“I set aside one bag for throwaways and one for giveaways and dived in. First, I got rid of items that no one should be wearing anymore.” – Gretchen Rubin, The Happiness Project
I have no plans for any spring cleaning! Who even invented that? The time to be cleaning is January and February – winter cleaning – to free up the time for spring camping when it starts to warm up outdoors.
My husband had been talking about cleaning out his closet for months, so I suggested we tackle it this past Saturday after I’d finished cleaning mine earlier in the week. It was too cold outside to enjoy a hike, so we were stuck inside anyway, and nothing good was playing at the movies except A Man Called Otto, which we’d already seen.
“Are you ready?” I asked him.
“No,” he said. “I haven’t eaten my snack yet.”
I gave him the stare-down and told him to eat so we could get started. Reluctantly, he opened the foil package of his favorite Nature Valley Cinnamon biscuits with almond butter and took a painfully slow bite, returning the stare-down.
I began to organize the plan of action.
We started the process of pulling out everything and putting back the things that sparked joy – – but we also had to be sensible. The man had clothes from the 1980s in there, and let’s face it – – we are the first two people to laugh at the throwback pictures people post on Facebook with the bold vertical burgundy, navy, and hunter green striped shirts and Members Only jackets. We didn’t want to be those people anymore.
We spread out two giant trash bags and created three piles: keep (hang back in the closet), trash (trash bag #1), and donate (trash bag #2). And we set about our task of sorting.
Next, we made a list of items that needed replacing. Pants, because his all had outdated cuffs at the hem and when I’d texted my more fashion-savvy brother for confirmation on this, he’d replied, “Toss the cuffs, unless it’s a suit. Pleats are pretty much dead, too.” Dress shirts, because many most had a terminal case of ring around the collar. His leather belt because it was cracking, and a pair of shoes that he could only wear when it wasn’t raining because of a gap in the seam between the sole and the top.
“How can you trust the weather man that much?” I asked when he’d once before tried to lobby for saving the shoes. One little pop-up shower that left a steam puddle meant the difference in dry, comfortable feet and a miserable, wet rest of the day. I had to be more like a mother than a wife when closet cleaning.
His favorite argument about his worn-out t-shirts is that he should save these for wearing on the tractor when he bush hogs and for using them as oil change rags. I gave him the motherly stare again, then grabbed a plastic grocery bag, filled it, and took it to the garage. We discarded the rest.
Three filled garbage bags later (2 donates, 1 trash), we celebrated a clean closet with a barbecue dinner and a slice of buttermilk pie. Some accomplishments simply deserve their own special ceremony, and this was one of those occasions.
My journey all started with high blood pressure and “not feeling my best, ” but it had been building since late 2019. It was hard to get comfortable enough to go to sleep in bed, and I couldn’t cross my legs anymore. My thyroid medication couldn’t keep up – but it was a handy excuse. I wore the same pair of black pants at least three times a week because I refused to buy the next size up and didn’t want to commit to the longevity of an additional pair at the same size ~ because that would be admitting complacency, right? And my shirts had to be long enough to cover my back end, like a Band-Aid “hides” a wound. When we went kayaking, I had to wiggle myself down into the seat of my boat. Then I prayed as I paddled that The Gypsy Soul wouldn’t take on water and sink me somewhere out in the middle of a lake. I was in a stuck spot, and I wasn’t liking the out-of-breath adventurer I had become.
Those were hard realities for a former distance runner. In 2019, I was at the bottom of my goal weight range, running competitively and occasionally placing in my master’s women age category in 5Ks. I endured a knee injury that stalled my running, and then Covid hit. My weight went mountain climbing and enjoyed all the scenery along the way. Straight to the 206# summit.
That’s where I drew the line.
I’d always cried out to Weight Watchers whenever I needed to drop some pounds. As a Lifetime Member, I counted points and made goals and set rewards along the way when I’d stepped out of bounds by ten or twenty pounds. But this time was different. I was so far out of bounds that I needed a personal coach.
Optavia answered. I knew Jennifer Carden was an Optavia health coach, and she lives within two miles of my house. I called her, and we began my journey – we talked through initial interviews about the type of eater I am, my habits and lifestyle, and my food preferences. I placed the order for the box of fuelings that would begin my “five fuelings and one lean and green meal” per day. I would eat every two or three hours, and I could choose whether I needed to satisfy my salty tooth or my sweet tooth. My sweet tooth has forever been the screaming baby in my life.
When the box arrived on a Tuesday, I didn’t want to “wait until Sunday” to get started. I did the gut-wrenching work of owning my weight and measurements and took my “before” pictures on Wednesday, August 10, 2022 – much like confessing to a crime and taking those convicted criminal mug shots. I did a lot of this without thinking or allowing emotional involvement. I willed myself to go on autopilot. One mission: lose weight. Just do it.
I’m posting these pictures, but it really, really hurts to do this. Here goes:
And then I went to the kitchen and made my first fueling. A chocolate shake.
