Saturday, March 22, 2014

Why I don't dye my gray hair

About a month ago, I met a woman at church in the row behind me in her 50s or 60s.  She was cute with a short, very bleached-blonde head of hair.  We introduced ourselves and engaged in small talk until she suddenly interjected:

"Can I ask you a question?"


"Why do you have gray in your hair?"

(a bit stunned, I took a moment to collect my thoughts)

"Well...uh...I'm in my 30s and this is just my natural hair.  And I'd actually be willing to bet that there are a bunch of other women in this room right now who are close to my age who also have gray hair.  I'm just the only one who hasn't covered it up!"

That's about all I could come up with on the spot, having never been asked this question before.  Why is my hair gray?  Is it time for a science lesson??  The conversation ended rather abruptly after some backpedaling on her part, not before leaving me wondering if some of that bleach had perhaps absorbed through her scalp...

Before I continue with the story of this conversation's aftermath, here's the expanded backstory of my own hair.  I started sprouting a few gray strands in my late 20s.  At first, I just plucked most of them out.  At around age 30, with pressure from my hair dresser, I dyed it all over, with a plan to occasionally touch up the roots.

It was uncomfortable, unpleasant experience.  I hated the smell of the dye, which felt like it was burning my nasal passages.  I didn't like the way my hair and scalp felt afterward.  I also didn't like the price tag.  At the time, this was a compelling enough case to abandon the root-touch-up plan.  After all, I didn't have a whole lot of gray, just a few strands at the top and back.  I haven't dyed since.

But at 34, I now have more, longer gray strands, with new ones sprouting all the time.  My surprise conversation with the bleachy church lady* last month prompted me to think about two things.  First, I was inspired to sit down and articulate all the reasons why I don't dye my hair.  I wanted a good answer if this question ever came up again!

It's really actually quite white as opposed to gray.
Here are some of my reasons:
  • I don't want to put toxic chemicals on my scalp that can seep into my skin.  Right near my brain, I might add (and thank you, bleachy church lady*, for reminding me).
  • I don't want to spend money or time keeping up with my roots.  It's time and money I'd much rather spend on other things.
  • I know that as time goes on, the gray only becomes more difficult to cover.  Thus, the more chemicals, money and time needed.  I'm just not into fighting losing battles.  
  • I'd say I'm a proponent of natural beauty, but it really goes beyond that.  Ultimately it doesn't matter if I'm "naturally" beautiful or young or whatever the world thinks I should be to have value.  I'd much rather stand up for character beauty.
  • I aspire to accept myself as I am.  This doesn't mean I won't strive to improve.  I should care for my body, mind, and soul.  I want to focus on improving in ways that matter.
  • I want to be a role model for my daughter for self-acceptance and for where to place value.
  • I have a supportive husband.  He's bald, I'm gray.  We make a good team.
  • There is a societal double standard when it comes to men and women on this issue, as it's much more acceptable for a man to go gray.  What mildy-feminist gal doesn't love a good rage against the double standard?
  • I finally fully accepted my curly hair a couple years ago, learned how to take care of it properly, and have not straightened it since.  This was so freeing, and felt in line with my personality (a bit quirky, but always practical) to embrace my natural hair.  Accepting my gray feels like a continuation of the same mindset.
I could go on...

My second realization from the conversation with bleachy church lady* was that I don't personally know any women my approximate age who show their gray hair.  Not a one.  So first, I did a little fact-checking:
  1. On average, caucasian women start going gray in their 30s.
  2. "Premature" graying is defined as occurring before age 20
  3. When it happens is almost all genetics. Contrary to popular belief, stress does not actually cause graying (despite what people say about presidents going gray in office!)
So, I know there are ladies my age out there with gray hair!   And there MUST be some that show it.  Where on Earth are they???

On the internet, of course!

A google search turned up a few blogs from women who had stopped dying their hair.  A couple of them mentioned a Facebook group called "Gray & Proud." I clicked on over and joined.

