Decluttering more than things

Hey, y’all. Long time, no post. I spent much of the last few weeks in an exhausted stupor post-Glacier and then post-CampFI Midwest (Military Dollar, I blame you for part of that since you were in town and making me be sociable right before the exhaustion of CampFI!).

And last week while I was recovering from CampFI, my personal life kinda…threw up on me. That has zero relevance to this blog (because good lord am I trying to keep my blog persona and my offline life from completely melding), other than that on a day I ostensibly should’ve been writing, I was dealing with some things instead.

I think it’s a sign of maturity that instead of trying to push out posts like I probably would’ve done in the past, lately I’ve recognized that some nights I just need to get the hell in bed more or less on time instead of forcing myself to unproductively stare at my cursor blinking at me while I struggle to write (and likely stay up too late without even being able to finish a post).

Or maybe it’s laziness. ?‍♀️

Either way, I haven’t written very much in this last month, and, as it turns out, that’s exactly what I’m talking about today.

FI = intentional living

For as long as I’ve been in the FI space, I’ve also been in the slow/intentional living space. Other than my initial foray into FIRE blogs via Mr. Money Mustache (shocker, I know ?), I have no memory anymore of how I found all the other blogs I started reading two years ago. But somehow in the tangled webs of the internet I stumbled across Cait Flanders’ blog.[*]

And from there, other blogs (and podcasts), including the Slow Home Podcast (one of my favorites, which I’ve mentioned before), Britt at Tiny Ambitions, and a few months ago, Anthony Ongaro’s work at Break the Twitch.

From there, it would’ve been easy to start reading the big names like The Minimalists and Joshua Becker, but I don’t read #minimalism blogs; I’m not a minimalist (at least, in the form marketed as #minimalism. Blank white walls are boring!) and never will be. But I love the idea of simple living and being intentional in life, so I make sure I’m consuming content in that area.

Not a minimalist!

Surprises at CampFI

Because my FI journey and my intentional living journey have always overlapped, I’m always surprised when they don’t overlap for others. But my experience is the exception, not the norm. Both Cait and Anthony presented at CampFI Midwest two weeks ago, and I think their presentations were pretty eye-opening for quite a few of the participants.

Even I got a ton out of their presentations. Neither of them said anything I hadn’t heard before, but you know when someone rephrases an old piece of information very slightly and all of a sudden you look at it in an entirely different way? Yeah, that happened to me during both of their presentations (and here is where I’m REALLY MAD I accidentally deleted the note from my phone where I was jotting down things that particularly stood out to me, so this is just the tiny bits and pieces I can remember off the top of my head ?).

This isn’t a CampFI recap post—that’s coming later because even though it would make sense to be included here, my ridiculously verbose writing style means combining the two would be too much (and I sure don’t want to spend the time writing another 4,000 word post!). But throughout the weekend I had a couple of conversations about ideas Cait and Anthony’s presentations sparked.

For the record, the idea to expand these conversations into a full post came to me in the shower the last morning of CampFI, because of course it did.

Somehow I keep coming back to decluttering

The big takeaway for me—and I don’t know why I’ve never realized this before—was that reducing clutter isn’t just about the THINGS. Sure, it’s about the excess possessions you find yourself with (guilty!). And I think that’s the kneejerk reaction most of us have when thinking about decluttering. But true decluttering goes far beyond stuff and into life.

Decluttering is also about reducing the commitments you find yourself signed up for but you’re not really sure why you keep showing up for them. It’s reducing time spent wasted during your day, whether that’s mindlessly scrolling on your phone, sitting in useless, unproductive meetings at work, or putting off things you really want to do for someday when you have the time/energy/money to do them. It’s about reducing the unnecessary spending on things that don’t actually bring you value (does this sound familiar, FIRE people?).

FI isn’t all about spreadsheets and money. Let’s be real, as awesome as spreadsheets are, sitting at your computer looking at them endlessly is no kind of life, and I wouldn’t be pursuing FI if that was all there was to it. It’s also about living life on your own terms, and if you don’t think that means living an intentional life, I’m not sure what to tell you.

So, okay, maybe this isn’t groundbreaking at all and should’ve been obvious to me before. Especially since, yes, I’ve long since known that there’s a lot of overlap between pursuing FIRE and a more intentional life.

But what does that actually mean for me?

Sooooo much clutter

Clutter in my life right now comes from, yes, the things. I have GOT to do something about the full “to-be-decluttered” box I have in my room right now. Those things aren’t actually decluttered until they’re out of my apartment! But an astounding amount of clutter in my life also comes from the constant busyness I’ve found myself absorbed in all year.

A major consequence of that is the useless days and evenings (hello, the last few weeks and my extremely sporadic posts…) where I’m too tired to be able to stomach the thought of sitting down all evening to write. Even if I didn’t have a blogging life to be affected, being that exhausted constantly is a waste of time, and then I just fall farther behind on things.

