Six life lessons from plants

Right before Christmas 2017, I started a new job in the marketing department at a greenhouse. Aside from an aloe plant and a snake plant that magically stayed alive through several moves and years of neglect at my mother’s house, I really wasn’t super experienced with plants. A boss once gave me potted purple shamrocks on Saint Patrick’s Day and I kept those alive pretty well, but I’d never been a “plant person.”


Whoa, buddy. I am a certified card-carrying plant lady now. My new home is full of life, through colorful decorations and windowsills covered in potted plants. Yeah, I’ve lost a few. My Instagram feed will show you the “Plambulance” I made to quarantine the plants I accidentally baked in my car (rest in peace, ALL OF THEM). I keep overwatering succulents despite trying so so so hard to not do that. But I’ve found I have really good luck with foliage so I’m just a viney, leafy, tree-y person now.

My wardrobe consists mostly of floral patterns, and I rock about four different floral patterned bags on a daily basis (purse, backpack for work, lunch bag, gym bag). It’s pretty serious. The more I get to know plants, the more I love them and have learned to enjoy quiet time pruning, watering, and (yes, of course) talking to them. Mama’s little babies. Yes they are.

Here are six things I’ve learned about life through caring for my plants:

  1. Grow toward the sun: Some plants will start to bend and bow in search of more light. Do this. What gives you life, what feeds you emotionally? Bend toward it. Grow toward it.
  2. Prune old growth: Each leaf is beautiful and amazing as it grows, but sometimes (through lack of care or maybe just age and growing up), the leaf dies. Or the vine gets leggy. Or the stem stretches, or you get a pest, or whatever. You can’t sit there staring at your Fiddle Leaf Fig being sad you dropped a leaf – prune it off and grow what’s healthy.
  3. Hydrate: Go drink some water. Yes, right now. Unless you are a succulent.
  4. Speak softly: You know those social media experiments where they tell people to either insult or compliment a plant, and then show that the plant that received compliments and praise grows healthier, while the insulted and sad plant dies? Whether or not those are real, scientifically backed experiments or not, why not talk kindly and gently to yourself, given the choice? I wipe my plants leaves with a damp cloth, point out their new growth like it’s a personal victory, and say nice things to them about how pretty and nice they are. If I can do this to a plant on my windowsill, I should be able to do it to myself. When my flapjack succulent is a little droopy and I say, “Baby, what’s wrong, what do you need?” then I can ask myself the same when I am tired, or sore, or just a little droopy.
  5. Breathe: Plants absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen. They reduce airborne toxins and fumes. They breathe. All the time. When their leaves are growing, they breathe. If their roots are overwatered and like “Lady wtf, too much water!!!” they breathe. They breathe while stressed. They breathe while growing. They just breathe.
  6. Get dirty: Playing in dirt is great for you. It builds your immune system, it connects you with nature, and it grounds and centers you in the here and now. Don’t be afraid to go get dirty, whether it’s with a potted plant, a garden, or a hike through your local nature trail.

Bullet journaling: The best planner is the one you’ll use

I have a tendency to go gung-ho into a new project or organization style only to falter and give up on it a few months later. For instance, I bought a 90-day goal setting planner for $30. Were I to use it annually I would be committing $120 a year to planners. I gave up on this planner.

So then I decided to try bullet journaling. Not the basic utilitarian bullet journaling, but the adorable Pinterest-worthy kind. With beautiful layouts and calligraphy and doodles of cactuses. I used it to make goal lists, monthly calendars, weekly layouts, and workout schedules. But I promptly screeched to a halt when my divorce happened. For a good three months, I was floating, untethered to any to-do list or budget or plan. I ate a lot of cupcakes. I went to work but didn’t feel like I was bringing my A-game. My coworkers and boss were beyond patient and understanding as the weight of changing my entire life held me down for a while.

I went back to bullet journaling, but using the same notebook with my previous goals, about how I’d declutter the office and clean the basement and have a baby and write my book, was too much. I needed a fresh start, so I bought a new notebook and a cute set of pens and some stencils to make cute doodles. And I allow myself the time to just create in my journal. It calms me, it brings me peace, it gives me a sense of control. Honestly, I find it really helps my anxiety too.

