Twenty Five Pieces of Life Advice

Today is my sister’s 25th birthday. While I am beyond thrilled that she can now rent a car to come see me whenever she wants (assuming I help throw a few dollars at her for said rental), I’m also stunned that my little sister who was JUST yea-high and escaping her crib at night is a 25 year old who just got a new job and is a high school teacher who lives in a major metropolitan area. Like, what? She takes the subway places like it’s totally not terrifying. (I may have some anxiety around public transportation I should work on).

happy birthday

For this momentous occasion, I have put together a list of 25 pieces of advice for her and for all people, especially people in their mid twenties who don’t have their shit together. (The secret of adulthood is that you never really will have all the shit simultaneously together).

I had every intention of grouping like advice together into categories, but I make no promises or guarantees. Happy reading, and HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

  1. Eat More Whole Food Than You Drink Alcohol: Mimosas are not a fruit, so make sure you’re getting quality servings of fruits, veggies, whole grains, and other good stuff. Once I turned 21 it was very important to me to keep a few bottles of liquor in the house because I could. I bought this legally! With my IDENTIFICATION! Yes, whipped cream flavored vodka was the pinnacle of adulthood, or so I thought at the time.
  2. Hydrate: Drink some damn water. The going advice is “half your body weight in ounces” meaning a 200 lb person should drink 100 oz of water a day. Not a hard and fast rule, but a general guideline that serves me well.
  3. Don’t Sleep With People You’re Not Super Excited About: My wish for you is that every sexual encounter in your life is an enthusiastically positive one. Don’t sleep with somebody that’s into you if you’re not also into them back. But also, you can make your own decisions. This is just my two cents. Also, ask for the stuff you like – anybody who is offended by you knowing your own body probably doesn’t fall under the first part of this advice. Use protection. I know you know. But, you know.
  4. Have a Best Friend or Two: Having a handful or more of good friends is wonderful, but have one or two people you know you can count on no matter what. These are the shit-hits-the-fan friends who have your back. You might not always get along 100% of the time, but when you need them, they’re there.
  5. Your Best Friend May Change Over Time: People are in your life for a season. Sometimes it’s the rest of your life, sometimes it’s not. While losing a best friend in a falling out can leave a void in your life, stay grateful for the time you spent together and the positive things you learned, and stay hopeful for another excellent person to come be on your team. (PS. Your big sister is always on your team! Nowadays.)
  6. Be A Good Friend: You have to be on other people’s teams too. Own your shit when you’re in the wrong. Make sure there’s give and take from both parties, because just taking or just giving will not end well.
  7. Take Up Space: Whether it’s on public transportation with a stage-five leg-spreader or taking up emotional space in a relationship, you deserve to take up space. When I feel stressed or like someone might be upset with me, I tend to shrink myself down and become invisible. I don’t want to speak, I don’t want to be seen. I just want to be tiny and out of sight. This is no way to live your life. Ask for what you need and don’t feel bad about expecting people to treat you with respect.
  8. Stick To Your Guns: When you’re standing up for what you believe in, be true to your beliefs and stand your ground. Unless it’s in the comments section on a HuffPo article. I give you permission to just walk away from that trash fire.
  9. Check Your Privilege: This one sucks, because it’s hard to look inward and admit that we have biases and *gasp* privilege in life. Listen to the people who don’t have that privilege and trust them when they tell their story. Change the words you use, if your words are harmful or problematic. Call it out when you see other people use them too. Use your privilege to boost the signal.
  10. Go Somewhere Awesome: While world travel may not be in your immediate future, make it a goal to travel somewhere awesome once in a while. This could be a one-tank weekend trip to somewhere in your area, or it could be a trip to Tibet. I don’t know, man, you just gotta go see something new sometimes.
  11. Dump Toxic People: If someone in your life is sucking the joy right from your usually-joyful bones, notice that. If you always come away from hanging out with someone feeling drained and full of negative self-talk, consider spending less time with that person (or none at all). Peace out!
  12. See a Therapist: Seriously, everyone can benefit from therapy just to check in and make sure you’re handling life’s challenges in a healthy way. There are online therapists now that tout affordable rates, or you can check in with your local college to see if there’s a counseling program that has a sliding scale or free therapy from counselors in training.
  13. Set SMART Goals: Oh god, she’s talking about goals and motivation! Yeah, you need to set goals if you want to go anywhere. Even if that goal is “lose five pounds this summer” or “visit Iceland next year.” Make sure your goal is SMART – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Based. Saying “I want to lose weight” or “I want to travel” isn’t specific, measurable, or time-based, so you probably won’t achieve your wishy-washy goal very easily without a plan.
  14. Try Outside the Box Stuff: Practice meditation to see if it works for you. Practice positive affirmations, visualizations, gratitude, astral projection, interpretive dance – whatever sounds interesting that might help you focus on the important stuff. Try it out and see if anything puts a little cheese on your mental macaroni. (Weird metaphor, let’s just go with it).
  15. Invest in Yourself: At some point in your life, try paying someone to help you get your shit together. Like a life coach or a personal trainer, depending on what exactly you’re working on. (Or a RESUME WRITER! Did you know I do that? Email me! *finger guns*). Alternatively you can get some personal development books from the library. My favorite is You Are A Badass by Jen Sincero. Everyone should read that. It’s even better on Audible. You’re welcome.
  16. Do Something Creative: Whatever creativity means for you, do a little bit of that. You like to paint, or make found-word poetry by crossing out words in magazine advertisements, or do complex math problems? Rock on. Work your brain, especially in ways you don’t do in your main gig. For instance, I’m now working as a full-time writer. Writing for fun isn’t always my jam, since I’ve already been staring at a screen for 8+ hours a day. So I go running and occasionally paint! (Is running creative? Yes, if you’re brainstorming).
  17. Be Generous: Whether you donate hours or dollars, contribute to something that helps someone else. Bonus points if you also get to pet dogs while you do this.
  18. PET DOGS: Unless you are allergic or the dog’s owner is like “Please don’t” then find ways to pet dogs and other animals once in a while. It lowers stress. Dogs are so good for you. +1 Good Boy.
  19. Give Compliments: If you see somebody rocking great hair, jewelry, etc., it’s ok to say something! Note: This is generally cool for women to do, but mostly less cool for men to do. It’s not you, it’s the patriarchy. When we can stop worrying about being assaulted for not smiling or thanking you, then we can talk about the equality of giving a compliment. 
  20. Get Moving: Exercise is important, and I hope that you find a way to move your body that you can really enjoy and get into. Maybe it’s kickboxing, or running, or yoga. Whatever it is, I hope you feel strong and healthy every time you do it!
  21. Wear What You Want: You want to wear a bikini or crop top or skinny pants when the fashion magazines say you definitely should not be doing so? Wear the thing! Walk tall and proud. You look great.
  22. Trust Your Gut: Your intuition is a powerful thing. If everything seems like it’s logically fine, but you still have the heebie-jeebies about it, trust your gut. It’s almost always right. Or you need a Gas-X. But you’re probably right about the thing.
  23. Don’t Forgive & Forget if You Don’t Want to: Forgiveness is great if you want to grant it, but you actually don’t have to do anything. Some things are actually unforgivable, and I don’t just mean in Harry Potter. Don’t let people guilt you into maintaining a relationship with someone who you aren’t ready to forgive. (And you might never be ready, and that’s okay).
  24. Breathe: When everything feels like it’s going wrong, take a deep breath into your belly, then your chest, then empty your belly, then empty your chest. Repeat as needed. You got this.
  25. Write Love Letters: This doesn’t have to be romantic. It can be a thank-you note, a letter to a family member or friend to let them know you’re thinking of them, or a text to your boyfriend/girlfriend/personfriend to remind them how much they mean to you. It can even be a recommendation of a colleague on LinkedIn – anything that lets somebody know that you value them.

