NYR 1904: “Learn A New Language.” Part 1 – Mi Dispiace…

“Mi dispiace…Non posso pagare,” I said to the gray-haired gentleman standing in front of me.

“Perche no?” he asked.

Good question. But first, let’s rewind a little bit.

It was a beautiful afternoon in Rome. My wife and I had just finished touring the Colosseum, and on our way back to the hotel we noticed a quiet little restaurant called Ristorante Mario’s. We were both hungry, and I’ve always had a penchant for the plumber of the same name. We decided to stop, have a late lunch, and split a bottle of wine.

I don’t actually have a picture from that day, but here’s a snapshot of the restaurant from Google Maps:

Marios

Google Maps is amazing, by the way.

We sat down at the table on the far right of the picture, her back to the street. The wine came out immediately; after a few minutes sipping and chatting about the places we’d been and the pictures we’d taken, my wife reached underneath her chair to retrieve the phone from her bag.

And her bag was gone.

We snapped into panic mode, frantically searching in places that made progressively less sense. I checked under my chair, then under our table, then under the other tables, then behind the plants next to our table… I could feel people starting to stare.

When I finally came to grips with the idea that we’d been robbed, I ran out into the street, glaring up and down the Piazza Del Grillo at the dozens of people walking by. Even now I’m not sure what the plan was if I actually saw somebody holding my wife’s bag. It was just something to do, in a moment where I felt frustrated and completely powerless.

Our waitress came back out with our plates. All I could think to say was “no no no” as she started to place them on the table. She gave me a confused look, set the plates down and went back inside.

The gray-haired man came out soon after. I gathered that he was the manager, or perhaps the owner. I said,

Mi dispiace… non posso pagare.”

I was apologizing, and explaining that we couldn’t pay for anything (including the wine we’d already started on).

When he asked why, I gestured toward my wife.

Mia moglie… la sua borsa e stato rubato.

His eyes softened, and his tone changed from annoyance to concern. As he spoke, I picked up “Dov’era” and responded,

“Sotto la sedia.

He nodded, then began speaking very quickly, gesturing toward the street, then toward our seats. He asked us to sit down and finish our meal, on the house. And I think he also suggested that the thieves were probably French, not Italian.

“No, grazie,” I replied.

After all, my wife’s bag had contained a lot more than just her phone. At this point, it was looking like the rest of our short time in Rome was going to be spent in a hotel business center, making calls, cancelling credit cards and wiping away tears.

Thankfully it didn’t take as long as I thought. Within an hour we were back at the hotel and had cancelled all of her credit cards over the phone. The silver lining was that we didn’t lose her passport, thanks to these little guys:

But the worst part wasn’t the cards or the bag or the cash that we lost. It was the phone. Because with it, we lost every picture she’d taken on the trip so far.

After a (completely understandable) period of moping around and feeling sorry for ourselves, we came up with a plan. We were going to:

  1. Buy a cheap bottle of wine,
  2. Take it to the roof of our hotel, and
  3. Finish it while we came up with a new plan.

The new plan turned out to be even better than the first one.

It was dusk, and at that moment we vowed to revisit every site we’d been to that day, taking a new picture together at each one. I opened my own Instagram account, and made my first post:

(Russell Crowe and I have lost touch since then)

We stumbled through dark cobblestone streets, recreating old memories and making new ones. We worked up an appetite, and at that point we both knew there was only one place to go: back to Ristorante Mario’s. 

As we approached the restaurant we noticed a long line of people waiting outside. A little dismayed, we started discussing other options. Just then, the same waitress who served us before came out and immediately recognized us. Delighted (and a little surprised) by our return, she ushered us toward the exact same table we sat at the first time, where we proceeded to have the best meal I’ve ever had in my life.

Not just because we were there for almost three hours, or because we ate all the food and drank all the wine and I ordered a cappuccino at the end and the waitress rolled her eyes because apparently that’s frowned upon in Italy.

It’s the best meal I’ve ever had because of what it stood for. We had bounced back. We took a crisis that easily could have been the worst memory of our trip to Italy, and turned it into one of the best.

And to cap it all off, when we got back to the hotel and started to upload the pictures I took, we noticed something amazing: through some miracle of science involving iPhones and Google and Clouds, almost all of Liz’s photos had been uploaded! To this day I have no idea how this happened.

