Breaking out of the binary 

gender sign

Source: Unsplash

Over the years, I’ve done a lot of what you could call “finding myself.” After serving as an ally member on the board of my college Gay Straight Alliance, I only realized I was bisexual in my early twenties. Even when my sister came out as bisexual and went to prom with a same sex date, I never questioned my own default straightness until I found myself surprisingly attracted to a woman. Rather than an “Aha!” moment, revealing my queerness was a series of “Huh” moments. 

And I guess I should not have been surprised when the same thing happened with my gender. It started with allyship and with friendship. One friend posted to “think outside the binary” and it changed my whole paradigm in an instant. I noticed when people said things like “I’m really nervous about my boyfriend not responding to me, I know I’m being such a girl!” and responded “That’s not a girl thing, that’s an anybody thing.” The more I tried to “think outside the binary” the more I saw how things are ascribed to gender that make no sense. 

As I made more trans and non-binary friends, I began sharing more posts and information about gender inclusivity as I learned from them.

I started using gender inclusive language. Spouse and partner instead of husband or girlfriend. Pregnant people instead of pregnant women. Parents instead of moms. Chestfeeding and nursing instead of breastfeeding. Menstrual products instead of feminine products. Reproductive healthcare instead of women’s healthcare. “Hello, friends!” instead of “Hello, ladies!” in Facebook groups. 

A side effect of using gender neutral language is that you start undoing a lot of bias in your own head about highly charged gender assumptions in society. Should your spouse do an equal share of housework? When you stop saying, “Oh men are just like that, women have to pick up after them!” and swap it for “Spouses are just like that, the other spouse has to pick up after them!” you see really glaring holes in logic. Operating a broom or dishwasher is not a gendered task. 

I started learning that trans people don’t owe the world “passing.” It’s not any person’s job to look like what you expect their gender to look like. Men can wear dresses and makeup, women can have facial hair, and non-binary people aren’t androgynous mixes of feminine and masculine features that leave you wondering what type of ethereal fae forest they crawled out of. (The answer is that they probably would actually tell you they crawled out of an ethereal fae forest). Two trans friends independently told me their gender was “angry bees” in a 48 hour period. 

I learned that saying “Male to Female” is outdated and harmful language. A trans woman has always been a woman, she was just labeled incorrectly at birth because we assign gender to genitals instead of allowing people to self identify. (Note: If she uses this term for herself, it’s okay, but she’s the only authority on what phrases and labels should be used to describe her). 

I learned that dysphoria isn’t necessary to be transgender. You don’t have to hate your body or feel like it’s wrong to be trans. 

Once you start realizing that gender is a collection of societal expectations and that genitals don’t have anything to do with it and hobbies, interests, voices, career goals, leg hair, etc. don’t have anything to do with it, you’re left questioning what the point of gender even is. 

I gave myself a mental prompt and discussed it with a few friends: What if we were all raised as “they/them” in gender neutral ways, with no leaning toward dolls or trucks, dirt or cooking, dresses or pants? What if literally every option was available to every child and they just got to pick the things they like without redirection to an “appropriate” interest? What if we supported every crying child the same? If we were all raised the same and there was no difference between genders except the fact that each person decided on their own, how many would just stay neutral because it doesn’t matter?

The more I circled down this thought experiment around why the gender binary is a thing… the more I realized I didn’t like participating in it. My gender has nothing to do with my interests or my career or my wardrobe. I love femininity and my presentation is very femme. But does that necessarily make me a woman? 

People have already decided for me what it means to be a woman. It’s supposed to mean a hairless body and performative diet culture and being humble so that men can be the source of my confidence and validation. It means being talked over in meetings at work and apologizing for having an opinion. But I’ve already stopped doing all of those things. So if I’m not performing womanhood the way society wants anyway, what’s the point of “being a woman”? 

And this slow unraveling of the yarn-ball of gender expectations is how I decided the gender binary was not something I wanted to participate in, so I’m starting to explore neutral pronouns and a non-binary approach to life. 

Huh. 

 

Read more from me

Curious about gender issues? There’s a full glossary of gender-related terms and important information we should all know about what it means to be transgender in America in 2019 in my book, The Gaslighting of the Millennial Generation. I’d love for you to let me know what you think of the book, so please give it a read and leave a review on Amazon. If you’re morally opposed to Amazon, I have some other links here.

You can also follow me on Medium and clap for this story to support me for the low low cost of your Medium membership.

I also have a Patreon page which will get sneak peeks of upcoming topics, an opportunity for you to suggest topics, and additional Patron-only bonus content. Check it out, Patron levels start at just $1 per month to help support my writing.

