At first, the acorns fell. Then Home Depot rolled out the snow blowers. Finally, a third sign that fall was approaching was this text I received from my 12-year-old niece Paige:
“Aunt Weecee, can you help me get my room ready for school?”
I tossed the handful of acorns I’d been collecting from my parents’ driveway into the woods and drove straight to my sister’s house.
Standing in Paige’s room amid the chaos of her childhood discards (Barbies) and new pre-teen accessories (make-up), I had a flashback to being twelve myself. Remembering that age all too well, I exhaled; glad never to have to go through that again.
First up, the dresser, one drawer at a time. Considering Paige grew 1.25 inches since June (and apparently not slowing down anytime soon) older clothes flew in all directions. A Donate pile! A Keep pile! A Felice pile! (Being the exact height – for now – as my niece, I was happy to accept her discards. Note: GAP Kids has a lot cuter stuff). As I was adding the remaining clothes neatly into drawers, Paige made a shocking revelation: “I don’t know how to fold.”
Stop the presses! This can’t be. Not my own organized flesh and blood. Following a brief tutorial (“Hold at neck, fold in, flip twice…”) Paige learned quickly.
“That’s so easy,” she said. I let her fold the remaining. After three shirts, Paige was a pro and I was beaming with pride.
Then we turned our attention to the closet. (See time-lapse video above by clicking on image or here.)
In a little more than an hour we’d done what she’d privately wanted to do for months: clear her room from the intersection of childhood tchotchkes and pre-adolescent preparations for Teendom.
“Now I’m ready for high school,” Paige said excitedly, grabbing her cell phone and plopping herself onto her newly made bed where she intended to chat and text for hours. Gathering the plastic bags of old toys, mementos (crayon drawings of a visit to the zoo in fifth grade) and assorted hand-me-downs, I turned to look once more at my niece, who when she uttered her first word “Duck!” at age one, made me tear up.
“Yes, you are so ready for high school,” I said, leaving her to Snapchat with her friends. Outside her bedroom door my nine-year-old nephew was waiting. “Felice, can we organize my room now?”
I nodded, wiped my eyes and followed him down the hallway.
In this day and age of enormous homes, two cars in the driveway and each child with their own iPad, it was refreshing to meet Lynsi and Sam Underwood, a couple who are the designers and builders behind SmallDwellingCompany.com in Texas, at the Tiny House Jamboree in Colorado Springs, CO. The design of their tiny home mirrors their personal belief: life is better the simpler it is.
But they didn’t always think like this.
“I used to work seven days a week for six years as a project manager building homes and buildings,” said Sam. “Those were important years that the kids were growing up and I was missing it.” Sure he was working to provide for his family, but it got him thinking, “What’s the point of working all the time if I never get to see them?”
So Sam quit his job. They got rid of their $1,200 monthly car payments. And now? “We share a car,” said Lynsi. “And it’s fine.” To pay their bills the couple mows lawns together, which eliminates the need for a gym membership. “Working together also makes us closer,” said Sam, who decided to put his skills to better use designing custom built tiny homes to help others live simpler and happier lives.
It’s also a family business. Their son Wyatt, 12, who loves video games and The Three Stooges, handles all computer needs. Does he feel deprived of anything? “Not at all. I have everything I need and so much I don’t need,” said Wyatt, his braces glistening, who often goes through his closet getting rid of stuff. (A kid after my own heart.) Their 14-year-old daughter Sammi, a dog lover, oversees the social media for the family business including Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
After quitting his job, the family could no longer afford lavish vacations or keep up with the Joneses. Do they feel ashamed? “Not one bit,” said Sam. “We might make less money than our neighbors, but we’re more happy. We no longer stress about life or bills and we spend a lot of time together as a family. Who gets to do that?”
“We instill in our kids that life is more than material possessions,” said Lynsi “and that happiness is not tied to finances.”
Sam and Lynsi have been together 15 years and look like newlyweds. “Everyday is a vacation.” Sam smiled at his wife. “In all our years together, we’ve never exchanged gifts.”
“We write letters instead.” Lynsi smiled back at her husband. Did I mention they’re romantic?
“They’re joined at the hip,” said Sam’s mom, who was also on hand to lend support at the Jamboree.
From the never-ending long line waiting to look inside their tiny house model, I’m sure their lives won’t stay simple for long.
The past week had me sharpening my organizing skills as I tackled two major “before and after” projects – one in a busy office, the other a two-bedroom condo. Both the kind of jobs I used to do on a daily basis that left the client thrilled and my lower back screaming for days.
They were the jobs that, while the lessons in my book are helpful, needed more than motivational insights – they needed immediate full-on triage. Instances where the piles had piles. Where “paper mountain” avalanches were common. And where one had to take caution before opening a closet door for fear of something falling on your head. (Remember Fibber McGee?)
