Freedom from Routines: My Surprise at Missing the Structure

I’ve written before about the hate/hate relationship I have with my alarm clock.

It’s been a long time in the making: I was not a morning kid or a morning teen (sorry, Mom!) or a morning college student. I’m certainly not a morning adult. So I was none too sorry to stop it using it completely and forgo commitment to any routine when I became a full-time freelancer.

So long, structure

arrows-background-black-and-white-745365.jpgBut it turns out there can be a downside to having a completely unstructured sleep pattern. Like regularly staying up until 2 a.m. watching Black-ish working and taking naps every afternoon. Add in the manic rush of the holiday season and I was feeling more than a little disoriented by the time 2018 came to a close.

I knew better than to set any kind of resolution, but I did want to be more intentional about my sleep habits and general daily routine in the new year. Let’s just say that the first week did not go as planned. (Can’t break a resolution if you don’t set a resolution!)

Enter: the coworking space

But this week I’ve been working out of a coworking space, which has encouraged to get me up and going earlier in the morning, be more productive during the day in an office setting, and more comfortably relax in the evening—and to get to bed before the stroke of midnight. I’m not sure if it’s the space itself or just the change of scenery, but it’s done great things for my sense of accomplishment.

Away from home, I’m not getting distracted by the TV or snacks or a sudden urge to vacuum. It’s easier to draw the line between work and not-work when there’s a short commute at the end of the day. (Otherwise, it’s remarkably easy to let the workday just bleed right into everything else.)

I don’t have any plans to return to a regular 9-to-5 schedule, but this week has given me some insight into how far I’d swung out of any routine—and made me appreciate the value in creating a little structure in my day.

How about you: Is routine your friend or your foe? If you’re a freelancer or remote worker, what tactics help you stay in the groove?

The Tidiness of KonMari and the Joy of Book Clutter

Ali (that’s my husband) and I have been watching Marie Kondo’s new show on Netflix. I read her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, not long after it came out and was smitten with the idea of only keeping what sparks joy. I have such a tendency to hold on to things just because I have them—but what’s the use in having fifty T-shirts if I only enjoy wearing two of them?

The KonMari method

If you’re unfamiliar with the basic premise of the KonMari method, it’s that you gather up all your belongings by category (such as every article of clothing you own) to consider what to keep or discard, rather than the more traditional decluttering tactic of tackling one room at a time. You hold each item and ask whether it sparks joy, whether you get some feeling of love or thrill from wearing, using, or looking at it: if it does, keep it. If it doesn’t, thank it for its service to you and let it go.

giant piles of books on shelf

But giving up clothes comes easier than paring down my collection of books, the second category to prune using the method. I just like having them, even the ones I’ve already read more than once and even the ones I’ve owned for awhile and haven’t yet cracked open. There’s a Japanese word for buying books and never reading them—tsundoku—and I certainly relate to that spirit.

Keeping the books

More than just an affinity for collecting books, though, there’s a sense of vastness in having a large personal library. Keeping shelves stocked with books is a nice reminder that there’s so much out there still to read and learn and enjoy, no matter how many titles I read. As a recent Fast Company post puts it, “An antilibrary is a powerful reminder of your limitations — the vast quantity of things you don’t know, half-know, or will one day realize you’re wrong about.” So much possibility exists!

I like what Marie Kondo encourages in suggesting that we let go of the things that no longer spark joy in our lives. Ali and I are planning our own KonMari-style tidying. But books do create joy for us, and I’m definitely not planning to force myself to give mine up any time soon.

Tell me what you think! Are you diving into the KonMari method in your home? Are you ready to give up books for the sake of tidying?

2019 Shopping Ban: Why I’m Not Shopping This Year

I was searching for a pair of boots in the back of the closet—ones I usually just wear around the holidays—when I found it. A plastic bag from Kohl’s with a pair of boot socks and a couple of shirts that still had their tags, the receipt crumpled up in one of the sleeves. I had no idea how long they’d been stuck back there and I was too embarrassed to check the date on the receipt.

A common problem

I know I’m not the only one who’s been here.

bags-black-friday-christmas

One of the books that really stuck with me in 2018 was The Year of Less from Cait Flanders. I’ve had my moments of minimalism over the years, but mostly my tendencies lean more toward packrat. I buy things on an impulse, I like to “take advantage” of a good sale, and I get sentimental about the things around me.