 

 

 

Your Mission Statement, Should You Choose To Accept It

I’ve been working on some budgeting and financial planning resources for a personal finance group I help run on Facebook. In the guide, I made a brief activity for participants to create their own financial mission statement. The big “WHY” that can remind them of their long term goals when they want a short term pleasure. I’m all for building in a steam valve so you don’t get money stress ulcers, but that’s why budgeting is important. You need to know your limit on how much steam you can blow off, before your whole long-term plan goes up in a sea of cute shoes that were on sale, soy lattes, and even Redbox rentals. Don’t nickel and dime yourself out of a secure financial future.

The mission statement approach can also help you stay mindful and in the moment when you’re having anxiety or stress about something. If you’re not happy at your job, think about your long-term mission. Put today’s annoyance on a scale against the long-term achievements and goals associated with more tenure in your position. Is today’s gripe going to ring a bell in a year? If you’re really miserable, start looking for new work that is more in line with your mission. (Your career mission can be “to have a job I really love,” which makes job shopping not only an option but a responsibility to your goals!)

Mission statements can be for the long term or they can be a short term mission. A mission for one hour, or one day. A to-do list is sort of a mission statement of how you plan to spend your day. I’ve started making my to-do lists in three-item chunks. The top three priorities of my day (usually more difficult or grudging tasks), followed by a quick and easy list of 3 things I can accomplish in a few minutes. By the time I’m done with those 3 big tasks and 3 little tasks, I’ve gotten a lot done and can either rest or make a new mission of 3 top priorities.

By making a really specific mission statement for my day, I’m able to reduce my anxiety. A giant to-do list of all the things I’d like to accomplish on a Saturday is overwhelming and I tend to get so caught up in not knowing where to start that I just procrastinate or do things that are “sort of productive” but not actually things that need to be done that day.

A recent list of mine looked like this:

Top 3 Priorities Today

  1. Work out
  2. Grocery shop
  3. Finish freelance project

3 Easy Tasks

  1. Send freelance invoices
  2. Send freelance pricing information
  3. Take laundry to basement

Next 3 Priorities

  1. Write budget guide
  2. Write a blog post (hey, it’s the post you’re reading right now!)
  3. Scoop litter box and clean up in the office

3 Easy Tasks

  1. Clear the living room table
  2. Take out trash and recycling
  3. Put away the clean dishes

If I had just put all these things on a list without prioritizing or putting them in any order, I would have very likely done all the little quick items first, then pretended I had gotten *so* much work done, and sat on my butt, wondering when I would get around to doing the bigger tasks. By arranging them in order like this, I could pull out the top 3 things that MUST GET DONE and make sure I do them before anything else. Doing the dishes would be nice, but not a top priority. Dishes can wait. Work needs to get done.

I am a list person, and I am a goal person. A list of goals is even better. The better to craft my mission statement, my sweet!

Here’s a breakdown of some of my current short- and long-term mission statements. Most of them are financial but one is related to health.

  • My mission is to pay off our next three debts by the end of 2016, at a rate of one debt per month. (This helps me keep my budget on point. I am less likely to find other things we “need right now” to take out of the budget when I’m focusing on something like this. This goal is really big, those debts are between $1600 and $2000 each. And even if I only get two of them done, that’s amazing!)
  • My mission is to weigh between 150-165 pounds and live a healthy lifestyle with daily exercise and a healthful diet without binge eating or obsessive food behavior. (This is a much more long term mission statement that encompasses not only a weight loss goal but also goals related to my mental health and relationship to food. This helps me to not overeat and also to allow myself indulgences without a guilt trip).
  • My mission is to be debt free by the time I am 30. (This is another big goal! That’s only 18 months away, and we have quite a pile of debt. Over $60,000.)
  • My mission is to become debt free so that we can afford for one of us to stay home with our kids when we start a family. (THIS ONE is the overarching mission. The mission driving all other missions. Nothing makes me reconsider buying a pair of leggings or a burrito bowl like imagining how fast I can get out of debt to be a stay-at-home-mom.)

What are YOUR personal mission statements, and how do they help to keep you accountable?

Mindfulness and Contentment

According to Psychology Today:

Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.

Mindfulness and contentment are a necessary part of a minimalist lifestyle. Being minimalist means having enough and being happy with that. Whether it’s a 10-item capsule wardrobe or a closet filled with vibrant clothes you love, as long as you’re happy with what you have, you can know contentment. If you spend all your time getting dressed thinking, “I have nothing to wear!” or considering anything your “least favorite” dress, pair of pants, etc., then you’re comparing and focusing on lack instead of being grateful for abundance.

