Why I Ditched My Desk

At the beginning of May, we accepted a challenge from Minimalism and Your Money to spend 100 hours outdoors. While Dave met the challenge, Angie and I finished the month with 85 hours – still not too shabby for the rainiest month of the year. During the month, we managed to:

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We also enjoyed a lot of our meals on our patio and I soon began to look forward to lunchtime. Like a little kid in school, the mere thought of going outside meant I could barely sit still at my desk. Ah, my desk…it has been both a creature comfort and a thorn in my side for years. On the one hand, it has provided me a dedicated space to park my laptop and my rear end for countless hours over the past 4 years. On the other hand, it has also served as a constant visual reminder of my work obligations. If you work from home, you understand this dilemma. There is no separation of work and home. Even when you have a separate office, you still know the work is there and you can often find yourself “getting just one more thing done” long past quitting time.

I spend about 38 hours a week on my laptop. In that time, I accomplish whatever work tasks I have assigned myself, work on this blog, update our social media sites, and take care of any budgetary activities that may need attention (like paying the rent or logging our receipts). For the remaining 130 hours, my laptop always sat on my desk and along with the knick-knacks, gathered dust (or served as a catch-all for the mail). For the longest time, my desk was the first thing you saw when you walked into our apartment. When Angie and I would have decluttering days, I longed to put it in with the rest of the discards but could never bring myself to do it.

A few weeks ago, we were working on the bedroom closet – pushing our winter clothes to the back and bringing our summer clothes to the front. During this (quick) process, I mentioned that it would be cool to have some sort of cabinet or drawer to organize my sewing supplies. The very next day, we were pulling out of the apartment complex when I saw something out of the corner of my eye by the dumpster. Lo and behold, it was a cabinet! Granted, it was a lot bigger than what I had envisioned, but it was a cabinet and it was free.

We brought the rickety kitchen island into the house, cleaned and tightened it up, and there it sat for a few days while we tried to decide what to do with it. The only logical option was to put it where my desk was. To do that, I’d have to ditch the desk. You would think that I would have been ecstatic to finally have a reason to get rid of my desk, but I was conflicted. So first, I moved the desk to the patio to “test” our new idea before committing to it. I rehomed a few of the knick-knacks (they all have special meaning to me) to other locations in the apartment. Then I tried organizing my sewing supplies in the cabinet.

I didn’t like the way it looked. The next day, I moved some of our cookery into the cabinet instead. That didn’t make sense either, since it left empty cabinets in the kitchen (not the most ideal place to store my sewing stuff or a laptop). On the third day, I hit upon a “brilliant” idea. I moved our file boxes and my knitting basket into the cabinet and put both our laptops in the drawer. I know that doesn’t sound like a Nobel Prize winning discovery, but here’s the real beauty in what I did.

I moved my work out of my sight. The simple act of putting the laptop in the drawer changed the way I saw, not just the room, but our home in general. The first time that I walked into the apartment after the change, I was amazed at how much cozier and more homelike the place felt.

It’s not that I dislike my work. I don’t. I just don’t want it to be the first thing I see when I come through the door and I don’t want it to be the focal point of the room. Work is a small part of a much larger whole. For the first time ever, that drawer gives it a properly sized place in our home. I can get the laptop out when I need to, and I can put it back when I’m done. No more seeing it sit there 24/7.

If that’s not great, how about this then? Not having a dedicated space to sit for 6-8 hours a day has meant that I must find a new location to work. The kitchen table has always been just a few feet from my desk but the view by moving over just those few feet is completely different. I can see out the window! And then there’s the patio where the view is even better. Yes, I know that I could have picked up the laptop off the desk a hundred times and moved outside, but I never did. The desk was my “comfort zone”. Everything was already there and all I had to do was just plop down and write.

The best things in life are often waiting for you at the exit ramp of your comfort zone. ~ Karen Salmansohn

Ditching my desk didn’t take away my responsibilities to work and home. It didn’t mean that I would spend any less time on the computer. It simply helped to reframe things in a way that was more reflective of how I feel inside. Work is important but it is secondary to the many, many more important aspects of my life.

Ditching my desk was a small thing but it was one of the best things I’ve done all year. Who knows what I may tackle next!

As for what happened to my desk…I gave it to a neighbor. She’s using it for a plant stand.


Side note: I was in the middle of editing this post on Monday morning when my phone rang. It was one of those calls that you always say “if this happens, then I’ll do ___” but you never really expect it to actually happen. It seems apropos that as I am delegating my work life to a smaller space in my home, transitions are taking place with my employer that may make my work life itself even smaller. At present, I don’t know much, but as things develop, I will keep you posted. In the meantime, it’s time to start thinking about how best to fill in that blank above.

