The Financial Diet: A Total Beginner’s Guide to Getting Good with Money

“Saving money isn’t about depriving yourself.  It’s about deciding you love Future You as much as you love Today You”

This book is brought to you by the ladies at The Financial Diet, a site started by two women who readily admitted they were lacking in their knowledge of managing their personal finances and felt others could benefit from what they learn.  Over time they have gathered more contributors and have recently published a book alongside their normal blog posts and YouTube videos.

I follow them on Twitter and they frequently post/link to articles on their site, some that are worthwhile for me, some that aren’t.  What I was interested in was the fact that these are young millennial women.  Most every other book out there is by an “old white guy” with the occasional woman thrown in.  I decided to get the audiobook since I love listening to podcasts and audiobooks on the work commute, as well as the ebook in case I wanted to have a visual reference.

Read on for more!

Audiobook: my favorite part about the book is it is read by the author!  My least favorite part is she attempts to do voices for other contributors to the book, such as male voices.  I would LOVE to hear a book with a man reading male voices, a woman reading female voices…I haven’t found that yet.  “But Lauren” you may ask, “is it a dealbreaker??”  No!  The book also makes several mentions and referrals to PDF files that you can access for their expert tips and any visuals, so you really don’t have to buy the book.  I had purchased the ebook prior to the audiobook so I haven’t downloaded the files.

The information is not repetitive.  While Dave Ramsey’s TMM is a ‘how to’ book, this is more of a ‘why to’ book.  It tells you some of her (Chelsea Fagan’s) background and issues with money when she was younger.

She goes into topics in the book that does help you in the ‘how do I…’ category.  Examples: how to save money by learning to cook like an Italian grandma.  How to pare down your wardrobe.  How to furnish an apartment, and more specifically, a kitchen.  Dave Ramsey’s book does not delve into those types of topics.

Also…what are retirement accounts?  What about investments?  How do I make a budget?  Should I get a side gig?

ebook: given the fact that the audiobook (or at least the Kindle version ebook) includes links to pdf files in the book, it’s not required to have both.  Well, ok, it’s never required to have either, but I think you catch my drift.

One thing that I strongly put in the “plus” category is that this isn’t just the voices of TFD. They bring in experts, ask them questions, and give you their answers.  And guess what? Not all of their answers are the same.  They each approach a problem in a different way, because like each of us, they have different backgrounds and viewpoints.  Dave’s book is very much his own voice.  This book is a little more well-rounded in that regard.

Some things to note:

  1. I think this book is best suited for twenty-somethings or those just getting started.  As a 35 year old woman with a career and have been living on my own since the previous decade, I wish I’d had a book like this back then.
  2. There is some profanity in the book.  Just as a heads up.  I for one am not put off by it, but I also tend to use it in my everyday vernacular…

 

So do I recommend this book…

Yes, ESPECIALLY if you (or someone you know) is a young female and may not have the best grasp on finances.  If you are older and have been out in the world, while not sounding juvenile, parts of this book may not pertain to you.

If you get this, or any other book in my Finance February series, or have suggestions for other resources, please comment below!

Finance February

For the year, I’ve been wanting to focus on certain topics every month.  I have decided that, as you can guess, the focus for February will be finances.  This is a topic that I personally struggle with and need to get a handle on.

Things I’m looking to do are read books and post about them, any services or resources (like blogs, apps, etc), and any other little things that may come up of relevance.  I had already posted about Dave Ramsey’s The Total Money Makeover so you can read about that already on the site.  Coming up is another post about a book that I recently finished on Audible and will review the ebook version as well.

Be sure to subscribe to the blog so you can keep up on posts about resources that I have been using and may help you out as well!

The Total Money Makeover

When it comes to money/finances/debts/loans…I cringe.  I know I’m not alone.  It’s not a course I was taught in school.  It’s not something I was taught at home.  I have had to figure it out…poorly.  I have gleaned a thing or two: 1. take out the full possible loan amount while in school.  Everyone does it.  (This was ESPECIALLY true during medical school).  2. Also, you’ll eventually need to buy a house.  That comes with a mortgage.  3. That mortgage will likely take you almost half of your life to pay off, IF you manage to do that at all.  4. Oh, and there will be loads of compound interest on top of that (luckily I WAS taught what compound interest is during a college maths course).  5. Don’t have the money to pay your bill/groceries today?  Write a check.  In a day or two you’ll get paid and have the funds in your account to cover the check*.