This line of thinking translates to everything. Your job, for example. Are you happy at work? Some people are truly excited about their position, their company, and everything to do with their career track. Others are happy enough to have a stable job and a regular paycheck, even though there are things they don’t love. And still others can’t stop thinking about getting out of their current position, sure that the next one will be their dream job and they’ll finally be happy.

Maybe you’re changing your lifestyle to be more healthful and energizing. You’re trading in your pj pants for workout shorts, getting up early to exercise, and cutting out the junk food from your diet. But are you doing these things because you know they make you feel healthier, happier, and more vibrant? Or are you convinced that if only you could fit into a smaller size, you’d be happy with your body after all these years?

Here’s a tip: You are enough. You have enough.

Whether it’s health, money, or stuff – your life is abundant and enough. When we’re content and grateful, we are vibrating on good frequencies. The more you think to yourself, “I am so grateful for a job that allows me to use my skills and learn new things,” the more skills and new things you’ll learn which will probably turn into higher job satisfaction and even performance-based raises. If you instead compare everything to what you don’t have, or what other people have more of than you do, you’re vibrating on a frequency that invites other people to compare you unfavorably to your peers. Be cool. The universe loves you.

In October, I’m going to focus a lot on mindfulness and contentment. The cool autumn air always seems to energize me to make big changes in my life. And I’ve gotten un-mindful lately. I invite you all to live in the moment with me this month, to be content with enough, and to manifest good things through gratitude.

 

My Real First Marriage

In recent years when I have discussed my first marriage, I’ve been referring to the one with legal paperwork, self-esteem turmoil, and a divorce at the end. In all of those times I have said the words “my first marriage,” I forgot that my first marriage was actually to my childhood best friend who lived two doors down when I was only four years old.

This is a love story I completely forgot.

I met Alex one fateful day when my mother heard a knock at the door. My sister was just a baby, and I was about four years old. A woman was at the door holding a little boy my age by the hand. She introduced herself and said that her son Alex, “otherwise known as Satan’s spawn,” was wondering if he could play with me.

Thus began a beautiful friendship marked by being near inseparable for the next 5 years. We were the very definition of best friends. I do not remember every day of my childhood, but I imagine that we saw each other daily, for at least a few minutes if not hours on end.

Our friendship was remarkable in that it was true love, devotion, and friendship in the purest sense. Friendship at that age is not marred by developing bodies, by jealousy, by body image issues, by wondering if men and women can have platonic relationships, or by assuming the worst in a given situation. We were five years old and our days consisted of doing whatever we wanted. Coincidentally, what we wanted was to spend every waking moment together.

We rode bikes, we ate McDonald’s happy meals, we shared banana popsicles, we played in the backyard, we ran through cornfields, we played with toys, and we watched television. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Power Rangers were our favorites. We made spiralized apples with his mom’s Pampered Chef counter-mounted apple peeler. We listened to music and went to the movies and were just all-around best buds.

When we were five or six, we had a small wedding ceremony in the basement of my childhood home, standing on yellow plastic Little Tikes chairs. I don’t remember if there were vows. I do remember there was a wedding ring for me, in the form of a small hair-tie (the weird double-looped ones with a metal connector in the center) with clear plastic beads on either end. Diamonds, obviously. He put it on my left ring finger and we celebrated by jumping and dancing on my full-size bed, holding the removable tops from my bedposts and singing into them like microphones. To the Space Jam soundtrack.

You have my permission to be super jealous right now. It’s okay. 

We did not “get married” because we were in love. Not because we wanted to kiss each other. Not because we wanted to have babies together. We did not “get married” for money, status, or to cover up an unplanned pregnancy.  We did not “get married” because our biological clocks were ticking, our parents wanted us to, or for any reason other than this:

We got married because we were best friends and the only way we knew how to express commitment and friendship was marriage. 

Kudos to our parents for that life lesson.

I regret that somewhere along the way I completely forgot that marriage is something you do with your best friend. Sometime after puberty began, my worth as a person was equated to whether or not a man would want me and subsequently I forgot all of the things Alex taught me about love and friendship and what commitment should be.

Alex and I drifted out of touch after my parents’ divorce and after I moved away. I drifted away from all of my childhood friends. I am truly thankful that Alex and I were friends when we were though. In those formative years where a person is really being put together, a real friend is one of the best things to have as a kid.

