A long December (and subsequent long post)

I think one of my first acts of the new year will be purchasing a new laptop… Not having one has really put a damper on my blogging, among other things.

Lately I’ve had the song “Long December” by the Counting Crows stuck in my head. Not that the month was particularly long or that 2015 was bad year necessarily. When it comes down to it, I think the year was a challenging one for me and more often than not, I felt like I was being reactive more than proactive. As a Type A control freak, you can imagine how that left me feeling most weeks. And I admittedly didn’t handle it well.

I’ve spent a lot of time (almost to the point of overthinking…) considering what my word should be for 2016. By noon yesterday, I had a list of about 15 words and started worrying. None of them stood out to me and I was running out of time. Seemed ironic that this approach and mentality was similar to how I’d done most things in 2015.

Thankfully (as I was scrolling through my facebook newsfeed of all things), I came across a word that struck me. I knew I’d found my word.

Create.

This year is about creating routines, habits, attitudes, opportunities and relationships that allow me to better create the kind of life I want. Last year I felt like I was consistently saying I didn’t have time, I didn’t have the money, I didn’t have a positive attitude. I want to reverse that this year and create them. I have more power than I give myself credit for sometimes and it’s time to put myself back in the driver seat, as it were.

Given I’ve only had my word for about 24 hours, I haven’t outlined specific goals (that will hopefully come this weekend). Really, though, I think this year will be about trial-and-error as I figure out what works best for me. How do I strike a better word-life balance? How can I push myself outside of my comfort zone without exhausting myself? Am I comfortable and satisfied with how I spend my time?

There are three things that I’m going to start implementing right off the bat for experimentation, all compliments of the little (one of the perks of our fantastic in-person visits!).

The first is a new nightly routine. Based on Gretchen Rubin’s latest book on habits, I’ve decided to set an alarm to signify that I need to start getting ready for bed during the week. I’m really bad about pushing myself up until the very end, wanting to soak up every minute of my time at home during the week nights.

Unfortunately this impacts my sleep. I’m also tired of putting pressure on myself to be productive all. the. time. That left me feeling anxious for most of the year, and I’m ready to shake that feeling.

To hopefully counter that, I’m going to set aside a solid 20 minutes each week night prior to going to bed to allow time for stretching, some minimal toning (planks, pushups, etc.), and a creative task — coloring, journaling, meditating, reading, etc. I’ve got a whole list to choose from and may even create a jar with those options on popsicle sticks for the nights when I can’t decide what to do. I’m hoping that helps prepare my mind and body for bed, not to mention the added perk of creating a more consistent (and earlier) bedtime for more natural energy in the mornings. Fingers crossed!

The second aspect I’m going to incorporate is utilizing the Day One app (or something similar, since my Mac died and I’m not sure I’ll be getting another Apple computer). I knew going into the new year that I wanted to have a gratitude journal of some sort, something to help me capture the positives in my life instead of continually being focused on what’s next or what hasn’t been accomplished. What’s great about this is I can include a photo with entries, making the journaling process a bit more unique and easier. Even better? You can export to PDF and have a printed copy of the year. This should be a good activity (perhaps even as part of my new nightly routine) to make sure I’ve taken some time to reflect on the day.

I’m probably most excited for my last experiment. The little introduced me to the Passion Planner, and within a day, the middle created us spiral-bound copies through the first three months so we could give it a shot. Although I’m not sure I’ll use the hourly schedule part of it (I already have my outlook calendar and a big calendar at the office), I’m really excited to set a focus for each day and even the week. The challenges for each week should also be helpful for making sure I’m on target in terms of not letting myself and my goals fall to the wayside. Less reactive, more proactive.

Putting all those into writing makes me feel a bit overwhelmed at what I’m introducing into my life in the next few days. That being said, I think it’s the change I need to start creating a life where I feel more balanced and less anxious. Last year was a challenging year, but I also had an incredible amount of lessons learned (particularly with the leadership institute). Now it’s time to start applying what I’ve learned to take things to the next level.

Bring on 2016!

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Thankful Thursday #20

Yesterday I “graduated” from the leadership institute I’ve referenced in a few of my blog posts, and quite honestly, I couldn’t think of a more deserving Thankful Thursday topic.

