25 Things: A More Conventional List

I turned 25 last month, and while I have learned countless things in this quarter century, here are another 25 worth sharing:

Juli

  1. Save some money to throw at problems. More often than not, sadly, money helps. If nothing else, your emergency fund will help you sleep more soundly.
  2. Automating your savings will help tremendously with this.
  3. Diets don’t work. If they did, that industry wouldn’t exist. See The Fuck It Diet and Isabel Foxen Duke for more expert advice on this.
  4. You outgrow fashion magazines faster than you’d think.
  5. Minimalism is the shit.
  6. But getting used to not getting gifts is still hard, despite the time you spent convincing your loved ones that no gift can also be a gift. But you’ll feel better for it.
  7. It’s ok to quit something that is not “your thing.” For me it was playing the oboe – time is just too limited a resource. It is also ok to take it up again and then re-quit.
  8. It’s ok not to finish a book. Again, time being valuable.
  9. But you’ll never regret time spent reading a good book.
  10. In the same vein: libraries are truly god-sent. My book-buying is way down.
  11. Just because everyone acts like it’s fun doesn’t mean you have to enjoy it. Thanks to Gretchen Rubin for this one.
  12. People don’t treat you differently for wearing makeup or not.
  13. Or for losing or gaining 20 pounds, for that matter.*
  14. Don’t comment on other people’s bodies, ever. Or the food they choose to eat.
  15. Eating or not eating certain things does not make you a good person. There is no moral aspect to food.
  16. Don’t buy expensive sunscreen. You’ll use it too sparingly and burn.
  17. Shaving your legs just for yourself can be an act of self care.
  18. Sometimes you need to leave to truly appreciate home.
  19. Get enough sleep. Really. Everything is better on enough sleep.
  20. It feels good not to need coffee first thing in the morning just to be able to function.
  21. You might need more time for yourself than you think you do.
  22. It’s absolutely ok to say no to something you have no desire to do.
  23. Figure out how you like to spend time with your friends: one-on-one coffee? Large groups out on the town? Planning activities together? Taking a vacation? A social life that matches your nature is much more rewarding than doing what everyone else thinks friends “should” be doing.
  24. Not being able to run due to an injury will certainly teach you patience. You learn to accept the hand you’ve been dealt.
  25. Old things, e.g. phones or bikes, can give you peace of mind: Neither my 3.5 year-old iPhone, nor my 14 year-old bike are very likely to get stolen, even in a big city.
  26. If you want a serious relationship, admit it to yourself.

*My experience is limited to “normal” or only slightly “overweight” weights, so I obviously I cannot speak for people at further extremes of the weight spectrum.

PS: In Defense of the Default and how to unplug for what remains of summer.

25 Lessons in 25 Years

I turned 25 last month, so I wanted to share the wealth of things I’ve learned – one for every year:25 Bday_Fotor

  1. Crying will lead to food. Unfortunately, this no longer works.
  2. Walking and talking.
  3. I assume I was potty-trained then. Very valuable life skill indeed.
  4. Speaking English.
  5. I suddenly have a sister. Interesting.
  6. They want me to speak German in Kindergarten in Germany.
  7. Riding a bike.
  8. Reading and writing.
  9. Swimming.
  10. Going to the library by myself.
  11. Inline skating.
  12. Latin.
  13. Biking to school by myself.
  14. Not all friendships are forever. Sometimes people suddenly annoy you.
  15. Puberty is even worse when it’s your sister.
  16. Picking a country I might like to spend a year in.
  17. Travelling with friends instead of parents.
  18. Rules for PDA in German and American High School are exact opposites.
  19. There is less sugar in German food, compared to American food.
  20. The Dutch are simultaneously laid-back and efficient.
  21. Nuance.
  22. Navigating a complex subway system as part of daily life.
  23. Knitting socks.
  24. Putting in an IV.
  25. Speaking French somewhat properly.

A more figurative version will follow soon!

How To Stop Buying Books

Books2_nobuying

Do you love reading but love buying books even more? Is your to-read pile bigger than the read pile? Do you have unread books older than your children?

Fear not. I can help. It will be difficult, because walking into a bookstore to buy yourself a little gift is the best treat ever. But buying a book can take as little as a minute, whereas reading it will take several hours. Wonderful hours, but it’s not instant gratification. Which explains that pesky discrepancy between the to-read and read piles.

Remember how I said I didn’t remember my New Years Resolution for 2015? Despite that, I didn’t break, but internalized it: NO BOOK BUYING (borrowing, gifts, and using store credit at the used book store was allowed). I figured that my to-read pile of 50+ books would outlast the year despite this resolution. And I stuck to it. I did not spend money on books in 2015.

Initially, self-control and avoiding temptation were crucial– no more hanging out in bookstores. I started reading books that I had had forever – some I bought as early as 2008, when I was 17. Sadly, I realized that I would have enjoyed them much more at 17. I had to force myself to finish some. I disliked second books by authors whose first I had loved, only to discover that I had already bought a third book written by them. Oops.