Alex shaped my life. Alex shaped who I am. That seems silly to say about a person who I haven’t seen in over a decade, a person who I last had a meaningful connection to when I was in elementary school – but it’s true.

I am sorry that it has taken me this long to understand how amazing a friend he was to me when we were kids.

I regret that, in growing up, I forgot about him and the lessons he taught me.

I regret most of all that the catalyst for all of these realizations is his death. 

My first friend is gone. He is gone, and I will never be able to tell him how important he is to me, how much of a difference he has made in my life, and how much he taught me about love.

The only thing I can do to move forward is to go back and re-learn those lessons about friendship and love and how perfect life can be if you chase the dreams that make you happy. I have to go back to being five and learn to love myself and others again, the way Alex and I loved each other back then.

Y’all better pack your bags, because the next few blog posts are going to be a feel-trip. 

5 Tiny challenges for a better life

Tiny actions add up over time to make big changes in your life, either positive or negative.

Consider the small action to decide, “I don’t want to have a vegetable with dinner tonight.” That decision is okay. It’s okay to not eat a vegetable with dinner. Last night, I didn’t eat a vegetable with dinner. But if you continue to make that decision every day, in 3 months you will be feeling sort of blah and lacking the nutrients that you receive from eating vegetables.

On the other hand, if you decide “I will have a small side of vegetables with dinner, even though I don’t really feel like veggies tonight,” then you have made a small action that didn’t really impact your day at all, besides prepping some veggies to eat. That’s a good decision for today. It’s okay to eat a small bit of something even if you don’t feel like it, if that thing is something you are eating for your good health. If you continue to make that decision every day, in 3 months you will have been eating a lot of veggies that you might not have otherwise eaten.

This applies to all aspects in your life. Tiny actions have a snowball effect that add up over time to make a big change.

Think about the following 5 tiny actions that wouldn’t make a significant impact on your daily routine, and consider how they could change your life if you did them every day (or even 3-4 times per week) for a month. These actions take one minute out of your day. Just one minute!

  1. Unsubscribe from one email newsletter you don’t read, or unlike a page on Facebook you don’t care about.
  2. Text one friend or family member a nice message.
  3. Drink a glass of water when you wake up.
  4. Add a vegetable to one meal.
  5. Focus on giving your spouse, partner, or kids a hug and kiss when you get home from work.

If you just do one of these things, you have given only 30 minutes of your life to a small action over the course of a month, but each action has the potential to shape your life into something completely different.

If you unsubscribe from one email newsletter per day, your daily inbox review will go smoothly and you can focus on emails that are actually important to you. I am guilty of signing up for newsletters to enter into a giveaway. I also have a lot of “Liked” pages on Facebook that aren’t actually important to me. By reducing this background noise of media, you can really begin to focus on updates from people and causes that are truly important in your life.

If you text one friend or family member per day – a casual “Hello, I was thinking about you and just wanted to tell you that you mean a lot to me,” that will make THEIR day better and will also get you into the small habit of sending love out to people around you daily. It takes ten seconds to type out a message. If they write back to you, engage in conversation for a few minutes but don’t let it take over your whole day. Just let them know that you were taking a break from your busy day to send them some of your love. They will appreciate it and you will feel better.

Drinking a glass of water when you wake up can change your whole day! Water helps to refresh and wake you up, and many people are not drinking enough. That first cup in the morning can trigger your body to remind you to drink up during the day.

Adding a veggie serving to one meal of your day is a small action that will only add a minute or two to your meal prep time. This morning, I threw a handful of spinach into my shake. Easy. You could make up a small salad, sautee some onions and mushrooms to go with your chicken or steak, or toss some carrots into the oven to roast while you cook the rest of dinner on the stove.

A targeted sixty second greeting to the person or people important to you when you greet them at the close of your work day can make a huge difference. Too often, we are rushed and saying a quick hello or goodbye as we shuffle out the door in the morning, or out to do errands, or doing one of the million things that takes up our day. When my partner takes just a few moments to embrace me in a full-on hug, and then gives me a kiss, either in the morning before I leave or when I come home from work – my day changes COMPLETELY and I feel so at peace and so relaxed and so loved. It takes just a few seconds of making that person the center of your attention to set you both up for a better day.

I challenge you to pick one of these five tiny actions, just one, and do it every day for a week. Report back and let me know how things went! If you accept my challenge, please post your action in the comments section. You can add your own as well! Pick one that will only add a minute or two to your daily routine.

