Lower Your Expectations (and Do Less)

The Better Me Project—Day 20

Like so many of us, I can get completely overwhelmed at times. My list of what I need to do and what I expect of myself never seems to end. Home projects, responsibilities and book ideas all seem to pile up at alarming rates, the list growing longer than the hours in a day. (If I’m honest, the list is probably longer than the number of years I have left to live on this earth.) I want to accomplish so much and at the same time, I want to do everything right. But that voice in the back of my head is screaming at me, “Lower your expectations, Heather! This precept of Lower Your Expectations is actually four parts (and four days) long. Today is the first part—Do Less.

Do Less

I really should start listening to that nagging voice that’s telling me to lower my expectations. It may hold the secret to my complete and utter happiness. Okay, maybe that’s a bit extreme, but it think it may be on to something. It seems crazy to tell yourself to lower your expectations, though, doesn’t it? Wouldn’t most people think you should expect more to get more? If you set the bar low, you won’t work as hard. And you could actually make yourself fail if you don’t expect to succeed. Like if you expect to fail your driver’s test, you could psychologically cause yourself to fail the test, right? If you don’t have faith in something you want to achieve, it can become a self-fulfilling prophesy to not accomplish the goal. Why bother to tell yourself that you can do anything if you don’t expect to do it?

Because you shouldn’t expect to do everything. Just because you CAN do something, doesn’t mean that you should. Sometimes Less is More.

You Can Do Anything, But You Can’t Do Everything

No wiser words have ever been spoken. I saw this meme on Pinterest the other day and it hit me so hard that I couldn’t breathe for a minute. Okay, slight exaggeration, but you get it. Sometimes you stumble upon something that is so relevant to your current situation that it stops you dead in your tracks. Words that can turn your head around and make you really evaluate what you’re doing.

I’ve been burning the candle at both ends lately. Forget both ends, I’ve been burning it at all ends.

Not only do I need to blog daily about The Better Me Project, I have to actually carry out the precepts that I’m talking about. I’m trying to start an online magazine for writers. I have three books half finished right now. There are at least another two book ideas banging around in that cluttered brain of mine. I’ve been researching SEO, Pinterest algorithms and other internet nonsense in order to make my blog more visible and reach more readers. I’m writing a book proposal based on this project. We’re still doing the The Bad Mommy Cooks the USA tour. I want to put all those recipes and disasters into a cookbook. Oh, and I have to go to work and clean my house and feed my family and the dog and work out and generally make sure everything doesn’t fall apart in the meantime.

Yikes!

I do this to myself A LOT. I mentally catalog a list of what I NEED to accomplish that is so unrealistic I have no choice but to fail. I’m going to fail at something on that list, if not everything on that list, because it’s too much. I cannot logically expect myself to achieve any of it—Superwoman herself couldn’t do all that. (Somehow, my expectations of myself are more than I would expect of Superwoman.) And while I have to admit that I’m pretty damn awesome and I do get a lot done, I’m still setting myself up for inevitable failure.

I’m sure there’s so psychological reason that I do this, but I don’t think I should waste any time trying to figure that out. What I need to do is STOP. Well, not stop altogether. I need to lower my expectations and allow myself to DO LESS.

How Can I Do Less?

Prioritizing. Ugh. It’s like a dirty word. How does one prioritize exactly? I mean, if I make a list of things I need (want) to get done, everything on that list is important. Certainly there are things that MUST get done immediately—like eating dinner—but in my mind, everything else on that list is pretty damn important. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have put it on the list in the first place. Duh. And sure, some items on the list are dependent on others (like I can’t schedule my blogs before I write them), but how do I say, “okay, this item comes before that item?”

The best way for me to do this is to evaluate my goals. What is it that I’m looking to accomplish? And on a hierarchy of needs, which goals are most important? Obviously, I want to keep my dog and family alive, so feeding them and making grocery lists need to be done. Along with laundry and going to work so I can make money to do laundry and feed my family. I mean, it’s one thing to disappoint my adoring fans everywhere if I don’t put out a post every day—it’s another not to go to work and have clean clothes.

So yeah, it’s all important, but what isn’t helping me accomplish my goals?

I started this Better Me Project because I truly wanted to mold myself into the best version of myself that I could possibly be. And not only for myself, but for my family and friends and pretty much anyone who ever had to deal with the “not better” version of me. Right now, this project is at the top of my list. Therefore, my blog posts and actually doing the project is one of my most important goals at the moment. Stuff like working on my newsletter and my running and the four thousand book ideas that are swirling in my head need to take a back burner. So does marketing and figuring out how to get more readers. I have to actually complete the project before I worry about that.

These are all things I want to accomplish…eventually. But I also need to take this one step at a time. And for me, that’s REALLY hard. I want it all and I want it yesterday.

