The Year Ahead
My favorite photo from winter break!
Hi! I’ve missed you. Do you mind if I ramble on for a bit on my first day back in this space?
How’s it going for you so far? I’ve personally had a bit of rocky start, and have been vacillating between feelings of renewed clarity and feelings of defeat.
2020/2021: The bad
Looking forward to the routines and slowness of January, I did all the clichéd things last week: I put away the Christmas decor, decluttered and cleaned out closets and drawers, donated unused things, put the playroom back together, did the built-up laundry, and gave the house a solid scrub-down. More importantly, I enjoyed the last few days of my kids’ winter break with them. I can’t tell you how many movies we watched, crafts we completed, games we played, and Lego sets we built. It was fun. It was heartwarming. It was wonderful—something I will always do after the holidays. And part of me really does feel refreshed and inspired and lucky right now… but another part of me feels a little panicked about getting our family through the next few months. (As I write this, Emma is home from school and will be home tomorrow because CPS classes are totally cancelled, making national news.) There’s some déjà vu, for sure. Complicated issues aside, how do we keep everyone’s spirits up? How will my children be affected? (My oldest because we saw her light flicker in 2020/2021, and my youngest because we saw her development take a significant hit.) Can we handle another Covid winter in Chicago? IT’S ALSO 10 DEGREES AND SNOWING! BAH!
(We’re not going anywhere. Just feeling discouraged. And cold.)
I don’t know. It’s a lot.
I’m someone who has an unfortunate history with depression and anxiety. And while I’ve understandably always needed to stay on top of my mental health, these days it feels like I’m constantly adjusting my sails to avoid the next storm… and I trick myself into thinking that I see land again and again. A freakin’ mirage every time, I tell you. Every time! It’s exhausting, and I kind of live my life in fear that at any point, my mental health could crumble. But you don’t have to have a relationship with depression or anxiety in order to relate to that. There’s just so much uncertainty right now… and that uncertainty has been hanging around for two years. It’ll do a number on anyone.
2020/2021: The good
Despite all the uncertainty, one thing I’ll say for 2020 and 2021 is that those years forced me to let go of the unnecessary. In the beginning, I put a lot of effort into creating and setting arbitrary challenges and goals. Like many other Americans, I picked up the guitar again, I set out to create the perfect homeschool environment, I started to write the great American novel, I planned at-home date nights, I dreamed up zillions of engaging kids’ activities, I vowed to serve amazing family meals every night, I committed to keeping a tidy home for once in my life, and I bought books on my Kindle app. I added more, more, more to my already chipped and cracking plate, and assumed it would whack that uncertainty into another dimension and make me feel happy and fulfilled. Of course, it didn’t. It just made me feel overwhelmed and like a failure because I couldn’t possibly do all those things. I shudder just thinking about it now because A) how trite! …B) how obvious! …and C) I quickly learned that living through a pandemic with two children under the age of five would really just become a game of survival.
One day, though, I woke up and realized I was done feeling overwhelmed and like a failure all the time. I knew that even pre-pandemic, I wasn’t living the life I wanted. And I’m not sure I thought it through or truly meant to do this, but I began to swing the other way, actually embracing less. Less everything. I let most of the balls drop, and “less” seeped into every aspect of my life, identifying issues I didn’t even know were there. It was admittedly tough at first. There was some crushing sadness and regret; Oh, if only I could go back to that time and do it differently! There were also some nerves. Will my family, friends and readers understand? And guilt. Am I being selfish? Finally, there was a bit of an identity crisis. Who am I? What actually makes me happy and fulfilled? Did I ever even like what I think I used to like?!
But then—lo!—there was some clarity for the hamster who’d finally stepped off the wheel.
2022: My life, today
Fast forward to 2022 (#crazy), and my life has changed a lot. I suppose going from more, more, more to less, less, less will do that. For me, embracing the “less” has been a multifaceted endeavor. Maybe I should write a longer-form post on all this, but here’s what initially comes to mind when I think about why life is now different—and while not perfect, better:
Fewer physical things
- Less clutter. I’ve long been a fan of Marie Kondo, and we did a full KonMari clean-out of our first home in Chicago. But the clutter had built up again. During the pandemic, we buckled down again… and from toys and kitchenware to linens and furnishings/home decor, we actively worked to get the superfluous out, and now stay on top of it. (Recommendations on where to donate in Chicago in this post.) We also now put a lot of thought into what we bring into our home.
