary lifestyle has rendered all sorts of changes to my body. The first was that nasty sugar withdrawal, where I felt hungover all day. Then my skin started to clear up and I had fewer breakouts. My blood test results were astounding. And, also, I've noticed that altering what goes into my body has changed what... um... comes out.

It's not a topic that many people like to or choose to talk about, but our waste can be a great indicator of our health. (Remember this book?) For example, my old eating habits resulted in one movement a day, and I thought I was healthy because it was like clockwork, at the same time every day. Other people I've talked to about this don't even have one movement every day. (That means all that, er... crap... is staying inside of you!)

Then, when talking to a close friend who recently changed to a plant-based diet, she told me she was  had started having several movements a day. Eating better food, but creating more waste? It seemed like an odd paradox, and a little alarming at first.

Though I have not become a vegan or even a vegetarian, I did switch to a more whole foods diet with minimal processed products. And, wow, did I begin to notice a change! The same thing started happening to me. Maybe it was all the fiber in the plant products? Could it be that now that I was eating more "real" food, my body wasn't confused about how to process it? Perhaps my body was resetting itself to work more efficiently? Regardless, I do know that more waste leaving my system means less of it is staying in my body, and that's a good thing.

I once heard or read somewhere that three movements a day is optimally healthy. I don't have any source or data to back that up, but it has become a running joke where I say things like "I'm only 33% healthy today," or "Time to go get 100% healthy for the day!" with my closest loved ones who have supported me on this journey.

Again, I know this is a little bit of a taboo subject, and that this may be TMI for many. However, I do think it's important to pay attention to not only how often we go, but how we feel when we do. Is it a lengthy and painful process, or relatively quick and easy? Is the experience reminiscent of having the flu or does it "hold its own," so to speak? Is it only an occasional event or does it happen regularly at about the same time each day? Is everything bright red and you're in a panic, but then you remember that you ate beets yesterday? (Because, yes, that happens... and it can be pretty freaky!)

Analyzing your movements is just one way of understanding what your body is telling you. Other examples of "reading" your body's cues:
  • headaches that possibly come from being dehydrated
  • heartburn that can come from eating heavily processed or acidic foods and from being inactive
  • fatigue that often derives from eating foods with little or no nutritional value  (no food energy)
  • abdominal pains maybe caused by IBS due to lack of waste excretion from the body
Many people take pills to offset symptoms such as these. While there are some clinical and chronic cases that may require medication, many of these could be easily prevented in most people if they better understood how to acknowledge their bodily cues.

Instead of covering up the sign that something is "off" in your body, why not address the source? Try eating foods with more fiber instead of taking supplements. Try drinking water and resting instead of popping aspirin. Try eating fewer processed foods and replacing them with whole foods to boost your energy instead of consuming energy drinks. Opt for fewer deep fat fried foods and acidic products to see if you digest your food better.  These methods are much cheaper than buying medicine, and they may actually fix most of these common issues.

Monday, October 29, 2012


While spending last weekend in Door County, the beau and I decided to leave the laptops behind, to silence our phones, and to keep the television off. It was only for a weekend, but I found that it made a world of difference for my soul.

I sit at a computer all day for work. When I'm not at my desk for my full-time job, I'm at my home office plunking away on my laptop for my freelance work. I watch an episode of TV on Netflix or Hulu while I eat lunch (I know, I know). I watch TV with the beau to unwind; we are both fans of "Chopped" and the NFL. My workouts usually involve a screen of some sort, either by watching a DVD for my exercise routine or by jumping along to my dance-related video games. I rely heavily on technology for my work and productivity, but it is sometimes more productive to step away from it for a while.

It had been some time since I'd let my soul breathe without screens in proximity.  Granted, I didn't need to go on a mini-vacation in order to unplug... but it sure was nice to look out at Little Sturgeon Bay in the morning, to cozy up to the fireplace in the evening, to read a book or play board games during downtime. It was both relaxing and invigorating to wander various shops in the little towns along the peninsula, to sample wine and apple brandy and fudge and cheese and creamy artichoke dip. It was reassuring to ignore what friends were posting on social network feeds and what I call "useless" news that just exists to fill airtime... ultimately realizing that the world didn't end just because I wasn't hyper-informed.

