Discardia.com refresh and more to come

After a sojourn in the lands of cocktail writing, unexpectedly learning about estate management through a death in my family, and a couple years of having my life completely upended by a rare disease diagnosis, I'm returning to steady work on Discardia. It's been quite a ride so far, but I've learned and continue to learn so much that I want to share.

Works in progress:

  • An updated Discardia.com
    The first project, and I hope the quickest, will be migrating the website hosting from Typepad to WordPress.com.
    Expect a slight change to the look of things and other small improvements as I do that.
  • A return to posting more often on social media
    You can find Discardia on Mastodon, at https://mastodon.social/@discardia (On Mastodon because it's lovely and I like to support open source software when I can, and because Facebook and Twitter are a garbage fire and Facebook owns Instagram.)
    Here's a piece I wrote about how to migrate from Twitter to Mastodon https://medium.com/@metagrrrl/low-spoon-mastodon-migration-8289688f818a
  • A Discardia Patreon community for those who want to get more involved
    This will be a Tip Jar model—$1 a month—to support my ongoing work, get early access to content, participate in polls and conversations, and generally be more connected as we head into the 10th anniversary of the book in 2021 and the 20th anniversary of the founding of the holiday in 2022. Joining won't be necessary to keep up with Discardia in general, but it will be available for those who want to dive deeper. Don't worry; there will be just as many free posts as before!
  • A revised and expanded edition of Discardia: More Life, Less Stuff 
    This is a very big project I'll be working on over the next couple years and I'm very excited about it! I will be sharing this process and having discussions about changes and additions in the Discardia Patreon community.

Thanks to all my fellow Discardians for coming along this journey so far. I'm looking forward to where we travel together to next!

Quality Over Quantity and your wardrobe

My big Quality Over Quantity theme this year (besides not over-scheduling myself, which is a big part of my health management) has been pruning and adjusting my wardrobe. My clothes need to reflect who I am now, feel good on the body I have now, and support my happiness and wellness.

I'll be sharing more about this in the weeks ahead, but for the moment here's a little excerpt from my book Discardia: More Life, Less Stuff:

The change of the seasons into summer and winter is a good time to revisit things in your closet because it gives you a chance to look again at clothes you haven’t worn since last year and decide if you love them enough to renew their contract as players on your team. When the chill grows in the air, go through all those coats, sweaters, scarves, mittens, boots, etc. and decide what you're going to wear within the next thirty days. If it doesn't make the cut, get rid of it.

Someone else needs to be warm more than you need to maintain The Gallery of Unwanted Winterwear. As the sunshine blooms and you shed layers, do the same thing, but with bathing suits, shorts, lightweight dresses, halter tops, sandals, and t-shirts.

Don’t hang onto things that you never use. Send that just-not-you suit to one of the great organizations helping low-income businesspeople carry themselves to success. Give that big, out-of-fashion winter coat to charity and save someone from the chill. Let that over-the-top formalwear send someone on a tight budget to the prom or a holiday party in style. Move the neglected items out of your space and into the arms of someone who really appreciates them.

Remember, Someday Is Now still applies when it comes to your dress clothes; we simply define ‘now’ as being a longer time range. When you haven’t worn that suit or gown in six months, but you don’t want to be in the lurch if you get invited to a fancy occasion, you can still hold onto it ‘just in case’ provided that it fits you well and you actually like wearing it.

However, I have seen people keep something ostensibly for the reason “I might need to wear it if I go to a formal event” but really for the reason “I spent too much on this and it fits me completely wrong and I haven't worn it the last five times I've been invited to a formal event, but maybe if I hold onto it somehow that money will magically have been wisely spent.”

I say keep the things that are both beautiful and useful to you and perhaps define the utility of formals in a longer than six month cycle, but move the rest along. Don’t let the fear of being caught unprepared for exceptional events make your daily encounter with your closet a hassle.

12 days of small positive changes

Happy Discardia!

Where is the friction that most directly impacted your life over the past month?

Turn your attention for the next 12 days to improving things in that area.

Just one common example:

Bad or insufficient sleep? Take a break from devices in the bedroom, step away from online/TV distractions for an earlier bedtime, and make your bedroom space as calm as possible.

Give yourself twelve days of gently nudging your world in the direction of better wherever you need it most.