Bonus number 26. This Is Just Beginning: If you feel like your ovaries are crusting over and you’re going to die alone, please try not to roll your eyes when I tell you that there is still time to do things. You are only 25. Even though it has taken 100% of your life to get to 25, you will go so far and do so many things in your life. Twenty-five is nothing. The world awaits you. And you are a blessing, a miracle, and a treasure in my life. You are my number one hero because no matter what life does to knock you down, you get back up with a smile on your face and unconditional love in your heart. Everyone who knows you is better because of you. I hope you know this.

Happy birthday, my darling sister, my best friend, my former-mortal-enemy-turned-buddy. I am sorry about that time I didn’t get sour cream on your Chalupa.

A Choose-Your-Adventure 30 Day Self-Care Challenge

When I usually think of self-care, I think of weekend getaways (which I adore), mani-pedis (of which I have only had one in my entire life), and yoga classes (which are great, but spendy). But I also think of my evening baths “when I make the time” and my morning cup of coffee. Self-care doesn’t have to be big, and it doesn’t even have to cost much money.

I can more easily identify my ideal forms of self-care when I take the time to understand the choices I make that sabotage my efforts and goals. Like when I stay up much too late when I have to get up early, which in turn makes me skip exercise and reach for convenience foods or go out for lunch since I didn’t have time to pack – thus impacting my budget and my meal plan.

The opposite of this subconscious sabotage is having an evening routine to wind down (an epsom salt bath) with an early bedtime (by 9pm), thereby ensuring that I’m set up to do the things I do in the morning to care for myself.

Sometimes Self-Care Surprises You

I inadvertently upped my self-care game when an item I had been eyeing on Amazon was on sale for Prime Day a couple weeks ago. I bought a hammock for my front porch. The day it arrived, I set it up and spent over an hour in it with my laptop, working on a writing project. I used it every day for a week. Then I didn’t use it for a couple days and really missed it.

Relaxing in my hammock turned out to be what I needed to help me do lots of things, like:

  1. Reduce Distraction: When I am in the hammock, I have to go outside. So I’m not distracted by the TV or the cats getting into things or my phone ringing (when I choose to leave it inside). I do bring my laptop with me, which can be distracting, but not always, because it helps me…
  2. Write: I wrote every day for a week straight, partly in thanks to wanting to get outside into the hammock in the evenings. I always appreciate when my husband wants to spend time in the same room together, working on two different things, but the truth is that even just having him there can distract me, so it’s not always ideal if I’m on a deadline. The hammock allows me to get my work done (while relaxing and enjoying some alone time) so we can spend un-distracted quality time together at other times.
  3. Go Outside: It turns out it’s actually really nice to go outside and get some fresh air. I can even move the hammock around on the porch to get a little sunshine or stay in the shade. Our porch has some bushes in front so I have a pretty view of greenery, and I have a vague notion of getting a hanging basket or two to add some colorful flowers.

When I ordered the hammock, it wasn’t for self-care purposes. But it turned out to be just the self-care I needed. Sometimes I just go set it up for a few minutes to drink my morning coffee, which brings me to my next point.

Five-Minute Self-Care

The biggest challenge when prioritizing yourself is thinking that you don’t have the time. I understand. When self-care is driving to spend the afternoon with a friend, or take yourself to a movie, or go for an hour-long run, or take an evening bath, it seems like self-care takes up a lot of time. Time is something not everyone can spare in their busy schedule.

But what if self-care could take just five minutes?

What if self-care was five minutes you took in the afternoon to savor a square of high quality dark chocolate? It’s the ONLY thing you do for five minutes. That chocolate experience would be unlike the normal one of reaching for a candy bar and crushing it without even realizing it.

What if self-care was a five-minute guided breathing exercise that helps you center and prepare for your workday? Could you do it in your car in the parking lot before you go into the office?

