Posts Tagged ‘reality check’

Learning How To Quantify

When you were a kid, you probably didn't think much about what it took to earn money — you just asked for what you wanted and somehow, mommy and daddy made it happen. You didn't worry about what stuff cost, and you didn't understand when someone told you it was too “expensive.” Then you got an after-school job or started working for your allowance — and I'll bet you became a lot more discriminating about what you did with hard-earned cash!

It's the same with time.  Very few people really know what their time is worth, in concrete financial terms. They just go through their day on autopilot, wondering where the hours go. Until you recognize that your time is intrinsically valuable, you will never be able to make informed decisions about where your effort is best spent.  Here's a general guide illustrating how much an hour of your time is worth, and how just one hour a day (spent poorly or wisely) adds up over a year's time:

YOUR
ANNUAL INCOME
WHAT ONE HOUR
IS WORTH
ONE HOUR PER DAY
FOR A YEAR
$25,000 $12.61 $3,125
$40,000 $20.49 $5,000
$50,000 $25.61 $6,205
$75,000 $38.42 $9,375
$100,000 $51.23 $12,500
$125,000 $65.10 $15,884
$150,000 $76.84 $18.750
$175,000 $89.65 $21,875
$200,000 $102.46 $25,000
$250,000 $128.07 $31,250
$300,000 $153.69 $37,500

** Based on 244 working days per year

You can always look at delegating in terms of the biggest financial payoff. When I hire someone to take care of an item on my not-to-do list — and I pay them $25 an hour while my hour is worth $60 — I'm coming out ahead. The same is true when I can hire someone to do a task in a half hour that would take me 3 hours to complete. I can be focusing on higher priorities — things that feed my soul or grow my business or let me know I'm alive — without worrying that the work isn't being done.

Changing Your Mind(set)

I'm a veteran at figuring out precisely what I want, then getting stuck partway along the path. Wink At that point, ya gotta decide if the thing you thought you wanted is really what you still want — or if you needed something entirely different, and that's why the roadblock popped up in the first place. At first, you might have a hard time accepting that shift, because it feels like you didn't know what you were doing in the first place. But getting derailed or changing your mind is not failure. We've developed a counterproductive idea in our society that deciding to go in a different direction means admitting defeat — when often, it's the smartest decision you can make. As W.C. Fields said, “If at first you don't succeed, try try again. Then quit. There's no use being a damn fool about it.” Knowing when to say no is a valuable skill!

My career is a perfect example of the winding, unpredictable, and thoroughly satisfying road my life has taken. I started out as a Social Worker, but hit a wall when I wasn't being allowed to fully serve my clients (and I realized that I was going to turn into a government bureaucrat if I didn't get the hell out of there!) I had to make a decision to stay and be miserable or walk away and do something else — but what? This was my “calling.” Where would I go? What would I do? It was hard, but I made the leap and started my own business (first as an organizer, now also a photographer and blogger). In time, that decision has also allowed my husband to quit his job, and for us to become full-time RVers — I don't regret having “quit” for one second!

My life and career continue to branch and shift (and I'll share stories about these changes in later posts), but my larger point is that being willing to say “no” to something that wasn't working for me opened up a whole new world of possibilities — opportunities that I wouldn't have even dreamed of it I had just “stuck it out”, the way we're often taught to do. That quitters-never-win-and-winners-never-quit thing is a bunch of malarkey!

Evolving And Growing

My sister once said to me (in a rather derisive tone), “Every time I see you, you're a completely different person. I never know who you're going to be from day to day.” Thank you! I actually take that as a compliment — continuing to change and evolve and adjust as circumstances in your life shift is the only way to grow.

I can't imagine staying stuck in one place your whole life — one job, one town, or one way of thinking. And while change can be a little scary, it's also kind of exciting not knowing what's going to happen tomorrow. I can be anyone I want to be at any point in time — I just have to be willing to let go of who I am today to get there.

Given the chance, are there situations and circumstances in your life that you would like to change? Maybe a relationship that isn't working, a job that wears you out, 10 pounds you want to lose, or even just a pile of clutter that is driving you up the wall. Who do you want to be tomorrow and what changes are you going to have to make for that to happen?

A Not-So-Fine Line

This is what Nate had to say — “Here's the difference between a collector, which I consider myself, and a hoarder: A collector has no shame involved. It doesn't keep you from having people over. It doesn't impede anything in your life. In fact, it enhances it, because it's so fun to keep looking for the collection.”

My response is “maybe.” My mother considered herself a “collector,” but that didn't make my life any easier when I had to clean out her house after she died. Perhaps the difference has less to do with shame and more to do with focus.

