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Parting ways with the clutter

I’m not the tidiest person you’ll ever meet. Some areas of my life are incredibly tidy, probably to the point of being annoying to other people. Some are, um, not. For example, I have to have the bed made every day, but am not allowed to have a desk anymore because I will cover any “spare” horizontal surface with piles of crap. The inside of my car is usually pretty free of trash and clutter, but until last weekend the outside looked like Pigpen’s 16th birthday present.

The point here is that there’s (sort of) a balance. Part of me would love to boast about fully embracing the Marie Kondo* lifestyle, with the kind of aesthetic minimalism that makes people feel both peaceful and impressed as soon as they walk in the room. In other words, part of me would love for my possessions to give you the impression that I have my whole life together.

But another part of me wants everything cushy with a ton of healthy houseplants and floor-to-ceiling bookshelves with an honest-to-God rolling ladder because that is the dream. However, neither of these acknowledges the part of me that sometimes mentally just can’t deal and needs to put all those papers in a pile until I can handle them later.

So we compromise. I, as a typical American, have too much stuff. To be fair, I’ve been progressively whittling down my stuff over the past 5+ years. Growing up with two houses, I did not have two of everything, but I did have too much. Moving a lot, certain boxes just got moved around and never gone through. And if I could find some little corner to tuck stuff in (which I am very good at), then I never had to deal with it because I couldn’t see it. But that shouldn’t be the norm. So began the rounds of purging.

The first big one was when I left for college. I spent days — and utilized the help of several people — to go through literally every item I owned and get rid of as much as possible. The nice thing is I had the time to be fun and nostalgic about it, and I really did get rid of a ton.

I tried to do at least a medium purge at the end of every school year, because I had to singlehandedly pack up everything I had brought to school and either store it or fit it in my car and drive it to the other end of the state. (Side note: This improved my already very efficient car-packing skills. It’s real-life Tetris.)

I did another sort-of purge during the months after college. With personal belongings, it was more like sorting because a lot was stuff I’d need again as soon as I moved out. But I did the most thorough purge of old school stuff I had ever completed and it felt amazing. I had saved so many papers and books and general crap because “I might need to go back and find it one day.” Let me tell you: The only things from college that I have gone back to were a very short list of books, notes and assignments from like four classes, and some concepts that were an easy find on Google. What stuff have I gone back to from high school and grade school? Absolutely. Nothing.*

When I moved out was the latest big purge. It mattered to me that I feel fully moved out, and I didn’t want to make my parents deal with a bunch of my stuff in my old room. It wasn’t a flawless execution — as much as I got rid of, they’re still storing a number of boxes for me that my shared apartment simply doesn’t have room for. But those boxes contain almost solely childhood mementos and books. And when I have a bigger space, they’ll come with me and be whittled down again.

But I still have too much stuff. So rather than doing one massive purge, I’ve been going through things in small bursts. And for a lot of us emerging adults, it’s a lot more feasible to tackle our crap that way than attempting to do it all at once. So here is everything I’ve learned in my effort to declutter my space:

  • Would you be sad if it were gone? This is my version of the “Does it bring you joy?” trick. If I would be disappointed not keeping a piece of art or old stuffed animal and regret it later, it matters enough that I can hold onto it — at least for now.
  • Do you need it? This serves a dual purpose: Some stuff is lame but necessary. I’m not sentimentally attached to my cleaning supplies, but I do need them. Some stuff is convenient, but not necessary. I don’t need as many sweaters as I own, so I figure out how many I “need” and get rid of the rest.
  • Do you use it? Also a good one for clothes, but excellent for random clutter and knickknacks. If I haven’t worn a pair of everyday shoes in more than a year, probably not worth keeping. If I avoid using that one blanket because I like the other ones better, I can let it go.
  • File things. Y’all. It can feel like an annoying adult thing, but having a file box is the best. I know where all my important papers are — and if they don’t belong in there, I probably don’t need them.
  • Find things a home. My boyfriend laughs that I phrase it like this, but this is where Marie Kondo and I agree: Treat your stuff like it lives there, and you want its home to be nice. If there isn’t a space where it can belong, it might be time to get rid of it.
  • Ditch duplicates. My current apartment is not the best at this because eventually we won’t all be living together and will want our own stuff when we leave, i.e. we have way more dishes than we need. But if you have multiple of something without a very good justification, pick your favorite and ditch the others.
  • Throw away your trash. I really can’t emphasize this one enough; it’s the only one I’m consistent about even in the more cluttered corners of my life. Trash is not worth the space it takes up. Throw it out (and recycle what you can).
  • It doesn’t have to be clutter-free, but it does have to be clean. A lot of us need at least a little space where we can be messy — it’s often an important part of psychological well-being. But don’t let it get gross, and turn into a health hazard and a source of stress. If you clean regularly, you’ll probably get rid of some unnecessary stuff at the same time. This is why I make the bed every morning and clean off my desk before leaving work.
  • Digital isn’t infinite. Unfortunately, computers and phones also run out of space, but most of the same principles apply as when decluttering tangible spaces: toss what you don’t need, organize what you do need so you can actually find it when you want it. Bonus tips: Keep items off your desktop in documents and other folders (or put your apps in folders for mobile) for some digital breathing room; emptying your trash, deleting old downloads, and restarting your device can all free up storage space.
  • It’s okay to have exceptions. I hate getting rid of pictures. Because especially the older they are, the less likely it is you can get it back. I also own a ton of books, and allow myself to keep more than I need in that category. That being said, the pictures still have to be organized and the books can’t exceed the shelves (even if they are full to the brim).

