1. Taking the time to read mail received
What I’m talking about is that mountain of stuff you just can’t seem to get through. The glaring shine of an address written in cellophane, concealing the pain of a bill you’d rather not think about. A tiny slot on the exterior of our house lets mail cascade into a basket on the front porch, where it disappears into oblivion. The ease with which one can ignore this is disturbing. (Takes a quick glance out the window:) Is there anything there with a handwritten return address that I should bother opening? Oh, is this another mushy note from Sallie Mae? Or that square one, which is most likely a credit card offer from a shady company that I won’t be able to locate using even Google. Nah. And thus it accrues.
Those times, however, are long gone. (We’re not talking months here; we’re talking weeks.) Getting started on this new routine was more challenging than using your least preferred piece of exercise equipment, but now that you’ve committed, there’s no going back. In fact, I’ve *almost* learned to take pleasure in tearing open the paper and, even more so, in diving headfirst into the issues as they arise. I no longer have to contend with the confusing stack of papers, and instead my mind has a slight veneer of calm.
2. To employ a financial mentor.
Eventually, I find myself so far in the “out of sight, out of mind” quicksand (see: ignoring unopened mail) that even thinking about starting to sift through it all feels overwhelming. I had my financial “come to Jesus” moment last year when I asked myself, “Don’t you think if I could have done it myself by now, I would have?”
Eventually, I just gave up and asked for assistance. Not someone I’ve met before, but an expert in a field in which I am deficient (or uninterested), but which requires my attention. Why should the subject matter of money be any different when we pay for trainers when we need to know how to move and have people change our oil when we could surely YouTube it and save $50?
The truth is that I am still on this path, but I can say with absolute certainty that I have already noticed a tremendous shift in the narrative I constructed about money. As an adult, I feel more confident, and the mountain of shame I’ve built up over the years is slowly being chipped away, all because someone was willing to hold me accountable and provide a tried-and-true plan that I could digest. I am a fully functional adult with a stable family life, several successful businesses, and a nice home and property. The least any of us can do is take on the literal currency that supports the systems we rely on every day.
3. Retinol-based skin care routines
Not everyone is going to enjoy this. It may not be the best fit for you, and you should respect that, depending on your skin type, whether or not you are pregnant or nursing, and so on. However, time and gravity have not been kind to my skin, and if there’s one thing I could go back and do differently, it would be to establish a more rigorous skincare routine earlier on.
My face had started reminding me that while I’m still young, my usual arsenal of mediocre skincare needed a serious—for lack of a better word—facelift due to stress, lack of sleep (looking at you, motherhood), and years spent tanning in any laundromat tanning bed I could visit.
Fortunately, we live in a time when discussing skincare is commonplace and the variety of options available is vast. My advice is to dig deep into the literature, see a dermatologist, or poll your trusted circle for advice. (If they’re also trying to achieve similar skin goals, that’s even better!)
Also, sunscreen is the first line of defense, but I feel like Baz Luhrmann already said everything that needs to be said about that in his 1999 commencement address, so I’ll give the nod to retinol for those of us who didn’t listen to him sooner. (There’s no such thing as a free lunch… or moisturizer
4. Establishing a regular schedule for planning meals.
All of us have bookmarked recipes and made grand promises that “next week is going to be different!” Sometimes I am guilty of this (and sometimes I still am). Wish I could say I always did a great job of planning my meals, but when I do, I make sure to enjoy it (note: so I’m not hangry!) and not let the times when I wasn’t as prepared ruin the experience.
Financially, having a plan for each day’s meals and the leftovers that can accompany them has allowed me to budget appropriately. My food budget is now less than half of what it was before. Logistically, not having to decide on the fly what I’ll eat for dinner and tomorrow’s lunch is a huge relief, especially during a time of my life when free time is at a premium. (Also, my husband no longer texts me every morning at 10:30 asking what I want to make for dinner.)
These moments of preparation have gradually come to be seen by me as an act of self-care rather than just another thing to check off my list. It’s a win whenever we can “automate” something to improve our chances of success. And may the yellow stain from the curry powder you used in your white shirt be proudly displayed, my friend.
5. Taking advantage of each of the four distinct seasons.
Almost three years ago, when I found out that I was expecting a son in December, I experienced a brief moment of panic. Do you think SAD would make my postpartum hormone crash worse? Considering that was my first thought, you can imagine how much stock I have in the changing of the seasons. Although I was raised in the Midwest and am therefore used to the extremes of all four seasons, that doesn’t mean that each hasn’t brought its own peculiar baggage with it. To my dismay, I have not found a way to simply check this load at the beginning of each new calendar month; rather, the only way out is to work through it.
My son had just arrived, and I was stuck inside during the cold month of January, but to my own surprise, I found myself coming to enjoy it. Something in my mind shifted drastically, and I’ve carried that change into every season since. I’m learning to embrace transformation, both external (in the world) and internal (in my own mind and body).
Throughout time, humans have been expected to change along with the calendar. What we eat, how we live, and the resiliency and flexibility we develop as a result are all linked to a larger rhythm. I’ve found a little bit of peace of mind by embracing the elements, whether they’re bare and sun-kissed or soft and wool-clad, rather than fighting against the change and feeling frustrated every 2-5 months when I accept I cannot will it away. And, you won’t believe it, but the seasons fly by when viewed this way.
6. Writing down everything that comes into your head every day.
To “brain dump” is one of my favorite pastimes. (Our very own Kate Arends introduced me to this idea.) Even though she wasn’t telling me anything new, the way she explained it to me resonated with me more than the previous explanations I had heard. Though making lists is one of my favorite past times, there are times when it’s necessary to de-amplify the noise by simply releasing all of our thoughts into the void.
It can be anything from a word or a sentence to a stream-of-consciousness musing or even a sketch. Put your thoughts on paper with no restraints. Some days you might feel like you’re cranking out the greatest missive of your life, and other days you might feel like you’re writing something brief and concise. Meet yourself where you are, both mentally and emotionally. Having everything laid out in front of me will help me prioritize my tasks. (If you’re a “too many tabs open” type of person like me, set timers for those specific categories.)
7. Taking the time for therapy, in any form it takes.
After several heartbreaking breakups, my parents’ divorce, and some recent, life-threatening trauma, I decided to see a therapist. It’s interesting, because I come from a family that encourages open communication; my dad was a guidance counselor. In addition, it was during these preliminary sessions that I learned there are various therapeutic approaches. The yoga mat, the acupuncture table, the patio with a drink in hand, the dog park woods, and, increasingly, the oversized leather chair opposite a stranger who knows more about you than most have all played a part.
Whatever the case may be, please allow yourself to set aside time for this. However, a word of caution: if guilt follows the action, it loses much of its effectiveness and may as well have been wasted. Believe me. Just take pleasure in your chosen therapeutic activity and let the emotions linger within you.
Do you have to be in your thirties before you start incorporating any of these practices into your daily life? Without a doubt, not. Don’t put off making a change until you have an unwelcome forehead pleat, digestive issue, or comma in your bank account. Don’t wait around for approval either.
Every one of us has a story we tell ourselves about why we can’t make a positive change or claim credit for something new. But here’s the catch: Putting in “enough time” is not a prerequisite for claiming ownership. Emotional mutuality does not exist. It’s hard to break bad habits, but it’s a lot of fun to pick up good ones, as someone who’s currently going through the “I have a car tweezers” phase of life can attest. Forgive my senility, but you’ll be glad you listened to me on this one.