One of the items on my 30 Before 30 list is to unplug from technology like this for one whole week. An addendum also suggests avoid television for an entire month (and I'd have to count Netflix as television since I predominantly watch that). I'd do this without going on vacation, though I would take the week off from work. Can you imagine how productive I could be if I did that? I could:
  • sort through every box in my basement and post everything expendable on Craigslist or eBay
  • paint my front door and my backyard winterized
  • read a novel or two
  • bake up a storm!
  • paint the canvas that is gathering cobwebs on my easel.
  • make personal stationery out of the scores of scrapbook supplies I have but never used
  • visit parks and attractions in my own city that I haven't had a chance to visit
  • have lunch dates with friends
  • squeeze in some extra workouts
  • set up my tiki bar (yes, I have the elements to make a tiki bar)
  • drop off my clothing and kitchenware donations to Goodwill
  • visit my sister and nephew, or see my grandmother
  • wash all my windows before sealing up the house for winter
  • give myself an at-home spa day with masks, a mani-pedi, and a bubble bath
  • have friends or neighbors over for dinner
Shouldn't I value these things more than watching episodes of a sitcom anyway? It's best if how i use my time accurately reflects what I value. A week of unplugging might help me reset myself to do just that. In fact, as motivation to use my time more wisely, I have temporarily deactivated my Facebook account. We'll see how long I last without it. Who knows... I may never go back!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Redefining Success

Here are two inspiring videos that address the topic of what it means to be successful in life (hint: it's not about making money): 

Alan Watts - What would you do if money was no object?

Alain de Botton - A kinder, gentler philosophy of success

Thursday, October 18, 2012

30 Before 30

Last week I celebrated my 28th birthday.

I love birthdays! I also love goals and lists and trying new things. And I have decided to combine them all into one gigantic deliciously epic proverbial ball of awesomeness:

Here is a meticulously-compiled list of things  in no specific order that I strive to accomplish before I turn thirty years old (henceforth known as the "30 Before 30" List).

  1. Make a short film and submit it to the Milwaukee Film Festival (and other festivals)
  2. Visit a country in Europe (at this point, I'm so anxious to go, I'm not picky!)
  3. Ride in a hot air balloon
  4. Do one pull-up with good form
  5. Take a burlesque class
  6. Go tornado chasing
  7. Eat at Alinea in Chicago
  8. See every film on the AFI Top 100 Movies List (now 123 films with the anniversary edition)
  9. Open a Roth IRA
  10. Drink yak butter tea
  11. Read the entire Harry Potter series and then see all of the films
  12. Help build a house with Habitat for Humanity
  13. Learn the "Thriller" Dance
  14. Learn to drive stick shift
  15. Make cheese
  16. Reach my weight goal of wearing my lucky number as a clothing size (size 6)
  17. Visit an observatory and look at the night sky through a telescope
  18. Take a road trip along Route 66 
  19. Make a website for my film and video works
  20. Finish reading the entire Bible
  21. Unplug completely for one week: no television/phone/internet (also, try no TV for one month)
  22. Master a specific cocktail (maybe one that starts on fire!)
  23. Completely give up using paper towels
  24. Start my own business
  25. Learn to play "No One Knows" by Queens of the Stone Age on my guitar
  26. Do the splits
  27. Receive a handwritten love letter
  28. Buy a Holga camera
  29. Get a henna tattoo
  30. Learn to sew

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Presence of Petroleum

As I've become increasingly conscious of the ingredients in my food, it occurred to me I should also pay attention to ingredients in other products I use. If I care about what I put in to my body, shouldn't I also be concerned about what I put on to my body? This thought progression seemed simple enough, but I can honestly say I didn't give it much thought until this past spring, when I was unable to purchase my usual make-up.

I brought the make-up to the counter but was told by the cashier who scanned it that "the item cannot be sold." There was no explanation why, and there was no way to override the statement. Even though it was right there, on the shelf, I wasn't able to purchase it. Another store associate informed me that sometimes that happens when a product is recalled. Months later, the product was still not available and is now no longer on shelves, and despite my attempts I couldn't find anything online about a recall or any other reason for its disappearance. Of course, my next thought was, what the hell have I been putting on my face?!

