Minimalism Journey: Decluttering

July was the month when I finally kick-started the “Minimalism Journey” I had been intending for months.  Over the past few months, I have started to accumulate a list of “Decluttering To-Do’s,” but as with most of my cleaning-based tasks, nothing really got done, and the mess just kept on expanding.

Last month, I finally was able to tackle two of the bigger ones: Clothing and Living Room Closet.  Just today, I finally made it to a non-profit thrift store to donate the bags of extraneous objects from around the apartment; something I’ve been meaning to do for years.

“Living more deliberately with less…
And see where the journey takes us.”
Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things

I began the “Minimalism Journey” as many others did; following the allure of de-cluttering and getting rid of unnecessary possessions to make room for more mindful set of objects to surround myself every day.  I wanted the luxury of loving everything I bought and owned, and having them in my life because they brought me excitement and joy.

I apparently wrote about this exact topic in November, 2015, but clearly, I gave up fairly quickly, or just completely forgot about it, because my apartment was recently much more cluttered than it ever was.

Progressively over the past few months, I have been feeling more and more weighed down by the sheer amount of things I had in my apartment.

As I traveled more often, and lived out of a small duffel bag for weeks on end, I came to realize how little I actually needed on a daily basis, and how I did not miss anything that I had at my apartment.

Why, then, do I have so much?  My closets are overflowing, my rooms are a mess, and my clothes are hap-hazardously piled on every empty surface and crammed into bursting bedroom closet.  I don’t even fit properly into half the clothes I own!

As I began obsessively watching YouTube videos about the concept of Minimalism and what it means, I came to realize that you really can apply this concept to every part of your life, including relationships, work, home, and habits.  It enables you to worry about “less,” and in turn, have more time and emotional capacity available for the present.

Step 1: Excess Clothing

I had been wrestling with wanting to start decluttering my life for over a year now, but always had a roadblock or an excuse to push it back (mostly, I was procrastinating because I hate organizing and cleaning).  A few weeks ago, I received an e-mail from a company-wide distribution list.

To celebrate Day of Giving (which had already passed by that point, because what’s a company-wide initiative if not fashionably late?), the legal department was collecting gently used and new clothes, electronics, shoes, and make up to donate to local non-profits.

That was it.  The push I needed, and didn’t know I was looking for.  Better yet, the hard deadline was Friday, which didn’t give anyone much time to dwell.  I tend to push things back and back without a hard deadline.  But this needed to be done in the next few days, and they had done the “hard part” for me: finding the charities and donating to them.

That night, after dinner, I spent two hours going through my drawers, closets, and boxes to select out 50 articles of clothing (including 5 brand-new socks… donating used socks just seemed weird…), an old android phone, and a few pieces of electronics.

I lugged all 30+ lbs of it to work on the subway (did I mention my commute includes 20 minutes each way of walking?), a huge beach bag and a backpack stuffed full of clothes, regretting each minute.

But this was great.  Dress for Success and a few other nonprofits will receive the clothing and electronics, I got rid of a dress I’d never worn since purchasing (the tag still on), and tons of clothes I no longer wore, and overall, clothing was going to be actually used, instead of being wasted, hanging in my closet, collecting dust.

So Many Hangers!

I went through all of the clothing I had left in my dresser and closet, and organized them.  I came to realize just how many extra hangers I now had, after my clothing purge.  Just a few weeks ago, I didn’t have enough, so I kept on having to double up my thinner clothes just to hang them.

I removed a few more pieces of clothing to give to my sister or donate, because I realized I still had some “duplicates” (styles that were very similar, and not original enough to keep both).  After staring at my closet, I came to the conclusion that I like flowers, stripes, and gray/black.

I spent another couple of hours, reorganizing the closet, lining the items up by type, making sure everything still fits, and removing the excess hangers.  I also hang my small purses and little miscellaneous items up in a canvas Hanging Handbag Organizer I purchased back in 2015, which helps to declutter my closet.

I also recently purchased Closet Organizer Hangers for Camis and Tanktops. GAME CHANGER.  It was so difficult to keep a tab on all of my camis (I wear them under work-clothes so I don’t sweat directly onto them, especially during winter), but now it’s so organized, takes up so little space (as opposed to hanging them individually, or trying to fold and store them), and quickly apparent how many I have.  I used to buy them every time I went to Uniqlo, because I wasn’t sure how much I had… Now I know I don’t need to buy any for a very long time.

Once I was through with my closet, I moved on to my dresser.  My “dresser” is a plastic 3-drawer “cart” that I bought off Amazon in 2014, after I moved in to my 2nd sublet apartment. Given I bought it for $17 at the time (inflation? now it’s $26), I should just honestly be surprised that it’s still intact and functional.  But it’s been serving me well, even moving with me to this apartment in 2015.

I spent another hour or two folding all of the not-hanging clothing into the 3 dresser drawers, the KonMari style. The “Rule of Thirds” worked pretty well, so I even had some left-over space, which I filled with my 2 pairs of jeans, which are hard to store because they are so bulky.

Until then, I had been using the “Roll-Up Method” for storing clothes that people advocated for traveling.  While it works great when I travel, it seems like it uses more space when all you are trying to do is store things, not pack for luggage.

But it works great for traveling! I can go on one or 2 week trips to San Francisco with just a small gym duffel bag and a backpack or large purse when I roll my clothes.  However, at home, it just became a mess trying to keep everything rolled up nicely in the dresser.

I do have to say, though, I am a little shocked at how much clothes I still have, despite having gotten rid of so many.  I’m fairly certain I don’t wear a lot of them on a regular basis, so I will have to just keep on being cognizant of which in-season clothes I don’t wear anymore, and keep on donating them.

I kept a lot of clothes for nostalgia’s sake (race T-shirts, college shirts, etc.), which I hope to get rid of at some point, too.  They’re getting old and worn, but they’re just full of memories.  I’ll keep them until I feel like our relationship is over for good, and they will be up-cycled to be used for cleaning the shower or kitchen or something.

