Redefining Change

Dear Tiny Home Seekers and the Tiny-Curious,

Last time we talked about the definition of success and what it looks like to you. This week I’m going to talk about ways that I’ve personally started to make changes in my own life to get to where I want to be.

So, what are the roadblocks keeping you from living the life of success that you’ve re-defined for yourself? Sometimes we hold ourselves back by listening to an old script that has run through our lives forever. “I’m never going to be able to afford my own home.” “I will never be able to exercise enough…” “I will never be able to go back to school…” “I will never…” fill in the blank. 

We all have things we think we can’t do even though we really want to do them. Life gets in the way or we make grandiose goals that seem impossible and way too overwhelming to actually accomplish and we leave with the gnawing sensation of that one thing we wish we could do. Let’s change that, shall we?

A little while ago I listened to a podcast, Hank Presents with Hank Fortener. You’ll find more info on the podcast here.

In the December 31st episode, Hank talked to expert psychologist, Dr. Robert Maurer, you can find out more about him here, about breaking things down to the smallest accomplishable tasks in the form of a practice called, Kaizen. i.e. I want to exercise more, but I can’t seem to find the time. I really want to learn to play the ukulele, save more money, buy a tiny house and go on the road, or whatever it is that you hold in the back of your mind as a dream. It’s the dream that has always been there, but you’ve never felt you could take a step towards.

Listen, it’s not a matter of some glorious break through where suddenly you have all the time and money available to you to do that fabulous thing. I know, I’ve wasted a lot of time waiting for enough time, enough resources etc. and I finally had to face facts. Life is never getting any less busy. I have a 20 month old, it’s never going to get easier to make time for what I want to do. So, instead of huge sweeping all at once changes, shifts can be done in very small, un-glamorous steps. If you want to get more exercise, break it down to very tiny, incremental, accomplishable daily goals. What small exercise do I know I can accomplish every day? I can walk five minutes every day. If five minutes overwhelms you, then walk for three, if three overwhelms you walk for one minute. The task simply cannot stress you out or overwhelm you in any way. The instant the task feels like it’s too much, back it down. Once you get comfortable with three minutes add an increment of time that doesn’t stress you out, thirty seconds or a minute. Then, in continued slow incremental steps you work your way up to where you want to be.

Recently, I wanted more time to work on my writing goals. I had a baby twenty months ago and have been unable to get the time I need to write ever since. Several weeks ago, after a talk with a dear friend, I decided to take baby-steps J towards getting more writing time. My plan was to get up earlier in the morning. Typically, I was getting up at 6:45 or 7:00. I’d been thinking about this for months. “If I could just get up at 6:00 instead of 7:00 I’d have an hour…” The thought of an entire hour less of desperately needed sleep was so daunting to me that I could never do it. I’d think about it, set my alarm and when it would go off in the morning I’d turn it off and go right back to sleep. With this new method, all I had to do the first day was pick an earlier time that worked for me and sit up in bed, anything I did after that was bonus. I could lie back down if I wanted or choose to get up, and get some tea. Just knowing I had the choice to lie back down, made it somehow easier to go ahead and get up and get my morning tea. The first day I got up at 6:30 got my tea and sat in my office for a few minutes before getting the kiddo up for the day. Every day after that, I backed the time up by just a minute or two. Now, I am getting up at 6:05 during the week, getting my tea, and getting into my office to do some writing. So far, so good and I never felt overwhelmed by any of the steps and I get nearly an hour each morning to work on my writing. I look forward to that time like a lifeline now, and all it took was the willingness to take one small step a day.

