Soft Start

I’ve failed a lot in my personal goals throughout my life. I bite off more than I can chew, I dive in without enough planning, or I just don’t have enough information about what I’m getting myself into – all of which can lead to failure or false starts. In many cases, I’ve given up, shrugging off the sense of embarrassment by claiming that I wasn’t that “into it” whatever project or goal. Other times, I’ve left the goal aside for a length of time until I could devote more attention to it, without actually changing my approach the second time around. What usually leads to this repeated outcome is trying to make too big of a change and expecting perfection on the first go. I wasn’t reflecting (enough or period) on what wasn’t working – and would throw myself into the next thing to distract from the lack of immediate success.

I was aware of the idea of practice tests, tutorial levels in video games, and receiving training prior to beginning a new job, but my brain saw each of those as context-specific rather than something that can be applied beyond the singular situation. I also had the expectation of perfectly mastering whatever I was attempting to do in minimal time – which was partially fostered by the culture of my high-calibre schools and partially from the feedback I got from non-parent adults in my life about how brilliant I was at whatever I set out to do. I feel this is something other gifted-kid types can relate to (based on the volume of memes and tweets), and it’s an incredibly difficult mindset to break free from.

Now that we’re all sad and feeling a touch dreary, I want to point out that I’ve found something that does work (at least for me), so there’s hope. Other than planning and reflection, I’ve found that setting myself a mini-scale goal – fewer things to be changed and a shorter time scale – is not only more manageable, but it also allows me to explore different approaches if something doesn’t work before fully committing to it.

We’ll use my first attempt at doing a No Buy Year. In 2021, I was fresh off of looking at my spending from the year before, aghast that I’d been so frivolous with my money. I resolved to curb my spending and there were to be no purchases made other than food. Except, I needed a thick yoga mat for my knees, after a decade of ballet effectively turning my knees to dust. Well, and a new pair of running shoes since I’m taking my fitness more seriously. Let’s not forget the semester-long course I took, since my alma mater was offering it online. Oh, but wait – Le Chateau is having a closing sale, and I could really do with two more ball gowns, five suits, and a handful of work tops. This was all before March 2021, and after I’d gone from too restrictive to “this is justifiable, I guess,” more and more purchases were made until around July. I spent the next six months observing what triggered my spending, what I was spending the money on (… other than just the turtleneck shirts), and listening to podcasts and videos about what worked for others on their No/Low Buy. 50 hours or so later of content, I felt like I had a better idea of what could work, namely, having a set of rules (rather than full restriction), budgets for the allowed different categories, and figuring out what purpose this goal was serving.

For the latter half of October to December, I slowed my spending and shopping, left items on a wish-list for the holidays, and spent less time in stores. I had a few holiday gifts to purchase, but I wasn’t doing my usual “one for you, one for me” approach to shopping, which helped immensely. This also coincided with opening my first credit card, and the last thing I wanted to do was go all out and rack up a huge debt that I wouldn’t be able to pay off (or, as my dad put it “how many months of your entire paycheque would it take to pay off your total credit limit?”).

Trying this goal out twice in the same year – once without much structure, during a high-stress period, then later with research under my belt and a clearer idea of my “how” and “why” – highlighted the difference (for me) between a false start and a soft start. For the former, I went off the rails when the wiggle room for necessity burst open to include anything I could justify to myself, and then I quietly gave up. For the latter, I could already feel the sense of relief of not having to guess at what was left in my bank account on any given day, since I wasn’t spending money on just whatever, nor was I making unplanned purchases.

If you’re doing a Low/No Buy this year and this is your first ever go at it, I commend you. Regardless of real-life setbacks, things being over-budget from inflation, surprises/emergencies, if you’re still at it, that’s splendid. If you’ve taken a pause because now is not the right time for you, I think that’s an incredible choice for recognizing and respecting your needs over fulfilling a goal that you can return to whenever. Whether you’re on day 1, 55, or 365, your choice to try something out and stick with it (or pause) is equally valid.

Lastly, for anyone thinking of tying something new – No Buy or otherwise – I want to encourage you to start small. Even Costco lets you sample snacks before committing to a knee-high box of chicken tenders, so give it a go, one tender at a time (Editor’s note: I should have eaten before writing this).

Bye-Bye Bin & Wishlist – February

The bye-bye bin is STOCKED this month. I went through my apartment with the mindset of “do I use this anymore?” rather than “how can I still use this?” and it has resulted in a solid chunk of items on their way out.

What’s leaving? For one, I’ve gotten rid of extra pillow cases. I used to change them every other night to help with acne and frizzy hair, but since getting two silk pillow cases as gifts, I only need about 4-6 other pillow cases (I use three pillows, and I like the choice of still rotating cases out every half week or so). The clothing – llama scarf, two skirts, and a dress – are all items I’ve been on the fence about, but it’s been a year at this point, and they can go (I’ve reached for none of them). The Kirby, hexagon magnets, fun sticky notes, and posters are carry over from college days and can go onto a new dorm space. The art supplies are going to an art teacher – originally purchased as a gift for someone pre-2020, and I haven’t heard from them since, soooo in the bye-bye bin it goes. The purse poking out of the corner is going to my aunt if she wants it, and if not, I’m sure someone else in the family could make use of it. Finally, the lion was purchased for someone’s kid pre-2020, and the child has both grown out of that phase and has far too many toys (according to the mum).

