At one time or another I have been intensely interested in learning to skydive, taxidermy, knitting, sewing, oil painting, kung fu movies, film noir, kalashnikovs, diamonds, poisons, the subprime market crisis, science, forensics, the causes of birth defects, cooking, makeup, serial killers, the periodic table, embalming and loads more. Some of those interests are enduring, some were fleeting. Time goes very fast for me when I am learning about something just for the sake of it, but aside from a few things, the interest generally wanes after that.
That’s why I absolutely love my magazine subscription to Stack. They send me a new magazine or two each month on a random topic, put out by independent publishers. The ones I’ve received so far have covered street art, boxing, interns, gay men, plants, bicycle riding, Los Angeles, music, film, graphic design, happiness and inventions. It’s like Christmas once a month when my subscription arrives.
It’s also a purchase, and it’s one I considered long and hard about cancelling when I started my year without spending. But it’s something I decided to keep simply because it brings me so much joy. There have been a few standouts since I started, and I wanted to share two of them because they’re doing an amazing job and I guess its hard to survive in as an independent publisher in the digital age.
This was my very first one and it’s still one of my favourites. It’s a beautiful, full-sized glossy magazine that features interviews with gardeners, landscaping tips, recipes based solely on commonly-grown edibles, gorgeous photography, erotic plant-based fiction (not even joking), an in-depth look at a feature plant and advice on growing more and better.
It’s a fun one to flick open now and again, and fills me with a desire to be more wholesome and self-sufficient. And to get out of the city. Which is completely unrealistic for me because I lose my shit when a pigeon flies in my direction and don’t even get me started on insects.
Works that Work: A magazine of unexpected creativity
Works that Work magazine aims to “publish articles that give you great dinner stories to tell your friends.” And they do. This is by far my favourite and I will get a subscription to it once my year of not spending ends. It’s only put out every six months, but the writing is of such a good standard and the topic is so broad that it could cover just about anything.
The issue I received had a fascinating long read on people who had lived through the siege of Sarajevo – the longest in modern history – and the way they had been forced to improvise to complete simple, every-day tasks. From hauling water up endless flights of stairs with no elevator to home-made thermos mugs constructed from salvaged boxes and bubble wrap, the people interviewed actually looked back on the time as one of the most interesting of their lives. Necessarily forced to develop a sense of community, people shared their inventions as quickly as they could and in a time with no conveniences, intermittent electricity and extreme danger, they innovated the most incredible things from the most unlikely materials.
There were so many other great stories in there as well: how the native Sami people of the arctic constructed dwellings that helped them follow reindeer herds across the tundra, how an entire city is constructed out of nothing every four years for the holy Indian festival of Kumbh Mela, and how the invention of a cheap solar lightbulb is changing lives in the Philippines.
My Stack subscription is a calculated spend that brings me far more joy than the 12eu a month price tag costs me. And it lets me peek into all sorts of interesting corners of our amazing world.
And by the way, if you’re like me and get crazy interested in things for a short time, you might also have felt like there was something wrong with you. I have always envied people who can sustain a deep, abiding interest in a single topic and find contentment in it. The people who always knew what they wanted to do with their lives. I’m still figuring it out, but I’m no longer punishing myself for all my interests. I’m learning to celebrate them, as I’m working my way through this book: Refuse to Choose by Barbara Sher. It’s a really liberating read for me and I feel much more at peace with my ADD and my broad array of interests.
And don’t worry, I didn’t buy the book. It’s something I’ve had on my shelf for a long time but have never actually sat down with. That’s another benefit of not spending, it forces you to shop your own bookshelf. And you bought everything in it for a reason, even if you haven’t gotten to it yet!
“My name is Siân and I have cheated.”
So in my last post I renewed my no-spending vows and promised to reveal exactly how I had cheated.
But first, a little story. When I arrived in Munich 3.5 years ago, I was pretty much stone broke, or “financially embarrassed” as my friend Jean and I like to say. I had decided that nothing would stop me from accepting the job offer, but looking back, I really did it tough at first. I had to buy the cheapest of everything, because my boyfriend in Sydney and I had just forked out a load of cash for a new fridge, washing machine, dishwasher, mattress, sofa and side tables, so savings were non-existent. Plus, the role here involved a huge pay cut.