That's when I started looking harder at ingredients on my cosmetics. I frequently spotted petroleum on the list... yes, the same petroleum used in oil and gasoline for cars. The same petroleum used in factories to produce plastics. The same petroleum we get from other nations and drill from the soils and oceans. The same petroleum whose fluctuating price is often a topic of complaint on the news and around the proverbial water cooler..

It was in my foundation, my powder, my mascara, my chapstick, my lipstick, my nail polish, my deodorant, my toothpaste, my body lotion, my shaving cream, my antibiotic ointment, my soaps... it was everywhere. Sometimes it was listed as a paraben or a toluene, but each of these products indeed had ingredients that were derived from petrochemicals. I also learned that 95% of all artificial fragrances are derived from petroleum, and that the FDA does not legally require companies to list the ingredients within those artificial fragrances. In fact, the US continues to include several products in their cosmetics that have been banned in Europe, because there is no law here prohibiting it. That means petroleum was also in my laundry detergent, my fabric softener, my air freshener, my candles, my perfume, and almost everything that had an added scent. (Click here to see a list of petrochemicals and their derivatives.)

No wonder our nation is so dependent on foreign oil... it's in so many products we use each day, and many people may not even realize it!

(See this full report for more information: Neurotoxins: At Home and the Workplace, Report by the Committee on Science and Technology, U.S. House of Representatives, Sept. 16, 1986, Report 99-827).

Appalled, I emptied my bathroom cabinets and threw out almost everything. I couldn't fathom continuing to use it, and I couldn't justify giving it to someone else. I decided to cut my losses and start over. The good news is that there are petroleum-free products out there, many of them organic. I have compiled some of my findings into a list below, for those who may want to transition into using less petroleum in their lives. (Also, none of these companies test their products on animals... yay!)

A Starter List of Petroleum-Free Beauty Products and Toiletries:

Alima Pure - This make-up company came highly recommended by some friends. Alima uses simple and pure minerals in their products. I now get my powder, bronzer, blush, and eyeshadow from here.

Aveda - Aveda products are in eco-friendly packaging and created using renewable energy. Their products from from natural, petroleum-free ingredients. Aveda offers everything from skin care and hair care products to naturally-derived aromatics like candles and perfumes. Right now, I use their shampoos and conditioners, and would like to try their mascara because it's made from pure plant extracts.

Burt's Bees - These products contain natural ingredients using renewable sources that are sensitive to the environment. I've been using these products for years, ranging from lip balms to moisturizers to cleaners to make-up remover. Their cleansing cloths have saved my face too many times to count.

Dr. Bronners - USDA Organic fair trade soaps and self-cleaning products. I love their lip balms and bar soaps! I get them at my local co-op or at Trader Joe's.

EOS (Evolution of Smooth) - Their products are 100% natural, and most of them are over 90% organic. Their lip balms, lotions, and shave creams are available in many stores, which makes them extra accessible. I keep the Summer Fruit Lip Balm Sphere on my desk at work.

Juice Beauty - I have yet to purchase any products from Juice Beauty, but I am eager to try their make-up products, moisturizers, and serums. Their products are 98% organic. This is the line endorsed by Alicia Silverstone.

Kiss My Face -  Natural sunscreen, deodorant, and toothpaste are just a few of the offerings at Kiss My Face. You can also find a vast array of moisturizers, lip products, and soaps. I'm looking forward to trying these options!

Mario Badescu - This is a predominantly skin care product line, though they also provide hair products. I have been using Mario Badescu for years and can attest to its claims for shampoos, conditioners, face cleaners, exfoliants, masks, toners, make-up remover, moisturizers, and more. The prices are affordable, the products are effective (many celebrities use MB, and their livelihood depends on looking good), and you get several samples with every order! I swear by the silver powder, kiwi face scrub, and the overly gratuitous but luxuriously amazing rosewater aloe facial spray.

Zoya - Also recommended by a friend, this will now be my one and only stop for nail polish!  They offer every color you can imagine, and will send you a color spoon so you can hold it up to your own hand before committing. Then, they credit the money spent on your color spoons to you actual order (I ordered 28 spoons initially at 50 cents apiece, and then saw that $14 credit applied to my order when I made my decision... so easy!). These polishes are free of toluene and other harsh ingredients like formaldehyde. Zoya also sells base and top coats, as well as a gentle and natural nail polish remover.