I think true collectors focus in on one or two things they love to accumulate, while hoarders keep lots of everything — collectors seem to have more of a plan or a goal when they acquire something, while hoarders do not — collectors also care about what will happen to their collections (passing them on to someone who will value them), and hoarders definitely don't. It seems as though everyone in the organizing community has a different take on hoarding. There's even talk of making it an officially classifiable mental illness. Check out the proposed DSM-5 criteria:

  • persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions, regardless of the value others may attribute to these possessions (this difficulty is due to strong urges to save items and/or distress associated with discarding)
  • the symptoms result in the accumulation of a large number of possessions that fill up and clutter active living areas of the home or workplace to the extent that their intended use is no longer possible — if all living areas are uncluttered, it is only because of the interventions of third parties (e.g., family members, cleaners, authorities)
  • the symptoms cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning (including maintaining a safe environment for self and others)
  • the hoarding symptoms are not due to a general medical condition (e.g., brain injury, cerebrovascular disease)
  • the hoarding symptoms are not restricted to the symptoms of another mental disorder (e.g., hoarding due to obsessions in obsessive-compulsive disorder, decreased energy in major depressive disorder, delusions in schizophrenia or another psychotic disorder, cognitive deficits in dementia, restricted interests in autism spectrum disorder, food storing in Prader-Willi syndrome)
  • specify if “with excessive acquisition” if symptoms are accompanied by excessive collecting or buying or stealing of items that are not needed or for which there is no available space

That defines the behavior, but it doesn't look at the reasons behind it. So I asked my colleagues to share their thoughts about where hoarding came from — I've summarized and paraphrased their responses:

  • “hoarders tend to define themselves by the objects they own, while collectors do not”
  • “collectors tend to keep their collection in a way that keeps themselves and those items 'safe,' while hoarders do not take safety into account”
  • “hoarding is just collecting that has gotten out of control”
  • “collections are confined and contained, while hoarding occurs in random piles that eventually end up taking over”
  • “collections are organized — hoarding is when there is so much that it can not be located”
  • “collectors see the world as full of abundance and celebrate that — hoarders experienced lack in their life and feel they need to keep everything because they might need it someday”
  • “hoarders feel they are less of a person without their things — collector keep themselves separate from their things”
  • “hoarders accumulate items to boost their self-esteem, while collectors create something that can be admired and possibly have financial value”
  • “collectors have a healthy emotional attachment to their stuff (it makes them feel good), but hoarders have an unhealthy attachment (it makes them feel bad”
  • “collecting improves quality of life, but hoarding deteriorates quality of life (income, relationships, peace of mind)”
  • “collectors choose one or two categories of items to collect (carousel horses, hummels, first editions, etc.), while hoarders keep anything and everything”
  • “collectors become attached to things of value — hoarders become attached to what is essentially trash (newspapers, recyclables, string, used aluminum foil, butter tubs, spoiled food, etc.)”
  • “collectors accumulate out of love, hoarders accumulate out of fear”
  • “collectors choose to collect, while hoarders are driven by compulsion”
  • “hoarders often hide their accumulations away, while collectors display theirs with pride”
  • “collectors look for unique additions to their collection, but hoarders will accumulate numerous identical or duplicate items”
  • “collectors enjoy sharing their collections with others — hoarders find that eventually their obsession with 'stuff' alienates their friends and family”
  • “collectors get a positive sense of satisfaction when they add to their collection — hoarders are simply trying to alleviate negative feelings (anxiety, inadequacy, worry, pain, etc.)”
  • “collectors recognize when their collections have become unmanageable and do something about it — hoarders live in denial”
  • “collectors still insist on a functional living and working space, while hoarders are willing to sacrifice this for their 'stuff'”
  • “collectors only add new items when they feel it will enhance the collection — hoarders can't resist the urge to constantly acquire more”
  • “hoarders refuse to part with anything they own, while collectors are often willing to sell portions of their collection if the right price/buyer comes along”
  • “hoarders can't tell the difference between what is valuable and what is not — collectors understand very clearly the value of the items they own”
  • “collectors honor their collections, while hoarders have a less respectful relationship with their 'stuff'”
  •  “collectors will stop collecting when they feel they have enough, but hoarders never feel they have enough”
  • “collectors will get rid of a collection if they tire of it — hoarders feel compelled to continue accumulating even when doing so loses its joy”
  • “collectors can draw healthy boundaries around their collecting activities, while hoarders are obsessed”
  • “collectors create conscious themes with their collections, while hoarders experience an uncontrollable pile-up of random things”
  • “hoarders value things over relationships, while collectors keep their things in perspective as secondary to the people in their lives”
  • “collectors can trade or sell their collectibles — the things hoarders accumulate are only valuable to them”
  • “collectors pay very close attention to their collections, while hoarders often allow their 'stuff' to languish unused and serving no purpose for years”
  • “collectors take very good care of their things — hoarders let their belongings rot and decay and go bad”
  • “collectors take into account their space restraints and are constantly making room for new items, while hoarders just pile more on top of what is already there”

What do you think — where should we draw the line between collecting and hoarding?