Now when I open my planner, I see a five year plan that actually feels achievable and not like chasing one new happiness after another, hoping to find the thing that sticks and makes everything better. Everything is already better. Using pretty pens to outline how I’m going to kick major ass for the next three to five years gives me a solid platform of things to work toward, and now that I’m not overwhelmed in my daily life and trying to escape through TV and endless social media scrolling, I’m actually getting things accomplished.


I’m particularly proud of this spread. When you’re feeling negative it’s hard to think of something that will help you feel better. 

Bullet Journaling Tips

  • Size: Choose a journal that is a good size for you. Maybe you like a full 8 x 10 book, or maybe something smaller suits you. I use a 5 x 8 notebook with a dot grid matrix. I ordered it on Amazon but you can probably find them at any office supply store. A plain graph paper notebook would also work.
  • Pens: My all time favorite pens are Bic Cristals in a multi colored pack. They don’t bleed and they write smoothly. I’ve been trying out more inky pens and the color saturation is great but I do get some bleed.
  • Layout: I’ve found that a weekly grid of my most key to-dos is the best way for me to organize, but some people just like a month at a glance, weekly basics, or an in-depth daily spread.
  • Starting: I seriously just browse Pinterest or Google Images for bullet journal spreads and then alter them to fit my needs or preferences. There are untold numbers of guides and ideas out there. There are no rules!


Letting go of what no longer serves you

It should come as a surprise to no one that I’ve used moving out of my marital home and into my own apartment as another period of decluttering and transition. This time, I am really getting down to business. I’ve sold off items I wasn’t using, given things away entirely, and focused on creating a space filled with things that bring me joy. I haven’t gone full KonMari on my belongings, but I’ve gotten pretty close.

Some of the hardest things to let go of were the symbols of the happily-ever-after that I left behind. At the end of July, I had listed several things for sale on Facebook Marketplace. I was having trouble selling my collection of baby items and ended up just giving them away. I gave away a ring sling, cloth diapers, leg warmers, a tote full of clothes and bibs, baby and children’s books, and a $400 organic crib mattress with organic cotton sheets.

Even bringing the baby stuff with me when I moved out was a hard choice. Do I bring this broken dream with me? What else would I do with it? I worked out with my ex that he would donate the crib and changing table to a local women’s organization. But the other stuff, the stuff I had been collecting and purchasing for years, it was hard to let go of those things.

But once I decided to just give them away, I felt a weight off my shoulders. I could breathe. I could let go of what I had wanted in the past and am no longer encumbered by anything tethering me to the dream of having children with my ex husband. To be perfectly honest, I am relieved we had such trouble conceiving. I can’t imagine having to trade off on weekends with him for the next eighteen years. For every month I spent throwing test after negative test into the bathroom trash can after applying ten different photo filters to see the faintest hint of a line, I am grateful now.

Long story short, I have a baby in my five year plan now. I’m focusing on paying off my student loan in under three years, taking a kickass vacation to Europe for my sister’s 30th birthday, and then looking into sperm donation by the time I’m 35.

But back to the real purpose of this blog post, which is to say that it’s okay to change your mind. It’s okay to stop holding onto things that once held importance to you. Even the things that are scary to admit no longer hold value.

It might be a friendship or relationship, or a family heirloom, or a pair of jeans that are seriously blown out in the thighs that you haven’t let yourself trash yet (just throw them away!).

In a moment of decluttering serendipity, I found a bottle of “abundance spray” in my toiletries that is supposed to help you bring prosperity and let go of the things that no longer serve you. I wandered through the apartment and spritzed it in every room, then I walked around tossing stuff in a trash bag for the thrift store. If it’s not serving me, why am I giving it my space and energy? Goodbye, tee shirt. Goodbye, hat. Goodbye, books. Goodbye, jeans with the blown out thighs.

In her own words: At least he doesn’t hit me

I believe that survivors of abuse tend to find each other. Or maybe it’s that emotional and psychological abuse is such a common side effect of society’s masculine ills that many of the women I know can all relate to having a partner who has been manipulative, controlling, and/or downright abusive. Some of them are willing to share their stories with me, which I’ll share here. Because telling one’s story can be an important part of healing. While they may never forgive or forget, I do hope that sharing their stories can help my friends take another step toward healing.

In this blog post, we’ll hear from Pepper, in her own words. (I may edit for clarity, grammar, etc., and I’ve changed names).