What if self-care was a home-brewed cup of coffee in the morning, made before the rest of the family wakes up and starts needing you? Could you get up five minutes earlier to start this routine?

What if self-care was a yoga sun salutation in your pajamas before you make your bed? Just a quick check-in with your body to let it know you appreciate it and want to give it a good stretch to start the day.

Even people who don’t have time for self-care have five minutes. What could you do with yours?

#365DaysOfHammock

I’m committing to sit in my hammock for a minimum of five minutes per day, every day, for one year. And I’d like to invite you to join me.

Since not everyone has a hammock, the money for a hammock, or the space for a hammock, this is a choose-your-own-adventure self-care challenge. Commit to a five minute something that you can do for a whole year. It can be anything! It can be to read Harry Potter for five minutes a day, or to doodle or color for five minutes a day, or to meditate for five minutes a day.

But please, join me for five minutes. See what life looks like in a year when you give yourself five minutes.

I start my challenge tomorrow, because it turns out that July 22, in addition to being my sister’s birthday, is also National Hammock Day. You can start yours whenever you’re ready.

You can follow my hammock adventure on Instagram when you follow the #365DaysOfHammock tag. Look for me tomorrow!

What’s It Gonna Be?

Share your own five minute self-care challenge choice in the comments. I can’t wait to see what you come up with!

PS. Mailing List in the Works!

I realize many of you want to subscribe to an email list, which I keep meaning to finish setting up on MailChimp. My goal is to have that set up by the end of July to share with you so I can keep in touch outside the blog!

 

 

 

Food Doesn’t Make You Fat

Whilst I was eating a Lara Bar at my desk one summer afternoon, one colleague mentioned that Lara Bars have nine Weight Watchers points. Another agreed and said that they were a fattening food.

My first reaction was to think (and say out loud to this colleague), “I’m RIGHT here.” As in, “Are you calling me fat?” And then I started launching into an explanation of calorie-dense foods like dried fruit and nuts, why they’re good for certain reasons, and that in the context of a healthful diet and a regular exercise regimen, they’re perfectly fine. Blah blah, the moment had passed. I was slightly miffed, but not really surprised.

Food in our society is demonized and deified. We blame food for our unhappiness and we seek it when we need comfort. We use food to define if we are “good” or “bad” on a given day. Our society’s relationship with food has more than a few issues and a lot of baggage.

To someone with a budget of 30 Weight Watchers points per day, a 9-point snack that doesn’t even provide a meal’s worth of satiety would of course be considered a decadent indulgence, or even “fattening.” It makes sense to point the finger at a food product and accuse it of something.

There are no fattening foods.

As I was thinking about this exchange later in the afternoon, I realized that there really is no such thing as a fattening food. Food is energy for the body. Whether or not you need that energy is not the food’s problem. The food simply exists.

Food doesn’t put fat on your body. Behavior does.

If you eat a few Lara Bars in a day and don’t exercise at all, you are going to tend to overeat (because let’s be honest, they don’t fill you up for long). Unless your day looks like a pile of green leafies alongside your pile of Lara Bars, you’re probably over-consuming.

But if you consume calorie dense foods in moderation (the favorite word of dieters everywhere!) and in the context of a healthful and mindful lifestyle, you’re probably fine.

Being totally clear, I packed a Lara Bar in my lunch every day this week. They are a go-to afternoon snack, especially if I attend a yoga class after work. No way am I commuting home while hangry. I bought an 18-pack at Costco. I love Lara Bars. I also work out 6+ times per week and track my food in MyFitnessPal to make sure my calories stay within a healthy range for my activity level and basic metabolic needs.

The compound effect adds up.

One of my go-to easy reads for personal development and a quick reset for personal goals is Darren Hardy’s The Compound Effect It boils down to this idea: your day-to-day actions will add up over the course of your lifetime, even (or especially) small actions.

Let’s say you want to write a book. If you get up each morning and write a page, what will your book look like in a year? If you get up each morning and don’t write anything, what will your book look like in a year? Something as simple as writing one page (or one paragraph, or one sentence) will compound over the course of a year and lead to progress. Even small progress.

Likewise, let’s say you want to run a 5K race in three months. You can either get up in the morning and run (for a mile, around the block, whatever) or you can skip it and not train at all. Which version of you has the better 5K time? Which version of you will up the ante and work harder and smarter over time to reach the goal? The one that’s making any progress at all.

So on and so forth. You guys get this, I don’t need to deconstruct it any further. (But you should read the book, it’s a good read!)

“Fat” is not a bad word.

While we’re here, I want to briefly touch on the fact that fat is just an adjective. Or a noun. I describe myself as fat, and people around me have the instinct to say, “Aw, no! No, you’re not. Look how much weight you’ve lost!”

I know. I am making amazing changes for a healthier lifestyle. I run, I lift weights, I even eat vegetables. But I’m also fat, and that’s okay. It’s a descriptor. Have you seen my thighs? There is some jiggle happening. Because there’s fat on my body. Gasp! 

This is such a touchy subject, and something I hope to explore more in future posts. On the one hand, fat isn’t necessarily a bad word that’s demeaning or mean or hateful. Unless you use it that way. I can describe myself as fat with no baggage attached to it, but if someone said it to hurt me, the intention and impact would go far beyond word choice. Also, being totally honest, I still do have some baggage attached to my body. Lots of body shaming in my past – but I’m recovering splendidly. 

More to come.

The choice is yours.

Think about where you want to be in a year, and ask yourself what small behaviors you can choose that would put you on a course toward this more ideal version of yourself.

If you want to lose ten pounds, what can you do each day (or more often than not) to get there?

  • Walk around the block
  • Replace one serving of bread or pasta with a salad
  • Replace one soda per day with a glass of water

If you want to start a blog or website, what can you do each day (or more often than not) to get there?

