50 Days Happier: Day 1 – Baby Steps

Day 1 of my challenge is all about getting organized and avoiding pitfalls.  The biggest pitfall  I can anticipate is my tendency to charge out of the gate and try to do too much too fast.  So I set myself the very manageable first task of reducing my wardrobe (I’m thinking by 50% or more) and giving myself a couple of days to finish.

T-Shirts and Hoodies: Where I am Most Prone to Excess

I started with the easiest target, my t-shirts (long and short sleeve) and hoodies.  If these garments don’t make up the majority of my wardrobe, they certainly make up the portion of my wardrobe that is most encumbered by needless crap.

Step 1: Laundry

I started by pulling all my long and short sleeve t-shirts out of my drawers. At first I was pretty proud of myself, thinking. Wow, J.  This really isn’t too bad! Then I realized that a significant number of my t-shirts were probably in some stage of being laundered. Chagrinned, I completed a couple of loads.

Starting to lay out the t-shirts.

Step 2: Rules

Once I got all of my laundry cleaned and dried, I decided to identify some “problem areas” and establish some ground rules for the big purge.

Problem 1: My Grubby Lifestyle – I do a lot of things that require grubby clothes.  I work on my own cars. I use power tools. I garden. I craft. I have a ton of old, stained, ripped clothing that keep around in order to wear for these kinds of activities.  But after only a few moments of thought, I realized that I don’t really need “options” in terms of this kind of clothing.  One grubby shirt will do the job,

Problem 2: Team Apparel – I have a lot of VT and UNC stuff (and a growing collection of Randolph College stuff too) and parting with my team apparel is a MUCH more difficult decision to make.  I wrestled with how to address this excess and ultimately decided to go back to “the ultimate question” – Does this make you happy?  In most cases, the answer is: yes.  So I am going to be kind to myself and not bring the axe down too heavy here.

Problem 3: The “Skinny” Wardrobe.  Like lots of folks my age, I struggle with my weight. I have gained and lost and regained more weight than you can imagine in the last decade.  And for at least a decade, I have held a “skinny wardrobe” on reserve–clothing that I have justified keeping, though I can not wear it, because I convinced myself that I will want to wear these things “when I am skinny again.”  My justification game is STRONG here.  First, these clothes have taken on an immensely symbolic power. For a very long time, the thought of getting rid of them has been akin to giving up on my commitment to getting fit.  I have sincerely felt that throwing these things out would be to give up, to settle for being overweight and unhappy about that. Second, and based on the assumption that I will eventually win the fitness war with myself, I have believed that saving these clothes has practical value. I wont have to buy a whole new wardrobe when I lose the weight.  This is was honestly the worst of the problem areas.  After a lot of emotional unload, I just decide it was time to let it go. Did the decision make me happy? No. But neither does keeping this stuff around.  I might as well shoot to minimize.

After acknowledging these problems, these are the rules I came up with:

Rule 1: If it is ripped, stained, or otherwise mutilated, throw it out. Exception: Keep one “grubby” T-shirt to wear when you need it.

Rule 2: If it doesn’t fit, send it to the thrift store or give it to someone you know would want it.

Rule 3: Consider the gym.  At least one or two t-shirts should be things you can work out in.

Rule 4: Quality and versatility count.  Choose what will last and what you can comfortably wear in the most scenarios.

Rule 5: If you can’t remember the last time you put it on, send it to the thrift store or give it to someone you know would want it.

After the purge – Short sleeve t-shirts on the left, long sleeve on the right,

Heartened by the successful reduction in t-shirts, I decide to tackle my hoodies. Hoodies approach the status of uniform in my wardrobe.  I wear them all the time.  For this reason, I wasn’t nearly as aggressive about purging here.

My hoodies are 100% team apparel. From left to right: Randolph College, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Virginia Tech

Ironically enough, the ease with which I thought I was going to breeze through my hoodies left me open to getting blindsided.  A garment that by more than one of the rules I established for myself clearly needed to be thrown out, reached up out of the bottom of my drawer and snatched my heart strings. Stained, ripped, faded and a little tighter than I can comfortably wear now, my very first piece of VT gear, bought when I was a student 20 years ago, tested every bit of resolve I had.  I waffled.  But, I finally realized that it wasn’t the hoodie. but the idea of the hoodie that I was attached to.  I took a picture so that I still had a connection to that idea, said goodbye, and kept moving.

My first VT hoodie. Goodbye old friend.
The keep pile of hoodies.

I wanted to keep on going after the T-shirts, but I decide that this was a great place to stop…baby steps and all.  Still I am unreasonably excited to have freed an entire drawer in my dresser.  The vision of a easily accessible clothes in a sparse and organize closet already has me excited to keep going!

 

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50 Days Happier

Tell me if you’ve heard this one.

The sun is rising or has already risen.  You are laying in bed having woken up later or earlier than you intended.  You know from the outset, that this will be “one of those days.”  You will be stuck in your head, moody, withdrawn or more clingy than usual.

