Thursday, February 23, 2017

The De-Cluttering, Packing, & Unpacking Rules I Followed For Moving to NYC

As of this month, I no longer live in New Jersey. For the first time in my almost 28 years on this earth, I've moved out of the Garden State. I could get really sappy about this and wax poetic about what that all means, but this isn't the post for that.

This is a post about organizing.

Some key details you'll need to know:

1. I have lived in a studio apartment by myself for the last two and a half years, and like to consider myself minimalish.
2. I moved in with my boyfriend, and all of the stuff that comes with him.
3. New York City apartments are tiny, oddly shaped, notoriously low on closet space, and just quirky in lots of ways. Unless you're a millionaire, which we are not.
4. I enjoy organizing a really weird amount.

So in keeping with those four things, I had to make our new life and living arrangement work. It was hard. And it started looooong before moving day. Add in the fact that I only got to see the place once before moving in, because I live a state away and David had been traveling for work, and it was a cluster of outrageous proportions.

But the deed has been done, and as soon as I can get around to it I will be sharing posts of the new home, if you guys would like to see. But in the meantime, I wanted to share some of the thought processes and techniques that helped me tackle the challenge...
1. Decide what is functional and what is emotional, and sort/toss/store accordingly.
I try to avoid keeping things JUST for memory's sake as best I can, at least things that take up any significant space. I have a photo box of mementos I have no intention of ever tossing—concert tickets, a blanket square, little things like that—and a small collection of things that were once functional, and are now mementos. In this move, I decided I would allow myself one long underbed box of things to keep because it would break my heart to toss them, but that I know are not used in their intended function anymore. Items in that box include old running shoes (my first and second half marathon pair, and my first marathon pair), a few articles of clothing I don't wear but were gifted or made for me, my old ballet shoes, and books I read and wore out as a child. These things don't belong in my wardrobe, shoe rack, or bookcase, where they would take up important functional space.

Some people would advise that all these things be tossed, as they don't serve a practical function in my life anymore. But I think reminders of love and happiness ARE practical and functional in their own way. When I feel like the world is collapsing, looking around at a near-empty apartment won't feed my soul. Seeing, touching, feeling, sensing reminders of all the good things in life will. But I think it's important to not go overboard, and keep only what truly cannot be replaced or reminders that photos and journal entries won't do justice to.

2. The Rule of 20.
I believe I first found this rule via Cait Flanders who mentioned it came from The Minimalists, but I've lost track. The rule is basically this: If it's a "just in case" item that can be replaced for under $20 and in under 20 minutes, and you've been hanging onto it and not using it, it goes. Goodbye, random kitchen tools I don't actually need, or whose job can be done just as well with another tool or device. So long, extra ANYTHING.

3. Think about who you really, TRULY are, and not who you wish you could be.
This is the hardest one for most of us, isn't it? I mean, who among us wouldn't love to read more, cook healthier foods at home, dress like we have our lives together, and start wearing hair pieces (or whatever)? I've kept things in my apartment for YEARS because I thought I could will myself into becoming the person who utilizes them. And even when they're front and center, I find ways to justify letting cobwebs grow over them. If you're holding onto your yoga mat in hopes of one day walking into a studio, purchasing a monthly unlimited package, and becoming a different person in one fell swoop, it isn't going to happen until you decide and commit. That yoga mat has become a victim of the Rule of 20. Get rid of it, or give yourself 30 committed days with a plan to make it happen. If you don't use that mat in 30 days, it's time to toss it consider cycling or rock climbing instead.

4. Bring all organizing tools with, but free them of their previous jobs.
I have spent probably hundreds of dollars in my lifetime on organizing tools: acrylic and plastic drawers of all sizes, cloth bins, racks, shelving, separators, door organizers/hooks, you name it. I used to be a total idiot because I would throw out a bin or whatever when I was done using it (having found a different storage solution or no longer needing the item's contents), only to go ahead and replace it with an almost identical one somewhere down the road. I know this sounds like it contradicts rule #2, but I find these items to be the exception. Since I know these things will always eventually find a purpose, and most of them collapse/fold up to be unobstructive when not in use, I think it's safe to hold onto the things, even if they're being given a time-out. If you're like me, nothing stays where it is for too long as the sorting/rearranging bug takes hold every couple of months.

But there's a tag-along to this rule of non-trashing: When moving places, don't insist on the same organization as you had in your old place. The cloth bin I used to keep t-shirts in was made obsolete by the extra shelving I had in the new place, but that bin went to hold items I used to be able to keep on hooks. Bathrooms and kitchens are, I find, the most common rooms that need an organization system overhaul upon moving, because you just can't assume the layout, depth of cabinets, amount of shelves, and surface area will match from place to place. It almost always doesn't, especially when we're talking about apartments and older constructions. Let go of the perfectly-organized bathroom cabinet you had before and open your heart to new storage systems. (Dramatic? Not to me.)