Step 2: Living Room Closet (Of Doom)

But actually, though.  This walk-in closet in my living room, next to my kitchen, has been the thorn in my side for the past half year.  Because I use it both as a pantry and a storing unit for things I don’t use very often, it was always difficult to keep track of what’s in there, and quickly spiraled out of control every time I tried to shove something new in or take something out from under the precariously stacked catalogue of items.

How bad was it?  Well, for one, it was a walk-in closet, but you definitely could not walk into it. The toilet paper rolls and paper towels were all the way in the back, so it was always a struggle getting a hold of them.

And the real shock came when I dumped everything (except the jackets hanging in the back) into my living room.

The contents of the small walk-in closet literally covered my whole living room.


I have no idea how I had managed to squeeze this much stuff into my closet, nor what I was going to do with it all, given I couldn’t access any of it, or could I really assess how many cans of tuna I really had.

I had a lot of cans of tuna, salmon, and chicken.  Yes, canned chicken.

It took me a few days, but I did manage to throw away a lot of stuff, and re-organize the whole closet so that now only can I walk into it now, you can see the floor, and the objects are organized so that commonly accessed things like toilet paper, paper towels, and perishables are closer to the door, and easily assessable by just taking a glance at the shelves.

The food and boxes of tea on the shelves are so easy to assess and choose now, so I am drinking a lot more tea, and I don’t have to buy duplicates that I already have in my closet. I’m also slowly going through the boxes and boxes of cereal bars that my mom bought and brought over the past few trips, and started using stuff like the quinoa.

Now that I am taking part in the #1PaycheckChallenge for the month of August, and I am on a strict budget, it’s helpful to know what I do and do not have so that I don’t waste my precious fund of $10.32/day on unnecessary things.

Step 3: Donating The Extra

I have been wanting to donate extra objects around my apartment that I no longer used, or never used in the first place.  I would start a box every time I cleaned in the past few years, but I would never get to actually taking it to the donation location.

This reluctance stemmed party from my social anxiety (I couldn’t bear the thought of having to stand there with bags full of things, and then being rejected), as well as logistical concerns (I had no idea where to donate to, and where not to donate to).

Thanks to last month’s donation drive at work, I decided on Housing Works, a New York City based non-profit fighting the twin crises of AIDS and homelessness.  Luckily for me, they have various thrift stores you can drop off your donations in, around Manhattan and Brooklyn (though regretfully, not in Queens).  However, with my chronic pain and indecisiveness, I had bags of objects ready to go, but not quite able to make the move.

This afternoon, I was talking about the bags full of random stuff in the livingroom to my roommate, and he said, “Wanna go?” And I decided, “Ok. I’m going to do this.”

I was still afraid that they were going to sit there and tell me my shit ain’t worth shit they won’t take it, but at least if that were to happen, I’ll have a friend who will help me bring the shit back home.  Also, he offered to help carry the stuff, which was very helpful, because I honestly don’t know how I would have gotten the stuff to the shops if I didn’t have help.

So we loaded my X-TRA SIZE Granny Cart up, and took the train into Manhattan to donate at the Housing Works Thrift Shop.  (Every TRUE NEW YORKER HAS A GRANNY CART!!!) I didn’t realize donating things in large batches was so difficult without a car.

One of those “City Living Things,” I suppose.

Many of the things I donated were “Duplicates,” “Freebies,” and “Just-In-Cases.”  I also donated a few of my purses, a lot of kitchenware, winter gear, clothes, and toys.  Some of the things, I had a lot of attachments for, while others, I realized, I had been meaning to get rid of for years.

It’s very exciting to be free of the extraneous clutter that were perfectly good and usable, often brand new and never used, but I just didn’t need.  Now, someone else can use them, find joy in them, and the organization can help people in need.

Later, since we had already made the effort to go out to the city, we decided to stop by Roosevelt Island on the way home and take a stroll through its park.  It’s always such a wonder being on that island, in middle of two very crowded boroughs, just chilling, with very low population density and a cool breeze from the river.

Beginning of My Minimalism Journey

With the “decluttering” of my apartment in the past few weeks, I have managed to rid my living-area of hundreds of items.  While I still have quite a way to go (I need to let go of magazines and purses next), I am very proud of the fact that I was able to finally make the leap towards fulfilling my long-awaited goal of beginning a purge of unwanted and unused items.  I am especially pleased that items I no longer use can be used by others, which definitely helps with my inability to throw things away.

I always feel like throwing anything away is wasteful, and so end up becoming a hoarder… Which puts me in this sort of situation in the first place.  I want to curve this thought process.

At the same time, I want to foster a relationship with buying things and accepting things so that everything I bring in to my life is done so with a purpose.  If I am able to do so, I won’t have as much to give away or throw away, because I would have use for every item that I have.

By reducing the number of items I own, and getting rid of the duplicates, it is much easier to keep track of what I do and don’t have, so I won’t end up buying unnecessary things because my own copy of it was buried in a pile of mess somewhere.

I know as a fact that I wear most of the things in my closet now, which is great.  Too many choices = overwhelming for me, so the fact that I know I like wearing majority of the clothes hanging in my closet, and that I can choose one and feel pretty good about it is very empowering (and saves me a lot of frustration in the mornings).

And now I can stop buying so many duplicates of curry mix and canned vegetables, because it’s immediately apparent how much of what I have.  Some of the discoveries are going to be pretty useful for the #1PaycheckChallenge, because it means I have to spend less to eat because of some of my discoveries hidden under the clutter.

“Minimalism is a philosophy that encourages you to remove the things from your life that don’t provide value.
It’s rooted in freedom — that is, freedom from physical, mental, or emotional elements
that do not add purpose, peace, joy, and intentionality to your life.
Minimalism advocates reassessing your priorities and determining what really matters to you and what’s just excess.
It means having a firm grasp on what you value most in your life and getting rid of anything that gets in the way.”
– Liz Greene (Peaceful Dumpling)

“Being a Minimalist”

Here’s a little funny to finish this post off 😛 I think my roommate and my boyfriend definitely think this way about my newest endeavor… (They beg me to stop watching the YouTube videos.)