With these experiences, the urge to buy books vanished (mostly). Not buying made so much sense. I knew: the longer I waited to start those books, the less I’d enjoy them. I was so convinced that even the intense enjoyment of books I read right after receiving them did not have me running for the bookstores. Finally visibly decreasing the to-read pile taught me to appreciate slow-and-steady gratification.

And I actually read more than during book buying years – 2015 saw me plow through almost 60 books. The to-read pile is not gone due to gifts and borrowing, but much diminished. I will always have unread books, the resolution was not about having absolutely none – what if I get snowed in? It was about not having enough unread books for the next ice age.

My second secret weapon is the rediscovery of the library. As a kid, I went all the time, but once I started reading my parents’ books and had enough money to buy some of my own, it fell by the wayside. But while studying abroad in France, I did not want to accumulate six months worth of books – my suitcase is heavy enough, thankyouverymuch. I wanted to read in French and discover authors I hadn’t heard of. The low risk of making choices at the library is perfect – if I dislike the book or realize that it’s too difficult, I just return it. I find myself making much more adventurous choices than in the bookstore, since I’m not spending 10€ on every choice. Now my repertoire is much broader – how often have you bought a book by an author you had never heard of? I’m a risk-averse person. I need the library to unlock the reading adventure.

Another advantage of libraries: loan periods force me to read books promptly, increasing the likelihood of enjoying them. Having a deadline makes me read more (the fact that I’m incapable of going to the library and getting just one book helps) – thus I upped my Goodreads reading challenge to 100. Which is realistic at my current rate.

And 2016? I did not “formally” renew the resolution. If I see a book I’m sure I’ll love, I let myself buy it. I did buy books here in France. Five. Two I’ve finished, one I’m in the middle of, and the other two are being saved up for a 12h train ride next week. So my to-read pile consists of library books and the positive effects of last year’s resolution are ongoing.

Back home, I’ll definitely go back to my childhood ways and renew my library card. Which may well turn out to be the best thing about coming home.

PS: How to Conquer Intimidating Books and 33 Things to Do Other Than Shopping

A Tip For Better New Year’s Resolutions

New Years ResolutionsBetter as in more sustainable, successful, the kind you don’t forget about come January 22nd.

I made my most successful New Year’s resolution to date for 2011: I would no longer buy clothes at H&M, mostly because my closet was at least 50% H&M and I was buying too many things I did not need. I have not shopped there since.

My second to most successful was for 2014: reading at least one newspaper article a day. Which I did until circa July. Only then did laziness set in and New Year’s seemed too far away for the resolution to still matter.

Other resolutions were such a failure that I don’t even remember the year I made them. Exercise more. Eat better. I just looked at my journal to see which resolutions I made for 2015 – I never wrote them down and now I’ve forgotten them. Maybe I wanted to meditate? I did that until February… I think.

So what was the secret ingredient in 2011 and 2014? Specificity. Never going to one specific store. Reading one article every day.

Compared to that, “eat better” doesn’t mean anything. It should have been something like: Cook three meals a week that include at least two vegetables and no meat. Eat X servings of fruits and vegetables every day. Not eating X, Y, and Z.

Accordingly, my 2016 resolution is specific (but not as great an example for this strategy as the variations of “eat better”): I will floss every day. 2016 and beyond will be an era of dental health. This is slightly daunting, as my life expectancy as of January 2016 is 54.78 years. Three minutes of flossing a day adds up 60,025.35 minutes (1000.42h, 41.68d, 5.95 weeks), including leap years.

Maybe I should have refrained from doing these calculations. But I will put the floss in a convenient, highly visible place and get in habit implementation mode.

What are your 2016 resolutions? How will you make them stick?

Final 2015 Experiments and November Results

IMGP2114 KopieToday is December 1st. So how did my November experiments go? I am so glad you asked, because they were a resounding success! Double drumroll and early firecrackers, because really, who wants to wait until New Year’s Eve?

  1. Yoga: 27/30 days!!! On November 4th, I did the “best” tree pose ever. With my foot on my thigh, not my calf. I can now almost do tree pose. I am more flexible. I am not that much stronger, because I had a cold for two weeks and did a lot of restorative yoga. But without this experiment, I probably wouldn’t have moved at all during that time, so major win. Even on busy days, I added three minutes of yoga to the end of my day, giving myself some breathing room. From now on, I want to keep practicing at home, but I won’t be as “strict” as I was this month. The new goal will be not to miss two days in a row.
  2. Studying French: 28/30 days!!! Some vocabulary, some emails, and mostly reading a novel and short stories (Onitsha by Le Clézio and Les Yeux de Soie by Françoise Sagan).

I learned from last month’s mistakes and documented whether or not I did these things every day, and I’m pretty sure that was a large part of why things went so well. I also got rid of one thing on most days, so the low-key Minimalism Game was a success, too.

New month, new experiments. So of course, another drum roll for December:

  1. Read a chapter of my electrocardiogram book every day. An advent calendar of sorts. Clearly I go to medical school.
  2. Study French medical vocabulary for 10 minutes every day. Since I took the easy route of “just” reading for most of last month, this experiment is more specific. I’m going to be writing index cards and then studying them so I can start my semester abroad confidently.