It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint

I think the most difficult part of not being able to see my goals accomplished as quickly as I want them to be is the fact that I am seriously worried that I won’t get to them at all. Our clocks are all ticking and we never know when we’re going to run out of time. It’s scary to think that we don’t know what we will have time to accomplish in this lifetime. Just thinking about that causes me anxiety.

Yet, if I lower my expectations and realize that I am not a failure if I don’t do it all, it gives me comfort. I have to allow myself to take a break when I feel overwhelmed. Like with this blog. Three weeks of non-stop blogging with all the rest of my responsibilities is quite a load to take on. Did you notice, no Better Me project post yesterday? I didn’t do it ***gasp***

I can’t beat myself up for needing to hit the pause button for a day or two or ten. I have to remember that I’m putting one foot in front of the other. I am doing the best I can do.

I CAN do ANYTHING. I just won’t do EVERYTHING.

(I’ll see you soon blogging world…just maybe not tomorrow…)

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Forgive Someone Who’s Hurt You

The Better Me Project—Day 18

Is this starting to sound like a 12 step program yet? No? Okay, well how about this for today’s precept—forgive someone who’s hurt you. I’m pretty sure almost every recovery program includes a step of that nature.

It doesn’t matter if this person has apologized and you’ve refused to accept their apology in the past, or this person is completely oblivious to the fact that they’ve even done you wrong. This day is all about being forgiving.

Why Should I Forgive Someone Who’s Done Something Wrong To ME?

Did you ever hear the saying that holding a grudge is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die? Well, the reason that saying is so true is because of the anger and negativity associated with holding a grudge. That negativity eats away at the person who refuses to forgive, causing them unnecessary stress and sometimes even illness. Yes, you can make yourself sick from being mad at someone. I think I’ve done it before.

I Hold Onto a Grudge For WAYYYYY Too Long

I admit it. I’m notorious for this. If you’ve pissed me off, I may not say anything, but I’m silently seething underneath. And I will keep it in till the end of time. I’m not saying that I’m mad at everyone who has ever hurt me. That would be a little ridiculous (and that list would include people I care a lot about). If I’ve have it out with someone who’s hurt me, chances are they’re forgiven. But many times, if I haven’t hashed it out with someone, I may still be mad at them, even if it was eons ago. Someone who wronged me in kindergarten may still be on my $hit list.

This isn’t to say that I’m not a forgiving person. No, I think quite the opposite. I like to believe in the best in people (although I have found myself often disappointed and kicking myself for trusting certain people in the future). If someone is genuinely apologetic for hurting me, I will most likely forgive them.

But What if Someone Has Done Something Really Terrible to Me?

While I want to be accommodating and understanding, I don’t want to be a doormat. I don’t take a lot of crap from people—this is probably why I tend to hold onto my anger unnecessarily. There are some people on this earth that have done really abysmal things to other people. While I’ve been heartbroken and bullied in the past, I’ve been fortunate enough to never had anything that is truly unforgivable done to me. But I understand that there may be readers out there that have been in such a situation and they’re carrying around that pain for a tremendously long time.

I can imagine that it would be pretty difficult to forgive in that situation. And I can imagine that such a feeling would eat away at you for many years and end up controlling your life. You might miss opportunities because you are too upset to confront them or come in contact with them. You want to punish them for the misery they’ve bestowed upon you. Why should you forgive them?

Forgiving someone is not giving them a pass for what they’ve done to you, though. Forgiving someone is mentally telling yourself that you’re not going to be held hostage by your feelings created by this person’s actions. This is for you, not them.

The Great Part Is, You Don’t Even Have to Tell Them You’re Forgiving Them

Maybe this would work a whole lot better if you told the person you were mad at them for whatever. And then the person would actually apologize and you could say to the person, “Okay, I forgive you.” And you hug and go get a drink and forget you were even mad in the first place. I bet that’s the most cathartic way to go about this.

That’s probably not the way it’s going to go down, though. Sometimes you really can’t talk to the person who’s hurt you. They may have passed on. They may be in prison. You may have completely lost touched with them. Or maybe not. Maybe you just don’t want to confront them about it, but you still want to forgive them.

At least that isn’t the way it went down for me.

She Had No Idea

So I was carrying around this grudge for about three years. The person I was mad at was once a really close friend for about ten years until she did something really crappy. If I told you what it was, you would probably say, “Wow, that is a crappy thing to do, but I wouldn’t end a ten plus year friendship over it.”

Well, I didn’t end our friendship over it, but it started opening my eyes to things that she did that weren’t very friend-like. And weird. Every little thing that she had done for ages suddenly annoyed me to the point of exhaustion. Stuff I wouldn’t have even noticed before drove me so nuts that I found myself rolling my eyes at every one of her Facebook posts or texts. The stupid anger I had was brewing inside me like a tea bag that had seeped too long, making me as bitter as that tea would be.

