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.

What if I Don’t Want More Money?

I was at the end of a very hectic week when the head of the non-profit where I work called. She wanted to ask for my help on a tech project – something I gave up doing a few years back. She opened the conversation with a simple and often used lead-in: “I don’t know what your life looks like right now, but…”.

She didn’t wait for a response, but if she had, I might have said something like this: On Monday, my niece gave birth to a high-risk baby who is awaiting heart-surgery in the NICU at Vanderbilt. While she was in the hospital for four days, we kept our 3-year old great-niece. We took her home – which is a 3-hour round-trip drive – on Wednesday night, only to have my mom text with a 9-1-1 emergency while we were still half an hour away. We rushed to my mom’s house and rushed her to the ER, where I spent the next 5 hours (until 2 AM) watching her get poked and prodded as they worked to bring her out of hypertensive crisis. The next day was a blur of picking up prescriptions and checking on various people and Friday was spent at the doctor’s office with my mom. Like I said, a very hectic week…or was it?

Having had some time since then to reflect, I don’t know if it was actually hectic or typical for my life these days. In any given week, I may have to take my mom to the doctor 1-2 times, pick up groceries and prescriptions 2-3 times, and work on some project that some one else deems “the most important thing” of the week, like painting Mom’s laundry room door. Betwixt this, I also manage to work 32 hours, make dinner when it’s my turn, read books, write posts for this blog, and spend quality time with Angie, doing the things that make us who we are. I think this is the nature of life when you have older parents and you are the sole caregiver. Yes, it is frustrating sometimes and yes, it’s hard to balance all the spinning plates, but then there are those moments, when you are faced with new options, that you realize, you’d choose this same life again. Every. Single. Time.

But, for as much as I would choose family over work…I haven’t yet figured out a way to say no when I’m asked for help. It’s in my nature to be helpful. I feel guilty when someone asks me for help and I don’t oblige, even when doing so goes against what I want to do. And like a lot of people I feel afraid; afraid that I’ll be fired, and the next job might not be a good one. Sure, there’s a part of me that knows that’s not true but nevertheless, the thought is there. So, I agree, and then I get angry. Angry at myself for not being able to say no. Angry at myself for trading my most valuable asset – time – for something I have zero interest in. Tech projects don’t excite me. The prospect of working more hours doesn’t excite me. Money doesn’t even excite me. The things I love to do are usually free (or super cheap) so mostly, I just want enough money to pay the bills. Employers don’t want to hear that. And even if they did, I don’t know how to even begin to tell them.

For as good as I am at expressing my ideas in writing, I completely suck at speaking my own truth. I recently tried to talk to my mom about my feelings about work and money and it totally backfired. Here’s a person that I’ve talked to for 40+ years about everything from Jesus to jelly beans and I couldn’t make my words make sense. The conversation ended with her nearly spitting at me as she yelled, “well I don’t know how you expect to live without money when you love to go on all those expensive vacations!” It was as if my disdain for money was an affront to everything she believed in. As if saying that I didn’t want to work my life away meant that her choice to have a career was wrong. We are all different. Why is this so hard for folks to grasp?

Side note: the most expensive vacation we took this year was to Florida, where we spent a week just steps from the water…in a campground. Transportation, food, lodging, entertainment and a new pair of flip flops cost a whopping $263. But I digress…

I don’t want to carry around society’s fears or my own family’s fears about money – that there’s never enough and you have to work yourself to death to provide. I believe less money doesn’t equate to all the bad things people imagine. I believe less money actually means more freedom. If we choose a life where money is not our primary consideration, it becomes easier to say no to excess, to consumerism, to stuff, to unrealistic expectations, to the American Dream Delusion, and most importantly, to tech project and other jobs we just don’t want to do.

Most people who subscribe to minimalism, choose to live with less in order to have more money; money to do more of the things they love, to pay off debt, or retire early. I’ve been hard-pressed to find examples of folks living with less simply to have less money. I think I want to be one of those people. Or maybe I don’t. All I know right now is that seeing lives lived for the sole purpose of earning money makes me question the meaning of our existence.

Can we ever learn to peacefully coexist with money? What does living within one’s means actually mean anyway? I’d love to hear your thoughts on work and money; and stay tuned for future posts about this subject as we spend some time in the coming months figuring out our own relationship with the two.