No more food restriction

I’ve always chased success and compared myself to others based on restriction. I can lose weight if I don’t eat sugar. I can get more done at home if I don’t watch television. I can be more productive if I don’t use social media.

The best version of me, the one who weighs 150 pounds and works out every day and truly enjoys salad, the one who works nights and weekends to stay ahead at work, the one who cranks out best sellers year after year because she’s a prolific writer… she’s just around the corner if only the me right now would stop baking cookies and going to bed early and talking to her friends online.

Guess what I’ve decided? Screw all that, oh my god.

I’m fine. I am fine right now. I am living my life right now. And it is a really good one. I am happy. I am taking care of myself. I allow myself to rest. I remind myself to wash my hair. And I allow myself to eat anything.

Yes. I eat anything now. Anything I want.

This has revolutionized my relationship with food. I don’t have to restrict. I don’t have to have a sugar ban or never eat bread again. Y’all. I’m allowed to eat. YOU are allowed to eat. I swear. You’re allowed.

Here’s the thing about food: we kinda need it to live. And we have taste buds. And brains. And when stuff hits our taste buds in a nice way, we like it.

And, in complete and utter news to me, this is not a moral failure. Enjoying sweet or salty or fatty or whatever molecule you’ve banned this month in an attempt to lose those “stubborn ten pounds” is not your failure. Because food is not good or bad. Food is food. Food is neutral. You need food so you don’t die. And it’s okay if that food is a cupcake.

I used to think that a minimalist way of eating was a limit on the types of food I eat. Keep it simple, eat whole foods, eat organic foods, eat fresh and raw foods, eat ethically sourced foods, eat food you can make in one pot, eat food you can eat in a bowl, eat the same foods every day, only eat at certain times per day. The more rules I tried, the more I blamed myself for not being able to follow them. But eating is supposed to be easy. Now, I think of a minimalist way of eating as a limit on restriction. As in, no restrictions. I can eat a sandwich or a cookie or ice cream – even right before bed. Gasp!

The truth about food that I can finally see is this: What I eat has absolutely no bearing on my skills, personality, worth, or beauty.

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Turning Valentine’s Day Inward: Self-Love Tips

Around Valentine’s Day, we usually send our love outward to friends, family and significant others. While that is valuable love and time spent, it is so important to make a conscious effort to love yourself this Valentine’s Day! Self-love is a gift that you should give yourself every day because often times we way too hard on ourselves.

Loving yourself entails listening to and taking care of your physical, mental and emotional self. In order to access these different pieces, you need to be honest, vulnerable and kind to yourself. Many people are want to embark on the journey of self-love but have trouble knowing where to start. If that’s the case, check out this self-love post and infographic below by ProFlowers. It includes actionable steps and self-love activities to incorporate into your daily life.

This post was created with help from Kiana Mason of Siege Media. 

How to Declutter Before a Move

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I found minimalism in times of change in my life. When I was moving into my own place after spending six months living with my parents post-divorce, I looked around and realized I hadn’t touched any of my stuff that had been sitting around in boxes in the basement. So I went through them all and decided that I actually didn’t feel like moving all that stuff to a new apartment. It was my fresh start, so I overhauled my relationship with stuff.

That’s how this blog started. I maintained a fairly average number of belongings, but some people in my life thought I was extreme. I pared down to four place settings of dishes, even silverware. I got rid of my iron and ironing board because I didn’t use them and didn’t mind if my clothes didn’t look perfect. I didn’t have a dresser because I didn’t need one – all my clothes fit into my small closet and a small plastic set of drawers.

At one point, I sold my microwave. I never bought a TV for myself. Rather than buy a coffee table, I spraypainted a footlocker trunk and used that. I had a small table with a drawer instead of a desk. The apartment came with a built-in table and bench breakfast nook. And I was honestly thrilled.

Then I moved in with husband number two. And all of his stuff. Despite years of trying to get the house to a point that wasn’t driving me batty, the stuff continued. And, worse than stuff, the shoving. When you have so much stuff that you can’t even use the things you own without that stuff falling on top of you because you disturbed its precarious situation in relation to other stuff, you have found my personal threshold for the amount of stuff I can deal with.

