Tag: Life

Four Burners

“It is really wonderful how much resilience there is in human nature. Let any obstructing cause, no matter what, be removed in any way, even by death, and we fly back to first principles of hope and enjoyment.” 
― Bram Stoker, Dracula

Pull up a chair, kittens, and let’s chat about how you prioritize your time and emotional resources. This has been on my mind lately as I’ve taken on new work, observed friends go through highs and low, cheered triumphs, and commiserated during setbacks.

Pandora Sykes and Dolly Alderton had a discussion on their podcast, The High Low, which touched on the notion of “having it all,” as being antiquated or inadequate to the various tradeoffs women (and indeed everyone) make in navigating modern life. A part of the conversation stuck with me in which they referenced a piece by author David Sedaris which, paraphrased, goes along the lines of: “A person has four hobs: work, family, friends, and health, and you can only have two or three of them going at any one point before things start boiling over.” It’s called the Four Burners theory and I have not been able to stop thinking about it for days now.

I think it’s made such an impression on me because it strikes me as generally accurate, but it also was a handy way to summarize a lot of my own thinking and struggles. In fact, looking back over recent years, I can see exactly which hobs I’ve had cooking and at what heat levels. I can tell when I’ve tried to have too many going at once and I can also tell which ones I’ve switched off.

I’ve called 2018 my Year of Health because I’ve made dedicated time and space in it to improve my wellbeing. It’s been a roaring success in many ways, which I’m sure I’ll get to writing about as 2019 looms, but I have switched off other areas of my life to provide the time and attention that I needed to get healthier. Some aspects of my friends and family relationships have changed as a result–I am less social than I used to be and treasure a smaller number of close friendships more rather than trying to constantly make new ones.

My work burner has been on full throttle for a couple of years now…because it’s had to be. London is not a place in which you have the luxury of getting complacent and as I’ve made certain choices around freelancing and contracting, I have had to stay hustling. Other passion projects have taken a back seat as I’ve needed to establish and reestablish myself over and over again, other priorities have had to give way in order for my work (and bill-paying) ambitions to be realized. I’ve had some amazing jobs and opportunities as a result…but might I have done something different? Or would I have needed to focus on my health the way I have if a few toxic scenarios hadn’t bled from my work life into my personal and wreaked havoc with my wellbeing?

The trouble with this metaphor is that I think it’s fundamentally correct–at least for me–in that it honestly deals with humans beings as somewhat limited creatures. I want to turn other burners on, but know I might have to switch others off first. Which do you pick?

I don’t have the answers, but I am thinking about this a lot at the moment.

Which burners do you have “on” at the moment? Which have you switched off, recently or in the past, and why?

Weekend Adulting

“Cleanliness is not next to godliness. It isn’t even in the same neighborhood. No one has ever gotten a religious experience out of removing burned-on cheese from the grill of the toaster oven.” 
― Erma Bombeck

A question for you kittens, inspired by a workplace conversation this week where most of my colleagues were swapping previews of exciting weekend plans and the most exciting thing I could say I was doing was cleaning more plaster out of my carpet. Are weekends deliberately fun for you, or more purposefully productive?

I ask because here is a  by no means comprehensive list of all the terribly grown up matters I saw to this weekend:

Cleaned makeup brushes, because those things get disgusting really quickly.

Handwashed jumpers and knits.

Dry cleaned Jeff’s suits and some clothing that was smothered in plaster when part of our bedroom ceiling came down on them…wince.

Did several loads of laundry.

Changed bedding.

Watered the plants.

Cleaned the kitchen. Four times, because it’s a thankless, joyless, Sisysphean task…

Caught up on reading and podcasts.

Put away some warm weather clothing, unpacked some cooler weather clothing, reorganized and color-coded my knitwear and designated a bunch of stuff for the To Be Donated pile. Possibly the most on-brand activity I could have done, to be honest.

Replaced athletic shoes and underwear (both within the limits of my No Buy spending freeze).

Cooked.

Went to the gym.