5. Unpack first. Cull second. Organize last.
As I said, I tossed a TON of stuff in the weeks and months leading up to the move. And again, I go through this process pretty often as it is. There is always something that a little more time reveals you have no legitimate reason to keep. Despite this, the unpacking process should give way to, yes, another declutter. Even after my big pre-move purge, I was absolutely SHOCKED by how many boxes and bags there were left to move and items left to find a place for. And the fact that I couldn't think of everything filling each of those boxes and bags proved that I had too much stuff. I don't want my stuff to own me, cost me more than it has to, or dictate how I arrange and enjoy my home. And I enjoy having a small home. So in everything came, and then back out another 10-20% of it went.

Decluttering is hard. I know. And I know living with less (even though I hardly live with less, as compared to "real" minimalists) isn't for everyone. I happen to be a person who is happier with less stuff, because I'm very affected by my environment. Chaos and lack of order in my physical space gives me that same feeling in my mental and emotional space. So simplifying my belongings is an easy choice, but still not an easy process. In the end, it comes down to what you prefer to prioritize, and how you want to live. These five rules are some of the ways I make the process just a little easier.

Are you a "get rid of all the things" person, or a "one more couldn't hurt" type? If you have any favorite techniques for deciding what you keep and what you toss, I'd love to hear them!

Monday, February 20, 2017

It's been a hell of a week.

Last Monday evening, a cousin on my mom's side excitedly told me that she and her husband are expecting their rainbow baby boy in the fall. Tuesday afternoon as I was spooning leftover chicken into a bowl for lunch, my dad called from New Jersey to tell me his father was dead. Tuesday night, as all the kids and grandkids made their way to what used to be my grandparents' house, fights broke out among family members. Friday, when I returned to New Jersey for the funeral, was a beautiful almost-spring day. During the repast, I received three emails telling me I'm still unemployed—two outright rejections to my application, one rejection that followed an interview. Friday night, more fights broke out and uncomfortable decisions had to be made. Saturday evening, I trekked to New Jersey again, with David, to a dear friend's wedding and celebrated in my friend's joy as she married the love of her life.

It's been a hell of a week.

It's been the kind of week that makes you feel like you'll never catch up. The kind that leaves you with neglected emails and to-do list items, workouts undone, pages and pages unread, but too many episodes of RHONJ watched as distractions were necessary but brain power was in short supply. The kind where you're just waiting for routine to set back in... but when you're still not working and your life is sorely lacking in timetables and boundaries, it's a massive act of willpower that'll get you there. And that, too, is in short supply.

Last week was supposed to be a reset, and it turned out being a week I need a reset from. The constant up and down of emotions last week, the mix of joy and sadness, of loss and love, of receiving comfort and needing to comfort at the same time, made for a bit of an emotional explosion. I'm looking ahead to the coming days that will hopefully bring stability, grounding, and a new normal to my day-to-day.

I don't have much else to say about this. I have a lot of feelings about my grandfather's death, but not the ones you'd expect, and I don't know who reads here so I'll keep them offline. I don't think there's been enough space yet to wrap my head around what I've gained and lost this week, but I haven't written a thing in days and just now felt ready to put words to page. And that's why this place exists, right?

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Recent Reads Vol. 13

How perfectly fitting that this day fall on Valentine's Day, as so many of us found our first true love in books themselves, or within their pages.

I'm going back to last year with some of these, because I was pretty slow-paced on the reading thing up until I got my Kindle Paperwhite this Christmas. I re-read the Harry Potter series on audiobook, and then didn't prioritize book reading for a while, opting for articles and—I confess—Netflix instead.

Along with books one through six of Harry Potter, here's what I've read lately:

The Last Anniversary by Liane Moriarty
I enjoyed the whole read, but I don't think it needed to be quite as long as it did. All the characters were well fleshed-out; even if I didn't enjoy them I got a real sense of them, which I always appreciate in a book. I'll definitely look forward to reading more from this author.

Recommend? – I hear it's not the best one by this author, but for a non-challenging yet interesting read, go for it.

Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney
I'm a fan of this type of book, and this author's contemporaries, and I think you probably have to be in order to enjoy it. New York City of decades ago, replete with sex, drugs, and disaffected young adults. This one had a unique narrative structure that I enjoyed, and if you like reading the likes of my guy Bret Easton Ellis, you'll probably like this.