And I'm here to tell you that I finally found my people!  Over a thousand of them, in fact.  The vast majority are women, but there are a handful of men as well.  All ages - teens to seniors.  Some went gray in their 50s, others before they hit 20.  Plenty of them are currently in their mid-30s like me.  Some have never dyed, some have dyed for 20 or 30 years.  Most went through or are currently going through a transition growing out the dye.  They post photos of their progress, "skunk stripes" and all, and cheer each other on.  Some have yet to take the no-dye plunge but are seriously considering it.  There are lots and lots of other naturally "curly girls," embracing and taking care of their hair using the same methods I do.  Curly or straight, they call each other Silver Sisters.

What is most inspiring and amazing is the overall attitude and vibe of the group as a whole.  The members are universally positive, supportive, and encouraging.  They only have kind things to say to one another (which says a lot, especially considering most comment sections of anything on the internet, ever).  They are brave, strong, and funny.  They respect each person's individual decision to dye or not dye, and do not come across as superior because they've somehow "seen the light." Rather, they have clear reasons for their choices, and encourage each other to make a choice based on what they truly want rather than some outside pressure or person.

These people get it.  And they may not know it, but they get me.

It's even more unruly than the rest of my curls!

Okay, but now it's time for some brutal honesty.

Do I think some of them look much, much older with gray hair?  Honest answer: Yes.

Do I think some of them actually look worse with gray hair.  Honest answer: Yes.

But here's the problem with these answers.  Firstly, I can recognize that my brain has been programmed by our current society, culture, and patterns to think that gray = old and worse.  I can choose to resist this programming.  But even more importantly...

It doesn't matter.

Let me say that again.  It just plain doesn't MATTER.

Does it matter if someone looks, or even acts, old or young?   Young is not better than old, old is not better than young.  Outer appearance and beauty just does not MATTER.

Some things that do MATTER:  Love.  Grace.  Compassion.  Caring.  Kindness.  Forgiveness.  Family.  Friendship.  Poverty.  Oppression.  Starvation.  Suffering.  Grief.  Loneliness.

Hair is just hair.

Now, let me assure you that I'm not abandoning all attempts to look nice and relatively presentable on a daily basis.  As a woman, it's fun to even dress up and feel pretty sometimes.  But accepting the natural gray that's a part of myself and encouraging others to do the same is one way I can demonstrate my belief that hair color is completely insignificant in the grand scheme of life, and also affirm my refusal to worship at the alter of youth.

Here's the last point I want to make, and it's why I wanted to write this post in the first place.  I think there are the rumblings of a movement - dare I say, a revolution - in the works.  We've been through decades upon decades of gray coverage and hiding as the norm, with only a handful of detractors.  But I think more and more women are deciding they've had enough in just the last few years, and even months.  Maybe I'm delusional or biased because I've been pleasantly brainwashed by the Gray & Proud crowd.  Is it a coincidence that a second woman at church asked me about my gray hair just last week?  Perhaps.

Oh, and here's what's happening on Pinterest, by the way...

you decide
But if there's truly a movement going on, I'll gladly be a part of it.  So this is me, in this post, being a part of it.  I'm telling everyone that I'm letting my hair be what it is.  Somewhere, there is a woman who is on the fence about doing the same.  And somewhere, there is a woman about to sprout her first gray hair.

I'm here to say if you decide to go natural, you're not alone.  I'll proudly call you my Silver Sister.

*Update March 26, 2014 - Since this post was published, a friend of mine called me out on the negativity I expressed in referring to the curious woman at church as the "bleachy church lady."  I think my friend was right in doing so - it was unkind of me.  My husband had actually made a comment to the same effect earlier, but less directly.  I should have taken the hint.