Most of my life admin takes place on the weekends, whether that’s arranging holiday travel plans, cleaning our apartment after a week of neglect, or grocery shopping. Absolutely I do fun stuff as well, but as I’ve gotten older most of my fun activities have actually shifted to weekday evenings–drinks with friends, dinner dates with Jeff, and long calls with my girls in the States–while the weekends have slowly morphed into a mix of much valued quiet time and unexciting but necessary chores to keep me steady and stable.

I have friends who are amazing at keeping their life admin constantly updated in the background so that their weekends can be devoted to fun (if not outright hedonism). Others are more like me and prefer to do chores in dedicated batches.

So which are you, and why?

Bank Holiday Thoughts: Long Term Goals

“Without leaps of imagination or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities. Dreaming, after all is a form of planning.” 
― Gloria Steinem

Gather round, ducklings, for a rambling post of a topic that’s been on my mind lately and that I did some thinking about as I sat in the (rare!) British sun for hours this past weekend.

Scene of the crime.

For someone who is a Grade A organizer and planner, I’ve come to the realization that thinking in terms of long term goals is not something I have ever been very good at. I can project about 3 years out at a max but beyond that is difficult for me to conceptualize.

I’m pretty sure this has to do with being a military brat who never lived anywhere longer than 3 years until I went to university. Growing up, my life was routinely segmented off by frequent moving dates and it’s only in my 30s that I’m understanding how this may affect my worldview. In some ways, it’s deeply positive! Barring personal or natural disaster, you can survive anything for a set period of time with an end date so I think I developed a robust ability to endure less then ideal circumstances and have a genuine attitude of “this too shall pass” to most challenges.

On the other hand, things like 5-10 year plans have never really played a starring role because they have never been or felt relevant to my circumstances. If I was eventually going to be in another school, another state, or on another continent, it never seemed like a good idea to conceptualize things that required any kind of permanence. Again, in my early 30s, I’m only really starting to understand some of the connectivity of this to my life choices. And also again, in a lot of ways this is positive! It’s allowed me and my partner to dream big and take chances that we might not have had we organized our lives in more “traditional” ways, at least according to how we grew up. But it’s also meant that I’ve made a lot of non-strategic choices over the years, some of which have had long lasting ripple effects. Frankly there have been whole months and years that I felt like I was “winging it” as an adult. I still do!

But I’m feeling myself go through a mentality switch these days where I’m starting to be able to conceptualize a future a few years down the road. I’m doing work I enjoy and can see myself doing for a long time, Jeff is in a good (if still busy) place with his career as well. Knock on wood, but it feels as though we are slowly moving out of the “hustle and grind” phase of our work lives into the “work smart” phase where we will (hopefully) begin to build our savings and make the big decisions adults make around where to make a permanent home, what that home looks like, and who we want in it.

I’m still pretty present-focused in that I’m starting to feel like a lot of hard work is paying off. We live in one of the most amazing cities on earth, we’ve put the time and energy into our careers and it’s starting to pay off, our marriage remains strong, we’re healthy–all pretty damn good things. Let’s be honest, it’s taken a decade to get to this point and we’re still not as insulated from shock as I’d like to be….but we’re getting there.

And so, slowly, things in the more distant future are starting to come into focus. We spent some of the bank holiday weekend planning out the rest of the year in terms of work and budgets, and even did some planning for holidays. We’ve learned how important those are to us over the past two years and how grateful we are to live somewhere and in a culture that encourages us to take them rather than making us feel guilty for doing so. We picked some mutual goals to work towards, and I’ve got my own weird and fun projects going on in the background to keep me entertained and grounded. I’m looking forward. And at the moment, things feel good.

Anyone else gone through this particular transition? Any wisdom to share? 

How do we feel about social media these days?

“Distracted from distraction by distraction” 
― T.S. Eliot

A genuine question, kittens. I ask because Katarina and I had a delightful hour and a half long conversation on the topic the other day and I have not been able to get the conversation out of my head. I joked about it when I mused what I’d like to give up in 2018 because I didn’t quite mean it…but didn’t quite not mean it either.