If you managed to read this far… KUDOS TO YOU! Thanks so much for sticking by.  I know it was a really really long post.  But I hope it wasn’t too boring!  The past month has been very important in terms of beginning my journey into owning less, worrying less, and becoming more free.  Now that the physical clutter has been reduced, I can start working on the psychological, economical, and social clutter that plagues my life.

Are you embarking on a challenge of any sort?  A summer clean-out?  Have you tried Minimalism or reducing the amount of things you own?  Let me know!

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1 Paycheck Challenge

For the month of August, I am going to try out the 1 Paycheck Challenge.

Basically, it’s what it sounds like.  Since I get paid twice a month, I am going to attempt to pay all of my bills with just one of my paychecks, and save or invest the other paycheck.

Give it a try, even if just for the sake of crunching some numbers.  You might be surprised with how much money you could be putting into your savings account without much thought!

This is my first official Challenge on this blog (I love Challenges, so I’ll be sharing a lot of them with you!), and also the first post dedicated to the Money Stuff.

You can follow my journey on Twitter @nishimurahiroko!

Can’t Commit to 1 Paycheck a Month?

Many of us have a lot of bills, student debts, credit card debts, etc. that would prevent us from budgeting on just 1 paycheck.  That was definitely me until recently, when I switched my job.  Even if that’s the case, I think there is a lot of benefit to taking a look at your numbers, crunch them a bit, and seeing what you might be able to commit to saving for the month of August.

I also recommend the $20/week Challenge, where you cash out or deposit into your savings account $20 every week.  If easier, you can deposit $10 twice, or $5 four times.  This will finish you off after a year with $1040 in your savings account!  Even between this week and the end of 2017, we still have 22 weeks left, which would put you at $440 extra in your savings account.  Pretty nice cushion for a rainy day!

Step 1: What’s My Net Pay?

First step was to figure out how much of my paycheck I was actually taking home.  For some number crunching, I busted out my handy dandy Fauxdori planner/notebook.  From my ADP Account Summary (Online Pay Stubs), I knew that I had a few things being taken out of my paycheck before it got deposited into my account.

In my planner, I made boxes for:

  • Paycheck: How much my “Gross Pay” is (amount my work pays me BEFORE benefits/taxes/etc. are taken out)
  • Taxes: All my taxes…. sob
  • Benefits: Health Insurance, Dental Insurance, Transit Pass, etc.
  • HSA: My per-paycheck “Health Savings Account” contribution
  • 401k: My per-paycheck Roth 401k contribution
  • Net Pay: My “Take Home” (amount deposited into my bank)

As I mentioned in my June Recap post, I have recently changed my contribution for my HSA, to be around $400/month (to max out the annual contribution limit) in preparation for medical bills to come.  So every paycheck, I am contributing around $190 to HSA.  For my 401k, I am meeting the match % by contributing around $200/paycheck.  With all of my benefits, taxes, HSA, and 401K taken into account, my Take Home is about 53%.

Yay for living in NYC and our ~30% taxes….

Being Aware

This step was not completely necessary if your pay stub tells you how much your take home is.  But it is interesting and beneficial to your Financial Health, to see where your money is going before you even get that deposit in your account.

If you are eligible, 401K and HSA are two areas that you can put in a little more every month with relatively little pain, and reap benefits later on in your life.  Especially if you are putting in your 401K pre-tax.  These are money taken out before you even see your paycheck, so it’s a bit of guaranteed saving you would be doing without any effort or temptations to spend on your part.

I have a few friends who put in money into the 401K, and treat it almost as a savings account that they can’t touch, because it’s difficult for them to resist the temptation to spend whatever is lying in their actual bank accounts.  One of my friends even managed to amass almost $100,000 in her 401K before her 5th year of working!  And best part is, it’s being actively invested, so you are making profit on the money you are saving in your 401K to prepare for your retirement.

HSA is pre-tax, so you get 100% of the money you put in to spend on your medical bills.  However, it requires you to have a HDHP (High Deductible Health Plan), which may or may not be the best choice for you, depending on your medical conditions.

Step 2: Core Living Expenses

I defined “Core Living Expenses” as “Expenses Required to Live in My Apartment and Not Have Services Turned Off” (or get kicked out).

These expenses and bills included:

  • Rent: $XXX
  • Wifi: $32.50
  • Utilities: $30-50

They are all half the actual amount of each bill, as I live with one roommate.  Since I pay all of the bills upfront though, it means I do need to keep the full amount in my checking account, which is something I have to be mindful of before getting all savings-account-transfer-happy.

Also, since water and heat is included in the rent, utilities varies on the season, from anywhere between $60 to $100+ for the electricity bill.  Last month, our electricity was $100.82, which is definitely much higher than the mid-60’s we had during winter, when we didn’t use fans or AC.

Just to be safe, I got the Maximum amount of Core Living Expenses I’d have for the month, which left me with about $444 for the month.

I generally like to keep my Checking Account balance fairly low so I don’t feel like I have a lot of money to splurge, or not be able to clearly see the ups and downs of my accounts (it’s so much harder to see how much you made or how much you spent when it’s just going up and down in a big chunk of money).

Step 3: Other Bills

There are then “Other Bills” that are automatically taken out of my accounts, or I know for sure that I will have to pay.  I don’t need them to survive or live in my apartment, but they are just things I subscribe to, or have recurring bills for on a monthly basis.

These include:

  • Gym: $20/mo
  • Netflix: $10/mo
  • Laundry: ~$60/mo
  • Yoga: ~$30/mo

In total, the “Other Bills” are around $120/month.

Taking that from $444 I had left over after taking out the Core Living Expenses from my Net Pay, I am left with around $324/month.

