It’s my birthday in a few weeks. Ok, like seven weeks. It’s extremely exciting for me, and possibly not that exciting for anyone else on the planet. It’s not a birthday I plan on acknowledging (hi, 37) but it DOES mean I get presents from my family. And I decided that I wanted those presents to be clothes. Much, much clothes.
So it made perfect sense to me that these items should be purchased now, while all the sales are on and I can maximise my birthday money. I started off carefully, considering at length which items I needed to plug holes in my wardrobe. And then my brain snapped and I wanted ALL THE CLOTHES.
I bought this leather biker jacket:
And this blazer:
And these boots:
And these tops:
And these treggings (I know, right? I stopped learning at jeggings).
And these accessories:
(Sorry, not sure you really needed to see the bustier, but I think its really cute!)
in about 90 seconds flat. And then I collapsed in a happy heap.
And then remorse kicked in. I know these are totally “legal” spends…but somehow I felt a bit dirty and cheaty afterwards. It seems spending is still a door that needs to remain firmly shut for me at the moment. If I open it even a crack, the hounds of hell get loose and there is no stopping me. Hopefully it’s getting better? But if that was a little test, I have to say things don’t look good. 😦
In other news, I am training my brain. I’m terrified of dementia and did a few things lately such as pouring a freshly boiled kettle of water straight down the sink instead of into my cup, and getting off the train three stops early and catching myself wandering around before I snapped to it and headed into the office. To be fair, I was really sick that day and very tired. But I convinced myself I had early-onset Alzheimer’s and downloaded this app (free version, don’t worry!) called Lumosity Brain Training. It takes a snapshot of your brain through a series of short games designed to test things like mental flexibility, speed, spacial awareness and memory. And then each day it custom-develops a training program of three (five on the full version) games for you to train your brain in each of those elements.
So the good news is I am quick as a whip and more mentally flexible than 90% of people my age. My memory is fair to middling.
The bad news is I am completely shit at math, and have literally NO spacial awareness (not really a newsflash to anyone who knows me).
There’s one game where you have to help a little penguin through a maze to a fish. It’s fine at first, because the four controls move him up, down, left and right through the maze, ahead of zombie penguin who is racing him there. But then…THE MAZE FLIPS. Your controls stay where they were though, so now when you press right, he can head left, or down or anywhere really!
I find it EXTREMELY stressful because I have to literally press all the buttons until he starts going where I want. Something in my brain short-circuits and I cannot understand what this penguin will do or which control does what. Just when I get the hang of it, THE MAZE SPINS AGAIN.
At one point this poor penguin marched up and down the same little stretch of maze for a full minute while zombie penguin strode purposefully to the fish. And then my penguin CRIED when the zombie got the fish!! Like, they actually programmed this cute little guy to make a heart-breaking peep and shed two little penguin tears while covering his eyes. It’s more than I can handle, and makes me doubly stressed in round two.
Except stress doesn’t seem to help me. There is simply nothing in my brain that can understand what the controls do when the maze flips. Logically I can say: the maze flipped 90 degrees left, so now to get him marching up the screen, we need to press the right arrow. But that doesn’t actually work when I am playing the game. I turn into a chimp, randomly banging all the controls. *sigh*.
And yes, I am one of those people who has to spin a map so it’s in the same direction as I am traveling.
So I’m not perfect. I’m still clearly not to be trusted unsupervised on the internet, and I basically could not find my way out of a paper bag.
But I’m smart in other ways! And I’m funny. And I’m kind. And I’m going to look great in that jacket. 🙂
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.
OK, this thing. The touchless soap dispenser for the home. I have never, ever understood this. Because let’s look at the hand-washing process:
- Your hands are dirty
- You press the soap dispenser with your dirty hands
- And then your hands are clean! And you don’t touch the dispenser again!
The soap dispenser is not the source of germs here, people. OK, I agree, it then sits on the counter with some germs on the pump. But if you honestly think your entire house isn’t crawling with germs already, then you need to read more.
Products like this prey on the paranoia about germs that many people have. And I don’t mean people with OCD. I mean people who think children shouldn’t get a little dirty or play with dogs. Or who try to disinfect every single thing they touch. People who want to hermetically seal whatever they can. I personally don’t think that’s healthy. I’ve heard that lots of studies say the kids who grow up with the best immune systems are the ones who grow up around pets and with germs.
Not dirt. I don’t propone dirtiness. First thing I do when I arrive at the office or home is wash my hands. I mop and scrub my apartment weekly, daily in the kitchen. I change my bedsheets weekly, and I shower twice a day. I just don’t think that a touchless soap dispenser will add to that. But it will create more landfill.