Now that I’m trying to get my finances in order, I struggled with what to do, how to do it, where to begin, etc.  Several people I follow on YouTube (including The Minimalists) frequently referred to “The Total Money Makeover” (“TTMM”) by Dave Ramsey.  I got it in audiobook and took some notes as I listened.  I also got the ebook version incase I wanted to read along, as well as the TTMM Workbook.  Here are my thoughts on these possible resources and if they’re worth the time and effort…and money**.

  1. The Total Money Makeover: Audiobook version.  This version appears to be based on an older version of TTMM (see below for more information).  Now, that’s not to say the information is dated.  Not at all!  Even 20 years from now, unless the USA’s economy has totally collapsed, I feel that the information in here will be completely relevant and, better yet, useful.  What a novel idea!  He does on at least a couple of occasions make reference to “if you are a singleton/childless then the following will not pertain to you” (I’m paraphrasing here), which I appreciate.  If you’re curious: yes, most of the book does tend to assume that you are part of a couple and will need to take your spouse’s income and debts into account.  There are good tips as well for those that are like me, single and without children.  He also states at the beginning of the “saving for college” chapter that if you don’t have children, or if they are already in college or beyond, go ahead and skip this section, which I appreciate.  One issue I have is that it is very Christian-based.  This is a problem that I personally have that will not affect everyone.  One statement he makes early on is to openly admit to this bias and to say that the Christians may not like the book because it is not God-centered enough, while the secularists may not like it given how heavy it is on the religious tone.  I fall into the latter category.  The redeeming factor is that he does admit to this, without hesitation, which I love.  He is aware of his bias and how it may affect his readers, which I find to be admirable.  What I do not like, and in fact strongly dislike, is his tone/intonation while he reads the book.  Yes, the author himself, is the narrator.  The tone in his voice is very condescending.  He also repeats the title of the book numerous times, as if he is trying to convince you that you needed to buy this book (never mind that you have already spent money on it but I digress).  Half of the time that I spent listening felt as if I were being scolded by a parent or TV evangelical followed by a sales pitch from a Congressman or used-car salesman.  Dave: I get it.  I have money problems.  That is precisely why I procured this item for myself.  I do not need to be made to feel an idiot or child for my past transgressions.  (Of note, he tends to pick one analogy and run with it (you will hear him say “gazelle-intense” or “gazelle” no less than 42 times!  Yes, I searched the ebook.  I’m honestly not sure if that is because he thought that repeating it would pound it into our subconscious, or if he had no better analogy to use.  The jury is still out on that one).
  2. TTMM ebook:  as a typical ebook it is fine.  There is nothing special about it.  No animations, no embedded videos, no embedded audio clips that you could use.  One thing it does do that the audiobook does not is to expand on some topics.  I believe that the version I have is an updated text.  The same information in here is the same as the audiobook, so really I believe it comes down to your preference of “reading” as it were.  Overall, it is a good text.  I think it is a great starting point.  There are several other books that he has written on a similar topic.  Hit up the personal finance section of your local bookstore and bring an umbrella to protect your head from the potential deluge of books that could fall onto your head from him and several other authors.
  3. TTMM Workbook: it’s a decent workbook.  He has several passages referring to people that have used his program and been successful, just as he did in the two previous sources above.  What’s different about this is that it asks you to sit down with a calculator and brutal honesty.  I will readily admit that I have not worked through the entire book.  Yes, it does have a section for saving for college and as I do not have any children, I will not be completing this section.  My biggest problem is that this book tends to presuppose that the reader is part of a couple.  SEVERAL prompts revolve around “…your spouse…”, which I do not have, limiting its usefulness to me.  Another big problem is when it comes to figuring out how much you make in a month, how set you are if something were to happen…I currently work a job where I do not have steady income.  I do not have the ability nor luxury to know how much I will be able to take home each week.  Had I known just how often these was addressed in the book, I would likely not have bought it.  If you are in a similar situation to me, I would seriously consider if you truly need this Workbook in your life, or if you could save the funds and divert it towards something better.