Although I was a bit miffed at the way the woman asked the question, I was mostly using the term for effect--to write something catchy and to call attention to the irony of the contrast between her own hair and the way she questioned me about mine (even though it was probably just innocent curiosity that came out badly).  In retrospect, I realize it was too abrasive, condescending and unkind of me to give her this nickname and basically tease her, assuming she'd never actually READ it.  This is wrong and I apologize.  Whether or not she had bleached hair, her question sparked me to examine and clarify my thoughts.  I'm actually quite grateful to her for inspiring me!

It's sobering to remember that I'm not immune to embarrassing, self-induced irony.  I said in the post that kindness and grace and forgiveness MATTER.  I know I fail at these every day and need them as much as the woman at church or anyone else.  I'm leaving the reference in the post, and this apology to go with it, as a concrete reminder.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Why asking for NO GIFTS is not the answer

I've noticed an interesting holiday-related trend among families in recent years.  Namely, parents are filled with dread.  They complain to each other in solidarity.  Why?  Because their family (or more often, a certain family member in particular) is about to go bonkers buying their kids gifts.  Recognizing their children already have plenty of toys, books, clothes, and "stuff," the parents hatch a brilliant plan: Let's tell the family the kids don't need any gifts this year.  Or, better yet, let's ask them to give only "experience" gifts, such as an outing, tickets for an event, a trip, a class, or an offer to do something with no monetary value, or just the gift of time spent together.

A related trend is the no-gifts birthday party.  Overwhelmed by the thought of an onslaught of more cheap plastic junk toys, the parents are compelled to request on the invitation: "No gifts, please! Your presence is gift enough!"  Other variations include asking for donations to a charity in lieu of gifts, or requesting a specific type of gift only (i.e. books).

It sounds sane, noble, and resourceful.  Good for the environment too--less waste in the landfill!  It sounds exactly like something a minimalist like myself would wholeheartedly endorse.

So as a minimalist and a parent of two children still young enough to play with toys, why am I not a proponent of no-present parties and holidays?

After attempting and/or experiencing numerous variations of these clutter-curbing strategies with my own friends and family over the years, here are a couple reasons why:

1.  Giving gifts is a primary love language for many of our friends and family.  Whether or not you think Gary Chapman's best-selling book on love languages is a bit hokey, there's no denying that people give and receive love in different ways.  "Gifts" is one of them.  Since I'm a minimalist, you might guess that "Gifts" is not high on my own love language list, and you'd be correct.  It's actually so far down my list (perhaps it's dead last) that even though I understand it's near the top of other people's lists, it still seems quite ridiculous to me most of the time.  If gift-giving was somehow eradicated from our culture, I might not even notice.

Yet, in all likelihood, we each have at least one family member or close friend whose primary love language is giving and receiving gifts.  I'll call these people Givers, with a capital G. Based on the laments I most often hear from my friends, I'd venture a guess that it's probably your own mom, your mother-in-law, or a grandparent.  But the point is, we've all got a Giver.

When this person reads "no gifts, please" on an invitation, or is told your kids don't need any Christmas presents this year, or even that they shouldn't give anything unless it's an experience gift, I guarantee this Giver's heart will sink.  An extremely generous woman and Giver I know, who is familiar with my minimalism soapbox, once confided in me: "Look, I make donations and give to charity all year long.  Christmas and birthdays are the times I like to spoil my grandkids.  Is that really so bad?"

Giving, presents and otherwise, is what she does.  It's part of her identity.  It makes her happy, and to give in her own way is how she expresses love.  Should we stand in her way?  How would I feel if someone did that to me?  Or if someone tried to micromanage the way I was showing love?  If you attempt this strategy with a Giver, it will always be unpleasant and awkward for both of you, and you'll feel as if you're constantly fighting a losing battle.