Step 4: Budgeting

Just to give myself a few dollars wiggle room in case there are unexpected spikes in the utility bills or laundry prices, I am going to say I have $320 to live on for the month of August.

To make it easier to keep track, I am going to go to the bank on July 31st and take out $320 in cash from the ATM.  Then I will also take out $90 for the Laundry fee and Yoga classes that I have to pay by cash, for total of $410.

I will have to make sure to keep the 2 sets of funds separate so I don’t accidentally bleed into the “Other Bills” stash.  I’ll probably keep them in separate envelopes.

Because I am not much of a buyer in the first place (unless it comes to a purse I just fell in love with or something…), most of my money will probably go to food.  I think I will utilize the Envelope System to budget the money out, since Mint can’t keep track of it for me this month.

August Budget:

  • Food (Groceries, Eating Out): $270
  • Shopping: $50
  • Total: $320

Since there are 5 weeks in August, $270 for food for the whole month means $54/week, or $8.70/day.  This is going to be pretty challenging, especially in New York City! (Halal cart all day every day????)

While I know for certain that I will have a lot of medical expenses coming up in the next few months, I am hoping that my $400/mo contribution into HSA (with $40 match from my employer a month) would be enough to cover it.  If not, I might be in a bit more of a budget pinch than I anticipate.  The first $440 of my medical bills for the next month is already taken into account with my HSA contribution.  If it goes over that, I’m going to have to re-evaluate.

One thing I don’t have to worry about, being a New Yorker, is my transit.  I have an unlimited metro card that is automatically funded pre-tax through my paycheck, so the $121/month I spend for the card is already taken out and put into the card without having to lift a finger.  This is part of my benefits, so it was already taken care of in the first step.  This makes budgeting transportation a lot easier for me than having to take into account Car Insurance, Gas, and potential maintenance fees.

Step 5: The Other Paycheck

So now that the first paycheck of the month is taken account of, I have the second paycheck to think about.  I have a recurring automatic transfers of $750/mo into my Investment Portfolio, and $50/mo into my Savings Account.  That there takes up $800/mo of the “other paycheck” automatically.

I’ve also boxed the second paycheck out, and still trying to decide if I should put in the excess into my Savings Account, or transfer them into the Investment Portfolio, since I do have a few thousand dollar buffer in my Savings Account already.

All in all, I’m not sure if I’d be doing much more saving than I already am, because of my automatic transfers being so high already, but I’m excited to see where I will be in a month, and whether I was actually able to pay for everything on around $300 for the whole month of August.

Step 5: Reflection at the End

I will be posting a reflection entry at the end of the month to let everyone know how it went.  If any of you would like to challenge yourself as well in August, please feel free to yoink this idea, and give it a go!  If you link this post, and leave your challenge link in the comments, I’ll link them in the reflection post I will make at the end of the month.

I will probably also make an update post around the middle of the month to reflect on what my budgeting is looking like mid-way (since that’s when I would have the second paycheck, which I am hopefully not going to spend).

Even if you can’t make it on half of your net income for the month, maybe you can come up with an amount you want to save for the month, and can budget around that, to see what your spending $$$ is for August.

I hope I’ll see how everyone noodled out their budgeting for this challenge!

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STEM and Me

As some of you may know, I have a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in Special Education, and extensive experiences in working with children and adults with special needs, as well as dabbling in the fields of nonprofits and disability advocacy.  However, as my sidebar states, I work as a TechOps Engineer, and have been working as an IT person for the past 2 and a half years (for as long as I’ve been “working full time,” basically).

I don’t regret my decision to work in Tech (I’ve realized so much about myself and my ability to learn and adapt, even when I start at 0), though my deep passions are still in the realms of disability advocacy and special education.  Recently, I’ve began to start dissecting and analyzing why exactly I was so heavily encouraged to pursue the liberal arts field over ones like computer science or engineering in my teens.

Snek, Snek, Snek….

In June (or was it May?) I started teaching myself Python from various online resources, courses and books.

I also joined a “Community of Practice” (kind of like a club?) at work for learning programming languages, called “Seven Languages in Seven Months.”  We use the book  “Seven Languages in Seven Weeks: A Pragmatic Guide to Learning Programming Languages,” and spread it out to one a month to learn, practice, and discuss.  I was hoping it would be a Beginner-Friendly community of practice, but seems like the content is more for people who at least already have the fundamental programming experiences, and want to poke around and buffet the basics of other more obscure programming languages.

I am so far lost that I am not even ashamed to admit that we are on chapter 2, learning Io, and I can’t even figure out how/where to download the Compiler to start writing the practice code discussed in the book.  This endeavor is definitely not going as well as I had hoped, hindered by the fact that I couldn’t attend the practice session last month because I was in Japan.

I think I will just sit back and listen during the meetings, and learn a thing or two through osmosis instead. My roommate (programmer by education and trade) was saying to me this morning that the book is way too difficult for a beginner, so I’m not too upset  I have no idea where to even begin.

HTML/5, CSS/3 and PHP made sense to me like reading a book when I was learning them in my teens, but I’m  finding that Python is going to take a lot more concentration and time than it did for me back in the days to pick up.  It was so much easier to learn UI languages and implement new fancy code I learned when I was doing it for funsies, and when it was much easier to spit out a “product” (ie: a blog, updated layout for a website, making a page look fancier, or embedding a new gallery script).  With Python, I can appreciate that typing things in and running it does something in Terminal, but not much else. Hopefully, I’ll slowly make headway.

Looking Back

I sometimes wonder these days why I was so convinced back in college that I couldn’t possibly complete a STEM major.  I am starting to suspect that it had a lot to do with the fact that people around me always told me I’m not good at math or sciences, so I should stick to the liberal arts.

Education as a field was especially pushed, especially by the adults around me, because I was good at working with and teaching children.  But also, when (not if!) I had children of my own, I could share my summer breaks with theirs, and have days off when they had off.  And while they were still very young, I could stay home with them until they start school, at which point I would be effortlessly be able to go back to teaching, since #TeacherShortage.