How does stuff take over a life? Usually without warning. Maybe health issues, a job loss or possibly depression. Truthfully, it may not matter how it happens, but the point is we are all susceptible.
Which is where I come in. I am Ray Donovan and Harvey Keitel rolled into one pint-sized “Cleaner.” There is no judgment as I fill garbage bags faster than the client can spit out their first, “Buh-bye,” motivated by progress, pushed by the certainty of how they will feel when we are done – free of chains and free to have more time to decide to do what they love.
Inevitably the bad stuff goes away and in its place a system to keep it from happening again. There is often emotion involved. Sometimes tears, but always, always relief. That’s what keeps me going and going and going.
Last week I spoke as part of The Naked Challenge: Creative Mastery Global Summit on mastering creativity for writers, musicians, filmmakers and others. My talk gave tips on how to make the time to write, not find; proving that even in a busy life, there is time for doing what you love.
10 TIPS TO GET YOU WRITING (or whatever you enjoy doing)
- SCHEDULE THE TIME. Put it in your calendar. When you have a dentist appointment, you go, yes? The same with writing. Treat it as an appointment… to write. Just as you’re committed to your teeth, be committed to your writing.
- BE MORE ORGANIZED IN YOUR EVERYDAY LIFE. Our stuff is a big culprit in the time-suck of our days. We spend time cleaning stuff, putting stuff away and working to pay for stuff. Get rid of stuff that’s taking up valuable time. The stuff left over is the stuff you want and need and should have a place so you can find it quickly.
- DON’T WASTE TIME. Checking Facebook and watching YouTube videos of cats eats up valuable time. Take control and use it wisely. Have a lunch break? Write. Have a long train commute? Edit. Or wake up one hour earlier and write. Writing takes concentration, as opposed to checking Twitter. If you’re making the commitment to write, give it your all.
- CREATE A ROUTINE. Studies show a new habit takes 21 days to become routine. Put in your schedule book: “Day 1, Day 2, Day 3…Day 21.” Do it every day, even if only for 15 minutes. Get used to the daily event, even the chair, until you begin to look forward to that time. And if you think, “I’ll just skip today,” don’t. Do you skip brushing your teeth? Even if you just reread something you wrote the day before or jot down ideas, get in the seat. The rest will come. We are starting a new habit and that’s not easy. But nothing worth it is.
- COMPLETE LITTLE TO DO’S. Before your scheduled time, spend 15 to 30 minutes completing easy tasks like making the bed or replying to emails. Tackling these small tasks first removes the distraction that inevitably pop up of “I need to do this” when you sit down to write. It’s also an incentive toward the larger goal: writing.
- ELIMINATE DIVERSIONS. Shut. Off. Your. Phone. Ringers and notifications can take you away from your writing. It’s easy to get distracted, but remember you’ve got a scheduled appointment. Stick to it.
- HAVE A DESIGNATED WRITING AREA. Whether the living room, an office or Starbucks, try to get the same seat if possible to help get you into the proper mindset. Also, have writing supplies ready to go, including drinks and snacks. Don’t let thirst or hunger stop your process. Another suggestions, wear a writing cap or fuzzy slippers. I used to wear an old cowboy hat (don’t laugh) and it felt like I was getting into character. Whatever works for you.
- WARM UP. When you play basketball, you stretch first, right? Same with writing. Open a new document or take a blank piece of paper, think of a topic, maybe a childhood memory, and write for a few minutes. If you want to keep going, then by all means. You might toss it when you’re done or it may lead to a chapter idea. Either way, it helps “warm up” your subconscious thoughts, settles you down and gets you in the writing mind.
- BREAK IT DOWN. Just like a marathon is made up of steps, books are made up of chapters, chapters are made up of sentences, and sentences are written word by word. Breaking it down makes any task less daunting and more attainable. Little accomplishments net greater results by keeping you coming back again. Here are some ways to break it down:
- GIVE YOURSELF A DEADLINE. Deadlines are great motivators. Think of each deadline as your editor telling you what to do. If your editor said, “Chapter One is due Friday.” Guess what? You’d have Chapter One done by Friday.
- TIME’S UP! Set a timer for an hour (or however long you want) and when it goes off, stop, you’re done. This removes the pressure of thinking you need to sit there all day. It also gives you structure. You get a lot more writing done in one hour than NOT writing for one hour. Oftentimes, after the timer goes off, you’re in the groove and sit for another hour.
- DON’T STOP AND SMELL THE ROSES. When you’re writing don’t worry about spelling or grammar, just let the words flow. Even if you think you’re going off on a tangent or it’s not making sense, don’t hold yourself back. Editing can be tomorrow’s goal.