In addition to updating my cosmetics and toiletries, I recently made my own laundry detergent from scratch using borax, washing soda, and plain soap. I have been pleased with the results... not to mention it costs less than 20 cents per gallon to make! Here is a list of ten different natural and environmentally-friendly laundry detergent recipes.

I understand this is a lot of information to process. If you want to make a change like I did, don't feel overwhelmed; the important thing is to start somewhere.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Improving Happiness

(You'll never need to watch the news again. This story has it covered.)

Three weeks into my Spending Diet, I've spent $98.73 less this month so far than I did last year at this time. That makes me happy!

Here are some other changes I've incorporated in recent times that have improved my overall happiness:
  • The past stays there. I don't dwell on reliving things that have already happened and I cannot change. That includes old relationships, personal losses, odd hair colors, questionable spending choices... and yes, even the Packers/Seahawks Monday Night Football game.  I've learned from past experiences, and I acknowledge them, but I don't dwell on them. My great grandmother used to say, "Don't hold anything you can't hold in your hands." (This rule also applies to bodily functions, I suppose, but I rather like the notion that life is better when you let go and move on.) I'm more excited about the present, what is happening now... and looking forward to what the future brings. Always.
  • I filter my news. Watching television news is so ridiculously misdirected and sensationalized these days, that I feel it is one step away from just making shit up. And newspaper companies can actually endorse certain political candidates now? No thanks, I can't trust that information because it may be biased. I try to get my information from the most objective sources possible. I find BBC News and NPR to be better options than much of what is out there. I don't wish to read about every shooting death ever in the nation, the latest celebrity gossip, viral video, or exclusively U.S. news. There's a whole world out there with stuff happening, and it affects all of us.
  • I read. I work in a media field. I make videos and watch many movies. I sit at a computer most of the day. It's nice to see those stories unfold with their beautiful HD imagery, but I really like to exercise my imagination and build that imagery myself once in a while. Reading helps me reconnect with that creative flow. It helps bring stillness and quietude, because reading can take place anywhere. Reading doesn't require electricity (if you're still reading those things called "books" in this age of tablets and e-readers). It can be done outside, or on the go, or at work, or in a waiting room, or in a coffee shop, or in a foreign country, or in a bathtub. Reading can be done without disrupting those around you. Reading can also be free, if you have access to a public library. The ability to read is definitely a crucial skill, It's important to keep that muscle working regularly, lest your brain degenerate into only comprehending YouTube videos of animals in outfits. Okay, I agree... those are awesome. But so is reading!
  • Slow is the way to go. In the past year, my temper has deflated tremendously. I find getting up a few minutes earlier means I'm not rushing to get out the door on time. It means I'm less likely to forget anything in my frantic rush. It means I don't have to speed and get mad at red lights or other drivers (as often). All of these are beneficial to reducing stress. I've learned to say no to accepting invitations and obligations when my plate is already full. I've learned to cook my own meals, mostly from scratch, and enjoy the added health benefits and satiation that I didn't get from fast food or instant meals. In a culture that constantly seeks instant gratification, it can be difficult to slow down while the rest of the nation speeds by, going "That web site needs to load NOW! This line needs to get shorter NOW! I need that project done NOW! I need to meet my weight loss goal NOW! I need this movie to get to the point NOW! I need to buy that dress NOW!" And they'll try to pull you back in. Once you've experienced a less harried pace, you won't ever go back.
  • My priorities are in check. Being rich is not a priority, but having enough finances to cover the lost of living is. Having a supermodel's figure is not a priority, but being healthy is. Owning the latest tech device is not a priority, but quality communication with my loved ones is. Pursuing my passion is a priority, while making my job my life is not. Collecting and possessing things I value is more important than having lots of stuff, new stuff, the trendiest stuff, or the most expensive stuff.
  • I accept responsibility. I don't need to prove anything to anyone by what I own, what I do, or how I look. At the end of the day, I'm responsible for my body and what I put into it. I'm responsible for my finances and how I use them. I'm responsible for cleaning, fixing, and storing my stuff, as well as how much stuff I choose to accumulate. I don't go out drinking if I don't want to consume empty calories, pay $10 for cocktails, and feel sluggish in the morning. I don't buy chai lattes at the coffee shop twice a week if I want to save that annual $400+ towards retirement or a vacation or a new furnace. I don't sulk around and blame the job market, the government, the fast food chains, or the cost of inflation. Finger pointing only makes people bitter, it makes them think they don't have responsibility over their own actions, and it isn't productive. Despite setbacks in the economy and in national priorities, I still have the ability to make my own choices in most matters. I do, and I'm happier for that because I can give myself the credit when I see results.
  • I treat myself. When I have a night off, I like to take a bubble bath, make single-serve chocolate cake in a mug, give myself a pedicure, listen to records, watch four episodes of "The X-Files" in a row, call up a friend, drink hot cocoa, take a book to the lakefront, visit the cheap seats cinema, or go for a leisurely walk. These are all treats I can give myself that don't cost much. I give myself permission to enjoy a reward because it breaks up the monotony of fulfilling obligations that come with being a fiscally and emotionally responsible adult. It can renew my determination and motivation, and hit that internal reset button.