Last year I started logging out of Facebook for extended periods of time. I don’t really enjoy it as a platform and haven’t for years, but I’ve kept it because it’s an easy way for people all over the world to keep in touch with me. A military brat and an expat, my friends and acquaintances are scattered across the globe and I justify keeping my Facebook account to make it easy to connect with them…but maybe I need to be more honest about the fact that most of the friends I keep in touch with regularly, I keep in touch with through other means. My best friends and I talk, text and email weekly. I have a lively correspondent base and Facebook isn’t how I keep in touch with them. I’m holding on to it for a purpose that I don’t actually use in real life. My logic is flawed.

Less personally, I don’t really like Facebook anymore. My feed is a constant stream of advertisements and wannabe viral videos and memes. For a long while I watched and uptick in people sharing content I didn’t like or agree with (this was a few years ago) so I started culling my list of “friends” until it actually represented friends. From 2014-2106 the content turned political and the tone turn downright vicious so I went through another culling period and started muting people whose views troubled or angered me.

In other words, I became part of the problem so routinely ascribed to Facebook these days: that it shows us content we already agree or align with, reinforcing our views.

I’m now trying actively to correct this by widening how I consume media, and Facebook is not the way I do that. I’ve subscribed to newspapers that I previously enjoyed mostly for free (got to support journalism now more than ever), and I make a deliberate effort to read commentators and platforms or publications that represent different views than me. I might not share them as much because, hey: my blog, my rules, but I do read them.

Instagram is a platform I still enjoy, even though it’s owned by Facebook and I haven’t liked a lot of the changes that have been made to it as a platform (a non-chronological feed for one thing). But it’s a place where I find beautiful images and interesting people and so it’s still a fun thing for me. I follow friends, a lot of beauty and style editors and writers, vintage sellers, some bloggers who I either know or have interacted with in some way over the years, and a few theme feeds that give me a much needed daily dose of pretty.

Twitter I’m torn over. I didn’t really use Twitter all that regularly until the 2016 campaign and now I feel a bit like a junkie who needs it to keep up with what’s going on in the world. I subscribe mostly to journalists, editors, writers, bloggers, and podcasters whose content I enjoy, and politicians whose views are relevant to mine or to my life. But let’s be honest, as a whole, Twitter is a hilariously overly-dramatic place. If you acknowledge it and don’t believe everything you read, you can enjoy the ride. But if, like me, you’re a person who tends to take a lot of things very (or too) seriously, it will convince you that the world is on the brink of self-destruction or that people are mostly garbage if you give it too much of your time. It’s not a platform that encourages good mental health or stress management.

As for all the other social media platforms, I’m either barely or not at all active on them. Bad blogger!

I’m not sure what this thinking will coalesce into but it’s an idea I can’t really get out of my head. Katarina and I had a lively discussion about whether social media will stay as relevant or how it may change in coming years. I don’t think you can write it off entirely, especially given the current political landscape of the world, but it’s been interesting to watch how it’s been leveraged or monetized past the point of authenticity for so many people. We also chatted about blogging and how that medium has changed over the past decade, but that’s another rambling post altogether!

I think I’m going to keep off of Facebook for as long as I can avoid logging in. Other platforms I’m still up in the air about. How about you guys, how do you use social media and how has your use changed over recent year? Is it weird I’m thinking about this so much, or do you guys ponder this stuff to? Lend me your thoughts!

Editing

“Be a good editor. The Universe needs more good editors, God knows.” 
― Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Letters

I don’t always do a good job of remembering resolutions, but I have to say, picking a “theme” for this year has been a remarkable success. My mindset around a lot of life elements has taken a turn for the healthier and I’m in a more balanced place than I’ve been in years. I really believe that this has come from some purposeful editing of my life. I’ve gotten much better at saying no, worked hard to remove or improve things that contributed to my stress and anxiety problems, and become a lot more intentional about my money and consumption choices. It’s been a very successful project, and I’m already thinking towards how I want to frame 2018.