What didn’t make it into the photo (aka, the stuff that I found after doing another sweep) include some tea from a gift set that I know I won’t drink, a 60%-full fabric spray bottle, and a laundry hanging rack that I don’t use at all (and haven’t for about three years).

Do I feel like my home is suddenly lighter for no longer having these items? Honestly, not really – other than the posters hanging up, most of these items were tucked away in various storage bins or drawers, so I wasn’t seeing them in the first place. Granted, the colourful cornucopia of the random stuff sticking out of the bye-bye bin is less of an eyesore now that it’s gone, so I’ll take that.


Regarding the wish-list, there’s still nothing that has met my criteria for being added. This doesn’t surprise me – I’m still not done flipping hangers, I’m spending less time on my main social media accounts (as in, my targeted ads are much more general – and sometimes wildly off-base), and I’ve been incredibly busy this month at work. I don’t want to broaden the definition of what belongs on the wish-list to be anything that catches my eye and I click on the ad, which I feel defeats the purpose since I’d be creating an emotional connection to something I wasn’t all that interested in to begin with.

I’ve also taken to thinking of rule-breaking purchases in light of how much something I want to do would cost: this $200 clothing haul would cover a flight to visit friends; this $150 craft haul is the price of a future textbook; this $50 book haul is a lunch out and a museum ticket. I’m not trying to be overly restrictive, but more so looking at long-term goals versus short-term dopamine.


Perhaps a more satisfactory way of looking at it is:
Items out: 37
Items in (not counting groceries): 0

Later this week, I’m going to chat about why I advocate a soft-start approach to personal projects – and then next Monday will be a review of February goals (already, I know!). Thanks for reading!

Capsule Groceries

I shop for groceries once ever 6-8 weeks. I only have to plan food for myself, so I’m willing to have repeats within the meal cycle, which is how I make this work for so long. For the record, I learned how to cook through a meal kit in 2020 (we had a meal plan with work before), so this is based on what I know how to do/make so far. Also, with learning from a meal kit, everything I’ve made has been in bulk (I had a 4-meal, 4-portion plan) and covered lunches and dinners for 2 days at a time. I’m also willing to have the exact same breakfast every day – plain oatmeal and frozen blueberries – since I can mix it up with the different flavours of tea that I drink.

Planning:

Flyers, pen & paper list, and scouring the website for specific prices is how I plan what I’m going to make over the next two months. I don’t have brand loyalty, and I general go with whatever is cheapest – especially if there’s a 30% off sticker for produce or meat that’s going off today and it was already on my list. What matters more to me is the budget than the brand. I approach this in a “capsule” way, in that what I’m eating will be on rotation, and will shift a bit from season to season. The biggest thing that makes this doable – especially in light of the recent inflation hike – is being flexible about what I’m going to use or pick up this time around. For example, today, I got a different brand of tortellini with different filling than usual, and if it doesn’t work this go around, then I’ll go back to what I usually get (and is usually cheaper, but the sale was in the other brand’s favour).

I also consider what I have coming up in the next two months and plan around that. I know that I’ll be taking an overnight flight in late March after visiting family, and it will take about 9 hours, door to door, so I’m going to be tired and hungry by the time I get home, so I’ve planned ahead and picked up some easy meals that can live in the deep freezer until I need them. I could have made something in bulk and stored half of it, but I know myself well enough that I’m going to have just enough energy to shove a spanakopita spiral in the oven and it’ll be ready by the time I’ve finished unpacking, and then I don’t need to cook twice that day (it’s a kilo of spanny (my affectionate term for it), so I know I’ll be super full).

Recipes:

What I use to plan these meals is a mix of what I liked from the meal kits, what I can do from family recipes, and stuff I’ve found on Budget Bytes. Each shopping trip, I’ll throw in a tester meal, and see if it works for what I want to make – especially if the ingredients can be co-opted into a different meal, or added to something else on the rotation. This trip I didn’t, but that’s because I know there’d be a fair bit of variation since my tortellini are going to be different – and God forbid I go too far out of my comfort zone.

Why I do it this Way:

I don’t have a car, and I have a weird work schedule (evenings and every other weekend). Cooking in batches on rotation is easiest for me, and the variation in food is enough that I’m not actually eating the same thing over and over. I can also plan for the easiest recipes on weeks that I work that weekend, or if I need to, I can rely on the freezer foods every so often. I also know that I’m not going to pay around $30CAD for pizza delivery when that’s roughly how much it costs to feed myself for a week.