Final thoughts: skip the workbook.  If you’re rolling in dough, fine, go ahead and get it, along with a trusted accountant/fiduciary.  If not…either the audiobook or ebook is fine.  Eventually I was able to sort of mentally gloss-over the bits where he started preaching and repeating phrases and was able to pull out some valuable information that I will be implementing.

 

* That WAS something I was “taught” via my mom when we had money issues.  I admit that i have had to use this a time or two during my life.

**Why didn’t I just get it from my local library you ask?  Well for one, they didn’t have it.  My entire library system had every copy checked out and there was a waitlist.  Secondly, if it was as good as everyone had lead me to believe, I felt like this book would be a reference I would be able to use during different times in my life.  You can of course borrow it from a friend if you have one that has a copy, or from  your library, but be warned that there may be a wait.

The Christmas Conundrum

I am going to apologize in advance.  This was transcribed from something I had dictated while sitting in a parking lot on 12/24/2017 and have only now just typed it out here.  Still, I hope it can bring some value to you and that you can help answer my conundrum near the end.

 

I just had a conversation with my aunt, telling her that I didn’t get anything for my grandmother this year.  I had asked my aunt what Granny needed and she said that she really didn’t need anything, but that I needed to get her SOMETHING.  “She’s going to want to open something from you”.  Then I told her that if there was something that she needed that I would get it for her.  Granny really doesn’t drive anywhere anymore, she really doesn’t even cook much, her kids bring her lunch and dinner.  She just sits in her chair at home all day watching reruns.  Granny really doesn’t have any needs right now other than to spend time with people.  I told my aunt that instead of getting her something that I would spend time with her and take her out for a nice dinner one day.  My aunt’s response?

“But that’s what it’s about (opening presents)”.

This truly surprised me.  It isn’t often in my life that I am stunned, but this was one of those times.  My aunt is very religious…she avoids certain words and phrases, gets offended at certain things, is a twice-weekly (if not more) church-goer … and yet this woman is telling me that this, opening gifts, is what Christmas is about.

As I sit here in the Starbucks parking lot, I realize that something has gone truly awry.  Even for someone like me who isn’t religious, I realize Christmas isn’t about opening presents.

When I think back to growing up as a small child, that is exactly what it was about.  I would get literal mounds of gifts, sometimes taller than I was.  I was an only child and, for 10 years, an only grandchild on one side of the family, so needless to say I got a lot of stuff.  I didn’t treat a lot of it with respect as most young kids don’t.  As I got older I began to feel weird about Christmas and was recently able to realize that this feeling was actually anxiety.  I didn’t want all-eyes-on-me as we opened gifts; we would take turns and everyone would watch each person open gifts in turn.  I didn’t want all the attention, and I would think ‘oh, did I get something from so-and-so’, the connotation being ‘did they forget about me?  Did they not like me as much as XYZ?’  I also didn’t want someone to feel like I didn’t like them nor love them as much as someone else because I didn’t get them the best or most expensive gift, or that I got them fewer than last year.

None of this is sitting well with me.

A couple of days ago I was on Facebook and saw a post from someone I knew in high school and all of the gifts they had wrapped.  You know…here’s the tree and present pile…with the caption being “the Christmas elf has come to wrap all of these gifts”.  She posted later about ‘for those that are married, how many gifts do you give to somebody, extended family, cousins, etc?’.  The photo showed a pile of gifts that was at least half the height of their Christmas tree.  They were on the floor, on a couch, on a chair…a massive pile of boxes and bags all wrapped in paper and ribbon.  It was enough to fall and crush someone.  I have never seen a stack of gifts so high.  Her post also mentioned something about money, so all of this is, in my opinion, wrong.

Now that I’m older, view things from a more minimalistic perspective, it just doesn’t sit well with me.  This is NOT what the holidays were for.  It was never supposed to be about  this; showing how much you love someone by how much money you spend on them, and how much debt you go into to do it.

