Lessons Learned from a Less-Than-Ideal Year

This year has been a real struggle for everyone. There’s no denying that whether you fell ill to the virus or not, your life has been impacted by COVID-19. I have never wished that the hours of my life would fly by (at least not since I stopped punching a time clock) but many times this year I’ve found myself wishing, hoping, and even praying that time would do just that. I have not enjoyed this year one bit, but I’m not here to complain about it either, because for all that it has done bad, 2020 has also done some good.

This year, my sister graduated from college. She began this journey more than 20 years ago, but every time she’d make an attempt, life would get in the way. On December 12, via a virtual ceremony, she received her degree. I was so proud!

This year, I stopped saying “I need to do that” and got in the car one Sunday afternoon and drove over to see my dad. I can’t erase the decade that I let pass between us but I can start anew and not let another decade go by.

This year, I had to grapple with some tough truths about my family and myself. I’ve always carried a lot of guilt when I have failed to do what was expected of me. It has only been in recent years that I began wondering if maybe the problem was not mine to own, and through reading and support, I’ve come to understand this dynamic a little better. I am still in the process of working through all this, and though I very much want to talk about it, I don’t yet have the words or the way. I will say though, if you are feeling inadequate, unloved, and a disappointment to your parents, you likely aren’t any of these things, and I encourage you to explore some of the books that have helped me this year.

  • Will I Ever Be Good Enough? by Karyl McBride,
  • Children of the Aging Self-Absorbed by Nina W. Brown, or
  • Any of the great books or blog posts by Diane Metcalf or Danu Morrigan (Tracy Culleton)

This year, I gave up on supporting broken systems. I do understand that 2020 has been a nightmare for people in the healthcare profession and I truly feel for anyone who has had to watch so many people die needlessly, but long before COVID and long after it, the fact remains, our healthcare system is broken. My mother regularly visits her doctor, who regularly whips out a prescription pad as a solution to all her problems. My mom is getting older. She’s never been this old before – which sounds like a dumb thing to say, but really it’s not. We offer milestones to help new parents know that to expect as their baby grows up. We offer the same to teens who are entering puberty. But for the aging, we give them yet another prescription when sometimes all they really need is someone to say, hey, those aches and pains are normal, feeling like you need a nap isn’t a sign of weakness (or illness, necessarily), and not remembering where you put your keys is something that happens to everyone, not just seniors. They need reassurance, not the latest as-seen-on-TV medication. And sometimes they need tough love, which doctors are also reluctant to give. Out of the dozens of doctors and specialists I’ve sat with over the past 5 years with my mom, only one has ever told her that smoking is the root cause of her health problems. The rest simply say, “you know you shouldn’t smoke, right?”

The fourth time I went to Walgreens this year to pick up my mom’s medication only to find that it was not cross-checked with her allergies, that was the moment that I swore, no matter what, I was going to do my absolute best to take care of myself. No one has my best interest at heart but me – not the doctors and not the pharmacies (and especially not the pharmaceutical companies). If I want to live a long and healthy life, the only one I can depend on to make that happen is me.

So, this year, we adopted a completely plant-based diet. Up until now, we’ve made some exceptions (like seafood, eggs, and cheese) but no more. I’ll be the first to admit, giving up cheese was a hard one for me. I love cheese, always have, but I also love that my cholesterol is normal (on it’s own) and I don’t feel sluggish or congested. I’m not out there running marathons (yet) but I do have a lot more energy than before and I am no longer avoiding hikes that are marked “strenuous” like I once did.

This year, we went back to basics, not just with our food. We are minimalists who haven’t lived a very minimal life lately. Moving into our new apartment in July was an awakening of sorts. Though it was an opportunity to get rid of our old stuff, it also presented us with a blank canvas to be stuffed with new stuff. For the first few months, no matter how hard I tried, I hated our apartment. Everything I bought made me feel like a sell-out; like the whole thing just wasn’t in keeping with what I really wanted to do and folks, I cried…a lot. I suddenly felt like a wild horse being saddled and all I wanted to do was bolt. I wanted to sell everything we’d just bought, check every dime out of savings, buy a van, a RV, or a tiny house, and “just do it” (whatever “it” was). But instead, I came to realize, it wasn’t the apartment I hated. It was what it represented – responsibility, conformity, and that pressure to stuff it with stuff (a pressure I thought we were immune to). So we started over, working the steps of minimalism, so that we could enjoy a clutter-free space, a clutter-free heart, and a clutter-free mind. I plan to make another post on this later but just in the month of December, we decluttered 195 things (and read the awesome and inspiring book Goodbye, Things by Fumio Sasaki).

This year, we realized that our life wasn’t heading in the direction we wanted it to and we started correcting our course. The adverse reaction to getting a new apartment was one clue, but there were plenty more. We will always enjoy growing a garden, trying new recipes, and the occasional Netflix binge night, but our heart is in exploration. We became minimalists in 2012 to live a more adventurous life and for a while we did. In the past few years though, we’ve convinced ourselves that our inability to seek adventure was due to circumstances beyond our control but frankly, that’s a load of crap (and directly related to those ‘hard truths’ I mentioned before). Where there’s a will to travel and explore, there is a way. And by God, if we find nothing else in 2021, we are going to find the way.

This year, I found work that I could do from anywhere, at any time – a job where no one is going to hassle me for working an hour one day and 10 hours the next, or none at all. I became my own boss. I stopped all side hustles (except our quarterly housing survey) and committed myself to writing and editing. Since August, I’ve worked on 6 different short-term editing projects, written more than a dozen grants, and helped an old friend update the product descriptions on his website. We have no plans to make work the focus of our lives but it is nice to be able to pay the bills again without worrying, and save a little for our next adventure.

This year has been a roller-coaster ride, that’s for sure! There were good moments and there were a lot of not-so-good ones, and while I will remember them both, it is only the good that I want to carry with me into 2021. I want to remember to be mindful, to enjoy life one day at a time, to not sweat the small stuff, to be a good friend, to love everyone, to show gratitude, and most of all – be true to myself and the values I hold dear.

In the coming year, I can’t make you any promises, except to say that I plan to post about the everyday life of two off-beat minimalists and their plans to be more courageous, more adventurous, and less constrained by all things conventional. I have no idea what the future will hold so we’ll just have to see how it all shakes out. I hope you’ll continue to join us and I hope that 2021 is everything that you hope that it will be and more!