(The world has changed drastically since my early days; we still have a “teacher shortage,” but of a very different kind… We have plenty of people with teaching certificates… Just not enough qualified teachers, especially in Special Education.  And it is extremely difficult to find a job as a teacher these days, even with a Master’s Degree due to the economy and flooding of the market.)

The thought that I could successfully major in the sciences or engineering simply never crossed my mind through my six years in college, first as an undergrad, and then as a graduate student.

Thinking back now, it’s puzzling why the “Gender Roles” were so strictly contrived in my life, making for a seamless rail towards the end goal of the “suburban housewife with 2 kids in a house with a nice yard” montage, while my sister was encouraged to pursue a STEM future.  (She double majored in math and computer science, and now works as a programmer in a very competitive firm.) She and I showed very different “inclinations” and “interests” when were were younger, to be sure, but perhaps there could have been more encouragements to continue exploring my potential and interests beyond the age of just a few years, before deciding what the best path for me was going to be.

Even as tweens and teens, my sister wasn’t the one interested in code, web design, researching, and looking into creating things on the web.  It was always me.  I spent a lot more time with computers, and could probably troubleshoot your issue for you, and create your small business a website, but it wasn’t me who was being encouraged to take up programming; it was my sister, who had no interest whatsoever in the technology field.

To be fair, with my parents, I believe that they catered their expectations based on what they thought was the best path for me.  Many of my Asian peers had parents who would not accept anything other than doctor, hedge fund manager, or engineer, and would not allow even the thought of a non-STEM major for college.  I had a friend in high school who was a very much enjoyed art and wanted to be an art major, but her parents wouldn’t hear of it.  So she went into Finance instead, and the only art she partakes these days is a periodic bout of “Paint Nite” sessions.

There wasn’t much “expected” of me, for better or for worse.  I was “allowed” to pursue a non-STEM degree, because my parents were open to catering to my interests and strengths.  For sure, my strengths laid with teaching, and interests with disabilities and special education.  But I wonder, in being so “open” to the non-STEM fields by telling me for years that I can be a teacher, not an engineer, if they didn’t overstep and actually convince me to go into that field rather than giving me the option to choose on my own.

Expectations for My Future = Homemaker

My decisions and educational trajectories were molded with the expectations that I will work for a few years, marry, have children, quit working to raise them, and perhaps go back to work once my children were in school.  And go back to work more as a way to occupy myself than as a career.  I was prepped and coached to fall into this role as a “housewife” and a “stay at home mother” rather than as a “working woman,” whose career would be as important to her as her home life.

Which I believe is a completely valid and important life choice and trajectory, but I think it is only so if one got to decide to become a stay at home mother or a stay at home wife.  I may very well become a stay at home mother or a housewife in the future.

However, at that point, I would hope I had the opportunity to come to the conclusion on my own, and not because I felt that it is my “only way for the future” due to the societal pressures and expectations placed upon me as a woman who wants to be a mother.

Heck, at my age, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about kids, family, and settling down, and have more or less come to the conclusion that if I’m going to destroy my own body and soul for 9 months to incubate a little Cherub Mini Me, I might as well put 150% in raising it myself as well.  (And I do love kids.)

But I also want a career, which would be difficult to maintain or pursue when trying to be the best mother that I can be.  And I also can’t afford to stay at home.  But I also can’t afford daycare ($2000/mo? YIKES!).

At any rate, I can barely take care of myself! Of course I can’t take care of another human being!

There are so many choices, so many decisions, so many “what if’s”… Which… I guess I’ll just think about it more when the time comes… If the time ever comes.

Imposter Syndrome and Me

I loved teaching and I loved working with kids in Special Education, but having worked in IT for the past 2 and a half years, I wish I had the fundamentals others in my field did in the tech side of things.  I don’t regret that I spent my school years developing my skills and learning everything there is to learn about supporting kids with special needs.  However, I can’t help but wonder where I might already be in my career if I had chosen a STEM major rather than Education.

Why was it so easy for me to convince myself I had no aptitude for the sciences or math when I took Differential Equations at a community college my senior year of high school, along with a cohort of only 20 other kids from the whole county?

Why was it- and still is it– so easy for me to say “I suck at math,” when I was selected to be in an Accelerated Gifted and Talented Math Program in 6th grade for qualifying in the top 0.1% of the county’s students?  Going through the program allowed me to begin high school taking Pre-Calculus GT with Juniors and Seniors, and yet I’ve always “sucked at math,” and grew up “knowing” I had no aptitude for science.

I had always considered myself “different” from my “gifted” classmates and a “poser”; the “Imposter Syndrome” poster child.  I was “fooling” them all into thinking I can do any of the things we were doing in class, and it was only a matter of time until I screwed something up and exposed myself.  (I guess I was a really good actress, because no one figured it out in the 12 years of pre-secondary schooling.)

Most of my teachers and peers were completely taken back when I was applying for college and declared a major in education.

“But what about medicine?” “What about engineering?” “What about biology?” “What about math?”

“No way! I suck at math and science! I can’t possibly major in them!”

I had placed in the 99th Percentile in the SATs for the Math section (ironically, my highest score on all 3 portions).

I wonder where I might be now if I hadn’t managed to be convinced of my inabilities throughout the years, and in turn, accepted these words to be the unwavering truth.

I can’t do math.  I don’t get it.  

I suck at science. I couldn’t possibly major in engineering.

The only thing I can do is teach, because I can’t do anything else.

My mentality in the past few years, as life outlook evolved with my illness and moving to NYC, is that I should at least give my 100% attempt, even if it ends in failure. I have countless times surprised myself when I tried something I was sure I would fail in.

If only the idea had even crossed my mind to try, back in my late teens.

I wonder.