I had also not realised the way the rental market works in Germany. The TENANT pays the real estate agent a non-refundable fee of 2.8 times the gross rent of the new place. Whaaaa? In most cases, for NOTHING! Literally, these people stick an ad in the online search site, thousands of people apply (because Munich has a chronic rental housing shortage), they hold one open-house for 20 mins at a super inconvenient time, collect a thousand applications and pick the first one that meets the criteria. Done. For that, they earn around 2 grand. From the tenant.
My first apartment rented for 780eu a month. I had to pay two months’ rent in advance, a bond of 1500 and then a real estate agent fee of around 2000. All this on top of the furniture I was repaying at home, plus my flights…and I still hadn’t been paid my drastically reduced salary.
Long story short, I had to buy really cheap shit. Including a mattress. I bought the most inexpensive Ikea one I could find and slowly realised I might as well be sleeping on the kitchen table. I haven’t been able to replace it since then.
I’ve been sleeping poorly because of it. I realised last month that over time it had become so bad I was actually avoiding going to bed, knowing I would toss and turn for hours and never be comfortable, waking with stiff shoulders and a burning neck. Here’s a snapshot from my sleep tracker app of what an average night looked like for me:
I didn’t want to spring for a new mattress (see what I did there?) at this stage in my financial development, so I decided to try something else first. I know amazon have their issues, I really do. But what I love about it as a consumer is that I can see what everyone else thinks of a product. Mattresses and pillows in particular are difficult to buy, because what feels comfortable for three minutes in a show room may not be what feels good long-term, when you test it in the privacy of your own privacy :).
So I picked the best-rated pillow and mattress-softening overlay and they were delivered the very next day. And holy land of nod do they make a difference to me.
It’s still not quite like sleeping in a good hotel, or my old bed in Sydney. And still, one of the first things I will buy when I am debt-free next year is definitely a really quality box-spring bed. But in the meantime, here’s what sleep looks like now:
I know, right??! Progress.
I also bought:
Measuring cups and spoons. German baking and recipes go by weight, so you can find the world’s most advanced kitchen scales that can measure the exhalation of a cricket, but not a single “teaspoon” or “cup”. I figured it was much better use of my resources to simply buy a set than spend endless hours converting things in all my recipes. I am happy with this choice.
The Best Paleo Recipes 2014 ebook. I am getting a recipe book for Christmas, I know. And I didn’t need this. But it was on sale for $19.95 USD, (which it still is) and I liked a couple of the recipes I had seen sneak previews of. I definitely need more recipe books, because I cannot free-style in the kitchen like all those incredibly gifted people who can. I am paint by numbers or nothing at all. This ebook seemed like a good choice.
So those were my cheats. I am not proud of them, but I am consoling myself with the fact that they all in some way contribute to my health. Sleep most importantly. And there was not a single wasteful or silly item, not even a cheap piece of costume jewellery that I’d have tired of after the first wear.
Even though I cheated, I consider that I cheated well. I feel like this is progress. And today, that’s good enough for me.
I seem to have fallen prey to a little something known in the industry as “scope creep”. You know, when someone asks you to proofread a short document and suddenly it’s midnight and you’re doing the cancan on a table in Tijuana with Carlos? Oh wait…different story.
When I initially “closed my purse” the rules were quite clear. Aside from food, skin care and medical care, NOTHING else was in scope. Well…I’ve sort of been gently nudging the goalposts a little as I struggled to stick to this and came up against obstacles I hadn’t expected, and now I’ve moved them so far that it’s just not cricket anymore. Oh wait…different game.
So here, I would like to renew my vows. There’s a post coming later this week about what exactly I’ve been naughty with, and how even though I have been naughty, I’m still making better choices. But for now, here are my vows. Again.
I swear to keep my purse closed in good times and in bad, through Black Fridays and Cyber Mondays, in the face of huge discounts, cool products and upcoming events where I don’t have a single thing to wear. I promise to keep it closed in summer and in winter, spring and autum, until next August do us part. I remember the reasons why I started this (which are written here if you dropped the ball on that), and I commit to them again.