After therapy, medication for my anxiety, and finally recognizing seven years of mental and financial abuse, I got out of there and settled into yet another fresh beginning for myself. And, as usual, I have been using writing to channel a lot of my recovery process and encourage others to move on from situations that no longer serve them (at best) or are downright harming their mental or physical health (at worst).

When I first moved out and into the apartment, I hadn’t had the time to prioritize or declutter things. I was stuffing boxes and moving fast. It wasn’t ideal. So I decluttered as I unpacked, but I held onto things like wedding photos and cards, things my husband had given me in better times, and practical wedding gifts that were still in their packaging.

On Moving On (And Moving)

When I moved for the second time in 2018, choosing to move in with a partner, I minimized and downsized even more. One wall of my living room was lined with things I wasn’t taking with me to my new home. I gave it away and donated whatever my friends didn’t take. I even sold or gave away most of my furniture.

And all this has taught me that moving is one of my personal decluttering easy buttons. When you’re moving, you have to decide to pack, move, unpack, and put away every single thing you own. Even when I’m not about to move, one of my decluttering questions for myself is, “Would I pack this and move it across the country if I had to relocate?” If no, then I usually donate.

So here’s my quick guide to decluttering before a move:

  1. Set A Limit: If you know you have more stuff than you actually want to pack up and move, give yourself a set limit of how many boxes or containers you can fill from each area in your home. Do you want your clothes to fit into two boxes? One large suitcase? An entire U-Haul? Whatever your limit is, set it, pack, and when you get to the limit of that box/suitcase/truck, you’re done packing and it’s time to start a donate pile.
  2. Get A Buddy: Having a designated packing buddy can help move the process along. Often times, another person’s perspective can be really helpful in deciding what to keep. At a minimum, the packing will go faster because you have more help!
  3. Don’t Declutter Everything: Save the sentimental keepsakes for after your move, if you can. Sentimental items will just derail your progress and you’ll end up flipping through old greeting cards from your grandma and reminiscing over clippings from your college paper. If you do not absolutely have to downsize to the bare minimum, my advice is to pack these right away into a box to be sorted through once you’re in your new place.
  4. Have a Free Stuff Party: If you have enough notice, invite your friends and neighbors over to shop your donate pile. The price of admission can be that they’ll take a bag or box to Goodwill on their way home, so you don’t have to do it!
  5. Pack in Categories: Packing is best done in chunks. Pack your linen closet. Pack your bathroom stuff. Pack your clothing. As you do this, you may naturally notice that you have a lot of freaking towels and decide to donate some of them. See number one – set a limit. As you work through your categories, set limits for each area!

If you have any other advice or questions about downsizing before a move, leave a comment! I do my best to respond to all comments on the blog within 48 hours.

8 Guilt-free tips to minimize Christmas spending

12-11 Christmas

I was already a few purchases into my holiday season when a friend of mine said she’d really enjoy a no-spend or buy-nothing Christmas. She envisioned swaps of artwork, clothing, and books between friends who could give freely from what they already had without adding to the stress and pressure of the holiday shopping season.

I budgeted around $400 for holiday gifts, but I probably won’t end up spending that much at all since I shifted my focus to giving experiences and artwork rather than purchased goods (though the unicorn calendar was a great buy and I stand by it).

Here are some ways you can reduce or eliminate your holiday spend without feeling like you’re downsizing the holiday cheer factor.

  1. Give your time. When I asked a friend what she wanted for Christmas this year, she thought about it and said that she’d love a day we spend together more than anything I could wrap up and give to her. Pencil a friend onto your calendar for a day of movies, hanging out, or even going out to window shop and try on the most hilarious Goodwill outfit you can find.
  2. Create something. One of my hobbies is painting, and I plan on creating art for many of the people on my list this year. It’s something that means a lot to both me and the recipient, since I create something personalized and inspired for each person on my gift list. You could also write letters or poetry, draw something, make homemade bath products, or sew something for your recipient.
  3. Cook something. So technically you’ll have to buy ingredients, but baking some cookies or cooking someone’s favorite meal for them is a great way to put your time and energy into showing your love for them.
  4. Regift. If you got some gifts last year that are still hanging around, new or barely used, give them to someone on your list who will love them and have a good home for them. And if you can’t bear to regift, then admit to yourself that you’re not using them and send them to the local charity store.
  5. Host a party. Instead of shopping for a personalized and unique gift for everyone on your list, you can opt to host a holiday party instead! You can focus your time and energy on preparing a delicious meal and ask everyone to bring their favorite dessert for a mouthwatering pot-luck of treats.