And even when you clearly state "no gifts, please" on a party invite, guess what?  Givers will always find a way to get around it!  They will feel compelled, and they will get sneaky.  Maybe the birthday card will have a fancy hair bow on top instead of a traditional wrapping bow.  Trust me, they'll come up with some kind of ingenious present-card attachment.  Sometimes they'll just ignore the instruction altogether and give a standard present anyway, making everyone else feel awkward.  Or, they'll try to drop something by a few days before or after the party.  A few years ago, my daughter was inspired to work on a handmade birthday gift for a friend weeks before we even received the party invitation, which read, "no gifts, please."  We figured out a way to drop it off separately, since there was no way she wasn't going to give it to her.  I encourage efforts to simplify and appreciated why the no-gift request was made, but even my minimalist, non-Giver's heart sank when we opened that invite.  It definitely killed the moment.

2.  I want my children to learn how to give and receive gifts.  I've witnessed enough kid birthday parties to know that this is a rare skill.  You know the scene: rapid-fire unwrapping, paper flying in all directions, an occasional forced-by-parent "thank you" amidst the carnage.  You know this kid is not mentally processing the connection between the giver and the shiny new item in front of them in any meaningful way, if at all.  I would like my children to learn to gracefully and graciously accept gifts from their friends and family.   It doesn't have to be gifts of "stuff" and it doesn't have to be a lot, but receiving gifts graciously is good practice in "being a person" in this world.

On the other hand, selecting (or making) a gift for someone involves thinking about the thoughts, feelings, and preferences of others, and recognizing these may be different than one's own (and excuse me, but how many adults do we know who still stink at this?!).  Likewise, watching other kids open gifts when it's not your birthday or your turn is a lesson in how to behave outwardly when you might feel jealous or impatient inwardly.  And let's face it: for really small kids, you're just working on the concept that grabbing another kid's birthday present, unwrapping it, yelling "mine!" and throwing a fit when the gift is returned to its rightful recipient is just not okay.  Life it not all about you; other people are just as special and loved as you are.  Happiness for others is not always a spontaneous emotion;  it is also learned by experience.

I want my children to discover and appreciate the joy of giving and receiving, and birthdays and holidays happen to be a time in our culture when this is done.  So be it.

And even I'll admit, it's a fun part of the celebration and everyone looks forward to it (even parents not so keen on the aftermath).

So my question is this:  Why squelch or micromanage the gift-giving inclination?  There is so much treating others horribly in this world that we needn't spend time and energy discouraging the rare positive inclinations people have toward one another.

But does all this mean we are destined to be buried in unwanted clutter at the whims of our well-meaning friends and family?

Not at all.  As a minimalist, here's what I propose as an alternative solution to the no-gifts trend.

1.  Focus on what you can control: yourself.

Meaning, the current level of "stuff" in your home and your own buying habits.  If a holiday season or a birthday is going to push your stuff-level "over the edge," it's likely the time in between these events that's the real problem.  As consumerism and overconsumption crept up on us, we finally reached a breaking point and recognized things weren't quite right with the state of our stuff.  This is good.  We knew we had do so something about it, but we mistakenly looked first to control other people's actions.  Please, please know that I am all about donating to charity, giving experience gifts and handmade gifts, curbing clutter, drastically decreasing the number of toys and "stuff" we own - the right spirit is there and it's wonderful to see the simplicity trend catching on.  But I think somewhere along the way, we got the "how" a bit backward.

Here's what I think we can do help flip it back around:
  • At Christmas or a birthday, YOU give your kids an experience gift or one very small tangible gift if you're absolutely compelled.  Resist the urge to buy more, or to feel guilty for not buying more/bigger/better.   
  • Keep purchases for your kids to a minimum during the rest of the year, knowing that your gift-crazy family will stock them up a couple times a year.  Focus on meeting basic needs.
  • Purge your home regularly, ruthlessly, all year long.
  • In short, own less stuff in the first place.  If you are willing to dig in and make some real changes, I promise the holiday or birthday onslaught won't seem as daunting anymore.
And finally, this debate is really for another day, but you can also control the size of your kids' birthday parties.  Somewhere between my childhood and my kids' generation, it became normal to invite your entire school class to your birthday party.  It's a vicious cycle because if a couple kids do it, suddenly you feel the pressure to do it too, for fear of leaving kids out.  Of course, the larger the party, the more likely the parents will feel the need to request no gifts.  I find that very small parties with just a couple friends are even better than moderately-sized parties, because other kids are less likely to feel left out of what's basically a glorified playdate (that's arguably more meaningful and memorable than a giant party anyway).  If you really want to invite the whole class, consider it a challenge for your child to ditch a whole lot of his stuff beforehand.