I kept my distance as not to get bent out of shape over it. I knew deep down inside that her personality flaws that had never bothered me before weren’t even the source of my anger. It was that one stupid, little thing she had done (or not done) three years ago.

I Said To Hell With This

I woke up one morning towards the beginning of my Better Me Project and meditated like I do. The night before this person had texted me and asked me to do something for her that I didn’t want to do (that was another thing, she only contacted me when she wanted something…grrr). It made me so mad. I ignored her texts. I even bitched and moaned to another friend about her. I went to bed vowing not to get upset, but I was still stewing about it the next morning. So much in fact that I couldn’t even clear my head to meditate properly. She was getting in my brain and making it difficult for me to be happy. I needed to let this go.

Should I call her up and say, “Hey listen, I don’t want to be friends anymore?” No, I couldn’t do that. She would want to know why and to be honest, whenever I voiced my reason out loud, it seemed so insignificant and irrational that I knew I would look ridiculous. And in a way, it was a little over the top, but what had started out as this little seed of anger, had blossomed into this out of control weed growing inside me.

I Forgave Her Without a Word

So with trembling hands, I picked up the phone that morning and I called her back. I said, “Sure, I’d love to do that favor for you!” And even though I really didn’t want to, I did it without a single complaint. It turns out it wasn’t as terrible as I thought it would be, either. My judgment was so clouded when I was mad that I couldn’t even remember why we were friends to begin with. By forgiving her, it suddenly became clear. She wasn’t as bad as I thought she was—we all make mistakes, after all.

I allowed myself to forgive her, without saying a single word about why I was mad in the first place—I let go of all that built up anger I had been holding onto. And do you know what? It really felt good. It did nothing for her (since she didn’t even know I was mad to begin with), but I felt like a weight had been lifted off my chest and I could breathe again.

Day 18—So do yourself a favor; make a list of people you’re holding a grudge against. Take pen and cross them off, one at a time. Forgive them for you.

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Be Generous

Be Generous—Give More Than You Can Afford To

The Better Me Project—Day 17 (Be Generous)

Today is Tax Day…groan. Some of us are getting back big fat checks, and others…well, not so much. Thinking about taxes inspired today’s precept…in a way. A few years ago, my husband got in this “donating” kick. He told me we need to be generous. Allegedly our accountant had advised us that we needed more charitable donations on our taxes to offset what we owed. Or something like that.

When people start talking about taxes and income and pretty much any math, I actually can feel my mind turning itself off. Remember the adults in the Peanuts cartoons? The wah wah wah noise they always make? Yeah, that’s how people sound when I hear numbers being uttered.

Get to the point, Heather!

Anyway…I kind of flipped out when I saw how much hubby wanted to donate to the various charities that he choose. At that time, we were living paycheck to paycheck—in fact in the summer I couldn’t even go down the shore more than three or four times because we couldn’t afford the gas. And he was giving hundreds of dollars away to charities? We couldn’t afford to be generous. Or so I thought. I protested. He gave anyway.

The benefits

While I was stewing inside, I have to admit, it did feel good to give money to groups that I had a personal attachment to. I started working in an elementary school soon after and had many new opportunities to take charge of fundraising for many organizations. We organized walks and basketball games for various charities including Walk for DiabetesHoops for Heart,  Light The Night (Leukemia and Lymphoma Association), and Make a Wish Foundation. If I had to guess, I would say we raised somewhere in the neighborhood of $50,000 for various foundations over the years. And damn nothing felt better than handing over a nice fat check to an organization’s representative, knowing that we were doing something to help other people. Our efforts were doing some good for the world. It was a great feeling. I almost wanted to bottle it up and open it anytime I felt down or upset.

This is a universal effect of generosity. According to several of the articles I read, there have been tons of studies done on the effect of generosity. And all have come to the overwhelming consensus that yes, it is much better to give than receive. As a child, I never understood why the adults in my life never seemed to actually want any gifts. My grandmother would say that the greatest gift she could receive was seeing us happy with our gifts. I thought it was a bunch of made up malarky, nonsense that adults would say to confuse kids. Now as an adult, I realize that she was speaking the truth. As much as I hate the nagging feeling that I’m hemorrhaging money around the holidays, there’s such a warm and fuzzy feeling you get from picking just the right gift for someone and seeing their joy when they unwrap it.

And the weird thing about when you are generous is that it doesn’t seem to matter if you know or even see the recipient of your act (hence the good feeling we get from donating to charities). It has actually been shown to affect the chemistry of the brain, releasing a lot of “Feel good” chemicals that make one less likely to suffer from depression and stress*, just like when we perform random acts of kindness like I blogged about Day 8.

What are these “Feel Good” Chemicals you speak of?