Things to keep in Mind:

  1. There’s only me that I’m planning for. There are fewer variables to manage when you’re planning for one. The few months last year that my friend was rooming with me, we’d follow a similar planning scheme, but on a much smaller scale since he needed lunches to bring to practicum, and our schedules were flipped of each other – so we’d go every other week, but still plan as intentionally and intensively. Thankfully, we had a very similar palate, so I was lucky that I only had a few recipes to pull from rotation – and that we were open with communicating about food needs and wanting to try new recipes.
  2. I do one Costco run per year to stock up on specifics stuff like dried cranberries, oatmeal, and spices. Shout out to my parents for letting their adult child leech off of their membership (luv u)
  3. I cook within my comfort zone. I’m not hosting or entertaining anyone, so I’m not challenging myself to do more “out there” things like meals with more than 3 steps, especially if it involves meat. I’m a bit fussy about what I’ll physically handle for meat, and I don’t care much for beef or pork (minus bacon). Lastly, I’m lucky that I don’t have any intolerances or allergies, so I’m not paying extra for lactose-free cheese or gluten-free pasta.

For the more visual types, I made a mock schedule of the rotation, so you have an idea of how I keep myself fed on the same set of meals on a bi-monthly basis.

Fun for Free: Podcasts

Keeping it shorter today, so you can dive right in on your new podcast finds! I listen to these podcasts on spotify, though I’ve linked websites and specific episodes for the pod rather than the apps when possible. Happy listening đŸ™‚

Ologies:

Ologies is a podcast about different fields (-ologies) of research and study, though the episodes are casual and lighthearted in tone (as in, not the stereotype of academia being dry). Alie Ward has a background in science communication (you may have seen her on TV or Netflix), and is able to weave together more formal information with fun facts about the topic, and offers the interviewees to share their story of how they got into the field. The vibe throughout is like a guided museum tour on the topic of the week, and the audience questions (asked in advance) allow for pure curiosity and some “explain it like I’m 5” type questions to come through. She has bleeped episodes on the website if you’re not one for profanity.
Episodes I’d suggest for the No Buy/Low Buy community:
1. Decluttering: if you’re trying to get rid of extra stuff, this is a good episode to have on before diving in. I found this episode around the same time as watching youtube content about decluttering, and it’s always nice to have another opinion or method to consider.
2. Procrastination: Understanding why your brain does what it does makes it a lot easier for you to work with (rather than against) how your brain is wired. I found this to be super validating to listen to, especially if you’re someone who has a mindset that procrastination is a moral failing rather than something that takes practice to manage.
3. Fear/Stress: Officially, these two episodes are about the topic of fear, but I include “stress” in the title since the topic is not about phobias, but about how fear (“stress”) can control your life. Of the three episodes, this one has had the deepest impact on how I view stress and approach difficult situations.

The Conscious Style Podcast:

The Conscious Style Podcast focuses on education and interviews with change makers in the slow fashion sphere. The first season touches on establishing definitions for slow/sustainable fashion, and then later goes into interviews with leading activists, fair wages for garment workers, and how to make fashion more sustainable in your community. The second season is focused on the circular economy for fashion, so if you’re already well-versed on the topic, feel free to dive into the second season outright.
Episodes I’d suggest for the No Buy/Low Buy community:
1. Make & Mend your own clothing: I’m someone who will demote a piece of clothing from “wear in public” to “pjs only” if there’s a tiny hole in it, so listening to this episode helped me to realise how much more I can get out of my pieces from taking care of them beyond just washing. The discussion also covers the difficulty of finding clothing for your body if you’re not straight-sized, and how empowering it can be to dress yourself in items you’ve made.
2. What is Slow Fashion: If you’re editing your closet, exploring your own style, or looking to support local garment makers, this episode can help with navigating what counts as slow fashion and the benefits of it.
3. Social Media & Fast Fashion: I’ve spoken to a handful of others in the No Buy/Low Buy community, and the topic of social media and how that influences our desire to shop fast fashion – so hearing it be broken down and examined was validating and helped me to be aware of the efforts behind online ads to push me toward consuming.

Life After MLM:

On the surface, Life After MLM (Multi-Level Marketing) might seem out of place compared to the rest of the suggestions. However, I believe that much of how MLMs stay afloat is through pushing overconsumption (regardless of my opinion of the product quality) – and that it’s also important to be aware of how MLMs can seem like a good choice to pursue when you want to make some cash on the side, especially if you’re doing a No Buy/Low Buy to reduce your spending while cutting down on debt. There’s also the point about people who are in a vulnerable position may be more likely to join something that seems like a good opportunity to help them out of their tough situation.
Episodes I’d suggestion for the No Buy/ Low Buy community:
1. Intro Episode: Getting to know Roberta Blevin’s story and why she’s so passionate about helping get people out of MLMs. You might have also seen her in the Vice documentary or in LulaRich (if you have Amazon Prime).
2. Income Disclosures: I’m sure we’ve all worked some jobs with crap hourly pay, though I’ve never only made pennies per hour. I found this episode to be eye-opening to see what information is out about how much you can expect to make (if anything).
3. The BITE Model: A two-parter, but helpful to understand how people can be controlled by others within the context of MLMs. I’m including this in the suggestions for the sake of seeing how intentional some behaviour patterns can be – and because I was shocked about how many of these I’ve seen in action at not-great work places I thought were supposed to be tolerated/normal.

