Sunday, February 28, 2010

Spontaneous Attention to the Well Being of Others

My final weekend of "connecting" month went well. After the drama and emotion of Thursday, we headed out to western mass on Friday--our favorite weekend getaway destination. We were supposed to meet friends from NY, but they got snowed in under 3 feet of snow (!) so we wound up with more free time than anticipated, which worked out just fine actually. (Even though we were looking forward to seeing them.) We got to see Becca and Bil and their newly-turned-one son, Raviv, who is super cute. And we got to have TWO long, lingering, engaging meals with Kate, which was also a treat since we haven't seen her in SUCH a long time. And she doesn't really do facebook, so I kind of suck at keeping in touch with her when we both get busy at work. We also got time to connect with each other, and ourselves. We had a jacuzzi room, and we brought soap confetti and bubble bath and LOTS of snacks and wine. On Saturday, we hardly left the hotel room. We watched movies and read books and relaxed in the jacuzzi and ordered fun flavored wings to get delivered to the room.

And I was finishing up this month's Oprah magazine, which had a section on "spring cleaning" your life (just a month late) and an interview with Thich Nhat Hanh. Reading it reminded me how important it is to find your center--and stay centered--and to stay in the present and find compassion--for yourself and others. How can you ignore life advice from someone who has spent a lifetime practicing peace, compassion and happiness?

After all the conversations I've had with people I care about since Thursday, I've gained a little more perspective on the negative dorm feedback. I've recognized that many students didn't fill out the survey--and our boss is going to encourage more to complete it, which will (hopefully) give a more well-rounded view of things. And I've remembered that adolescents aren't really known for thoughtfully processing before acting, and they often take for granted those that care for them. It's a luxury of being cared for. They're kids. They're meant to be taken care of. They should be able to take it for granted. And the truth is, most of them show their appreciation pretty regularly. They open their lives to us, asking for help when they need it, and filling the dorm with laughter and generally stay out of really serious trouble. They're good kids. And the REALLY negative, vindictive comments...well, they come from somewhere. Those are kids who aren't feeling good and happy for one reason or another. And I've seen and heard a few things that could make me understand why they might lash out. And they are young. They might need a little compassion too.

We still have our review on Wednesday...and we hope to address the feedback at next week's dorm meeting--the last one before spring break. I think all four dorm parents will share some of the more constructive feedback and how we plan to address it, and thank them for it. And then, I think we'll note that there was some less constructive feedback that we were surprised to receive and that we don't really know what to do with. We can read out some of the worst of it and invite any and all to help us figure out how to address it. And if no one tells us how...then we can just all move on. I have a feeling the rest of the dorm will be pretty surprised to hear some of that negative feedback. This isn't really the kind of community where that kind of hateful language is tolerated. So that's our plan. We'll make use of what we can, and leave the rest. I'm feeling a lot better about it, but I am still having a hard time calculating the cost-benefit analysis of dorm parenting on a broader, more long-term level.

Meanwhile, it's time to reflect on February, the month of connection and intimacy. I'm not sure it was as resounding a success as de-cluttering month, but I did learn some things:
  • Connecting with friends and family DOES feed my energy, but I can not engage in the pursuit of connection if I don't HAVE any energy. Thus, I need to focus on my own health and emotional well-being in order to make the most of the relationships that feed my heart.
  • Even when I feel most like distancing myself from the world-at-large, it is worth reaching out to others. The resounding support and love and help that comes from it really allows for some perspective.

  • One of the things that really allows for connection is compassion, and compassionate listening. (This is straight from Thich Nhat Hanh.) As he describes it, compassionate listening helps relieve another's suffering. You listen with only one purpose: to help another empty his or her heart. (He also notes that if you find yourself wanting to correct his perception, or give her advice, you wait for another time. You don't interrupt or argue, because then he loses his chance to suffer less.) I came to appreciate this month the friends I have who listen well. And I have made it a goal of mine to be a more compassionate listener.
  • Authentic relationships lift you up. Always.
  • I have a LOT of really good people in my life. One of the articles in my magazine this month was about spring cleaning your friends...getting rid of the ones that tear you down and celebrating the ones that life you up. "The deepest friendships have nothing to do with proximity; they aren't based on how long we've known each other but on how well we love each other." (Oprah, March 2010) You can identify these friends because you never wonder where you stand with them, you can tell them anything and know they won't use it against you or belittle you or gossip about it. And it made me think of friends I know who have the "toxic" friends in their life. And how truly blessed I am--I couldn't think of a single friend of mine that fell into the toxic category.
  • Though I didn't have the in-person connection I wanted with all of these good people this month, I did raise my awareness about when I was connecting and when I wasn't. I learned to close my laptop when Gina is sitting in my living room, and to stop unpacking when talking on the phone. I was MINDFUL about connecting. About the joy it brought into my life, and the balance my life requires in order to have time for connecting.
So far, we've been pretty darn good at maintaining the level of organization January brought to our apartment. I'm hoping I'll be able to maintain this awareness of connection, as well.

So that wraps up February, and I can't say I'm super sad to see it go. I'm still debating about next month's focus, but I'm leaning towards learning Danish, because then I'll have lots of time to practice and improve before heading to Denmark in July. Two other contenders are "meditation and exercise" and "creating."

Thursday, February 25, 2010

More lessons...

You know it's so funny. After that long talk about needing external validation yesterday, I received today feedback from a survey students in the dorm filled out about our dorm parenting. It was pretty disheartening. In previous years it was so positive...So I was surprised to find so much negativity this year, especially since I was feeling like we've finally hit a good, consistent stride and done so many fun activities for the students in our dorm. It was beyond negative actually. It was mean and vindictive and partly sounded like they were trying to get us fired. I was taken aback. I know that they are teenagers, and this is normal...but it really made me wonder why I invest so much energy into this lifestyle, at such a great cost. And whether it's worth continuing. I thought I was making a positive impact and I LOVE this part of my job. It is important to me, and my sense of self. So this really threw me. Part of me feels like "what's the point" and the other part of me feels like "I know I'm doing a good job and that these comments are the result of holding teenagers accountable in a culture that typically doesn't and it's normal for adolescents to lash out and why am I seeking validation from TEENAGERS!?"

I'm a big fan of feedback. I am. Honestly. I love knowing how to improve. But this was not constructive and I don't know what to do with it. Guess I'll wait to hear from our boss during our review on Wednesday... I have until then to find some distance, perspective, and even-keeled, balanced, zen, self-confidence.

At least we go to western mass will be good to see good friends, indulge in the jacuzzi, etc. etc. Should come back with a better perspective on this lesson. I hope.

On the BRIGHT side (and there is one)...instead of stewing by myself, I found myself reaching out to some fellow dorm parent friends who were SUPER supportive and comforting. The highlight of my day today was when Alicia offered to take over our duty for tonight so we could take care of ourselves. Considering how we all CHERISH our time off, that is HUGE. So huge that it made me cry even while I told her I couldn't take her up on it. But she was insistent and for once, I took the rope being thrown to me. And I was grateful for her kindness and grace. Not only for that...but for her KNOWING something she could do that would actually help, when even I didn't know. I also got the chance to talk to Michael about how he felt about the feedback, and it is somewhat rare that we have that kind of sitting-in-the-dark-talking-about-feelings-and-being-all-raw-and-vulnerable kind of conversation. So even in the moment when I felt most like distancing myself from the world-at-large, I found myself feeling connected and supported.

And that was another good lesson.

Is it too late to get a role model?

Well, the reflexology/pedicure was a tad usual, my pedi was ruined before I even got home. Sigh. But Gina and I went to a steakhouse in Brighton we've talked about for a while (yet another Boston excursion for the month, even if she says it doesn't count). We had a really good talk about more psychology and family and identity stuff. It got me really thinking about a lot of things.