My aunt implored me to buy something small, even a lotion.  “But does she need a lotion?”  She says “well I don’t know, I haven’t looked to see if she needs lotion but I know she uses mine when she’s with me”.  (As a note, when I went to her house on Christmas Eve and was in the bathroom, I saw several soaps on the bathroom sink and numerous towels on the shower, so I suspect she didn’t need a lotion after all).  “Well, if she doesn’t need it, I don’t want to do that.  I don’t want to buy her something that is going to be meaningless” to which my aunt responded “ok, if that’s what you want to do then it’s fine”.

My question to you is, when you see things in a different way…when you adopt a different lifestyle…how do you communicate to your family that you will no longer be showing your love for them with stuff, but with spending time with them instead, when your family has vastly different views than you?

For those of you reading this, I hope you have a wonderful holiday.  I hope you do not drown in trash from paper, boxes, and bags.

I will see you all in the new year.

Minimal Holidays

It’s that time of year again.  It has somehow creeped/slammed into my life before I quite realized it.  In years past I would be ready.  Gifts bought and wrapped.  Some gifts I might even accumulate during the year and save for the Christmas season.  These past two years have been a little different.  Christmas is still one week away, but hear me out on this one.

I will readily admit that last year I did have at least one gift bought months in advance.  That was a fluke, and I have started to shift my way of thinking about the holiday without meaning to.

Instead of items, I am focusing more on value and experiences.  My 14 year old cousin will still get her gift card since that’s all she really wants.  My other gifts have shifted.  I have somehow become the person in the family to supply the fun at the holidays, and this Thanksgiving game was “Exploding Kittens”.  I assure you that no kittens were harmed in the playing of this game.  Previous holidays centered around “Cards Against Humanity”, (always a crowd-pleaser).  After this year’s game, my cousin said “I’ve been thinking about getting this game for myself”, so I got it for her.  It was less about the physical game (which is a small box with playing cards inside) than about the fun times she can have from playing  it with family and friends.

My father actually got his gift in November 2016, but this present was costly enough to cover Christmas/Birthday/New Year/Easter/Groundhog Day/you name it.  He is a fan of NFL and the Carolina Panthers, yet has never been to a football game, and could not afford to go himself.  I got tickets on the home team side, 50 yard-line, 6 rows back.  That was an experience neither of us will forget (never mind that I am a Green Bay fan – Go Pack Go!).

This year?  He decided to up-and-go-all-“I wanna do something artsy” which has never been his M.O.  Instead of sports, I took him to see a local legend of a play.  A musical, called A Christmas Carol, with the lead role being played by the same man for 43 years running.  It changes every year.  It is funny and incorporates current local and national events into every production.  We had great seats, and I don’t remember hearing him laugh that much in a long time.  I also treated him to dinner from a Thai restaurant, a type of food he has never eaten.

I got more out of taking him to a play than I ever did from buying him a CD or movie, and this is something he’ll be able to remember and talk about for years to come.

The holidays have, in general, now shifted over to the family cooking and eating together.  Experience each other’s company and coming together…THAT is what the holidays are really about.

Resources for Minimalism

This post is going to be the first in an ongoing series shortened to “Resources”.  These are books, movies, YouTube videos, websites, and more that I find may have some relevance to minimalism.

I am learning and, sometimes suffering, in order to bring this information to you!  I have my first Resource ready to post so make sure to follow the blog so you can know my opinion on where you may want to spend your money, or save it.

Step 5: Declutter the mind too!

It’s been awhile!  Sorry.  I have let work and self-indulgence get in the way.

One thing that has helped with me getting more centered (though, let’s be honest here…there’s more work to do) has been meditating.

GASP!  Meditation you say!  What does that have to do with minimalism?

On the most basic level, if you control your thoughts then you control  your life.  Trouble is, you can’t really control your thoughts.  In my experience that’s impossible.  The mind is a creature in and of itself.  A wild beast.  You can’t control it.  You can’t make it do what you want it to do all of the time.  You can, however, learn how to tame it.  You can also learn when to listen and when to let it go (just like objects – see!  There is a parallel).

Minimalism, being a means of living a simpler life, is not easy.  Nor is meditation.  It is simple…sit/stand/lay still, close your eyes (or not), and focus on the moment.  That’s it.  It is not about quieting the mind and thinking absolutely nothing because that is impossible.  The more you do this the easier it is to see these thoughts, acknowledge that they happen, and let them go, all without affecting your mood or perception of the world and yourself in it.