And I’d spoken Italian!!!

I’d been studying for the better part of a year in preparation for our trip, and this was just one of many times when I’d been able to speak, clearly and correctly, in the native tongue of a foreign country.

This is something I’ve always wanted to do, and so I wasn’t surprised to find it was near the top of many people’s lists for New Years Resolutions.

In this series, I will be going over my various approaches to language learning over the years, as well as the new language I’m studying in 2019.

Next week I’ll talk about the lessons I learned during the rocky start of my language journey: highschool Latin class.

See you then!

NYR 1903: “Drink Less.” Part 4 – Closing Thoughts.

It’s late March, and so far I’ve had 107.8 drinks in 2019. Here’s a snapshot of the last 30 days:

Not bad. I’m on pace to hit my goal; most days I’m not drinking at all, and on the days that I do I’m keeping it within a reasonable range.

Which is great… but don’t get too excited. Warm weather is (hopefully) just around the corner, and that means pool parties, cookouts, golf, weddings and bachelor parties. If you look at last year’s data, over 60% of my drinking was in late spring/early summer. So I’m cautiously optimistic about my numbers.

To wrap up this series, my original plan was to write about what I’ve been drinking lately. I was going to break it down into three categories (beer, wine and liquor) and talk about easy ways to reduce intake, mostly by opting for drinks with more volume and lower ABV, like this:

And fewer drinks that are low volume and high ABV, like this:

I even had a joke lined up about martinis in particular, involving Mrs. Shellhammer from Miracle on 34th Street inviting Santa Clause to stay at her house indefinitely after drinking just one of them.

I figured a final post on drinking strategies and tactics would be fun to read about and fun to write about, and a light way to end a series on a heavy subject.

But it felt like a missed opportunity, and a little dishonest.

And honesty is really all I have to offer you guys, because I don’t have any solutions at this point. Most of the Personal Development content out there appears to be written by people who already have their problems figured out, and they have a plan in place to help you get there, too. This isn’t meant to be a jab at those writers – I genuinely believe that there are solutions to the struggles we face as we try to better ourselves – I just haven’t found mine yet.

Instead, I had the genius idea of starting this blog prior to solving anything. And so you get to watch me stumble through the beginning of the journey, hitting plenty of road blocks along the way. If I’m not honest about those, what happens if you encounter them, too?

If anyone out there is trying to cut back and having trouble, I don’t want them to read a bunch of tips and tricks and wonder why it’s not working for them. The truth behind my cutting back is a lot more simple, and a lot more difficult. Here it is:

The reason I’ve been able to cut back is because I’m taking it seriously.

Shifting my attitude towards drinking has been the biggest factor in my success so far. How did that shift happen? Four main things:

1. I started tracking my consumption.

By using the DrinkControl app to monitor my progress, I’ve kept my overall consumption at the front of my mind. This has allowed me to be more choosy when deciding when to drink, and given me a better idea of what drinking moderately means to me when I choose to do so.

2. I read a book.

This Naked Mind, by Annie Grace. This book breaks down the various reasons why we drink, and picks them apart one by one. I probably agree with about 80% of the content (the author takes the position that there are zero benefits to drinking whatsoever – I’m not there yet), but just reading the book reduced my urge to drink in a lot of situations, and as a result my consumption took a huge dip right after reading.

3. I changed my lifestyle.

Or I guess you could say my lifestyle changed me. The biggest thing: having kids.

Practically speaking, having a Mimosa or a Bloody Mary with brunch used to be a very enjoyable pastime… before I had kids. Because here’s the deal: for me, day-drinking was almost always accompanied by a crucial element: the afternoon nap. And at this stage in my life, the afternoon nap isn’t always in the cards.

More importantly, the idea of being too hungover to play with my kids makes me really, really sad. That happened a few times in 2018, and a few is way too much. I don’t want to miss out on this amazing stage in my life as a parent, and I also need to be aware of the example I’m setting.

The other big lifestyle change has been working out more. An upcoming workout can be a great deterrent against unnecessary drinks (not to mention a useful excuse in social situations).