One thing that's been with me for a few days is something I read in a magazine a while ago...about how the things we dislike in others are the things we dislike most about ourselves. I think it's really true, and it helps make me aware of the things I'd like to change about myself. But it's easy enough to be aware and pretty hard to make it happen. It also made me think of a few people in my life who I've really admired...many of them share similar characteristics...they are nearly always upbeat and positive and seem to take everything in stride. They are confident, easy-going, and unfazed. By anything. They are the people I'd most like to model myself after, and they have no idea. Would that be a weird card to send? lol. Seriously, though...I am so far from that. I have such a need for outside validation which is just weird to me because I've never had a problem with self-esteem or confidence or anything like that. But my accomplishments often mean little to me until they are recognized by others. And, related to that, I often complain--or just mention nonchalantly--the many things I'm juggling so that others will feel sorry or admire me or lavish praise upon me. Even when I can handle it, I just keep mentioning my plight/hardships/whatever. What a negative nancy. Who wants to hear that crap? It's not impressive. What would be impressive would be doing what I do with a sense of INTERNAL motivation and having that be enough for me. And being positive and uncomplaining all the while.

Anyone have any ideas for working on THAT?! lol.

Well...those are, I think, my worst flaws. Maybe writing them down and going public is the first step. I actually do think this year of resoutions will help. I guess we'll see, won't we?

In any case, it was a good night with my friend Gina. We may have even snuck in a bit of celebratory creme brulee. Though the celebration may also have been a poor excuse to indulge in creme brulee.

I came home and read files, what else? The good news is that I'm actually on top of my own and am helping out colleagues and the greater good of our office now. Which feels good. But so does sleep.

Off I go...

anyone wanna share their flaws??

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

All work and no play...

Nothing to see here, folks. Worked STRAIGHT from 8 am to 10:30 pm, at which point we went grocery shopping. No gym. No connecting. No fun. No down-time.

On the bright side, most of the work was fairly engaging.

But still. Is February over yet?

Tomorrow will be better--headed to the spa with Gina (and another Groupon)...and hopefully out to dinner after to celebrate Gina's birthday. Then--this weekend we're headed to Western Mass, where we'll get to see friends from NY as well as our Amherst friends. Yay!

Monday, February 22, 2010

It was a good day.

Today was a good day...another good college counseling meeting at work. A delightfully torturous Power Yoga class with Melissa, who I've been missing and who makes a very positive exercise buddy. An indulgent and long-awaited crispy fried chicken wrap and oreo brownie sundae shared with my husband at Friendly's. (Don't judge. It was a reward for good behavior.) =) A bit of glee for a friend finding joy. A healthy dose of files read--but only AFTER spending an hour in a hot bath with way too many bubbles and the latest issue of Oprah's magazine. Which, I might add, is filled to the brim with all of the decluttering advice I needed last month! If I didn't know how many months ahead they plan issues, I might think my friend (who writes for Oprah) gave them some ideas! Actually, I wish she had. It'd be nice to have been consulted. I have some great tips! Oh well. The magazine is now CHOCK FULL of folded up corners...there's lots of good stuff in there. When I finish it, I'll share some of the best bits with you. For now, it's nearly midnight and time for bed.

But before I go...the highlight of my day today was a tossup between learning our new nephew's name (Cooper Orion) and finishing the power yoga class (which left me exhilarated and kind of proud of myself) and sitting across from Michael, with a bowl of warm, oreo brownie/caramel ice cream/hot fudge/whipped cream/caramel in between us. It was a good day.

I hope you found some good moments today too. Wanna share?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Getting Lost in the Land of Snow Angels

After the gym yesterday, Gina, Michael and I had a great dinner at Naked Fish and a good conversation about how we should teach the art of relationships in high school. We'll get right on that curriculum development. =)

I managed to reconnect with a good friend from my first year of college who I had been searching for for a while. (Who isn't on facebook these days?!) We drifted apart while still in college, and the last time I saw her was at a friends' wedding several years ago. But we were so tight those first two years, and I always had so much respect and admiration for her. Well, she finally joined and within two days she popped up on another friends' page and voila. The wonders of facebook. Did I tell you all that I also recently connected with another friend from my years at Hampshire? He had sort of disappeared off the face of the earth, or at least off of the face of MY earth, a few years after I graduated. I had also been searching facebook for him...and googling this kind of behavior weird? Maybe. In any case, he finally popped up in a search on LinkedIn. I wrote to him, assuming he wouldn't write back...but he did! And now we're back in touch. How fun!
Today was filled mostly with files, but there were a few connecting highlights. Michael agreed to my walking proposition, and we took our first walk today. We started in the woods near our house, and first went to check the ice on the pond we like to fish. Still solid enough to walk across. I spontaneously asked Michael if he wanted to make a snow angel with me, and was excited when he agreed. (Unfortunately, the snow was pretty thin and icy, so they are a bit hard to see in the picture). Michael wanted to check out his favorite fishing spot, so I did some jumping jacks to get my heart rate up and then sat in the warm sun and tried a few minutes of meditation. We kept walking and decided to take a new path we've never been on. We came out in a residential neighborhood we didn't recognize. Michael wanted to retrace our steps, but I convinced him to explore a little further. I love looking at other people's houses. Unfortunately, it was a long walk back home by the time we figured out where we were. We walked for about 5 miles...and got pretty chilled...but I was really energized by the time I got back home.

I think Michael had a pretty good time too.

Tonight my co-dorm parent, Alicia, and I took a few of our dorm girls to a show that another of our students was performing in. It was to benefit the Victims of Violence Program with the Cambridge Health Alliance. Edited by Eve Ensler and Mollie Doyle, it was called A Memory, A Monologue, A Rant and A Prayer: Writings to Stop Violence Against Women and Girls.

OMG. It was goosebumps good. And I was so proud of our girl, who performed with two other girls from the school. The whole night was just very raw and touching.

I got back in time to finish up what is hopefully the last of my files. And somehow, it is midnight again.

'night readers. Hope you found some time to connect this weekend.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

In the Cracks and Crevices of Real Life

Wow. It's been over a week and I now know for sure how hard it is to establish a habit, and how easy it is to lose it. Just like going to the gym, I find it is easy to blog every day...until I skip a day. And then it is suddenly impossible to find the time and energy. There's a lesson in there, isn't there?

In any case, when we last left off, our attempts at romance were interrupted by vomit. Awesome. That was last Wednseday night. Thursday, I woke up nauseous, but let Michael convince me that I was psyching myself out. I had a day schedule to read files from home, with just a one-hour meeting in the office, so I wasn't too worried. I found I had no appetite, so I didn't eat...just in case I got sick later. My sick co-dorm parents called to check on me, and warned me that the vomiting part was coming soon.

That night, Michael had planned a night out that he'd been looking forward to for weeks, and I was excited for him to go, even though that left me on duty by myself. I was still nauseous, but not sick. Until about an hour after he left. Which is when the chills hit, and I crawled under the covers, alternatetly crying and shivering until the door bell would ring and I'd be forced to wipe away the tears and answer the door as though I was a normal, functioning human. I held out until 9 and texted Michael to see if he'd be coming home soon. He said he would. I thought that meant he'd be home in half an hour, so I crawled back into bed determined to hold the nausea at bay until he returned, knowing that if I gave in, the doorbell would ring at the very moment I could not answer it. By 9:40 I was having a hard time holding it together, so when he texted and said he was getting ready to leave, I wanted to die. Knowing I'd never make it, I went to make friends with my industrial toilet. No sooner than I settled in front of it, my stomach revolted impressively, considering there was NOTHING in it.