  • Write for ten minutes each morning
  • Journal your ideas before bed
  • Write an encouraging email to a friend

If you want to meet the love of your life and get married, what can you do each day (or more often than not) to get there?

  • Say hello to someone on a dating website
  • Go out into the world and say hello to someone you meet
  • Attend regular meetups for singles in your area

Life is what you make it. Eat the fucking Lara Bar.

 

Tips for a Cash-Only Vacation

Whether you’re a Dave Ramsey Baby Stepper, a frugal person by nature or necessity, or you’re just tired of going on vacation with a carefree attitude only to come home to the harsh reality of your credit card bill, planning a cash vacation is a great skill to have in your toolbox.

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Does anyone else LOVE packing stuff into a car so it fits *perfectly*? This is a thing of beauty. Photo credit: ME – posted on my Instagram @vegan_shedevil, if you want to see cats and selfies.

You Deserve a Vacation

You deserve nice things. Even if you’re in the 99% of people who live life without gilded apartments. Single income families with multiple kids deserve nice things. People on government benefits deserve nice things. People who live paycheck to paycheck deserve nice things. People in the mid- to upper-middle class who have the money to spend deserve nice things. Six-figure income people deserve nice things.

You deserve nice things.

I don’t have a problem with you taking a vacation or indulging in some self-care spending (within your budget and not instead of paying your light bill). But I do have a concern about you doing it by going into debt and perpetuating bad money habits. Not that it’s any of my business what you do, but I figure you’re here for a reason and that reason is because you like something about me. So as your vague internet acquaintance, I’m going to give you some advice about how to plan a vacation you can afford and that won’t follow you home.

What is a Cash Vacation?

I don’t mean specifically that you pay for things only in paper currency (or coins, JEEZ CANADA). A cash vacation means you have the cash (or money in the bank) to pay for your trip. You have the liquid assets on hand for the transportation, the accommodations, the food, the spending money, etc.

When my husband and I travel to the UK once a year to visit family, we buy the tickets several months in advance with money from savings. But it’s money we have on hand for this purpose. We can do an entire UK trip for less than $2500 US, but we stay with family for a good portion of the trip, friends happily drive us around. and we don’t have to eat out for every meal. A vacation that’s NOT aligned with visiting family would probably cost us another $1000-$2000 in hotel, rental car/transportation, and food costs.

A friend of mine is a mother of three in a single income household, and she picked up some extra online work doing surveys and transcription to set aside a few dollars a month to save up for Comic Con. They drove the family car, ate cheaply, and had an amazing trip – PAID FOR, with no bills following them home!

Your vacation details will depend on your budget, obviously. If you have the money to save up for a vacation easily then the world is your oyster (what a weird metaphor… the world is your salad bar!), and if it’s a bit more work to set aside cash, then a smaller weekend getaway is probably more your speed.

Whichever type of vacation you choose, you’re sure to enjoy the relief of knowing you planned for and can actually afford everything you’re doing. There’s no hand-wringing, wondering “should I have spent this money on something else?” because nah, you planned for this and you made it happen! You’re also less likely to impulse buy crappy souvenirs when you only have a set amount of spending money.  There is a freedom in knowing that your trip is a dedicated part of your financial plan. (I could wax poetic about budgets for a whole blog post, and I think I have before, so I’ll stop now).

Pick Your Destination

Your budget will inform the type of vacation you choose, but now comes the fun part. Planning! The first step of any trip is deciding where you’re going. Do you want a day trip? A weekend destination? Anywhere within the driving distance of one tank of gas? Or are we going far and wide, traveling in other countries and seeing the world? Any of these options are fine – but pick your destination and move on to the next aspect of your vacation planning.

Select Your Accommodations

Where are you going to sleep at night? If this is just a one day trip, you’re already done. A one night stay or more, however, and you need to start thinking about where to stay. Here are some ways to save on accommodations:

  • Book your hotels through http://www.hotels.com, and after ten nights you’ll get one night’s stay free
  • Stay with friends or family
  • Arrange a mini-vacation around work travel that’s already paying for your hotel (pick up any extra days on your own tab, of course)
  • Stay in hostels or homes via AirBNB
  • Browse deal sites like Groupon for all-inclusive getaway deals
  • Split a room or rental between a group of people and make it a group vacation

I have done all of these except hostels and AirBNB. And while I did extend a work trip by two days for a vacation, I stayed with a friend for my extra nights away from home. (Are there any tips I missed? Let me know!)

All Aboard! Select Your Transportation

Planes, trains, or automobiles? The options are endless when it comes to traveling. For medium-length trips, I often quote out planes and rental cars and pick which one is going to make the most sense for my needs. Here’s the scoop on the main transportation options.

Train/Bus: An Amtrak or Greyhound will get you where you’re going, and for pretty cheap, but you’re at the mercy of the bus schedule and it can be a little difficult if traveling with kids. It’s not impossible though – I recall a Greyhound trip my sister and I took when we were young while traveling with our dad. My sister has also taken the Greyhound to travel between Cleveland and Washington DC. It’s not the quickest but it’s easy on the budget.

Air Travel: Planes are quick, and there are budget options that make a lot of sense if you are traveling light (Frontier, Jet Blue, Spirit, etc.). The good news about smaller budget airlines is that there’s usually a direct flight to major destinations, if you’re near a hub airport… but they often have flight delays, which eats into your vacation time. Check websites like Kayak or Priceline and set up a price alert notice if you’re hoping for a specific location.

You can also sign up for Next Vacay, a service that costs $25 PER YEAR and emails you amazing flight deals to destinations all over the world. They’re constantly scanning for price drops to interesting locations, and they’ll send you an email when they find something leaving out of a nearby airport.

Here’s an email they sent me two hours before I sat down to write this post:

nextvacay

Obviously if you’re planning a cash vacation you’d need to have a travel fund in the bank to take advantage of last minute deals like this, so it’s not a service that is ideal for everyone.