If you’re a dedicated gifter who just wants to reduce the budget instead of shoestring it entirely, try the following ideas!

  1. Try the “four things” holiday gift. Something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read. This is a great way to give gifts to the kids in the family so all bases are covered, while maintaining a frugal gift budget.
  2. Shop local. Buy from local crafters and shops instead of Amazon Priming everything* or shopping big box stores. Check your city’s calendar for local craft shows, which are all over the place leading up to the holidays!
  3. Shop handmade. ETSY ALL THE THINGS*.

*Some people have no reasonable options but to purchase from large sellers like Amazon, Target, Wal-Mart, etc., due to finances, schedule constraints, physical ability, etc. Your own mental and physical wellbeing is more important than shopping local or small.

Are you planning on a “less is more” holiday this year? Tell me your gifting plans!

PS. If you’re in the Cleveland, Ohio area, don’t miss your chance to buy tickets for the Jolobokaflod fundraiser for the nonprofit Reading Room CLE on December 21! The Reading Room promotes literacy in the Cleveland area through a nonprofit bookstore that supports educational and artistic programming.

Tattoos as self-care

Since leaving my marriage I have embodied just about every cliche imaginable. I changed my hair. I pierced my nose. And now, I have completed the Leaving a Traumatic Relationship trifecta: I got a tattoo.

I have long loved tattoos and had ideas about what I wanted indelibly etched into my body since my early teen years. Of course, mom said no and I had to wait until I was 18. I also had plans for a bunch of piercings too but still just have the single set of Claire’s style gun piercings (please do not do this) in my lobes I got when I was 20, plus the nose ring I got ten years later. For someone super into body modification, I was kind of a late bloomer. Also, my ex seemed to think he had some veto power over my body modifications so I kind of let it all slide and take a back burner since I didn’t want to have to fight about it.

My first tattoo was my birth name on my right ankle. I got it done right after my first wedding, because I was salty about being forced to change my name upon marriage. Forced is a harsh word choice, but after all my talk of keeping my name when I got married, my first husband pulled the “I actually really want you to change it” card with a month to go before the wedding and I didn’t realize “no” was an option. As I have now become estranged from both parents who gave me this last name and I’ve legally changed it to something completely new, I no longer feel attached to this tattoo and plan to cover it. My sister, who has a matching one, is also planning to cover hers.

My second tattoo was a celtic knot on my left arm, but I was scared of the pain and chose a size far too small for that part of my body. It looked absolutely ridiculous. My fourth tattoo was a lotus to cover this tattoo up. It is, thus far in the story, my largest tattoo.

My third tattoo was a matching tattoo with my now second ex-husband after we’d been dating for about a month. Luckily, it’s not something that you can tell is a matching tattoo by looking at it, but I still have plans to cover it up and reclaim it so I no longer think of him when I see it.

I, uh, had a habit of getting cheap tattoos. I never invested in the beautiful large pieces I admired on others. Investing in quality tattoo work was never something I allowed myself to do because it was so utterly indulgent. How could I reconcile spending so much money on something that does not add value or productivity? How could I justify this when I could pay half of somebody’s rent with the fee for a three-hour session under the needle?

I finally got over it and designed the most beautiful piece of art I have ever had placed on my person (so far). It’s a beautiful complement to my lotus, building on the existing tattoo and then circling around it in an array of different flowers.

Underneath the lotus are a zinnia, a dahlia, two violets, and a rose. Zinnia represents friendship, constancy, and lasting love – like the love I have for myself that I will always prioritize. Blue dahlias represent fresh starts and new beginnings. Violet is the birth flower of February, a tribute to my late stepfather who died as I was in the midst of my exit from an abusive marriage. Pink roses represent appreciation and gratitude – for myself and for those around me who helped support me.

Coming up and around the lotus are a larkspur and a Phalaenopsis orchid. Larkspur is the July birth flower, a tribute to my sister, and orchids represent proud femininity, new beginnings, and respect. Lotus, of course, represents growth from darkness. Each flower in this tattoo represents something precious and important to me, and it was a very healing experience to finally allow myself this act of self-care (albeit slightly painful self-care). I’ve been overjoyed by the sight of it in the mirror every time I see it, and I can’t wait to go back and get it finished.