Also by the way, unless you also have a keyless entry system and you levitated to the sink and your taps have sensors….then you’ve touched stuff! Your germs are already in the house. Sorry.
What do you think? Have I missed something? Or is this as silly as it seems to me?
I’m not that much fun to be friends with at the moment, I’ll admit it. I’m rarely saying yes to invitations, and when I do I am the first to head home. I’m not initiating anything, and I’ve all but stopped going out mid-week. Mondays are set aside for cooking, Tuesdays + Thursdays + Saturday mornings are for crossfit, and Wednesdays I’ve been trying to work on my novel. That’s not to say I am not missing everyone like crazy. And of course, I am still making time for my nearest and dearest. I’m just not being a party animal. There are several reasons for this, and while I initially experienced a great deal of FOMO and anxiety that no one would be there for me when I was ready to re-join the land of the living, I have gotten past that now and made peace with my hibernation.
So, why am I playing the hermit crab? Five good reasons:
1. I want to concentrate on my nutrition. Since cutting out all grains and really shaking up my eating habits about 8 weeks ago, so many great things have happened. The keratosis pilaris that I have always suffered on my upper arms is just gone. Gone. I can’t even describe how happy that makes me. My skin in general feels softer and just…in better condition. My tummy is rarely angry or inflamed, when that was essentially a way of life for me before. I can’t remember a time when I’ve felt so healthy! And although the scales say nothing has changed, I know that my body shape has. This is also due to exercise, but you can work out all day and if you eat shit nothing is going to happen. So I really want to keep cooking for myself and only eating food I eat. I want to get a good repertoire up and then just spend one night per week cooking for the whole week ahead. This means it’s harder to join in on dinners out. And anyone who cooks for me can expect explicit instructions and a thousand insane questions (sorry Fais!). But it’s something I need to do. Something I want to do.
2. I want to concentrate on exercise. I love crossfit. I don’t think that’s a secret. What’s also not a secret is that I am shit at it (“Kelly”, I am looking at you, bitch). (PS that’s the name of a workout, not a person.) But no matter how bad I am, or that I can only squat and dead-lift about a third of the weight that some of the other girls can, I simply love the feeling that the workouts give me. It’s not only physical but mental achievement. And this is something new to me. I have never before liked exercise. And I want to set aside my three times per week for it, with the devotion of a church-goer. So those nights too, I am unavailable. I am hibernating. And it’s something else I really want to do.
3. I want to save money. I’ll be honest. I am already totally over not spending. I hate my wardrobe. It’s coming into winter and I only have two jumpers. I might need to buy an item or two just so I have a full week’s worth of things for the office. I’ve done everything I can think of – sectioned it off into little capsule wardrobes that I rotate amongst, combined pieces I have never tried together before, tried to find any clothing swaps going on (none). I desperately wish I could just go out and buy a whole new wardrobe. But what I really want is to just pay off my debts already and be square. And the harder I hibernate, the quicker that will happen. So I am doing alternative things, like inviting friends to my place and cooking for them. Or meeting people after dinner if I go out at all. And trying to limit the amount of drinks I have when I am out. And trying my hardest to stay off the shopping websites. I think one trick I will try is getting some nice lipstick. I never wear lipstick but it makes people look really dressed up and as though they have made an effort. It might draw attention away from the fact that I am basically wearing the same black skirt each day…
4. I want to cut back on alcohol. Not cut it out. Never, ever cut it out. But just not drink so mindlessly. Not have so many nights where I can’t pull myself together for work, or where I waste a whole Sunday in bed recovering. Because I am shit at not having hangovers. I have already become much better at this. I haven’t really had a big night out in a long time. And I do want one, I will be back. But winter is a great time for me to be doing this. It’s dark early, the beergardens are closed, it will soon be holiday season and most of my ex-pat friends will fly home. So it’s a good time to be limiting my alcohol intake. Temporarily.
5. I want to finish this novel. I have had this idea in my head for about five years. And I just want to get a draft out. I know it will be terrible, I am prepared for that. But it’s the thing I want most in this life – to complete a book. To write. I mean, I do it all day at work, but to write something I would want to read. And it takes time. And it’s really hard. I’m currently on around 16,ooo words. I plan to spend most of tomorrow getting that up to 25,ooo. And then I am back on track to finish Nanowrimo by November 30. Of course, I realise that by “finish” I mean have the world’s roughest first draft. But at least it will be something I can edit. And at least I will be taking steps all the time towards my dream.
So that’s why I’m feeling ok with the fact that I am spending a little more time than usual alone. Why I am ok with saying no a bit more often. Come 2015, I cannot wait to launch and best version of me there is. To get back out and enjoy socialising a little more. But in the meantime, I’m working on my goals.
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!