I’ve flirted with the Container Store method (buying my way toward organizational salvation), the KonMari method (keeping only what sparks joy), the cash-only method (put those credit cards away), the wait-30-days method (don’t shop on impulses). None has been an outright failure, and yet . . .

What I liked about Cait’s book is that it points to something beyond the stuff itself—and also the money itself. It’s not exactly that the things I like to buy are terrible or extravagant or regrettable. It’s just that it’s become a habit. I didn’t have any trouble spending my money before, but now I have the Amazon app in my pocket and find myself looking at Target’s clearance endcaps more than weekly. Yikes.

So much stuff

My apartment houses two adults and a cat but it’s stuffed to the brim with stuff: stuff we don’t really need, stuff we don’t actually use, brand-new stuff we don’t even know exists in the back of our closet.

So we’re going to stop.

My husband and I are doing a 2019 shopping ban.

We can buy groceries, fresh flowers, birthday cards. We can buy household and personal care items like laundry detergent and shampoo, but only when they run out. We can buy cold medicine and cat food.

But no books. No clothes. No trinkets or gadgets. No throw pillows or vinyl records or scarves or impossibly adorable baby clothes for our niece and nephew.

It’s going to be tough: I love to shop and to find clever things and to support local makers and to send gifts to my loved ones.

But it also already feels like a relief. There’s a line in the sand and an opportunity to reset that impulse. I hope that by the time this year comes to a close, the biggest thing I’ve bought myself this year is some mindfulness.

Meals on Wheels

When I leave Evelyn’s house, she usually says something like, “Thanks for sharing a few words with me!” or “See you next time! Stay coolio!” It’s always the best part of my week.

Hot food for seniors

I’ve been delivering Meals on Wheels for about a year. Every other Thursday I drive around my city for about 45 minutes to take hot food to seniors. Some of them don’t leave their houses much. Some are on restricted budgets. Some just don’t cook.

Some tell me about the phone call they just had with a son or daughter or grandkid, and some talk to me like I’m the only person they’ve spoken to all week.

It’s a great program: providing a nutritious and hot meal, a little human interaction, and a built-in wellness check (if someone doesn’t answer, program managers follow up to ensure the client is okay). In the winter, volunteers provide a couple shelf-stable meals in case drivers aren’t able to get out there because of inclement weather later in the season.

Get involved

Meals on Wheels is a national program and I recommend it to anyone I know who’s looking to get involved in their community. All you need is the occasional free lunch hour and reliable transportation.

Currently, 1 in 5 Americans is over the age of 60—and that population is expected to nearly double by 2060. People are living longer, but many of the eldest in our communities start to have physical and financial challenges that put them at risk for going hungry. But two million Meals on Wheels volunteers are supporting them, one lunch break at a time.

Do you volunteer in your community? What causes are you most passionate about?

Handwritten Notes

Do you write handwritten notes? I’ve always loved to send snail mail, but it can be so easy to settle for a quick text instead or to rely on greeting cards to do the talking for you.

The Art of the Handwritten Note

I’ve been reading The Art of the Handwritten Note. I picked it up at a used book store several years ago and had peeked through it occasionally. But I’m only just now reading it cover to cover. It’s reminding me of the joy of finding a handwritten note—slipped into a purse or coat pocket, in a stack of junk ads and bills in the mailbox, or from someone unexpected.

I have some regular pen-pal buddies (Hi, Jessie! Hi, Kaitlin!) but I hope to send more notes in 2019. More notes to say thank you. To say I miss you. To say hello or isn’t this sunshine nice or here’s what I’m reading or I love you.

If writing more notes is something you’re interested in, I recommend Margaret Shepherd’s book. She helps you consider the words, the envelope, the pen, the paper. (“Do not write with a pencil or use blue-lined school paper, especially not notebook paper with holes punched in it. That’s like going out dressed only in your underpants. That is only for rough drafts and for people under the age of ten.”)

She reminds you both of the absolute treasure that a handwritten note can be and that done is better than perfect: you don’t need to be a professional calligrapher writing on parchment with an expensive pen to give someone the joy of receiving a thoughtful note.

5 Easy Steps for a Luxurious At-Home Facial

A QUICK DISCLOSURE: THIS POST MAY USE AFFILIATE LINKS.