I know that was a lot, but I hope it proves helpful in making your space feel a little more manageable.

What are your best tips for decluttering? (Seriously, I’m still in the process and could use the help.) Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up! Thanks for reading, and happy adulting!

 

*Marie Kondo is the author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, aka the first thing most people will bring up when you mention decluttering.

**This isn’t to say you shouldn’t save anything. My mom has a manila folder with the “best of the best” of my brother’s and my schoolwork from each grade, including the spelling test I got a 0% on in 2nd grade, which she occasionally pulls out for a life lesson that it’s okay to fail. I’ve kept some small items that friends gave me or we made. The point is just that the memories are more important than the paper.

(Photo is a free stock photo because this type of space is my goal.)

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It’s okay to set heavy things down

There’s a lot of heavy in the world right now. There always is, but in recent years it’s been paraded and pushed at us with greater speed and numbers than in times past. One of the downsides of our technology. I firmly believe that we have an obligation and a responsibility not just as adults (emerging or otherwise) but as human beings to be aware of and engage with the heavy things happening around us. It’s important. It’s how we protect, heal, learn, and grow.

But I’ll be the first person to say that I find myself feeling bogged down and disheartened increasingly quickly these days. Part of that is my personality and where I’m at in life; I know everyone’s circumstances are different. But part of it comes from the heaviness of the topics I’ve been engaging with. Natural disasters, violence, hatred, war, famine, inequality, illness, injustice, deceit, ignorance. None of the moths from Pandora’s box are new.

They’re realities we have to grapple with, but it’s frankly unrealistic and unhealthy for us to expect ourselves or anyone else to face all or most of them all or even most of the time. I learned a long time ago not to watch scary movies in the evening, or I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep well. Now I’m realizing I also have to be able to disengage from the heavy things and allow myself to engage with lighter things not only right before bed, but throughout my day.

A lot of the media I’ve been consuming lately has been really serious, covering a number of the topics mentioned above. I’ve had conversations, read articles and books, watched films. But there has to be a balance there, which might mean watching videos of cute animals or sitcom reruns, reading one of the happier poetry books I own, or just sending memes to friends.

And it’s not just broad or global heavy things that have to be set down sometimes. One day last week was awful on pretty much all fronts — the worst day I’ve had in months. So I baked 4 dozen cupcakes for my coworkers and roommates (and me obviously). Did it fix the other stuff? Not even close. But it did add some light in when I’d nearly been convinced the heavy stuff would never let me up.

Some heavy stuff should really be set down permanently, especially feelings like guilt, shame, or even grief. They can be a useful initial catalyst to point out an area that needs to be addressed, but clinging to them will do you no good. Then you have room to pick up things like grace and hope.

All of that is much easier said than done, especially if the issue is close to your heart. But if it’s a balance we strive for consistently, it’s one we’ll get much closer to achieving.

What’s your favorite way to add some lightness in when life feels heavy? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up! Thanks for reading, and good luck adulting!

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Eternally in-between

I’m not someone who’s super comfortable with unknowns or feeling in-between. Which is funny in this stage of life. It’s even funnier when you think about the fact I switched between parents houses a couple times a week until I was 16, and had lived in 17 different houses by the time I turned 17. Still, experience with unknowns and change doesn’t do much to make it more comfortable — it just makes us better equipped to handle it.

Emerging adulthood is the endless in-between. In-between being a teen and being a grownup, in-between being dependent and being full independent, in-between major life stages, in-between school and a steady career, in-between social circles, and so on.

But in knowing that there is often nothing I can do about these in-betweens — at least yet — I’m trying to become better about embracing the middle. Honestly I’m not entirely sure yet what that will look like. Part of it will mean trying not to stress about things outside of my control. And part of it will mean just learning to live in the tension.

There isn’t a call to action here, just a reminder that it’s okay to feel in-between. It’s okay to not love that feeling. It may not go away for a while, and when things settle in one area they’ll probably become more tumultuous in another. But you’ve made it this far, and you’ll keep making it through whatever in-between you might feel stuck in today.

As always, questions and comments welcome below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up. Thanks for reading, and good luck adulting!

