One Very Distracted Week

This has been a particularly trying week. Angie came down with the same cold or flu that I had last week. My mom had a meltdown over turning 68. My niece moved back in with the father of her child, leaving behind a brokenhearted new boyfriend, a devastated roommate, and a confused best friend…all of whom called me to vent. And Caesar still has worms!

But…I’m not letting it get me down. Life happens, and other people’s problems don’t necessarily have to be mine. (That’s me giving myself a pep talk.)

Despite the illness and drama, I managed to finish two books this week, Van Life and The Minimalist Mindset. From the latter, I picked up a couple of tips on managing interruptions (like worried friends calling during my work day to talk about my niece) and focusing on one’s own priorities over all else. Of course, these aren’t new concepts, but they were timely this week, so they really hit home.

To manage the interruptions, I downloaded an app called Nights Keeper that allows me to set “quiet hours” on my phone. During this time, no calls, texts, or alerts can come through, except for the ones I want. My co-workers, my mom, and Angie are all on my daytime “white list”. Anyone else who calls or texts between 8 AM and 4 PM on weekdays receives a polite message that says, “I’m at work right now and can’t respond to your message. I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.”

Once upon a time, such messages were not necessary. People respected boundaries, especially boundaries associated with work. The fact that people are now inseparable from their cell phones has eliminated those boundaries and we’re expected to respond immediately to someone else’s wants or needs. I for one, do not like this. As a writer, it’s imperative that I have uninterrupted quiet time to concentrate on the creative process and the best way that I can manage that is to start treating the phone as a phone again. I don’t have to answer it when it rings, beeps, sings, tweets, screams, or buzzes at me. Answering the phone is not a priority.

Getting my work done is a priority. Taking care of myself is a priority. Spending time with family is a priority. Even doing something fun is a priority.

To walk our own talk, we made Wednesday our “reboot” day. We decided to forget about all the negative things that had happened during the past week and concentrate instead on doing something spontaneous and fun.

I started the day by taking my mom to Michael’s. It’s been on her to do list for a few weeks now. While we were shopping (for one ball of yarn), Angie made lunch, which we all sat down and enjoyed together. After lunch, Angie and I went to the park. The birds were really happy to see us.

On the way home, we stopped by the grocery store to pick up some healthy snacks. We even made our first visit to the bulk aisle. Shopping bulk is something that we’ve toyed with for a while now but have never tried (mostly because we didn’t quite know how to get the tare weights for our own containers). An awesome sale on oats prompted us to learn. We did not have a container with us yesterday, so we used one of our produce bags. It worked perfectly, and we got nearly 4 pounds of oats for 87 cents.

After the grocery store, we made a quick stop at our favorite dumpster and it paid off big time! I have no idea why they would throw out perfectly good toilet paper, but we rescued 38 rolls (most of them still in the package). We also took home 3 long stem roses and a quart of strawberries, which might have been the set up for a romantic evening if it weren’t for the cat.

Though diatomaceous earth is a great product, it wasn’t quite curing Caesar of his worm infestation so we had to go with a prescription medication. We spent $27 for 3 pills. The first dose was wasted, literally. We tried to disguise it in Caesar’s food but he wouldn’t eat any part of it. I agonized a bit over the thought of having to force feed him a pill, imagining every scenario from being bitten to having him puke up the last remaining dose of this very expensive medication; but in the end, he swallowed it like a champ. And poof, no more worms!

So our rough week actually had a happy ending.

What this week taught me was that even the most focused individuals lose focus every now and then. Distractions are a part of every day life and we have to learn to manage them before they manage us. I’m hoping that the Nights Keeper and my own commitment to a distraction-free work day helps me to do just that. And if not, I may just have to channel my own mother. When we were kids, she used to tell us, “Do not call me at work unless you are dying. If you do, and you’re not dying, you will be when I get home.” 😊

How do you deal with distractions during your work day?

Food Waste Update

  • Wasted Food this week: 5 ounces
  • Total Wasted Food in 2018: 9 ounces
  • Found Food this week:  9.75 US pounds
  • Total Found Food this year:  63.17 US pounds

Keep up with our food finds in real time by viewing our Food Find Gallery.

Lessons from our 2017 Happiness Project

2017 was the year of the “Happiness Project”. When we conceived this idea more than a year ago, we were at a place in our lives where we were struggling to stay true to our own wants and needs. We were surrounded by new people, in a new place, and it seemed that everywhere we turned someone wanted something from us. All. The. Time. It was more than a little bit overwhelming.

