Monday, July 23, 2018

"In this age of 'Me, Too'"

(Warning: I’m mad as hell, and I swear in this entry. I could apologize, but I’m not actually sorry, so.)

I keep hearing people say things like “In this age of #MeToo, men have to be so careful.” “Nowadays, men everywhere are looking over their shoulders, worried that they’ll be accused.” Afraid that they’ll be the next Harvey Weinstein, Mario Batali, Israel Horovitz, Garrison Keillor, Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, Al Franken, Louis C.K., Jeffrey Tambor, Kevin Spacey, Bill Cosby, Roy Moore, Donald Trump. (ad infinitum)


This is not some new time, when men have to be extra careful to not sexually harass women, to not get caught in their sexual misconduct. Men should have been this “careful” the whole damn time.

I am 12 years old, a child, leaning over a drinking fountain. A strange man says something to me about how I’m bent over. Says something leering about the shape my body makes as I lean forward to drink from a water fountain. I am almost 33 now, and I feel shadows of shame every single time I lean over in public. Careful to make it quick. Careful to tuck my pelvis so my ass isn’t on display to be commented on.

I hear people make jokes about it sometimes. Dismissing this "Me, too" uprising with that kind of benign misogyny that is insidious not because it rapes women behind dumpsters, but because it pays more attention to sports scores instead. Laughing when they accidentally bump up against you, their hands suddenly invasive. It's become a punchline for some, when unwanted touch comes up in conversation.

I am 23 years old, working for a vacuum company in the San Francisco Bay Area. It’s before morning meeting, and Carlos is at the white board with a marker. He’s drawn a big bed, and labeled the stick figures in it. “Hot bitch.” “Hotter bitch.” “Carlos.” The words “LAST NIGHT” are scrawled across the top. He draws squiggles to indicate the movement of these characters, making obscene noises to accompany his obscene gestures, then sits down next to me. When he catches me shaking my head, he grabs my knee. “You know what I’m talking about, Liz! That shit is hot!” I smile at him briefly, that careful smile so many of us women have perfected. The one that is polite, but closed off. The one that carefully smooths over the moment and waits for it to pass. Eventually, he moves his hand away from my knee.

This narrative of women accusing powerful men of sexual misconduct in order to “take them down” doesn’t make sense to me. It never has. It’s based on two premises that are difficult for me to accept. That A, women are consistently listened to and believed when they make accusations of sexual assault and harassment, and B, that men are consistently held accountable for their actions. Because historically, until recently, neither of those things have been true.

I am 23 years old, sitting with co-workers on a break. Michael and I have kissed a few times in the last few days. He’s sitting now with his arm over the back of my seat, his hand dangling close to my breast. In order to move it away, I take his hand and compliment it’s shape. “They are nice hands,” he replies. “They should be here”—he hovers over my breast—“or here”—he starts to reach between my legs. I grab his hand to stop him. “No,” I say. “Why not?” he asks. “My body,” I say, “ My body, my rules.” Later, another co-worker tells me to not lead Michael on. “If you’re not going to fuck him, don’t lead him on.” He tells me to be careful about how I treat Michael, to be careful to not waste his time.

Women’s accusations are not often believed, and men are not often held accountable. Harvey Weinstein sexually harassed actress Ashley Judd in 1997, and eventually, the New York Times uncovered nearly three decades worth of allegations. Weinstein remained in place at the Weinstein Company until October of 2017. Bill Cosby raped women starting in the mid-1960s, and didn’t face trial or even suffer commercial consequences until 2015. Donald Trump has been accused of sexual assault and harassment by at least 15 women since the 1980s, and has been recorded bragging about assaults. And he’s the fucking President of the United States. Why be careful in the way you treat others, the way you cover up what you do? Why bother?

I am 27 years old, and exploring Rome by myself. A man at least twice my age stops me on the street to tell me that I’m very attractive. I use that smile again, the one that says, “I am nice. I don’t want any trouble. But let this moment pass.” He keeps talking. I move away. He follows me. He eventually tells me that we should sleep together on the last night of the year. I quickly walk away, move down the street. I’m freezing, but I take off my bright orange, easy-to-spot jacket, careful to disguise myself so the man doesn’t follow me.