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Rules, Habits, and Routines: Being an Obliger

According to Gretchen Rubin’s The Four Tendencies Quiz, I am an Obliger.  When I read the description of the term for the first time last month, it immediately clicked for me.

And, as it turns out, I lost 20 lbs last year by playing to my “Obliger” tendencies.  All without even knowing it.

Who is an “Obliger?”

I thrive on Rules, To-Do Lists, and Planning Ahead.  If you know me personally, or even through any of my social media accounts, you’ve probably seen my obsession with planners, stationaries, and notebooks.  It’s like looking at puppies and kittens for me.  I just can’t get enough.

As a matter of fact, I begin unraveling fairly rapidly when I feel out of control.  To-Do lists become overwhelming in my head, and  I become consumed by an acute sense of Life Spiraling Out of Control and Impending Doom.

I then try to curve this Utter Demise and Black Hole by incessantly planning, reorganizing, and making rules and routines.  I need external accountability, hate letting people down, but at the same time, find it very difficult to not let myself down.

I’ve long wondered why if I promise to do something for someone, or make an appointment, I will get it done, and get it done well, but when I make a promise for myself or need to do something for myself, I never seem to be able to keep up the promise.

I can get up on a weekend morning if I had a brunch date with a girlfriend, but without the threat of letting someone else down by being late?  I would roll in bed the whole day, feeling progressively worse about wasting a precious day off unproductively.

Even if I had “plans” of elegantly spending my weekend afternoon in a cafe, sipping a latte and reading a book, I would end up spending the whole day scrolling through Facebook or Instagram, as if refreshing the apps would make anything of value pop-up, and suddenly I would have a valid reason for my slothful day.

Obligers wake up and think, “What must I do today?” They’re very motivated by accountability. They really don’t like being reprimanded or letting others down. (Gretchen Rubin: Blog)

I immediately identified myself as an Obliger within the list of four tendencies Rubin suggested in her book, Better Than Before, and since then, have been looking for ways to utilize my “tendency” to achieve goals and make habits.

I need to make my goals public to keep myself accountable, artificially creating extrinsic motivation and external expectations.  Even if I can’t keep promises to myself, I almost always keep promises with other people, because I cannot bear the thought of someone finding me incompetent, lazy, or slow.

I need to plan, make rules, and stick to them.  I can’t make exceptions, and can’t let myself have a “choice.”  I want the path of least resistance, so I must make the easiest path also the path I want to tumble into.

No more candy, I decided a few weeks back.  It makes me break out so quickly it’s like writing on my face, “I’ve eaten candy!”  I’ve been avoiding candy for weeks, even though I see it everywhere in my food-laden office, because if I eat one and “break my chain,” I’m done for.  I’d spend the rest of the week eating candy.

I’m an Abstainer: It’s a lot easier for me to just quit than to allow myself an indulgence to break a habit.  (I’m trying to actively develop a more flexible mindset these days, because Life doesn’t play by the rules, so I have to break my rules sometimes, and I can’t just fall into a rut every time I am forced to break a rule…)

I think a lot of the Obliger tendency has to do with my Executive Function Disorder.  And because of that, I’d already developed a fair array of coping mechanisms from college.  Once I realized I had a disability that needed accommodations due to my Brain Injury, I came up with many ways to circumvent my deficits.  Over the course of half a year, I tried to relearn how to read journal articles about Autism, write 20 page research papers, and read 400 page text books.

Biggest Loser: 20 Pounds in 6 Months

I managed to lose 20 lbs in the first 6 months of 2016.  The path wasn’t easy, but compared to many other weight-loss journeys I’ve read about, it seems like it was a lot quicker and not as painful.  One of the major reasons was that I didn’t put myself on a heavily restrictive diet.  I still ate whatever I wanted… Sometimes.  But most of the time, instead of keeping myself from eating, I attempted to switch out the “bad stuff” with “better stuff,” and strove to keep myself full and energy-fueled.  A full belly makes a happy Hiro.

I was sick and tired of feeling sick and tired, and being in pain all the time, starting from my knee joints to my back.  I never exercised, ate whatever was the most convenient, and snacked all day at work.  My sedentary IT-work lifestyle, stress of toxic work environment, and the need to pretend to be Able-Bodied in an Able-Bodied World with a Disabled Body were all contributing to putting me at my highest weight ever.  I felt blobby, both physically and emotionally, and hated how I seem to fit in to less and less clothes.  I really hated having to buy larger clothes to accommodate.

I changed my eating habits, cooking and meal prepping, exercised, started running at the gym, started running races, cut my times from 12+ minutes per mile to 8 minute miles, and 6 months later, I felt like a different person.  (And then, of course, I’ve regained anywhere from 5-10lbs since then, but that’s neither here nor there… I’m working on it!)

Wow look, Hiro, so you can self motivate and get things done!

Actually, without even realizing it, I was modifying and accommodating for my tendency to be an Obliger and not an Upholder (people who get things done, but also don’t let themselves down, either).

I made a schedule for the gym or exercise, so that I didn’t have a “choice” to make: every Tuesday, I would attend New York Road Runner‘s running club after work (which I paid for, so I have to go!), and on Thursdays, I would go to the gym after work.

I made it easier to go by packing my running gear the night before, with everything I needed, including water bottle and head-band.  I knew any little “flaw” in my packing or execution would be an excuse for me to not go.  There were countless times where I went home to pick something up and… Just never made it back out.

I would change before I left work, so it would seem extremely silly for me to go all the way home in my running clothes…. without actually having gone running.  And by that point, I would have gotten myself really pumped up to go.  So I went.

I also signed up for races, which mean $35-50 per event.  That’s a lot of money for my stingy self, which meant that I couldn’t just perform poorly and waste the cash.  After a while, I got my co-worker involved, and we both attended the running groups together and ran races, which meant both of us were accountable for the training and the races.  She wanted to not let me down by not showing up to classes or be too behind, and I didn’t want to be left behind by someone who started running after me.