Content Warnings: Emotional abuse, manipulation, financial abuse, mental abuse, abusive marriage, and adult language (F bombs ahoy!)

I have titled my last marriage as: At least he doesn’t hit me. It explores the various ways in which I was abused emotionally, financially, and mentally in a 7 year relationship, and even into our 2 separations.

The first I will discuss is emotional abuse and manipulation. I was frequently shamed for speaking to other men, then women as well. He manipulated me into thinking I was inferior, and less than, in our marriage, and that I needed to do specific things and change behaviors to “deserve him” as my husband.

In January of 2017, I remember a big fight we got into because he felt entitled to my entire friends list, all my mental health groups, and my business pages. My entire social media life, including private messages.  This is one such excerpt I wrote in hysterics after the argument:

He has issued forth a list of rules to continue our marriage. He wants full access to my friends, groups, and everything. I politely told him to go fuck himself, he’s not getting to my safe groups. Messages, sure, unless there is private info. WTF? I am not some puppet to be controlled, you cockberry fuck nut. I am not your maid, or servant, not some 1950’s housewife, and I am most definitely not a well behaved woman. Fuck you. Fuck you times a thousand. If you can take away my safe spaces for mental health and be okay with it, you’re not who I want to be married to anyway, because you are a horrible human being. Don’t worry, he will never have access to my groups. I will never let that happen, I just really needed to vent before I lose my shit on him.”

The conversation continued between he and I:

Him: Ok. I am not denying you a safe space to discuss your mental health. I will admit that I have trust issues, but not respect. To me it appears the other way around. You do not respect me or our marriage enough to not go seeking “insight” from other men. The pattern I was talking about with you is that you get bored of me and go seek excitement elsewhere.

I am not saying you cant have male friends.. just not ones who want to get into your pants or send you dick pics or the like.

I don’t see (friend) talking dirty to you or sending you pics of his dick.

You have “friends” who literally tell you to cheat on me.

And you fail to see how any of this is inappropriate or to even take responsibility for your actions.

You do not respect me because you actually threatened me saying you have pics of a broken remote and of where it apparently hit you in the face. (Pepper: He threw it at me) You don’t respect me because you feel the need to lie to me.”

As you can clearly see, respect is the term he frequently used in our marriage to manipulate me into changing behaviors that he disapproved of.

One type of emotional abuse is the balance in the relationship and household in itself. There was no balance in our relationship. He was dominant, and I was to be the submissive, quiet housewife. He decided my role. I was the “stay at home mom,” I was told I didn’t have a job, I didn’t work (even when I was working 40 hours a week in my small business) and that the kids and house WERE my job. He worked outside the home, therefore he was exempt for the upkeep in the family. I cooked, and made his plates, I made his lunches, I folded his clothing. However, In every aspect of our marriage, I was alone. The lone caretaker of the children, when he would “grace them with his fun presence” and then go to bed. I was the lone housekeeper, and when he would come home, he became another person for me to take care of. Socks and clothes thrown about the house, dishes left on the floor overnight, dishes in the sink left caked. Hair all over the bathroom. Laundry everywhere to be folded. Weekends were for fun, not cleaning, unless I did it. That would leave the house a complete disaster by Monday, and I in the center, with my OCD and my anxiety, crying over my plate after plate after plate of too much.  By the time I was to losing my shit levels, he would tell me I was crazy and needed my meds, but then he would pitch in and do dishes, or some meaningless task that I had already done, like vacuum. Most of the time he “deserved to come home and be undisturbed” as he played his video games and went to bed.

I specifically remember we all went on a family vacation while I was still pumping for our youngest child. His parents and sisters family came too, and I was constantly shamed for pumping and not giving him formula, for giving him donor milk, and for every time I slowed them down or wanted to come along. I even went so far as to purchase a to go pump just to make “something” and be able to see the beach. The entire trip, I was shunned to a bedroom and not allowed to pump in front of anyone. One day, they planned an entire day’s worth of events without including my need to pump and feed a baby. This was incredibly upsetting to me, and most of all, because my husband would not stand up for me. He knew it was important, and remained silent. This was a constant in our entire relationship as well. I pumped as hard and fast as I could to prepare to go, and fed the baby all that I could. I looked up, and everyone was gone. They had taken my daughter, and left the baby and myself there as they went to see a lighthouse (I’m a photographer) ride the ferry, and even see wild horses. They knew I’d have loved to see my daughter’s reactions to all of that, and get photos, but I’d just slow them down, so I didn’t deserve to go. The baby and I sat alone in that house for 6 hours with no phone call or anything from anyone. I forgave him. He said “he didn’t know I wanted to go” even as I said “Hold on let me pump real quick and I’ll do the next one when we get back.” We had a cycle, as I see it now. He’d let his family shame me, say nothing, ignore it, let it upset me, shame me for “letting them get to me” and then I’d forgive him, knowing it was all my fault. This is the cycle of gaslighting.