Anyway, all I'm saying is the invite list is another thing you control.  You just need to man-up and make choices.  If you love hosting huge gatherings and parties, you have 300+ other days of the year to choose from.  Go nuts.  (I mean that.  Hospitality, family, and community are so important!  More parties for no other reason than togetherness, please!)

2.  Keep your mouth shut and lead by example.

Let Great Aunt Henrietta do what she's going to do, but meanwhile, give experience gifts to your family and friends, adults and kids alike.  Be patient, but I guarantee if you do this for your family at enough birthdays and holidays, at least some of them will catch on.  They'll be having so much fun with experiences they receive that they'll want to get in on the action.  You may even win over some of the Givers, at least in part.  They'll no doubt still sneak something material in.  But you're much more relaxed about that now, and the Giver is happy and free to love.

And, don't forget, the presentation can still be nice and gift-y.  There's no reason to just announce: "Guess what, your present is we're going to the movies together!"  You can wrap experience gifts--decorate an envelope, have kids draw a picture of the activity, wrap something they will use at the experience or will remind them of it.  Be creative.  It takes bravery at first, as you may worry that the recipient (or others at the gathering) will see it as some sort of cop-out or not a "real" gift.  The gifted experience will most often take place at a later date, so the sense of immediate gratification that comes with opening a traditional present may be missing.  But try to let that go.  Chances are they will have a lot of fun and the gift will be memorable when it happens.

If you sense certain family members are up for it, there's no harm in bringing up the idea of drawing names to reduce the total number of gifts, or skipping gift exchanges altogether.  If you can manage holidays with less consumerism and clutter in any way you can, while still respecting your loved ones and how they love, I say more power to you.  But if you know you have a Giver-with-a-capital-G in the family, there's just no point in pushing the issue.  You end up with hurt feelings, bitterness, and other family-ickiness that you probably already have enough of anyway.  I watch my parent-friends bang their heads against this year after year.  It's not worth it.

Anyway, I wanted to consolidate and share my thoughts on this topic.  No solution is perfect, but I hope we can at least look deeper into the nuances of relationship dynamics, giving, and receiving, as well as thoroughly examine our own choices, before we try to put a bandaid on the problem.

Happier Holidays.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

My Top 5 Tips for a Less Cluttered-Looking Home

Everyone knows #1 and #2.  Take it to the next level by adopting #3, 4 and 5.
  1. Own less stuff. This is always takes precedence over “organizing” your stuff.  The Container Store is not your friend.  Before you run out to buy an "organizing" tool to contain something you feel you must keep, try getting rid of something else and using the remaining space you've gained differently.  But with that said...
  2. Everything you own must have its own home – a place where it belongs and can always go back to – down to the tiniest random thing.  And unless it’s on display for its aesthetic value or has a specific purpose for being out all the time, this home is not just “out” on a shelf or something.  It’s away, - in a drawer, cabinet, box, etc - unseen.  When in a room, you should not be looking at anything that doesn’t have a specific function or beauty exactly where it is.
  3. No appliances permanently stored on the kitchen counter - even if it’s rather large or you use it every day, like a coffee maker.  And even if you do end up keeping it out most of the time, at least keep a specific place for it that’s “away” for the times you want it away (i.e if you're cleaning the counters or expecting company).  If you think it’s too inconvenient to be constantly getting stuff in and out, just try it.  Put all your small appliances away for a couple days, getting them out only when used, and see how you feel.  You might get addicted.
  4. No toys stored (visibly) in the main living area.  This doesn’t mean kids can’t play with stuff here.  Just make sure every toy’s “put-back-place” is in the kids’ room or playroom or a closet or whatever you have.  If you must store them in the main living area, find something you can completely close so you don’t have to look at them.  Visible toys will almost always look like clutter.
  5. Cut down on surface areas by rethinking the type of furniture you own.  Adopt a “defense is the best offense” mentality with surface areas.  Surfaces are the biggest clutter magnet in your home, so why not try to eliminate or shrink some of them?  You can make a trade by selling one piece of furniture and getting something with the same function but a smaller surface area instead.  Anytime you’re considering a furniture purchase, think about what type of surface area it will create.  In the market for a new computer desk?  Try to find one with the smallest surface area possible for what you need.  Opt for tall furniture with a not-as-reachable top so you’ll be less likely to plop things down on it.  Opt out of other unnecessary surfaces.  For example, we don’t own nightstands – use a ceiling or floor lamp and a small plastic bin or basket tucked under your bed for whatever else you absolutely need within reach. 
Even that tiny space beside my computer attracts clutter! (I only moved it for the picture.  In retrospect, my point would have been better made if I'd left it.  You'll have to imagine a random cord, 2 bits of paper, and some pistachio shells)