Friday morning, I called my boss. Even though I had a HUGE creative meeting that neither of us wanted me to miss, I had to stay home. February is a critical month for the admissions office--we couldn't afford for me to infect anyone else. I continued to not eat. We were supposed to drive down to NJ that night to help my sister get ready for our new nephew. Since I hadn't gotten sick again, we decided to still go. I was so nauseous on the ride down that I called Alexis and begged her to talk to me for 2 hours to distract me. We made it all the way there, checked into our hotel at 1 am, fell asleep, and woke up puking an hour later. uhoh.

Needless to say, Tiff didn't really want us infecting her house, but we still wanted to see each other so I met them out and went shopping for baby stuffs instead. It was SO nice to get a chance to spend time with her, Lily, and Greyson, but I was still feeling queasy. It was a pretty pathetic weekend, especially given that Sunday was V-day and I was still too nauseous to even stop for a real dinner. We did stop at Boloco though--I figured it was healthy and natural enough for my very first meal in 4 days. Luckily, it was. Also luckily, Michael drove the entire way back even though it was really my turn. He is such a prince.

When we got home, we celebrated a sad approximation of Valentine's Day...exchanging cards and small gifts. (I gave Michael a heart full of ferrer rocher chocolates and a reservation at OYa Sushi--the number 1 rated Boston restaurant for a few years running. He gave me a gift bag of treats to keep me going through file tic tacs, sour skittles, and caramel-filled ghiradelli chocolate squares.) His card was amazing. He puts me to shame. He is so thoughtful and expressive. When he wants to be. =)

By Monday I was still nauseous, but on the road to recovery. I stocked up on ginger tea, gingersnap cookies, and ginger ale. I spent the day reading files, and we were on duty that night. We sprung the girls out of study hours and took them to see the Valentine's Day movie, which was fairly plot-less but entertaining none-the-less. It was a good bonding night for the dorm, and I came back feeling pretty jazzed for a sick girl. (See? the power of connection!)

Tuesday I went back to work and FINALLY felt better. As a result, I will now always stock ginger tea in the house. Tuesday night was another big night in the dorm, with a few different meetings, a black history month celebration, and our lunar new year celebration. We hid red envelopes filled with candy all over the dorm and were gratified to see how excited the girls were to go searching for them. By which I mean tearing the dorm apart. It was good.

Wednesday was the day that Michael decided to deliver the rest of my V-day gift: a specially cooked dinner. And oh did he deliver! He ordered in a Valentine Roll (my favorite) from our local sushi shop. He made a crab-cucumber-wasabi starter. The entree was perfectly seared scallops atop nutmeg dusted sweet potatos with asparagus and a delicious cocounut-curry-cilantro sauce. I was full halfway through. And to really make it special, we lit candles and ATE AT THE TABLE. We never do that. Seriously. Every night, we eat on our couch, on our coffee table, in front of the tv and our laptops. It doesn't bother me--we both prefer it. But on Wednesday, it was nice to revel in the candelight and quiet conversation. It was a nice night, even though I had to return to reading applications after dinner. He even did the dishes so I could focus. I told you he was a prince.

Thursday I met Erin for our monthly dinner out, this time at a restaurant she had a groupon too: the Basha Cafe in Cambridge. The food was middle eastern, and good. We had grape leaves and kabobs and baklava. And, of course, great conversation and company. I've known Erin for over 20 years now and it is easy to get right down to the dirty bits of our lives, even after not talking for months. She gives me a great perspective, too, and while we were talking about how disappointed I've been to not feel like I've made much progress this month in terms of the connecting focus, she helped me realize something. This whole project is about focusing on the things that are important to me. And while it's true that I continue to choose to nap instead of picking up the phone or venturing out after work (thus not meeting my goals in the way I had hoped) I am still focusing on what's important to me. I am aware of when I am connecting and when I am not, and the balance it takes to make the choice to connect. Perhaps I haven't succeeding in making it a priority, or in making more time for it. But I revel in it when it happens, and I recognize it's value. I am mindful of it. Which is its own success.

Early Friday morning I got some good news: Michael and I had a new nephew! Born at 5:54 am, 20 inches, and 6lbs 14oz. We haven't heard the name yet, but we're just happy that he and his mom are healthy. He came a bit early, so we were a little worried. Okay, I was a lot worried, but that's just me. Michael's used to it.

Friday was a busy, but good day at work. We had the group of designers and writers for our new view book project on campus and we had planned a great schedule for them. It was fun to hear from them how dynamic our students are, and how articulate. I also had a great college counseling meeting with a student I'm excited to work with. After work, I spent a lot of time making baby-related phone calls to my parents, uncle, and grandmother, which wound up being a good time to connect...and replaced my normal nap time, which is probably a good thing.

Friday night was devoted to files and I treated myself by letting Michael bring home Burger King. ooooohhhh. I wish I wasn't so fond of fast food. It really shouldn't taste so good. But as a reward for reading so many applications, I took a couple of hours to research and book our upcoming trip to New Orleans! The hotels, car, and flights are now booked--which means I can start looking forward to it. I can't wait! I have too many restaurants in mind to eat in our short time there before we head out to the boonies to fish and photograph the bayou.

Today, I've devoted mostly to files. After I finished the files for which I am the first-reader, I rewarded myself with a bath and some berries. And my May 2007 Oprah magazine. Where I learned that women who get several hugs a day from their husbands have significantly lower blood pressure than those embraced less often. Good news for me! (stop gagging.) Also, a bit into my bath, Michael came and brought me my eucalyptus mint (stress reduction) candle. I love it. My whole house smells like eucalyptus mint now, and it makes me take deeper breaths. I wish I could carry that smell around in my pocket. Even more than the sense of relief the scent brings, I am grateful for my husband. Because he knows me. He knows that I only like sour skittles, that I am addicted to orange tic tacs and prefer my chocolate with caramels. He knows that I will keep his cards forever and thus inscribes them with abundant care. He knows that I love this candle and that it would enhance my stress-reducing bath. And for him to know these things--as surface level as they seem--means that he sees me. And that gives me pause, filled with gratitude.

I'm about to go back to application reading, but only for a short time before I meet Gina at the gym for a bit. Hopefully we'll find something nice to do for dinner tonight before I try to lure myself back to application review. Oh--and I've got a new idea for connecting and exercising. I'm going to ask Michael if he'll start taking evening walks with me a few nights a week, especially when I can't make it to the gym. Yay.

All in all, if you don't count the getting sick's been pretty much a perfect week of connection and presence, in the cracks and crevices of real life obligations and responsibilities.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Dear (all 4) readers,

I know I've been MIA since the stomach flu incident, but don't worry--I've been connecting up a storm and will come back and write about it as soon as I can take a break from reviewing applications.

miss you,

Thursday, February 11, 2010


Tried to spend some time with Michael after that and things were looking up...until one of our girls started throwing up...had to go deal with that...up all super tired. Does sick kid count as connecting?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


I skipped writing yesterday, and I already forgot what happened. Hmmm. I know I brought leftover cupcakes to work, and I got to connect with a colleague for a good 30 minutes, since we were both early for a meeting because we forgot the day's schedule had changed. And I gave in to a nap but we still made it to the gym. And Michael cooked yummy dinner and I still haven't done the dishes. =/ And then, he went to put his arm around me while on the couch and somehow wound up smashing his elbow into my eye socket at an alarming velocity. I'm fine, but it was touch and go for a minute there. Michael felt really bad about it, and I was hoping he might do the dishes as a result, but no luck. And we had a dorm meeting, so I got to connect with some students afterward. Other than that, I really can't remember. I think there was something fun I wanted to write about, but it's gone now. Lesson learned.