I owe this to myself and I want to do it. Now, and…until next August as I said.
And please, please for the love of god stop drooling on the pillows while wearing fake tan. Oh wait…different vows.
So…sadly, I didn’t win Nanowrimo this year. I only wrote 35ooo words instead of 50ooo. And there are so many excuses. There was an entire week when I couldn’t write at all, and then other social commitments and blah blah. I didn’t make it.
But! I am still really happy with my effort. I wrote an average of 11oo words a day, and I have the beginnings of a story that I am really happy with. I switched my idea halfway through to something that felt a lot truer to me, and the words came faster after that. So now I just have to keep on it.
I’ve still been hibernating, and I’ve still been cooking all my meals and working out hard and eating really well. Still haven’t spent anything. Well…actually I bought a set of measuring spoons and cups, but I count that towards health because it improves my cooking. And it will also save me money because I kept getting ratios wrong and wasting ingredients.
And in other exciting new, Christmas is just around the corner and I will finally be getting my food processor! I couldn’t be more excited, and have big plans for the first things I’m going to cook.
Looking forward to reading everyone’s blogs again and catching up on what I’ve missed. Did anyone else do Nanowrimo? Manage to finish? Got yourself a story, if you didn’t?
This little thing is breaking the internet at the moment. It’s the super-cute fixer-upper camper that Vintage Revivals has been working on for a long time and just revealed. It’s named “The Nugget”.
There are loads more pictures, including before and afters, over on the blog. I could not only definitely live in this space, I love the style for my own apartment now!
Can’t talk! Got a novel to write. I’m participating in this year’s National Novel Writing Month and you can cheer my progress in the widget on the right hand side.
In other news, here are my goals from last week in the Green Embers Building Rome weekly goal setting event:
- Go to crossfit three times. DONE! Read more about it here.
- Bring my lunch each day. DONE! Cooking up a storm over here. Thank god for the interwebs providing me with a constant source of paleo recipes!
- Eat fermented food three times a week. DONE!
- Eat NO grains. (I’ve actually already been doing this for three weeks. I feel like a NEW person.) DONE! Getting easier and easier. And I feel like a million dollars.
- Get my outline ready for Nanowrimo. I am going to attempt to write a novel in 30 days. Anyone else out there doing this?! I need some buddies! DONE! And the games have begun!
- Continue Sober October until the end of October. DONE….well. I went to a Halloween party on the night of the 31st of October. Debauchery ensued. And it occurred before midnight. However! I kept myself only to blood vodka jelly shots that went from fake plastic syringes into my mouth. Well that and marshmallow vodka. So partial credit.
And my goals for the next week are basically the same. They will be for a while. So this might be the last time I check in on them during November. It’s hard. I’m busy! Still got around nine-tenths of my book to write. But I might share some good passages on here if I feel like my muse has done a good job 🙂
Good luck with your goals!
It has come to my attention that I have no freaking clue what day I check in with my goals on. So from now on, it’s Mondays. Ahh Mondays. That shitty, shitty day where you remember you haven’t won the lottery and you have to get up at 630am again. Or in my case, when the snooze button runs out. Which is approximately 15 minutes after first alarm, but a good while before second alarm. Second alarm is set for the last conceivable minute that I can get up, tie my hair in a knot, run a washcloth over myself, and leave the house decent enough not to cause alarm to the general populace.
It should only be used in extreme cases.
But I digress.
Here are my goals from last week, from the Building Rome event hosted by the lovely Green Embers, and how I did on them:
- I will not spend any money. After the Finland debacle, I’ve been very careful with this one. Mission accomplished.
- I will go to crossfit twice this week. Nailed it!
- I will bring my lunch each day this week. Also a gold star on this one. Have not missed a single day of packing my own lunch. Even though I eat in the company cafeteria with everyone else and the heavy, eastern-European cashier who looks like an extra on Orange is the New Black makes me hold open my containers for her. Yeah right. Like I would steal that food. Bitch, please.