Beyond the basics of dressing and eating and voiding, the only thoughts your mind seems to be capable of wrestling with are huge ones: Am I happy? Am I living the life I want to live?  Why are the answers to these first two questions, No?

Maybe minutes or hours later, you realize that you have done this before. The mood, the questions.  The long and convoluted series of partial answers that you are, have been, grappling with are all familiar–the compulsion to make to-lists, or art projects, to clean or meditate or exercise yourself so that you can shake this feeling.

Eventually, you find the right thing.  It is a distraction, but practical or positive enough to pass for productivity and it gets you through the day and onto the next, when you are more yourself and the existential crisis that buried you eyeball deep in dissatisfaction is forgotten.

I had this day yesterday…again. Except this time I am making an effort to change how the day ends.

Dreaming of Self-Sufficiency

I am an ardent dreamer, though my dreams are rarely of the fantastic variety. Even when I am unconscious, my “dreams” tend toward the aspirational definitions of that word. When I dream, I shape goals, explore possibilities, test scenarios, and solve problems.  Most of these dreams are related in some way to my ongoing vision of a “perfect life”. This is a life in which I am fulfilled, a life that I know without question is meaningful.  This is a life that makes use of my intelligence and skills and creativity and challenges me to continue to learn and grow.   This is a life in which my ideals and ethical commitments are consistent with my actions and in which the relationships I keep are nurturing. This is a life in which I do not want or need or crave, but sustain and provide and and relish.  Most of all, this life one that I have made, will make, with my own hands and heart.  It will fit me…perfectly.

Though I think the description doesn’t really suit my dream life, “self-sufficient” is the best I can come up with.  I want to live within my own means, by my own terms, without debt, and without taking an undue ecological toll on my habitat. To a large degree, my interests and hobbies and passions plug into this vision.  This is something I am, for the most part, proud of.   I brew my own beer, garden, knit, and make things from discarded materials because these are activities that make me happy and feed the vision of the life I wish I were living.  I compulsively read about tiny houses, lifehacks, skoolies, and minimalism because these are examples of other people, in other places making the things I know I want for myself work.

And this is where the problem starts. Because in compulsively looking to the material artifacts left by other peoples’ lives, you inevitably begin to question the conditions of their making. And there, you can find a lot of places to make excuses.  You compile long lists of excuses.

These people are young and unattached, without major commitments or children.  These people don’t have crippling debt. They have savings  accounts and inheritances.  These people figured it out so easily, they didn’t have to wander around the country collecting degrees until they figured out what they wanted to do with themselves.  These people have spouses and peers and people around them that want to help them realize their dreams–want to dream with them.

inevitably, from these excuses comes resentment.  A silent and simmering anger toward everyone and everything you perceive to be keeping your dreams firmly moored in the abstraction, of futurity, of fiction, that maybe bubbles up here and there as frustration or annoyance, and sometimes boils into full-throated arguments about nothing important at all.

Did you see that?

I slipped back into writing about the hypothetical “you”. The “all of us”.  Let’s be honest, I am talking about me and no one else.

What it Boils Down to is This

If you strip back all of the psycho-emotional hooey, the reasons for my feelings of dissatisfaction are simple.  The life I envision for myself–the perfect life–is one of relative simplicity, tight curation, sustainability, and adaptability.  The life I am currently living is in no way unenjoyable or unfulfilling.  But, it is filled with unnecessary complexity, it is haphazard and unorganized in places, excessive, and (perhaps most anguishing) entirely static.  Where I imagine streamlined processes and spaces, I see layers of figurative hurdles and physical clutter.   I imagine all things in their right places, a beautiful expression of form and function.  Instead, I see scores of objects in purposeless limbo waiting for the spark potentiality to make sense of their existence.  The spark rarely comes.  Where I imagine the ability to adapt, change, and travel as my life evolves, I feel trapped physically and financially for no really good reason I can name.  All of this is to say that there are too many things about the way I live my life (and the material expression of that living) that make me unhappy.

Deciding to be 50 Days Happier

Rather than focusing on all the reasons I feel stuck or why I cannot achieve the ends that I think about so often about,  I have decided to focus on the things that I can do and trust that they will make me (at least incrementally) happier. Self-work (sadly) isn’t something I have a ton of time to do during the academic year, so I have decided to work with the time I have left this summer, roughly 50 days.

I have decided to give this effort, which I have glibly coined the “50 Days Happier” challenge, a couple of ground rules.  They are:

  • Be firm, flexible, and kind to yourself.
  • Let joy lead the way by allowing the question, “does this make you happy?” to be the ultimate decision maker.
  • Use this opportunity to determine what is truly important and what you have been holding onto for less productive/practical/fulfilling reasons.
  • Use this opportunity to bring your actions and physical space in line with your dreams and intentions.
  • These are your strategies–purge, reduce, simplify, organize, recycle, and complete–use them in that order.
  • Be intentional and self-reflexive. The process is what counts.

 

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