Be kind with yourself this week

Avoid clothes that are too tight or itch. Eat foods that leave you feeling good, not turbulent inside. Surround yourself with silence or soft, pleasant sounds whenever possible.

Create room around yourself to raise hunched shoulders, to breathe deep.

Let all that touches you be by your consent and invitation.

Make space in your world for your best, kindest, most peaceful self.

Heal.

Effort doesn’t necessarily increase effect

Don't mistake the work of carrying anxiety in your body for progress on what you're worrying about.

Real, positive change doesn't require stress. Sometimes it comes along with it, but it's not mandatory & certainly not helpful.

Worry without the work doesn't help anyone.

Work without the worry helps—& does so by an order of magnitude more because when you're not stressed out, you can work longer and do better work.


A related tip for volunteering: Lean on your strengths & chill out to be more effective.

Doing what you're good at may feel like "cheating" because it's so easy, but you're giving better, faster results than they would otherwise get.

Making a difference doesn't have to be a strain. In fact, the less of a strain it is, the more likely you are to give.

Discardia Guide to Travel Stress Reduction: Quick Test of Your Gear

Pack less, way less
You really appreciate having less when you're racing across an airport or schlepping from train to train in a strange place. Traveling with a single carry-on bag is an art form well worth mastering. Don’t just figure, “Hey, the airlines let me check a bag, so I might as well do so.”
You can cure yourself of this habit the first time you walk off a plane with nothing but a carry-on and are on your way, while everyone else is milling around waiting. Next time you're at the airport, watch the people claiming their luggage. I certainly hope some of them are actually moving to the country at which they're arriving because you shouldn't need a bag the size and weight of a coffee table to get you through a vacation. Who looks oppressed and in pain? Giant Bag People. Who looks excited and adventurous? The ones walking past baggage claim on their way to the exit because they already have all their reasonable amount of stuff.

"Just in case” crowds out present opportunities
Traveling in the 21st century continually reminds us of how much we have in common with people in other places. I’ve been able to pop into a corner store for some forgotten item in cities from Nairobi to Nara to Newcastle. If that’s true while traveling most places on the globe, it’s even truer in your hometown. Quit hanging onto so much stuff “just in case.” Come on. You aren't on the moon! Let the excess go.

excerpts from Discardia: More Life, Less Stuff

 

I hope you're ready to try being happier traveling with less luggage. The best way to increase your confidence about lowering your load is to do this simple test at home before you travel. You may feel a little silly at moments doing it, but it can save you many more moments of discomfort on your trip.

 

Step One: Prepare Your Gear

Most of the places that bags and backpacks travel to are dirty, so spread something easy to wash on top of your bed before you begin packing (or especially later unpacking). Go through your itinerary pulling out and laying on the bed what you will need for each day. Layered clothing is your friend so double up to maximize your options wherever you can. And, when in doubt, leave it out. The odds of needing something you have to buy on the trip is vastly lower than the odds that you'll adore having light luggage every step of the way.

Joe and I travel with two bags each: a carry-on bag which fits in the overhead compartment (we like TravelPro Flightcrew) and an over the shoulder laptop bag or other day bag (I like the Timbuk2 Q backpack, Joe prefers a roll-top messenger bag from Mission Workshop). I also tuck a small, over-the-body-strap purse inside my day bag for lighter or dressy use.

While on the move, keep your day bag in constant sight. This is where you want to have all your valuables, including your passport, money, wallet, laptop, phone, and travel itinerary printout. You'll be keeping track of your suitcase too, but you want to be able to set it out of arm's reach, such as the luggage rack at the end of a train car or airport shuttle, without having to worry too much.

Along with valuables, your day bag is where you'll carry those things you want on the plane or other long rides. These include: snacks, reading material, earbuds, medicine, the quart size bag of liquids (such as shampoo, lotion, toothpaste, etc.) which airport security will want you to present as you pass through the security gates of most airports, and anything else small to keep you comfortable as you journey. Ideally, you should leave enough room in the top of the bag to tuck in your sweater if you get warm on the way.

