The Longest Week Ever!

I’m about to tell you a story. It’s a story that will either sound too crazy to be true or will have you nodding your head in understanding because you’ve been there before. In fact, I’m willing to bet that most of us have lived some version of this story at least once in our lives – some, many times over. It’s the story of a week that I thought would never end!

It all began with a gig…

Earlier this month, I mentioned that I had joined a job board for retail merchandising and reset work. At that time, I was about to do my 2nd job for them and I was pretty excited about having access to a platform that would let me select jobs that fit my schedule, especially in slow months when I needed the extra income. The day of the second job, it snowed – the first snow all season – but despite my 40 mile drive, I made it to the job site at 7:45. I was the only one that did. The rest of the team came in at 10:30. The team leader made it at noon and decided on the spot that she was calling it a day at 4. The job was super easy. I worked on my own, marking down prices in a store that was closing, and I had a pleasant day. (And even though the whole store was 70% off, I didn’t buy a thing!)

When I got home, I was still feeling good, so when I received a text about another job the following week, I accepted it. This was a job that I had previously passed over half a dozen times on the board because it was 1) too far away and 2) involved a lot of detail work. I didn’t think the pay was adequate for what was required. But, like I said, I was feeling good so I completely disregarded my first inclination.

About 30 hours before the job was set to begin, we received a middle-of-the-night call from our niece. The baby was in the ER, about to be sent to the Vanderbilt. They thought he might have the flu; which is horrible anyway, but 100 times worse for him because of his heart condition. We got up early the next morning and went to pick up our 4-year-old great-niece so her mom could go to the hospital with her brother. We never thought twice about it – that’s what families do. What I did think twice about at this point was cancelling the gig. But when I checked into it, I realized I would lose “points” in their system if I did. I thought the loss of points might prevent me from getting other jobs, so I decided to stick with the plan.

In the midst of playing with the little one, checking on the baby, and trying to prep for the next day, my mom sent a text that said, “I’m thinking about going through my drawer to see what I have to take. I just can’t take this anymore.” I immediately put on my shoes and coat and headed for the car, thinking she was talking about doing something drastic. She has never been suicidal, but lately she has been depressed, dealing with a milestone birthday and the winter blues, so I wanted to be safe rather than sorry. I texted back, “Don’t do anything. I’m on my way.” As I was flying down the road, I got another text. “You don’t need to come over here right now. There’s nothing you can do for my headache. I’m just going to lie down.” Apparently the first part of her original text – the one about having a migraine – had not come through.

Relieved, but frazzled, I headed back home. At this point, I once again considered cancelling the gig. And once again, I talked myself out of it.

Around 8 PM, my mom texted again that she had a snack bag for the little one if I wanted to come by and get it. Yes, it was 8 PM and I knew I needed to go to bed in an hour, but nevertheless, I went over to get the snack bag. The little one went with me and we stayed just long enough for Nanny to give her 4 pieces of candy! Needless to say, she was riding a sugar high at bed time and it was midnight before we all fell asleep. I knew I needed to be out the door by 6 AM to meet my sister. I had made arrangements with her to pick up the little one at the job site. (She lives nearby and was going to pick up my niece at the hospital later that day anyway.)

As we were getting ready the next morning, my mom called. She was beside herself. She didn’t want us to go because it was pouring down rain and she had a bad feeling about me driving 70 miles in the rain. Again, I considered cancelling. I didn’t have the same feeling she had about our safety, but I did have a niggling feeling that the day was not going to go as planned. But once again, I didn’t listen.

My sister met me on time and I went in search of the team I was supposed to be working with. All of the supplies were there but the team leader had no clue what we were supposed to do with them. She had been called in at the last minute when the scheduled team leader called out. After an hour and a half of saying “I just don’t know what to do”, she finally called her manager and the job was cancelled. At 9:30 in the morning, after driving an hour and a half with a preschooler in the pouring rain to get to this all-important gig, it was cancelled! But the story doesn’t end there…

I realized on my way home, right after I pulled up to the gas pump, that I had left my wallet at home. The fuel gauge said that I had 58 miles worth of fuel. I knew I wasn’t going to make it. In the age of technology, I figured I’d just download GooglePay, find a station that took it, and get gas. Except, my phone doesn’t work with GooglePay. So, I called my sister. She was on her way to Vanderbilt and I just happened to catch her right before she got on the highway. Two minutes later and I would have been stranded (at least until I drove myself out of gas and called roadside assistance).

When I finally got home, I collapsed on the couch. My body was starting to ache and my throat was hurting. I knew it wasn’t the flu, since they had diagnosed the baby with the Rhinovirus, so I chalked it off. I figured even my stressed immune system was good enough to fight a common cold. It wasn’t. The next day I was down for the count! Which meant that I didn’t get to go check on my mom, like I usually do.

When I did get there the following day, she was sick too. Like the baby, she has a compromised immune system so things like the common cold can be really bad. We went from the doctor’s office to the ER and I ended up spending two nights on her couch, making sure she took her medication and got enough fluids. Today, she is doing much better, but me…I’m typing this with one hand while holding my 452nd Kleenex of the day in the other.

And while I was sick or tending the sick…I missed the free heart health screening at Kroger, a meeting about a potential new project that I can do from the comfort of my own home, and Valentine’s Day! Not that we go all out for a commercial holiday, but I didn’t even get to wake up and have coffee with the love of my life that day. I didn’t even get home until 3 PM the next day!