Today, we had a snow day. It was called last night. We didn't get any snow. Sadly, I couldn't even sleep in because I had two phone interviews scheduled with international students, so that took a good chunk of the morning. Anyway, I spent the rest of the day reading files, mostly--with 10 minutes internet breaks in between every 3 or so files. Each application takes 20-30 minutes to review. I read 12 today, which isn't as many as I should have. During that time, I ate 1.5 cupcakes, an entire package of strawberries, two boxes of orange tic tacs, 3 lindt truffles, and a can of Dr. Pepper. This is not good, especially as I didn't make it to the gym.

Also, I took a nap. I felt SOOO tired but I suspect it was just eye strain from reading/concentrating with glasses most of the day. My old eye doctor used to be appalled/impressed with the "impossible" amount of reading I do. I only see out of one eye at a time--so have no depth perception really, and even with contacts or glasses, my eyes constantly have to translate what they see through a complicated, learned-from-experience algorithm. The eye doctor said most people like me don't enjoy reading and do it as little as possible. She was shocked at how much I read for pleasure, after doing computer work/reading all day at work.

Anyway, we made some lobster ravioli for dinner (we got it at Costco--good find!) and I went right back to the files. It's 10:00 now and I don't feel like I've moved all day. Other than getting restless every few minutes while reading files. I did spend about an hour online, finding little surprises to send to some family and friends for various reasons. And I connected with Camilla, my sister-in-law, through facebook message. But otherwise, I kind of failed on the connecting front today.

Though I could tell you all about some really adorable and compelling applicants! Maybe there's still hope for connecting with Michael, but he's putting together some impossibly tiny figure thingies for a game he wants to play tomorrow...

Do I take the 30+ minutes to connect with myself in a bath with wine and a magazine? Or go back to reading files to get a head start on tomorrow? With about 18 files left...I guess I better get back to them.

fail, fail, fail. I say that nonchalantly though. I'm not all depressed or defeated or anything. Maybe a little reproachful. But I'll still try again tomorrow.

Monday, February 8, 2010

I sound like a 4-year-old.

Well, Michael brought home more eggs and cupcake mix, and take two went MUCH better. So much better that it's a good thing I went to the gym 5 times in the last week. Oops. Next time I won't use the cream cheese frosting I love so much.

Today was mostly work, since it's application reading season. But thanks to Gina, we did make it to the gym. And though I had a somewhat distracted (on both ends) conversation with one friend, I was able to connect for a good 40 minutes with a bunch of the girls after the dorm meeting, so that was good. I was hoping for a little more Michael time, but somehow it got really late already.

Today while I was reading files, I felt my usual 2:00 slump. I really wanted a nap, but instead I put on my mp3 player and made cupcakes. And sang. Out loud. And you know what. It did lift my mood. I even thought to myself hey, I kind of like baking. I should do this more often. At least, until I looked up from my files with my nose sniffing burnt cupcakes. sigh. But still, the singing was good. You should try it.

It was enough to get me back to my files. And I had a theory that if I could resist napping and do something engaging instead, then I could move past the energy block.

Sadly, it didn't quite work that way. I did make it through, and I made it to the gym, but I was still really tired and crankier than I am when I take a nap.

I sound like a 4-year-old.

I've also noticed that my connecting month doesn't feel all that different from life before. I am meeting my connecting goals, but it's not feeling very intentional. I think I might need to seek a more active level of engaging. It's good that so much connecting happens naturally in my life. But the whole point of this month is to CHOOSE connecting. Especially when I'd rather be sleeping or reading or hibernating.

That's really hard when I crave naps like I do. But the good thing is--I can always try again tomorrow.

Hmmm....6 out of 10 so far today.

kind of crushed face.

I tried to make one of the girls in the dorm cupcakes for her half birthday. because her birthday is in summer and she always missed getting to share it.

But I burned them.

Even though it was a box mix.

I am so very domestically challenged. My mother would be so disappointed.

Maybe Michael can pick up another box. Or those gross, pre-made cupcakes.

Two things:

I had taken comment verification off of my comments, but I kept getting all of this spam on there, so I had to put the word verification back. I would like to know who thinks a random string of words that makes no sense on an old blog post is going to make anyone any money??

Also, I made it to the gym 4 times in my first week back after being sick, and I kept going even with lots of coughing.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

7 out of 10 for connecting, but a red letter day overall.

Pretty good day today. After the joyful singing and cleaning, Gina and I went to the gym and ran errands. We may have even snuck in a trip to BK for old times' sake. But don't tell Michael. (good thing he doesn't read his wife's blog, huh?) =)

We got home in time to make our own wings for the super bowl, and we tried out a new mango ginger BBQ sauce that was pretty complex and delicious.  Since we're the kings of condiments, we also had 3 other sauces. =)  I don't even like wings, and I liked these. mmm mmmm Good!  I read files while Gina and Michael watched the game, because who are we kidding--we all know I haven't cared about football since I bet against Amanda and the Bills in 7th...and 8th grades. And won. =)

Unfortunately, when I read files, I can't stop eating.  I went from chips and salsa right on to berries and barely stopped myself from moving onto the ice cream. (That's next, though.)

It felt like a full and happy day, and at the end of it, my house is clean. Which makes me irrationally joyful.  I figure since the singing worked, I should try some of the other tips I've read about happiness.  Maybe I'll just start recording joyful/grateful moments from my days.

Yesterday, I was glad for the moment when my mom handed the phone over to my dad, but said "I still want to talk to you again when he's done."  And for sitting with Gina on the kitchen counters, having a philosophical/psychological/emotional conversation about childhood and family and moving forward.

Today, I was most joyful when belting out Melissa Etheridge while cleaning (much to Michael's amusement).  And I was grateful for Gina getting me to the gym and accompanying me on errands I really didn't want to run and have been putting off for too long.  And to Michael, for doing ALL of my laundry and still finding the energy to vacuum and fold his only laundry even though he was only doing it for me.

7 out of 10 for connecting, but a red letter day overall.

But I'm joyfully tone deaf.

We just cleaned our whole house--including dishes and getting laundry in--in about an hour. So there is a bright side to having a small apartment. Of course, spending all of last month de-cluttering might have had something to do with it. 

I feel so satisfied when my efforts pay off like this.

Michael feels like he married a crazy woman.

My words, not his. But I'm pretty good at interpreting his smiles and looks.

Oh--and I tried the awakening joy singing suggestion...I wore my mp3 player while I cleaned. And sang my heart out. I think it really did make me happier. It definitely made the cleaning more enjoyable. (That and my lavender dish soap!)

Michael laughed his heart out.  He says he thinks I might actually be tone deaf, but it's very cute and very entertaining for him.  This is news? Of course I'm tone deaf. 

But I'm joyfully tone deaf.

Guess what?

After I updated last night, one of our dorm girls came and knocked on our door and wanted to talk.  We talked for over an hour. Which means yesterday was pretty close to a 10 out of 10. Wow. Who even knew it could happen? And so quickly after I felt like giving up.

In other news, I might need to change my reduced email/facebook rule to include internet in general.   Because I can spend HOURS "researching" online.  It was hard to not constantly check my email/facebook, but the truth was that it wasn't that hard to keep it to under 30 minutes, since it only takes about two minutes to check it, so I could still do it 10-15 times a night.  It did make me more aware of how often I have the urge to check it for absolutely no reason.  But yeah, I think I need to cut down on aimlessly internetting, as well. Blogging is okay though.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

We should be suspicious, but we are mostly grateful.

Was that really just yesterday that I wrote all that disappointed, emo stuff? Hmmm.

Well, today was MUCH better.

First of all, there are only about 8 kids left in the dorm, and for reasons unknown to us, they are super quiet and let us sleep in until at least ten.  We should be suspicious, but we are mostly grateful.