4. I got others involved

External expectations are a huge motivator for me, and writing about this has helped to clarify my thoughts on a complicated issue. Once I got over the hump of telling people about my goals, things got much easier. I’ve gotten a lot of feedback and support from readers, which has helped me to stay on track. Like I said in a previous post, you don’t have to start a blog and publish everything you’re drinking online; but if you do decide to be more transparent about this subject, you may be surprised.

And on that note, I wanted to mention one last thing I’ve been doing with DrinkControl.

One of the app’s premium features allows you to create your own customized drinks for recording purposes. If you have a particular cocktail or alcohol brand that you drink regularly, you can save that template for easier recording in the future. It’s also useful for tracking purposes, if you’re interested in knowing how much of a certain drink you’re having. What I’ve recently done is created a new drink within the app, called simply “A.”

And the “A” stands for “alone.”

I decided that every time I drink by myself, I’ll record it as an “A.” I figured it would be useful to know how often this happens, and get an idea of what percentage of my total drinking is done by myself, with no social benefit whatsoever.

And I haven’t drank alone since.

Thank you for reading, and for the support and encouragement.  I’ve enjoyed writing this series, but I admit I’m looking forward to moving on to something a little lighter in April. See you then!

NYR 1903: “Drink Less.” Part 3: To Drink, Or Not To 🍹

When I reviewed last year’s data, I noticed that, day-to-day, I drank far more often than not.

I started to go through the numbers and compare it to my calendar, trying to remember what, exactly, I was doing at the time I was having all those drinks. And I realized something: it turns out, almost any event can be considered a “drinking occasion.” Here are just a few I came up with:

  • It’s a holiday
  • A friend is in town
  • Somebody was born
  • Somebody died
  • Somebody got engaged
  • Somebody got married
  • I’m about to give a toast
  • I’m giving a toast
  • I just gave a toast
  • A sporting event is on
  • I’m playing video games
  • My favorite show is on
  • My wife’s favorite show is on
  • I had a great day at work
  • I had  terrible day at work
  • I had a normal day at work, but one of my friends had a great/terrible day
  • I’m on vacation

As an adult, it’s basically acceptable to drink at any time other than work (and even that depends on your industry, I guess). So if you want to cut back, it pays to be choosy when deciding when you want to partake.

This week I want to go over my current approach to these scenarios. Rather than go through each one, I’m going to talk about three broad categories, based on intention: Drinking To Be Social, Drinking To Enjoy Something More, and Drinking To Unwind. I’ve found that most of the scenarios I mentioned earlier fall into one of these three.

Drinking To Be Social

Idea: Most, if not all, of my friends drink. If I were to cut back, it would be at the expense of my social life and my friendships.

My Thoughts: Have you ever heard the phrase, “You are the average of the five people you hang out with the most?” The idea is that our personalities are a function of who we associate with, and so if you want to develop different habits, you should look around, see what your friends are doing, and consider making a change.

So, if most of my friends drink and I want to cut back, does that mean I need to drop all of the drinkers and get new friends?

No. Because my friends aren’t “drinkers.” They’re people.

And there’s more to them than just drinking. So rather than throw away a relationship that I may have spent years cultivating (and potentially hurting another person in the process), my approach has been to simply be transparent about my goals.

I’m not saying you have to start a blog and publish a record of every drink you’ve ever had. But simply saying “no thanks, I’m trying to cut back,” should do the trick. And in some cases I’ve had friends tell me that they’re considering cutting back themselves; they just haven’t said anything because they were worried about how I was going to react.

Of course, people can react negatively. If drinking has been a cornerstone of your friendship from the beginning, an adjustment period is to be expected. But if, after a reasonable amount of time, they can’t seem to tolerate your new choices… that is a tough situation. I haven’t personally encountered that scenario, but if you do then maybe it is time to move on.

But talk to them first; don’t confuse having one-dimensional friendships with having one-dimensional friends.

Drinking To Enjoy Something More

Idea: “You know what would make this concert/movie/show/board game/sporting event/presidential debate even better? Drinks.” Basically, any activity that you would otherwise enjoy on its own would be more enjoyable if you drink alcohol while participating.