It’s easier to do my normal two loads of laundry in one evening than it is to wait until I have three or even four loads (at which point it’s an emergency because I suddenly have no socks to wear), which require parts of two evenings to get through. It’s less of a drain mentally to have meals prepped and ready to go instead of constantly wondering what the hell I’m going to scrounge up for lunch that day until I can make it to the grocery store. I’m also not a fan of beating myself up for going through yet another bag of frozen potstickers—they’re easy and at least nominally healthy, and hey, at least they’re a change from frozen pizza?—instead of cooking something for the week.

Being behind is exhausting and it’s a ridiculous drain on my mental bandwidth. I’d much rather spend my time thinking about things other than how excited I’ll be when I’ve “successfully” (not my definition of a successful day!) dragged myself through the day and it’s finally time to go to bed.

So close!

For the entire year so far, I’ve been looking forward to not only my next upcoming trip, but also the weekend or two after each trip when things will ostensibly return to “normal.” Although let’s be real, so far this year normal hasn’t looked for me like it did last year; somehow I’ve not been as able this year to catch up on sleep, working out, writing posts, and making meals for myself in my snatches of time at home.

I’m not at all complaining—I have very consciously decided I want to spend my time and money doing these things, and it is a privilege to be able to do so. But here’s the downside of travel: it’s tiring. And it’s hard to transition back into the swing of things if you don’t have a ton of downtime available after.

But I am ecstatically looking forward to October after I return from FinCon/Disney and the first part of November before the holidays kick in. Because other than the Cents Positive retreat in early November, I have NO PLANS. For now, anyway. Although it’s likely I’ll end up driving home in October.

I’ll have multiple weeks at home for potentially sleeping in and then making myself pancakes and coffee for breakfast (I did that this past weekend—holiday weekend for the win—and I honestly don’t remember the last time that happened). Or going hiking. Working at my second job without also trying to cram in a million things I also want to do on the weekends I’m home. Writing posts/meal prepping/doing laundry/other Adult Responsibilities. I’m excited, y’all.

Some morning glories I noticed on a morning walk (an emergency morning walk to the grocery store so I could buy milk in order to make coffee. Good thing it was a rare weekend morning where I had lots of time!)

…and yet so far

But guess what, I’m still going to be busy for the next few weeks.

Chorus rehearsals are starting up again, so I’m back to losing the free evening I had in between writing nights for the last few months. And I’m already dreading that transition (and yes, I’m still thinking about trade-offs and if I’ll need to make a different decision soon regarding this particular aspect of my life). I’ll be out of town again next week, and then I’ve got FinCon happening at the end of the month.

So I’ve got a month until my long-awaited season of busyness (is it a season if it’s been the whole year thus far?) finally comes to an end. Or at least slows down to a manageable level.

And while I may not be able to catch back up to where I feel I should be during that month, I do have an opportunity to do something with this next month. Mainly, to think about how I want to actually bring more intentionality into my life moving forward.

Time to think

I spent about six months as a sideline observer to the FIRE space, reading all of the blog posts possible and thinking this was something I wanted to do that sounded pretty awesome. But I didn’t start making changes to my money until I started writing about it—thus this blog was born. And what a change a year and a half has made. But I haven’t seen nearly as much movement in my life on the slower/more intentional living front. I can listen to all the podcasts I want about “slow living in a fast-paced world,” but the concepts remain vague ideas if I don’t actually make some changes myself.

My monthly experiments have been a step in that direction—consciously choosing something new and seeing how that goes for a month.

But I’m still not happy with how busy and tired I constantly am. I’ve got emails drafted to myself that are just lists of URLs of posts I mean to go back and read/comment on (sorry, friends!). I can’t read everything but that doesn’t stop me from wanting to try. Clearly my posting schedule has been slipping lately even after I get back from trips because I don’t have the mental bandwidth to even begin to think about writing posts, let alone actually doing so. When I do have some free time, I find myself spending a lot of time…scrolling through Twitter.

So something’s gotta give.

I want time in my life to breathe (more than just a little), but clearly I’m going to have to intentionally create that time and space myself. So that involves somehow changing and trying new things to make room for that. I don’t know how that’s going to look. I’m sure I won’t magically have all the answers come October. Scratch that, I know I won’t. But instead of writing off September as a lost, busy cause, I’ve got an opportunity here to use that time to think about what a less busy life looks like going forward.

(Did I just write my monthly experiment post for September? ?)

[*]Cait just retired from personal blogging; her post about it is excellent and we talked about a few of the things she mentions in that post at CampFI. Obviously I’ve been thinking about them for a week and a half, given the subject of this post. The idea of just wanting to be a human resonates particularly loudly even though I’m not planning on quitting blogging anytime soon. But “I want to sit down and work, and not feel like it needs to be a productivity experiment that I should document” hit particularly hard for me, given how busy I’ve been.