Everything else goes in your suitcase, including nonliquid toiletries. Roll soft things like undershirts and underwear to create a dense, compact layer on which you can set items more prone to wrinkle. Don't forget to be sneaky with space-saving tricks like filling shoes with socks. Wear your bulkiest garments when practical; boots and thick sweaters are fine on your body but take up a lot of space in your bag. (Here's more detailed advice on packing light from Rick Steves and Heather Earl)

You should be able to comfortably lift your day bag and wear it without pain. It's okay if your suitcase is a little bit heavy but you must be able to lift it from the floor to waist-high racks or security conveyor belts and down again without hurting yourself. It's preferable if you can also lift it above your head to put it in the overhead compartment on a plane yourself, but in a pinch I find there is usually someone strong around who is happy to help if you apologize and ask nicely. 

One last check: Turn your closed day bag completely upside down. Nothing should fall out. If it does, that's not the right bag to take lest casual losses or pickpockets ruin your good time.

 

Step Two: The Imaginary Airport

Now is where it feels a little silly, but stay with me; it's worth it. Couples and families should do this step together. Everyone should have a piece of paper and a pen to write down things they're learning in this step. This piece of paper also serves as your pretend boarding pass. No one should have anything that won't be traveling with them.

Wearing exactly what you'll be wearing when you set out on the trip, stash anything from your pockets in your day bag and note anything else which security may ask you to remove before passing through the x-ray such as belts with large metal buckles.

Now put on your day bag, lift the closed suitcase off the bed, and roll out of the bedroom(s) to form a line in front of another doorway.

Quickly retrieve your passport from your day bag. Show your pretend boarding pass and your passport to the doorway. Roll on to allow the next person to do the same and quickly put your passport away securely.

Return to the bed, which is now playing the part of the security x-ray conveyor belt. Put your suitcase and day bag on the bed, leaving space to between them for you to set the extra things you will need to show security. This varies from airport to airport and country to country, but often includes laptops, removed shoes, jackets, and permitted liquids in their quart bag. Here's how it works with TSA in the United States. Step back from the bed and confirm you can comfortably assume these two positions without your unbelted trousers falling down:

Screen Shot 2016-03-16 at 4.09.38 PM    BeThereExplorer_SquareAd

You probably won't need to assume that second position (for which I amusingly could only find that particular official TSA image) unless they need to do extra screening with a metal detector wand. It happens not infrequently and it's not a big deal, just relax and stay pleasant if it ever does.

Now you can step back to the bed, move your suitcase to the floor, and quickly return everything to your day bag. If your shoes aren't slip ons, it's polite to shoulder your day bag, pick up your shoes, and roll your suitcase over to one of the recombobulation benches to sit and put them back on out of the way.

Hooray! You're through security!

Roll on to your living room, set your day bags on your seat, lift your suitcases above your heads for a moment putting them in the imaginary overhead compartment, then set the suitcases aside and, standing awkwardly over your seat whilst pretending not to bump your head, remove your jacket before sitting down. Put your day bag laying flat right in front of your toes and breathe a sigh of relief. Now, without elbowing your seatmates, remove your reading material from your day bag and relax. Write down any notes you have so far.

Next, put away anything you've removed from your day bag, put your jacket back on (or stick it in the top of your day bag), and retrieve your suitcase again lifting it in the air briefly. Roll back to a doorway in a line, quickly remove your passport from your day bag and show it to the doorway before returning it to safekeeping and rolling on.

Now with all your gear, day bag still on, walk around rolling your suitcases for at least 10 minutes. Set a timer so you aren't tempted to cheat.

After this enlightening interlude—during which you will likely discover if your bags are too heavy—return to the bedroom and place all your gear on the bed.

Hooray! You're out of the airport!

 

Step 3: Venturing Out of Your Hotel

Now it's time to see how well your day bag works. Remove from the bag anything that you wouldn't be taking with you on a day trip including a stop at an internet cafe. Stash your passport in an inside pocket of your suitcase. Think about what the weather will be like at your destination and change clothes or add items to your day bag as appropriate. Now walk, take a bus, or if you need to drive somewhere nearby where you know there's a café or library with Wi-Fi.

Walk around for little while with your day bag on, stopping to adjust the straps or otherwise improve its comfort as needed.

Visit the café or library and use their Wi-Fi if you have your laptop or tablet, or a public Internet terminal if you don't, to check your email and send a test message. Being able to stay in touch is a great way to stay calm while you travel. Remember to log out of any accounts you logged into when you are all done.