My Thoughts:

Does it make sense to drink while watching a TV show? I think it depends. Let’s look at two scenarios:

Exhibit A: As I’m drafting this post, I’m huddled in my bedroom listening to the baby monitor while my wife is hosting several of her friends for, wait for it, a Book Club/Baby Shower/Wait The Baby Was Just Born So I Guess This Is a Sip n’ See But Without The Mom Or The Baby/The Bachelor Finale Party (long story).

Anyways, they’re watching The Bachelor and talking and having fun, and yes drinking wine. Here, I think it’s pretty easy to argue that drinking adds value because of the social component.

I’m not going to weigh in on whether the Bachelor is a “good” show or a “bad” show, but I think fans and critics alike would agree that it is a ridiculous show. And so when it comes to the fun of having friends over, watching the show and seeing how everyone reacts while going through this outrageous journey together, I get it. And I can see how drinking fits nicely into the picture.

Exhibit B: Liz and I used to watch Mad Men together. Quick tangent: along with Breaking Bad, Mad Men is one of those shows that has me convinced that we are living in a golden age of television. There are so many incredible shows on right now, and there’s more quality content out there than anyone can reasonably handle. And so when I’m watching a show like Mad Men, I try to appreciate it like I would any other form of art, giving it my silent and undivided attention.

Over time, I developed the habit of drinking while watching Mad Men.

My drink of choice typically aligned pretty closely with what Don Draper was drinking on the show. Usually something “big and brown,” like a scotch or bourbon on the rocks. The idea was simple: Mad Men was a boozy show, and drinking allowed me to immerse myself further into the experience.

I’ve decided that this is a waste, and drinking for the sole purpose of appreciating a show more (or any form of entertainment) doesn’t make much sense. I may have felt like I was enjoying it more, but really my drinking was detracting from the experience. So I try not to do this anymore, saving my drinks for social occasions.

Drinking To Unwind

Scenario: You’ve had a hard day at work and you’re stressed. You finally got the kids down and you want to feel like an adult again. You just need a break, alcohol will help with that, and you deserve it.

My Thoughts: Out of all the reasons to drink, I find this one to be the most difficult to defend. For me, drinking as a reaction to life’s challenges and problems is a recipe for disaster.

Because drinking isn’t magically going to make those problems go away. In fact, it usually makes them worse by postponing them or hindering your ability to think critically and work through them. So when I have the urge to drink for this reason, I try to internalize the idea that my mind is simply playing a trick on me, and I redirect toward something more innocuous (La Croix) or positive (working out).

Having said that, I think there’s a case to be made for having a drink in the evening as a means of transitioning from work to leisure at the end of the day. Many of us employ similar rituals in the evening (taking a bath, going for a run, making tea) and I don’t see a problem with having a drink in the evening for this purpose. Ultimately it comes down to being honest about what my intention is (which isn’t always easy to do).

To summarize: a big part my approach to cutting back over the past year has been limiting my drinking to those occasions where I felt that there was a significant social benefit. I dropped my overall intake by 20-30%, and looking back on it I don’t think I missed out on very much.

Now that we’ve talked strategy on when to drink, in next week’s post I’ll talk about my approach to deciding what to drink. See you then!

NYR 1903: “Drink Less.” Part 2 – Drink Tracking Q&A.

Years, lovers and glasses of wine; these things must not be counted.  – Anthony Capella

In last week’s post, I wrote about how my goal was to have fewer than 700 drinks in 2018, and I ended up drinking 692.6. This year, my New Years Resolution is to have fewer than 500 drinks in 2019. Click here if you’d like to see a spreadsheet which details every single drink I’ve consumed since October of 2017. I’m sure you have questions.

Where did these numbers come from?

I input these manually, using an app called DrinkControl. The app is free, but if you decide to pay for the premium version (as I did) you get the added feature of being able to export your data as a .csv file, which I then uploaded and published with Google Sheets.

Can’t I just keep a tally, rather than using a complicated app?

The app is very user-friendly and not too complicated. But yes, you can certainly keep a tally on your own, and simply record the number of drinks you consume in a given night. I experimented with this approach a few years back, but a big question kept coming up: What, exactly, counts as a drink? 