I’m thinking about my responsibilities as a content creator as well—not that I have a large platform at all, and I am conscious of the fact that I’m writing from a different perspective than much of the FIRE community—and I think that’s another part of the reason I haven’t posted much recently. I’ve been better off dragging my exhausted self to bed rather than stressing out about half-assing some post for the sake of keeping to my (entirely self-imposed!) posting schedule.

I think what I’m really trying to say here is I’m so glad I finally got to meet Cait in person!

19 Replies to “Decluttering more than things”

  1. Omg, Cait’s farewell post gave me all the feels. I’m glad it resonated with you too! Thanks for the shout-out btw. It’s interesting operating somewhere between the simple/intentional living and personal finances spaces, though I’ve always been more towards the former.

    I think a lot of us in the space have been feeling similarly- something’s gotta give. We just want to live our lives and not turn everything into something to be documented.

    In a lot of ways we as bloggers have done it to ourselves. But that also means we can change it to whatever we want it to be.

    1. Hah yeah and I’m on more of the PF side of the two spaces. You’re so right that we’re the ones who can change how things are. That’s a daunting prospect but also one that’s incredibly freeing—you can rewrite the rules to whatever suits you!

  2. I got similar takeaways from Cait and Anthony. I don’t mind having the podcast or the blog, it’s the constant flow of social media I have to keep up with that’s the problem. So many things flying at me that I get lost in what I actually need to do. 10/10 post, will probably read again. See you at FinCon!!

    1. Yep! Aside from how damn long it takes me to actually write posts, I don’t actually spend all that much time on my blog itself. Social media is a way different matter and it’s very easy to tell myself I NEED to do those things when really I don’t ?

      See you soon!

  3. Cait and Anthony’s presentations had the most impact on me as well. What’s necessary? What can be removed? Why do I still have/do/want this unneccessary thing?

    What’s great about your thoughts is minimalist thoughts are more than just physical space… but also mental space 🙂

    Looking forward to your Camp FI recap post and also hope you get enough rest so when FinCon comes around, being tired can’t be an excuse for losing in Euchre 😉

    Great post!


    1. And I see you’re in the process yourself of freeing up mental space and time so clearly you’ve been thinking about this as well.

      Hahaha just a few days until you find out I won’t need any sort of excuse because I won’t be losing 😉

  4. It may seem a bit backwards, but part of why we travel so much on the weekends is to give ourselves the space to live the slow life. When we’re home, there are constantly so many demands on us and we don’t stop moving. Something changes when we head somewhere else for whatever reason.

    1. Haha that definitely sounds backwards since sadly the weekends are when I have to fit a lot of the normal life maintenance things in, so I fall behind if I don’t have that time. But that makes total sense about having demands at home and being able to escape them, plus I bet the 30 hour workweek helps a lot too!

  5. I totally agree that decluttering is so much more than the physical things. A lot of times it’s all about mentally decluttering too!

    We need to free up our thoughts and mental energy for the things that matter and remove a lot of the noise. Simple things such as quiet meditation and reminders to myself to relax during the day have been really helpful for this!

  6. This is a great read. I don’t even blog (yet) but I feel this way in life in general. I’m constantly trying to evaluate what brings joy, what doesn’t, and how to focus on that. Sometimes that means decluttering things, sometimes it means focusing on FI or personal finance, and sometimes it’s about a whole host of other things! (Marriage, kids, jobs, house, cars, personal fulfillment, friends, health…stressors in life are REAL folks.)

    It’s nice to see content like this that kind of reassures that a lot more people feel like this than may immediately be apparent. Like you, I’m sure I’m going to keep rethinking and pondering on this for weeks/months to come. I don’t have all the answers. But, thanks for sharing and being vulnerable with your readers!

    1. It’s definitely the nature of my blog to be much more personal, so I am all about being vulnerable with my readers! I certainly don’t have everything figured out, and I’d be lying if I pretended I did! The personal stories are the ones I enjoy reading so that’s what I like writing, too.

  7. mmm potstickers…. had some last night.

    Don’t feel like you’re alone in the decluttering struggle. There’s hordes of us (pun!). It’s a real struggle, I’m with ya. I’m like Rocky, I stay in the ring and keep fighting.

    Good to hear from you again

    1. They’re so easy, and SO good!

      Hahaha glad I’m one in the horde ? It’s going to be a lifelong struggle so I have to remember I don’t have to figure it all out completely right now.

  8. For me, my FI journey and intentional living journey have overlapped as well. They actually seem to feed into each other very well in my opinion. I started to be more intentional with decluttering two months ago. This is because I am getting ready to move to San Diego. During this time I got rid of about 90% of my stuff. I never thought about decluttering on the level of commitments I sign up for. That is a really great takeaway that I’m going to slowly take action on.

    Also, I understand the feeling of being too busy. I have been slacking on many things in my life due to not having the bandwidth mentally at the end of the day. I’m currently in Quantico finishing up a seven-week military school. Four days after I graduate from this school I fly to San Diego for another three-month school.

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