Give your social media the ladder check

There are positive aspects to social media, definitely, but it can also suck away a lot of your time, motivation, and positivity. So how do you balance it?

First of all, you do balance it. You think about how it impacts your day; what the impact of different services have on you; how you feel depending on what you’re encountering in your timelines. You deserve to have this part of modern life feel good and help you be who you want to be, whether that means you end up engaging with social media a lot or not at all.

Think about different ways of using social media as ladders. There’s the short ladder that gets you out of a hole, that helps you break your isolation. That can be a really good use and if you’re going to use social media at all, make sure the services you use and especially the list of things each is showing you meet that basic requirement.

Looking down through a hatchway to a metal utility ladder that leads up out of an underground chamber. Another ladder leading up is in the foreground. All the metal in the image shows heavy use, with its orange safety paint worn away where feet tramped up and down.

This can be a very difficult minimum standard to maintain on services like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram that don’t give users control over what appears in their timeline. If you’re seeing promoted posts or viral content instead of the posts of the people you care about, reconsider your use of that service; its interests do not align with yours.

Even on services like Mastodon or Discord or Slack, where algorithms aren’t obscuring the posts of those you follow, examine what is appearing in your timeline. Many excellent people you like a lot do not feed you what you need or want.

Unfollowing isn’t rude; it’s self-care.

Unfollow that funny friend who’s burbling constantly about a new hobby in which you have no interest. Turn off boosts from that one who’s boosting magazine-loads of content into your timeline. Filter out keywords. Drag all your little-used Discord channels atop each other to create a server folder. Mute channels you don’t actually care about keeping up with. And especially turn off notifications; everything on social media can wait until it’s a good time for you to have a look.

The short ladder can be your friend. It’s good to have a way to climb out of your own head and make a connection with others, find a laugh, and be reminded of interesting things to learn or ways you can help in the world.

Old color photo of two wooden ladders in a room with built-in wooden bookcases, wainscoting, sedate wallpaper and a balcony (presumably with more bookshelves). One ladder is just four steps for reaching the top of the shelves at the ground level. The other is thirteen steps and has a handrail along the wall side.
from Het Utrechts Archief catalog number: 21516.

The next ladder is the one that gets you out of your bubble. Follow people who teach you about stuff you want to understand better. Let real voices of other people’s lived experience help you unlearn your biases. Follow people who are elsewhere in the world and see how life in different countries can be different. Follow hashtags which bring images of landscapes different to your own and gain a window on the world. Bonus points for places with very different climates and opposite hemisphere views of the seasons. Let this mid-size ladder be the one you use when you’re feeling good but need inspiration and insight.

Black and white photo from the 1940s. A person with short wavy hair and a mustache stands on a ladder while painting kettle drums in a stylized mural with a piano, sheet music, a microphone, and various wavy lines and geometric forms.

The long ladder is generally to be avoided. When you’re up at the top of it, you mostly see other people balancing at the top of their long ladders, trying to achieve the greatest visibility, but constrained in their choices and distanced from normal life. Don’t fixate on follower counts or other metrics; keep your life goals oriented to what you’re doing when you’ve stepped away from social media.

Black and white photo of an incredibly tall ladder leaning against a sizable church. The ladder extends well above the tall chimney and the roof of the church, with the vertical line it forms drawing the eye up past the church buttresses and tall narrow stained glass windows, across the tiled roof, to the person nearly at the top. A bird flies by below the level of the person.
from Het Utrechts Archief 406502

If you find social media eats up too much of your time, prune and prune heavily. Use fewer services. Follow very few accounts. Find interface preferences and apps which let you view just your follows and don’t automatically display the stream of activity and trending posts. You can like people and subjects and services and still not give them more of your time than you want to allocate in your day. Prioritize your real priorities, and configure things so the easiest thing to do is support them.

Make it easy to keep the ladder short; just enough to trot up out of your hole and then move on in an enlivened mood.

Focus Stars: motivation without guilt

For a month now I’ve been doing a very successful experiment in orienting my time to what matters to me most, without beating myself up with incomplete to-do lists. I track my successful focusing by coloring in part of a simple drawing I made. I use a color that makes me very happy.

A printout of a picture of a seven-pointed star made of ribbons, with some of the points and ribbon sections filled in with green felt tip pen. The points of the star are labeled Creative, Resourceful, Calm, Secure in Self, Strong, Kind, and Connected.
a focus star from a day where I didn’t do any housecleaning, but I did spend lots of time on creative work

I have seven areas I am choosing to focus on. For each of those areas, there’s a daily habit I want to do. When I do it, I fill in that point on the star.

Each of those seven areas also has other related activities or habits. When I do a chunk in that area I fill in one of the pieces of “ribbon” that form the star.

My areas are:

  • Secure in Self
    Habit: holding boundaries and not ruminating.
    Related: maintaining differentiation of self*, autonomy (avoiding leaning into the people-pleaser trap), emotional maturity, knowing myself, personal identity, honoring my true self, ability to have distance from volunteer work.
  • Strong
    Habit: working out for 30 minutes three times a week (strength, stretch, aerobic) and get otherwise getting active on the other days.
    Related: good sleep, movement, stretching, walking, sexiness, dancing, healthy eating, managing my health care.
  • Calm
    Habit: 10-15 minute meditating.
    Related: time alone, nature, journaling, hobbies, stability, gratitude including with me as the object of gratitude.
  • Kind
    Habit: love and listening.
    Related: compassion, forgiveness, stress management, giving help.
  • Resourceful
    Habit: keeping food and finances on track, and doing a housework task.**
    Related: maintaining a pleasant home, dishes, tidying, laundry, saving, budgeting, ability to splurge sometimes, clothes that please me, calendar and time management, readiness and safety information.
  • Connected
    Habit: social time and planning for future social time.
    Related: mutually supportive relationships, communication, asking for help, community, volunteering.
  • Creative
    Habit: 30 minutes working on my main creative project
    Related: learning, sharing, making, showing up for my creative self.