I got a slow start to the day, but it wasn't very satisfying. I was still sluggish when Michael went to drive the kiddies to Harvard Square at noon thirty.  I kept trying to motivate, but I just felt so tired.  Gina said she'd come get me around 1, when Michael got back, to go to the gym.  I figured I'd just rest my eyes until she got here.  When I woke up next, it was 2pm.  Oops. I was worried I had somehow missed her, but she had just gotten caught up. I'd like to tell you that I didn't go back to sleep then, but I'd be lying.  I figured I'd just crash until she got here, and when she called to say she was only minutes away, I'd be lying if I didn't tell you I was still tired.  But the idea of her waiting outside for me was enough to get me out of bed at least.

So off we went to the gym, where I read a great article (from the 2006 January edition of Oprah--the best issues are always in January) on awakening joy and choosing happiness.  It reminded me I want to go on a meditation retreat, and it even recommended one in California. Which sounds good to me.  (Oh--you wanna know what the article said? It recommended singing every day, keeping a nourishment list of things that bring you joy, physical movement daily--whether yoga, dancing, or walking, and finding a joy buddy--a running partner while chasing happiness. Among other things.)

When we got back, Michael had to go pick the kiddies up from Harvard Square (it sure does sound like he does all the actual work around here, doesn't it? Don't be fooled).  and Gina and I started talking about this article she read. It was about the fight or flight (or freeze) response when threatened, and suggested a fourth response, often found in codependents: fawning.  Now, I've never thought of myself as codependent.  But here it's defined as the inability to express rights, needs and boundaries in relationships, and I have to say I can recognize some of that, not only in some of my relationships but also with my work.  We also started talking about our need to make the most of our environments--through endless decorating, cleaning etc. and where that comes from.  Anyway, we really got into a pretty deep conversation and it felt really good, because we really get each other and have the same interest in sort of figuring ourselves out and moving ourselves towards where we want to be. I used to have talks like these with friends all the time, but it's been a while, so it just felt really, really good.

After she left, Michael and I decided to order in some Indian food (best part of living near a city) and while we were waiting for it to get here, I finally got to call my parents in Florida.  I get to talk to my mom online fairly often, but my dad is a bit computer-avoidant still, so I haven't connected with him at all since Christmas.  Maybe that's normal for most 30-somethings, but it's not for me.  It was really good to get to catch up with both of them, and I'm excited for them to be enjoying themselves in sunny Florida.

Then our food came and we got to have a little "house" time (we have a few shows we love to watch together: House, Criminal Minds, CSI, and The Mentalist) while we devoured our Indian food.

And now I'm about to go take my 30 minutes to connect with myself. In a bath. With my magazine.

And maybe just one lil glass of dessert wine.

Meanwhile, my connecting today energized me a lot more than my trip to the gym.  And even though I'm back to feeling kinda of sluggish and tired now, I also feel vaguely satisfied.

Maybe I'll try singing in the bath. =)

9 out of 10 for today.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Take two.

I've been a little disappointed with this month, as you might have suspected from my less-than-compelling blog posts.  The de-cluttering was so SATISFYING!  I enjoyed the constant challenge, and I could see progress. I was inspired to invest more time into my project for the month.  I felt accomplished. It fed my energy. I came to enjoy being at home more. It was win-win in every way.

I expected connection month to be WAY more satisfying and inspiring. Shouldn't it be? I mean, these are people I actually really like and often feel disappointed that I don't have more time with.  And every time I do enjoy a really genuine connection, I do feel energized and excited and satisfied in my heart area.  So I thought focusing on that for a whole month would be pure joy. And that it would feel like a luxury--and not even challenging--after the monumental de-cluttering efforts.

But the truth is that I just feel like a failure.  It took me three days to connect with my husband in any significant way--and I live with him.  I've been trying to connect with Tina since before this month started.  I still haven't actually talked to Kate.  Or my parents.  The list is endless--literally.  And I don't jump on every moment of free time to take the opportunity to connect with someone.  I look at my phone, consider whether I really have time to make the phone call, recognize how exhausted I am, and put down the phone and crawl under the covers on the couch. To waste more of my life away.

What is wrong with me? Shouldn't this be easier? All this is doing is reinforcing the idea that I can't juggle being a thoughtful wife/daughter/friend/colleague/dorm parent to all of the important people in my life.  So where does that leave me? Doing everything half-assed?  Paring down the important people?!

I'll tell you where it leaves me...feeling like I can't manage it all and craving the respite of my bathtub, book, and comforter.

Michael suggested I set some less vague goals, rather than the generic "connect with people."  I'm not sure if it will help, but I'm willing to try anything. He also suggested that I make a list of people to connect with rather than using four generic groups. But--that makes it seem like each person is something to be crossed off a list, which kind of defeats the intention, I think.

Here are my more specific, slightly-revised goals:
  • Focus on connecting in a meaningful way with Michael, friends and family, colleagues, and dorm students.
  • Aim for a quality connection (20-30 minutes minimum) with at least one person each day.  
  • Add myself into the equation. Maybe reserving 20-30 minutes to connect with myself will leave me more readily able to connect with others
  • No multitasking while "connecting."  Connecting requires presence, focus...and PAYING ATTENTION.
  • Don't use technology to replace actual connecting...this means answering my phone as often as possible without being rude. Not using the "8" cell phone trick. Trying not to text instead of calling without a good reason. Limit outside of work facebook/email time to 30 minutes per night (in order to create more room for connecting and replenishing time).
  • Do something towards this goal EVERY day.
  • Record and reflect along the way, publicly, on this blog.
You might have noticed that I added in a reduction in my evening facebook/email time.  I'm hoping this creates more time for replenishing and connecting because I think I have a habit of laying on the couch in front of my computer and telling myself I'm being productive while aimlessly reloading my facebook home page and email inbox.  It's kind of pathetic.

This doesn't count as my low tech month, though...because I might limit facebook to once a week and turn off the tv for that month. (I suspect I will be alarmed at how much more time there is in the day).  This tech reduction is expressly for creating more "free" time.  Which means that I can still facebook during the day.  Because that doesn't impact my ability to connect. Or get my work done. goes. Take two.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Nothing to see here, folks.

Two really good and long conversations with girls in the dorm today. But I can't really tell you anything about them. I wish I could but then I'd have to make it a private blog and you wouldn't be able to read it anyway. So, yeah. 9 out of 10 on the scale for the dorm, but not so good in any other department. And I am still really, really tired.

I don't feel like I'm making much headway. And I feel like there's less to write about since I don't want to violate anyone else's privacy. So the writing isn't going well either.  (Isn't it ironic that writing about de-cluttering was more interesting? Now I really feel like I have issues.) 

Maybe I should combine connection with low tech month, since that might help with the connecting. (Don't worry, I wouldn't include the blog in being low tech.)

What do you think?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

I had to give in and "8" her back

So...not only did I not call my friend Tina (who I have been meaning to call for two days already) but I also MISSED her call tonight and didn't get to call her back because it was too late when I got her message.  I had to give in and 8 her back just so she would know I was thinking about her and not ignoring her. So: fail. (But I love you, Tina!)

BUT...Michael and I had a dinner and cheesy, terrible chick flick movie date night.  So: big win.

Sorry I can't hang out with you guys tonight. I need to go connect with my husband.

Today: 7.5 out of 10. 

Just to be really clear.

Okay, so here's something we need to just get out of the way.  Just because I'm documenting everything and it's connecting month and all that.  If I haven't connected with you yet, it's not because you're low on the list. It's because there's only so much time in the day and someone else called me first. And I wanted to wait until I had the proper amount of time to devote to you. So again--we're not playing in order of preference or anything like that. Just to be really clear.  There is no order of preference or importance. I love you all just exactly the same amount. And I'd be really happy to talk to you all every single day if I could.

I lay in bed at night...

...trying to fall asleep, and instead I think of all these witty and clever blog posts. Insightful! Inspiring!