Saturday, May 26, 2012

We Can't Afford It - Or Can We?

A friend of mine brought up the topic of summer camps other day.  Like many middle class parents we know, her goal is to book the kids up with camps, so the kids stay busy and the parents stay sane.

In the past we've enrolled our kids in camp, maybe one week out of the summer for 1-3 hours a day that week.  A couple years ago, my best friend and I decided to put on our own soccer camp to save money, and so our younger kids could participate along with their older siblings.

Camps cost money, and when I consider all-summer-long camps for two kids, my first instinct is to tell myself, "We can't afford that."  But it bothers me when people say, "We can't afford it."  It could be anything - from a new car or a vacation, to smaller splurges like eating out or a buying certain toy or and outing for the kids.  Sure, sometimes this is absolutely true.  For an extreme example, I can't afford to go buy a jet.  I literally and objectively do not have enough money.

I just think, in general, we throw that phrase around too loosely.  In many cases, for the smaller items or activities, if we reworked our finances, made sacrifices, saved, planned, and budgeted carefully, we could totally afford whatever it is.  Sometimes this is even true for the "big" stuff.  If it was a priority, we could do it.  If it was that important to me, I could send my kids to summer camp every day all day for the entire summer.  I won't delve into the reasons why this is not a priority for me and why I'd rather spend my money on something else, but the point is, objectively speaking, I have enough money - it IS possible.  To say we can't afford it feels an awful lot like a lie.

I know I'm splitting hairs, but I prefer the phrase, "It's not in my budget right now."  To me, this statement at least implies a sense of forethought and flexibility of thinking.  A budget can be reworked and revised, with money shuffled in any number of ways, as long as it comes out balanced in the end.   If you wanted to go even stronger, you could say, "I'd rather spend my money on something else," - but although true, I think this would come across as rude.  However, to at least THINK that phrase to yourself the next time you're contemplating a purchase is much less defeatist and much more empowering.   Really, it's just less whiny.

On a related note, my husband has always had a similar issue with with the phrase, "I'm too busy."  People often say they are too busy for something, but what they really mean is that it's not a high priority.  We actually mean we have not budgeted time for it, but rather we have given that time to something else that is more important in our eyes instead.  If we reworked our "time budget," in most cases, we could make the time.

What would be a good alternate phrase for "I'm too busy."  Is "it's not a priority for me right now" too strong?  How about, "It's not in my time budget?"

I'll think about it.  Meanwhile, enjoy these photos of Homemade Soccer Camp 2010.  Because you have to admit, they're pretty cute.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Heavy vs. Hovering

When we tell our friends that we are moving to Europe, a frequent comment is, “Wow, how fortunate you had already been minimizing and getting rid of so much stuff!”  And they are correct.  The move will be much simpler because of it, and we will be able to easily fit everything we own into small European living quarters.