A little more than a year ago I showed up for the three-day kickoff retreat, unsure of what I was getting myself into. All I can say looking back is that I absolutely ended up being at the right place at the right time.

It almost seems like magic. Aside from the four individuals in my cohort who work in the state office building (who I now pow-wow with on a regular basis), I have literally spent all of 10 days over the course of three retreats with my cohort of 26. And somehow they feel like family.

What drives that is likely the depth and range of conversations we’ve had over the course of the year. To say we got up close and personal is an understatement. We took no less than five assessments (including a 360 assessment, which is intense in and of itself) to understand our personality, behavioral and thinking preferences. After receiving results, we dove into group discussions and pair-and-share conversations about what that means for ourselves and how it’s perceived by those around us.

Lame as it sounds, the leadership institute was probably one of the most challenging things I’ve done. Not in terms of the amount of work necessarily, but certainly the depth. It’s hard to be vulnerable with people you hardly know. It’s difficult to come face to face with your weaknesses, particularly in a “professional” setting. Each one of us was stretched beyond our comfort zone, and we became stronger for it.

What I loved about the institute is that it went beyond learning about our preferences and a specific set of skills, like crisis communication and conflict resolution. We were empowered to explore and then embrace our strengths and also our weaknesses. The whole experience felt like life coaching, career counseling, mentoring, leadership development and a support group all wrapped up in one.

I can’t even begin to articulate how thankful I am for the experiences I’ve had through this institute. The friendships gained, the lessons learned and the growth I’ve had in the last year is truly remarkable. For the first time, I’ve embraced what I bring to the table (and that includes being an introvert!) and recognize that value within teams. And for me, that’s huge.

leadership

It also didn’t hurt that my go-to lady in the institute also has an adorable yellow lab with an equally impressive vertical jump. I’m telling you — right place at the right time. ❤

Intentional living space

I’ve been somewhat quiet about my word for the year, though I can assure you it’s not because I’ve forgotten about it or put it on the back burner. I’d be lame and say it’s because I’m trying to be intentional about what I post about my pursuits, but that’s not the case either.

Having to move did throw me for a loop in terms of kicking off the year. The things I thought I would get to focus on in terms of intention (time and energy were the big ones) fell to the wayside a bit. But it’s also been a perfect opportunity to be intentional about something a little different — and something I probably wouldn’t have considered otherwise. Right now I’m trying to be intentional about my living space.

Last week I took a community education class on feng shui, which was actually my second class on it with the same instructor because I find her so engaging. Plus it’s an interesting way to think about home décor and de-cluttering. One of the big points she stressed (though I’ve heard it elsewhere before) is that everything in your house should be useful, sentimental or beautiful. When I walk into my house, does it feel like home? Does it reflect me? Are there any items that spur negative emotions (the example the instructor gave is high school year books if you hated high school) that I can toss or donate?

Despite purging quite a bit last year when I moved to Lincoln, it’s ridiculous how quickly stuff can accumulate again. And thankfully this time around my level of sentimentalism (if that’s even a word) has decreased a bit since my move this time is 5 minutes instead of 5 hours. I can be more intentional about what stays and what goes. Have I actually used all my clothes, kitchen items and crafts in the last year? Am I honestly going to look through my economics or foundations of new governance notes again?

Those tend to be more rational questions, though. This time (although I’ll preface that it sounds a bit new age….) I’ve been aided by what I learned in my feng shui classes and The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up to focus on how I feel about objects. (Again, I know it sounds strange.)

As an example, though, I love my custom-built kitchen counter (hello new coffee bar!) and my entertainment center (which will likely become a new color in the next couple weeks). Those are pieces that were crafted with hard work and family, that are specific to me and what I love. You couldn’t pay me to give those things up in the move.

But there are also items that I’m not crazy about or that don’t necessarily bring out those positive emotions. That’s where I’m trying to be more intentional about sending them on their merry way.