If I take a sip of my wife’s wine at a birthday party, is that the same thing as ordering a giant 25.4 oz Foster’s Oil Can to go with my Bloomin’ Onion at Outback Steakhouse? This illustrates an important point: if you’re serious about drinking less, you shouldn’t focus on the number of drinks you buy, but rather the amount of alcohol you’re consuming.

And this is where DrinkControl earns its keep. The app calculates your number of “drinks” by taking the number of ounces you consumed multiplied by the alcohol by volume (ABV), and applying a U.S. standard where one drink = 14 grams of pure alcohol.

That sounds like a lot of work… aren’t we splitting hairs here?

Absolutely not. Hands down, the most eye-opening part of this recording process has been the importance of monitoring ABV, and with beer especially.

For example: let’s say that (hypothetically) I drank a lot of beer in college while watching football. I’d sit down with my friends and easily drink six beers in a 3-4 hour stretch. At the end of the game I’d feel buzzed for sure, and certainly be in no condition to operate heavy machinery. But the rest of the day would be pretty manageable, especially considering my responsibilities at the time were fairly minimal.

Fast-forward: now I’m an adult in the real world, and I decide to meet my friends to watch a game at a local brewery across the street. It’s half-time, I’ve had three beers and when I stand up to go to the bathroom…

Whoa.”

I’m actually pretty tipsy. What happened?

Well, in college I was drinking 12 oz cans of Busch Light (which, let’s be honest, I still drink today). Now I’m drinking these:

Juicy Jay’s, the flagship IPA at Legion Brewing. These are delicious, and come in at a formidable 6.3% ABV. And Legion isn’t serving 12 ounce bottles; they’re serving pints. You want to know how many cans of Busch Light I’d need to drink to equal three Juicy Jays? Almost seven. Lovely. And so the football game ends and the Panthers lose and I stumble home, right about the time the girls are waking up from their naps… fantastic. Did I mention I have work tomorrow? ABV is important, and I’ve found that using the app keeps you honest about it.

What if I don’t know ABV?

Most of the time it’s on the bottle, if not you can usually Google it. If you’re still not sure, here’s what I usually go with: Beer=5%, Wine=14%, Liquor=40%.

What about keg stands?

Well, first of all we may want to consider phasing out keg stands in 2019. That being said, you may encounter circumstances where it’s hard to tell exactly how much you’re drinking.

Punch is a good example. In this case just do your best: if it’s a wine-based punch like a Sangria, then just treat it like wine. If it’s a punch made with liquor or Everclear, then treat each drink as a double and just make sure you’re not wearing your Fraternity/Sorority Letter Shirt because you know you’re not supposed to be drinking in your Letters.

Won’t This Take All The Fun Out Of My Drinking?

Maybe. I honestly have no idea.

This is the most common, and perhaps most important, question I’ve received on this topic. And unfortunately I don’t have a good answer for you.

Because everyone is different; for some, tracking consumption sounds like a tedious exercise at best, and at worst an onerous chore that runs completely counter to the purpose of drinking in the first place. Not only that, but there’s also the concern of what other people will think of you if they know you’re doing this. Why are you counting your drinks? Do you have a problem?

I’m not going to tell you “you shouldn’t care what other people think,” because I’m sure most people (like me) already know this and yet still struggle with it. If you do feel like you’re overly concerned with the opinions of others, consider reading this post on why you should stop caring what other people think. For what it’s worth, I’ve been recording my drinks for well over a year now, and I don’t think anyone even knew I was doing it.

And for me at least, I don’t feel that it’s taken away from the fun at all. It’s kind of like the dichotomy we talked about in my last post on getting organized. Just as I don’t believe having a clean house comes at the expense of having fun, I don’t believe having a disciplined approach to monitoring alcohol consumption takes away from the experience of drinking with friends.

So if you’re interested, give it a try! I’d love to hear about your experiences and perspective.

In next week’s post, we’ll talk about specific strategies for reducing your overall intake without succumbing to FOMO. See you then!

NYR 1903: “Drink Less.” Part 1: 2018 In Review.

I’m not really sure how to write about this, or if I should even be writing about it at all. Well, here it goes.

When I first started outlining the blog, I shared a few of my early ideas with friends and family. Feedback was generally positive: everyone seemed to like the idea of tackling common goals in a public forum, and when it came to things like “Work Out” and “Get Organized,” I was usually met with enthusiastic questions and suggestions. But when I mentioned that my March series would be “Drink Less,” the responses I received were… mixed.