Meditation can help you realize that you have thoughts, constantly, but that is all they are.  Thoughts.  They are not truths.  They are not reflective of who you are.  They are not predictive of how you act.  The thoughts are not YOU.

Right now I’m not battling to figure out the whole answer to “well then, who am I?  What makes me, me?”.  I’m just working to keep things in perspective.

There are different types of meditation (LovingKindness, Mindfulness, Breath Work, Trancendental/TM, etc).  You can choose any number of them to pull from in your arsenal.  I have used mostly mindfulness meditation and have dipped my toes into LovingKindness (also known as Metta) meditation and admit I need to do this type more. If you are religious (especially Christian as that is the religion I have the most experience with), LovingKindness meditation will challenge you to love yourself as much as your neighbor and your enemy, core teachings in the New Testament.  If, like me, you watched/read Eat Pray Love, you’ll recognize it as “sending light and love” to others in the world.  It makes you exercise and strengthen your compassion abilities, also core teachings of Buddhism and the Dali Lama.  When I was having a really hard time dealing with my mother’s death, this particular type was recommended to me by a meditation mentor.

By learning to show love and kindness to yourself, you will be more able to let go of items that hold you back.

Mindfulness can do the same but from another approach.  It brings you sort of into your body, so you can notice things you haven’t before.  It aims at exercising your ability to focus.  You may only be able to sit and have 1 second go by before having a thought.  At that point you silently acknowledge that it happened and let it go before focusing on your breathing.  Each time a thought happens, you go back to focusing on breathing.  This may happen a dozen times or a seemingly infinite number of times, but each time you direct your attention back to where it needs to be: to the present moment.  It can be easy on some days and damn-near impossible on others.  It can feel like a fight, but it is one worth pursuing.

My mindfulness practice was daily and then I let it go, along with other things.  Occasionally I do try to work it into my day.  When I am driving on a long trip I will sit and do a type of meditation where I know that I am driving, that I am seeing, sitting, watching trees, sunbeams break through clouds.  I will try to do this instead of zoning out and it does make the task less monotonous.

Now, even though I have not had a strong meditation practice in several weeks (though I have signed up for an 8 week intensive course and will be diving back into it), I have noticed changes.  I can hear a negative thought: you can’t do that, you’re fat and worthless, etc, but not ruminate.  I see it for what it is now.  A moment of fleeting nothingness without any meaning, holding no sway over me, and let it go.

It can truly be life changing so if it seems remotely interesting, give it a try.  Here are some resources to help, all of which I have used and vouch for.

10% Happier app (free meditations of different types)

10% Happier book (not-so-free but worth the read or listen) and podcast (free), by Dan Harris

Headspace (free mindfulness meditation app)

Cory Muscara: he has a website and I believe a studio in NYC.  It is his 8 week intensive that I have signed up for and am starting now.

Traveling Lite

I like to travel, though I loathe airports and flying.  That being said, I have found some things to make traveling less painful.