Per commenter request, here are some photos:

Picking off the burnt bits

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In November 2017, my ex-husband’s father died. I had never felt more married than I did at that time, supporting him from an ocean away and acting as his rock in one of the hardest times of his life. I cried with him when his father passed. My heart was broken for him, for my mother in law, for their family. When he came home again, we talked about how things would be a little different. He’d be processing and grieving. I invited him to come to therapy with me and speak to my therapist, and he agreed. She advised him to join a grief support group, and we both encouraged him to seek individual counseling with a therapist of his own.

He was fine, he said. He didn’t need therapy or a grief support group. So we went along with life, but the grief came out in its own way, as grief does.

One night, while cooking dinner, my ex stepped away from the stove to do something in the living room. Dinner burned slightly to the bottom of the pan, and he refused to eat it. He told me to go out and pick something up for myself because dinner was ruined. He went to bed immediately without eating anything. He was angry at the curry, at the pan, at whatever he could be mad at. The curry was fine and I ate it for dinner. It wasn’t ruined at all, but he wouldn’t listen to me say so.

I found myself talking to a friend about this, and she told me it was the grief. It would come out in moments of stress, especially since he wasn’t seeing anyone proactively to deal with it. She reminded me to stay the course, give him the space he needed, and to not do anything life changing in the first year after a loss — no talking about us moving, or my husband changing jobs, or anything. What we needed was a stable home base while he sorted his grief out.

One night he asked me if we were happy and if maybe we should split up. Where I would have previously panicked, wondered what I’d done wrong to make him think that, etc., I was calm. I said, “Do you want to get divorced?” And he said no. So I said okay, we wouldn’t be getting divorced. I told him we should take a year after his father’s death to settle back into normal before any big decisions got made.

He agreed. And yet, he still refused to see his own therapist or go to a support group or even talk to his friends about his father’s death. I was sinking under the weight of being the only one he felt he could talk to about it. I was his only emotional outlet. And eventually I told him I needed him to go and see a therapist because I could not be his only place to process. He seemed to understand, he apologized, and he called to make an appointment with a therapist — with my therapist. I was uncomfortable with this. She was my safe space, and I didn’t understand why he didn’t listen when I told him I wanted him to get a different therapist.

Fast forward to nearly a year later. We’re divorced. (“You couldn’t even give me six months,” he had said to me, referencing my “no life changes in the first year after a loss” guideline).

I’ve experienced two panic attacks in the intervening months, triggered by a new partner stumbling over the landmines in my psyche that I didn’t know were there. This partner sat with me, held me while I cried, shushed my promises that I’d get it together in just a minute, let the panic and anxiety flow through me and out of me while he sat in silence next to me, ready to give me whatever I needed.

What caused the panic? Once, he playfully suggested that I’d said something to test him and he had passed my test (Does he think I’m fake? That I’m not genuine? That I’m manipulating him?). Another time, we were having a discussion around feminist topics and the familiarity of having a “debate” with my partner triggered a panic because of how many times I’d been forced into debates with my ex, when he wouldn’t even let me go to sleep until I’d given him an answer he could accept to explain whatever improper conduct I’d subjected him to.

And then one night, my new boyfriend burned dinner. Smoke filled the kitchen and we both jumped into action opening windows. I went to the bedroom and got a box fan and directed the smoke out of the kitchen door to the chilly fall air outside. I even joked with him that it was all just extra flavor and it was clearly time to eat. I picked the burnt bits off and the rest was completely edible and tasted great.

It only occurred to me after the problem had been solved that months, even weeks ago, this would have been another trigger. Another echo of my previous life, another moment I had somehow been at fault for my partner not minding the stove. But it wasn’t. Everything was fine. No one was angry, or stressed, or upset. We ate dinner and had a lovely evening.

This is what life can be like.

This is what life can be like when someone else’s stress doesn’t make your stomach turn to ice, make your heart race, make your eyes sting with tears.

Sometimes you just pick the burnt bits off and enjoy the delicious remainder with good company.

 

An open letter to my abuser’s best friend

pexels-photo-959308In an age of believing survivors, and given how much of a feminist you are, this one really hurt. It hurt to lose you. I didn’t think I would lose you, but I am not sure why I expected things to go any differently. You’ve known him much longer than you’ve known me, and he was very careful to only confide in you when things could be my fault.