But the nuance that many overlook is that a big part of a reason we are making this move is BECAUSE we simplified and downsized.  It’s not just a nice coincidental side benefit.  Rather, it’s actually one of the key causes of the move in the first place.

I believe it’s all about attitude and state of mind, which is backed up by your “physical” life.  It’s about the direction in which your life is already pointing.

So, humor me for a couple minutes.  Picture a 2500 square foot house (about average these days in the U.S. – can you believe it?).  Picture it full of stuff.  Not excessive, hoarder-level stuff—just the typical U.S. household.  Multiple couches, beds, dressers full of clothes, bookshelves full of books, entertainment centers and equipment, 2 or more cars, recreational equipment, bins of decorations for various holidays, kids toys and gear, house and yard care equipment, rarely used "formal" or "spare" rooms with rarely used furniture, etc.

When I picture this dwelling, these are the words and feelings that fill my senses:

Dug in
Pointing down, into the ground

Now picture a house maybe ½ that size.  Picture very sparse furniture, and none of it very heavy (i.e. beds with just a frame, no large, heavy head and foot boards).  Picture it containing relatively limited amounts of the items in the larger house, such as extensive holiday decorations, bookshelves, dressers, multiple cars, and lots of stuff in indefinite “storage” in the garage.

(bedroom = a bed room.  period.)

(Now for those of you who are already thinking “bland and boring,” I’ll just quickly interject one of my favorite quotes: "Minimalism may appear plain and boring to begin with, but that is only true when your view of life is limited to physical possessions.")

Anyhow, when I picture this second dwelling, these are the words and feelings that fill my senses:

Free space
Pointing outward, upward

The more (and heavier) physical possessions you acquire, the more you physically entrench yourself where you are.  I’m not typically a “new age” sort of gal, but I really believe it’s a life energy you embody.  I am in no way saying that a person or family with a big house and a lot of heavy stuff doesn’t move overseas (or whether they should or shouldn’t).  It happens all the time.

I just think it’s often slower and harder.  You have more to “lose,” and you have to sort of dig yourself out of where you are so heavily planted to look up and out, before you see or open yourself to the possibility.  You may not even think it’s possible, or focus primarily on the reasons it’s not.  You may casually hope that it would “happen to you.”  But you must make the transition from looking downward and inward to looking upward and outward, and there’s some inertia that accompanies the physical heaviness of your life that you must overcome to do so.  And even if you do go, you may find that you can’t bring everything you own; you must leave some of its girth and bulk behind.  But you “might need it again someday,” so its weight stays with you and you can never fully detach from it.

All I’m saying is that minimalism and this move are connected more intimately than you might think.  We didn’t wish an opportunity to move overseas would someday “happen to us.”  We were already ready.  We were looking outward.  We were open.  We had little to risk and much to gain.  We were light, floating—ready to seize an opportunity at a moment’s notice.  We were hovering.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Curly Girl

I read this book and it changed my life.

And it was about hair.

I've read a few books that have changed my life, actually. But hair? Silliness, right?

I've never been overly concerned with my outward appearance. As a child and even a teenager, I was a tomboy. My careers as a teacher and then stay-at-home mom, while demanding, never demanded high fashion. In my thirties I've displayed a bit more effort figuring out how to be a grown up. I've worked a little on my wardrobe and on wearing real makeup for grown up women every once in awhile. I exercise. Sure, I go through phases of more heightened vanity, and the occasional boredom-inspired bout of "caring," but ultimately I've gotta be on the low end of the spectrum when it comes to maintenance of my looks. Just don't care enough to spend the time and money to look anything beyond "presentable," at least at this stage of my life (she says as the TV cameras swoop in for horrific surprise makeover).

I've occasionally blow-dried my hair straight over the years, and I've experimented with a flat-iron in the last few months. And I tend to get compliments on my hair when it's straight (and I admit I feel a slight twinge of sadness when that happens). I'll often straighten it if I know an important photo will be taken. Because, with curly hair, and as only a curly girl can testify, you just never know.