*Here is an addendum to the previous paragraph. I wrote this originally a few weeks ago (like 2 months ago, if I’m honest) and have since fallen out of the practice. I was, again, sick. I blame my kiddo, whom I affectionately call my little petri dish. He brings home all the germs gets a relatively mild version of them and passes the virus on to me, and I have the tendency to get knocked on my tush. So, after being sick for like twelve days or so I fell out of the 6:00 am practice. I think it’s important to note this. It happens. Life happens! For the past week, I’ve been working my way back up to a wake-up time of 6:00am by following the same steps I originally used. If you fall off the horse, get back on. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Beating yourself up tends to cause a cycle of self-hatred and constant failure. In the words of Jerome Kern who wrote the song “Pick Yourself Up” in 1936 and was sung by the inimitable Nat King Cole and quoted by numerous others“take a deep breath, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again!”

What is the thing you want to accomplish? What is that dream or goal that you’ve been holding close to you?

Since this is a blog about the tiny home life, let’s say it’s paring down your possessions in order to be ready for a tiny home. It can be incredibly daunting to think about an entire household full of life’s accumulations. Especially when those accumulations hold memories. Memories of loved ones no longer with us, memories so sweet and so far in the past that the object you hold on to can instantly bring back a powerful flood of emotions. 

When I was a little girl, I was horribly messy. I would get out a toy, play with it and move on to the next toy, never putting anything away until, at the end of the day, my entire room was a telltale treasure map of my day, the play I put on with my stuffed animals, the pictures I painted, the music I listened to, the clothes I changed, the books I read.

On Saturdays my mom would come in to my room with me and say, “Okay let’s clean up!” I would stand in the doorway, sort of transfixed by the whole mess, the entire tile floor littered with the debris from hurricane Jessica, and I would feel a sort of panic set in. I didn’t even know what to do first.  My mom would take me to one corner of the room and we would sit down. She would pick up one thing, usually a book, and hand it to me. She would tell me to close my eyes and not look at any of the rest of the mess. Then she would tell me to open my eyes and find the right spot for that one thing. We would continue on, one thing at a time until the room was clean. My mother was instilling the instincts of the Kaizen method into me without even knowing it. I would love to say that her lessons made me into a very neat and organized person, but I still have to work at it. Very often when I’m faced with an insurmountable task I will close my eyes, take a deep breath and think about that one thing I can start with. I can almost hear my mother’s voice whispering to me, “okay Jess-Jess, what do you do with this one thing?”

It works in a lot of areas of my life. My desk at work is covered and every shelf full of books waiting for my cataloging attention (go team Dewey!) and I will take a deep breath close my eyes and conjure the sound of my mother’s voice. Can’t drown out the noise of competing anxieties? Which one is the loudest? “I close my eyes and hear my mother… ‘just one thing, start with just one thing.’ ”

Paring down to go tiny? Start with one room. I don’t care which room. I’m sure there is some research somewhere that would tell us the optimal room to start with, but I don’t really care about all that. I think you should start wherever you feel the most comfortable. Personally? I wouldn’t start with the emotional objects first. Start with things you think you could easily make decisions about and get your brain in the habit of making those decisions one item at a time. The Kaizen method of making life changes would suggest starting with the smallest imaginable task. It might look like getting rid of one item a day, for a week, then two items a day for a week and so on and so forth until you make it to the end of the first room then start on the next. By the way, you don’t have to go tiny to use these methods. Feel free to try them out if you just want to have a cleaner house.

There is a wealth of information out there on paring down and minimalism. In one of my first few blog entries I included some of those resources. So check those out.

For me, it helps to write down my steps. Sometimes in that process I recognize even smaller steps that will stress me out less. The point in using the Kaizen method is to keep fear from kicking in and thereby shutting down the entire operation. It gets rid of roadblocks that we constantly put in our own way. Like, when I was little and overwhelmed with my impossibly messy room, my instinct was to run away from the daunting task ahead, or ignore it. We do these things as adults too. I know I do! Using Kaizen circumnavigates our fear center in the brain and helps us accomplish what we see as impossible. So, listen to the podcast, read the book, or just dive in.

I’d love to hear what you’re doing and what changes you are making or would like to make! Leave your thoughts in the comments below and I will do my best to respond!

Until next time, take steps, friends, tiny steps!

Love from,

Jessica and the Switchgrass crew