With seemingly perfect timing, just a couple days ago someone on facebook posted a #40bagsin40days challenge. I immediately decided to embark on it to help with this process. Not only will it help me with packing and setting up my new house, but it will also help me accomplish my 30 Before 30 goal of going through my photos and computer files. The focus of just one area a day (though the next few days are about to get hectic with that), helps me take baby steps and not feel so overwhelmed with all the clutter (though it’s primarily the electronic clutter that’s driving me nuts). Just yesterday I whittled my work inbox down to nine emails. NINE!

But I digress.

I think part of the reason I was so resistant to moving is that I love what my home became. For the first time since leaving my parent’s house a decade ago, I feel like my living space finally reflects me and the things I love. But my hunch is that will happen much faster in my new home. I’ve been given another opportunity to purge and be intentional about what goes where — with more space and a sunroom!

your home

If only the long process of packing and physical moving didn’t come first…

Intentional Monday

In the last few weeks I’ve saved snippets from articles I’ve come across, hoping that somehow I can better piece together a game plan for how to live with intention. It sounds great in theory, but how is it actually put into practice? (And googling that was too overwhelming, so somehow it seemed much easier to just copy and paste things as they captured my attention or resonated with my goals.)

A friend sent me this article about living too small a few days ago, and it brought more than one “a-ha!” moment. It especially reaffirmed my decision to focus on intentional living, particularly after spending a year daring myself.

I’m guilty of nearly all five of the points listed in the article. In particular, I’m really great at focusing on the little things instead of pouring my energy into the big things in life (#3). A day where I can check 10 things off my to-do list seems more productive and fulfilling (on paper, anyway) than a day focused on one big goal or even something I value (like reading). And it should be no surprise that I typically plan more than I produce (#5).

Hopefully half the battle is recognizing that I’m more apt to limit myself in those ways. Being intentional, at least for me, means being more conscious about breaking those limiting behaviors so that I can have more gusto in life. How can I live my life in such a way that I have a healthy social life, get more connected to the community and feel as though I’m making a difference?

And really, I got that concept from another article (one that gave me further incentive to read “Man’s Search for Meaning”).

Frankl’s thoughts inspired me to begin to structuring my life differently. I woke up every day and identified a few projects that needed my attention and made a to-do list for each. I quickly began to realize we weren’t meant to sit around and wait for life to happen. We were meant to chase a worthy pursuit.

I also began to pay more attention to my relationships. I stopped looking to “join a community” and created one of my own. I walked away from unhealthy relationships and started spending more time with people who were non-judgmental, kind, supportive and loving.

The first part of that quote was reiterated in another blog post from Jeff Goins that caught my attention a few days later. In fact, within minutes I sent it to my co-worker and said we should incorporate some of the suggestions about being proactive rather than reactive.

A simple way for you to stop being busy doing so many things and start focusing on the most important things is for you to regain control of your schedule. The fruit of such a decision can be nothing short of life-changing.

When you start making your schedule work for you instead of the other way around, you begin to focus on what matters most. And you leave the rest in the “someday” category. It can feel pretty liberating.

So let’s go back to my days at the nonprofit and how I regained control of my day-to-day. There were a few things I did, but in a nutshell, I stopped reacting to my day and instead starting attacking it with intention.

I’m guilty of being a creature of habit. I often live by my outlook calendar at work, my googledoc schedule and to-do lists. Within those activities, am I best utilizing my time, skills and energy? Do I run my day or does my day run me? And does it allow me room to explore and focus on the larger goals I have for myself?

To get started with intentional living, one of my goals for the month is to take a closer look at my schedule and start answering those questions. I’ll also be using my nifty journal to track my should statements and general thoughts that might come out of that. I’m not sure if it will produce anything useful, but like I said, I’m hoping that half the battle is just recognizing it and taking a deeper at how I’m living.

Let’s hope I can attack this Monday morning with intention instead of habit!

Copy-cat alert

I failed to mention (although it was intentional since the post was already getting pretty lengthy) that while the middle and I were making over the entertainment center about three weeks ago, we also started upgrading a pallet (lots of squats, people).

Awhile back the middle turned a pallet into a media stand. Naturally, I wanted to do the same. Not only is it functional, it’s beyond super cute and matches my home decor taste. She was able to get me a pallet that already had shelves built in and I happily took it back to Columbia nine months ago. And there it just sat. Unused. Unpainted.