  1. I never check a bag.  This makes packing…interesting.  I always have a rolling bag to fit overhead.  Now, occasionally the bag will be checked at the gate depending on the size of the plane and bins overhead, but that’s never been a problem.  By never checking a bag, I never have to worry about losing something, which has happened to friends of mine in the past.  Even for my trip today to Florida for 6 days (which includes two wedding ceremonies so two different outfits), I still only have my large hand-bag and my rolling luggage.
  2. TSA Pre-Check.  If you fly, this is CRAZY helpful.  It costs $85 and will practically let you “bypass” security, at least as we have come to know and love.  Yeah you still have to stand in a line but it’s currently Memorial Day weekend and I’m in Charlotte, NC and was in line for 5-10 min.  Judging by the number of people waiting I think the regular security line would have been about an hour.  It means that you do not have to take off shoes, take out liquids, take out electronics/laptops, and more.  I only had to walk through a metal detector (no crazy x-ray machine) and my phone and everything was able to be kept in my own bags and not placed into individual plastic bins.  This goes for you families out there too!  Helps out when traveling with kids.  It’s how flying used to be prior to 9-11.  The good ole’ days…  Here is the link for those interested in learning more.  https://www.tsa.gov/precheck
  3. Wear your thickest/heaviest items on the plane.  This will save space in your bags and will provide layers if you need them on the plane!
  4. Either clothing cubes or vacuum bags are really helpful.  Not only do they help to compress items so you can take more, but they also double up as dirty clothes bags too.  And when I unpack into drawers, I can reach straight for a bag and know what’s in it.
  5. Multi-use items are crucial.  This means pre-planing your outfits as much as possible.  If you use a capsule wardrobe now then you are all set.  Things like a long black sleeveless dress that you can dress up with accessories and nice shoes, or down with a shirt on top and maybe tie a knot on one side.  Also doubles as a nice outfit to wear over swimwear to the pool, etc.  My black dress goes everywhere and will be greatly used.  When it comes to shoes, the same thing applies.  I have a pair of black flats by Tory Burch that are made for travel.  They fold onto themselves and include a small bag for storing.  Tieks is another brand that has something similar.  These shoes will work with both dresses for the wedding this weekend, are comfortable, casual yet chic, and go with everything (except maybe work-out gear). If it weren’t for the two ceremonies I wouldn’t even have brought as many clothes as I did.  One easy way to spice up outfits is with accessories: jewelry, shawl/scarves you can tie and wear in different ways.
  6. Make use of what the hotels have!  While I am partial to my own shampoo and conditioner, I never bring stuff to wash up with.  I always use what the hotel has.  and 9/10 I use their hairdryers and other toiletries.  Forget your toothpaste?  No problem.  Just call the front desk and you’re set.
  7. If you DO have to bring some liquids, make sure to get travel friendly sizes.  And when it comes to my makeup, I will either have small containers or go to my fave makeup counter and get samples of my foundation/lotions to take with me.  Other stuff you may need, like sunscreen, you can buy small sizes at your destination, which is exactly what I’m going to do.
    1. Take as many solid items as you can.  One company, Milk Makeup, makes many items you might use as a liquid at home in a solid formula.  Cleanser?  Check.  Facial toner?  Check.  Handy, small, travel friendly.  What more could you ask for?  And if you do have to go through regular security, this helps out a lot.

Step 3: Pull out hair due to stress. Step 4: Declutter that too.

I am anxious.  I am a mess.  I am an anxious mess.  How do I know that?  Never mind the sinking feeling in my stomach that shows up spontaneously, or the procrastinating as a form of coping.  How else do I know?

Look around my home.

I currently live in a 1 bedroom studio loft (there is another room with a door (that does not go to the ceiling which is 15′ high and is lacking a closet).  It is beautiful.  135 year old hardwood floors.  Brick walls 20″ thick, exposed to the interior.  Windows so tall that I have to have two levels of blinds and I can’t reach the pulls for the top ones.  Exposed pipes original to the building, a converted textile mill.

Oh, wait.  You can’t see that??  Well, that’s probably because of all of the junk on my dining room table.  There’s also the boxes on the floor.  Surfaces covered with clutter that could easily be put away but, wait, no, I don’t want to deal with that, I want to binge Hulu instead.  If I focus on The Handmaid’s Tale then all I will see is the beauty on screen and not the horror behind me.

I keep putting off dealing with these things because Hulu is easier.  Take-out is easier.  Confronting the clutter is actually confronting myself, and THAT is never easy.

My apartment was beautiful at one point, and then my life started going to pot one bit at a time.  I also do not hold myself accountable.  The thought of “I won’t watch La La Land until I get this dining room table cleared off” just won’t work.  This literally happened today and as soon as I got to my front door with the disc in hand, I thought “you know?  You should just watch it now.  It’s easier”.

Luckily I’ve been meditating and I was able to notice that thought.  It is probably a thought I have had numerous times in my life but never noticed.  It caught me off guard.

My anxiety level has been a roller-coaster, and I find that writing it down in here helps.  Putting words to wordless feelings and emotions, just like when I note things as I meditate, is helping me to recenter myself; to focus.

So now that the anxiety has temporarily abated, the work begins.

Again.

Step 1: Accumulate. Until reality sets in. Step 2: Begin to declutter.