“Less but better” doesn’t have a uniform definition for me. For instance, we are currently living in our largest and most expensive home to date, but on the other hand, after 10 years of marriage and most of those spent in cheap digs, the decision to rent a nice apartment was a considered one. We are also furnishing it ourselves, meaning we are spending money, but we are taking that process slowly and very judiciously. Our home is still far less furnished than I would like…but we have chosen every piece in it together because we loved it, and not because it was the cheapest option on Craigslist. I love the idea of editing a home, carefully selecting what I put in it and not rushing to fill empty space just because I have it.

Stress levels: all time low. This time last year my nails were chewed to the quick.

Meanwhile, on the work front, I’m actually working more but in a better way. Going back to freelance and contracting has been a great decision. I have not only opened a lot of doors and opportunities, but I have finally discovered a balance between work and identity: what I do vs. who I am. This has not always been the case with me, as I tend to throw myself into things like causes, projects, and roles wholeheartedly, allowing the lines between them and myself to blur. Surprisingly, given the nature of freelance and contract work and how it can divide your attention, I’ve found that because I’ve been able to choose my work, I’ve therefore been able to choose (i.e. edit) how I direct my energy. This has also helped me train my brain to better separate work from my personal life and I’m more aggressive about holidays and an overall work/life balance. In other words, I may be working more, but my stress levels are lower than they’ve been in years.

Let’s talk stuff, generally. I had a whole month long blog project dedicated to my closet and bathroom shelf this year, and I continue to be really happy with where it’s at. I’ve actually shopped and bought less this year than I have probably since my early 20s. Granted what I have bought has tended to be more expensive, but I’ve been fascinated to physically feel the urgency and desire to buy things fade as the year has gone on. There’s plenty of reporting out there to suggest that brain chemistry can be affected by purchasing, and I wonder if I’ve been able to ween myself off an internal drug I didn’t realize I was on. I’ve been slowly editing my closet down and I now think I own less clothing than I did when we first moved to London on an item-for-item basis. What I do own, I wear more and I love more. The same goes with beauty; I’ve been focused on using what I already own instead of craving new makeup and skincare items. I’m actually in the midst of a shopping freeze (my second this year) in an effort to actually use up cosmetics and potions before I allow myself even to replace beloved items. I’ve done a few edits of my shelf throughout the year and donated or gifted a few items that I didn’t use enough to justify keeping. Maybe it’s a welcome byproduct of getting older and more self-confident, but I’ve never been more pleased with the woman in the mirror.

When it comes to food and overall health, I haven’t done as well as I would have wished. We are eating out less (yay, us!) but ordering in more (kind of defeats the purpose, C….). We have periods of focus on health, but other periods of intense laziness. One thing I’ve realized is how much I require a routine in order to stay committed to food, exercise, and wellbeing goals. I am not a natural health bunny, I do no default to healthiness–I default to deep friend potatoes and Netflix and am self-aware enough to acknowledge this. It turns out that once I’m in a routine, I am pretty good at maintaining it but if something knocks me off course (two straight weeks of houseguests for instance, or a particularly uneven month at work), I fall well and truly off the wagon and it takes herculean effort to climb back aboard. I haven’t figured out quite how to overcome this yet, but I suspect the solution will lie in editing out things that I use as excuses or distractions.

This has been a much better year than 2016 for me, and I’m feeling pretty positive about 2018 at the moment. It’s a good place to be.

Empties Update

“My dad used to say makeup was a shallow girl’s sport, but it’s not. It’s armor.” 
― Courtney Summers, All the Rage

Back in April, as part of my Style Month project, I shared several months worth of empties–the products I’ve used to the last drop. I remain pleasantly fascinated with empties videos or posts from other writers and of course, I’ve been on a bit of a kick when it comes to thinking and writing about consumption myself. So obviously as soon as I had hit publish on my last post, I began stockpiling items as I used them up for an update. Six months later, it’s time for an update!

I’ve bought very few new products in the last half year and so have been able to use up quite a few things to learn more about what I like, what I hate, what I swear by, and what I think is just not worth the money.

Not too bad, C., you may say. Seems manageable until you–

Oh god, what kind of monster am I?!