Secure in Self and Strong really are the legs that hold up the rest and Creative keeps me excited, though everything contributes to my sense of well-being and the energy I have to do anything.

This gentler way of reminding myself to give myself what I want and need is working incredibly well for me. You can give it a try using these images:

Focus Star with no writing, two to a page for printing
Focus Star with Dinah’s categories, two to a page for printing

I’m not a visual artist, so I’d love to see them if others create their own Focus Star templates! Please share them in a reply to this post. 🙂

*This is a good three part overview of differentiation of self (1, 2, 3) by therapist Martha Kauppi.
** Grocery shopping, cooking, paying bills, handling finance/bureaucracy mail, all are part of that “on track”. I broke my maintenance housework down into chunks that take about half an hour or less. My goal is to do each chunk every eight weeks.

Life in 2020 and Discardia

There are stressful times in our lives—whether personal, national, or global—in which changes are pushed upon us from outside rather than welling up within from quiet reflection. The book that’s useful to us in an externally-driven vs. internally-driven context is very different. I can’t predict which book we’re going to need next year.

If major action begins being taken to halt climate change, if the current U.S. trend away from the rule of law is stopped in time, maybe an updated book with lots of tips about how to handle household clutter and time management and lifestyle optimization will be exactly what we want. But even if it is, I do not believe our lives will be like they were in 2011 when the first edition of Discardia: More Life, Less Stuff came out. It’d be good to know a little more about the world we’ll be in before writing a new edition.

If local and regional disasters continue to rock the planet—and there is every reason to expect we need to be prepared for those at least in the short term no matter what we do on climate—then it’s the emotional journey of surviving loss that we will want to understand better. If places which were once safe to live in become more dangerous—whether due to influenza or intolerance—then it’s the practicality of protecting self and family which is the first priority. Others have suffered loss, bigotry, and displacement beyond my experience. Theirs are the voices we need to hear in such times.

At the end of 2016 when massive political change came to the office of the U.S. presidency and the magnitude of climate change was becoming clearer, I heard the good advice to think well in advance about what your lines in the sand are. At what point are we way past the range of normality, such that you’ll need to consider new options? In the months since my last post we’ve crossed several of my mental lines in the sand. It’s a new world and everything is up in the air. The 2020 U.S. presidential election is going to alter the path of everyone in the world, not only impacting whether the system of checks and balances in the U.S. governmental structure is abandoned, but whether the massive U.S. economy and patterns of consumption are diverted away from the path of further accelerating climate change.

None of this is normal. And we can’t go on pretending it will get better on its own.

We need to care for ourselves and manage our stress to get through these times. Sometimes creating order in the areas under our control is a big part of that. After a particularly bad news day, I’ve definitely resorted to organizing a drawer or decluttering a closet; and given the past four years, my house is looking pretty fantastic. But we shouldn’t be like the woman in The Day After who is still trying to make the bed when the missiles are flying over Lawrence, Kansas. We need to use some of our energy toward solving the real, much bigger challenges.

These massive challenges can be solved; humanity has gotten itself out of much worse situations.

It doesn’t take all of us devoting all of our time every day to it, but it does take most of us devoting a major chunk every week to it. That chunk needs to be action, not observation. Watching or reading thoughtful political analysis, while nice, is not action. It’s actions like volunteering to register voters and calling elected officials to advocate for policy changes to reduce carbon outputs and connecting with neighbors to make a plan for accepting refugees into your community which will make the difference.

Once you’ve done your chunk of work, relax. Take care of yourself. Avoid inflaming your system with shouting pundits on television and social media. Create calm and time to be thoughtful, so that you can maintain your values and kindness.

Once you are in that place of kindly calm inside, then look at what you’ve got on your ‘to-do’ lists, actual and unspoken. What can wait? What doesn’t move you or the world in the direction you want to go? What is it the wrong time for?Release yourself from those expectations and cross them off the list, or park them elsewhere in a “look at this next year” document possibly with a note on your calendar to remind you it exists.

If we’re lucky and work hard together, we can come back to those things with renewed possibility in our lives. For now, the path is narrower and lightening our loads is the way to move forward.

Here by the side of the path I am setting down the Discardia Patreon community and the writing of a completely revised edition of Discardia: More Life, Less Stuff. After all my volunteer work and self-care—I do administrative support for major Get-Out-the-Vote team and have an autoimmune disorder I’m working on getting into remission—I hope to pick them up again in 2021.

One of the advantages of being a long-time Discardian is already having a model for this. Every year when the big family holidays approach, I’ve gone through a mini version, making notes for myself to look at in January after all the travel and social occasions.

Along with Let It Go, Discardia teaches us Set It Down.

Let’s all give ourselves the breathing room to do good things for ourselves and our world. Be well, be kind, and get involved now. 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
    The first project, and I hope the quickest, will be migrating the website hosting from Typepad to
    Expect a slight change to the look of things and other small improvements as I do that.
  • (easing into it) A return to posting more often on social media
    You can find Discardia on Mastodon, at (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
  • (yet to come) 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!
  • (yet to come) 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.


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.