Walk around a while longer, again testing the comfort of your day bag. Note any items which seem too heavy for everyday carrying and decide if you will leave them at home or keep them in your suitcase in future.

How do your feet feel? Are these the best shoes for this trip?

While you're out walking keep an eye open for interesting postcards of your hometown. These are ideal for writing thank you notes on your journey.

 

Congratulations! You've made your upcoming trip much better!

Choices for the Journey Ahead

You're about to move. You may not have realized this, but it's true.

This time next year you'll be a different you, maybe majorly different or maybe only slightly. And that different you will live —or should—in a home better suited to that new self.

Conveniently, it's quite likely that this move will be into a home that is precisely the same size and layout as your current home.

So, what doesn't make the move? What isn't worth carrying on that journey and taking up space in your new home? What's part of an old you that you don't need or want or like anymore?

Keep looking around for the things you don't need to carry with you on this move into the future and get them out of your way now.

You still have permission not to do everything.

September's Discardian season focuses on the power of quality over quantity. On that theme, here's a post from a couple years ago which is just as true today:

 

You have permission not to do everything.

“I know I’ve got more on my list than I could ever do, but I just can’t seem to keep up with it.”

Think about that sentence. Most of us say something like that to ourselves or a friend at some point—and most of the time when we do, we don’t notice the inconsistency at all. However, if we fully accept the truth that our to-do lists are bigger than our availability, we must stop beating ourselves up for failing to achieve the impossible.

September’s Discardia holiday is a reminder to practice Quality over Quantity and is a good time to revisit the expectations you’ve been setting. One of the best ways to manage stress is to manage your agreements with others and, especially, with yourself, so take a little time to think about those agreements.

That’s what your ‘to-do list’—whether you keep the things on it in your head or written down—really is: a list of everything you’d need to do if you wanted to fulfill all the things you’ve said 'yes' to. It represents agreement in its broadest sense, whether a commitment to another person or an internal affirmation of something you desire.

Being excited about things, working on them with others, doing the hard work to achieve progress, these are all valuable and can be highly motivating. But try to do too many at the same time and the effect will be negative. Fewer will be completed, with your work and the satisfaction you derive from it being less than it would be when you’re not overstretched.

I’m not necessarily recommending saying 'yes' less often. You can have as big a list of things you’d like to do as your heart and head can dream up, but the only way for that not to be a burden is to let go of the expectation that everything on the list is active right now. Become comfortable with the idea of inactive projects. They aren’t failures; they’re just not in play at the moment.

This isn’t as hard as it might seem. You have lots of practice with doing this in other areas of your life. Think about the music you like; you don’t listen to it all at the same time. You may not even listen to all the genres you enjoy every single week, yet that doesn’t create stress.

Start approaching your list of projects a little more like a D.J. What’s the right mix for here and now? Is there anything my audience will miss if I don’t get it out there? What will keep my energy up?

It’s never too late to celebrate Discardia

It's been a lovely long Discardian season, but life happens and I'm betting more than a few folks haven't been able to fit in as much life improvement over the past month as they'd ideally like.

Don't worry and certainly don't beat yourself up over it. Now's when you need both a little extra slack and the lift from having accomplished something. So go for the low-hanging fruit. Set your game difficulty on a friendlier setting. Lighten your expectations and give yourself credit for what you achieve. 

That's not saying 'give up on the bigger goals', but let yourself take a win that's sized for your ability today. Start from basics and work up. 

Here's a post from a few years ago which will help you find those easy wins. I hope you'll let me know in the comments about the wins you've found this week!

Recovering from chaos

It's all very well to want to look at the big picture of goals and projects, but what do you do when you're down in the trenches and the trenches are full of junk that's piled up while you were too busy?

First, don't beat yourself up. Everyone has things spin out of control sometimes. Major life changes, happy and sad, can pull you out of your routines of maintenance despite your best intentions. Other changes can come along which necessitate a new baseline of how much organization your home and life need for you to feel calm and on top of it all.

So, where do you start when you realize that you've got to turn this mess around and transform it into something that doesn't make you wince?

Looking at a room full of things which are out of place can be overwhelming. Don't try to tackle it all at once.

Decisions are tiring, so the trick is to make the most of every one you make. Look for the easiest possible decision and start there.