As a child I loved everything I had and couldn’t have enough.  I was the only child in my nuclear family, and I was the only grandchild until I was 10.  I remember getting MOUNTAINS of presents at Christmas, and even more 1 month later for my birthday.  Over the years it actually grew because my parents each split and re-married (though to split again…) so I had multiple families.  Once I get some images scanned, I’ll show you just how much stuff I would get.

I also understand why I got so much.  Sure, I was the only child.  Sure, when you’re little the presents are less costly so you can have a larger number of them.  But really I think it’s that my family tried to show their love for me with items.

Case in point: we went to either Roses or Wal-Mart when I was maybe 5 and Papa (mybmaternal grandfather) said I could have one thing.  Well, I picked up a coloring book.  Reasonable choice.  But, I also had crayons in my hand too, because, what good is a coloring book without crayons?  Then it turned into a Barbie doll as well.  I don’t remember how many items I had but it most certainly was not one.  I remember roaming the aisles with him, knowing I had pulled over some sort of scheme.  I was already conditioned.

I have countless stories like that.  Another one that is particularly telling explains my relationship with money.  Again I was at a big store with my mom or Papa and there was something I wanted.  Somehow not having money came up and I said something like “well just write a check!”.

I also remember as an older child having my own room at home, with a toy box in the closet.  Over the years the contents of that box would change, but it would always spill out into the room.  Every drawer I had would also be over-flowing.  I have a distinct memory of having so much stuff that I literally could not see the floor.  It was an everyday occurrence to me, invisible even, but one day I would just notice it.  And whenever that would happen I would clean.  It was almost like a binge-purge cycle.  It would take hours, days even.  I would take all of my clothes out of the closet and drawers.  I would put everything back either hung or folded neatly.  Some I would even get rid of.  Then I’d move onto the next thing…maybe it was my nightstand drawer(s).  Then my cd collection: I would either organize them by artist, or genre and then artist…(I sorta liked organizing.  Maybe I just really liked organized chaos).  I remember going through items in that toy box and later it would turn into a collection of papers from school, not just currently but also from when I was younger.  Yearbooks.  Notes from friends folded into origami-like shapes.  Everything I wanted to keep would be put up neatly into stacks, only later to topple over themselves with the weight of other items being thrown in too.  Then I would re-arrange the furniture.  I don’t really know why…maybe I was always in search of the perfect arrangement.  Maybe I just wanted a change.  But this became routine.

One day when I was a teenager I was able to get control of the hoard but I was still a purveyor of clutter.  And lets get something straight.  I was not a “pack rat”.  I was a hoarder.  I cannot tell you why though admittedly it was at least partially due to laziness and not wanting to clean.  I was too young at the time to self-reflect so I won’t even attempt to do so now.

I will say that my school notebooks, however, were always meticulous.

When I moved to England after high school these tendencies followed me.  And again when I moved back to NC, then when I lived on my own, through college.  In medical school things got a little easier, mostly because I was always studying.  But I would get lazy because of all of the stress and things would quickly pile up.  I still have that problem today.

Along the way I did declutter.  I would toss out elementary papers.  Multiple copies of photos.  Movies I thought I’d no longer want (though now I REALLY wish I had kept my VHS tapes of the original Star Wars trilogy before “he” attempted to…ahem…improve on them with digital technology.  Possibly my only real regret).  Clothes would go.

In residency I really started to get into the tiny house movement and dreamed of it.  I even looked up companies that I might be able to use to build a house.  I downsized my DVD and CD collection extensively.  My closet morphed into a capsule wardrobe.  When I moved to my current apartment my dad literally said “so where are all of your clothes?” and was dumbfounded when I told him that this was it.  I still thought it was a lot.  He saw practically nothing.  I would also take little challenges or breaks from social media, and delete Facebook and Pinterest, huge black holes of time, until I no longer felt the twitch to check them and waste hours.  Needless to say I became more productive.

I also found Marie Kondo and the KonMari method of decluttering which is what really helped.  I never made it all the way through my home but I was able to significantly downsize what I did own.  Along the way, of course, accumulating more items at holidays and on my own.  Makeup was a particular problem for me as I loved it, the creativity it allowed me, and the fun I got from making blog posts and YouTube videos.  Oh, and did I mention picking up stuff that my mom had saved of mine for years and taking it home since she didn’t really want to hold onto it?  Baby blankets my grandmother had made.  Crochet items my great-grandmother had made.  Cards.  Photos.