Suffice it to say, the real F-word is "Frizz."

If you have curly hair, or even a bit wavy hair, and especially if you have a daughter with curly hair, you must read this book. Even if you decide not to follow the hair-care instructions exactly*, the overall message is important: Stop trying to make your hair into something it's not. Embrace what it is as beautiful, and treat it tender care. Ditch the blow-dryers and flat-irons and chemical relaxers (and even combs and regular shampoos!) and begin treating your hair the way curly hair likes to be treated. Even occasionally dabbling in that stuff will only set you back. With patience, allow your curly hair to become the best curly hair it can be, and be a good role model for the other curly girls in your life by accepting it joyfully.

So, in the end, hair is hair. It doesn't define who we are or our worth. But we can all do a better job accepting ourselves, both outside and in.

I can get behind that.

*they've been working very well on my hair for the past couple weeks!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Proactive Helping

My main disclaimer here is that I'm writing this as a reminder to myself!

We hear a friend or relative is having a difficult time. We sympathize, or even deeply empathize. We want to help. So, we respond:

"Let me know if you need anything. Really, I mean it! Don't hesitate to ask."
"Let me know if you'd like me to bring you a meal."
"Let me know if you want to come over for dinner."
"Call me if you need to talk."
"Let me know if I can help."
"I'll be thinking of you."

Our offers of help and comfort are sincere and well-intentioned. Encouraging words are wonderful. Letting someone know you care and you're there if they need you is great. All of these gestures are welcome and appreciated. All our responses come from a real, heartfelt desire to help.

But, if you're the one who's struggling, how often do you actually contact these people and ask them to make good on their offers???

If you're like me, the answer is almost never. Or, possibly, just plain never.

But here's what I think is the real problem. When we're on the help-offering end, although we sincerely feel for the person, we're not really taking the initiative - taking action. I fervently believe we can't just assume that if they didn't call or contact you, they must be okay. In a culture where people don't drop by unannounced, we live separate from our extended families, we value privacy, we like to be independent and in control, (and if we're brutally honest, we're just too busy and over-scheduled with our own stuff to do things for others), there are so many barriers on both sides to tangibly helping each other.

To overcome these obstacles, I think we need to change our response. So, the next time you know of a friend in need, you might try one of these approaches:

"I would like to bring you dinner. What day can I bring one next week? Wednesday, Friday or Saturday would work great on my end, will any of those work for you?"

"I'd like to drop a meal off on Monday afternoon and you can put it in the freezer for when you need it. Let me know when you'll be home."

"I would like to have you over for dinner. What day works for you next week? Friday's a good day for us, but if that doesn't work let's figure out something else."

"I would like to take your kids for a couple hours next week - will Thursday morning work for you?"

"I'd like to come over Saturday and help you move/unpack/keep you company/help with XYZ...what time should I show up?"

Any of these approaches get a real conversation going between you and your friend. It becomes a given that the help WILL happen - it's only a matter of where and when.

And CALL! It's much harder for someone to pass up your offer when you have the person on the phone. We all know that in this day and age, an actual call means so much.

Or, dare I say, don't even ask. Just figure out a way to show up at the door, drop something off, etc. We can make excuses all day long for why this isn't appropriate, or what if they're in their pajamas or not home...just get past this and figure out a way to make it happen.

And take it a step further - if your first attempt doesn't work for schedule or logistical or unexpected reasons, avoid thinking, "we'll, I tried." Most of the time you can tell if they did really want it to work out somehow. Figure out a way to reschedule or try a different strategy or mode of helping. So many of us pride ourselves on being persistent and driven in other aspects of our lives; we can certainly channel these qualities into helping others.

I know we can't all do this for everyone all the time. But I sure think it would be great if we could try it more often. Let's get all up in each others' lives and business, yo?

Anyway, that's all.