Check airfare rates early and often, and remember that the ideal time to buy tickets is about 6-7 weeks before your trip (for domestic travel). You can read more on this estimate and other info about when to purchase tickets in this report from CheapAir.

Driving: If your destination is close enough to drive (“close enough” depends on your comfort level on car trips, if you’re traveling with kids, any health issues you have with sitting for long stretches of time, etc.), you can drive your own car or get a rental.

Our general rule of thumb is a trip that’s 4 hours or less one way can be driven with our personal cars, and anything longer than that justifies renting a car. (I kind of wish I’d known this trick before a 3,000 mile round trip vacation to Florida a few years ago). Your comfort levels on renting vs. driving your own car may vary from trip to trip, and it’s really up to you.

To save on a rental car, be sure to let them know if you’re a AAA member (same goes for hotels – hey, I did miss a tip!) and check various rental agencies to compare costs. Costco members may also find affordable rental car packages through Costco’s partners! We almost exclusively rent from Hertz, for no particular reason other than we’re always happy with the service and the car, and we have a rapport with the local staff.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Renting a car without a credit card is slightly less simple (I am not going to say it’s harder) than using a credit card, but not impossible and not difficult. You can rent a car with a debit card, but they will put a hold on your account for a few hundred bucks. If you’re renting on your cash vacation, this is just another line item in your budget to save up for. You’ll get the deposit back when you return the vehicle.

Other methods: I covered the major methods of transportation that I have experience with, but if you have further questions let me know in the comments and I’ll do more research to get you money-saving tips for your cash vacation!

Traveling Light

I am a huge proponent of traveling with only a carry-on bag, for several reasons:

  • Quicker exit from the airport (no waiting for baggage claim)
  • The airline can’t lose your luggage if you don’t check it
  • You can walk around town with a small wheeled bag if your hotel isn’t ready for you to check in yet
  • It’s just less stuff to carry around

I always challenge myself to see how light I can pack, because I am a freak. I packed for a 5-day trip to Spain in a backpack (plus personal item). We take one carry-on each for Ireland (plus personal items – his camera bag and my EPIC SNACK STOCKPILE). I went to North Carolina for 4 days with only a personal item size bag and nothing else.

My tips for packing light:

  • Wear your bulkiest items (scarf, sweater, heaviest shoes you’re taking, etc.) on the plane with you, packing the lighter items to save space
  • Pack items that can be worn multiple times as different outfits (a pashmina scarf might be a sarong-style wrap one day, a scarf the next, and a poncho after that)
  • Pack neutral colored clothing – nobody can tell if you wear the same black shirt two days in a row
  • Limit jewelry – definitely leave your favorite jewelry behind, because losing it would be terrible
  • Make a list of the activities you plan to do on your trip and pack for those activities – let go of the impulse to pack a fancy outfit just in case you get invited to a surprise gala
  • Limit your personal care items
  • Pack an inflatable neck (or butt) pillow that you can inflate on the plane if your lung capacity allows
  • If you’ll have access to laundry facilities, you can get away with packing less clothing
  • Opt for moisture-wicking lightweight shirts instead of cotton tees, especially if you’ll be walking a lot and are prone to sweating – tee shirts take up a surprising amount of space
  • Plan to wear the same outfit on your arrival and departure dates – these are your travelin’ clothes, and you are going to be wrinkled no matter what you wear

Remember to pack:

  • Bug spray and sunscreen if appropriate, but make sure it fits within TSA guidelines for air travel if you’re flying
  • A Kindle or book
  • Your own earbuds or headphones, because the ones on planes are somehow terrible and hurt your ears
  • Enough underwear – running out of undies sucks
  • A seatbelt extender if you need one

These aren’t hard and fast rules, and if you’re more comfortable packing more stuff, go for it. It’s especially hard to keep it to one bag if you have medical devices like a CPAP machine, medications to pack and organize, etc. This isn’t one size fits all, just a general guideline for packing a simple suitcase for carry-on travel.

But My Credit Card Points!

I don’t give a crap about your credit card points. If you go into debt for your vacation, there’s every opportunity for it to bite you in the ass later. Check with your bank about fraud protection on your debit card – you probably have it, even if you think it’s only for credit cards.

I am not going to argue with anyone who insists on using their credit card for vacations, because you can live your life and I’ll live mine. My advice is not a mandate – until I become ruler of the world. Avocado toast for all!

Other Travel Considerations

Check with your bank and put a travel notice on your account so you don’t get your debit card declined for fraud. This fraud protection is very handy when it stops actual fraud, but very annoying when you’re trying to get a coffee at Tim Horton’s and Huntington thinks someone stole your stuff and went to Niagara Falls for the weekend. (Ask me how I know).

As far as exchanging cash before an international trip, I typically don’t. I just use an ATM to withdraw in a foreign currency. There’s a small charge (check with your bank to see what it is) for the foreign transaction fee, but it’s worth it to me to not have to handle one more thing before a big trip. Plus those kiosks at the airport are probably going to rip you off.

Is there anything I missed? Let me know and I’ll come back to answer your questions later! Happy travels.

 

REVIEW & PROMO: Healthier, Non-Toxic Skin Care with Akamai

I am so excited to tell you about my new skin care regime, and this is coming from somebody who used a single tube of Mary Kay moisturizer for most of undergrad. I finally feel like I’m taking better care of my skin, and it’s not even hard. As a constantly-rushing person who needs a low maintenance beauty routine (there’s a reason my head is mostly shaved and I don’t wear makeup), I am super pumped about these new products. Best of all, I didn’t have to spend hours googling the ingredients to figure out if they pass muster with my non-toxic demands.

PLUS – I’ve got an awesome coupon code to share with you at the end of this post. Read on!