2019 Goal Check-In (Part 2 – The One About Money)

Money…that thing that so many of us obsess about. How best to earn it? How best to save it? How best to spend it? I know these questions are important, yet for more than a little while now, I’ve felt their importance was far too exaggerated…especially in my own life. So, at the beginning of the year, I set out to redefine my relationship with money and figure out where it fit into a simple, minimalist lifestyle.

As with any project I take on, I like to start with a bit of research. In this case, I read several books on money – but probably not the types of books you’re thinking right now. I read:

  • Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century by Jessica Bruder
  • $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America by Kathryn Edin
  • Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America by Linda Tirado
  • Flat Broke with Two Goats: A Memoir by Jennifer McGaha

Going into this project, I thought my biggest problem with money was my tendency to romanticize the concept of living without it. What can I say? The idea of a moneyless society has always appealed to me. My best friend growing up was born in a hippie commune and, while she hated it, I absolutely reveled in the stories she told me. It seemed that everyone took care of everyone else and the need for money was so minimal, she never even mentioned it. Of course, she may not have mentioned it because we were 10 years old and at that age, money wasn’t all that. Like I said, I may have glamorized the ideal just a bit. 

Like every other version of Utopia, a moneyless life is not very realistic. The Daniel Suelos of the world are extremely rare. Most folks living without money are not doing it on purpose and their life is far from sublime. Which is why I thought perhaps reading a few books about real people living in real poverty might give me some much-needed perspective. And did it ever! 

    First and foremost, let me say – I never want to own a goat. Seriously. They make great cheese, but they are nasty creatures. I also never want to work at Amazon in my 60s, permanently reside in a RV park, sell scrap metal for groceries, or donate plasma to pay the rent. You may think I’m being funny but I’m really not. Reading these books showed me (rather quickly, I might add) that I would never survive the realities of an actual moneyless life.

    Reading about extreme poverty reiterated for me the fact that I am privileged. Even in my leanest times, I had options – too many sometimes. For a lot of people, there are no options. My disdain for money is something I can afford to have. The ability to choose to live with less is just that – a choice, that I get to make because I am privileged. I know these things but sometimes, I simply need to remember them. So, while I let that tidbit of wisdom sink in, I also read a few books about frugality to balance the playing field, including:

    • Meet the Frugalwoods: Achieving Financial Independence Through Simple Living by Elizabeth Willard Thames
    • Money Secrets of the Amish: Finding True Abundance in Simplicity, Sharing, and Saving by Lorilee Craker

    Let me say again, when I started this quest, I assumed that I would find justification for my contempt for all things money related and perhaps even a path to living a close to moneyless existence. Imagine my surprise when I felt my heart (and mind) being pulled in exactly the opposite direction. In all my railing against consumerism and hating on excess, it turns out I was also inadvertently equating the act of earning, saving, and spending money with these things I found abhorrent. Um…note to self…these things are not the same.

    I soon realized my problem with money is that I don’t know what to do with it. Let me clarify that a bit. I am not financially uninformed. I’m a pretty savvy budgeter. I know to avoid debt, pay bills and save for emergencies and retirement, but I was raised (like most of us) in a spending economy. Even if you were saving money, you were saving it to spend on something – like a house or a car. When you are brought up this way then decide you don’t really want to own too many things, the idea of money seems arbitrary. And in some ways, it is; but money can do more than just buy things.

    Money is a tool, just like a shovel is a tool. Most folks dig gardens with a shovel but how many times have you watched movies where someone gets whacked in the head with one (or buried alive)? My point – all tools can be used for both good and evil. Money is no exception. In recent months, I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time seeing only the evil money can cause and now it’s time to focus more on the good. Always equating money with consumerism is where I lost focus. To fix this, I need to shift my mindset on money to match our lifestyle and find a financial goal that has meaning for us.

    So that’s where I’m at. No earth-shaking revelations on money management. No financial road map for the next 5 years. No match to light us on FIRE. Just more questions that we will continue to ponder.

    Side note – On the more practical side of things, we tried doing the “hands-off budget” for a few months. I’m not a fan. I thought I would be (again, imagine my surprise!) but I didn’t trust “our system” to work without my guidance and I didn’t like not having a plan. I’m all about purposeful spending but I know me all too well. I can find purpose in all sorts of stuff at the grocery store – things that wouldn’t normally be on our list, like Magnum non-dairy ice cream bars. We also opted not to micromanage our investments. That ended when E-trade closed one of our accounts for failing to fully fund it before the deadline – something I would have known about had I logged in sooner.