Friday, September 14, 2012

What My Blood Lab Results Told Me

I went to my primary care physician last week and said, "I'd like to have my levels tested."

"For what?" She asked.


I realized that, just weeks away from my 28th birthday, that I had no idea what my cholesterol levels were, if I had normal blood sugar, if my kidneys and thyroid were functioning normally, or if I was getting enough vitamin D (most people--- unless they live near the equator--- have a vitamin D deficiency, regardless of how much time they spend in the sun. Did you know that?).

Nothing felt or seemed particularly wrong, but I figured if I was on a quest to really be healthy (and not just skinny or buff or whatever), I should know if there's anything going on in my body that I can't see. I made a lab appointment a few days later, was called back to have my blood drawn, and I was out the door in sixty seconds flat. That's all the time it took, so there really is no excuse for me waiting this long.

I knew this much going in: based on my height, weight, and measurements, I had a BMI of 28.0 (above the normal range of 18.5-24.9) and a body fat percentage of 36.61% (above the normal range of 21-33%). These put me in an overweight" and "at risk" category. Those I knew needed to change.

Since taking my initial measurements one week ago, I have lost two pounds, one inch off my waistline, and I've gone down to a BMI of 27.88 and a body fat percentage of 34.86%. It's only been a week, but I'm on my way! (For the record, one month ago my BMI was 28.7 and my body fat percentage was 36.32%.)

(Here are links to an online Body Mass Index Calculator and a Body Fat Percentage Calculator.)

Today, I received the results from my blood lab in the mail. Quite frankly, I was very surprised:

Blood Pressure
Healthy Range: 100-130 Systolic/65-85 Diastolic
My Level: 124 Systolic/64 Diastolic 

Total Cholesterol
Healthy Range: < 200
My Level: 158 

HDL (Good) Cholesterol
Healthy Range: 40-60 mg/dL
My Level: 42 

LDL (Bad) Cholesterol
Healthy Range: < 100
My Level: 95 

Blood Glucose
Healthy Range: 65-99 mg/dL
My Level: 77 

Healthy Range: 8.6-10.2 mg/dL
My Level: 9.6 

Vitamin D
Healthy Range: 32-100 ng/mL
My Level: 45.6 

Healthy Range: 136-145 mmol/L
My Level: 139 

Healthy Range: 0.50-1.10 mg/dL
My Level: 0.89

Healthy Range: 3.4-5.1 mmol/L
My Level: 4.8 

Healthy Range: 98-107 mmol/L
My Level: 104 

Healthy Range: 22-32 mmol/L
My Level: 23 

Anion Gap
Healthy Range: 7-14My Level: 12 

Blood Urea Nitrogen 
Healthy Range: 6-23 mg/dL 
My Level: 12 

TSH Reflex 
Healthy Range: 0.450-4.500 ulU/mL  
My Level: 1.010 

Electrolytes/Kidney Function: Normal
Hemoglobin/White Blood Cell Count/Platelet Count: Normal
Thyroid Function: Normal
Diabetic Testing: Normal

Wow. I am completely normal. I am within the healthy range in every single area I was tested. That is a wonderful feeling!