But I am too lazy to get up and write them down, and they are always gone by the time morning rolls around.

Smarty McCleverpants, that's me.

It's already midnight, so this is gonna be REAL short. 'Cause I've been REAL tired lately.

Let's did I do today? Well, I connected with my boss, and tried to be a grown up and ask for what I need.  And though I didn't exactly get resolution, it was a good conversation and connection. So that was a good start.

I connected with a few friends over email throughout the day. And I had the following exchange with Michael, which doesn't quite count as connecting but did make me smile, so I thought I'd share.

Michael: Well, aren't you the Smarty McCleverpants!
Me: Yes, yes I am.   I think.    But only if you mean it in a good way. How is it even possible to be this tired? 3 more interview evals left….
Michael: I am not sure how it's possible to be that tired. Then again, I don't know personally how that tired feels, so it's hard to answer. But generally it comes from not actually going to bed early when one is already tired and states the need and desire to do so. It's generally brought about through interaction with a TV and/or a laptop computer at a time that is generally known to cause nights of insufficient sleep and resulting in exhaustion and/or tiredness.
Me: That’s an interesting theory. And I would buy it except for the fact that it seems I have been this tired for approximately 642 days. Give or take.
Michael: It is also possible you pissed off some deity somewhere. Less likely, but a possibility nonetheless.  

Which is another good argument for wrapping this up and getting to bed.   

So...I gave in to a two hour nap after work, which wasn't good, because that was when I planned to call Tina and catch up with her.  And when I woke up, I heard sounds of cooking and came out to find Michael making me a surprise dinner. Delicious!  Then Gina came and we all ate and went to the gym.  And even that felt like connecting, because I ran into two other friends at the gym.  And even though I used to dread meeting people I know at the gym, this time it just felt really good. It sounds cheesy, but I don't just made me feel all hey...we're all in this together.  Which was nice.

And it was my first time back at the gym since getting sick and at first I coughed a ton, so I had to slow down, but I made it through the workout!

We got back just in time for dorm meeting, and afterward, I REALLY connected with some of the girls, including one I don't usually connect with that much.  But then I found out some pretty depressing stuff about another student in the dorm.  But writing this blog has made me realize this month will be hard to write about in some ways...because it's hard to write about meaningful connections while protecting others' privacy. There's a lot of stuff I can't write about, in all fairness. hrmmm.

So...good on the dorm and work front, less good on the friend/family front,  and even less good on the husband front.

Maybe a 6 out of 10.

Sorry if this was a boring update. Or if it didn't really make much sense.  I'm really tired and it's late and Michael is watching the most disturbing movie ever (The Butterfly Effect).  We'll all do better tomorrow. =)

night night. 

Monday, February 1, 2010

I think I could spend pretty much all of my time connecting with people

The first day of connection went pretty well, actually.  I found emails from the beginning of January from a long-lost friend from high school, and another from college, and I (finally) took the time to write them both the detailed response they deserve. (I get so excited to get long, newsy emails...but then I know I should respond in kind and feel intimidated by the time commitment. Which is as ridiculous as not taking 2 minutes to empty the dishwasher!)

Then, I connected (via facebook, sadly) with another person from my college days that I haven't really interacted with in years.  I texted Alexis throughout the day (texting was necessary because it was during my work day!) and I always feel really happy to have that kind of constant, throughout the day sort of conversation with a good friend. (If Michael's job allowed it, I'd do the same with him. But he probably wouldn't enjoy it as much as Alexis does.)  I also finally emailed Kate, once I realized that I haven't talked to her since the last time I saw her, in the beginning of January. That's appalling. I can't let that happen anymore! I'll have to add her to my list to reach by phone soon.  Then, I spent about an hour chatting with my sister, which is pretty amazing, since we usually just volley voicemails and facebook messages back and forth.  While I was on the phone with her, Tina called. Shoot.  I didn't let myself *8 Tina back, but I also couldn't call her, as I was on duty and the doorbell kept ringing.  And I had spent the last several hours connecting.  Wow. If I actually try to answer the phone every time--or return calls promptly--I won't get any work done at all!

After work, instead of napping (which, after only 4 hours of sleep last night, I really wanted to do) I answered the doorbell each time with a smile and took the time to really interact with the student on the other side.  Sometimes, this worked really well. But one student may have felt a bit interrogated. But, well, her life seemed a bit sketchy today, so that might not be a bad thing.  And, I connected with two international students who didn't apply to any liberal arts colleges yet, and I spent time I didn't really have tonight finding them good colleges that will meet their needs that they can still apply to.

So, basically...I think I did pretty well in all areas....except my husband. I've hardly seen him tonight. Sigh.

And, I still have 7 interview evaluations that I never got written. And, I didn't really eat much for dinner. I was actually sort of amazed at the fact that I think I could spend pretty much all of my time connecting with people I actually like.  Maybe connections should have gone hand-in-hand with Balance!

Still, I have to say I feel pretty good. I am tired (4 hours of sleep will do that to you) but I feel...satisfied and happy.  I'd rate my connection level a 7.5 out of 10 for the day.  Not a bad start.

Time for food, check-ins, and bed. Tina--I promise I'll ACTUALLY call you!

28 Days of Connection, Intimacy, and Love

Welcome to February. Now that my life is significantly less cluttered, I'm planning to spend this month focusing on intimacy and connection.  I've mentioned before that I have a theory that connecting with people on a deeper level actually brings energy into your life, rather than depleting it.  It's that old "emotional piggy bank" or "gas tank" can only give what you have, and you have to find ways to replenish the energy you put out into the world, whether it's through work, mothering, taking care of others, etc. etc.  You can be no good to others if you aren't good to yourself, etc. etc. You've heard all of the cliches and metaphors. The thing is, the more depleted you are, the more energy everything seems to require.  And suddenly getting up off the couch seems like a ginormous feat.

When I tell my friends that I'm antisocial, or introverted, they laugh. They scoff. They mock. They don't believe me. They see me as personable, extroverted, connected. In truth, I am fairly allergic to mingling. And I'm increasingly selfish about my time. 9 times out of 10, I look at the phone when it rings and decide not to answer it.  Not because I've got anything against the caller. But because I never have more than five minutes of uninterrupted time, so it seems rude to answer the phone to talk to someone only to be interrupted every few minutes. And if, perchance, I actually have 30 minutes of solid quiet time, it is sacred. I will grab a book, hit the gym, or sink into a hot bath.  Answering the phone doesn't even seem like an option.

So I spend a lot of time texting, returning messages through voicemail, emailing, and facebooking...because I can do it in the few minutes I have between tasks and ringing doorbells...and I can come back to it after midnight.  The truth is, it's a poor replacement.  It doesn't offer meaningful connections, and so it probably does drain more time and energy (and focus) than touching base with family and friends should.

I think about the friends that ALWAYS answer the phone when I call, and the friends that are always listening to me vent about my life...and I realize that I let my exhaustion and frustration take over my life.  I used to be an excellent, thoughtful, meaningful friend, sister, daughter.

So this is why I want to focus on connecting this month.  I want to fill my life up with the people I care about, and be buoyed by the positive energy that comes from those connections.  I want to make sure people know--and feel--how much I value their place in my life.  I want to prioritize my relationships.  And my theory is that I'll feel more--not less--energized throughout this month as a result.

Here are the rules for this month:
  • Focus on connecting in a meaningful way with Michael, friends and family, colleagues, and dorm students.
  • Stop multitasking while "connecting."  Connecting requires presence, focus...and PAYING ATTENTION.
  • Do something towards this goal EVERY day.
  • Don't use technology as a barrier to connecting...Answer my phone as often as possible without being rude. Don't use the *8 cell phone trick. Try not to text instead of calling without a good reason.
  • Record and reflect along the way, publicly, on this blog. (Don't get your hopes up though. You won't be reading anything sexy on here, despite the focus on intimacy. That wouldn't really be so fair to Michael, who is a bit less of an open book than I am.)
Let the 28 days of love begin!