- HEAR ALL ABOUT IT! Tell people you’re writing a book. It adds pressure and accountability. Even better, ask a friend to read your work. This gives you incentive to get something written, since you’ve asked for their critique.
- REWARD YOURSELF. Rewards add incentive. Tell yourself, “When I finish my writing time today I will go for a walk, get an ice cream, watch an episode of “Ray Donovan.” Whatever it takes. Of course, writing itself is a reward…
- SAY “BUH-BYE” TO EXCUSES. Why do they always say, “Give a project to a busy person”? Because having a lot to do makes you spend your time more wisely. Saying, “I don’t have time” is just an excuse. Finding ways to carve out time is key. So what if the laundry doesn’t get done today, you know it’s going to eventually get done. Or maybe throw the laundry in and use the wash time as your writing time.
Sometimes you need to sacrifice something else for what you really want, but I promise, when you’re looking at your finished book, nothing will feel as good. Not even having clean laundry.
My parents live on a beautiful private street. It’s a circle actually. Twelve homes, some hugging the edge of a pond, all vary in style – cottages, colonials and a couple of ranches – each with towering trees filled with songbirds. It’s a great street to walk around. And around.
Once around is a quarter mile. It’s not as exciting a walk as, say, the streets of Manhattan or along the beach, but it’s a different kind of walk. Whether at first light as the day awakens or after dinner, when the dishes are done and the day is settling into night, this reflective stroll lets one contemplate anything or nothing.
Last December, after both my grandfather and uncle passed away, I came home for a visit. It was cold, but I knew my mother needed to get fresh air. I suggested we walk the circle, saying the cool air would do her good. So we bundled up, unrecognizable in layers, and walk we did, over and over, round and round.
I knew, however, after I returned to the city, my mother would need some incentive to continue the walks without me there to push her, so I came up with an idea.
“Okay,” I said, picking up four broken branches from the front lawn. “Every time we complete a lap, we toss a twig into the woods. This way we don’t have to count, just walk. Plus,” and I knew she’d like this part, “we’re cleaning the yard at the same time!”
In the weeks and months after I left, my mom would tell me over the phone, “Dad and I walked eight times around the circle.” Some days it was twelve. Some sixteen. Some days she walked alone, the twigs her veiled incentive. As winter turned to spring, and spring to summer, those twigs allowed my mom to walk without counting, focusing her attention instead on the memories of her father and brother, while at the same time giving her a goal and bringing her back to herself.
Every goal or journey begins with a first step, but it’s that first step that is the hardest. It’s easier to sit still, grasping on to despair or anger or whatever may be holding you back. But here’s the beauty of that first step, once you’ve taken it, you’re one step closer to where you want to be.
This week my blog post “Want to Get the Most Out of Your Day? Begin Your Morning Routine the Night Before” was published at EverydayPowerblog.com, a great motivating website.
With the official start to summer just a few days away, what will you be looking forward to? Walks along the beach? Mini golf? Wearing shoes without socks? Not only was I lucky to have grown up on Cape Cod, Summer’s Headquarters, but I’m even luckier that I get to return each summer.
“The whole summer?” friends ask. “How are you able to swing that?”
“Simple,” I say. “It’s part of my Living Large philosophy.” Of course that is the result of an unintentional living experiment in which I resided in a shoebox for five years.
“Yeah, but I’m not going to move into a tiny space,” they respond.
Here’s the good part: you don’t have to. Living Large does not require one to live in 90 square feet (collective sigh of relief), but it does require you to ask yourself, “What makes me happy?” and then find ways to achieve that.
Living in a tiny space helped me to answer that question. Doing what I love is more important than having things to love. Take for instance my car. I call her Edna. She’s a 2001 Honda Accord LXI that still runs like a dream. Could I go out today and buy a brand new car? Yes. Am I going to? Absolutely not. My Honda has less than 100,000 miles, a retractable moon roof, a 6-CD holder and a tape cassette. But the best feature? My bicycle fits perfectly in the backseat.
A car study featured in Forbes magazine listed the top 15 features people want in a new car. Well guess what? Edna has three of the top ten, including the number one: power driver’s seat.
Instead of tying up my money in a new car that depreciates the minute I drive off the lot just so I can say it has heated front seats, I’ve got that money in the bank, available to cover expenses while I’m enjoying the summer writing, speaking at Tiny House festivals, cycling, playing with my niece and nephew, working out with my folks at the Cape Cod Canal, getting them to assemble jigsaw puzzles and more. To me, that is worth a lot more than heated seats.
What makes you happy?
It’s the end of the school year and that can mean only one thing… report cards! Time to face the music. Were you consistently above average? Did you show improvement? Will you graduate? For those of us no longer in school with a report card to rank how we’re doing, there is one way to check our progress – by rating ourselves.