Full disclosure: I received an Akamai Essentials Kit in exchange for my honest review. And it will be honest. The toothpaste is a little weird (but worth sticking with – more on that later). 

The Current State of Beauty

The thing about beauty products these days is that companies (at least companies in the United States) can put basically anything they want in a tube and call it cosmetics and it’s A-OK to sell and encourage people to slap on their faces. Even if it’s full of chemicals and ingredients banned elsewhere in the world.

For instance, the European Union bans over one thousand (1,000!) ingredients from being used in cosmetics. The United States bans eight. Not eight thousand. Just eight.

Something doesn’t add up here.

The mindful, healthful, and minimalist among us want to avoid exposure to toxins wherever we can, especially our face and body. The skin is one of the largest body systems we have, and it absorbs everything. The general rule is that if you wouldn’t put it in your mouth, don’t put it on your skin.

Since the FDA doesn’t have our back when it comes to cosmetics, those of us who care to do the digging ourselves have to endlessly google and research to discover what’s really in our favorite products and whether we really want to use them. This problem doubles if you’re vegan or otherwise want to avoid cosmetic products tested on animals or made with animal ingredients. Cruelty free is easy. Chemical free is easy. Cruelty and chemical free? Yeesh. This is the reason I barely have a skin care regimen. UNTIL NOW.

Akamai

Akamai Basics is “Personal Care Radically Simplified.” Their goal is to deliver quality performance for healthier hair, skin, and teeth – without the long ingredient lists or funky chemicals in conventional products.

How many times have you heard “Lather, rinse, repeat” and thought about what brilliant marketing that really is? You don’t actually need to wash your hair twice in the same shower, but some people take the advice to heart and before you know it, you’re buying a new bottle of shampoo (or conditioner – that ALWAYS runs out first, even if you are stingy with the portions). Smart shampoo company. Akamai is different. They design their products to be long lasting and you don’t need to use them in excess to reap the rewards.

Akamai realizes that the current beauty market says you need a special soap for each body part, different face products for different days of the week, and fourteen hair products to achieve that effortless “I woke up like this” glam. And then they give you the complete opposite, with three simple products that do basically everything.

The Akamai Essentials Kit

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In the Essentials Kit, you get:

  • Two 3 in 1 Bars
  • Skin Fuel
  • Mineral Toothpaste

The 3 in 1 Bar

The bars are shampoo bars as well as being great for general washing and shaving (I didn’t use it for shaving and my man-beast uses an electric beard trimmer, so I cannot attest to its shaving prowess, but it lathers GREAT). The folks at Akamai told me it can take up to three weeks for your hair to adjust to using a shampoo bar, but I didn’t have the greasy breaking in period you typically expect from switching to a non-toxic, non-chemically shampoo. Probably because I’ve done the baking soda (no-poo) thing in the past and was already using a “cleaner” shampoo product. My hair took to it right away and while I felt it left my hair without its usual softness after a shampoo & condition, using the Skin Fuel as a hair moisturizer immediately took care of my concerns.

I also love that their use instructions for the bar consist of “Wash the stinky bits.” They don’t recommend using this soap all over your whole body. Water actually takes care of most of that without affecting the microbiome of all our little bacterial friends. Wash just the gnarly parts (armpits mostly) and the bar will last you at least a month.

An added bonus: I found that I only needed to wash my hair twice a week with this bar. On my old shampoo I could maybe get three days out of a wash but had best luck and cleanest feeling hair with an every-other-day wash. My hair feels clean and healthy being washed with this bar (and conditioned with Skin Fuel) only twice a week. So I can take a maintenance shower to wash my body more often, but I don’t need to wash my hair as much. (Believe it or not, this is better for your hair).

I also use the 3 in 1 Bar on my face, and it’s actually clearing up my acne, which I thought would be delivering my eulogy someday as my eternal companion.

Final verdict on the 3 in 1 Bar: I give it 5 out of 5 stars.

The Skin Fuel

I had previously been using an Argan Oil hair conditioning oil after a shower, so I know the drill with this. Put a couple of pumps in your hand and run your oily fingers through your hair to moisturize. My hair feels stronger and healthier using Skin Fuel, and I use two pumps on my hair and one pump on my face. Using the moisturizer after washing my face in the shower is new for me, as I typically avoid buying moisturizer because I am cheap and hate having eight hundred bottles of product in the bathroom. Seriously, my husband has more hair and face stuff than I do. (Lots of it for his beard, which I fully support. Long live beards).

With only six ingredients, Skin Fuel is efficient and effective. Coconut Oil, Jojoba Oil, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Argan Oil, Trace Mineral/Fulvic Acid Concentrate, and Rosemary Essential Oil. Have you tried Argan oil before? It makes your hair soft and amazing like little woodland creatures came and washed it for you while you sang a happy song.

My only – ONLY – complaint about Skin Fuel is that the rosemary in it makes me think of food, and I feel like I’m marinating myself. It smells delicious! In a weird way, like rubbing something delicious on your face. Hard to explain, but it’s just a little cognitive dissonance.

Skin Fuel is also a great aftershave, according to Akamai, which I am inclined to believe as it leaves my face feeling moisturized, healthy, and NOT AT ALL OILY. Rub oil on your face so you don’t feel oily. I know, right?

I’ve tried the “Oil cleansing method” in the past, which is where you mix up olive oil and castor oil and jojoba or sweet almond oil if you’re fancy, and rub it all over your face to clean and moisturize. But once again, I have issues with time and having to put together a recipe for my bathroom routine. Skin Fuel delivers everything I need in one tiny bottle, and it’s clear for travel since the bottle is two ounces. You can’t take my soft, healthy skin, TSA!

Ways you can use Skin Fuel:

  • Moisturizer
  • Aftershave
  • Hair Conditioner
  • Beard Oil
  • Scalp Massage
  • Salve
  • Facial Cleanser (like the oil cleansing method I described above, with NO recipe needed)
  • Makeup remover

Final verdict on Skin Fuel: 5 out of 5 stars.