- I will continue Sober October. This is going to be a BIG test. I am going to the Whiskey Festival with friends on Friday, and a very good friend is visiting this weekend. Not just any friend, an Irish friend. I have decided that for Friday and Saturday nights, “sobriety” will mean two standard drinks. Just for those two days, and only because these two events are pretty rare and special. OKaaaay. So. This one. Huh. Well, I not only tumbled off the wagon, I hit every sleeper on the track during the night of the whiskey festival. The glorious, delicious whiskey festival. I literally don’t know how many I had, but it was enough to cause a bone-crushing headache the next day. And to not remember taking at least half the pictures I found on my mobile the next day. Which mainly involved hands holding whiskey glasses. Case in point at the top. I didn’t notice the middle finger. That’s what happens when you drink with boys. Aaaand, then I drank again the next day and the next. Not half as much. Just two drinks on Saturday and one on Sunday. But then I dusted myself off and got back on the wagon, and rode it clean through to Friday. When I tumbled off it again. This time I only had a single Moscow Mule. And now I am back on it again.
I would like to give myself extra credit here, because I did not drink on Sunday. Not even when a bird flew into my apartment. An actual bird. Which then totally panicked and started smacking itself against the window. The closed one. Not the open one it had just flown in through. I am PETRIFIED of birds. And there was no-one here with me, and my distress calls went unanswered. Mostly because I am not sure any sound actually came out of my mouth. For the next ten minutes, this bird and I moved around each other with flaps and screams and ducking, while I tried to get the window open wider for it, and it shat on the sofa, floor, and coffee table and did laps of the kitchen. Eventually when the door was wide open, I cautiously retreated and then curled into a ball on the floor. As soon as the thing FINALLY flew out, I got up and slapped the window shut and so it shall remain forevermore. Most terrifying moments of my life to date. And I had a whiskey bottle in my hand thirty seconds afterward. But I talked myself down. The strength this required cannot be underestimated.
- I will add fermented food to my diet 3 times a week. Done! I’ve been eating sauerkraut and drinking kombucha at least 3 times a week.
- I will do at least one page on any of my creative writing projects. Done! I have been outlining in preparation for National Novel Writing month. Which is a new goal below.
- Complete my German homework, and watch a half hour episode of a familiar show in German. Nope. Didn’t even go near this. Apologies to my darling German teacher. I will do better this week, Carmen, I promise.
And on to this week’s goals! We’ve got some big ones here.
- Go to crossfit three times.
- Bring my lunch each day.
- Eat fermented food three times a week.
- Eat NO grains. (I’ve actually already been doing this for three weeks. I feel like a NEW person.)
- Get my outline ready for Nanowrimo. I am going to attempt to write a novel in 30 days. Anyone else out there doing this?! I need some buddies!
- Continue Sober October until the end of October.
I think that’s enough for now, don’t you? 🙂 Good luck on your goals!
Looks like any ordinary food processor, doesn’t it? But it’s not! It’s actually a step towards a better me.
This little baby is my Christmas present from my family in Australia. Except I paid for it. Now, that sounds like I broke the rules. But here’s the story in bullets because we’re all busy:
- Our family is large, so we do a Kris Kringle for Christmas. Meaning everyone pulls one name from a hat and only buys for that person.
- We send around lists of the things that we want. Because frankly, my 60 year old engineer stepdad has no idea what my 35 year old fashionista female cousin would want. And my fisherman/prison warden cousin has no idea what my Ma would want. And basically noone knows what my brother-in-law wants, not even him (Love you, Chris!).
- I said I wanted a food processor.
- This on was on sale on amazon.de, last one!
- Instead of immediatenly buying it, I called my family and asked if I could buy it and they pay me the money for it into my Australian bank account.
- This saves shipping fees and currency conversion credit card charges. It also means I can transfer less money home from this side back to my account at home. Altogether meaning I get more for my Christmas money.
- They said yes.
- I bought it.
- It arrived in the post.
Now here is the part where I realised I’m changing. The deal was that I could buy it only if I agreed not to use it until Christmas. In the past, I would have nodded and then torn the box open and started using it right away. After all, I’m half a world away, noone would be any the wiser! And there are recipes to make, damn it.