Cut back on waste by using the whole buffalo

Yesterday was Earth Day. I missed getting this post done in time for it but it’s a great Earth Day concept I share with you today – the concept of reducing waste. I firmly approve of the notion that the native American Indians “used the whole buffalo” when they hunted. A buffalo provided many useful things, including:

  • Meat: for food
  • Bones: for ceremonial uses, weapons, tools
  • Hooves: for glue, rattles
  • Hair: for ornamental use, ropes
  • Hide: for clothing, shelter, blankets, bags (could be tanned into tough leather or left soft)
  • Organs: for food, brain used for tanning leather
  • Sinew: for thread
  • Tail: for whips, ceremonial uses
  • Poop: for fueling fires

While I am not hunting buffalo, I do try to use a similar mentality in my life as a minimalist to reduce my impact on the environment and to reduce the amount of things I need in my home. I hate waste. Throwing away food that has gone bad upsets me – especially if it’s meat or dairy, because those items impacted the life of another living creature. Sorry plants, I get sad when you go off too, but you can’t look at me with sad eyes. Except the potatoes. Sorry about the eyes.

Anyway. Here are some ways I reduce waste in my home:

  • Buy in re-usable containers. I buy some brands over others because they are packaged in glass wide-mouthed jars. I re-use the heck out of glass jars!
  • Avoid plastic wrap. I hate things in plastic wrap. I hate using “biodegradable plastic” produce bags, because I’m just not sure if they’re lying to me. The only thing worse than plastic wrap over a container of produce (looking at you, mushrooms) is plastic wrap over a styrofoam container of produce. Styrofoam. Humbug!
  • Re-use food items. Leftover mashed potatoes become potato pancakes. Bones from making broth are re-used two or three times. One whole chicken can make several days’ worth of meals. Food scraps are put in the compost pile.
  • Garden. Growing food in a garden means you don’t have to drive to the store to buy produce packaged in containers!

Just for fun, and because people love recipes, here’s how I “Whole Buffalo” a chicken.

“Whole Buffalo” Chicken Recipe:

  1. Obtain a whole chicken.
  2. Remove giblets.
  3. Rinse chicken.
  4. Put chicken in crockpot.
  5. Add spices – salt, pepper, garlic, onion powder, rosemary, whatever you want.
  6. Cook on low, 8 hours.

Congratulations, you now have a cooked chicken!

Make some meals with it! Like:

  • Chicken quesadillas
  • Chicken salad
  • Chicken breast with pasta or quinoa salad
  • Chicken and rice
  • Chicken soup
  • White chicken chili
  • Buffalo chicken dip (hey, THE WHOLE BUFFALO!)

BUT WAIT. Keep those bones and the broth from the crockpot. Put the bones in with the juices from cooking the chicken. Fill the crockpot up with filtered water. Add a splash of apple cider vinegar and some pink salt. You can add herbs or veggies if you like. Cook it on low for 8-48 hours, adding water as it cooks off.

This is bone broth. It’s awesome. Cook it for a shorter length of time (~8-12 hours) to achieve a gelatin-rich broth (it will look like chicken jello when it’s cooled. Don’t be grossed out. It’s magical). Cook for a longer length of time (~24-48 hours) to achieve a collagen-rich broth. You can preserve broth by canning or freezing. My goal this summer is to learn how to can and preserve.

If you cook for a shorter length of time, you can re-use the bones once or twice, they are good to use again until they crumble when you pinch them. Those are pretty tapped out. You can throw them out, OR… grind the cooked bones up into bone meal and feed them to your pets! The added calcium helps them with their teeth and bones. However, you should not feed cats any bones that have been cooked with garlic or onions, as these vegetables are toxic to cats.

And that’s how I buffalo a chicken.

What do you buffalo?

Gone fishing

Have you ever seen the photograph collection, Humans of New York? Photographer Brandon has a blog and a Facebook page and is coming out with a book.  His photos are wonderful and there’s usually a thought-provoking caption, from his interview with the subject of each photo.  One of the best parts of HONY is the fans.  The comments on his Facebook uploads are 99% supportive people who love the beauty of raw life he manages to capture.

On one recent photo, someone left this comment, and I absolutely have to share it:

One day a fisherman was lying on a beautiful beach, with his fishing pole propped up in the sand and his solitary line cast out into the sparkling blue surf. He was enjoying the warmth of the afternoon sun and the prospect of catching a fish.

About that time, a businessman came walking down the beach, trying to relieve some of the stress of his workday. He noticed the fisherman sitting on the beach and decided to find out why this fisherman was fishing instead of working harder to make a living for himself and his family. “You aren’t going to catch many fish that way,” said the businessman to the fisherman, “you should be working rather than lying on the beach!” The fisherman looked up at the businessman, smiled and replied, “And what will my reward be?”