I should have left then. But, at least he didn’t hit me.

The next type of abuse I will talk about is gaslighting, and withholding of affection and attention. The gaslighting and manipulation, guilt trips, threats, and even the silent treatment was a constant thing from him, to the point where I thought I needed to be committed for the sake of him and our kids, and that I was a horrible person and constant cheater (though I had never physically cheated.) Near the end, I stopped reaching out to him, and I sought out emotional relationships with others, deep and meaningful friendships to fill the void of what I was missing in my life. He deemed that this was “cheating” and that I was not allowed to have any such friends. The specific target became my best friend and former boss. He suffered from mental health issues as well, and I dared ask him about the sexual lifestyle he lead, out of sheer curiosity.  That was inexcusable in my husband’s eyes, and he even went as far as to say he’d rather me self harm than talk to the friend.

This is a message I sent to a friend after a panic attack when I had reached out to this friend:

I contacted my old friend that was my mental health rock the other day in the middle of a panic attack that lead me to want to self harm. Everyone was busy and I had no one on that moment to distract me. My husband just told me he has been watching the phone bill to see who I talk to, and we got in a fight…He said he’d rather me cut myself then talk to him…I’m not sure how to even feel right now. I just gave him my entire savings to get away BC he couldn’t cover rent..BC things were better..Things were getting better..I thought..

He had always had jealousy and anger issues, even in the beginning of our relationship, but I just told myself “That’s just love. He doesn’t want to lose me.”

Withholding of affection and intimacy was so common that I forgot I had a sex drive at all until I left.  I was rarely kissed outside of the “coming home” or “going to work” kiss, we rarely embraced, and sex was very few and far between, specifically once I was not 100 lbs like when we had met. When I got pregnant, I gained 50 lbs, and we didn’t have sex the entire pregnancy, or at all until I lost ALL the weight. Then sex would improve, I’d get pregnant and gain weight, and it would stop. I, having anorexia, see this a form of body shaming from him. He would have several excuses, but the most frequent was that he had low testosterone. With the amount of emotional anger outbursts as he had, I was skeptical, and begged for him to see a doctor and get treatment. He never did. I was only “given” sex how he wanted and when he wanted it, and he used it as a method of positive reinforcement when my behavior was something he favored.

The next type of abuse I will touch on is financial. In our 7 years together, he denied me access to our joint bank accounts, refused to give me a bank card, though I did 100% of the household shopping, and at one point, he refused to take his mother off his account to add me. I had to ask for the card in advance, and tell him what I was using it for, and how much I needed. He even went as far as to call me selfish for purchasing hand me down cloth diapers (mostly), a new mattress we had agreed upon, and a heat press I had saved up for for 2 years for my business. Here is one such excerpt of our conversation:

You don’t respect me because instead of helping me out financially, you rather spend your money on something selfish like cloth diapers or the damn mattress or heat press. You had money to pay off a loan and your ticket, but I’m left to cover it somehow. And you’ll blame me when there’s not enough money for groceries.

Again, you see the word respect in order to “bring me back under heel” and mention of completely normal things, like paying off loans and tickets, but to him, those things were needless. However, he could go out to eat, get coffee every day, etc., and that was not to be brought up because “He worked and I didn’t.” He also without consulting me, got approved and opened a $6,000 credit card to “start his own business” and maxed it out within two months. I found out, I was very upset, because we had been going without things for months, and because he lied. I should have left then. But “AT LEAST HE DOESN’T HIT ME” I thought. At one point, after being pregnant, weight fluctuations, breastfeeding, etc, I told him I needed new clothing and nursing bras, and equipment. I constantly begged for things I needed.