Later this week, I’ll be back with some more psychology & fashion. Thanks for reading!

How I Set Goals

I’m going to talk about goal setting in a more general way – less about the goals I’ve set, and more about how I choose to set them. I’ve mentioned previously that I have a skewed perception of how much there is of something, whether that’s a physical/concrete resource, or something more abstract like time. There’s also the fact that as much as I like to believe I can control everything (a topic for therapy, if nothing else), I most certainly can’t, and there are so many things that can come up from the beginning of the day to the end. This isn’t supposed to be defeatist in tone, but more so a recognition of the fact that I don’t exist in a vacuum and there are many things that take up my time and energy. I’m a sentimental and emotional person, so when I set my heart on a goal, the goal is likely to be lofty, life-changing, or something that becomes all consuming in some way or another until I lose motivation, dopamine, or time to keep it up.

What this resulted in – frequently, but not always – was a pendulum swing in the opposite direction of “if I can’t keep this up, I’m just not going to do it at all,” which isn’t the most helpful approach either. It’s taken me a long time to figure this out, but the easiest changes to make are ones that aren’t going to build up to exhaustion, or deplete other resources like willpower or focus (not trying to sound like a hustle and grind type, I do legitimately mean that I backslide or get distracted more easily). I remember reading in a study skills guide for college students that if you studied a bunch but got a meh grade, you shouldn’t try to do a complete overhaul of how you approach studying, but should instead change one thing at a time to isolate which one thing is (or isn’t) working. I used this while studying, though it took me longer than it should to realise I could apply this to settings beyond academia – and even then, I’ve only really started using it in the last year or so.

I’m also the type of person who likes to do “prewards” (pre-rewards) as in I have the thing that was supposed to be my reward for completing a task BEFORE even starting, since having the thing first will motivate me to get the work done. While this might sound completely backwards (I mean, it is), it has worked sometimes, but it’s super context-specific and not always repeatable. Which means that it also wasn’t a sustainable approach to “treating myself” since I knew full well that if I was the one to give myself the reward, I’d just go get it/order it online immediately and then it’s done and taken care of, and the happy chemicals maybe carry me through the task until I get bored of it. Basically, unless there was someone else involved in the equation, I would get done what got done and usually put myself and my needs last (not sure if you’ve seen this trend on tiktok, but dishes are the Rocco to my Elmo, and generally the last chore to get done – and even then I’ve eaten a piece of chicken off the lid of a cookie tin with a plastic butter knife).

I finally figured out that what works best for me is to make my goals (and the steps of these goals) much smaller – which took a lot of tinkering to figure out. I point this out not to rag on myself, but for the sake of transparency that I didn’t suddenly understand how my motivation works overnight once I decided to take a closer look. In case this hasn’t already been explicitly stated, I’m a fun mix of perfectionist, procrastinator, stubborn, and super competitive all rolled into one – which meant that if I wasn’t almost guaranteed a success, I wouldn’t bother doing it, or I would wait until the panic set in and rush to complete it (which didn’t change until late in my degree, since I could still churn out a psych term paper in around 10 hours with minimal editing, and still get 80-85%, so I had no reason to change if the grades were still good enough). I’ve discovered that the flip of that works for me even better – setting a goal that is so simple it would be difficult to fail. In the debt-free community, this would be akin to shifting from an avalanche to snowball perspective, but I don’t necessarily want to build up like the snowball effect. I like having such a wide berth of wiggle room that I can choose to be go-go-go for a few weeks, and then take a break and ignore the goal entirely since I’m not only a bit ahead, I’m ridiculously ahead.

For the sake of making this less abstract, I’ll use the virtual race/walk that I signed up for that is 1332.5 km/828 mi. This is the distance of Highway 1 around Iceland, and that’s the challenge I signed up for about nine months ago. If I wanted to complete this in a year, I would have to complete 3.65 km/2.27 mi per day. The maximum number of days the challenges are allowed to be set as the completion time is 564 days, or just over a year and a half. The challenge accepts any activity to be converted into a distance according to their conversion chart, so even if I don’t have time for an actual walk that day, the housework that I do and the dance party I have in between tasks still gets counted as a recordable distance. You bet I set the deadline as the furthest out day, which only required 2.4 km/1.5 mi a day (which I get from walking around at work if I happen to remember to carry my phone with me, according to my pedometer). I’m not an overly fitness-oriented person, so having an app tell me every day that I’m amazing for being 360 km/220 mi ahead of my set pace is great for my ego and for motivating me to keep going. At this rate, I’m going to finish before the 1-year mark (74% of the distance done, versus 47% if I only did the daily minimum), but had I told myself I only had a year to complete it, I would have likely given up a while ago and asked for my money back. I’m also doing well by my body for doing the physical activity on a daily-ish routine, but even then, my motivation is like, 67% seeing how wide the percentage gap can be between my completion rate versus the pace, 30% seeing how strong I can get from using free weights, and 3% I like putting stickers on my calendar. Either way, it works for me, and that’s what matters.