“Well, you can get bigger nets and catch more fish!” was the businessman’s answer.

“And then what will my reward be?” asked the fisherman, still smiling. The businessman replied, “You will make money and you’ll be able to buy a boat, which will then result in larger catches of fish!” “And then what will my reward be?” asked the fisherman again.

The businessman was beginning to get a little irritated with the fisherman’s questions. “You can buy a bigger boat, and hire some people to work for you!” he said.

“And then what will my reward be?” repeated the fisherman. The businessman was getting angry. “Don’t you understand? You can build up a fleet of fishing boats, sail all over the world, and let all your employees catch fish for you!”

Once again the fisherman asked, “And then what will my reward be?” The businessman was red with rage and shouted at the fisherman, “Don’t you understand that you can become so rich that you will never have to work for your living again! You can spend all the rest of your days sitting on this beach, looking at the sunset. You won’t have a care in the world!”

The fisherman, still smiling, looked up and said, “And what do you think I’m doing right now?”

I don’t know about you guys, but I’m heading to the beach.

Today is a gift

My friend recently shared this on Facebook (I know, I have a Facebook problem):

Every single day is a gift. It’s a brand new day, a day to start over and count your blessings and do the things that mean the most to you. Yesterday and all the days before that are over. You can’t change them. Ever. You can change yourself, you can change your situation, you can change your attitude. But what’s done, is done. Wake up everyday and strive to make it better than yesterday. Stop focusing on all the negatives that have already happened and just live for today.

How true is that?

I’ve heard it said that dwelling on the past causes depression and dwelling on the future causes anxiety.  That makes sense to me.

When you think about the past too much, you keep running scripts of different things you should have, could have, would have done differently.  Maybe you can pinpoint one thing you would change, or maybe you have many things you wish had happened differently, or maybe you just want a second try because you can’t think of anything specific.

When you think about the future too much, you are missing what’s right in front of you.  You’re thinking two steps ahead, and probably having whole conversations with people that won’t go the way you think they will (because they are another person and not scripted by your brain).  You’re worrying about a decision you need to make tomorrow, but also worrying about every possible outcome of every possible decision.  You’re missing the now to focus on things that might not even happen.

 

All this thought, about what has been and what might be, just drives home the point that you think your right-now isn’t good enough.

And it is.  It totally is.

Every day is a chance to make it better than yesterday.  Do something with it.

your life

 

Dreams and plans

Two things –

1. I will be going back to a twice-per-week update schedule!  Since I will be writing so much about my debt free budget plans, I’m not going to bore you with ONLY my finances to read about once a week.  So I’ll be going back to a twice weekly posting, once about my budget (because I love to talk about it, don’t judge me), and once about general minimalist stuff (the old “good stuff”!).  Please feel free to click my suggestion box and tell me what you’d like to hear about!

2. I found the below post in my drafts from JANUARY.  So I am sharing it now because I completely forgot to do it then.  It is a little bit about debt but also about happiness and five-year plans.  Enjoy!

 

When you announce to someone that you are a minimalist, there is a wide range of reactions from people.  Some don’t get it at all, some think it would be such a relief to unload their stuff, some might think you’re a nomadic blogger without a car, and everything in between.  Some minimalists quit their jobs to follow their passions, and that is fantastic.  For them.  Sometimes you can’t just up and quit your job, but if leaving your job in the corporate, retail, or other occupation-related world is a dream, you have the power to follow that dream.

My career (and debt) path

When I was very young, I wanted to be a farmer (please note that I have now successfully grown and harvested vegetables, bringing this dream full circle).  Then I wanted to be a vet , and then a teacher.  I fluctuated between those two until college, where I had a Life Science Education and Spanish double major.  I wanted to teach Biology in High School.  I changed my major twice and ended up a Psychology major, with the goal of being a high school guidance counselor.  Over my three-year college career, I had no fewer than six student affairs jobs – Residence Life, First-Year Programs, Campus Ministry, Dean of Students Office, Tutoring, and Service Learning Programs, just for starters.  I was in clubs up to my ears and found that I loved working with students.  So I went to grad school and got a Master’s – and $40k of loans – in Higher Education Administration.  Before starting graduate school, I got married and bought a car.  We had a crappy interest rate (7.75%)! While working on my M.Ed., I rounded out my resume to include Career Services and Academic Services, with an assistantship and three internships.  I embarked optimistically on a job search, submitting over 100 applications in a year.