Now, if ever there was a moral to this story, I’m going to venture a guess that the Universe was trying to remind me to always listen to my inner voice and STOP CHASING DOLLARS! I even wrote that down in January as one of our rules/goals for this year…and yet…

The job paid me a fee of $50 for showing up, even though I did not get to work. Counting my drive time, the time I spent standing around the store, and the hour it took to figure out how to pay for gas, I made about $8/hour that day. I traded time with my great-niece for $8/hour. I traded my peace of mind for $8/hour. I traded being available when my family needed me for $8/hour. You don’t have to be a financial genius to know that wasn’t smart.

Cancelling the job probably wouldn’t have prevented me from getting sick but it would have saved me a lot of time and more than a few headaches and it would have kept me aligned with my own priorities, which is what really matters in the first place. The last thing that I want from this new life we’re trying to build is stress, missed opportunities, and the inability to be where I’m needed because of a job. The next time I have a long week, I want it to be because our life is so full of peace and happiness that time just seems to stand still.

I Didn’t Save The File

“What was the name of that documentary we watched about why fad diets don’t work?” I asked Angie, after hanging up the phone with our niece.

“You mean the one where they follow a bunch of people doing different diets?

“Umm…I don’t know,” I replied. “I just remember the part about how you should just eat healthy and skip the fads.”

“Yeah, I don’t know the name but I can probably find it on Netflix,” Angie said, reaching for the remote.

“You know,” I continued. “If I remembered things like my mom does, I’d be able to tell you the name of the film and the director and summarize all the different stories.”

“Yeah, but…” she countered. “Think of all the clutter that creates in your head.”

This was an actual conversation we had on Sunday night, but it’s not the first time we’ve had this kind of conversation.

I sometimes tease that I have a mind like a sieve. Stuff comes in and goes right back out. Except, that’s not exactly true. Some stuff stays around, like random statistics and song lyrics that I really don’t want to remember (Ice, Ice Baby…). Seriously though, it’s not that I can’t remember. I don’t have memory problems (and I know this from the multitude of things that I do everyday that require me to recall some sort of information) but I do have a habit of not remembering certain things.

This drives my mom nuts. “How do you not remember that yellow dress with the ruffles that you wore to the church picnic in the summer of 1984? I can see you in it right now!”

It used to drive me nuts too that I couldn’t remember. I used to think something was wrong with me. “Why can’t I remember what we had for dinner on the third Thursday of May? Why can’t I recall the main character’s name from that book I read in third grade? Why do I not know the exact date and time of my last eye exam??” 

I don’t know if there’s any science behind what I’m about to say but, when Angie mentioned clutter, a connection formed for me that I’d never thought of before. When I first embraced minimalism, like most of you, I started getting rid of stuff. I cleared out cabinets, closets, drawers, and even the glove compartment of my car. Why? Because I was trying to make room in my life for the things that really mattered…and only the things that really mattered.

If I think of my mind like a filing cabinet (or hard drive), it then makes perfect sense why I don’t remember things. I didn’t save the file. It was important while I was working on it but it wasn’t something I needed to keep for future records. For example, I read a lot of books. Some of them I can tell you all about. Most I cannot. They were probably good books and useful at the time, but they weren’t stories I needed to remember, so I chose not to save the file.

Similarly, things that are milestones for other people, may not be for me. My mom remembers my first day of kindergarten, the time I screamed bloody-murder at the doctor’s office because I didn’t want a shot, and that yellow dress at the church picnic because they were all meaningful (in different ways) to her life. For me, it was just another day in a childhood full of days just like it. And the things that were important to me back then, she doesn’t recall – like the first “newspaper” I typed on my typewriter and sold to her for a quarter. I know she doesn’t remember because I just had to dig that paper out of my memory box to prove its existence to her.

When we think about mental clutter, we often think about advertising, media, negative thoughts, fears, worries, and the stresses of work and home that infiltrate our thoughts and slow us down. But just like physical clutter, mental clutter isn’t limited to just the stuff we shouldn’t be carrying with us in the first place. Sometimes, good stuff creates clutter too.

Think about the hardest part of your minimalist journey. For me, it was going though all the gifts I’d saved over the years, all the cards, all the photos, all the report cards, all the 4-H awards, and all the special knick-knacks I had collected in 40 years of living. That memory box, the one where my first newspaper resides, that was the hardest thing I had to declutter. It’s been years now and I can honestly say, I have not yet missed any of those things that I said goodbye to (nor have I regretted saving any of the ones I saved).

Just like it’s okay not to carry every little piece of our lives around in a trunk, it’s okay not to carry them around in our minds either. I don’t recall what I had for breakfast last Tuesday. I don’t know who wrote the last book I read. I don’t even remember who shot J.R. or whether or not Mulder ever found the truth that was out there. But I do remember what’s important – to be present and to enjoy the moment.

Mental clutter – whatever form it takes – keeps us from doing that. My mom may recall every movie she’s ever watched, every conversation she’s ever had, and everything I’ve ever done (except sell her a newspaper) but she also doesn’t sleep well at night and often complains that she has a running to-do list going in her mind. That’s the very definition of a cluttered mind. I had that – before minimalism – and it’s not something I want to experience again. So how do we declutter our mental spaces?

Different things work for different people. For me, it’s usually writing. From a simple to-do list to this blog, I find it helpful to “download” my thoughts from time to time. Once they are written down, I no longer have to be responsible for remembering them. Getting enough rest, practicing mindfulness, limiting media, and single-tasking are also good habits for decluttering the mind. 

Do you suffer from a cluttered mind? What do you do to avoid or clear the mental clutter?