I didn't even know what most of these levels represented, so I looked them up. For example, the "anion gap" is a way to measure kidney function, to see if the kidneys are removing enough acid from the body. Many of these other tests (bicarbonate, potassium, sodium, creatinine, chloride) measure various electrolyte levels in the blood, which are a measure of organ function and healthy blood flow.

IMPORTANT: Having been privy to the mass deficiency of vitamin D in the United States (especially in the region where I live), I had been taking vitamin D supplements for about two months prior to this test. I was taking 6000 IU--- six times the daily requirement--- because I knew if I was low I would need to overcompensate until I reached a healthy range. Now I take 2000 IU each day, and while my vitamin D levels were considered normal, they are still on the low end. If you've never had your vitamin D tested, it is vital that you look into it soon. Too little of it can impact so many areas of your health.

My cholesterol levels could also be more balanced, but I know a big part of that is in losing excess weight and being more active, along with eating healthy fats like fish, olive oil, and nuts (and not processed foodstuffs).

It has taken me several years to reach the point where I don't eat fast food, instant meals, heavily processed products, deep-fried foods (most of the time), meat-centric meals, soda, or additives like high fructose corn syrup and aspartame. I had to learn how to look for what was the healthiest option for me, and it took one baby step at a time, starting in 2007 with I began giving up foods containing aspartame.

Now I eat fresh, organic, mostly locally-grown produce with meat as a smaller portion, more of a side dish. I drink water, tea, milk (almond milk, mostly), lemonade, and the occasional glass of wine. I don't keep snacks or treats in the house. I don't think doughnuts sound appealing, so I don't rush to grab one in the office break room on someone's birthday. I think soda tastes too sweet and gross, whereas this time last year I could knock back several cans in a day without thinking. My biggest weakness--- peanut butter cups--- still tempt me, but I can no longer eat a whole bag. Not even close. Four or five mini cups are all I can handle before my tummy objects.

Point being, over several years I have actually changed my body's opinion of what tastes good, of what I crave to eat. Since I'm not feeding it a bunch of fake, processed, fried, modified, unhealthy foods, I can actually feel and understand the signs it gives me. I can only imagine what my blood lab results would have looked like before I started this journey five years ago... what it may have looked like just one year ago.  All I know is that the path I have taken has led me to a very healthy place. The results speak for themselves.

Still to come: how to read "signs" that your body is healthy and happy or angry and lacking. It is possible to be overweight and underfed.

Monday, September 10, 2012

This Week's Spending

My spending this past week has been as follows:
  • I paid a medical bill that was due.
  • I pre-ordered a DVD of the latest project by my favorite independent filmmaker. Pre-ordering did provide a discount, though the purchase itself wasn't ultimately necessary. Oops...
  • I paid off my credit card bill.
  • I bought blank DVDs and cases for a freelance project, and was reimbursed.
  • I bought almond milk for my breakfast shakes, Greek yogurt, and fresh mozzarella cheese.
  • I bought a dress using a $25 gift card plus the extra 15% off. Despite the deal, it was still an unnecessary purchase.  *wince* I need to knuckle down!
Also, I was in my cousin's wedding this weekend, and paid for:
  • a fruit plate for the bridal party to share the morning before the weddin
  • having my hair don
  • my share of the limo bus
  • a monetary gift for the wedding couple
Being in someone's wedding is certainly an investment, but I wanted to support my cousin (especially because I was asked to step in for someone who abruptly left the bridal party one month before the big day).

I also made an appointment to take my cat Loki to the vet tomorrow, and there will likely be expenditures related to that. As you may recall, Loki got sick during my spending fast last spring and had to be rushed to the vet. Lately she's been pulling out her fur and I fear she is having an allergic or anxious reaction to something, so I'm taking her in to be tested. I want her to be healthy and happy!

I know in this first week I've spent more than I needed to, but I know that being conscious of my spending has hindered impulse purchases of more clothing and various to-go beverages.

Besides this, I find myself increasingly aware that I am already surrounded by stuff I don't need. Even now, at my work desk, I feel tempted to just swipe my arm across the surface and knock everything away. Being surrounded by too many things creates an unrest in me, and I seek peace by continually poring over everything and thinning it out. This process is undoing years (decades) of habits embedded in my psyche, where spending money and acquiring things is considered a very normal part of life. It felt natural to me once; now it feels inhibiting and binding.  Still, the desire to buy will surface from time to time, and I have to summon my willpower to go against the grain.