One of the best things about working for yourself is that you can work anytime! And one of the worst things about working for yourself is that you can work anytime.

After a couple exceptionally busy weeks, I found myself nearing a breaking point: I was not making enough time to take care of myself and it was showing in my stress levels. So I’ve been creating space on the weekends to relax: with a novel, with a TV show, or with a facial.

Let’s be real: when you think of facials when you think of self-care, that can get expensive in a hurry. But I’ve found some little luxuries that won’t max out my credit card and still feel like a true treat. My routine these last few Sundays has looked a little like this:

1. Scrub

I’ve long been a fan of Indigo Wild’s stuff. (They’re not paying me!) They’re a local Kansas City company, they make all-natural products, and their scents are amazing. But I don’t think anything can top their Rosemary-Mint & Walnut Sugar Scrub. It’s like absolute magic on your face, leaving it looking and feeling like new.

2. Mask

I used to love picking up a sheet mask, but typically went for the bargain option at a big-box store. It turns out those are often full of scary chemicals—like hormone disruptors and known carcinogens. Yikes! But Indigo Wild’s Detoxifying Charcoal Facial Treatment is thick, refreshing, and carcinogen-free.

3. Moisturize

Dry winter skin is a pretty common issue, especially if you tend to have dry skin year-round. Last year seemed particularly harsh, but luckily I discovered Wild Wash Soap Co.’s Winter Crème. “Deep hydration” is almost an understatement: super soothing and basically an overnight miracle for restoring dry skin.

4. Roll

Ice rollers can help alleviate redness and puffiness, shrink pores, and calm skin. Plus, it feels wonderful! I actually bought this one (full disclosure: affiliate link) to help with occasional migraines, but it makes a perfect addition to an at-home facial. It also helps soothe angry muscles after you try to force yourself to go for a run.

5. Treats

Sugar is not known for promoting healthy skin but adding a beer and a small treat can make the whole thing seem even more indulgent. There are few things, particularly on a Sunday afternoon, that can’t be improved with a bag of caramel bites.

What I love most about this process is that I can take enough time to really enjoy the process, but it’s not such an ordeal that it becomes a chore or a major scheduling hassle.

Do you have a favorite self-care routine? I’d love to hear about it!

Meditation

I went to my first meditation class in college, where we did 30- and 45-minute sessions. I enjoyed it so much that I went back to my dorm to place a big Amazon order: floor cushion, mala beads, an eye pillow, most of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s books. It turns out that buying a bunch of props does not automatically create a consistent meditation practice, but that first experience stuck with me and I’ve enjoyed meditating ever since. Here are some ways that meditation has been especially helpful since becoming self-employed:

Transitioning between tasks

Running a one-woman shop means that I’m not just doing work for clients, but also marketing my services, preparing for taxes, and sharpening my skills. More and more studies are showing that multitasking is a farce, but meditation can help! Taking a couple minutes—or even just a few breaths—between to-dos can make all the difference in refocusing my energy and preparing for the next item.

Calming anxiety

Dealing with anxiety is no joke, and the more tools you have the better. Meditation has been a great way to keep anxious feelings in check during busy days and stressful situations. I’ll often put some time of my calendar to meditate, but it’s helpful to remember that I don’t need a whole hour (or a special cushion) to get the benefits. Just taking one or five minutes can be enough to slow down and feel the present moment, lessening the anxiety.

Getting to sleep

Especially if I’ve been up late watching TV or working on a big project, it can be hard to get past the thoughts of to-do lists, the next day’s plans, or upcoming deadlines—instead of getting to sleep. Meditation is a great addition to a before-bed routine. Focusing on my breath and waiting for the change in my heart rate can help me drift right off to sleep with ease.

If you’re interested in starting a meditation practice, I highly recommend calm.com and their app (as a customer, not an advertiser!). Have you tried meditating? What tools do you like?

Planners

I really miss the joys of buying school supplies, so each September I treat myself to a new planner or journal. It’s nice to get something after browsing the stationery and back-to-school aisles, and starting a new planner in the fall makes me feel like each year has two fresh starts—New Year’s Day and back-to-school—even though I’m not in school or have kids in school.

Keeping track of time

I read years ago that the average person uses something like 12 ways to keep track of their time: wall calendars, work planners, personal notebooks, online calendars, Post-it notes. It can get crazy.