So I had an amazing time in Finland, as you can see here. The forest was lit up with the colours of autumn the day we went mushroom hunting. Yeah. That’s a thing in Finland. I was given a quick lesson by my friends, as to which mushrooms not to touch. That giant red one in the second picture is really poisonous. One of the few poisonous mushrooms in Finland. I was delighted to find a giant patch of the exact mushroom kind we were looking for, and we put them into our little basket and made a risotto with them later that night.
Then the bad thing happened. My friends, who are expecting any day now, stopped by Ikea on the way home to grab some baby things. And I got separated from the herd. When I connected with them again, it was too late. My basket was full and my purse was wide open.
Here’s what I bought:
Now, stay with me as I justify every purchase.
1. Limited edition sheet sets. They match not only my rug but my whole apartment. And I accidentally boiled the only set I had on a 90°c washing setting with an orange blazer. I think you can guess the rest.
2. Lunch boxes that go directly from the freezer to the microwave. I’m enjoying cooking in bulk and freezing at the moment. And actually, bringing my lunch to work each day is a goal of mine. And I didn’t have enough things to store my cooking in.
3. A meat thermometre. Basically so I don’t poison myself in the kitchen.
4. These bottles handily labelled themselves. System 4 is a famous Finnish shampoo that improves scalp circulation and stimulates hair growth. I ain’t bald, but tell me someone who doesn’t want thicker hair and I will show you a big fat liar. Oops! There are two 4s. The second is a scented candle. That’s essential, right? It smells like heaven if that makes a difference.
5. Variously-sized zip-lock freezer bags. Again, for cooking. Less space than lunch boxes. And more labellable. Which is now a word.
6. Thermos for taking soup to work. My old one stopped closing properly.
7. A funnel to get the soup into said thermos. Previously my counter top ate more soup than the average German.
8. Those handy clippy things that seal open bags.
So you see, it’s nothing frivolous. But still, I feel like I’ve failed. Like I’ve fallen off the wagon.
I need a little encouragement here!
I just wanted to post these pics to show how good I was when one of my besties took me shopping for something she needed. (That’s the culprit there. Top photo, left, gorgeous hair, arm in sling).
I mean, would you look at this stuff? I want it all!
But my purse remained closed and I am quite proud of myself for that.
That is all. As you were.
They’re just shit, aren’t they? Breakups. I’m going through one now. It’s not fun, but I’ll get over it. It’s kind of the least interesting part of this story. When I’ve been through a breakup in the past, there has always been a sure-fire way to cheer myself up. Hit the shops. Buy something pretty. Some new makeup. Shoes. Jewellery. Something that makes me feel good about myself. Maybe get my hair did. Actually…I might still do that part. But I can’t do anything else. My hands are tied, and my purse is closed.
So now I have to look for other ways to get through it. And I found possibly the best three today.
I was booked in for a crossfit class this morning, but after having been out drinking with friends last night, and also having laid awake thinking everything over during the night, it was the absolute last thing I felt like doing. I tried to make a deal with myself that if I could stay home today and drink whiskey and eat junkfood and cry, then I’d get right back on the horse next week. Except I knew it was a lie. Once I get out of the swing, it’s really hard to get back into it. So I forced myself, literally used every single ounce of energy I had to wipe my nose, splash water on my face and get out the door.
The workout was really awful. Completely punishing. (You can skip straight to the next paragraph if you like.) We learned snatch pull-unders, which I seemed to need remedial instructions for. Then we did 3 sets of 8 ring dips, alternated with 16 kettle-bell rows. Then we started a whole new workout: 5 rounds of 3 overhead squats, 6 burpees, 9 toes-to-bar and 12 kettle-bell lunges. At the end I was completely fucked.
But I realised something.
My head was totally clear. I had not thought about anything but surviving the workout for a whole hour. I had complete clarity on the situation, I knew it was the right decision and that things will be better now. I left the box feeling like I could charm the world. Even though I totally stank and was dripping with sweat and my face was beet red.
I’m going to go to every single session – going to read this back to myself when I need the motivation to go.
Oh. My. God. I have the best friends (my baby sis is one of the greatest) in the whole world. They have come out of the woodwork to support me and book out my days and check in and see if I want to hang out and take me for drinks and send me little whatsapp messages that just contain the kissy-face guy. I freaking love that kissy-face guy. I am totally not alone, and knowing how wonderful these people are and that they love me is the best kind of balm. Lucky, lucky me.
My sister recommended I start some totally addictive, not-too-mentally-demanding TV series, to help me through any difficult hours. “Suits” is that show. Hot guys, funny banter, catchy story-lines and just the right amount of clever to keep me watching.
So this is what I am replacing retail therapy with. And I have to say, it’s even better.
But I’m still gonna get my hair did.
Got any other tips for me?