Finding value in people and experiences instead of money and things is my ultimate goal here. I want to live well, be well, and treat my world well. The only tough part is unlearning what I know about being a consumer. Making a conscious decision to change is the hardest step.  Having more money for retirement/investments/travel/housing because I don't spend in excess, having better health because I don't buy fast food/junk food/processed food, and spending less time cleaning/fixing/sorting/storing/selling things that I didn't acquire in the first place... these are all very easy. More on this in a later post. For now, I challenge you to become more mindful and aware of what you spend money on, why you value it enough to hand over your wages for it, and if there is a better, healthier, or even greener alternative.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Day 2: Crash

What does sugar withdrawal feel like? It feels like a giant pile of suck.

Every time I've modified my eating habits in the past to reduce my intake of refined sugar (found in cookies, candy, processed foods, etc.)  Day Two has offered a very yucky outcome. Just like alcohol withdrawal after a night of too much drinking, the body feels hungover. Around lunch time today, my neck began to stiffen and a headache crept up over the top of my skull. Before I knew it, I was lying down on my bed, my scalp tender to the touch and my stomach fraut with nausea. Within twenty minutes it was all over, but despite my snacking on carrots and hummus and grapes I feel rather sluggish even this afternoon.

The good news is that I know Day Three always feels amazing. What follows the "sugar hangover" is a clarity of the body and mind, and a renewed level of energy that makes the yucky part of Day Two worth enduring.

It also puts a spotlight on just how much our bodies adapt to large quantities of sugar. I literally feel sick because I have stopped ingesting something that is bad for me. You know how drug addicts get the shakes and their symptoms of withdrawal are so terrible that they keep using? Something very similar happens when you deprive your body of sugar.  If a food naturally contains sugar (like many types of produce), the amount is low and very difficult to consume in unsafe amounts. That's not the type of sugar I'm referring to. I'm talking the white granular stuff that comes in little cubes and big bags and in liquid form in soda and energy drinks and juice (yes, most juice is full of added sugar... unless you squeeze it yourself). And those "diet" drinks, "healthy fit" yogurt products, "skim" milk, and "low calorie" snack packs? Those are worse!  Those contain synthetic (read: fake and not grown in the natural world) sweeteners that are multiple times sweeter than actual sugar, making your dependency on them even stronger.

I gave up soda on June 4th and don't miss it one bit. I occasionally drink lemonade or freshly squeezed juice. Other than that, it's tea and water for me. Sometimes I make my own chai lattes with unsweetened almond milk (it's only 30-40 calories per serving and doesn't have the hormones and antibiotic residues found in fat free milk). But I stay away from energy drinks and electrolyte drinks and juice products. Just because a brand claims to have something nutritionally beneficial ("some" real juice, added vitamins or minerals, "natural" ingredients) does NOT mean it is good for you. It means they are trying to sell you a product made from ingredients that started out as a whole food and were transformed beyond recognition (or sometimes pronunciation) and then injected with a little of vitamin whatever.

My best advice would be this, if you are looking to improve your dietary lifestyle: if a food item is good for you, then it doesn't need to be advertised as such. You occasionally see a promo for eggs or oranges or potatoes, but not really. You see ads for things that have been created in labs or modified in some way... and not for the better. They have to advertise to make you want it. A good rule of thumb is to try to stick to the perimeter of the grocery store when shopping, as many of the processed foods are found in the middle aisles. That's also where much of the added sugar hangs out. That's a great place to start when healthy eating transformations seem overwhelming.

If you're ever endured a hangover, then you can survive a sugar withdrawal. Think of it as your body cleansing itself of a poison. You've likely heard of drug overdoses and alcohol poisoning (and what is alcohol anyway, but a bunch of sugar?); too much sugar is also toxic to your body and causes a number of health issues like diabetes and heart disease.