Of course there have been cases where men have been falsely accused of rape. (Historically, in the United States, these have been predominantly men of color, and racism is a major factor in many of these cases.) But most studies show that only between 2% and 10% of rape accusations are false. Correction: Only between 2% and 10% of REPORTED rape accusations are false. There’s no way to know how many rapes go unreported. And that’s just rape—not assault, not groping, not catcalling, not solicitations, etc. So, if I were a man, I’d be careful about calling myself a victim in this situation.

As a woman, I am so careful. All the time. I carry my keys like a weapon. I lock my door as soon as I get into my car. I don’t lean over public drinking fountains too long. I get the keys to my apartment out before leaving the car, so there’s no fumbling at the front door. I don’t walk alone at night. I don’t leave drinks unattended. I fake phone calls and I smile that careful polite smile and I carry pepper spray and I text friends that I made it home safely. So careful. All the damn time.

Men. We are not asking you to be careful around us. That’s not what we’ve been asking. Not in the past, and not in this “age of #MeToo.” We are asking you to treat us as human beings, and we have been from the beginning. Here’s the best way to avoid being accused of sexual harassment or assault: don’t sexually harass or assault people. It’s that simple. Not sure how those things are defined? Do some damn research. Get online and google “consent.”

#MeToo is decades, centuries overdue. The widespread nature of sexual misconduct that we now see in the media is not new. It has always been this bad. Historically, it’s been worse. The thing that’s new is women saying, “ENOUGH.” We are saying "TIME’S UP." We will not allow this to keep happening. You cannot treat us as less than human anymore. We are tired of being careful around men. We would like to feel like people around them instead.

Monday, July 16, 2018

The Simple Life, Part Two

(If you haven’t read it already, check out my minimalist philosophy in this entry.)

So you wanna organize your house/office/car/life? I’m no expert; I’m just a woman who really enjoys organizing things, and have gathered a few ideas along the way. Here are the basic principles I use to make my organizing decisions!

You seriously, really, truly don’t need that much stuff
The simplest way to organize your stuff is to get rid of most of it. Go through your stuff and get rid of the excess. The Marie Kondo method to get rid of stuff is to hold the thing you own in your hand and ask, “Does this spark joy?” and to throw it out if the answer is no. Which is actually a pretty decent system in some ways. I tend to use this criteria:

- Does it have sentimental value?
- Have I used it in the past year?
- If I have not used it in the past year, 
do I have a specific and timely plan to use it?

That last one is a little tricky—sometimes our “projects” build up, so you’ve got to be harshly realistic with yourself here. If you save these projects and don’t do them within a year, it might be time to get rid of them.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed about deciding which things you should keep and which you shouldn’t, a good first step is to get rid of duplicates. You don’t need more than one first aid kit, backpack, broom, etc. Depending on your laundry situation, you probably don’t need more than about 2 weeks worth of socks and underwear. Unless you entertain a lot, you probably only need 3 cups/plates/bowls/etc per family member in your home.

A few years ago, I started doing occasional “purges” of our (now my) household. Every six months or so, I’d go through the apartment and fill a few garbage bags and boxes with things to get rid of. And every single time I did, I’d think, “Okay, that’s it. That’s the last time I can do this. I absolutely need everything I have left.” And then a few months later, I’d do another purge and find dozens of things I didn’t actually absolutely need. It may take some trial and error to figure out what you do and don’t need. But I highly recommend purges.

Don’t bring home useless clutter
I don’t know about the rest of the world, but Americans have a weird obsession with “swag.” We take home goodie bags and gifts and end up with a lot of plastic stuff we don’t have any need for. So if you’re at a conference or meeting or party, and they offer you a tote full of promotional items, you can either politely decline, or take it home and then donate it/get rid of it.

And as a reminder: Don't buy and bring something home just because it's a really good deal. If you don't have any need for 20 mason jars, don't buy them just because they're 10 cents each. Even though it's tempting. ONLY buy and bring things home if you have a specific and immediate plan for them.

Keep similar items together
Not only does this make things easier to find, but it also just makes sense. Put all of your board games on the same shelf, or in the same area. Same with tools, craft supplies, electronics, etc.