Skincare first! There were quite a few repeats in here as this is my second bottle of Sunday Riley Good Genes, at least my bottle third Kiehl’s Midnight Recovery Concentrate, my second Clinique All About Eyes Rich eye cream, and third Kate Somerville ExfoliKate scrub. All of these are beloved favorites, but I’ve made a commitment to use up much more of my own beauty stash before I allow myself to repurchase any of these items (particularly as they aren’t exactly cheap). You may be surprised to hear that I dislike a Glossier product, but their Super Pure formula is my least favorite of their three serums and I wouldn’t repurchase it. The Pestle & Mortar Superstar retinol oil was excellent, but I’m road testing a much cheaper version from The Ordinary which thus far I really like! Speaking of, I also finished off a bottle of hyaluronic acid serum from the The Ordinary displaced another Pestle & Mortar similar product as well. Quality doesn’t need to break the bank, kids!

Another bottle of Glossier Milky Jelly cleanser down. I already had a bottle of this on stand by that I purchased over the summer, but I’m ridiculously lucky and got two free additional bottles from attending the Glossier pop up earlier this summer, and then scored another back up as the G-team apparently mailed out some gift boxes as follow up to that press event later in the summer. Because they are freaking brilliant at marketing. Long story short, I haven’t had to repurchase this in a while, but I fully intend to when my stash runs down again. It’s a really good product, perfect as a morning cleanser or a second cleanse in the evening (if I’ve been wearing a full face of makeup and SPF all day). My evening cleanser for months has been the Oskia Renaissance Cleansing gel–a gel/balm formula that turns to oil on your skin. It dissolves most makeup and doesn’t strip your skin in the slightest. The Kiehl’s cleanser has been included in this stash for the sake of honesty. Technically it was Jeff’s product but I made liberal use of it in the shower and contributed to its demise–so into the bag it went! I’ve used up two masks, the Aesop Parsley Seed mask and Moisturizing Moon mask. I may repurchase them someday, but I want to try some similar products from other brands first…once my current mask stash is depleted. I definitely would not repurchase the Tidal cream by Sunday Riley–odd smell, nothing special as a moisturizer, and sparkly flecks in it to boot.

Hair continues to be my personal Waterloo, but here are some of the mane-taming products I used up recently, along with a couple of shower bits. I’m not precious about my bathing and use Jeff’s razors and bodywash without shame. In fact, I’m positive I missed at least two bottles of bodywash that rightly should have been included in this confessional but recycled them first. Oops. My eczema continues to wreak havoc on my scalp, hence the two different medicated shampoos (also probably not an honest reckoning), but I did manage to make it through two bottles of conditioner. A powder style dry shampoo and leave-in conditioner round off the pack. The powder smells wonderful but I would not repurchase as I’ve found a much better spray formula. All the other items, however, are pretty much my standard shower rotation and their replacements are in situ.

While we’re being honest, that comment about stealing Jeff’s face wash? Same for deodorant. I just don’t see the point of the pinker, lady-friendly stuff when he has a perfectly good can of product sitting on our dresser that I can swipe. The Certain Dri roll on, however, is definitely mine. Also in the spirit of full disclosure, this stuff is fantastic and when I use it regularly/properly, it’s a miracle product. I tend to pick up a bottle whenever we go back to the States. I also used up a No 7 make up brush cleanser from Boots (great product!) and a bath oil from Sanctuary Spa. I take a bath almost every night, especially in cold weather and prefer oils to bubbles…even if it means I have to scrub the tub more regularly. It’s a small price to pay for zen.

Finally, some make up! Er, kinda? It takes me quite a while to get through make up products, though you may remember my recent discovery of the MakeUp Rehab reddit community which has inspired a number of “use it up” personal challenges for me. If I do another post like this six months from now, I’m hoping to have a few empty makeup tins and pans to add to the pile. This time at least, I made it through yet another tube of Maybeline Full ‘N Soft mascara–my go to for years. Glossier Boy Brow did good service in the beauty wars and its replacement is already in rotation. I loved this hand cream from Elizabeth Arden and will definitely be buying a full sized tube once my seemingly infinite amounts of other travel sized lotions have served their time. Finally, I used up a bottle of Hermes Jardin sur la Nil perfume which I loved but am happy to part with as friends after a four year run.