Since I was already sanding, priming and buying paint for the entertainment stand (and more importantly, had the help of the middle…), it made sense to (finally) get the pallet done as well. Or at least started, since I ran out of steam nearing the end of that weekend.

pallet

(In retrospect, I should have taken a photo of the other side of the pallet since that side had the shelves…)

The middle and I were able to sand and prime, and the following weekend is when I got it painted. And once again the paint sprayer proved to be a lifesaver. It took no time at all to paint — it was the drying that took up a bulk of the time that afternoon.

While I was tempted to go with another color that popped (I was leaning toward a turquoise and for some reason I’ve been obsessed with orange lately), I figured I would need something a little more neutral. Plus I was much more likely to keep this piece in the coming years compared to my entertainment center, and gray was likely to be a pretty universal option.

To say I was eager to get it into my living room is an understatement. It’s a little larger than the angled wall it sits against, but it makes things feel so put together. And it looks so homey and fantastic just a few feet away from the entertainment center.

Painted shelf

It doesn’t have much on it yet (I’d been holding off on blogging about it since I thought the nester in me would have it filled up within a day or two) and I’m sure once it’s full it will look even better. Part of my struggle is that while I intended to put my DVDs on it, I love the line of movies on the bottom shelf of my entertainment center (which I’m still obsessed with). I don’t have too many knickknacks either, so we’ll see what I’m able to come up with in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, I’ve already diverted my attention to strategizing a few other DIY home decor projects. This fabulous weather may distract me from wanting to work inside, though!

Gearing up for December

I couldn’t be more thrilled that December is here. Not only does it mean the hectic month of November is over, but it means I can really start looking forward to the holiday season (although being able to wear sandals with this 50-degree weather has me thinking it’s spring… I’ll be in for a rude awakening when I actually have to pull out my winter coat).

Primarily because of everything going on last month, I feel a bit out of sorts. I’m still trying to get my body to figure out some concept of day or time, and yesterday’s workout was a bit harder than it should be (although walking around London counts as exercise, right?). My sisters trip to London was definitely an adventure, but in some ways it feels like I need a vacation from my vacation.

In an attempt to get my life back on track, I’ve surprisingly been re-energized by focusing on goals. It’s (sadly) been awhile since I’ve had my monthly goals or really given any thought to the monthly action plans I created for 2012. Looking back, I’ve done pretty well with most of those goals just naturally, but there’s nothing like checking something off a list or putting one of those clothepins in the jar. I like that feeling of accomplishment, and with a new year just a few weeks ago, I figured it was the perfect time to end the year with a bang.

This month I primarily want to focus on purging and organizing – both broadly and specifically (if that even makes sense). I need to start with the basics, which namely includes my closets, shelves and desk, which is where I always seem to struggle (particularly now that it’s a craft area as well). By the time the new year comes around, I don’t want a lot of stuff weighing me down or cluttering up my apartment. I can’t promise I’ll tackle it once and for all, but at least for a few weeks or months I’ll have some order to the mess that is currently my spare bedroom/craftroom.

Then I want to get down to the nitty-gritty, which primarily pertains to books (and probably more once I put more thought into it). It’s a little sad thinking about how many books I own and haven’t read. On my bedside stand alone, I have 5 books I’ve been meaning to read and also 2 library books. That wouldn’t be bad until you consider that I have three other bookshelves and my Nook… Not that I’ll be able to part with any books. I think it’s just time to take stock of the books I need to read and start tackling those before I have another massive splurge at the library or used bookstore. Thankfully winter provides the perfect opportunity to leisurely reading.

A lot of this need/desire for organization is fueled by reading Happier at Home (I actually read it for a bit on my first flight and it prompted a great chat with my seat-mate Helen, who was also coincidentally traveling for her own sisters trip). One month was focused on making her home more functional and comfortable, and getting rid of the items that weren’t useful or didn’t have much sentimental value helped not only organize her house, but also made her feel better mentally. After last month, that sounds like exactly what I need.