Everything has a place
And I mean everything. Your keys. Your purse. Your shoes. Your batteries. Your spare change. Because if your belongings don’t have a place, where are you going to put them when you want to tidy up the clutter?

Think about your routine
This will help you decide where to put things. When you come home from work or errands, what do you do with your stuff? Do you throw it on the couch? Leave it by the door? Consider a small entry way table, or a crate by the door. In the morning, when you get dressed, do you coordinate your shoes with your outfits and check out the look in the mirror in your room? Then keep your shoes in your room. But if you tend to just throw them on as you leave, maybe keeping them in the entry area makes more sense.

Appearances matter
Not like, as a value judgment. But your psyche will rest easier if things simply “look” tidy. This is also a kind of cheat for those who don’t have the kind of visual OCD that I do—things can be messy as hell INSIDE the drawer, but when the drawer is closed, viola! Tidy! Learn to love opaque containers. Embrace cord clips and ties. Put things in boxes, behind things, under things. I’m a huge fan of cube storage solutions, because of how versatile they are. I also dig simple wooden crates. The aesthetic is flexible, and they can be used for lots of things.

I know a clear storage solution makes sense because you can see what’s in the storage container. But A, it’s visually messier. B, you can’t see everything at once. C, labels are your friend. I’m a big fan of chalkboard labels (you can get chalkboard paper!).

Display sentimental/artistic stuff
Once you’ve got all of your practical stuff organized, you can find ways to display the things that are especially meaningful to you. Cube storage solutions are your friend, because you can either put cubes in the spaces and treat them as drawers, or you can treat each cube space like shelving. Also, shelving in general is your friend.

If you’re into houseplants and art, you can spread these things around your living space interspersed with the pictures of loved ones, souvenirs from travels, or gifts.

A thought about gifts: Marie Kondo talks about this idea that if a gift once brought you joy, but keeping it around doesn’t serve you, it has already served its purpose in the moment you received it. Sometimes we keep gifts from others out of guilt, even though the gift itself is never used and doesn’t make us happy and just takes up space. That’s understandable. But think of it this way: When people give gifts, their intention is to make the receiver of the gift happy. And it probably did make you happy when you received it. But if it no longer makes you happy, then it has fulfilled its purpose. You can thank it for making you happy, and say goodbye to it.

Seasonal/temporary storage
There are two aspects to this. One is if you’re not sure if you’re ready to make a leap into minimalism. Take all the things you think you don’t need, put them into boxes, and then put them in storage. During the next few months, you may find that you actually DID need that other frying pan you thought you could live without. You may also find that you don’t need ANY of the things you put in storage. After a year or so, it’ll be easier to get rid of those things.

The second aspect is that sometimes we have seasonal items that we only use for part of the year. It makes sense to have a temporary storage solution for those things. I’ve got a few plastic tote boxes in my bedroom closet. During the winter, they hold bathing suits, shorts, sandals, sunhats, etc. Nowadays, they hold winter coats, scarves, snow boots, etc. Every spring and fall, I do a shift and switch out what’s in storage to prepare for the coming months. This is a simple way to keep things out of the way when you don’t need them for months at a time.

Final thought: You can break your projects down into simple, manageable steps
I’m a weirdo who is sort of thrilled at the idea of re-organizing a room or a closet or a desk. I sincerely enjoy the process. But if you’re NOT like that, and still want things to be organized, then break things down. Instead of saying, “This weekend I’m going to organize the house,” sit down and break that huge project into small afternoon or even 10-minute projects. Hang the list somewhere and go through each item, one by one.

Here, I even made a simplified checklist!

(You can get a downloadable version by clicking here.)

OR, if you really want to get down to business, you can use THIS epic and detailed downloadable list for inspiration (click link for download)! This is a list I made myself, highly inspired by the “Konmari Method" (Marie Kondo’s life-changing magic), and my own experience. Uh, fair's like 8 pages long. BUT, it's really really really broken down into very small steps. Your own living space will likely demand totally different projects, and you may come up with totally different solutions, but this can be a good place to start. Pinterest also has loads of ideas, as well.