But this time I stopped and thought about how I would feel on Christmas day when I had nothing to open. By then, the food processor would have been regularly used and wouldn’t have that special “new” feeling anymore. And I would be empty-handed. Christmas wouldn’t really be special, and it’s already hard when you’ve no family around.
I’m not good enough to keep it in my apartment and not use it, but what I have done is give it to a friend. I’ll be seeing him and his family around Christmas time and he says he’ll wrap it and give it to me then. So that will be lovely.
I’m slowly learning to wait for the second marshmallow. 🙂
Ever heard of the famous Stanford University Marshmallow experiment? Just in case you haven’t, it took place in the 60s and involved Professor Walter Mischel leaving small children – around four years old – alone in a room with a single marshmallow.
“I’m going to go away for 15 minutes,” he would say. “If the marshmallow is still here when I get back, you get a second one.” The kids were secretly filmed.
Two out of three kids ate the marshmallow within the 15 minutes. Some held out almost the whole time, others had it in their sticky fists before the door was closed.
Doesn’t sound like a big deal. What if they were hungry? What if they only wanted one marshmallow? What if they didn’t trust they’d get a second?
Well, turns out, it’s not about the marshmallow.
The team went back and caught up with all those kids 15 years later. They discovered that that one kid in three who held out for the second marshmallow had ended up with “better life outcomes” – higher education levels, better grades, better BMIs, better relationships – than the other two of three.
In his TED talk, motivational speaker and author Joachim de Posada says the ability to say no to the first marshmallow is the “single most important principle for success: the ability to delay gratification. Self-discipline.”
I am pretty confident I would have eaten the marshmallow, probably within seconds. Because I’ve never had much self-discipline. I’ve always gotten good grades and had a healthy BMI and good relationships in my life…except with money. And sometimes cigarettes. And sometimes other things.
My mindset has always been: “But what if I died tomorrow?” Then I would never have been able to enjoy that new piece of clothing, that cigarette, those fries. And it’s good to have a vice, isn’t it? Everyone has one. And it’s not like I’m honking away on a crack pipe each evening.
But once you eat the marshmallow, you want another one. You want the second one. Except it’s too late. The money from next month, well, you already spent that last month. You’re tired this morning? That’s because you chose to stay up really late last night. You wanna watch Breaking Bad? Well there’s none left because you watched 247 episodes in one weekend. Your bonus? You already spent it three times.
And really, the chances are good that I won’t die tomorrow. We can never know for sure, but the chances are good.
So recently I’ve found myself thinking: “What if I live tomorrow?” Then it makes more sense to wait out for the second treat. To delay gratification. To learn to save. To learn not to indulge. To spread the enjoyment out. But how?
Then I read this New Yorker article from 2009, where journalist Jonah Lehrer went back and spoke to Mischel about his famous marshmallow experiments. Mischel said some interesting things.
He noted similar behaviours in all the kids who could wait. They would cover their eyes, turn their backs on the marshmallow, sing songs to divert their attention, even hide under the table itself. They were all doing the same thing. Moving the marshmallow OUT of the centre of their focus. They were able to distract themselves, and stop thinking about the “hot stimulus” of the marshmallow.
It also turns out that he could pretty reliably predict which kids would eat the marshmallow from the age of around 18 months. He would temporarily separate kids from their mothers. Some would completely lose their shit – the ones who would eat the marshmallow. Others would sing to themselves, play with toys whatever – they would distract themselves so they would not think about their missing mothers. When he tested the same kids several years later, the mother separation test was basically foolproof in picking the quick marshmallow eaters.
So does that mean the desire for instant gratification is born into us? Into me?
Apparently, thankfully, not.
When Mischel taught the kids simple shortcuts – such as pretending the marshmallow was only a picture of one and not real – this dramatically increased their ability to resist. The article also mentions another experimenter, John Jonides, who was working on conducting the equivalent tests in adults – sans marshmallows. He was on the brink of proving through MRIs that the same part of the brain responsible for self-control is the part used for directed attention.