Your turn, kittens, if you feel up to oversharing in the comments. Do you keep track of items that you use up–if so, what and why? Is my fascination with personal consumption at all interesting or just weird? Let me know your thoughts, I’m braced for impact!

The Paradox of Space and Stuff

“Our pleasures are not material pleasures, but symbols of pleasure – attractively packaged but inferior in content.”
― Alan W. Watts

When our friends were in town the other week it was an amazing chance to catch up. One half of the pair, Chris, and I have been friends since freshmen year of university. In fact he, Jeff, and I were all in an assigned cohort for freshmen students and it’s kind of funny to think about how life has turned out for us in the past 12 years. I absolutely adore his wife, who I’ve known almost as long, and having the ability to see friends from the States is such a rare pleasure for us.

In talking all things work, life, and adulthood related we got on the the subject of upgrading. They live in California and bought a house there. Since then they’ve been working on all kinds of DIY projects to improve their home and add value to it, and seem to be enjoying the process. But in spite of being able to do these improvements on a tight budget and by themselves, we quickly found we were dealing with a similar issue even though we live in a rented apartment.

The famous saying is mo’ money, mo’ problems. Add mo’ space, mo’ spending to the mix.

2016-10-01-10-04-39-hdr

We started comparing notes on how that as soon as we’d either moved into a house or a larger apartment, we found our “stuff” multiplying. Closets full of items they rarely used on their end, furniture we’ve never previously owned on ours. More empty space that we feel compelled to fill for us, a garage for them to store stuff, which means they’re holding on to things that they’ve never accumulated before.

Chris told me of a piece of motorcycle equipment that he doesn’t use anymore, but is loathe to give away or even sell because 1) it cost him a pretty penny to get in the first place and, 2) what if he needs it again in the future? We now have a second bedroom (currently being used primarily as storage) which is where, if an item doesn’t really have a home yet, there it goes! A quick, sheepish scan of the contents this morning revealed a number of older cords and electronics I should probably recycle and a bag of linens and stuff that I’ve been meaning to drop off for donation since we moved in. Oops. Having space clearly does something to our mental relationship with stuff!

In our old flat, we didn’t have room for much…and so we didn’t have much. When we moved to a twice as large apartment in October, we suddenly had twice the space to fill. Plus we gave up landlord-provided furniture as part of a negotiation for lower rent and so had to buy furniture for the first time since living in London. Our old apartment barely held a loveseat, but suddenly we needed a sofa to fill a living room. In our old apartment, that loveseat and a desk chair were the only places we had to sit down in, in our new apartment we had a breakfast bar but we now needed stools to sit at it. We have two bathrooms and so needed two bathmats. We have more than one cupboard now and have somehow acquired a mug collection. Oops again.

Like water, people, their money habits, and their stuff seem to expand to fit their containers. Ours certainly have. When we have made more money, we have historically spent more money…even after living quite comfortably on less! Before moving to a larger apartment, our expenses didn’t necessarily change, but we found our habits did. Both we and the handful of friends I have unscientifically surveyed for this post have also found their ability to accumulate and retain stuff grow significantly due to moving into a house for the first time, a bigger apartment, or a first home all to one’s self after leaving the sharing economy that is living with roommates. Call it the curse of comfort! Part of the reason I don’t want a big house anymore is because I don’t want to have to pay to outfit it, keep up a yard, and take care of the whole thing. I’d rather have a much smaller home with fewer, nicer things, and spend my money on other priorities.

On the other hand, I do think there is a correlation between generally being in a position to make more money, and it having more places to go. If you are working full time, you are likely to be an adult with either rent or mortgage to pay. If you’re living in certain areas, you are more likely to require a car. Past a certain age you are statistically more likely to have a partner or children, leading to different kinds of costs. Life gets more expensive the longer it goes on.

As I’m working to limit my consumption, I’m starting to think a portion of that mindset long term will come from limiting my space, both physical and metaphoric. What else will I have to resize besides a “dream home?”

Have you found this same correlation between space and stuff? Those of you who have up- or downgraded at some point in your lives, I’m doubly curious to hear from you.