Success Is A Trade-Off

When life doesn't go the way we planned, we become big-time excuse-makers — it's human nature, a defense mechanism. People often blame “circumstances” for keeping them from achieving their dreams. This is code for “I would have had to do things differently to make it happen, and I just wasn't willing to pay the price.” What they're really saying is that they didn't want it badly enough to work for it. Want to be president of your company? How do 80-hour work weeks sound to you? You can be debt-free, but you'll have to put a moratorium on unnecessary spending for a while (no eating out, no movies, no impulse buys) — can you do that? Do you want to write a book? It will only if you turn off the TV. Wish you were in better shape? Are you ready to sweat — every single day of the week?

It's like that famous quote about the world-renowned pianist. At a concert someone said, “I wish I could play like you.” The pianist replied, “If you knew what I had to do to get here, you wouldn't.” You can have anything (and I mean ANYTHING) you want in life, as long as you're willing to make space for it to happen. But most people settle for what life hands them, instead of going after what they really desire most — usually because they have a hard time recognizing their long-term goals in the hustle and bustle of daily life.

Knowing What You Really Want

The big question is what are you willing to give up NOW to have what you want most? It's easy to become shortsighted — with so many immediate responsibilities and distractions (delayed gratification is not most people's strong suit!) But when you fail to see beyond the end of the week or the end of the month or even December 31st, you're giving your future happiness a short shrift.

My husband and I have given up a lot of things — the huge house, the hot sexy car, and a lot of expensive “playthings” — because we have our eye on the bigger prize. Our goal is freedom — the ability to do what we want when we want it, to be able to travel endlessly without having to ask for time off, and especially financial freedom (which we define as having enough money to cover our daily expenses without having to hold a full-time job). We're looking at a longer timeline than just what we do for enjoyment “today”.

Our Story

In order to do this, we've chosen a fairly unconventional life. Matt and I both used to work for someone else doing the 9 to 5 grind thing until we started our own business. It was scary, we worried that we wouldn't have enough money (thankfully that didn't happen) — but we can work in our pajamas, and take the day off any time we like. That's freedom.

Our lives are not as “tied down” as a lot of people's. We have cats instead of kids (but we never considered not having children a sacrifice!) Tried homeownership, didn't like it — so we're full-time nomads, living out of a 29-foot Airstream Excella instead. We travel the country, stopping to “live” for a while anyplace that strikes our fancy. That's freedom.

Matt and I try to live frugally, because we don't want to spend our lives working to pay the bills. We have no debt and we refuse to pay anyone interest for anything if we can avoid it (which means we have to save up to afford each purchase — no financing). We only have one car, when we need a new one we buy used (with cash), and then we drive that vehicle to death. We don't eat out every day of the week, I shop for most of my clothes at thrift and consignment stores, and we don't pay the exorbitant fees that most folks do for cable or satellite TV (we wait until the end of the season and get our shows on DVD from the library or Netflix. And we put money away in savings every month toward our goal of financial independence. That's freedom.

How About You?

The point is not to say “ooh look at how great we are” or brag about our lives — it's simply to point out that everything Matt and I “give up” is a conscious decision, and we do it because there is something else out there that we want even more. Some people think we're weird and wouldn't want our lifestyle for anything in the world, and that's fine — everyone has to decide what their dream is and what they are willing to sacrifice in order to achieve it.

So I guess I would ask — what kind of life are you leading now, what would you really rather be doing, and what would you need to give up in order to have that? How badly do you want your dream to come true? Are you willing to go there, no matter what it takes? And what will your first step be? It's all up to you!

Spiraling Out Of Control

Why does what we buy in America matter more than what someone in England or Brazil or Australia buys? Because our spending has a larger impact on the rest of the world. The United States has 5% of the world's population, but we consume 30% of the world's resources and create 30% of the world's waste — it's simply out of proportion. And we've used up most of our own native resources, so we the only way to get the materials and energy we need to keep consuming is to rob third-world countries of theirs.