What I hope you’re able to take away from this is that your approach to goal setting can be influenced by techniques and information that has been tested and successful for others, but it doesn’t need to be exactly what others are doing if your brain/motivation/situation isn’t the same. Heck, I don’t even expect that my method will work for everyone – but my point is, don’t be too unkind to yourself as you’re figuring things out, allow for flexibility as you navigate what works, and celebrate your progress and wins as loudly as you feel they should be (that’s 100% an invitation to tell me about your progress in my DMs on instagram).

Anyhoo, toodaloo on me being super chatty this week – more structured content will be back next week. Thanks for reading!

My Shopping Habits – Part 2

I’m back with the next instalment of my relationship to shopping, and how it developed over time (you might want to check out part 1 for this post to make sense). This is the narrative overview before we get into the “why” of the choices I’d made, which will be part 3.

For me, clothing falls somewhere along the spectrum of “utilitarian” and “literal art, but on my body,” with most of what I own falling in the middle, which we’ll call “I’m choosing to wear this.” I define “utilitarian” clothing based on the purpose that they serve in covering my body: warm clothing in the winter, lighter fabrics in sweltering heat, and rain boots for any terrain that is not completely dry. The “I’m choosing to wear this” clothing is what I reach for for everything else, whether that’s running errands, holiday/themed events, lounging about, fancy dress, or work. If the item can be cute while serving its purpose, splendid, but I’m not too worried about the panache and pizzazz of a knee-length puffer coat when the hair escaping from my hat instantly freezes from the humidity of my breath. I do, however, worry about what’s under that coat when I arrive to my destination and what I wear is a reflection of who I am.

I’ve lived most of my life in MontrĂ©al, which has its own mix of high fashion, streetwear, chic, trendy, and classic looks. Throughout high school, we had a strict uniform to follow, so the clothing I chose to wear was trendy late-aughts/early-’10s teen fashion – wordy neon graphic tees, layered tank tops with lace trim, and imitation Roots sweatpants (why buy the real thing when you can get the same from Garage and three v-necks for the same price?). My first semester of CEGEP/2-year college, I was dressed a mess while figuring out what I would wear every day, despite the purpose for being there was my academics. 17-year-old me knew that what I wore casually as a 15-year-old was not going to cut it (according to whom? I still don’t know). During the break between first and second semester, I went all out at the Boxing Day sale at Urban Planet, the spiritual older cousin of Shein. Spending not much more than $300, I came home with a haul of patterned leggings, sheer button shirts, bodycon skirts and dresses, and a slew of basics to balance out the zany monstrosities I dared to call pants. This was at the height of peplums, skater skirts, and galaxy print everything, in case you needed a refresher on why this was normal school clothing. I was known at school for being the leggings girl (someone for real asked me if I owned any “normal” pants halfway through the semester), which was fun until I had to mentally keep track of 30 pairs to avoid having repeats too soon after each other.

University was a whole other ball of wax in diving head first into a theme to latch onto and dictate what I would wear. Anything that was related to the school colours, I would wear it – not to mention the veritable windfall I was for the bookstore and student design shop after snatching up anything I could fit into my teeny, tiny budget. All in the name of school spirit, and I would wear purple like I knew of no other colour. This slowed a bit by my third and fourth years (limiting my shopping to only the cute stuff, and not one of everything), and other colours re-entered my wardrobe as I continued to shop sales at stores off campus.

Graduating and starting work at my first real job resulted in just as ferocious a shopping spree as 2013 Urban Planet, but now in the name of professionalism. Blazers, pencil skirts, flowy blouses, trousers, and some sensible shoes – not that I was starting from scratch, mind you, I just wanted to have options. Once I started making money, I turned to online shopping for clothing in my free time. Old Navy was a favourite, since they had a “tall” section available online, and I was in need of pants that didn’t look like they were borrowed from my 12-year-old cousin. Well, “in need” of more options, but I told myself it would be good to have more options for the days when I’m running behind on laundry and need something to wear (as opposed to, you know, just doing the laundry??). In between these hauls were the various warehouse and outlet sales that I’d go to, and I started to run out of space in my closets, so I bought storage bins and hoped that would do the trick. I had gotten to the point of such rapid consumption that there were items that would be squished and hidden between two other items in the closet that I would forget they were there, but still order more.

The beginning of 2020 did not see this slow down all that much, as I had orders coming in roughly every other week – some were necessary cookware now that I needed to actually feed myself without the cafeteria at work as an option, while I indeed still had the audacity to purchase more clothing like I was leaving my apartment any time soon (I did a total of zero Zoom Happy Hours, so it wasn’t even for that). Things slowed down more over the summer, and then my bank account got another workout once Le ChĂ¢teau announced that they would be closing – which ended by summer 2021. I was still strategic (hmmm) about waiting for the right time in the sales once I figured out what the pattern was for additional percent off versus total percent off based on category – since that’s what normal people do to buy clothing, no?