Monday, July 9, 2018

The Simple Life, Part One (Philosophy)

I really like organizing stuff. The physical arranging of objects pleases me. Efficiency pleases me. I’ve been talking about organization with a few people lately, so I decided to do a "How I Keep My Stuff Organized" blog. But as I was outlining, the blog entry sort of…grew. I actually have a lot to say about WHY I have the relationship I do with my belongings, and that those ideas are an important foundation for HOW I interact with my belongings. So I’ve split the original blog entry idea into two parts: the philosophical and the practical.

I consider myself a “minimalist.” There’s a huge range of what this means—for some people, it means owning almost nothing. For me, it means only owning that which I truly need and which truly has value for me. (I have a decent amount of possessions--far more than a lot of people on earth, but probably less than a lot of other people in my age and income bracket.) My favorite definition of minimalism comes from author and minimalist Joshua Becker, who says that minimalism is “the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of everything that distracts us from it." It's about intentionality, not deprivation. It's not getting rid of things you need, it's evaluating what you actually need and actually don't and adjusting accordingly.

I’ve got a few sources of inspiration here. I grew up with three siblings and not much room. That sort of forces you to thin out your possessions. I moved a lot in my twenties, and that was easier when I didn’t have too much stuff. But my minimalist lifestyle goes beyond just my past experiences. Years ago, I watched a documentary series called “Beyond Survival With Les Stroud,” and it was one of those things that had a really profound effect on me. I've come to believe that happiness can be found with very few possessions.

There are other factors, too. I also read that ridiculous “Magical Tidying Up” book by Marie Kondo. (Which I highly recommend, even though most people don't tidy up to this extreme.) I did a ton of research about human impact on the environment, and ways that individuals can affect positive change. I’ve been inspired by the tiny house movement, and full-time RV living.

I also feel like I have to get a disclaimer out of the way right now. And that is that I don’t quite know how to talk about minimalism without sounding kind of insufferable. For one thing, there's an element of privilege here...minimalism can be one of those "trendy things rich white people like." But mostly, I worry that I come across as sounding superior. "My lifestyle is better" kind of vibe. I know that a minimalist lifestyle is better for me, but I can't presume to know what's best for everyone. I do think it's worth trying, or looking into. So with that said, here's:


To Help Alleviate Anxiety
There’s this psychological effect that clutter can have on a person. I think this is true for a lot of people, but I know for SURE it’s true for me, most of the time. (This is less true for me with other people’s clutter. Somehow.) Having things tidy makes me feel empowered and confident, and the easiest way to keep things tidy is to not keep a lot of things.

To Reduce My Environmental Footprint
Minimalist living helps preserve environmental resources in a few ways. Smaller living spaces take less energy to heat and cool. Anytime you buy something new (which you probably don’t need), that new thing took resources to manufacture and transport, and it will take resources to dispose of. (And when you have fewer things, you’re less likely to accidentally buy duplicates of things.) I also have this theory that the only reason we have stuff is that we have room for it. If we were to give ourselves less room for it, we'd find we could live without the stuff.

To Live Deliberately
This is sort of hard to explain, but this is a really big thing for me. When I have less “stuff,” it means that I have a deliberate relationship with everything I own. It also means I spend less time cleaning up clutter or looking for things, giving me more time to do things that are more meaningful to me.

To Keep Me (And My Budget) Focused On Other Things I Care About
I suppose this has a lot to do with living deliberately. But to be more specific, minimalism keeps me from being distracted. Instead of spending money on more “stuff,” I can spend money on things that are more meaningful to me. Instead of spending hours picking up clutter, I can read or paint or write or spend time with friends. Minimalism just takes way less tedious “work” to maintain.

I’m not sure exactly how naturally I lean towards minimalism...if I'd have ended up living this way without thinking about it. At this point, I know that it’s a deliberate lifestyle choice I have made for myself. I do not want a large house. I don't want a lot of “toys.” I want to surround myself with things that are useful and/or meaningful, and get rid of everything else.

I’m not going to tell you that you should get rid of everything you own. (I am going to tell you that you can get rid of a lot more than you think you can, though.) After all, the easiest way to organize your stuff is to get rid of most of it. I promise that most of you don’t need more than one suitcase, or that many pairs of socks, or that much silverware. I promise you can live without many of the things you "can't live without."

In the next entry, I’ll get into the practical side of how to organize stuff (and get rid of a lot of it). In the meantime, check out these pinterest ideas for inspiration.