Many were excited: “Nice! I’ve been meaning to cut back myself.”

Some were concerned: “So… how are things going at home?”

And a few seemed almost angry: “Why would you want to drink less? That sounds terrible.”

I’ve already written (and discarded) several drafts for this introduction. In every case, I was trying to keep all of my readers happy; I wanted to write in a way that resonated with Reader A without offending Reader B, a way that Reader C wouldn’t think was too preachy, and that wouldn’t make Reader D feel like they were being targeted. This timid approach to writing resulted in plain vanilla commentary at best, and at worst a blank page accompanied by the temptation to just skip this subject entirely and move on to something easier.

Why is it so hard to write about this? Perhaps a better question: why is it so hard to talk about this?

Over the past two months, I’ve written articles on Working Out and Getting Organized, and I’ve tried to distill these somewhat abstract concepts into more specific, measurable approaches. However, when it comes to drinking I can only think of three broad ways to approach the issue, and each can result in a lot of backlash:

I’m just going to quit drinking. “Wait seriously? You’ve got a good job, family, social life… at least I thought you did. I’m sorry did something happen that I don’t know about? Haven’t you heard of the 2010 study proving that people who drink in moderation actually live longer?  What’s your problem with alcohol, anyway? It’s literally been a part of the human condition for 10,000 years. And take a look at the the countries that don’t allow alcohol – they’re not exactly utopias.”

Fine. I’m going to drink, and simply not concern myself with the consequences. “Well that’s a terrible idea. Did you actually read the fine print on that 2010 study? The study compared moderate drinkers to ‘abstainers’ who ‘were significantly more likely to have had prior drinking problems, to be obese and to smoke cigarettes than were moderate drinkers.’ So at best, the jury is still out on the ‘health benefits’ of moderate drinking. Don’t make me give you the run-down of the scientifically proven harmful effects of alcohol. You already know that it hurts your brain, your heart, your liver and your immune system. Did you know it was also a carcinogen?”

FINE! I’m going to drink, but in moderation. “People try, and fail, to do this all the time. You’re just going to fall back into the same old habits, because ‘moderate drinking’ is not actually a thing. The whole idea that having two drinks a day is ‘responsible’ is bullshit. Alcohol is an addictive substance, plain and simple, and any attempts at moderation are just delaying the inevitable.”

Perfect. So, here’s my New Year’s Resolution I guess:

In 2019, I am going to drink, not talk about it, and try not to think about it too much. I will occasionally feel some guilt and self-loathing, but I will simply cross my fingers and hope to never suffer any real long-term consequences.

Joking aside, that’s kinda been my approach to this topic for quite some time – until last year.

In 2018, I reduced my alcohol intake significantly (20-30%) compared to the prior year. I know this, because in 2018 I recorded every single drink I consumed, using an app called DrinkControl. Here were the results:

My goal was to drink fewer than 700 drinks, and as you can see I drank 692.6. You can also do some back-of-the-napkin math and realize that, in 2017, my daily average must have been pretty high… just below the Liver Warning Threshold on a Tylenol bottle. Yikes.

Let me hit the pause button, because I realize that some people might feel like this 700 number is still far too high. And in my case in particular, I agree. Which is why in 2019 I’m going to set a goal to drink even less.

But I say “in my case in particular” because I’m not going to try and have a “how much is too much” debate here. Each one of us has a different relationship with alcohol, and the purpose of this blog is to figure out how to set goals and accomplish them, not tell people how to live their lives.

That being said, I’ve talked to a lot of people about this, and many seem to want the same thing. They don’t want to quit drinking altogether, but they do want to cut back. They don’t want to feel like they need to drink, but would like to have the option if they want to. They want to be able to “take it or leave it,” while at the same time never feeling like they’re missing out.

That is quite a wish-list, and I don’t have all the answers. But over the next few weeks, I’ll try to explain the strategies and tactics I used to cut my alcohol consumption significantly, and with very little drama.