Recommend? – Not a can't miss, but if you like the genre, I highly recommend.

Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart
This one took me a while to read, but I still enjoyed it. I was trying to read it alongside 2-3 others, and it kept being my last pick at reading time, but each time I picked it up I enjoyed it, if that makes sense. I know I put this on the list after Erin recommended it and told me it's set in NJ, and I'm a sucker for that. In fact, the towns she mentions are the towns I lived in as a baby or have family in now, so even though they're just mentioned by name, I find that kind of thing pretty cool. Everything is always set in NYC or LA or a no-name/made-up place, so it's fun when authors or screenwriters plop their plots down in my stomping grounds. Anyway, I enjoyed the book well enough, and in fact more than I thought I would, and was especially enthralled in the last 25 percent.

Recommend? – You'll be fine if you skip it, but I don't see any reason not to give it a spin.

Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham
I liked this. It was an easy read and most of it flew by on bus trips to and from D.C. I fully admit I picked it up because I'm a fan of Lauren Graham's, but it was pretty much what I thought it would be in terms of readability and I just enjoyed it. Franny is sweet and relatable and there are some really funny lines and moments.

Recommend? – Perfect to save for the beach or a plane, train, or automobile.

Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin
I'll start with the disclaimer that I haven't read Gretchen Rubin's first book, The Happiness Project, and I don't really plan to. It's not that I don't think I could learn something from it; I just feel like I've gotten the gist (I read her website and used to listen to her podcast) and am not particularly interested. Similarly, I skimmed a lot of this book as well, because she basically took a bunch of (really good) ideas that could have been an article each and walked us through her thought process long enough to turn it into a full-length book. I read a lot of this kind of stuff, so for me, it felt a little unnecessary, but I'm sure it's hugely valuable for others, so I don't think it detracted from the book; it just didn't interest me.

Anyway, back to the book. I took notes—lots of them. I had several a-ha! moments. (Turns out, I have been a Questioner trying to will myself to behave like an Upholder all this time.) I found it revealing and really, really helpful. I won't go out and start a massive campaign to just turn my life into a series of habits, but the things I learned about how to approach tasks in a way more suited to my strengths are really valuable.

Recommend? – I totally think there's something to be gained from reading this one, for everybody!

Linking up with Steph and Jana. What are you reading?

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Thursday Thoughts Vol. 5

1. First and foremost, I need to share this image. Myra posted it on Instagram yesterday and I was all fist-pumps and YAS KWEEN the moment I read it. I'm so tired of hearing these insulting, off-base, ridiculous claims made of people who care about others: "lib-tards," bleeding hearts, piss and vinegar, yadda yadda yadda. I don't care about humanity because I have a special snowflake complex. I'm not out of touch with reality because I know that an educated, healthy population is what's right, and what's good for a society. Treating people with kindness, recognizing those who struggle, and aiming to lift ALL members of a society to their fullest potential does not make us weak. And I'm honestly fearful of those who are only in this life for themselves. Who can only feel successful, strong, empowered when they are holding someone else down. If the Women's March showed us anything, it's that together we are stronger.

2. Tangentially related, I just finished a book and when combing through my Goodreads for my next pick, I realized woefully few black authors in my lists. I want to blame part of it on my inability to read much of anything lately, and my feeling drawn to lighter reads that have been recommended to death by the internet and friends. I read more articles than books these days and on certain topics I do seek out black and minority writers specifically, but I know how different a novel is from an article, and if my years-long study of literature taught me anything, it's the power of fiction and that literature doesn't exist in a vacuum. I took a few classes in college that had me reading exclusively or mostly black or other minority authors, but I haven't done enough on my own to continue that since. I've placed a few holds at my library for novels by black authors and am hoping to make my next fiction read one that adds some much-needed diversity to my virtual bookshelf. In the meantime, what are your favorite books by authors of color? Recommendations, please.

3. One of my first items of business after moving to the city (I'm from North Jersey. New York is and always has been referred to as "the city." By pretty much all of us. Apparently there is only one city as far as we're concerned.) was scouting out a new place to get my stretch on. I've been practicing at a cool yoga studio in Harlem for the past two weeks and sampling teachers. For my daily practice, I tend to gravitate toward vinyasa flow, the type of yoga that I teach and have mostly practiced, that focuses on building strength and flexibility while incorporating other limbs of yoga. This studio offers flow, core, and alignment classes, but I've just been craving that sweet, flowing movement of vinyasa so I've been sticking to my preferences there. So far I'm really enjoying the studio, but there are so many more I'm dying to try. Checking out a hot (as in, temperature) studio downtown today and I have more on the list for next week! A girl's gotta have options, right? 