The other message from her book that’s resonated with me lately is picking a theme for the new year. Lindsay also uses this concept, with her word for next year being “expand.” I’ve got a pretty good idea of what mine will be for the next year, but given that I came up with it in about 45 seconds, I want to give it a bit more thought. Stay tuned!

Hitting the reset button

For the first time in a long while, I got a fantastic night’s sleep (which could have something to do with the open windows and crisp 50ish degree weather) and finally feel recharged.

I got home right around 10 last night (that’s how you know you’re getting old…) when all the sudden I was struck with the urge to organize, purge, clean and just generally get my life in order. And we’re not talking a simple wash a few dishes, start a load of laundry and call it a night kind of deal. It was serious stuff — cleaning out the fridge, mopping, going through the clothes in my closet (it’s time to re-start the hanger trick!) and re-organizing my bathroom items (note to self: stop buying nail polish and travel size bottles of shampoo).

While I couldn’t tell you where all that energy came from to keep me up that late (not to mention why I’m up and as energetic as I am right now), I can’t say the urge to tackle those tasks came out of nowhere. I mentioned feeling a bit restless a couple of weeks ago, so I did what I always do – I checked out way too many books from the library and started looking for inspiration and the “a-ha!” moments I love so much. It feels like my mind’s been on overdrive processing everything, starting with The Buddha Walks Into a Bar:

“Day by day, we may find ourselves getting restless with the same classes or job, the same relationship, the same hangouts or hang-ups, and we long for some radical change. However, it is not our world that is necessarily problematic; it’s our point of view.”

Bingo.

I don’t need a crazy life change or half a dozen new goals or other responsibilities to add to my to-do list just to spice things up during my week (although I won’t lie, it did cross my mind at first, particularly since I’ve started reading Happier at Home). What I really need is a change in perspective and my attitude. A fresh start, if you will.

For whatever reason, I feel like I’ve become complacent lately. It’s not a bad thing, but it’s also not me. I’m the idealistic, upbeat, optimistic one who loves to inspire others as much as myself. Not only is it what makes me me, but it’s also what I value. As I’ve been reading Life After College (I stumbled upon this and when I saw it was full of quotes, lists and book recommendations, I couldn’t resist. Plus it’s similar to my blog title, right?) I’ve been able to identify what it is I pride in myself and want to exude. And complacency is not one of those things.

It’ll still be a work in progress (heck, it’s likely I could crash in a couple of hours), but I’m putting more effort into recharging my batteries and getting back to basics. Something that’s oddly helped is listening to The Happiness Advantage (the library only has the audiobook) on my commute for work. I haven’t gotten to the seven principles yet (which is slightly annoying considering I’m on the third disc already…) but his anecdotal stories give me fantastic start to the day. It really is a matter of perspective.

It’s time to take Lindsay’s advice and live what I love. And for me, it’s part happiness, positivity and love.

A little at a time

For some reason, motivation struck early yesterday morning to start purging my “stuff” again. My closet is once again organized and widdled down again to just the clothes I wear on a regular basis. I was actually surprised by how much my hanger approach worked. For once I had “proof” that I wasn’t wearing certain shirts. And this time I allowed myself no mercy. Clearly if I haven’t worn it in 6+ months, I’m not going to anytime soon.

I actually think going through my photos was what started my purge. So far it’s been great to do it in increments, but I’ll admit that I started with the easier photos first – the cooking and crafting. It’s easy to pick out the blurry or crappy photos (running total in my trash so far is about 186 — not bad for my first two days of purging and organizing). It’s also been nice because I now have a folder on my desktop for my recipe book. You know, the one I started talking about more than six months ago. I’m thinking that should be a good fall or winter project.

The task of photo sorting/deleting will get a little harder later this week when I start to go through photos that I have a more personal attachment to, like family and pets. As blurry or crappy as the photo may be, I just don’t think I can bring myself to delete any photos of my chocolate. I may brag about my golden and black lab, but Maggie was my 90-pound baby for a good 12 years. She’ll always take the cake.

I’m also finding the sentimental attachment is what’s making it hard to organize and clear out my spare room. After Lindsay successfully organized her desk to make for a more productive space, I wanted to do the same. I’ve got the spare room, so I may as well use it, right?