Dear January,

It was fun while it lasted, huh? Actually, the whole de-cluttering and organizing theme we had going on wasn't really all that fun. But now my house is de-cluttered and clean, and I feel kind of mentally de-cluttered as well, so I guess you served your purpose, and I'm grateful for that. I can't say I'm sad to see you go, though...your friend February seems much more promising, with her commitment to intimacy and connection. See ya next year!



55 Tips for Waging Your Own War on Clutter

Alright, it's late at night, so I'm not sure how thoughtful/helpful this will be. But I just re-read all of my posts and spent some time reflecting on this past month's experiences, and here's what I have to offer in summary (in no particular order)...

First, here's what I learned this month:
  1. It almost always takes significantly less time to do a chore than I think it will. Which means it's really kind of embarrassing to let dishes pile up in the sink because the dishwasher is full of clean dishes...since it takes LITERALLY two minutes to empty the dishwasher.  Next time you find yourself putting something off, do it anyway and time it.  Maybe you should write it down and stick it on the fridge as a reminder for next time.
  2. It's a good idea to ask your significant other/housemate before you try a new organizing "system."  I was crushed when Michael said he didn't like the idea of a shoe rack, but once he told me why, I found one that he would actually use. And when I emptied out the cup on the bathroom sink so that he'd actually stick his toothbrush in it, he said he didn't like it being empty because then his toothbrush sat in the gross leftover drippy water.  So yeah--good to ask what's working or not working before coming up with brilliant new plans that others won't participate in. Plus, asking for help brainstorming invites participation and buy-in!
  3. When you return from vacation, etc. and upload photos, do something with them right away. Label your favorites, order prints, or put them into a photo book you can add to throughout the year.  It'll save you from having a huge project when you want to do something with them...and will keep your memories in sight.
  4. Just because someone gave you a gift doesn't mean you have to keep it.  Really.  They gave it to you, and you expressed appreciation at their thoughtfulness (whether it was thoughtful or not.) They got the joy of giving it to you.  Now you can give it to someone else, donate it, or trash it.  Because you have a limited amount of space.  You can always say your significant other/housemate accidentally broke it/threw it out/lent it to someone.
  5. When you start your de-cluttering/cleaning efforts, pretend you're moving. Ask yourself: If I had to move tomorrow, would it be worth packing this and finding a space for it in my new, organized, clutter-free, zen home?
  6. It's easier to de-clutter if you know where you can donate things, so that they won't go to waste.  Ask friends and colleagues where you can donate clothes, kitchen items, books, etc. before you start de-cluttering.  Worst comes to worst, you can still trash things. But you'll be more likely to move things out of your home--and feel good about it--if you know of a good home for them ahead of time. (and you won't wind up with 19 bags cluttering your front hallway).
  7. I tend to keep things "just in case" I might need it one day.  The truth is, if I haven't needed it in the past year, I probably won't need it in the next year.  And, if it isn't hard or expensive to replace, I'd really rather have the space and sanity now. Ask yourself, "How likely is it that I'll need this? And if I do need it, how hard will it be to replace?"
  8. Along those same lines, if you haven't figured out HOW to use something in 6 months of owning it...or you've been "meaning to fix something" for 6's been redefined as clutter. Cut your losses and get rid of it.
  9. When buying souvenirs, ask yourself if it will fit in a book. If not, will you want to dust it for the next 15 years? How long will it last? 
  10. Same with those things you've attached sentimental meaning to.  Do you really need 10 t-shirts from college and movie ticket stubs from 1998? Maybe not. Remember--the less you have, the more meaningful the collection will be. If you (or the daughter you imagine will be interested one day) have to sift through huge trunks of trinkets and momentos, they aren't likely to have the same impact as flipping through a few well-organized books or boxes.
  11. Figure out what motivates you. For me, writing down goals and putting them out into the world to hold myself "publicly" accountable helped a lot.  For more internal motivation, I took before and after pictures.  Being able to see the progress I was making inspired me to keep going. Maybe for you, the promise of some alone time or a movie or dinner out might be the motivation you need. If you're counting on your significant other's appreciation to motivate you, you should let them know ahead of time!
  12. Another thing that really helped was having a "declutter buddy."  When others told me what they were de-cluttering, it was inspiring. And when my friend would spend hours on the phone with me while we were both cleaning, the time passed so much faster.  I rarely have time to really catch up with friends, so it was a really great use of the time...and kept me moving.
  13. I was really pleased with creating a "system" for reading magazines. Sounds crazy, I know, but it stops me from holding on to them for months because I know there's something in there I wanted to reference. Now, I fold down the bottom of the page of anything I'm interested in, and as soon as I finish the whole magazine, I go through and re-evaluate the pages I marked. If it was a book I wanted to read, I add it to my amazon wishlist. If it was something to order, I look it up online. If it was a recipe, I find it on their website and email it to myself (and move it to my recipes folder1). I feel like I'm getting more out of my magazines, and I get through them faster and don't find them taking up space all over my house for years!
  14. There are some things really do add joy to my life and home: books, and organizing gadgets, and some gadgets that make my life easier, and games, and cozy blankets, and aesthetically pleasing items like colorful pillows and candles, and certain souvenirs.  But, I'm finding through this exercise, that there's a whole truckload of shit that I buy that I really don't need. The trick is learning to tell the difference before it's too late.  When buying things, ask what it will add to your life and if you'll regret having bought it the next time you de-clutter your home. Better yet, pass it up with the hope that you'll be saving yourself from ever having to de-clutter again!
  15. The "displacement" strategy for de-cluttering/cleaning really works for me, though it can be a bit daunting. First, you take everything off/out of the thing you're cleaning. You clean it, and then only put back the absolutely essential things that are worth keeping AND make sense to be there.  Next, anything you want to keep that doesn't really belong in that space gets further displaced to the room that makes the most sense.  Finally, anything that's left either goes in the trash or the donation pile.  This assures you only keep essential items, and that there's a place that makes sense for them to live, so you can always put your hands on them when you want them.
  16. The displacement system works for maintenance cleaning too.  Start at one end of the house and tidy up that room.  Anything that doesn't belong in that room gets displaced to the room it does go in (but don't worry about taking time to put it away). Continue room by room, tidying and putting things in the room they belong in. If you don't want to keep walking back and forth, use a crate or laundry basket to collect the items as you go from room to room.
  17. De-cluttering and organizing helps you assess what you actually have.  Which saves you from buying things you already have. Like 28 picture frames and 8 chapsticks and 5 bottles of purse-sized lotion. So it actually saves money!
  18. A clean desk really does make all the difference. It's easy to see what needs to be done and where to start, and a clean desk somehow parallels a clear(er) mind.
  19. I really need to work on breaking things into smaller bits, and being satisfied with accomplishing those smaller pieces. Even when I do break things down, I still consider the whole big task as one thing, so I push towards doing the WHOLE thing. Which is most often really unreasonable and leaves me feeling frantic and like a failure. Besides, the more smaller things I do, the more I feel like I'm making progress, and the more inspired I should be to keep going.
  20. Which brings me to what I'm learning from my friends at AimingLow: "perfection is not only over-rated, it’s a big fat whopping lie-burger with cheese…and fries…and onions." Learning to recognize "good enough" is a super useful and necessary life-skill.  More useful than anything else I learned this month.