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Recipes: Peach crisp

Hey folks! It has been a very busy week, but I do have a recipe for ya to catch the last little bits of summer before they float away. This is one of my new favorite dessert recipes because it’s gluten-free, vegan, and delicious. Aka I can bring it to work and everyone both can and will eat it. Check it out below:

Ingredients:

Filling:
  • 4-5 cups sliced peaches (depending on the crumble-to-fruit ratio you want), best to use very firm peaches
  • 2 tsp. cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
Crumble topping:
  • 1 cup gluten-free rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup ground almonds (can use almond flour, but it’s more expensive than crushing sliced almonds)
  • small handful sliced almonds
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2-3 tbsp. olive oil
  • about 1 tsp. cinnamon (a healthy dose)
  • splash of vanillaimg_6475.jpg

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375ºF, grease 8×8 glass baking dish or pie pan
  2. Combine filling ingredients in large bowl until well mixed, then empty into baking dish
  3. Combine crumble topping ingredients (I usually use the same bowl the filling was mixed in), then pour evenly over fillingimg_6477.jpg
  4. Bake for about 40 minutes
  5. Serve warm (ideally with ice cream) and enjoy!

img_6479.jpg

Cost about $10* (the most expensive part was the almonds), makes 9 large or 12 small servings.

Pro tip: You can substitute berries or other fruit, just scale back on the cinnamon. Everything else stays the same! I actually started making this as a berry crisp. And if you buy too much fruit, just freeze some to make it again later!

What are your favorite summer recipes? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up! Thanks for reading, and happy adulting!

*Once again, cost was a rough estimate because most ingredients are regularly stocked in most homes. The peaches were on sale for like $1.50 total, and almonds were the only pricier bit.

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Happy 100

I’ve measured my life in Augusts for almost as long as I can remember. Actually, for as long as I’ve known how to measure time. It started the way it usually does with kids — when summer ends and school starts. Then my boyfriend’s and my anniversary in early August got added on. This year, it’s also the one-year anniversary of this blog. Technically the anniversary is next week, but this is my one-hundredth post, so we’re counting it.

I don’t always love looking back because I know I don’t remember it accurately. Some things do become more clear with time — like how high school was not as decent as I thought it was then — but other things soften and some things just fade. And all those shifts make it hard to examine the past clearly.

The last year has honestly felt really, really long. When I set up this blog and published the first post, I remember where I was sitting (in my parents’ backyard in much too hot of weather to be doing so). Though it’s difficult to remember quite how I felt right then, I know my life felt suspended. I had made it through college, I knew the physical region where I wanted to look for a job, and I had finally snagged a part-time job for the meantime. Little things were in place, but the future seemed like a giant abyss.

Less than 6 months later, I had moved to a whole new area and into a new apartment with friends, started a full-time job, finally (mostly) stopped having to do long-distance with my boyfriend. Things were the best I could have reasonably expected.

Of course, life throws curveballs. Family tragedies, social challenges, unexpected pressures, and the sometimes crippling weight of my own expectations rolled in. And the thing about being a more-or-less self-sufficient adult is you just have to figure out how to handle what gets thrown your way. You grow, or you crumble. Sometimes you crumble and then grow.

I’ve changed a lot more in the last year than I anticipated. Some of it is for the better: I’m more confident in a number of areas, more settled into where I’m at in life, and more straightforward with my thoughts. Of course, there’s also stuff that I’m still working on — some if it is honestly in a bit of worse shape than it was this time last year.

It would be gratifying to share a big long list of all the things I’ve learned, advice I could give to people who might be in a similar spot, but I still really feel like I’m learning. And it seemed much more important to start with a thank you.

Thank you to all the people who continue to read and be supportive of not just the blog itself, but its purpose and the space it was created act as for those of us who are making our way through emerging adulthood in all its wonder and confusion. Thank you to everyone who offered kind and encouraging words over the last year — I seriously can’t believe how great y’all are. Thank you to the people who have tolerated me pacing and huffing when I had writer’s block and a post was due. Thank you to the mentors, leaders, and peers who have taught me basically everything I’ve shared on here. And thanks to you, emerging adults: I hope I’ve made our journey feel even the tiniest bit less murky.

I do have two pieces of advice, and one request. Advice first.

The biggest things I’ve learned this year can be summed up in this: Absolutely everything changes in either substance or feeling, and you really can make it through anything.

People change, jobs change, areas change, the world changes. Constancy is a very, very rare thing. I do believe that a few things don’t change — like hope and love and faith — but how they feel can still change. How you interact with even the most constant, steady forces in the universe will change. Because you’re changing. Your only job is to try to push those changes toward the better.

Life is hard. Sometimes it’s really hard. I’m not trying to be either cynical or flippant, it’s just a fact. Some challenges will feel worse than others, and you might get hit when you’re already down, or as soon as you get back up. There’s a lot about life that we have zero control over, but we can always choose to keep going. So no matter what small accomplishment it start with, no matter how insurmountable the odds, you can win just by continuing. Even if it’s not on the same path, you are full of more courage and strength than you know, and can keep moving forward.

Finally, a request. I would absolutely love to hear — particularly from emerging adult readers — what you’d like to see more of on this blog in the coming year. I’ve got some cool posts lined up but am not made of ideas, nor am I in your shoes. What info would be most helpful and/or enjoyable to read?

As always, let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up. Thank you for a stellar first year, and happy adulting!