I graduated from graduate school…and was my best friend’s nanny, taking care of her young son part-time while she went to school.  Then I was a temp at a real estate office, my $60,000 of student loans in “underemployment” deferment.  Then, after five applications per week as a condition of living with my mother while I was separated and then divorced, I got a full-time job.

I’m a Purchasing Manager at a chemical manufacturing plant.  This has nothing to do with my intended career path. At all. It was just one of those things that fell together perfectly, I knew somebody who knew somebody who knew somebody, etc.  The Universe opened up and said “Hey, take this!” So you bet I took it.

I started my job in March 2012 and spent the next three months paying off my credit card debt, refinancing my car (with a much better interest rate), and consolidating my student loans.  I moved into my first all-by-myself apartment in June 2012, which is the precise moment I realized I had way too much stuff, found a minimalist blog, got rid of half my belongings, and started my own blog.  That’s your basic minimalist life cycle right there.

Life is what happens…

In January of 2012 I also started freelance writing, making a bit of cash on the side.  As the months went on, I got better at writing, and got more assignments, and made enough money to take a trip to Spain with my mom, with no debt accrued for that vacation.  That was empowering!  I just up and traveled around the world because I could.

My freelance topics included a home office blog, and I was writing a lot about work-at-home-moms.  I was intrigued.  I thought, “Hey.  I want to be a work-at-home-mom!”  (WITH A MASTER’S DEGREE, BECAUSE WHY NOT?) I’ve got a lot of opinions about child-rearing for someone who’s never had a child, and one of those opinions is that I would rather be at home raising my kids than putting them in daycare.  No offense to daycares or people who send their kids to daycare – I was a child of daycare AND public school and I turned out fine.  But I am pretty sure – at least right now – that I want to stay home with my kids after they are born and possibly home-school.

I found myself enjoying the freelance writing work more and more and wondering if I could make it my full-time career.  Life is indeed what happens when you’re busy making other plans!  All of a sudden, I found myself a writer.

In 2012, I made a little over $2,000 from writing.  In 2013, I hope to increase those figures and continue to build a customer base until I can support myself wholly on the writing career.  I realize this may take a while; I have a five-year plan…which is, of course, in constant flux.  The goal is to settle down with a partner well before kids come along and supplement the partner’s income with my writing work from home.  I remain convinced that it would be a better deal than if I was working but we had to pay for daycare.

The moral of the story

My main point, after that long and winding diatribe, is that if you have a dream or a goal – working from home with your kids, for example – you CAN make that happen!  I am making my dreams happen right now.  There’s no need to be stuck doing something that doesn’t make you happy.

For the record: I am not actively unhappy at my current job.  I don’t like supporting the chemical industry because I am a crunchy granola hippie, but I’m good at my job and I like most of the people there most of the time.  The most important thing that keeps me satisfied at work – even if I don’t always like “the work” – is that I feel appreciated and valued there.  Job satisfaction is a very important thing.  So if you’re unsatisfied, see if you can change your situation!

Small ways to gain financial freedom

Now that you’re pumped up to quit your job and live a happy, passionate life of writing or repairing toasters or whittling, I’ll bet reality is settling in a little bit for you.  Then the questions come.

What about my house?

What about my car?

I have so many bills, how can I quit my job?

And so on and so forth.

I invite you to de-clutter your budget and see how much you can do with your money.  I do it.  Other people do it.  And you can do it.

Start small – don’t try to change anything the first month, just keep track of every dollar you spend.  If you go out for lunch, write it down.  Groceries, write it down.  Cable bill, car payment, new yoga pants, cat food – write it all down.  Keep track of every dollar.  Then take a look at where your money goes.

Make strategic cuts.  If you spend a lot of money eating out at work all week, spend half that amount on groceries and pack your lunch instead.  If you pay for cable but your family doesn’t watch all that much, consider canceling cable and get an $8 subscription to Netflix instead (all you really need in life is Doctor Who, anyway).  Or get rid of your TV entirely! Carry a reusable thermos or cup with you wherever you go so that you’ve always got something to drink and you are not tempted to buy an expensive beverage from a vending machine or gas station.  Eliminate food waste – keep track of how much you throw away and either buy less to begin with or take a week-long (or month-long) grocery-shopping “diet” so you eat what you have instead of buying more and letting the old go to waste.  Refinance and/or consolidate loans for lower payments. Shop around for car insurance.