I recently came across my 4th grade report card. Using those same categories, I took the liberty of upgrading them to reflect how we, as adults, could (or should!) be graded today. So go ahead and grade yourself, but be honest, this is for your own good…or so said Miss Kowalski all those years ago. (NOTE: The grading system used below is the exact same one from 1979.)
A: Consistently shows effort
B: Usually shows effort
C: Sometimes shows effort
D: Seldom shows effort
MATHEMATICS (adult version: Finances)
|Did you make money?|
|Did you save money?|
|Did you invest money?|
|Will you be able to retire on time?|
LANGUAGE ARTS (adult version: Emails and Texting)
|Checks spelling and grammar before hitting “Send”|
|Understands appropriate usage of emojis|
|Remembers to add attachment|
|Bonus points for writing a handwritten letter|
SOCIAL STUDIES (adult version: Geography)
|Arrives at destination on time|
|Knows and understands how to program GPS|
|Shows maturity when lost (a.k.a. doesn’t freak out and is manly enough to stop and ask for directions)|
PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT (adult version: Social Media)
|Makes new friends easily (i.e. real friends, not those on Facebook)|
|Demonstrates Self Control (i.e. Sticks to gym routine, doesn’t devour entire jar of Nutella in one sitting)|
|Is courteous to others (i.e. Doesn’t make disparaging comments on YouTube)|
|Takes care of materials (i.e. keeps their closets organized)|
So? How’d you do? Would you post this report card on the fridge? If yes, then great! Consider yourself ready to move on to your next goal. If not, don’t despair, there’s always room for improvement. Like in my case. Turns out, in 4th grade I got a “C” in “Uses independent time wisely.” Crazy right? Me, Efficiency Queen of Time Saving. Anyway, not to worry, summer is here. See you at the beach!
June, the first official month of summer, has arrived. The warm weather is a welcome relief from a long winter. Smells abound. Cut grass, flowers in bloom, burgers on the grill. You feel lucky to be alive and life feels easier. June days seem endless and much longer than they do in January. It’s what To Do lists were made for. It’s what kids treasure when they play outside long into the night. It’s going for ice cream after dinner at dusk. It’s waking up before your alarm goes off from the sun seeping in between the blinds. It’s feeling like a kid again – even for a split second – imagining the end of school is near. It’s walks on the beach and summer love and water fights in the backyard. It’s wearing shoes without socks. It’s feeling like every day in June is a Friday, the anticipation of the weekend (Saturday=July and Sunday=August) still ahead. It’s reading a good book on a park bench or in a beach chair, the sunset dissolving in the distance. It’s a baseball game under bright lights, hot dog in hand. It’s flip-flops and tank tops and a cool refreshing shower at the end of a sweaty day. It’s a slow smile at the memory of other warm days gone by. It’s why we (in the north) put up with the cold, snow and sleet. It’s feeling invincible and young and strong and wanting the day to never end, but feeling secure in knowing there’s one more tomorrow. It’s appreciating each moment, knowing that time, as much as we want it to last, slips through our fingers like grains of sand that we carry home between our toes after a day at the beach. So here’s to June and to taking it one long luxurious summer day at a time.
Many people, city dwellers especially, know that space is a luxury. I’d bet most of us have, at one time or another, uttered the words, “I need space.” We might have been talking about our apartments, our office cubicles or even our relationships. Even people in large homes rent storage units. But wanting more space can also be metaphysical. We practice yoga to make room in our bodies and we do breathing techniques to create space in our minds. Yet with all this space accumulation, it never seems to be enough.
When I lived in 90-square-feet it felt like I had all the space in the world because I was free. Free from the shackles of a 9 to 5, a high rent, and mounds of unused stuff.
We ourselves don’t need that much space, it’s our stuff that makes us think we do. I’m talking about the stuff we either outgrow or when our stuff’s usefulness is outgrown and we don’t get rid of it. Do you toss old sneakers or leave them in the back of a closet? I have a friend with three broken toasters in her living room. She doesn’t bring them out to the trash because, she says, “I’m too lazy.” Is it really laziness or a fear of letting go?
The bottom line is, it’s not about space or stuff – it’s about happiness. Does a large home with lots of stuff around you make you happy? Then great. But that’s not what people write or say when asking me for help. They feel overwhelmed by their stuff, not knowing how or where to begin to get rid of it. I tell them stuff should leave the same way it came in – piece by piece. Try one item a day or one full box. I also suggest they picture how they’d like their home to look and to hold onto that image as they chip away in small sections. Once you begin to create space, you will be motivated to keep going.
Please check out my newest book: 90 Lessons for Living Large in 90 Square Feet (…or more)