These are realistic, since 10 minutes are not long, and the chapters in the ECG book are very short, too, about 5 pages each. Make-ups are allowed because December is a busy month.

How are you ending the year in a stride?

To Give or Not to Give? Minimalism and Gifts

Christmas berries_FotorNow that I’m a minimalist, the best part of childhood Christmases has become a balancing act: the giving and receiving of gifts. It is a way we express our affections –I wouldn’t be surprised if that was part of human nature, not just how we are socialized in a world of conspicuous consumption. Giving something we treasure means “I treasure you, too.” But this act has been greatly exaggerated as holiday traditions evolved. It seems we hardly know how to express love using currencies other than those available at the bank.

It has become less about “treasure” and more about “something.” I need to find something for Uncle Bob. Anything. Even though I only see him once a year, I need a gift, taking a wild guess at what he might like, to show him I care. Otherwise, how would he know? I forgot to call him on his birthday, after all.

Now add the negativity caused by comparison: Why did Uncle Bob give Cousin Sue a bigger gift than me? Did she call him on his birthday? How can Cousin Sue afford such expensive gifts? We’re the same age – do I need to find a new job to keep up? Why is my pile of gifts smaller than last year? Does my family finally understand minimalism or do they love me less?

I still like to receive gifts, but now it can be bittersweet. My new default is “I don’t need this.” But that is not the reaction givers are looking for. My solution is asking for specific things I actually need. It takes away the surprise, but with my default, surprises are usually of the bad variety. But since I don’t casually talk about the exact shirt I want (or my measurements), the odds of someone else finding the perfect fit are slim. Hence, the Christmas list.

There are so many things I only kept because they were gifts. They are weighing me down and I have the hardest time removing them. Despite knowing that the giver probably no longer remembers the gift and that passing it along does not mean that I don’t love and cherish whoever gave it to me. Whenever I do part with a gift, I feel lighter, and able to give better love. A win-win – but one I can’t share with the other winning party. However, it’s a long struggle for every gift, and while in the midst of it, I wish I had never received it – also not what the giver was going for.

Experiences or giving to charities are great and often suggested substitutes, since you still spend money, but add value without adding stuff. Unfortunately, not everyone can be convinced that physical items are not necessary: My mom needs the floor under the tree to be covered with gifts to feel like she is giving her (grown) children a proper Christmas (yes, we’re spoiled). She realizes that that is not how we measure her capabilities as a mother, but somehow she can’t help herself. She has given me experiences, but only in addition to things. Maybe there will be more gaps under the tree this year. Here’s hoping.

If someone asks you not to give them a gift, listen. Not using money to express love may feel insufficient at first. But respect their wishes, let them explain their version of minimalism – Minimalists love preaching talking about why we should all declutter stat. That is the best gift you can give to someone who knows they have more than they need.

A Question to Help You Unplug

unplug_question

When was the last time you checked your phone while talking to a loved one? That you went to bed hours later than you should because you were trying to get to inbox zero? That you didn’t do something you said you would because you spent all your time on social media? All three happened to me during the last weeks. Multiple times, if I’m honest. Despite knowing I shouldn’t, despite knowing that it will make me feel bad about myself.

But I’ve found a solution. I now ask myself: Am I really that important? And the answer is no.

Are people really contacting me so frequently that I can’t ignore my phone for half an hour? No. Even if they were: are their requests and problems more important than the person I am talking to? No.

Are the emails I receive so urgent that I need to sacrifice my sleep? Can’t they wait a day or two? Even if the sender says they need an answer ASAP, shouldn’t they be sleeping, too? No, yes, and yes.

Is everything on social media a message for me personally that I need to see and acknowledge? No.

At first, it is odd to say to oneself “I am not important.” But it is easier than saying “This text/email/post is not important.” Because usually I know that I don’t need to reply right away/tonight/ever. But that doesn’t stop me from catching up on everything that happened on Facebook in the last 24 hours when I was meant to be doing yoga. I’d also claim that yoga is more important to me than Facebook, but on some days, you’d conclude the reverse from looking at my time management. Asking “Is this important?” obviously didn’t work.

“Am I that important?” is akin to asking “Is my contribution to this absolutely crucial? Does it have to be instantaneous for the world to keep spinning?” It helps me see the ridiculousness of inbox zero – sure, I’d feel accomplished. But who emails me is not in my control. What if I get an email the second I open the last unread one? And another a second after I’ve dealt with the newest arrival? It’s a potential hamster wheel.

The key is being honest with myself. While I am very important to my family and close friends, I’m not that important to every single person who emails or texts me – think about how many emails you get from people you don’t even know. Not everyone can care deeply about what I think or do. It’s a fact of life. Thus, I can let some time pass until I hit reply.

I’m going to take some time today and over the holidays to let email be email and life be life. Meanwhile, I’m going to have coffee with friends, read books, cuddle with my boyfriend, write, and do yoga. Savoring the holiday season while connecting in the old-fashioned sense. I hope you’ll join me. Because seriously: what is the worst that can happen while we unplug? Chances are, if there’s a true emergency, we’re not going to be able to help via email. That’s what 911 is for.