So far it’s feeling much more open and clutter-free (and I’m actually writing my post from there as opposed to my bedroom or dining room table, so progress is definitely being made). There’s still some work to be done, though, and I’m hoping to have more of the no-mercy mentality I had with my closet. Do I really need the bulk of my class notes and assignments from grad school? Probably not. But it also represents a lot of hard work and projects that helped me discover my love for data and evaluation.

Let’s hope I can strike a balance between my sentimentality and my need for organization and clutter-free spaces…

Another month down

Once again I’ve let blogging slip away from me. Must get better at being a consistent blogger. Although it would help if I spent more time crafting and cooking so I had more interesting content…

Unfortunately I don’t know that I’ll get to do much of that in March with all the traveling I’ll be doing for work. There’s only one week where I’m not on the road for at least three days. I’d say I’ll need a vacation, but chances are I’m going to want to stay put for a bit. At least it’s starting to feel more like spring, and that automatically puts me in a cheery mood.

Since I’ll be spending so much time in the car and in hotels this month, I’ve decided to take after Lindsay’s lead and focus on my emotional wellness. Last month I created goals for my physical health, and I did surprisingly well with it (and truth be told, I forgot it was just a monthly thing and set out to drink lots of water yesterday and fruit with each meal today). I was least successful with my Tuesdays, but that doesn’t really surprise me.

Anywho, it’s a new month, so it’s time to wipe the slate clean. While I’m still trying to figure out what to incorporate into my life to improve or enhance my emotional wellness, I do know the first step is ridding myself of crap.

That’s right – one of my favorite topics and activities. On New Year’s Eve I purged a bunch of stuff from my closet and everything in my apartment felt clean and organization. Two months later, I feel like my closet is a disaster area and my desk is just piles upon piles. It may not look messy persay, but it’s still not what I’d like it to be. Plus on New Year’s Eve I also started the hanger trick, so now might be a good time to assess what I’m wearing, and perhaps more importantly, what I’m not wearing.

My goal for the weekend is to start going through my stuff again. It’s always such a fabulous feeling to rid myself of clutter, plus it will be great to come home to on Thursday. Since I’m traveling four days next week, the last thing I want to come home to is a mess, even if it’s what I considered to be an organized mess.

May as well get a jump start on the weekend of de-cluttering…

 

Learning from the past

I embarked on a big project today. Actually, not so much a project, per say. I mostly just wanted to clean my apartment a bit before the new year. I’m one of those weird people who loves the idea of a new year, so I wanted to start it off on the right foot. Plus I was going to have to unpack and do laundry at some point, so why not with my free day?

That’s what brought on this big cleaning/organizing/throwing crap away endeavor. Way back in June (so far back that I didn’t even bother trying to search for it to link it…) I talked about cleaning out the clutter on my desk and in my closet. I felt like I had too much, most of which I didn’t use. I successfully widdled down my stuff, for lack of a better word. I was feeling great and was well on my way to living simply.

Six months later, and it’s like I was back at square one. My closet is once again full of clothes I wear once in a blue moon and my desk became my most accessible shelf (not that it was really accessible once I’d piled it with crap from what I brought back from home…). It was overwhelming to even walk into the room, just as it was six months ago.

So, I brewed a big pot of coffee (still in love with my coffee bar!) and got to work. I’ve taken out three trash bags (which is pretty substantial, considering I’m one person), made a run to the recycling center, filled four bags to take to the Salvation Army and I’ve actually got my laptop on my desk because there’s now room. It feels de-cluttered and simple once again.

There’s still work to be done in the closet, and I’m willing to admit that. There were still some shirts I was able to talk myself into keeping, so I’ve decided to try something I saw on pinterest. As I wash clothes and hang them back up, I’m going to reverse the hanger so I can visibly see what I’m wearing and what I’m not. I figure each month (it can go on a clothes pin for my monthly goals bucket!!) I can assess what I’m wearing and what I’m not. It should help me keep my closet in check so I’m not back at square one.

Now that I’ve spent the last 6 hours organizing, sorting, pitching stuff, cleaning and drinking coffee, I’m ready to start the new year. After I shower and indulge in a few traditional Twilight Zone episodes, of course.

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