I know this is a touchy subject, and I want to give it the respect it deserves, but we’re also going to try and keep it light here. So I’d like to end with a quote that I came across recently by author Charles H. Baker Jr. from 1939:

We are still heartily of the opinion that decent libation supports as many million lives as it threatens; donates pleasure and sparkle to more lives than it shadows; inspires more brilliance in the world of art, music, letters, and common ordinary intelligent conversation, than it dims.”

See you next week!

NYR 1902: “Get Organized.” Part 4: Komono.

I really thought Part 4 of this series was going to be the easiest to write. After all, Komono (miscellaneous) is the largest category by far. We’ve spent weeks on it, and with so much content to draw upon I expected this last post to basically write itself. But I can’t seem to get started, and I think it’s because I’m having trouble deciding…

What kind of story is this?

Is it a horror story? If so, I could lead off with this picture, which shows what our living room really looks like when we pull every single toy out at once:

Is it a love story? Nothing says true love like a picture of your wife cleaning out the bathroom cabinets at 11:21 PM on a Friday night, searching for counter space between her glass of white wine and the baby monitor:

Maybe it’s a comedy? After all, it was pretty fun when we found a giant box of paper towels and made a game out of stacking them up and my daughter knocking them down:

(She’s fine, by the way)

Well if I’m being honest, I already know what kind of story I want it to be: a redemption story. But it’s hard to write a redemption story when you don’t know how it’s going to end.

And at this point, I have no idea. Sure, I could post some “after pictures” of our condo in all of its tidy glory. But the truth is I’m not concerned about whether our clothes are properly folded in February. I want to know if our drawers are going to be stuffed again in March, in December, and beyond. I want this to be life-changing, and I’m struggling to write about it because at this point I don’t know if we’re going to get there.

I guess I’m worried about the exact same thing I was worried about in the January series on Working Out. What happens when the novelty wears off? What happens when we reach a “plateau” with our cleaning, and can no longer point towards dozens of trash bags and hundreds of pounds of progress? What about the daily grind?

This past week I got a tweak in my neck, either from doing shoulder presses or from sharing a bed with a sick two-year-old and a wide-awake nine-month-old. I decided not to lift that morning, and on the way to work I got worried. I thought, here we go… this is exactly what happened last year.

But something changed. That afternoon, I felt… agitated. I wanted to workout. Not to check a box or to fill in a spreadsheet or to develop content for a post. I wanted to workout because I workout now. And so I swam a few laps on my lunch break. No more than ten minutes, but I felt so much better afterward. Something awesome has happened that I didn’t expect: working out has become my default setting.

And that’s what I’m hoping will happen with this Konmari Method: I want to change my default setting. I’m looking for a real, permanent change in my approach to organizing my home. And while I can’t say I’ve experienced a complete paradigm shift, I can say I’ve experienced, as Marie Kondo might put it…

A spark.

It happened when we finished our bedroom. I remember standing in the doorway after putting away the last of our clothes, admiring the clean surfaces of our furniture, smelling the freshly vacuumed carpet, and experiencing a feeling that’s difficult to describe. A feeling that comes from knowing exactly what’s in a room, and knowing that every single item is where it should be and has been placed there purposefully. It was a feeling of calm, of clarity, and of control.

Control is one of those words that comes with a lot of baggage. The desire for control, if taken to an extreme, can cause serious problems. Parenting forums are full of advice saying that, as a parent, you should just embrace the chaos, and that good parenting isn’t about keeping a clean house but about being present with your family.

And I don’t disagree with that; but what I’ve come to realize is that joy and order are not mutually exclusive. In fact, I believe they complement each other. And my wife and I have decided that we want both. There are plenty of things in life that are beyond our control, but the things we own are not among them.

Just the other day I saw my daughter playing with her toy kitchen for the first time in weeks. And she was using it the way it was actually meant to be used, as a toy kitchen and not just a storage place for clutter. She brought me a cookie, and as I pretended to nibble on it I smiled and thought, this is what we’re going for.

Like I said, I don’t know how this is going to end. A year from now we could be right back where we started, and this blog series could just be a painfully well-documented example of us trying, and failing, to change our lives.

But right now, I’m going with the spark.

New series starts next week. In January and February we worked on developing good habits. In March, we’re going to try and manage some bad ones. See you then!

NYR 1902: “Get Organized.” Part 3: Books, Paper.