Here's some more concrete tips for de-cluttering and organizing:
  1. Take the time to unsubscribe from junk emails rather than just deleting them. It takes time, but will save you time and energy in the long run. (And you'll stop getting emails that tempt you into buying stuff you don't need.)
  2. Make a google spreadsheet with all of your contacts. Better than an address book--it'll be accessible from any computer, at home or work, and is easily updated without getting messy. (You might want to download a copy though, or email it to yourself, just in case something crazy happens and google crashes.)
  3. Use a lazy susan in the fridge (or cabinet) to keep all of your condiments in easy reach.
  4. If you have magazines more than 3 months past their publication date, recycle them. Give them to friends or waiting rooms (after cutting out your address).  Spread the love and make room in your house at the same time. If you haven't read them yet, you're not going to, and they'll just continue to mock you.
  5. Find something to organize your jewelry in a way where you can see it all at once and it won't get tangled. I got a great tree to hang pendants from, and a wall rack for earrings and necklaces. Same goes for belts and ties and scarves.
  6. Make a list of organizational/de-cluttering tasks and do one small thing daily. Think small.  Clean out the cup of pens on the counter.  Having the list ensures that when you have time, you can just check the list rather than not knowing where to start.  Doing one small thing each day means that you'll have done 30 things by the end of the month. (More if you get inspired!) Getting started is literally the hardest part. So do one thing. Or set a time for 15 minutes and tell yourself that's ALL you have to do. 8 times out of 10, you'll be on such a roll when the timer goes off that you won't mind doing more or finishing the task you're on. Set yourself up for success--aim low!
  7. Keep a trash can/shredder and filing system near where you open mail. Make it easily accessible and promise yourself you'll deal with it RIGHT AWAY. Don't put it down or stuff it in a basket or bin to come back to later. You won't. Or when you do, you won't know what's what. And you'll probably miss the invitation to your niece's birthday party.
  8. DON'T keep a "mail collector" by the front door. I guarantee it will only serve to collect papers/receipts that you know you should keep but are too lazy to file. You will soon find that you don't remember what's in there and never use that coupon and go crazy looking for that statement. 
  9. Similarly, DON'T put any small tables or flat surfaces near the front door.  You will be tempted to drop your coat, purse, mail, or shopping bags there. If you don't, your significant other/child/housemate will.  The only exception--hooks near the door for your keys, and a small dish to collect pocket change.
  10. Keep only that paper that you NEED to.  Three years of w-2's and tax documents, insurance paperwork, birth certificates, passports, titles, etc.  If you're unsure whether you need to keep it, ask yourself what purpose it serves, when/how frequently you might need it, how hard it would be to replace if you needed to...
  11. Drawer dividers. Rock. Separate socks/undies/bras etc.
  12. Find a laundry/hamper system that you'll actually use. This is worth investing in.
  13. If you get undressed at night and notice a hole in your shirt...or realize that your thongs have been driving you nuts all day...or that the shirt isn't so flattering in this light...trash it or put it in a bag to donate.  Otherwise, you'll put it in the laundry and forget how uncomfortable/unflattering it is until next time you wear it.
  14. Get rid of old make-up. Seriously. We all know you have 5 or 6 "go-to" items that you wear regularly, and a whole drawer/cabinet/bag of stuff you might wear on a certain occasion that you can't name.  The truth is that make-up and perfume have a fairly short shelf-life. If you're not wearing it often, it's going to outlast its shelf-life and take up space. Get rid of it. I promise you won't miss it.
  15. When cleaning out your closet, try on anything you haven't worn recently and ask yourself "If I was trying this on in a dressing room today, would I buy this?" This should help you part with anything that's out of fashion, in disrepair or overly worn, unflattering, doesn't fit, etc.   Also, come to terms with the fact that you can probably only make use of, say, three pairs of black pants, (unless you're a waitress or they are part of your uniform)...and if you have two favorites, you're never going to wear the other three. Get rid of them.
  16. Alternatively, find a friend you trust and let them decide yes or no to each item you try on.  Agree that you can save 3 things from the "donate" pile.
  17. A tip from Erin's mom: hang all the stuff in your closet backwards (so the opening of the hanger faces forward). After you wear something, hang it up normally. Give yourself a set amount of time (3 months?) and then get rid of the stuff you didn't wear.
  18. A similar tip for dealing with everything from clothes to kitchenware: pack it up in a box and label it with the date. Put it in the basement or storage. If you find you need something, go get it. After 3 months (or 6, if you're conservative) chuck it without opening it. You don't need that stuff. You only think you do.
  19. Add important birthdays, anniversaries, etc. to your online calendar or cell phone (with a popup alarm)...about 5 days BEFORE the event so you have time to buy a card or gift and mail it. If you don't use an electronic calendar of any kind, jot it in your planner. If you don't have one of those, ask your type A friend/spouse to put it in theirs. If you've made it this long without a calendar of some sort, you're clearly relying on someone else who uses one.
  20. Make the best use of space in cabinets, especially in the kitchen.  Buy racks and slide-out drawers to give yourself easier access.  This works especially well for a trash can under the sink and for cleaning supplies!
  21. Consider anything you can mount under a cabinet: spice rack, save space on the counter tops and in drawers. Clear space on counter tops gives the illusion of a bigger kitchen.
  22. Edit! How many spatulas do you really need? pots? pens? hangers? magnets? All that extra stuff just adds to the cluttered appearance and takes up space...and makes it harder to put your hands on your favorite spatula, pen, etc.
  23. Treat yourself to scented dish soap and cleaners (I like lavender and eucalyptus mint by METHOD, which is also supposedly non toxic and good for the environment.)  It makes it a bit easier to do the dishes and clean counter tops.
  24. Cleaning your floors really does make a difference. If you can't commit to getting on your hands and knees, opt for a swiffer. (But--if you have kids--they'll love getting to wash the floor. Guaranteed. At least until they're 7 or 8. It might not be done perfectly, but it will be an improvement.)
  25. If you find a simple, hand soap pump that matches your kitchen decor, snatch it up and put dish soap in it.  Now you can put dish soap on a sponge or in a pot one0handed!
  26. Stop saving every little thing to your computer. Seriously, you don't need to keep your friend's resume that you edited or the digital picture of her dog.  Yes, you can fit endless amounts of crap on your computer. But you'll never be able to go through and decide what to keep or not, and it will be harder to find what you do need. While you're on your 'puter, save a copy of your drives on an external drive, especially if there's something important on there. Say, your wedding pictures.
  27. Use less furniture where possible. Hang a magazine rack on the wall and see if a simple shelf can replace your night table. It keeps clean lines and reduces places to store clutter.
  28. Add lighting.  When rooms are brighter, they're more inviting and seem bigger. Of course you can also see the clutter--so do this after de-cluttering!
  29. Keep your cookbooks where you'll actually use them--but not close enough to the stove to get a layer of grime on them.
  30. Use hooks, shelves, etc. to keep things off the floor. Again, it gives the illusion of space, and order, and makes things seem bigger.
  31. Don't buy clear or transparent cubes, baskets, drawers, dressers, cabinets, etc. unless you WANT to display what's in them.  Oftentimes, the ads remind you that it's easy to see what's in them at a glance. Which is helpful only if they're hidden behind curtains or doors.  Otherwise, you're just looking at the clutter you wanted to hide.
  32. Getting rid of things (magazines, books, etc) right after you finish using them is much easier than clearing them out en mass later on.
  33. The more places you have to store stuff, the more stuff you'll store. So stop buying those extra shower caddies, etc. You don't need any more shampoo.
  34. Put the things you use more often in the most accessible place...socks and undies go in the top drawer. The filing system goes near the front door. The clothes steamer can be hidden in the back room. =)
  35. Use vertical space. Tall, skinny bookshelves take less floor-space but store more. (Thus, mens' clothes chests are better uses of space than the typical dresser.) Same thing for shoe racks, and shelves in the laundry room, etc. Think vertical.