For example, that cough drop wrapper on the floor there by the sofa. That can go in the trash. There is no acceptable second use for cough drop wrappers. Mmmm, away into a trash bag with it.

But don't stop there: You've got a useful decision you can leverage, painlessly. ALL cough drop wrappers can go. In fact, since they're pretty much the same thing, all candy and food wrappers can go. Walk around for a couple minutes with that trash bag ignoring everything but dead wrappers of edible things.

Nothing else in the pile matters right now except those things that match the current game of Concentration you're playing. You don't have to play long, just start playing more often.

Decide one kind of thing on which you can take the same action and then see how many matches you can get in a few minutes strolling through the house. Here are some example rounds of the game:

– full trash and recycling containers get dumped in the big bins;

– used dishes not in the kitchen move to the kitchen;

– catalogs move to recycling;

– mail to be processed goes all together in one stack in your inbox;

– clothes that need dry cleaning or repairs go into a basket by the door;

– bills in your inbox go in one stack with your checkbook on your desk (everything that's not a bill can stay in the inbox).

Don't worry about the next round; just play this one, briefly, right now. And give yourself credit for moving your world toward the life you want to be living!

Making it a game

Perhaps it's a common quality of only children, but I've long had a habit of turning little things into games. To this day, I'm always setting myself unnecessary but useful obstacles like, "New rule: Every time I enter a room for the next hour I have to do one thing to make it nicer." or "Challenge round! How many pieces of laundry can I fold and put away before this song ends?" And you know what? It works. It keeps me motivated and cheerful as I get more done than I otherwise would.

There are a variety of to-do list trackers which take a playful approach to productivity, but I found I did not stick with them after the initial charm wore off. I'd enjoy using them and would indeed find myself doing "just one more task" in the evening in order to score those few more points. Then I'd travel or get sick and once my schedule was disrupted, I would not return to them. 

Over the past couple months, though, I seem to have found the one that has enough allure to get me back in the game even after a few days distraction. The key for me came in two parts: supporting habit-building and character advancement. HabitRPG, as the name suggests, is centered on building and maintaining habits defined by you. The core are your "Dailies" (though you can set some to occur only on certain days of the week). If you don't mark them off, your little character will lose life points that night. If you do, you'll gain experience and treasure, which increases as your streak of successful days grows. You also can list behaviors you want to reward yourself for engaging in or negative ones for which you want to penalize yourself. And HabitRPG also supports jotting down To-Do's, which bring a reward when checked off. 

Screen Shot 2015-01-28 at 2.46.35 PMYou set up the appearance of a cute little character and as you go about your day, marking things off your list, your character grows more skillful and, importantly for those of us who adore the character creation part of games, you can customize its appearance and powers. Those powers, for example, include its defenses against lost life points for missed Dailies and indulgence in bad habits, or its ability to extract greater rewards from completed tasks. My little rogue character is focused on that latter path, using ninja skills to glean a few more gold pieces from each task I ambush.

All good so far, but perhaps not compelling enough to keep me coming back, were it not for the sneaky inclusion of varying rewards and frequent, but not constant, extra treasure. These treasures take the form of eggs, hatching potions, food, and saddles. There are nine different kinds of pets that can be hatched from those eggs and ten different hatching potions creating their variations. This leads to a total of 90 pets to be collected, each of which can be fed its special variant food to grow into a mount. Sure, it's silly, but when making my bed and tidying the bedroom only takes a couple minutes and it has the potential for a treasure I haven't collected yet, I'm just more likely to do it.

HabitRPG gives me the pleasure of a microbreak playing a game (when I get a reward and take a minute to spend it), without actually leaving the context of my goals for the day or risking getting caught up for a long time in playing. It gives me a place to jot down trivial To-Do items (e.g., 'empty the paper shredder') where they won't clog up my main project planner. And it keeps the background hum of daily and weekly personal tasks from creating a sense of overwhelm when I'm looking at all my longer-term projects.

It's enjoyable and it really is succeeding in helping me shift my behavior in the direction I want to go. When games work better than more boring methods, it's a double win. Try out some fun and see if it turns out to be most functional too!

 

Want to learn more about the science behind gamification and its great potential? Check out Jane McGonigal's 2012 book Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World. It's available in print and as an audiobook. I listened to the version from Audible while getting things done around the house and working out; isn't that just like a sneaky little rogue?