A few years ago, the concept of “do good”, “feel good” would not have made sense to me at all. I rarely engaged in altruistic acts, so I didn’t get the “feel good” chemical surge. Not only was I incredibly stingy with my money, but my time as well. It seemed that I never had enough of either, so whenever I had some, I wanted to keep it for myself. Be generous? I don’t think so. How could I feel better by parting with my money or my time? I didn’t think it was possible, but I was wrong.

I’m poor! What Can I do????

I know from personal experience that not all of us can afford to donate obscene sums of money to charities. There are other ways to be generous without spending a ton. Tip your waiter or waitress more than the standard 20% or stick a few bucks in that pesky bucket that the people are shaking at your car at every stoplight on the weekend. Don’t want to spend a lot? Set up a Facebook cause for your birthday. (I did this and was able to donate over $200 to the Alzheimer’s Foundation, a charity near and dear to my heart after losing a grandparent to the disease.)

Even those without a cent to spend can get the feel good experience of generosity by donating a little time. You could volunteer to coach your kid’s baseball team or be in charge of a PTO committee. And yes, those are time consuming—it doesn’t need to be a huge time consuming task, or even a regular one. Shoveling your neighbor’s driveway or spending an hour helping a friend pack for a big move counts. It doesn’t need to go on a resume. It just needs to fill your heart with joy and flood your brain with those feel good chemicals.

Be Generous and Beyond

I’ve found myself with a lot more time these days than I had when the kids were younger. Partially it’s because they don’t require as much care, and partially because I’ve embraced the “messy house” look. I’m also less prone to giving a crap than I did ten years ago. Years of juggling schedules has also taught me how to plan and get things done more efficiently. (Also the fact that nobody is taking folded laundry out of a basket and throwing it around the house helps a bit.)

So with that newfound time, I’ve been looking into volunteering (Animal Shelter, reading to homebound residents). So far, no one wants my help! I’ll keep looking though, because I really want to find an organization that I will enjoy spending my time on. Plus, there’s an added bonus to meeting new people. I never know what future book characters I may meet…hehe.

~”No one every became poor by giving”, Anne Frank

*“What Generosity Does to Your Brain and Life Expectancy”U.S. News (5/1/15)

**If you’re looking to get that “feel good” feeling right now, click on any of the charity links above to donate. No amount is ever too small! Be generous!

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reading

Quit Reading Boring Books

The Better Me Project—Day 16 

You would never think I would make a precept about not reading, did you? After all, I’m like the biggest book pusher on the planet. I have books in my purse, my car, on the night table…everywhere. I panic if I’m waiting somewhere and I have nothing to read. Not only do I make sure I bring at least one pair of underwear for each day I’m on vacation, I always have at least one book for every day, much to hubby’s dismay. I think I have an actual phobia of running out of reading material….abibliophobia. (Yeah, it’s a real thing. I looked it up on the Internet. It has to be true if it’s on the Internet, right?)

So What’s This About Boring Books?

I don’t know how it happened, but along the way I made this rule up for myself that I would always finish the books I started. It didn’t matter if the book was the worst book on the planet, if I read past page one, I was going to complete it.

This is probably because I had it drilled in my head as a kid that you finish what you start. You don’t want to play soccer anymore? That’s fine, but you’re finishing out this season. You don’t want to take Geometry anymore? Tough it out, kid. That book you have to read for English is boring? Too bad—finish it.

I Still Read and I’m Not Even In School

While the statistics are controversial, it seems like anywhere from 25-35% of people never read another book once they leave high school. In that percentage of the people that do read after high school, 25 % don’t read more than one book a year. So bibliophiles like me are not as commonplace as say, TV addicts. (Show me a person who hasn’t watched at least one show on TV in the last year, I’ll show you someone who is living in a hut in the middle of a third world country.) I read anywhere from 70-80 books a year. I am NOT bragging at all, I’m just stating a fact. To me, reading books is like breathing—I enjoy doing it and it kind of keeps me alive.

By the way, I am not judging you if books aren’t your thing. Don’t judge me because Game of Thrones isn’t my thing. We all need entertainment in whatever way we can get it. As long as we are keeping our minds active, we’re all good.

But I’m Still Acting Like I’m In School When It Comes to Reading

So I’ve been out of school for um…well, more years than I’d like to admit, yet I still act like I’m in high school. As far as reading is concerned. It’s somehow ingrained in my head that not only do I have to read the classics that I was never assigned in school (Anna Karenia, Moby Dick, The Old Man and the Sea), I have to finish them as well…even if I hate them.

I have spent weeks toiling over some books that I hated (while a gleaming stack of the books I wanted to be reading tormented me from the corner of the room). I’ve thrown books at the wall with frustration. There have been times that I needed to force my eyes to stay open when a book has bored me to death. I have run screaming from the room at books that have horrified me. On more than one occasion I have counted the pages left in a book and wondered, My God when does this book end??? But I have finished them all.