The Toothpaste

Okay, this is where it gets weird. I’ve used clay based toothpastes before. I’ve been interested in trying one again so I was 100% excited to try the Akamai toothpaste. While I love how it makes my teeth and gums feel, I am still not sold on the flavor after trying it for a solid month.

The pros: My teeth and gums feel healthier, there is no more bleeding when I brush, and my teeth are whiter.

The cons: This flavor is so weird. It’s got several essential oils in the ingredient list: peppermint, cinnamon, clove, anise, and tea tree. The result is a very overwhelming flavor profile that kicks your ass the first few times you brush.

HOWEVER: These essential oils are not random choices, they are specifically selected to reduce plaque, freshen your breath, and prevent cavities. They work, and you can tell they work.

The amount of thought that went into designing this toothpaste is amazing. It contains raw coconut oil, which is a natural anti-bacterial agent, along with sea salt that stimulates saliva to help clean the mouth and improve circulation for healthier gums. Trace minerals help remineralize teeth. Natural clays (bentonite clay and kaolin clay) are rich in minerals and are slightly abrasive to help clean and whiten teeth. Liposomal CoQ10 penetrates the gums to help prevent gum disease.

I can’t even be mad at this toothpaste, it is so full of science and health-focused technology. You can also use it as a blemish treatment or on cold sores. Akamai designs everything to be multi-purpose and useful for all your needs.

Final verdict on toothpaste: 3.5 out of 5 stars, because I am going to keep using it and my mouth feels amazing but that flavor is still an acquired taste.

Don’t let me scare you – when you try it out, give the toothpaste a solid 2-4 week trial period. My husband did a 1 day trial and then promptly quit, but I BELIEVE IN YOU!

What I Love About Akamai

What I truly love about this company is their commitment not only to healthier, non-toxic skin and beauty products, but to a versatile multi-functional approach. As a minimalist who tries to keep a small footprint, Akamai’s natural products help me do that. I don’t have to buy several different products to keep up with a beauty regimen, and these products are easy to use and are travel-friendly so I can use them anywhere.

Did I mention that you can subscribe to Akamai’s products so you never run out of your favorite products? That’s right – they’ll send your Essentials Kit (or separate items) right to your door at a schedule that works for you. Typically, one 3 in 1 Bar lasts about a month, a tube of toothpaste lasts about two months, and the Skin Fuel lasts about two months. So one Essentials Kit is designed to last two months.

The Million Dollar Question

I disclosed above that I received this kit in exchange for my honest review, so now I need to honestly answer the question: Am I going to continue with Akamai as a paying customer? The answer is a resounding “hell yes!”

  • Healthier ingredients I can trust? Check.
  • Low maintenance beauty routine I actually follow? Check.
  • SMELLS SO GOOD? Check.
  • Whiter teeth without bleaching? Check.
  • Only have to wash my hair twice a week and it looks amazing? Check.

I’m totally sold.

Your Turn to Try!

It’s your turn to try the Akamai Essentials Kit, and I have an awesome promotion that the folks at Akamai put together just for you! The Essentials Kit is usually $38.00 – but when you use this coupon code you’ll get $20 off. Sign up quickly because the offer is only good from 5/9/17 to 5/16/17.

  1. Use this link to sign up for your Akamai Essentials Kit: http://akamaibasics.refr.cc/caitlinherron
  2. Use code MINIMALIST20 for your $20 off – HURRY, this code expires 5/16/17

Limit 1 per customer, valid only on the first order. Subscriptions can be modified or cancelled at any time – no risk or obligation.

Off the Table

No matter what you’re doing in your life, you probably have some fear. The little voice in the back of your head is telling you that you can’t achieve your goal, you can’t make it work, and you are going to fail – hard. For example, sometimes I get through the laundry chores without a problem washing, drying, or folding, but the moment it’s time to put the clean clothes away, I freeze and can’t finish. Something holds me back from finishing a simple task, even though I know better. I usually put this down to being in a depressive episode but it’s so confusing to me that I get so close to finished and then freeze and just can’t go on.

If our subconscious can get the better of us and cause us to fear failure on low-risk tasks, imagine the impact when your fear and ego blocks you from going after even bigger things.

Failure is no longer an option

We default to thinking that failure is an option in our every task. We can either do the thing, or not do the thing. If you believe that there’s an option to fail, then you leave yourself open to failure. To get through this fear, you have to really commit to the fact that you’re taking the option to fail off the table. Somewhere along the way, we were taught that to do it right, you had to do it perfectly, and you had to do it on the first try.

I don’t know about you, but I remember learning to ride a bike and my parents telling me to get back on it when I fell over. Get back on it, guys. It’s not failure, it’s growth.

This brings me to a favorite quote about failure (even if Edison was a jerk):

Thomas Edison "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work."

 

When you take failure off the table, you cannot help but see every challenge as an opportunity for growth and a step in the path to the right answer and success.

Whether you are facing challenges with business, relationships, finances, health, or anything else in your life – take defeat off the table. Trust in the fact that the right answer is out there, waiting for you to find it. You must take action to find it. Nobody just hands success to you on a plate, but you can and will achieve your goals if you put the work into it.

In relationships

I am constantly trying to improve my relationship skills so that I don’t make the same mistakes that I did in my first marriage. A big part of this is taking divorce off the table.

Barring abuse or dealbreakers like infidelity, if a couple can have an honest discussion and take divorce off the table, it will have an immediate positive effect on their relationship. When you’re worried your partner will leave you, or you’re worried that any fight could be your last, you hold back honesty. You hold back fear. You hold back truth. You don’t want to rock the boat because oh god, what if she leaves? or I don’t want him to be angry because when he’s angry I want to run away from this relationship. 

