The Author

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I am a high school English teacher, and mother of two charming little ones of my own. I teach in a high poverty urban charter school, while I live in a typical American suburb that has frequently been rated one of the safest cities in the country. It is a paradox I struggle with constantly, but it is my life.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

My Annual Introspection - Thoughts on Freedom

This post has taken me days and much thought.  I've been editing and adding for almost a week now. This must be somewhat monumental in my life, I suppose, or I would not be putting so much thought into just writing it down.

So here goes...

Each year, I do my own version of new years resolutions by setting goals for myself. I started this in 2009. Since 2010, I added a step. Before I set these goals for myself, I look back to prior goals to see how I am doing.  Interestingly enough, it has been amazing to see how I have changed and how I have stayed the same.

My life has changed a lot. In 2009, my goal was to get involved in church and make more friends. That is almost humorous to me now. My goal last year was like the exact the opposite. Less quantity. More quality. And even though we joined a new church in 2011, my goal for 2012 was to somehow manage to stay as uninvolved as possible to be a good mom, good wife, good student, and good teacher.  My friendships have changed significantly. Life is different.

In 2012, I set only TWO goals.
1.  Resist the urge to plan a vacation this year to save up for one next year.
2. Simplify.

The anti-vacation plan...
failed. We actually ended up going on a vacation this year, the cruise with Marc's family, but it worked out okay. I don't regret it. Financially, 2013 is still not going to be a year for a big vacation, and I am okay with that.  We live in a vacation destination. There is something to be said for staycationing.

The quest for the simple life...
 has really just begun. What a journey. My objective was all about, as Graham Hill put it in his TED talk, "Less Stuff, More Happiness." I began to buy into the anti-consumerism mindset towards the end of 2011, and I am finding it is not a quick change, it truly is a journey, which we have begun. I found a great blog called "Becoming minimalist," and they truly got it right with the title.  Becoming. We consciously avoided extra junk this past year and got rid of a lot. I am finding that we have miles to go, but we got off to a good start this year.

Our lives got simpler in other ways too. We cancelled cable and have used only Roku and Netflix. When the TV is on in our home, it means we have watched less television and thought much more intentionally about what to watch. We listen to internet radio from Hawaii on the tv more than we actually watch tv. This has been a good change. Marc came home the other day saying that the cable company could increase our internet speed and give us digital cable again for only $7 more than we are currently paying. While I am glad to hear that they have come to their senses and brought prices down, my response to Marc was, "Why would we want cable again?"  He had some good points, but ultimately, I think I own with one argument.

"When you really look back on the past year, do you honestly think to yourself, 'Gosh, I wish we'd watched more television?'"  

If you have ever thought about canceling cable, I highly encourage it. We are happier and more productive.

The Happiness Advantage

Speaking of happiness... 2012 was the year of the happiness advantage. In the beginning of 2012, a student introduced me to a video about the happiness advantage, and I subsequently bought the book and bought into the notion of positive psychology and its benefits for my life. The beauty is -- I am not a naturally optimistic person. I may not be inherently positive, but positive psychology is all about training our brains to look at the positive, even when it doesn't naturally. The results have been remarkable. I am more resilient. I am more productive. I find evidence of this in the little things.  I bounce back quicker from disappointments. I finished my grades earlier this semester than I have ever finished them, despite having more last minute grading than usual.

I was looking back on last December's blog posts particularly early December, and I saw that I made comments like, "Life is eating me alive," and "I cannot wait until December 16th."  I was counting down the alarm clocks until Christmas.  I was having immense trouble getting through the grading, as well as just getting up and out the door each day.  This year, I didn't feel like that at all, although my CSUN classes were harder, and the semester stretched out longer. We didn't get out until the 20th this year, but I was not counting down alarm clocks. I woke up early the last week of school and managed to get to school in time to get grading in before school. Mood impacts more than I ever realized... and it is easier to change than I realize too.  If this intrigues you, I highly recommend Shawn Achor's book (and no, I don't get paid to endorse it -- you have my word -- but I am including a link to help you find it, just to be helpful).

My goal for 2013 is really just taking "simplify" to the next step:
Collect Experiences, Not Stuff
I watched another great TED talk, by a guy named Adam Baker who, along with his wife and toddler, sold all of material possessions and spent a year backpacking around the world. He asked this great question, "What does freedom mean to you?"

That is really an interesting question. For him, freedom meant backpacking around the world. His point though is - What do you really want to do with your life?  What stops you from doing it?  In many cases, it is the pursuit of stuff.

So true.  Freedom is really what "The Buried Life" poem and tv show are all about. Tracking our true original course. My course, as much as my teenage self would not believe it, is not traveling the whole world. But I do want freedom. I desperately want freedom and plan to pursue it with reckless abandon this year. I want the freedom to have less to clean and organize. I want the freedom to dig through less stuff to find what I want in my house. I want the freedom to spend my time off of school pursuing happiness. I want to be able to spend a month in Costa Rica in language school. I want to take Vinny to see shows on Broadway.

The key to this is going to be...
- living incredibly frugally to pay off our debts
- selling at least half of what we own
- using the proceeds to pay off debt

Again, really, it is "Less stuff, more happiness." Convincing Marc to emotionally detach from his possessions has taken some doing, but really, we are happy as a family sharing a tiny cabin on a cruise ship, with only our suitcases full of stuff. We do not need stuff. He is starting to see this too.

What we do need is to be free from debt.  Less debt = more happiness.

So, we have begun the task of selling our stuff.  In order to discipline ourselves, Marc and I both agreed that there needed to be some jar or something that would not be easy for us to take money out of, so that each time we sell something, we put the money in the jar and then eventually take the full jar to the bank.  Worried that we would try to take the money out, I thought about gluing a spaghetti jar shut and cutting a whole in it or something, but I came up with a better solution.

A close friend bought me this bottle of wine on a trip.  She saw the wine was called "Project Happiness" and thought of me.  I was touched.  When we finished the wine, I just couldn't throw the bottle away. I knew it had some purpose.

Did you know that, if you roll up a dollar, it is really easy to get it in a wine bottle?  But not all possible to get it out?  Yup. Perfect solution.  When the bottle is full, we will break it and pay down a credit card.  For now, each dollar is a step closer to happiness.

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