After moving to a new place with no-one around that I knew, and having a greatly increased income, I began to re-accumulate.

The unthinkable happened during medical school.  First Papa died, followed swiftly by Grandma.  Then my mom got sick. Months later she too died.  We had to stay in Durham to pack up some of the stuff at the temporary apartment and take it back to the house, but once there, her husband made me go through her closet.  I was devastated.  It felt like he was trying to get rid of her.  I could barely process what had just happened, but for him the decluttering couldn’t happen fast enough.  Literally, the day after we got back to their home, I had her closet and bathroom cleared out thanks to friends of hers and family members.  It was heartbreaking.  My thought was, maybe it was just too hard for him to be around all of her things as well as the house that they had built together.  The rational part of me thought that, and that she was not her things, but the emotional part was…broken.  I don’t like to dwell on this because it still feels so acute, not even two years later.

Now I had been trying for years, and over several attempts, to help mom declutter her closet and we were never able.  Every time we moved, we would do this.  Even on summer trips home she’d want to tackle the closet in the guest room that held her dresses since the one in her room was already overflowing with shoes, purses, and other clothes.  I would beg and encourage her to get rid of this dress that doesn’t really look good on her, has been out of style for years, and that she hadn’t worn.  Her reaction was “but now I have this new job, not a lot of money, and may need a dress”.  She gave a lot of ‘what if’ excuses, but it wasn’t “a” dress.  It was 10 or more.  Now I look back and smile but still feel a twinge of torture because she would literally have to try on every. single. item.

After she died I ended up slowly accumulating more things that were found later and boxed up for me.  Her antique china tea set.  Photos.  Stuff from her work and home office.   I also accumulated some old VHS family tapes.  3-4 plastic bins worth of Christmas decorations (which was our special thing, decorating during the holidays, watching The Grinch and reciting every line).  I had a bin of her old photos.  A set of china.  Another set of crystal antique glassware.    If you’d ever like to discuss or read about how I dealt with, and am still dealing with these items, I will write about it.

After my employer was bought out by a rival hospital system and I was laid off, I had a lot of free time on my hands.  My anxiety level had slowly but steadily been ratcheting up, along with the small items in my apartment.  I had also taken on a side business selling clothing and wold have those items strewn around the place as well.  It just seemed like a depressing place to come home to.  Then, one day, I looked around.  Instead of seeing the stuff, I saw myself.  My own emotions and problems had literally spilled onto my dining room and coffee tables.  I knew that buying more boxes to store things in was not the solution.  Ikea was no longer a viable option.

The solution came in the form of iTunes and YouTube; a documentary called Minimalism and a channel by Rachel Aust.  That lead me to a website, http://www.theminimalists.com, then The Minimalists podcast, and then books and even more YT channels. I devoured the audio books.  I also began to meditate again, and binged in a single sitting on a book by Dan Harris.  I began to declutter my home.  Knowing that I am going to have to move is also GREAT motivation by the way.  Want to clear out stuff?  Move.

I am still struggling.  It never fails that things get worse before they get better.  I have small items all over my dining room table and coffee table still.  This is why I am sitting in a Starbucks instead of at my desk or dining room table; seeing all of the visual clutter stops me from being productive.  But, I have donated two bedside tables and a kitchen rack to a friend who is getting her first home.  I have consigned some clothes and accessories.  I have simplified my iPhone and the apps I use and donated books to the local library. I am still attempting to make changes daily to make my home cleaner, tidier, and simpler.

I am not perfect.  I still have loads of items, and I am seriously considering a packing party (future blog post to come on just what that is).  I am also considering getting rid of the internet at home, at least for a time.  I know that if I sit down on my couch and just turn on the Apple TV to watch one episode of The Daily Show, that will then turn into “what’s that new show on Netflix? 13 Reasons Why?  Oh, and that other one, The Handmaid’s Tale, oh and I have all of these other shows I need to catch up on too like Scandal”.  As I type this I am made even more aware of just how much television is taking over my life and holding me back from being able to move forward.

Boom.

Reality set in.