- Less clothing. Each person has transitioned from a large, preppy wardrobe to a much smaller wardrobe consisting of mostly basics that he or she actually wears on a daily basis. The dream is to one day move to true capsule wardrobes. Noodle wins, as she’s the proud owner of only two articles of clothing. (And yes, you’d think it would be harder to run the blog with less, but it’s actually easier!)
- Less paper. I no longer keep actual paper around (because Marie Kondo told me not to), and I’m working to organize my digital life so I can find things quickly and easily. I digitized my calendar, my address book, my business records, and my kids’ artwork—and shredded everything else. And I’m slowly getting my computer desktop and filing system in order. Oh! I said goodbye to physical to-do lists, too. (And digital ones, for that matter.) Excuse my French, but they made me feel like *^$. Everyone is different. I have friends who couldn’t live without their to-do lists. Perhaps my own lists were just flawed. Either way, I am no longer daunted by them… because they don’t exist anymore. I simply use the freed-up mental space in my mind to tell me what I want and need to accomplish.
Less internal “noise”
(Meaning both what I have on my shoulders and mind. I should note here that I’m not sure I personally could have tackled these issues with any success had I not addressed the physical and gained a little clarity first!)
- Fewer goals and no resolutions. I used to bog myself down with the unrealistic. It wasn’t helpful. I can now count my goals on one hand, and they’re achievable. Resolutions had never worked for me, so poof! They were gone.
- No dramatic friendships or relationships. Meh. I don’t have the mental energy for drama right now. I just don’t. Have you heard of “The Gray Rock Method”? Google it and try it. It works! (BUT NOW MY SECRET IS OUT.)
- Less overanalyzing. I’m cognizant of the fact that I do it, and I actively push negative thoughts from my mind. Meditation would likely be great for me.
- Less “doom scrolling” and connectivity. I used to be a big doom-scroller! I wanted to stay informed. But woo-ee. There’s a fine line between staying informed and succumbing to the darkness in this day and age. I now read the news in the morning and then stay on top of certain issues. (I still think The Skimm or the Times’ daily newsletters are great for anyone who needs assistance with this, too!) As for connectivity, I now disconnect on a regular basis. I can hustle when need be, but I normally blog and/or log on to social media during my limited working hours, do what I can, and then log off. Anything else I only do when I feel inspired and want to. (Which admittedly hasn’t been often lately! More on that—and the future of this site—in the next section.) I clock in and clock out like I used to do with traditional jobs of my past, while acknowledging that there will be days—especially during the pandemic—when I should be disconnected because I have children and I’m not the Energizer Bunny. I also place more importance than ever on free time, exercise, sunlight, breaks and true vacations. (Though don’t treat them as goals, challenges or resolutions.) I watch a movie or show with Mitch nearly every night, we map out times to get away as a family, and our weekends are work-free.
- Fewer set plans and obligations, and less apologizing. As a family, we now favor plans made in the present over plans made in advance. We still do lots of fun things and have a blast, but the texts we love most are those we send and receive from friends like, “Hey! Anything going on later? Playdate at our house? Trip to the park? Dinner?” In terms of obligations, this means not taking on anything I know I can’t handle at the moment. And I try so hard not to feel guilty about it or apologize. It’s not a character flaw! What’s nice is that when I’m honest with myself and others about it—and say things like “I’d love to but I’m overextended right now” or “This sounds amazing but I’m focusing on my family and children at the moment,” I’m met with understanding 99 percent of the time. People are good.
2022: The blog
I would assume that the most obvious change for readers, though, is that I now have far less of a presence here on my blog as well as on my Instagram and Facebook accounts. I loved blogging for so many different reasons for a long time, but in an effort to be totally transparent, I stopped loving it sometime over the last couple of years. It became too challenging; a burden of sorts.