Luckily, I didn’t go into debt over this spending habit. My need for bargain hunting outweighed any desire for an item that was full-priced, and I never got into designer or luxury clothing (thankfully). The potency of bargain hunting did a number on me, and I remember buying two evening gowns at a store-closing sale for under $15 apiece (91% off, for anyone interested). Luckily, I did have an annual event to wear them to, but at the same time, how many gowns does a 22-year-old need?

With this personal history on the books, I’ll leave the topic here for now. Catch you later this week with my thoughts why small changes are a more sustainable approach to me. Thanks for reading!

Printable – Must/Maybe/Meh Format & Philosophy

I thought it would be helpful to make printables of my go-to when I have a full to do list, which helped me to stay productive and on track throughout January. I find that February is a bit of a slump month for motivation, so having something to keep me organised is helpful. I’m a fan of alliteration, so I went with “must,” “maybe,” and “meh,” to title my tiered-priority system for ongoing tasks, long-term projects, and anything that I want down on paper. How I choose to approach it has more to do with the immediacy of a task and whether there are other people involved – with the expectation that a “must” will be completed that day or others need it to complete their next task, a “maybe” can be finished early but can wait until tomorrow, and “meh” is not immediate but still needs to be on my radar.

I used this format while I was in university as well, especially while doing my undergraduate honours, to figure out where to spend my energy most efficiently as I had just a bit too much on my plate on any given day. Given that I would include self-care stuff and chores on the list as well, I found that this fit better than something like an Eisenhower matrix – especially for tasks like “wash my hair,” which couldn’t be delegated to someone else.

How you choose to make this work for you can take on a variety of formats: you could choose that a must is only something that is time sensitive, a maybe is more flexible, and a meh has no fixed date; or, you might feel like you limit the number of tasks that fall into the must category, maybes are things that you can do if you have energy left, and the meh is a “I’ll get to it when I get to it.” I currently find that what works best for me is to write down everything I need to get done/whatever tasks I have in mind, then sort according to urgency. From there, I list my most important tasks under “must,” and weigh the level of importance and urgency of the remaining tasks, which are filtered into my “maybe” and “meh” categories. At the end of my day, I move “maybes” into “must” (only if they belong there for tomorrow!), and see what “mehs” need to be upgraded to “maybes.”

Why this works for me is that I’ve been doing this for about five years, and this format has adapted from role to role, and what I consider to be a “must” – as well as how many tasks are counted as a “must” – has changed over time. One of the biggest hurdles I overcame from this format is putting too many things in the “must” category. In fairness, if this is the first time you’ve organised your tasks this way, you will likely have a “must”-heavy list if you’ve been needing to catch up on tasks. As I worked through this for myself, I’ve found that what works best for me is to add one thing fewer to my “must” list, just in case something that is urgent for the day is added to my plate. If nothing else shows up, great! I can start chipping away at my “maybe” list. But if something does, I’m not frazzled and thrown for a loop with one more task to manage.

The formats that I made the printables in are based on different planner and desk calendar layouts that I’ve used before, though I would love to get your feedback for future layouts (with more on the printables page itself). Thanks for reading and happy organising!

February Goals

February has been a slump-ish month for me in the past: the shiny wow-factor of the new year is gone, the sky and slush are the same dreary grey, and the next holiday feels as far away as the sun – and when I was still a student, it usually meant that midterms were ripe to pop up. However, I want to go into this month with the mindset that I’m going to choose to make it fun, rather than let the shortest month of the year drag on (especially after a January that felt like being trapped behind someone standing on the walking side of a long escalator). The overall vibe I’m going for will be “fun and flexible” since I can’t predict what the month ahead holds, but I can choose how I want to approach it.

Clothing:

I found that in January, I would reach for outfits that I’ve worn before – or combinations that I’ve tried in the past, but this time with a different colourway. I want to challenge myself creatively to switch it up a bit with what I’m wearing. I work in person, so I’m not going to throw together something that I’d feel uncomfortable wearing, like a tartan blazer, striped shirt, and a polka dot skirt (I don’t think even the Emily in Paris wardrobe team could make that work). More so what I want to focus on is to not just wear the same outfits on rotation each week, and try to flip more hangers throughout the month. I’m not setting a specific number of specific pieces to be worn, but I want to try to do about once a week either something that hasn’t been worn yet this year, or not yet together. We’ll see, this is for the fun of it, after all.