Why?!?!?!? There’s not going to be a quiz! No one is grading an essay that I wrote on color symbolism in the novel! I won’t even have to give my opinion of the damn book to anyone! Why can’t I just read what I like????

I’d Make Some Therapist Very Rich

I’m sure there’s some deep-seated reason for my rigid adherence to the rules of school. I was always such a good little rule follower. Desire to please? One of Maslow’s needs not being met? A Freudian slip from bad potty training? Who knows.

It doesn’t really matter anyway, because I recently gave myself permission to stop the insanity and close the books that are not giving me joy or important information that I need. Yup. I just close the book and I never pick it up again (unless I have to bring it back to the library).

Maybe to you this sounds like common sense, but for me it is a Herculean task. Could I really just close a book on page ten and never go back to it? What if I was almost done? How would I rate the book on Goodreads if I wasn’t even finishing it? (Would this affect my yearly reading challenge?????) What was going to be my criteria for quitting a book?

Of Course, Some Rules

Even when I’m pledging to be carefree and less rigid, I still try to abide by self-imposed rules. What can I say? I crave structure, even when faced with the task of relaxing. (Once again…I probably could use a therapist to iron out my idiosyncrasies.)

So I made up some criteria and stuck it in a flow chart:

img_0618

I also will not “review” a book that I didn’t read at least 3/4 of. And I refuse to rip apart an author if I couldn’t finish a book. Who am I to say a book is “terrible”? Someone else may love it. Different strokes for different folks. (*Please don’t be that guy that gives books 1 star on Amazon and then says something like, “I didn’t read it”. Writers really hate that guy.)

It’s Still Difficult to Break a Habit

I want to believe the best in all books. They were all written by someone with an idea and a story to tell. Those people managed to put all those swirly thoughts in their heads down on paper. Do you know how hard that is??? I do. Therefore, I want to give every book I read the benefit of the doubt and give it a chance. I will not allow myself to fling a book across the room if I didn’t at least do that much.

But there’s been quite a few books lately that I’ve given more than their fair shake. In fact, I recently put aside a book even though I only had 50 pages left to read. It had been interesting at the beginning, but was growing tedious and taking me far too long to get through. I was so proud of myself for not finishing it. Maybe I will try it again in the future…but not now.

Because I don’t have time for reading books I don’t like. Life is too short. Unless it’s required reading don’t waste your time with anything that doesn’t make you happy. Don’t get hung up on imaginary rules and restrictions that aren’t serving a purpose. Let it GO!

This Isn’t Just For Books By the Way…

You can apply this rule (and make yourself a snazzy flowchart) for almost all aspects of you life. If you don’t NEED to do something and it’s sapping you of joy and energy, why are you torturing yourself?????

 

 

 

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Get out of bed

Get Out of Bed Before the Sun Comes Up (You Lazy Bum)

The Better Me Project—Day 15

One of the first precepts that I wanted to institute was to get out of bed. Not that I don’t get out of bed everyday—basically, I wanted to get up earlier. I thought that by getting up earlier, it would allow me to feel less rushed in the morning, and therefore less stressed and angry. If I allowed myself ample time in the morning, I could get things done. In addition to my meditation, I could work out so I didn’t have to do it later on in the day. I could enjoy a leisurely breakfast with proper ratio of carbs to protein. And if things went my way, maybe I would have extra time to work on writing and blog posts and stuff like that.

Wow! You’re going to be so productive, Heather!

This was a great idea! Plus without checking Facebook every morning, I would have even more time than usual. There was just one problem. Despite the fact that I was gung ho to get out of bed earlier every night before I went to sleep, I didn’t exactly feel that enthusiastic once my alarm started blaring at some ungodly hour with a 5 in it. On more occasions than I care to admit, I hit that snooze button. (Okay, basically every single day except one. The dog had to go out and he spent a ridiculous amount of time out in the yard, thereby rendering me fully awake by the time he came in.) I figured I might as well stay up and attempt to get stuff done at that point.

I used to have this Garfield alarm clock when I was a teenager. Whenever you hit the snooze, Garfield would say, “Nah, don’t get up. Stay in bed. Sleep longer.” Lately when ever that alarm goes off, Garfield’s wise words resonate in my head. (He is the World’s Smartest Cartoon Cat after all.)

This must be a side effect of being forty (ish)

I used to be up before the sun…years ago. “Sleeping in” was if I didn’t get out of bed before 7:00. Not only did we constantly seem to have early morning activities (I actually cried tears of joy when Pop Warner football was done with for the season), even when we didn’t, my body couldn’t seem to stay asleep past a certain time. I’d pop up like a jack in the box almost every single day, wanting to get my run in before the kids got up, or attempting to clean the kitchen before they made a mess with their constant food demands. Now the thought of not savoring every sweet second before I absolutely have to get out of bed is torturous.