You may be wondering: if sugar is so rotten for you, then why is it legally allowed to be added to so much food? Another good rule of thumb: don't assume the FDA is looking out for your best interest. Their primary goal is to make money. So are the food companies who make these addictive products. So are the pharmaceutical companies who make a fortune off of your illness due to your poor diet. It is much more profitable to so many corporations if you are sick and unhealthy and addicted to sugar than it is to have a population eating whole foods and not depending on medications. It sounds like a gross conspiracy... maybe too radical, you think? Don't take my word for it! I encourage you to do some research.

And lastly, be sure to start somewhere. Have a Day One so you can suffer through Day Two and enjoy the benefits of Day Three and beyond.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Spending Diet, Day 1: Talks Of Retirement

Wait, wasn't this Spending Diet supposed to begin on September 1st? Yes, yes it was. Then I remembered I was having my garage roof re-shingled so I had to pay for that, along with food and beverages for the workers (my wonderful relatives will always do labor if rewarded with a sandwich and a beer). Then the beau and I went to breakfast the next day--- where we split the tab--- followed by the Renaissance Faire--- where he paid for most things but I bought an iced chai latte for $4.00.  Obviously, my Spending Diet was not off to a good start. Today, September 4th, is the new start date. Clean slate!

I decided to embark on this journey again because the results of my Spending Fast were so good. I saved over $900 in just once month by spending money on only what was completely necessary. The experience was pretty extreme, but so were the results.  I'm not going to be as strict this time around, but try to maintain it over a longer period of time. If I can hang on until the end of the year, I should see some pretty impressive changes.

This, of course, was not the only factor in my decision to try a Spending Diet.  My health was an obvious concern (and now the medical bills are tapering off with physical therapy ending next month). However, the notion that most affected me was one that many people my age aren't really thinking about right now: retirement.

Based on my income, inflation costs, interest, and the nest-egg I have already started, I would have to set aside about $200 per month (every month) for the next 37 years if I want to retire by age 65. If I wait one year to start saving, that amount increases to $260 per month. This number quickly increases to an unreasonable rate in a very short amount of time. This isn't about saving up for a relaxing trip to Santorini in my golden years; this is money that I will actually have to live off of when I am retired.

(Side note: I don't think 65 is a scary old age where people stop functioning. In fact, I will likely want to keep active and working beyond that age. It is a good benchmark to use for goal setting, however.)

My parents offered me some very good advice when I was younger: work hard when you are young and able, and then save your money... so when you are older and can't work, you won't need to. (Click here to read an article about the worst retirement investing mistake.)

I really don't think enough people my age consider this. Climbing out of the cycle of living paycheck to paycheck while hacking away at student loans and other debts is daunting enough. Thinking that far into the future is overwhelming! While I am privileged to say that I do not have debt other than my mortgage, I know that is not the case for most. What are the chances any of us have to retire at a decent age?

Right now I set aside an amount of my salary to savings every month. It's only about 10% of my income, and that savings is partitioned into different categories: house fund, travel fund, long-term fund.  The house fund is for repairs, renovations, and unexpected events (like the water heater leaking or tree roots overtaking the drainage pipe). The travel fund rewards me once a year with a trip to somewhere, though I often pull from this fund to pay for other things that are more pertinent. Not nearly enough goes into that long-term fund to meet the rate of saving I should be seeking.

The obvious course of action would be to get a second job. So far I've tried part-time employment and freelance to supplement my income. The latter has been more successful and less-time consuming. The even more obvious action is to spend less with what I already have:
  • I don't need to buy those chai lattes (even though they taste good and sometimes I could use the caffeine).
  • I don't need to buy that dress (even if it's cute/on sale/the last one).
  • I don't need to go out to eat at restaurants (even though I can be exhausted and not feel like cooking, or I'm really in the mood for that amazing lasagna down the street).
  • I don't need to have a cocktail (even if it is a nice way to unwind from the week and catch up with friends).
  • I don't need to go to the movies (even if everyone is talking about it... because it will eventually be on Netflix and I can wait).
These little amounts add up: $3 here, $10 there, $50 for that dress (but it's just so CUTE! Okay, okay... I'll put it back). And all of that can go into savings... or even better, a Roth IRA (which I plan to open very soon).

Retirement is a huge subject--- especially during this election season--- and I will definitely be returning to it more throughout this journey. But for now, just get those wheels in your head turning about saving not just to get out of debt, not just to have things you want... but to live on when you can't work anymore.