Books:

So life got busy and I’m still only half done the linguistics book, though I will soon need a new bedside table read. I’m taking a second go at reading the Monet book for the month, but I think I’ll keep that more for day-time reading – since part of what takes me so long is that I just run out of energy at the end of a my busiest days and fall right asleep. Also, as fascinating as any topic is, reading nonfiction before bed feels far more like cramming for a test than reading for fun, so I’m much less motivated to reach for it. If all goes well, I should be able to line up finishing reading Monet in time for my hold on “Do You Really Need It?” by Pierre-Yves McSween becomes available. I found this ebook while browsing through the personal finance section of Libby. The humorous tone and straight forward approach (from what I’ve read in the sample) will offer a look through categories I struggle with, as well as categories I may not have even considered. Which I think is important – seeing another perspective about how to approach spending/what’s worth bringing into my home will be something to reflect on as I go through it.

Using what I’ve Got:

I’m starting the month with a new tube of toothpaste and bar of soap (side note: had you told me even two years ago that I would think the previous sentence was content worthy of sharing on the internet, I would have cackled and continued scrolling through the Old Navy sale page). I will start a second lip balm before finishing the small tin, but that’s because I’ve found it incredibly annoying to fetch it from my work things each time I want to use it while I’m home, and possibly forget it for work the next day. For yarn, I’m going to be making a few things for family when I visit in March, but beyond that, nothing else is on my radar yet. Finally, for planner stickers, I’m entertaining myself so far with seeing just how many stickers I can use on a monthly spread page, and still make it look like a cohesive theme. I’m not at all taking this seriously, and it’s more of a “funny because I’m doing it ironically” thing – as opposed to last-year me painstakingly lifting stickers off the page because I set it down at an 80-degree angle instead of 90.

I’m focusing on smaller, more bite-sized goals for the month with the plan to turn that into regular habits, rather than carrying too much throughout the month – which my guilt goblin thrives on (the name I’ve given to the second loudest critical voice rattling around in my brain).

Coming Up Next Week:

Saturday will be the next set of printables, which focus on productivity; Monday will have part two of my relationship to shopping, and Thursday will go into more detail about small changes and sustainable goals. Thanks for reading!

January Review

With the first month of my No Buy year finishing up, I thought it would be good for me to have a look at how things have been going this month. One month down, 11 to go!

No Buy:

I made it! I made it through the whole month without buying anything from my no-buy categories. I had a birthday gift to send (gifts are part of my allowed categories), and I took care of booking a flight to visit family (travel is allowed, and I didn’t want to not get a discount while it was available), but other than that, there were no other purchases outside of necessities. I feel good about making it through the month without really wanting to buy anything, and part of that has to do with doing inventories for each category, as well as my tracker for clothing and accessories. I think things will keep going like this for now, as I didn’t have anything on my wish list, and there isn’t anything that I’ve felt like I might “need” otherwise. There were a few new releases that I looked at online, but I walked away from the site knowing I didn’t need it, so nothing was purchased.

Books:

I forgot that I had a library book left to finish from December. I also tutor some students and I had to (re)read some classic titles to help them with upcoming essays. You can see where this is going, in that I likely didn’t finish reading both books that I set out to read – and you’d be correct. I was able to finish jut over half of the linguistics book, but the father of impressionism will have to wait a little while longer. I think having flexibility for this sort of thing is necessary, otherwise I’ll just be reading for the sake of completing a TBR, rather than enjoying the works as they should be.

Productivity:

I know this already about myself, but I forgot just how much more productive I am when I have my “perfect” amount of a full schedule. Granted, I’m getting a chance to express myself creatively while sticking to my goals, but I haven’t been at this level of “go” in a while. Knowing what had to get done – and things that could be pushed to later – allowed me to take on smaller bits of larger tasks throughout the month, rather than what I’d usually do, of setting out to do something big but not finishing it once I get tired. The clothing tracker is not 100% done, and I’m okay with that – I wrote in the majority of the categories I usually wear, and that matters more to me than a filled notebook where I can’t find where things are because I rushed the process.

Procrastination:

This was an interesting mix – I had some tasks that I’d hesitate to get started on, but others where I limited what I expected myself to complete, which made it easier to start. I also went back to using the 5/10/15 minute start rule (scaled up according to the task), where if after 5, 10, or 15 minutes of attempting to do the task, I still am not in the right headspace to tackle it, I stop and come back to it later. I find this most helpful when it’s for chores I like the least, as I tend to have a skewed perspective of how long something will take to complete (which I’ll talk about more in a future post).

What I will keep doing/what helped:

The biggest help? All the support I’ve had this month. IRL, my parents have been keen to check in and see how I’m doing, as well as lend an ear if I need to work through things – and my friends have been so willing to offer advice and feedback as I’ve been figuring things out. Online, my little community of other no/low-buyers sharing where they’re coming from, what their “why” is, sharing vulnerable moments – and offering support or another point of view has been so powerful to be surrounded by. Community is important to me in general, and being able to find other people in similar yet unique situations has helped keep the self-critiques to a minimum – and its hard to say I’m coming from a place of no judgement toward others and but then let the meanie voice run rampant for myself. So, thank you for the comments about how much something has hit home from my writing, to the dm check-ins, and anyone who has reached out in other ways – it has made a world of difference đŸ™‚

What I will do differently in the future:

This month felt a bit like getting into university: a commitment to a long-term goal that has a fixed but flexible path to follow, with a lot of optional stuff on the side that I don’t have to do, but I sure tried to. While there’s no “wrong” way to approach a no/low-buy challenge, I do have a tendency to try to do more than there are hours in a day or I have energy for. Part of it has to do with the skewed time perspective, another deals with how competitive I am (in the sense that if I say I’ll do 10 more entries in the clothing tracker before bed, I would push and make it to 15 just to say that I could), and another part is pure curiosity for trying out different things. I think for February, I’ll focus on my planned content, as well as leave myself wiggle room for new ideas as they come up.