So, self-control is just about directed attention. Focus.
At the time of the article, they were trying to figure out the best ways to introduce this concept – to really teach kids the skills they need to control themselves and to delay gratification – at certain schools. I’ve got more research to do. But according to both experimenters, metacognition – or thinking about thinking – is one of the best ways to outsmart yourself when you are sinking in to your desires.
And I think that is what I have somehow started doing. About 36 years late, but hey, I’m hopefully going to live another 36! I seem to have learned to just keep my thoughts away from the stimulus, instead of staring, poking and scratching at it like I might have done before. It’s what I was doing when I unsubscribed from all those newsletters, emptied my online wish lists and changed my internet preferences on ads.
I’ve noticed other small changes since I closed my purse. Like those above, but also more recently around other areas of my life. Like, each day I bring my lunch to work along with enough snacks to last the day. Previously, I ate all the snacks about an hour after arriving, and ended up starved by mid-afternoon. I don’t think my diet was premium either, so my blood sugar was crashing a lot and I couldn’t hold out once I thought about eating.
Now, I am not even bringing snacks. It’s so weird but in the space of just a week or two, I have discovered that if I only eat real food, and eliminate grains and most sugar, I can actually get by on my (admittedly huge) breakfast, a big lunch, and maybe a cup of tea, piece of fruit and some nuts mid-afternoon. I’m still working out, so it’s not like my body needs less energy. And I still eat a LOT. I’m just not grazing the whole damn day. And my blood sugar isn’t crashing. It’s a miracle.
When I think about it, it’s also about focus and directed attention. I am suuuper busy at work and don’t have as much time to think about food. A combination of changing my behaviour a bit and keeping my mind off food seems to be working. Now I need to harness it for the other areas of my life. I’m just going to keep this in mind, and take it one day at a time. But I thought I would share this discovery.
And in very good news for me, there are a group of kids who failed the marshmallow test, but turned themselves into “high-delaying adults”. These are the ones Mischel said he would study next. “These”, he says, “are the most interesting.”
Here’s what they were for last week, along with my progress updates.
- Financial: I will not spend any money (obeying these rules). Uh, so I didn’t really stick to this.
- Fitness: I will go to crossfit three times next week. Nope, not this either. I was way too sick to even go to work, let alone work out.
- Creative: I will get started (one page min) on the outline for the TV series idea I have. Also a big zero on this front. I was more concerned with keeping drool off my pillow and wondering how many tissues a human can use in one day.
- Health: I will take my own lunch to work each day next week. Here I get partial credit. I did bring lunch to work the only day and a half I was in, and the rest of the time, I only ate food I had cooked. When I was hungry at all, that is.
- Creative 2: I will write 2 pages for my chapter of the book I am cowriting with one of my BFFs. I think you can already guess where this one went.
However! I have still made some headway on some things. And the goals have changed slightly, perhaps expanded.
- I will not spend any money So far – Finland excepted – so good.
- I will go to crossfit twice this week It’s not the usual 3 because I am building back up after the ‘flu. One already down one to go.
- I will bring my lunch each day this week. 3 from 3 so far!
- I will continue Sober October. This is going to be a BIG test. I am going to the Whiskey Festival with friends on Friday, and a very good friend is visiting this weekend. Not just any friend, an Irish friend. I have decided that for Friday and Saturday nights, “sobriety” will mean two standard drinks. Just for those two days, and only because these two events are pretty rare and special.
- I will add fermented food to my diet 3 times a week. This is to aid with gut healing – more on that below.
- I will do at least one page on any of my creative writing projects.
- Complete my German homework, and watch a half hour episode of a familiar show in German.
It’s a lot, but I am feeling 99% healthy again, and cooked up a huge batch of food on the first day of my sickness, before collapsing into bed for marathon 12-hour stretches.
I have been inspired to add fermented food to my diet (goal #5) after reading a series of really interesting posts on the Eat.Drink.WoD. Blog. The author decided to cut out a bunch of foods and increase others, to see what would happen and how she would feel. The results were pretty spectacular. If you want to read more:
Happy reading, and good luck with your goals!