Why blogging had become a burden
- First, I was spread too thin. In order to keep the site up during the pandemic, I was clocking super late hours that drained me. It felt impossible, and I was starting to relate to Sisyphus.
- Second, I struggled with living a public life during a global pandemic. I was constantly questioning my own morality, trying desperately to do the right thing, unable to please everyone. Pleasing everyone is impossible no matter what my content is about, and I know that should never be my intention. But cruel lurkers, cloaked in the anonymity of the internet, were vicious in blog comments and e-mails. On one hand, I kind of understood; life was scary, and so many emotions—fear, sadness, confusion, anger—came along with that. But on the other hand, being berated every day took its toll, and there were several incidents that made me legitimately scared. Making the conscious decision to subject myself to that didn’t seem like the wisest decision.
- Third, I felt an enormous sense of guilt re: my inability to keep up with blog readers as well as followers and friends on social media. The only way I was ever able to respond to all the wonderfully kind people I was connected with or support my incredibly talented blogger friends was by not being present as a parent. So that sucked.
- Fourth, and most importantly, I wanted to be a good mom more than I wanted to be a good blogger. (A good thing!) Emma and Lucy wouldn’t be little forever. The years are short and precious.
The future of the blog
You can’t pour from an empty cup, as they say. But up until 2020, I would insist I was going to stop pouring yet continue to pour, pour, pour. So I (finally) purposefully dropped the blog ball, choosing to sleep, protect myself, and let go. And guess what? There’s been so much improvement… on all fronts. I’m a better and happier mother, wife, friend, blogger and person when I take care of myself, and my “people” are happier, too. (And so, so understanding.) Everyone deserves to take care of themselves.
Sure, I fantasized about and gave considerable thought to shutting it all down, doing something else professionally, and living a totally private life. I think fantasies like that are just part of being human. Most of us like to occasionally step into totally different versions of life, whether through books, television, movies, social media or our own imaginations. But stepping away from my blog and social channels for a significant amount of time (luckily during my slow time of the year) has allowed me to really consider whether I’d miss blogging, and the answer is yes.
I still haven’t figured out what, exactly, this space is going to look like. I don’t have a solid plan yet. I’m currently just throwing out ideas left and right and weighing my options. It’s a little intimidating—wanting and needing to change something that I’ve done one way for so long—but it’s also new and exciting!
The positive effects of “less” + what’s next
I know I’m forgetting a lot.^ And I need to shout it from the rooftops: Life isn’t perfect! As exemplified in the first few paragraphs of this post, I feel the weight right now, and I don’t love not having a ton of direction. I don’t want to suggest that I’m even close to rockin’ 2022 thus far, either. It took me days to collect my thoughts for this post and then write ’em down, after all… and like you, I just want all of this to freakin’ END.
But life is simpler now because I’m no longer always depleted or trying to make room for excess. “Less” has equaled less procrastination, less avoidance, less anxiety, less mess, less wasted time. And it’s made way for clarity, mental/physical space and energy, happiness, inspiration and free time—free time I get to spend with my husband, kids, family and friends. Because there is less, there’s less to clean up. Less to tidy. Less laundry. (Except during the holidays.) Less to worry about. I have fewer choices and decisions to make every day—avoiding what is commonly referred to as “decision fatigue.” Heck, getting dressed in the morning is almost fun because my closet isn’t overflowing! I feel calmer and lighter. Everyone in our family is happier.
Less everything else, more joy.
Thank you for being here while I navigate a new chapter. So many of you have been here through thick and thin—when times were great and when times weren’t so great. Others are new and have been so wonderfully kind. The support means the world, and please know that I’m trying with all my might right now not to apologize for my little disappearance act. I’m alive and well!
I hope that you survived the 2021 holiday season and perhaps even enjoyed it, and that you’re holding up okay and focusing on personal happiness. I’m also pumped about our future together, despite how creepy that sounds. (Love how I held out until the last paragraph of this post with emoji usage, and now I’m back to my old ways.) Here’s to a new year, despite how meaningless that feels right now, haha… and being back in a different, healthier capacity!
Over and out, for now.