Later this week, I’ll go into detail about what exactly my February focus will be – as well as dropping some new printables for you on Saturday. Thanks for reading!

Psychology & Shopping: Locus of Control & Attribution Theory

A few disclaimers before we begin:

1) These are theories that were first published in the 50s & 60s in the USA. They have been retested with different variables and have had similar outcomes – which is the standard for a theory to still be seen as, uh, legit.
2) With any theory in the social sciences, there are limits to how many experiences will align entirely with the theory. Your experiences, beliefs, perspectives, culture, mood, and more can impact how you will respond to a given situation.
3) How you feel the theory applies to you may change over time, and may change from one context to the next. I’m going to be applying the theory strictly in the context of shopping, though I encourage you to think about it in other areas of your life as well.

So, What is Locus of Control?

There are two ends to a spectrum that are labeled “internal” and “external,” and in general, a person’s perspective will fall somewhere within the line – or at an extreme – of what they believe controls their outcomes. Someone who is more toward “external” sees outcomes and consequences as being left to fate or luck, and may be less inclined to try to take control of a situation if they feel that there’s nothing to do about it. For someone who is more toward “internal,” they see outcomes and consequences as mostly in their power, and will see the results as a direct consequence of the choice they made.

And Attribution Theory?

Frequently in psychology, behaviours are placed along two spectra, which offers a lot of variety for where someone can land. Later theorists have looked at what influences someone’s response to a situation: the result is based on something internal/personality and would likely be the same across multiple situations (“dispositional”) or it differs depending on the context (“situational”).

How this Applies to Shopping

How this may apply to shopping depends on how someone can choose to react to sales, bargain finds, and more. For the sake of not complicating this, we’ll use the same situation for four different people (I’m going with 4/5 sisters from Pride and Prejudice for names – but not specific to the actual characters), and here’s the scenario: there’s a seasonal sale at the local mall, which includes stores that our four examples would regularly shop at, as well as stores they usually don’t care about. Our first person, Jane, is drawn in to the stores where she usually shops, makes purchases for items that she would usually buy, and because it’s sale season, has a look at other stores just in case there’s anything else on her list that she can take care of (internal, situational). Jane may stay on budget, but this will depend on what else she finds for her list. Lizzy, on the other hand, goes into the mall with her wish list items that she planned for, and doesn’t bother checking other stores since she knows she doesn’t need anything they sell (internal, dispositional). Lizzy will come in on budget or below, depending on if anything from her wish list is no longer available. Next, we have Mary, who happened to be at the mall the weekend of the sale – as luck would have it – and will spend the day going from store to store (in order of preference) just to see what she can find (external, dispositional). Mary’s budget may have been forgotten in taking advantage of scooping up great finds. Finally, Kitty’s rainboots have splashed their last puddle, and it just so happens that the shoe store has rainboots on clearance as winter is on its way. Kitty will take advantage of the sale since the stars aligned, but isn’t too worried about the rest of the sales going on – she’s got only her rainboots on her mind (external, situational). Kitty’s budget is rainboots, and rainboots alone.

How this Applies to Me

How this may apply to you will depend on which person you identify with most. If you feel like you might be more of a Jane or Mary, you may find yourself spending time and money that you might not have intended to, especially if your goal (like mine has been in the past) is to find the best possible bargains – regardless of your needing them. I think that reflecting on how you react to information related to shopping – new collection drop, limited run, flash sale, clearance, store closure – would be the best place to start. You can’t move towards making a change if you don’t know where your behaviours are coming from, you know? For myself, I feel that I’ve been in the mindset of each example person at least once – though, historically, I would have been in the middle between a Jane and Mary, and now I’m closer to a Lizzy since leading up to my No Buy year. I feel like I’m more in control to say “no,” to the things I don’t need so I can say “yes,” to the experiences I want. A $200 clothing haul every other month feels great in the moment, but I’m now more hyped about turning that money into seeing more of the world with clothes I already love. I’d be curious to know how others who are also doing a No Buy feel their alignment has been or currently is.

Further Reading/Reference List:

In case you’d like to dive in on the original theory, here are the two major sources I’ve scouted from:
1. Locus of control: Rotter, J. B. (1966). Generalized expectancies for internal versus external control of reinforcement. Psychological monographs: General and applied, 80(1), 1.
2. Attribution theory: Heider, F. (1958). The Psychology of Interpersonal Relations. New York: Wiley.