Sleep is more enticing than being productive

Maybe it’s all those years of being sleep deprived have actually caught up with me. I care much less about checking off all the items on my to-do list than I did 10 years ago. In fact, I’m kind of like, “Should I even make a to-do list today? Nah. I’ll just get done whatever.” And whatever has been including sleeping later and taking naps. Ugh, I’m so ashamed.

You would think this would just mean that I’m much more chill than I was in the past, just accomplishing what I can, not spreading myself too thin. You know, focusing on the important things in life. Letting my anxiety go and just going with the flow…

Nope. Just Nope

Not being productive has become anxiety inducing. I want to get things done. It’s just that I’ve let myself get further behind than ever before and it’s an overwhelming feeling. No, scratch that. It’s a chest palpitation and need to breath through a plastic bag kind of feeling. If I get out of bed early and start the day on a high note, I’m pretty sure that I will not only get more done, I’ll be less stressed throughout the day. Mainly because I didn’t start the day rushing around. I do notice that when I get up earlier and work out and all that, I have a higher level of energy throughout the rest of the day.

My mind knows i Should Get out of Bed…I just have to convince my body

I understand all the benefits of waking up earlier. I’m a logical and rational person after all. But tell that to my sleeping body that has been ripped awake from a dream of being rubbed down with suntan oil on a beach by Channing Tatum (available again, by the way). If my choices are to roll over and have another drink with Channing or get out of bed in the freezing cold and put on work out clothes to start my day…well, what would you choose?

Okay, seriously. I’ll get up earlier. Starting tomorrow. I promise.

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throw it out

When In Doubt, Throw It Out!

The Better Me Project—Day 14 (Throw it out!)

There’s just something about spring (if it would ever get here…). Birds are chirping, flowers are blooming, people are shedding their winter coats and getting outside. (Pollen everywhere, watery eyes, people sneezing, kids falling off bikes—the joys of school nursing.) Despite the allergies running rampant, it’s a great time to engage in a little game called THROW IT OUT!

Ah, Spring Cleaning! It’s good for the soul. It’s a way to start anew after a long winter of being trapped in a smelly and cluttered house. This is an activity that my hubby and kids absolutely hate, mainly because I tear around the house on a cleaning and organizing rampage. I vacuum and dust and sterilize beyond recognition. I organize closets and rearrange furniture (hubby hates when he comes home from work he never knows where everything will be). And I find myself filling garbage bags full of…garbage.

A caveat, of course…

Now, I don’t go around just tossing things willy-nilly, but I have been known to throw a lot of things out over the course of my spring cleaning. Shoes, outgrown clothes, condiments that have grown fuzzy and sticky in the fridge, ripped pillows, baseball trophies. I’m not a sentimentalist. I’m not an ogre, either. I mean, I keep mementos from the kids’ childhoods like the onesie my daughter came home from the hospital in and the the ball from my son’s first homerun. I keep report cards and favorite stuffed animals. But I draw the line at every single program that mentions their name, every certificate (Best Color-er??? Really, that’s a thing???), and all those art projects with excess glitter, glue, and Cheerios.

Yet, something is stopping me…

My general rule has always been…Not using it? Throw it out! Well, that’s how it always was in the past. Lately, though, I’m starting to notice that I’m holding onto more and more things that I would have just chucked to the curb in years prior. Those pants that haven’t fit me in nearly five years are still floating around in the back of my closet since I’m convinced that at some point in time I WILL FIT INTO THEM. The iPhone that I had for years before I broke down and got a new one? Yeah, that’s still in a drawer somewhere in case I need the notes on it or I discover I didn’t download a picture or something. All those college brochures coming for my son that can easily be downloaded off the net. Coupons I just might use, despite the fact that they expire in two days. A paper my daughter got an A on, even though she’s gotten many of those. The leftovers from dinner the other night that someone (mainly me) might eat. I’m suddenly afraid of throwing out something that might be useful in the future.

And I really don’t want to waste. You know how bad I feel wasting food? I can’t ever remember wasting anything as a kid. There were four kids and everything gotten eat or reused a thousand times before we even thought of tossing anything. We were not “poor” by any stretch of the imagination, but we didn’t have anything to waste, either. I guess that mindset has followed me throughout my life.

Stop the madness!

Slowly but surely, I’m letting things pile up on me. What’s wrong with me? Am I becoming one of those hoarders? (If one thing makes me shudder, it’s those shows where people pile up crap in their house until they can’t even walk.) In fact, watching those shows is often what inspires me to resurrect the throw it out game to begin with.

No! There’s no way I’m hoarding. But I have noticed that when I feel like I’m losing control over things, or a lot of negative events are in the forefront of my mind, I tend to hold on to more stuff that I don’t need. I am less likely to throw things that are rotting in the fridge out or clean off the table. Maybe it’s simply because I’m overwhelmed by the situation. (I guess that’s what happens to hoarders, too.) When the going gets tough, sometimes I just want to pull the covers over my head and not worry about keeping the house neat and clutter-free.