4. Tuesday it was gloomy, rainy, windy, and really cold. Wednesday, it felt like a spring day with a high of 60 and brilliant, bright sun. And then a blizzard. This weather is giving me serious mood swings and I haven't felt fully "healthy" in weeks. Is there any REAL correlation between weather and sickness, especially the flip-flopping of weather? People always reference bizarre weather and getting sick but I wonder if it's more attached to mood than anything else.

5. The only thing I feel able to say about the confirmation of Betsy DeVos as education secretary is that it is an utter disgrace, and the senators who voted in favor of her should be ashamed of themselves and do not deserve their seats. 

6. One more on politics: Elizabeth Warren is bae. She has been banging that drum for years, and she is one of the most authentic and important political voices of this era. As opposed as I am to having children of my own any time soon, I hope little girls (and boys—and you know what? Grown women and men too) all over the world are watching and listening to her. "Nevertheless, she persisted."

6a. An idea from my friend Marian:

7. Back to la la land. Because of a crazy, back-and-forth move-in weekend and a long-planned trip taking up my and David's last two weekends, this Saturday and Sunday will be David's first WHOLE WEEKEND HOME in our place. I feel like we haven't spent a weekend together in ages, between work travel and things keeping us in our previous respective cities. I could be aspirational and say we'll spend Saturday brunching at any of the many places within blocks of us, but if I'm honest, we'll probably have coffee in bed and not put shoes on until midday at least. And iiiiiiiiiiiiii can't wait.

8. Did anyone watch Reba when it was on the CW? I don't know if I ever watched its original airing but I definitely saw a lot of it in repeats and something about it just tugs on my heartstrings. Hulu to the rescue; that's all I've been watching this week. It's been a nice break from reality during a time where all I want to do some days is bury my head in the sand. I never realized how many boldly feminist messages that show delivered back then! 

9. I've joined the 21st century and placed my first order for grocery delivery. As someone who hates grocery shopping, and whose best option for real grocery shopping (not the sweep through Duane Reade that some New Yorkers think is an acceptable way to food shop) is the Fairway (👏) a few minutes' walk down (and more importantly, back UP with grocery bags) a big-ass hill (😡), this is a god send. But I have a serious question: how are you supposed to order produce this way? Look, I don't know how many pounds of onions and peppers I need. I need three big green bell peppers and two medium yellow onions. I know they price it by pound, but does anyone actually buy it by weight? Am I the only weird one who doesn't know this? So here was my solution: I put all the big/heavy/packaged stuff in the delivery order, and am just going to go to Fairway tomorrow to hit the produce section. Obviously.

And I think that's gonna take us to the weekend. These days it seems all I can manage are once-a-week posts, but what can ya do. I'm still settling in, catching up, and finding my groove, so thanks for bearing with me. Have a great weekend!

Linking up with Joey.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Conversations Over Coffee

Over the weekend, I moved to a new apartment. I moved to a new state, in fact, and into my first co-habitating relationship. David and I found a place in the Morningside Heights neighborhood of New York City, and now we call it home. The first priority after the metaphorical dust had settled was clearing a space on the counter for the coffee pot so we could be sure to have a fresh brew the next day. Coffee is important to me.

I'm a bit isolated this week as I spend most of my time at home, digging out the mess and creating a cozy, comfy, functional home for us both. (This is one of those times that not working in an office is very much a blessing.) Since our friends and family aren't exactly across the street from our new place (though our proximity to the subway, thankfully, brings us much closer than we could appear), I hoped you guys would join me for a coffee date today. When you can't have the face-to-face, the blog version is the next best thing.

If we were sitting down to coffee, I'd first ask you to tell me your news—I can talk about myself and what's going on, uninterrupted, for...too long. I'm working on it, but I do get wrapped up in sharing all the little details before I come up for air. So before I get going, tell me—what's new in your life?

If you insist, okay. So...we moved in together! And I moved out of New Jersey! I have never lived anywhere but the New Jersey suburbs, and at face value, moving to New York City is a massive change. I'm happy that we picked the neighborhood we did though (especially as opposed to the very busy, very loud, very traffic-y Midtown West neighborhood David used to live in) because I feel like it eases the transition. We are steps from Riverside Park, which isn't quite the green expanse that Central Park is, but it still has grass, views, and a bit of separation from the city streets. And the neighborhood itself is much quieter than Midtown and, in my humble opinion, so much prettier.
After I said goodbye to my yogis last week, with my final class on Sunday—as in, the day AFTER we moved all of my belongings out of New Jersey; thank goodness for the generosity (and futons) of friends—I took my first commute home. Leaving the studio I practiced in, learned so much in, became a certified teacher in, and taught my first and most classes in is the hardest part. I'm grateful to be a founding member of Iris Studios and maintain that connection to my home yoga community, as many IS clients are also members of my (now-former) studio. But rest assured, I am on the hunt for a new place to teach and practice; I'm visiting a new studio tonight for the first time and can't wait.