I told him:

I don’t buy things for myself. I don’t have clothes, I finally bought a pair of 12 dollar shoes after wearing mine for a year and month, 6 months with huge holes in them. My single pair of jeans has holes in the crotch and are unwearable, my shirts all have holes. I don’t buy myself food or snacks often, and not without feeling the need to run it by you. I don’t do anything with business money unless discussing it with you, and big purchases have always been agreed upon or I don’t do them.”

When I started my business, I started a seperate savings and checking account, and when he found out, he was livid. How dare I hide money or accounts from him, and spend from them without permission. He called it “family money” to guilt me into handing it over.

I should have left then. But “AT LEAST HE DOESN’T HIT ME” I thought.

For help identifying or leaving an abusive relationship, please contact the Domestic Violence Hotline. 1-800-799-7233

The (lack of) rules of removing toxic people

Heading into a grocery store cafe to do some work before my afternoon plans, I was worried about seeing my mother. As I’ve described before, I cut contact with my mom over 18 months ago and have only seen her twice, when my stepfather died.

The process of cutting her off has involved dreams, therapy, and low-level anxiety whenever I’m somewhere I might run into her.

In one of the first dreams, it was winter and I was meeting my mom at a shopping mall. I thought to myself in the dream, “Maybe mom will buy me a winter coat since I need a new one.” I woke up thinking, “I’m not talking to mom. I have to buy my own winter coat.”

I had another dream that I ran into her at a crowded restaurant. She was wearing a denim jacket with a bedazzled rhinestone design on the back (not typical of her style, if that matters). I took care to avoid her so she didn’t see me.

The third dream was about this very grocery store where I am typing this now. I ran into her in the produce department and she asked if I had anything to say to her. I simply said, “No,” and kept shopping.

These dreams happened over the course of about a year, and through them all I was in therapy, frequently discussing my mom but also my marriage and the ways my issues from childhood were affecting my ability to be a functional partner (spoilers, they weren’t the problem).

My therapist once asked, “What do you think your mom would think about ___________?” and my response was an emphatic and immediate, “I don’t care!” It was that moment that finally clicked for me that it no longer mattered what my mother thought about me. It’s still an ongoing process, but a very healthy and helpful one to continue unpacking.

As I walked into this grocery store this morning, briefly worried if I’d see her, I saw with perfect clarity what I would do if I did. I would offer her a hug and ask how she was doing. If she wanted to talk, I would talk. And if she questioned any of it at all, I knew my answer would be, “I love you even if I can’t have you in my life.”

Even though I do not forgive her, I love her and would offer her compassion.

I can love someone and be angry. I can love someone and not forgive. I can love someone and have boundaries. I can love someone who isn’t part of my life anymore for my own health.

But the key is: It would be MY choice to speak to her in that moment.

My decision to offer my mother compassion is about ME and is not a prescription for anyone else who might be going through the process of removing a toxic person from their life.

Don’t take this as instructions on how it’s best to forgive, be compassionate, and move on. Nope. You can be as mad as you want to be and I will never tell you to let it go. If it serves you, protects you, and gives you a reason to get out of bed and make the world better (even if it’s just a world of one), hold onto whatever you need. If it hurts you to be angry, maybe think on that. But I don’t tell you what to do. You make the rules.

I make my rules.


When broken is better than nothing (or is it?)


Part of being minimalist is discarding what you don’t find useful or beautiful. However, it’s a very privileged position to be able to discard something functional just because you don’t quite love it with unbridled joy. So we usually hang onto the functionally imperfect items that aren’t totally our style, because sometimes you can’t afford to go buy a whole new wardrobe. It’s ok to find joy in having pants, even if the pants themselves don’t make your butt look the best.

That said, there are some moments when it’s okay to let go of something that’s functional — and they usually involve those pesky emotions.

Exhibit A: The Snarky Mugs

For two years in a row, I received a snarky mug from my mother for Christmas. One said “I’m not bossy I just know how what you should be doing” (or something similar) and one said “I’m silently correcting your grammar.” I laughed when I received them. I kept them in my cabinet. I even drank out of one. But every time I saw them in the cabinet, I’d end up feeling subconsciously crappy.

The mugs replayed the tapes in my head of my mom telling me I was too much of this or that. I was rude, I was bossy, I was whatever. Months after I ceased contact with her, I decided these mugs needed to go. Once they were gone, I felt much better.