I’ve got to get myself out of this funk

So what would make me feel better? Getting rid of things that I don’t need! Seriously, there’s hardly any rush like picking up something that’s been sitting around the house for years and deciding to throw it out. There’s a book called “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo. I never read it, but it was referenced on Gilmore Girls so that’s pretty much the same thing as reading it. Anyhoo, the point is, according to this book, you’re supposed to hold something in your hand and if it doesn’t bring you joy, you’re supposed to get rid of it.

So basically, Throw it out?

I guess in theory this works most of the time. Obviously those boneless spare ribs in the back of the fridge and the expired oatmeal in the cabinet are not bringing me any joy. Neither are those pants that aren’t ever going to fit me again, no matter how much I dream that I’m 31 and running 5 miles a day again. (Damn, I’m lucky if I get my 10,000 steps in anymore.) But the computer that’s running slow isn’t bringing me joy, either. And the couch that’s lumpy from the dog using it as a bed? Joyless. I can’t throw it out, though. I need a couch and a computer and I can’t just buy a new item every time something isn’t performing its function properly (I would have tossed hubby long ago if that was the case…hehe).

Yet I can’t deny that getting rid of items is not only helpful for de-cluttering and reorganizing your life, it’s cathartic as well. When my house is clean and organized I feel like I can accomplish anything. So, what to do?

Hence, Spring Cleaning

So this spring cleaning thing had to happen. I tried over break to get into it. I woke up one morning and decided to clean out the fridge (that’s a good place to start, right?). There was food in there from God knows when. Jars of sauce with fuzzy mold growing on it, green cheese, salad dressings with expiration dates from when Obama was president (the first term). Leftovers that had become attached to the containers they were in (I just chucked the whole thing). What was I doing holding onto this stuff?

I cleaned with Lysol and put everything back in its place. And then I looked at the nearly empty fridge and started to panic. We had no food! We needed food! So I made a list and went to the store and came back and restocked the fridge. I sighed with relief. But then I realized I was so exhausted from the whole ordeal that I had no energy to do anything else in the “de-cluttering” project. I would do it tomorrow.

Except, I didn’t

Maybe it was the abysmal weather that stopped me from cleaning and throwing things out. Perhaps it was because I peeked into my daughter’s room and had heart palpitations from the pre-hoarder state of the place. Or maybe I’m just tired of being neurotically organized all the time and I’m letting myself go. Or more likely, letting it go has overwhelmed me and I don’t know where to start. At any rate, I KNOW I need to get with the program again…even just a little bit.

Today is a new day

So it’s Saturday. A perfect day to tackle that front closet…the one where bags and shoes hit me in the head when I open it. If I haven’t used it, I’m going to throw it out. Then the other closet with the ripped towels and sheets that I saved “just in case. And then my drawers and clothes closet…I don’t need half the stuff I have. I’m going to simplify my life and throw things out. Or box things up to donate. At any rate, I’m not keeping all this stuff I don’t need. I can’t hold onto everything. And the good news is, I don’t have to do it all today (as much as I tell myself I must—that’s how I get burnt out). One day at a time…one closet at a time.

 

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gossip

Look At Me, Gossip Free

The Better Me Project—Day 13 (Gossip Less)

What’s harder than avoiding road rage, complaining or accepting compliments? Avoiding gossip. (My grandmother used to say something about gossiping like an old wash woman, so as a kid, I associated gossip with laundry. This was probably as she was gossiping about the next door neighbor she despised…)

Gossip—They Probably Did It While They Built the Pyramids

Gossip…it seems to be the cornerstone of our society and has been for years. While social media seems to cause gossip to spread like wildfire (another reason to Disconnect ), we can’t blame it all on the internet. It’s human nature. People were probably gossiping about Adam and Eve (“What a ho! Did you see that leaf she was wearing?”)

I remember waiting on line at the grocery store as a kid and seeing the tabloid magazine screaming out that Elvis was still alive and living as a martian in the Fountain of Youth. I remember overhearing my parents and grandparents whispering about this person or that person. When I went to school I recall kids talking about each other behind their backs, each year the whispers getting louder and more vicious (“Did you see who she was talking to? What a slut! Did you hear what happened with her boyfriend? Oh MY GOD!). You would think this would die out after high school but I assure you…it does not.