If we were sitting down to coffee, we'd probably talk about the idea of house to home. I'd tell you that unpacking was...a big job. I got the kitchen and bathroom done done first thing on Sunday, and the rest just fell into place over the next day or two, luckily. Tuesday I learned that not all heroes wear capes—some wear the USPS uniform, and others wear UPS attire. We made a massive Amazon order Sunday night and got all our goodies—including a new vacuum, a crock pot, new dishes, a tub mat, a step ladder, and some cleaning supplies—on Tuesday. You would have thought there were boxes full of calorie-free chocolate strawberries being delivered to my door, so ridiculous was my excitement level.

I'd add that I haven't had nail polish on in weeks, as I knew my nails and hands would be a disaster what with all the packing, moving, and unpacking. I'm going running soon, and afterward I can't wait to treat myself to a self-mani, one of my favorite small gestures of self care.

After another sip of coffee, I'd mention how much I love our giant, south-facing window that fills the bedroom with light in the mornings. Our first wake-up together here was Monday, and it was the best Monday morning I have had in ages. It'll take us some time to perfect our routine, but we're off to a pretty great start.

I've started exploring the neighborhood more now—on foot this time, as opposed to on Google Maps as I'd been doing for the past three pre-move weeks. It's not quite the bustle that Midtown is up here, but we have everything we need within blocks—including a sushi restaurant across the street; ramen, pizza, Indian, Italian, a biergarten, and coffee shops around the corner; a Starbucks 10 feet away, and a Fairway just a 5-minute walk. My first run through Riverside Park and the Upper West Side was Tuesday, during a gentle snowfall, and it felt like absolute magic. It felt like home.

If we were sitting down for coffee, I imagine you'd ask me how it all feels. I'd tell you that it just feels right. I expected to be a bit of a nutcase when leaving my old apartment for the last time. I was there for two and a half years, and it was the first place I ever lived alone, without roommates. But I wasn't sad to go. I felt grateful for the chapter of my life that occurred there, but so ready to turn the page. And moving out of NJ and into a new place didn't, doesn't feel scary. Moving in with David didn't, doesn't feel scary. It just feels like...this is where we live now. This is home. This is where I'm supposed to be. (Though, I will admit, we did have a few sappy moments of just repeating to each other, stars in our eyes, "This is where we live now. We live together.")
I'm guessing you, like most other people, will ask me about work. How my job search is going. What ever happened with that one place? I'd tell you—and try to convey with my eyes that I'm okay—that I didn't get a job I interviewed for a few weeks ago and really, really wanted, knew I could do well. But it's fine, I'd assure you. I've got some freelance stuff ongoing, and I'm starting to take a new approach. I'm starting to realize something: "If it doesn't open, it's not your door." I'm starting to shift priorities and I'm ready to try knocking on a different door, and I'd tell you that coming to this realization has been one of the most liberating, calming, and yet energizing events of the last year.

And, truthfully, if we were sitting down to coffee, I doubt we'd be able to get up from the table without me slipping into a discussion of everything that has happened to America since January 20. I'd try to keep our conversation light, though, because sometimes you just need to withdraw from the oppressive news of the day and enjoy a light-hearted catch-up with friends. But I would assure you that I'm staying active, aggressive, educated, and informed, and I would hope that you are too. I would encourage you to sign up for emails about 10 actions in 100 days, The Skimm if you don't already subscribe, and share some of my favorite places to donate—like Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, the NRDC, and GLSEN. I would tell you that I'll be first in line to sign a Muslim registry if it comes to that, and that I'm researching ways to get involved in registering voters and raising awareness about mid-term elections. (Especially if you're one of my friends from home, because New Jersey is voting on a lot of people in 2017, including governor and assembly.) I'd ask how you feel about what's going on in Washington, and create a space for us to talk openly, ask each other questions, and share concerns.

I'd want us to leave from our coffee date on a cheerful note, so I'd ask you what's happening in your life in the next couple weeks. When it's my turn, I'd tell you I'm looking forward to a running a partner yoga workshop in February, watching my dear friend marry the love of her life, and settling deeper into life as a new New Yorker.

Linking up with Kristen
Linking up with Joey