This was totally me. I was hiding feelings from my husband (at the time, boyfriend) because I was afraid he’d wake up one day and think I was too much work and too much crazy and too much SOMETHING and he’d decide he was tired and couldn’t do it. And I would sometimes have a moment of panic and try to find something wrong that was a signal I was in a doomed relationship again — I was trying to find any way to not end up in my first marriage all over again.

Taking divorce off the table means that you are safe. You don’t have to fear the end of your marriage because you were trying to be a better communicator. If you have a need that isn’t being met, you can tell your partner, because there’s no way they are going to get upset and leave you over it. Failure is not an option. Every conversation, discussion, or argument is now a stepping stone to a more solid, open, and communicative marriage in which both parties are confident and comfortable in sharing their needs and feelings.

It is not enough to simply know in your brain that you’re not going to leave your partner. You need to discuss it together and say out loud to each other that divorce is NOT an option, at all, ever, period. (Obviously leaving out cases of abuse or dealbreakers – GTFO if you need to).

Knowing we never intended to get divorced again actually whipped my current marriage into shape before we even got engaged. We went to premarital counseling to work out our communication issues, leftover baggage from our first marriages, and our basic expectations of each other. Because we knew we had no intention of getting divorced once we tied the knot, we made damn sure we were ready to be with each other forever. When I get anxious and my fight-or-flight instinct kicks in, knowing he’s in it for the long haul with me makes me feel safe. I can talk to him about my worries without being afraid he’ll decide I’m not worth the effort.

In wellness

I have lost count of the amount of times I started to work out or eat a better diet and then stopped because I got derailed. Someone even told me once that I had failed because I had one scoop of ice cream. That single offhanded comment still sticks with me because it came from someone whom I trust to support me.

I didn’t fail. I learned. I learned that sugar is a slippery slope for me and that I need to be very careful not to bring it into the house or else I will allow it to derail my goals. I learned that other people’s opinions about whether or not I fail don’t matter because as long as I am my own cheerleader, I don’t need other people’s approval.

People slip up and make mistakes. The important thing is to learn from it and find a way to correct and focus on the goal again. For example:

  • If I don’t work out in the morning, I tend to skip my workout and this can snowball into days at a time without exercise. Correction: make time to schedule morning workouts.
  • If I eat something sugary, I go into a mad sugar binge. Correction: Don’t make sweets and don’t bring sugary food into the house.
  • If I participate in a diet bet program or “Biggest Loser” competition, I stress out and go crazy and don’t win anyway because I’m too busy flipping out over every pound on the scale. Correction: Stop participating in these programs.

If you don’t like the workout you are doing, don’t give up on exercise! Find something else you like to do. Keep your focus on the goal: improved health and wellness. The rest will fall into place as long as you continue to take appropriate action.

“Never working out again because this sucks” is off the table. Do something, anything, to move toward your goal. Even if it’s tiny.

In business

How many people have had a great idea for an invention, a service, a product, or a business but didn’t know where to start? Of those who do start, how many actually achieve their goal? There are a ton of books out there to motivate business-minded folks and keep them focused on the goal on the horizon instead of the stumbling blocks on the way.

Let go of the fear of failure. Failure is officially off the table. Instead of failure, you’ll have experience and research. You’ll find your own 10,000 ways that don’t work. Get back up, dust yourself off, and try it differently next time.

I start and stop business ideas all the time, finding my own groove and what works for me. What works for me might not work for you, just like what works for you might not work for me. But when we both keep at it over time, we’ll find what works for each of us to succeed. Or we’ll move on and find the next project.

A word to the wise: Don’t go into debt to start a business. That is the one way I can see a failed outcome. If your business doesn’t succeed and you have debt, that’s one big mess you’ll have to clean up, and you’re more likely to rush into the next deal without thinking about it rationally. Don’t be broke and desperate. Work at your own pace and at the scale your business can handle with the resources you have.

Keep Moving Forward

No matter what aspect of life you’re working on, take failure off the table. See how freeing it is to know that each challenge will be overcome. It will take effort and time, but you will overcome.

How to Set Realistic Financial Goals for 2017

The most effective way to achieve your goals is to set 90-day objectives instead of looking at a looming annual goal or even a 5-year plan. You need to take small action steps so you don’t get overwhelmed and lose your motivation. This applies to anything from losing weight to planting a garden to renovating your bathroom to planning your finances.

I’m a huge proponent of Dave Ramsey’s baby steps program, which includes saving for emergencies (steps 1 and 3), paying off your debt (step 2), investing for retirement (step 4) and kids’ college funds (step 5), and paying off your home early (step 6). The reason this program works is that it breaks things down into small steps. You need to focus your energy – and money – on one goal at a time. People have their consumer debt paid off in an average of two years using the snowball method, which frees up their income to save and invest more freely rather than trying to win by nickel and diming every aspect of their financials.

I’ve been working on my first quarter goals for 2017 and even though it’s already March, I want to reach out and share some financial goal-setting advice you can use as you plan your 2017 financials.

It’s important to understand your finances no matter what you’re doing. There are the basic things you should know: how much money you make, how much you have in savings and checking, your monthly budget, etc. Then there are bigger-picture items like investments and debt payoff goals. As you’re evaluating your financial goals, this Money Saving Challenge infographic from Earnest can help you make a useful goal for each month of the year. Earnest is a company that offers refinancing of student loans, which can be useful if their rates will save you money over the remaining life of your loan (assuming you pay it off early using the baby steps). Every penny counts!

I added a minimalist twist on a few of the included months. In March, you’ll see a recommendation to declutter your home and host a yard sale, which helps you minimize the amount of “stuff” in your house and can also help you make a few bucks. In June, I recommend evaluating your subscriptions and services to once again reduce your commitments and add money back to your bottom line.

caitlin-_-earnest

Which of these financial tips are you already working toward, and what new ideas can you add to your goals for the next 90 days?