I’d tried going super structured with the Productivity Planner from Intelligent Change, which helps you prioritize a few essential tasks each day. It’s based on using the Pomodoro Technique to complete them. (The Pomodoro is named for the tomato-shaped kitchen timer Francesco Cirillo used to set 25-minute sprints for himself. The idea is that you stay completely focused on a task for 25 minutes, break for 5 minutes, and repeat. You take longer breaks every four rounds and keep going until your goal is complete.) I love the idea but find it difficult to stick to it past a round or two.

I loosened up and hopped on the bullet journal bandwagon, buying a dotted (rather than lined) notebook and using the grid to create elaborate charts and monthly, weekly, and daily schedules. While I appreciated the excuse to expand my washi tape collection and indulge in fun pens, it gets exhausting to recreate templates every day/week/month, rather than just dropping in my to-do list or upcoming deadlines.

This year I went with a spiral planner from Paper Source: it’s got a lined two-page weekly spread that I can fill up however seems most helpful at the time and monthly calendars for longer-term planning. I like that it’s sturdy enough to toss into my giant bag, has a pretty, plain design, and already has all the dates and days of the week in there so I don’t have to write them myself.

Do you use a planner? How do you like to keep track of your time?

Daily Rituals

One of the best and most immediate perks of giving up my corporate job was that I could stop setting my alarm. I’ve always struggled with getting up in the morning: no matter what time I go to bed or how long (or how well) I sleep, I’m always happy to stay in bed a little longer. The snooze button and I have a close, personal relationship. I really hated having to be somewhere at 7, 8, or 9:00—especially if I was expected to wear business casual clothes and more than a swipe of mascara.

The routines of artists

red book cover for Daily Rituals by Mason Currey

But left to my own devices this summer, the pendulum swung the other way. Having no routine has made me feel anxious about how I’m getting things done and guilty for eschewing all structure in my day. As I started trying to come up with the perfect daily agenda, I found the book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work from Mason Currey. He compiled the daily routines of writers, composers, painters, choreographers, philosophers, filmmakers, and scientists—often in their own words. It’s a wonderful and interesting collection of insights.

Some wake at 4:00 in the morning, others at noon. Some follow a minute-by-minute routine and others let their intuition guide them. Charles Dickens went for “a vigorous three-hour walk through the countryside or the streets of London” ever day promptly at 2:00. Truman Capote only wrote while lying down, always with a cup of coffee and a cigarette . . . shifting from coffee to mint tea to sherry to martinis as the day progressed.

It turns out there’s no one schedule that defines the creation of good and important work. I still haven’t decided on a routine that works for me, but I’m slowly carving one out. So far it includes making the bed as soon as possible, finding a half hour for a walk, leaving my phone in the other room when I’m writing, and still not setting an alarm. I’ve decided I don’t care whether I wake up with the dawn or just in time for lunch.

What about you? Do you have a particular routine or ritual?

Frugality

Sometimes “being frugal” looks like loading my cart up on the Kohl’s website with flowy, comfy summer tops . . . and then closing the browser window with a shrug instead of clicking “buy.”

Spending vs. investing

But sometimes it feels harder: not ordering the book from a new local author because I’ve got more books than I can actually read for the rest of the year and no room in the budget. Not donating to the ACLU when they’re running a special campaign because I’ve already made a contribution. It’s arguing with myself whether charging a $20 webinar is reasonable because I’m investing in myself or if it’s ridiculous because I already have a balance on that card.

Historically, money and I have not been great friends. You may have already guessed that. I worry about not having enough and so I spend in a panic, afraid it will be my last chance ever in life to buy a clearance cardigan at Target. It’s like when you’re about to go on a diet and you go out for one last splurge, and you eat all the fries as fast as you can even though you’re full and already regret the extra salt. No? Just me?

Abundance and frugality

But I’ve been trying to work simultaneously on cultivating feelings of abundance and on trying to live simply. And I think that’s what frugality is about.

I have all that I need already.

I make enough money to support my life.

I don’t need to buy things that don’t bring joy.

I don’t need to spend money that I don’t have.

I’m trying to remember that my relationship with money is, like many relationships, sometimes complicated and sticky but also just part of the journey. It’s not going to be fixed overnight, whether or not I make the extra donation or sign up for another class. But it will improve with time. And I guess that’s plenty for me to hope for.