Having a friend I can count on to always be there for me made new sessions and huge races a lot easier to stomach, as my Social Anxiety spikes up in situations where I’m alone with a lot of strange people.  I always knew that, in worst case scenarios, I at least had one person to keep me company.

I like To-Do Lists, Stickers, and Planners, so I made sure to “reward” myself in my planner with a “GYM” or “RUNNING” sticker every time I exercised.  I bought all kinds of stickers for every exercise/note taking occasion so that it felt exciting to make an update about my Fitness Journey.  I made the plans beforehand, and listed my Working Out reminders in my Monthly, Weekly, and Daily To-Do lists in my Bullet Journal so that I can check off the boxes when I finished.

I even kept a Food Journal, which I listed everything I ate and every exercise I did for Four Months.  That was long enough for my eating habits to form, and for me to be able to continue my new diet without needing to be held accountable by a notebook.

Yes.  For things that I didn’t have Extrinsic Accountability for in terms of another person, I held myself accountable by making it mandatory to spill out my sins and successes to a notebook.

I bought a Fitbit Surge (to go with my Fitbit One) to keep track of all the running and walking I did, and to see improvements with the GPS tracking of the Surge. It was $240 back then, so it was definitely something I knew I needed to utilize, since I’d spent so much money on it.  (Accountability to my bank account?)

After a while, I’d become That Runner Person who was always running races and exercising, so I just kept that persona up for a while.  Then many things happened, including my ex-boyfriend cheating on me, almost-engagement clearly ending, people moving out, people moving in, switching jobs, making trips, new relationships, different stresses, and here we are again, back to feeling like a lump.

As soon as I allowed myself to start “slipping,” it was all over, and I’m back to square one, now finally slowly rebuilding what I painstakingly created a year ago.

First few rules: No Candy, More Veggies, Meal Prep, No Snacks (Fruits are ok), and Exercise Once a Week.

Finding Convenience in Exercise

My work had its first Yoga Class on the 11th, where they invite a local yoga instructor to come teach an hour-long class once every two weeks.  There is a “donation” of $5 for us, and she gets paid through our insurance.

As an Obliger, this is great news.   This is something you have to sign up for, but also can be done easily.  A coworker passes around a Google Sheet to sign up via e-mail, to which you just write in your name and e-mail address.

And if you don’t cancel 24 hours advanced, you’re charged.  Sure, $5’s not that big of a deal, but it’s embarrassing to have to go up to your coworker and hand them a $5 bill for a class you didn’t even take, spewing some excuse on why you couldn’t make it.

Many freelance-based articles seem to say that when you request someone to pay for something, even if it’s a nominal fee, they take you and your work more seriously.  I agree.  I feel more obligation to show up and do it when I’m putting something in for the privilege.  Even if it’s just $5.

And since space is limited, by signing up, I’m taking up another potential person’s space.  Which means I need to go, because otherwise, I would have wasted someone’s potential yoga class.

It also can’t get much more convenient than walking up the stairs to class.  There is a local yoga studio I went to a few times a year or two ago, when I was trying to reset my health, and while it was conveniently located by a train station near my apartment, and only $8 per session, I still found it difficult to go.

Having the class at work removed a lot of the mental roadblocks that would otherwise come with gearing myself up for a class.

One “lesson” I really appreciated from Better Than Before was the “Strategy of Convenience“:

The amount of effort, time, or decision making required by an action has a huge influence on habit formation. To a truly remarkable extent, we’re more likely to do something if it’s convenient, and less likely if it’s not.
(Strategy of Convenience)

Basically, she brought up the point that, to make habits or change things in our lives, the things we are working on changing don’t need to be difficult.  If, by making something more convenient (some may call it “cheating”), we can achieve the end-product (in my case, exercising regularly), then by all means, take the “shortcut” and make things more convenient!

Yoga class is every 2 weeks, so I figure this can “qualify” as my “Gym Once a Week” rule/goal for the week.  Which means I just need to pick a day in the other week to go to the gym and do weight lifting.

I recently upgraded my gym membership to allow me to bring in a guest every time I go, so when my boyfriend is visiting, we try to go during one of the weekend mornings to do quick sets before starting off the day.  Having someone else to nudge me to get out of bed and go to the gym is definitely helpful.  Because… Y’know… I’m an obliger, and can’t really motivate myself, but hate letting other people down.

I was surprised to see that while the main list and wait list were full, only 5 of us showed up.  I guess most of us at work aren’t Obligers…

Health, Blood, and Supplements…

After my Annual Exam few weeks back, I had completely forgotten that I needed to call into the doctor’s office 10 days after my appointment to “Verbally Consent to [Them] Releasing [My] Information to the Web Portal.”  Which is bollocks, because 1) Signed release > Verbal release over the phone, and 2) Then I could’ve just signed something when I was there getting my blood collected, and I wouldn’t have had to completely forget about it.

Turns out, because I didn’t call in after 10 days, the doctor hadn’t even looked at it yet, and until he looks at it, it can’t be released into the portal.  Very inefficient. (Ok, I admit it; I just wanted to use the word bollocks.)

So I finally got access to it this morning, and turns out that the bio lab screwed up the Arthritis Panel (only the most important part of the whole blood work shennigan…), so I have to go do another blood test.  Which means I have to go get my blood drawn again.

Financially, in the best case scenario I “just” have to pay the fee to get my blood drawn at the office, and in the worst case scenario, I have to pay to for another blood work at the lab.  The doctor’s office is negotiating with the lab to see if they can get them to run it for free since… you know… they screwed up… (And I’m not made of money, and have a high-deductible plan, which means I pay for everything out of pocket.)  But it also doesn’t make much sense to me, as a consumer, to pay for another blood-drawing… But I guess I’ll see what happens.

Otherwise, nothing of note except that I still have Vitamin D deficiency, so I’m going to start up my Vitamin D3 chewies again.  I find it so strange that I avoid dairy because I’m lactose intolerant, but still maintain normal Calcium levels, while I definitely don’t avoid the sun (my sun spots and tans tell the tale), but this is the second year I’ve come up to be Vitamin D deficient.  I guess time to double down on my spinach intake…

So, What’s YOUR Tendency?