He never reached out to you when he struggled with my expectations around the house. Never said, “Do you think she’s being unreasonable?” when I asked him to handle something he told me was unreasonable. He could never risk you saying, “Uh, dude, she’s being totally reasonable.” I don’t think he ever came to you when the situation wasn’t about me upsetting him.

Whenever we had issues, he’d bring my friends into it. “You have your friends to talk to and I don’t have anyone.” I always told him that yes he did. He had you, he had other friends, he could get a therapist or come with me to mine. But he insisted he couldn’t talk to you about the things we struggled with. It struck me as odd but I didn’t realize until after I left and he started his storytelling that it was because he could not dare to confide in you a story in which he might be in the wrong. He must play the part of the victimized husband who bent over backwards to meet my whims and was tossed aside when I got bored.

I gave my twenties to that man. He preyed on me when I was 23, as close to “barely legal” as a 40 year old man could get. I believed every word of his fairy tales about how we were meant to be. How he had never felt this way. How neglected he was and how I made him feel things he never thought he could feel again. I stepped in as the savior, the second chance.

You told me when our marriage started to deteriorate that you’d never seen him so happy. It hurt me to read those words. Of course he was happy. I took care of his house and his cats and his laundry and his meals. He didn’t have to lift a finger. Of course he was happy — but did you know me enough to notice or care if I was? When he met you for breakfast, I’d drop him off so that I could go get the shopping done. When you two went out for a day of photography, I’d clean the house and catch up on laundry. Because there was no fair division of labor, my fun always had to come after my responsibilities — otherwise no one would do them. When I did go out with friends or for a morning on my own, I’d be in constant touch with him, letting him know when I’d be home, because I always felt that he owned my time. He’d tell me with words that he didn’t own my time, but his behavior when I didn’t want to sit and watch four hours of television a night was one of a petulant and pouting child not getting his way.

I saw you and your family making things work. You share cooking, pet care, cleaning, parenting. You share everything, and there is balance. I never had the sharing or the balance. He would not learn to use the Instant Pot or a cast iron skillet. He acted like he had achieved greatness when he made soup one time with my supervision. When he made dinner, I pre-chopped the vegetables for him and put frozen french fries in the toaster oven. Even when he made me dinner I still needed to be close, on hand, ready to take over. Once, he walked away from the stove and dinner burned slightly, and he threw a tantrum about how ruined it was and refused to eat. He went to bed immediately.

I was always on eggshells. Always stressed. Always one moment away from being triggered by his stumbling into my childhood traumas from my abusive mother and then left alone to cry on the kitchen floor when he asked if my panic attack was “about my mom issues.” He was not kind to me, unless people were watching. This is the key. You never, ever saw what it was like alone with him. With an audience, he was captivating, clever, charming. He said the funny things for me to post on Facebook. But when I wasn’t happy and charmed by him, he asked why I was so distant, demanded to know what was wrong. He never told me to smile like a catcaller on the street, but I had to smile anyway. Act happy or deal with the pouting.

When I saw you in September at an event and you asked me how I was, I was relieved that you even spoke to me. My face broke into a smile and I said I was great. In the moment I felt so happy to have seen you again. Someone who was my friend. And now, I worry that you thought I was gloating.

When I realized you had unfriended me on Facebook, tears welled up in my eyes. It shook me. I know you had talked about reducing your Facebook use, so I thought maybe you removed me for my own safety so I didn’t feel like you might be watching me. But you were gone on Instagram too, and you never replied to the text I sent wishing you well. It all hurt.

But you were his friend before you were my friend, and you never actually knew me. You knew the version of me from his head, the version that I destroyed with “toxic feminism” and expecting more of him. It is no coincidence that I left him three months after I started antidepressants. Once the fog cleared and I stopped being so afraid of HIM leaving ME for daring to ask him to take out the garbage, I realized he’d been steering my behavior all along. So I left. And then he started his story of being abused and manipulated by me, a flipping of the truth, and some people will always choose to believe the Nice Guy’s story. I can’t control that.

This letter has no purpose except to say that I miss you, and I value your friendship, and I do hope you are well.

I don’t expect you to believe me. But I’d love to see you again.