Honestly, if the mugs had come from someone else, I would have probably found them really funny. They might have been my favorite mugs. I will never know. Because my mother raised me criticizing the things she bought these mugs to “poke fun at,” they triggered negative self-thoughts. So I got rid of them.

Exhibit B: The Laptop Bag

My ex had a habit of buying himself things on Amazon on a whim. If it wasn’t just right, he wouldn’t return it, he’d just give it to me. Thus I ended up with a gray laptop bag that switched from a backpack to a messenger bag. It was perfectly functional, until one of the backpack straps broke. I switched to the messenger bag orientation and that strap broke too. So I was one-shouldering it for many months, constantly irritated by it.

But it was functional, so I wasn’t letting myself replace it. I’d Amazon search for other backpacks, never deciding to buy one. I’d go browse the discount stores, but nothing there jumped out at me. Finally I just ordered one and switched bags the day it arrived. It is brightly colored and floral print and I absolutely adore it.

When I see it, I feel joy. It seems so silly to be this excited by a bag, but I am. It means I no longer have to see the bag my ex gave me. The broken, still-using-it-because-it’s-better-than-nothing bag my ex gave me.

Screw holding onto things that make you think of toxic people.

The life changing magic of trauma

If you’re familiar with Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, you know that her method of simplifying requires you to get all of one type of item together (clothing, books, toiletries, papers, whatever), touch each and every one, and decide if it gives you joy before deciding whether or not to keep it in your life.

I’ve come to realize that moving on from trauma has similarities. For me, being minimalist isn’t just about having fewer possessions. In fact, it’s not really about possessions at all. Minimalism is about letting go of the excess in order to focus on the things that let you live your authentic and most joyous life. And being a minimalist also means letting go of people, relationships, and obligations that don’t bring you joy (or that actively reduce your joy).

I’ve recently left an emotionally abusive relationship and I have been processing many of my experiences on my personal Facebook page, sharing with friends and family who only saw the pretty picture I shared for public consumption, showing them what my actual experience was like behind the mask. I didn’t even understand myself that I was living in an emotionally traumatic relationship until I began prioritizing my mental health.

At first, I shared because it was cathartic. It was validating. It was community. So many women reached out to me, via comments or private messages, to thank me for sharing my story. They shared their own. I’ve seen a ripple effect of women beginning to publicly share their own stories of leaving abusive relationships, and even women realizing their relationships are traumatic without them ever realizing it consciously before. Sharing stories has power.

I’ve come to realize that I’m also sharing my story because I have to touch it. I have to pick up the years in my hands, turn them over, look at the rough spots and the pretty spots and decide that it’s okay to let go of the happily ever after I thought I’d found. Even amidst good memories of laughter and comfort and companionship, I can sift through these experiences and realize that they don’t add joy.

What makes this process a little more difficult than admitting you don’t wear an old dress anymore is that a lot of the good memories involved in a traumatic or abusive relationship were just lies and manipulation. Charm. Part of the cycle.

The good times happened in a pattern, after I’d gotten upset at the inequalities in our relationship, after some inane multi-day discussion about something that shouldn’t have been a fight, after I called out a double standard. Suddenly things were better again, he’d treat me to a nice dinner out, we’d have sex that weekend, and our normal easy life was back. Until it wasn’t.

Every day I unearth memories through this new lens, and I see that what I once thought was sweet was actually possessive, what I once thought was supportive was actually controlling, what I once thought was misunderstanding was actually covert and deliberate gaslighting. It’s exhausting. But I have to touch it all to let it go. Hiding it and never thinking about it will just extend the amount of time it eats away at me, but by being so open and honest about my experiences, I’ve found that I feel less and less grief, anger, and resentment. I’ve touched it, realized it brings me nothing positive (aside from the power to tell my story), and let it go.

I don’t say these things to romanticize trauma or say that everything happens for a reason. But for me in particular, sharing my story has been cathartic. Touching the trauma has helped me set it aside. And opening up about my experiences has helped me realize that finding what I do want out of life includes a good amount of leaving behind what I surely don’t. 

To quote my beloved Space Mom, Carrie Fisher, “Sometimes you can only find Heaven by slowly backing away from Hell.”