Our goal for 2017 was to reconnect with the things that made us happy and find balance in how we dealt with our new responsibilities to family. The first thing that I did to kickstart the project was to cut my work schedule by one day a week. This allowed for some much-needed space in my schedule to focus on what really mattered.

Our second step was to make a list of all the things that made us happy. That list looked something like this:

  • Travel
  • Enjoying quiet time together reading, writing, coloring, or watching TV
  • Being outdoors
  • Letterboxing
  • Being resourceful – figuring out how to do things for ourselves
  • Saving money and finding bargains/freebies
  • Cooking and/or trying new foods

Around this list, we crafted goals and set about the mission of finding our happiness again. For the most part, it worked. We spent a lot of time outdoors this year – camping, hiking, letterboxing, swimming, gardening, and hanging out in our hammocks. We traveled. We read (64 books between the two of us). We watched a lot of documentaries, learning new and fascinating ideas around the things we were already interested in (like plant-based eating, food waste, and living with less). We even began entertaining the idea of sticking around Tennessee for a while, perhaps reconsidering the notion of a tiny house. And don’t even get me started on freebies! I swear, our list of found foods has grown to the point that I may have to take a full day off just to categorize and tally it all. Who would have thought that we’d find so much food?? Then again, who would have thought at the beginning of 2017 that scouring the dumpster of the grocery store next door would be something that would make both of us really happy.

But happiness is like that. It comes in the most unexpected forms. When you chase it, you are likely not to find it at all. When you just do your own thing without regard to where it is, well…that’s when happiness likes to sneak up on you most.

Though we did not accomplish everything on our Happiness Project Bucket List, we certainly learned a lot along the way, including:

1) Happiness is…minding your own business.

It’s easy to get wrapped up in other people’s problems, especially when those people are your family. It’s natural to want to protect them from hurt and heartbreak and share your “sage advice” about the way out of the bad situation they are in. Don’t do it! We learned very quickly this year that trying to solve other people’s problems doesn’t help. Staying out of it, on the other hand, works perfectly every time. They get to practice independence and resourcefulness and you get to remain stress free.

2) Happiness has very little to do with money.

We cut our household income by nearly $8,000 this year to buy back 416 hours of our time. We never missed a single cent of that income. During the whole year, we never felt like we had less than anyone else. In fact, I always felt that we had more – more time, more freedom, and more options. And though it may sound cliché, the best things in life really are free.

3) Being present is the greatest gift you can give someone…including yourself.

You will never truly know someone if you don’t take the time to listen to them – the good, the bad, and yes, sometimes the completely inane things that they may want to share with you. Trust me, I understand how very easy it is to get distracted, especially when the subject is the latest episode of some obscure reality TV show (like 90 Day Fiancé). But…for me, giving my family members my full attention has made for stronger relationships and a deeper understanding of both them and myself. If we listen attentively to the small stuff in each other’s lives, we build trust in the fact that we’ll also be there to hear the big things.

4) It’s not possible to maintain happiness when your mind and body are scattered in all directions. 

There were times during the year when I needed to be at work but instead we were dealing with a family problem. There were times when we both wanted to be in the garden but instead I was catching up on work or tied up on the phone. The stress of not being where we needed (or wanted) to be when we needed (or wanted) to be there was rough. I wish I could say that we came up with a solution, but this remains a struggle. We try to tackle one thing at a time and say no more often to things that don’t align with our priority. Speaking of which…

5) There’s only one priority.

By definition, a priority is the single most important thing in the group. We can’t have multiple priorities. We can have multiple ideas, multiple things to do, or multiple choices…but only one can be the priority. When we try to make everything a priority, we live our lives as if we are on fire – constantly trying to accomplish some arbitrary something. When we establish our one priority – that one area of our life that brings us the most joy – then we no longer feel scattered and stressed. For some folks, the priority is family. For others, it’s a career. For us, the priority is simplicity. Pursing greater happiness this year served to highlight that for us. We are most happy when we can live each day in the simplest of ways.

A few final thoughts:

Within our happiness project, we tried multiple ways to improve our well-being. We tried eating better. We tried reading more and learning more new things. We tried new hobbies. We tried going places. We tried decluttering (again). Our attention was scattered in a lot of different directions and sometimes it seemed as if we were working on absolutely nothing because of it. I think the project would have been better if we had focused on one aspect of happiness instead. Perhaps our focus should have been improving happiness by saying no more often or reconnecting with one another through 52 weekly dates. With that in mind, our project for 2018 will be much more defined.

Wondering what that project will be? Stay tuned to find out.