What’s your Tendency? You can find out by taking the quiz on Rubin’s website, or reading some of her articles.

Here’s a gist of the Four Types, as per her blog post:

  • Upholders wake up and think, “What’s on the schedule and the to-do list for today?” They’re very motivated by execution, getting things accomplished. They really don’t like making mistakes, getting blamed,  or failing to follow through (including doing so to themselves).
  • Questioners wake up and think, “What needs to get done today?” They’re very motivated by seeing good reasons for a particular course of action. They really don’t like spending time and effort on activities they don’t agree with.
  • Rebels wake up and think, “What do I want to do today?” They’re very motivated by a sense of freedom, of self-determination. (I used to think that Rebels were energizing by flouting rules, but I now I suspect that that’s a by-product of their desire to determine their own course of action. Though they do seem to enjoy flouting rules.) They really don’t like being told what to do.
  • Obligers wake up and think, “What must I do today?” They’re very motivated by accountability. They really don’t like being reprimanded or letting others down.

Would knowing what works and what doesn’t for your specific “tendency” help you in accomplishing a goal or making plans to accomplish something?

Better App (Forum and Phone App)

I just recently found out that there is a smartphone app and a forum for people who subscribe to the Four Tendencies theory.  People come around and have discussions on how to motivate themselves best for asks and habits, and get advice on how they may approach situations and circumstances.

They also have region-based and Tendency style based groups.  I enjoy reading discussion topics and joining in with people who share the same tendencies with me.

Join Here: BETTER APP 

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June Recap

It’s July! Which means June passed by (super quickly, might I add!), and the year is more than half way over already. A lot happened last month, but at the same time, it seems like nothing has changed.  My birthday was in June, and I spent the day jet-lagged after my 2 week trip to Japan, loathing returning to work the next day.

I came home from my trip in the beginning of the month, where I visited Kyoto, Osaka, Tokyo, Shiga, and Okayama with my mom and my sister. Longest and the shortest 2 weeks of my life!

I’ve finally finished compiling a “photo journal” of the trip on my Journi Travel Blog, and my challenge for that trip was to take all of the photographs on my new Google Pixel instead of my mirrorless camera.

(As you may have guessed already, all of the photos on this post were taken on the Pixel.)

The weekend after, my boyfriend came up to NYC and took me to watch Anastasia on Broadway for my birthday.  It was my third time in the Orchestra seats, and we had a great unhindered view.

I highly highly recommend it the show! Their use of technology woven into the whole play made it seem like I was watching a movie, not an on-stage show.  And of course, the actors and actresses were fabulous.

We watched the movie on Netflix a week later to compare, and I much preferred the Broadway show’s spin on it better (the story is “different” from the movie).

The next week, I flew off to Chicago for a week long trip, our first destination-based-trip.  Half of it spent working at our Chicago office, and the other half spent as a vacation.

He would often fly to New York City, or I would (not as often) fly to San Francisco to visit each other, but we had never taken a vacation to a common destination with both of us traveling before.

The “rush hour” commute was so unlike the one in NYC, I was tempted to call up my manager and tell him I’m relocating to the Chicago office right there and then! And the city was so clean and so little people compared to NYC.

But in the end, I was so glad to be back in my own bed, in my own room, in the comfort of my familiar city.  I’d love to go back soon, though.

I developed quite a few evolving chronic pain points before, during, and after my trip to Japan, many of which still remain, a month later.  I take pain killers twice a day so I can continue to function in society as well as stay asleep at night.  I’ve definitely woken up in the middle of the night a few times in so much pain from my locked-up or swollen joints and dragged myself to the sink to drown a few pain killers.

The chronic pain of unknown sources definitely gave me the final push to make annual physical exam appointment, and to actually go.  It wasn’t of much help, but I got a rheumatologist referral for my joints (I suspect Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, but never had the opportunity to see a rheumy, so have never been diagnosed).  The downside is that my insurance is a piece of crap I couldn’t get an appointment until September.  I guess I’ll go if I’m still alive by then…

June Finances

I said “screw it” and moved $19,000 from my savings account into my investment portfolio, effectively balancing my net worth at about 85% investments and 15% cash.

When I started investing late last year, I was a little hesitant about putting too much money in, so while my friends told me that I should just leave $5,000 in my bank accounts and invest the rest, I opted to only invest 50% of my assets.  But watching the dividends and capital gains go up by hundreds every month, while earning less than $10 in interest back for almost the same amount of money in my savings account, I decided to throw most of it into my portfolio on a whim.  I figured that even if the market was stalling at 7% return (like it has been for the past few weeks….), that’s still much better than it rotting in the savings account.

Now that I have less in my bank account, it helps me be more cognizant on how much I have and how much I’m spending, since the value fluctuates a lot more visibly every time I pay my bills or get paid.

I also upped my monthly contribution to the Charles Schwab portfolio to $750/month from $500/month, and my Health Savings Account (HSA) contribution to $400/month from $50/month (since I was expecting mounting medical bills in the upcoming months).  I also changed my automatic Checking account to Savings account transfer to $50/month.  My 401K contribution remained the same at around $400/month.

While I have been spending more money, buying a phone, buying dresses, spending a little more money when I eat out, etc., I also don’t want to completely slip out of control in my spending, so I hope just having some visual cues (ie: the bank account balances)  as well as having automatic withdrawals that I can’t touch will help me keep myself straight up.

June Recap

  • Travels: Japan, Chicago, New Jersey
  • Watched: Anastasia: The Broadway, Wonder Woman
  • Investments: +$19,000
  • Savings: -$18,975 (-$19,000+$25)
  • Accomplishments: Started Goal Setting
  • Health: Got a PCP, Started Weightlifting
  • Life: I’m 28 now!
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