In last week’s post, we talked about my approach to the first category of the KonMari Method: Clothes. This week we’re going to cover the next two categories: Books and Paper.

But first, click here to see our progress so far. Since 1/5/19, we’ve gotten rid of 700 pounds of stuff.

I was hesitant about tracking our progress in this way – after all, the purpose of this exercise is not to get rid of things, but rather to identify and appreciate things we actually enjoy. But I can’t help it! It’s been fun watching that number go up, and I have an incredible sense of satisfaction knowing that the items we’ve discarded so far weigh as much as a grizzly bear.

But let’s get back to the task at hand, starting with Books. I love books, and this category was challenging because I’ve got so many good excuses for keeping them. Here are my top three:

But These Are Classics!

Most of my fiction pile consisted of books from classic literature:

This is not surprising; most of these are books I had to read in high school. These days, I usually get books on my Kindle or borrow them from the library. And since the library is chock full of these, I got rid of most of them, knowing that another copy was never far away if I wanted to read it.

There were exceptions: for example, I came across one book that looked kind of old, I opened the cover and saw this:

This was my Great Grandaunt’s copy of Pride and Prejudice from 1913. I’ve never read the book, but when I finally do get around to curling up with some Jane Austen, I’ll be reading this copy that’s been in my family for over a hundred years. Also, I flipped through the book already and saw that some pages are underlined – how cool is that?

But I’ll Read This Again!

This excuse tended to crop up more with non-fiction. I read a lot of non-fiction, and I can point to several pivotal moments when I’ve read books that inspired me and actually changed my life. But rarely did I ever read these books a second time. Why?

Because I almost always have another non-fiction book in the queue. And if you read enough non-fiction, particularly around a certain topic like business or self-help, you will eventually notice patterns, certain principles that serve as the foundation of what is being taught. In most cases, I think my time is better served reading a fresh perspective on a topic, rather than rereading an older book despite the fact that the older book may have had a big impact on me. As a friend of mine put it, “learning isn’t about discovering something completely new, it’s about understanding something you already know in a different way.”

But This Is Who I Am!

Books do have an aesthetic quality, and I like the idea of keeping books that serve as a reflection of who I am. If I’m at someone’s house and I see a bookshelf, I can’t help but peruse the titles hoping to learn a little more about my host.

However, I found that I was able to get rid of a lot of books just by being realistic about this hypothetical. If somebody sees my copy of Inherit the Wind, are we really going to talk about that? And does it really say anything about my personality other than “this guy keeps his old books from high school?”

I decided that if I were to keep a book for aesthetic purposes, it needed to be 1) sufficiently esoteric so that it stood out, and 2) in-line with the type of person I want to be now.

Take Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 for example. I remember thinking it was a good book that kind of dragged on towards the end. I also remember it being too sarcastic and kind of depressing. This served me well at a time in my life when I was, well, too sarcastic and kind of depressed. But that’s not who I want to be now; at the end of the day it was a book I enjoyed telling people I’d read, more than I enjoyed actually reading. So I thanked it, discarded it, and moved on.

Paper

Paper didn’t take us long at all. The pile was intimidating at first, but if you have some bright-line rules in place for paper, you’ll be fine. Most of the paper was completely worthless; we came up with a solid way to organize our permanent documents, and tossed just about everything else.

One unexpected benefit of this process is that now, rather than being defensive and trying to organize/prioritize paper as it comes in the door, I’ve declared war on paper, and have taken the fight to the enemy.

We used to get so much junk mail, sometimes 5-6 magazines/catalogs a day. One Sunday afternoon I decided enough was enough. I gathered up all the mail and emailed every vendor, one by one, asking to be taken off their mailing list. This probably took three or four hours; I tracked all of the vendors in a spreadsheet, fully expecting a fight as paper continued to come in. I even considered publishing the vendors on a “naughty list” as part of the blog.

I was pleasantly surprised: every vendor was apologetic and the mailings stopped immediately. Now that fewer things are coming in the door, it’s easier to approach them more mindfully.

To summarize: Books and Paper went pretty well, but right now we’re finishing up Komono (Miscellaneous) which has been very challenging. And I expect the final category, Sentimental, to be particularly tough. More on that in next week’s post, the final post of this series.