Saving is important.  I set aside at least 10% of every paycheck for my savings account.  I also have a baby-step emergency fund of $1,000 set aside while I restructure my financial priorities and hack away at my debt.

Budget.  It’s boring but it’s helpful.  Set a realistic and attainable budget for yourself or your family, and stick to it.  Include all bills, “fun money” for entertainment and going out, and savings.

For the Really Serious, consider selling your house and downsizing to a condo, apartment, or even just a smaller house.  This step usually comes after a Minimalist Epiphany and the throwing out of half your possessions (like I did!) but doesn’t have to.  As you cut things from the budget, you may become more aware that you don’t need all these services and all these things to make your life happy.  You (and your family, if applicable) make your life happy.

There are tons of blogs and articles available on the Internet to help you.  Go read some and change your life.

Quitting your job is optional but encouraged if it would make you truly happy.

Wealth and riches

I occasionally lament my Master’s degree, since I went into massive debt to get it and then promptly left my field of study.  What I do value from my graduate education is a handful of friends.  There are people in my life who wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t for graduate school, and I am thankful for them.  While I don’t like the idea of paying for my friends, I’d rather focus on my $40,000 friends than my $40,000 piece of paper.

Thinking about my debt disappoints me.  I am working on a plan to be debt free (details to follow), but the real point of this week’s post is to focus on wealth.  Real wealth.  Thinking about money, and loans, and degrees, and friendship, and what it all means… what does it mean to be wealthy, to be rich?

This week, I posted the following status on Facebook:

If I was homeless and asked for anyone, anywhere who was able to take me in and let me live with them, how many of you would invite me to share your home? Please comment or like if you’d be willing.

Within a few hours, the status received likes and comments from 18 people.  I think it’s also safe to assume my parents would also take me in, if circumstances made it necessary.  That’s twenty people, just at a hypothetical need to stay somewhere.  Plus other friends and family who didn’t see the status.  All told, I think there are at least thirty people in my life who would immediately take me in if I needed somewhere to go.  About one third of these are people I have not actually met in person, only online.

Some of my favorite comments:

“If I had a home, I would share it.”

“I don’t have a spare bedroom, but I would definitely offer you my couch!”

“Um, duh?”

“Of course! Not even a second thought. You can come stay with us.”

“Come on over but I might put you to work.”

“I would let you move in and then plant a bigger garden because I would have more help to take care of it!”

“If I had my own place, you’d be welcome any day.”

These comments, many from near-strangers or people I haven’t seen in years, remind me that I am rich.  I am wealthy. 

The economy and the stock market and the value of the dollar will go up and down, but friendship and love are two things that are always in high demand with a very high value.  I have friends, true friends, who would accept me into their homes and hearts without question or pretense, and for no other reason than to help another human being.  Someone they care about, on some level, whether they think of me as a friend, a daughter, a sister, or just a person in need.

When I separated from my ex-husband (the first time), I stayed with a friend from grad school.  He didn’t really know me very well, and I don’t think his wife had met me previously to our living arrangement, but they accepted me into their home and I am still touched to my core that they would do that for me.  For someone they didn’t know very well.  Someone in need.  They are now foster parents, which is very fitting!

When I separated from my ex-husband (for real), I moved into my mother’s house.  She and my step-dad took me in, no questions, no judgment.  The terms of my “rental agreement” were to pay $50 a month in rent, help do chores, and apply for 5 full time jobs per week.   I succeeded in finding a full-time job and moved out – that’s where the blog started!

My point is this: money isn’t what makes us rich, or happy.  It’s love.  That’s the corniest thing ever, I know, but it is so very true.  The kindness of strangers, and the love of friends, is what will get us through any trying time.  This isn’t to say money wouldn’t help anything – I can think of some things to do when I hit the lottery jackpot! – but monetary wealth cannot be the focus of a happy life.

My new criteria for being wealthy is to be able to say, “no matter what, I will have a place to stay with someone who loves me.”

 

 

Bonus track:

Things I would do with a million dollars!

  • Put half of it in savings
  • Pay off my student loans
  • Pay off my car
  • Pay off my mom’s student loans
  • Pay off my sister’s student loans
  • Pay off my brother’s student loans
  • Buy a house
  • Plant a massive garden
  • Raise chickens
  • Comfortably afford to be a full-time stay-at-home mom and homeschool my children
  • Adopt a dog
  • If there is money left over… kitten ranch
  • Continue living minimally and frugally, because it just feels better
  • I’d buy you a monkey. Haven’t you always wanted a monkey?

Tell me the ways you are rich!! And as a bonus, share what you’d do with $1,000,000.