A problem which merely started in our own back yard has now become global. In the past 3 decades, we (as a species) have used up 1/3 of our planet's resources in the creation of consumer goods. More importantly, our “needs” are continuing to grow beyond the point where our environment can support our ever-increasing levels of consumption. I don't want to turn into an overly-preachy eco-guerrilla here (even though I do love my Birks), but it's a basic fact of life — there are limits to how many trees we can cut down before we have decimated our forests, how many fish we can catch before we bleed our oceans dry, how much oil we can extract before there simply isn't any left. Our human footprint has exceeded the earth's biological capacity by 25% — that means we need 1/4 MORE water/lumber/fuel/farmland/etc. than we have in order to meet current demand. Any third-grader who understands fractions can tell you that's just unsustainable!

The bigger worry is that we keep trying to sell the American way of life to other countries, insisting that the third-world needs to embrace capitalism and industrialization if it ever hopes to “compete.” But it's actually a good thing that the rest of the world doesn't consume the way we do — we would need 5 planets to support everyone! The United States has the largest ecological footprint in the world — more than 12 hectares per person, compared to 7.66 in Canada, 6.29 in the U.K., 5.94 in Japan, 2.69 in Mexico,1.84 in China, and less than 1 in Ethiopia. In 1961, the vast majority of countries had ecological surpluses (meaning more resources available to them than they used or “renewed” in a year's time.) But now, 81% of the world's population lives in “ecological debtor” countries (which use more resources than they have available within their own borders.) We are completely dependent on “biocapacity surpluses” from the other 19% — and each year, those resources have to stretch farther and farther.

If that has you scared about our future, then this will terrify you. Nearly 99% of the materials that go into what we buy in America end up as trash. I'm talking about refuse from the raw materials used in production, pollution from the burning of fossil fuels, packaging and paper inserts that we throw away — every single purchase made in America creates a greater volume of trash than the thing you bought in the first place! Our “disposable” mindset doesn't help either. Americans throw out more useful and functional consumable goods than people in many countries ever see in their lifetime. We create a tremendous amount of waste just living our normal lives — 4 1/2 pounds of garbage per person a day (which is twice what we created 30 years ago.) However, for every can of consumer garbage put out at the curb, 70 cans of upstream garbage created in producing the trash you threw out. Every step of the consumer process creates pollution — harvesting raw materials, creating chemicals, manufacturing products, transporting, and selling. Reduce/reuse/recycle only goes so far, when so much of the waste happens before you even go shopping!

Looking At All The Costs

Why are these facts relevant to a discussion of how much your “stuff” costs? Because we've set up a system that privatizes the gains related to consumerism (profit earned by companies every time they sell a product) but socializes the costs (which you pay for through your taxes.) Companies are not forced to take responsibility for the damage their activities do to the environment or to society. If they were (and passed these expenses on to you at the checkout counter), you would pay 1/3 to 1/2 more for your consumer goods. Instead, they shove these costs off on the public sector and drop their prices, making you think that you're getting a bargain.

But you're not really saving any money in the long run — you're simply paying with your taxes what you would have paid at the store if the bottom line reflected all the true costs of your purchase. When Dow Chemical pollutes a river and the EPA has to come in and clean it up, that's a cost to you. When the Forest Service sells trees on national lands to Georgia Pacific at giveaway prices to help subsidize their manufacturing of wood and paper products (and then has to spend millions replacing those trees with seedlings), that's a cost to you. When Wal-Mart fails to pay its workers enough to live off of, makes its health insurance plan too expensive for the average employee (and those folks have to go on welfare to be able to survive), that's a cost to you. There is so much more that goes into the final price tag than what you see when you pull out your credit card!

A lot of Americans function according to the belief that they “deserve” to have whatever they want — they worked hard, they earned the money, so why shouldn't they go shopping? Well, as citizens of one of the richest nations in the world, we not only have rights, but also responsibilities. We have a responsibility to know what we are buying, as well as how and where it is made. We have a responsibility to make sure that we only shop with companies which engage in fair trade, are ecologically responsible, and take care of their workers. We have a responsibility to vote with our dollars and NOT shop with companies (like Wal-Mart) that make use of sweatshops and child labor and are constantly breaking the law in terms of worker's rights. And I can tell you right now that we do NOT have the right to take advantage of third-world laborers or suck up every other nation's resources just because we want a new television or SUV or pair of tennis shoes. The only way to stop the insanity is to seriously re-evaluate our levels of consumption, to simplify our material needs, and to stop using shopping malls as our major form of entertainment in this country!