(PTO Mom to other PTO Mom: “Stay away from Jane. I heard she gave her kids non-organic baby food…”)

I’m Not a Saint

Let’s face it. We are ALL guilty of gossiping. Why do we have this uncontrollable urge to share things that may not be any of our business? Well, for starters, it’s fun and helps us feel like we’re fitting in. After all, there’s no greater bond than two people who “hate” the same co-worker. And who doesn’t love a bit of scandal to make our own lives seem better? If she’s getting a divorce because she caught her husband cheating with her cross dressing hair dresser, our problems pale in comparison. And if you’re the one with the juicy tidbit, you think that elevates you in other’s eyes or that it makes people like you. When you know something they don’t know, it makes you the star of the show. Or at least it feels like that.

If We All Do It, Is It So Bad???

There are studies out there that say some gossiping is healthy and helps establish a hierarchy of society and blah, blah, blah. Some gossiping is meant to serve as a warning and helps people in the long run and more yada, yada, yada. Yet, when asked, people tend to view “gossipers” negatively. After all, setting rumor mills alight all over town doesn’t exactly bode well for projecting positivity into the universe. It makes one look like nothing more than a school yard bully, looking to cut down someone else. It’s not as helpful as we pretend it is meant to be. Let’s be honest, most gossip is simply self-serving. It makes us feel better about ourselves in some way.

The Negative Consequences

What happens when the rumor that we’re spreading isn’t true? We look like idiots for telling lies. Not to mention, we appear to be catty and mean. We may have unnecessarily hurt someone else for no reason other than to feel better about ourselves.

I was at a meeting the other day and all of a sudden, people started ripping on other people that weren’t in the room. And I was no exception. Before long we were all laughing and joking and having a good time. At someone else’s expense. Don’t get me wrong…most likely these people would never know what we were saying, but still, I couldn’t help but think…

What Are We Doing????

As adults, we tell the kids at school that they shouldn’t talk about each other behind their backs and then we literally turn around and talk about other people behind their backs. We tell the kids that are victims of the rumors to ignore it, that the rumor spreaders are only doing it because they feel insecure and want to fit in by hurting someone else. And then we turn around and spread a vicious rumor about our acquaintance’s lover that she’s meeting in an alley when she’s allegedly at the gym. What happened to practice what you preach?

I, for one, have decided that I’m not going to be a part of gossiping from this point on. I’m going to set a good example.

I’m Not Trying to Be a Goody-Two Shoes

I know I sound like I’m being all preachy and I’m perfect over here, but I assure you, I’m not. I get it. This one is HARD. If anything, I’m constantly reminded about how this is a PROJECT. It’s been very difficult for me to bite my tongue when rumors are flying (especially when I know something they don’t know). And even since creating this particular precept, I’ve had a very hard time keeping my mouth shut. I want to fit in and not look like the goodie-two shoes who’s not participating in the backbiting and back stabbing. Who doesn’t want to be liked?

But as a person who has been the recipient of rumors in my life, I know how hurtful they are (and it makes no difference whether they’re true or not). I think in the long run, the less gossiping I do, the more well liked I will actually be. If people hear me gossip, unconsciously they know at some point in time that I might possibly start talking about them. I’m going to be viewed as less trustworthy. I’m going to be seen as negative.

How Can I Do This?

So how am I breaking the cycle (for myself)? Well, the most effective thing for me has been to literally think before I speak. I’m an infamous emotional speaker—I blurt out what’s on my mind all the time. So when someone says to me, “Did you hear what happened to so and so?” my immediate response is to either share what I know happened to so and so, or lean in on my hands and say “No! What? Tell me!”. Thinking about what I’m going to say before speaking when someone presents me with a juicy nugget like that has proved a challenge, but I’ve been trying to smile politely and tell the person “No, I haven’t heard.” and change the subject. This sends the message that I’m not open to hearing about it. If they insist on telling me, I listen, but once again, I try to resist the urge to add input. It. Is. Very. Difficult.

Still Not a Saint…

Because it’s so difficult, I’ve had to bend the rules a bit. Since some gossip has been deemed as helpful, I’ve listened to it and said things like, “Wow, that’s a shame”, “Yikes, that nose job must hurt” or “It must be difficult for her to have to share bras with her husband.” just to let the gossiper know that I’m not interested in bashing anyone, even though I will listen the information they want to share. And sometimes FACTS are helpful (hence the “good” gossip). If my son’s classmate got busted for selling weed out of his locker, it’s good to know that for future reference when my son brings that kid to hang out at our house. Likewise, if my neighbor is being investigated for embezzling PTO funds, I know I should be careful with my money around her.

This is Going to Be a “One Day at a Time” Sort of Project

Like I said, I’m a work in progress. Not every one of my flaws can be eradicated in a month. Many of them are deeply ingrained. This is going to be a lifetime process—a constant battle. I just want to be a better me than I was yesterday.

And by the way, I’m not going to condemn someone for gossiping—it’s a challenge to stop. I’m not even saying you should stop. You gotta do whatever works for you. This is my project…this is one of the things I’m trying to change about me. I’m just trying not to be a wash woman…spread the word.

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