At work, I said NO every time the office food gifts made an appearance in our work kitchen. We’d get an email: “(Local business) brought doughnuts by this morning. Help yourself!” or “We’re celebrating (occasion) – – cupcakes for everyone!” And let me point out: they were good – these are regular offerings by those in our community. It took everything in me to turn down the white fluffy cream-filled doughnuts and the red velvet cupcakes with the cream cheese frosting. I had to remember: auto-pilot. Don’t think about it.
By August 17, I was down ten pounds, to 196. On August 22, I was at 193.9, and on September 6 I was at 188.3. I’d lost almost 20 pounds in one month. I was already able to tell a difference in my black pants, and I considered getting some new ones. But I made an agreement with myself: whenever I bought a new size, I made myself get rid of garments in the old size. I didn’t want to keep the space in the old clothes available for regrowth. So I donated the 20s when I bought 18s, 18s when I bought 16s, 16s when I bought 14s.
By September 19, I was down to 184.6 and looking forward to entering the 170s on the scale. Every time I passed a tens digit, I bought shoes as a reward; I can keep them across the pounds, and they may be my biggest reward motivator other than traveling. By the last week of September, I was down to 182.1 and looking forward to a Fall Break hiking trip to Fort Mountain State Park in Chatsworth, Georgia (with a new pair of hiking boots)!
Instead, I gave a whole new meaning to Fall Break when I missed the last step at work and broke my ankle. Hiking wasn’t to be, but I continued steadfast along my journey and on October 2 weighed in at 180.9. I was 30 pounds from my goal. I was also convinced that if I had fallen at my former weight, my break would have been far worse. Somehow, I had avoided the need for surgery. I give the weight loss full credit for that!
Through the fall, I stayed the course – five fuelings, a lean and green meal, and plenty of water. By October 24, I was at 174.2. Though I was hoping to cross the next tens digit on Halloween (171.6), I wouldn’t get there until November.
During this month, I knew that Thanksgiving would hold its challenges with food temptations. I flew to California to give a presentation at the NCTE Convention with my writing group, and I flew home to enjoy time with my family at Thanksgiving. My daughter in law cooks an amazing turkey, so I focused on that delightful plate of dinner with a side salad. I kept trucking, setting my sights on new successes.
And then I got Covid. I didn’t feel like eating, so while I wouldn’t have chosen to be sick, the silver lining in the cloud was that I wasn’t craving anything. I doubled down on my water, and by November 28th I weighed 165.0.
December was quickly approaching, and I knew the main thing that would give me trouble: eggnog. I like both the mild grocery store brands and the loaded liquor store brands, so I figured out that I’d need to identify a “substitute.” I took the Golden Blonde Brownie mix and blended it as a shake with almond milk, and then sprinkled it with nutmeg. It did the trick! I knew that once I figured out a way to avoid the feelings of deprivation, I could be successful through the holidays. So I looked for my weakest link and set about problem-solving.
December 12 gave me the momentum I needed: 159.9. I’d crossed another tens digit, and the timing to celebrate success was just the motivation I needed to get through the Christmas holidays.
On January 1, I weighed 160.0, and I rejoiced – not only because I was ten pounds from my goal weight, but also because I’d minimized damages over Christmas. Even though I was up by a half a pound or so, I’d somehow gained only a little, and I suspected that some of it could be salt intake. Plus, my tens digit re-crossing was a breath away. I spent the day doubling down on water and choosing shakes, and by the next morning I was at 158.2. Salt.
This year, I have two weight goals: reach my goal of 150 and maintain it.
With careful planning and a mindset that doesn’t tolerate emotional eating, I’m confident that 2023 will be the year of getting back to the adventurer I was meant to be! I’ll be tracking my goals the last day of every month on my blog. There’s no better time than today to set new goals and start a new journey! Many thanks to Jennifer Carden for always being there and talking me through the struggles.
"According to current research, in the determination of a person's level of happiness, genetics accounts for about 50 percent; life circumstances, such as age, gender, ethnicity, marital status, income, health, occupation, and religious affiliation, account for about 10 to 20 percent; and the remainder is a product of how a person thinks and acts." - Gretchen Rubin, The Happiness Project
One of my favorite books over the past decade is Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project. I return to it often, examining all the ways to increase happiness by fine-tuning various aspects of life. This is the broadest category of focus for me this year, and I believe that if each one of my focused goal categories were its own nesting box, this one would be the one that holds all of the others. It involves diet, exercise, organizing, cleaning up, cleaning out, practicing frugality, investing time in relationships, counting blessings, professional development, reading, adjusting attitudes, and a myriad of other improvement areas.
On January 1, I mentioned a system for keeping goals that has worked for me since 2013. That system is rooted in this quote from The Happiness Project: “People are more likely to make progress on goals that are broken into concrete, measurable actions, with some kind of structured accountability and positive reinforcement.” That year that I first read this book, I established goals and wrote ten of them in the NOTES section on my phone. Every few weeks, I returned to each goal and added notes about my progress underneath the goal.
I’ll share a segment of my 2013 goals when I write about my Reflection goals this coming Saturday, but this system of establishing goals and accountability has proven successful in motivating my progress in reaching goals. This year, I’ll use the last day of each month to reflect on my goals and my One Little Word for 2023: pray. One strategy as a setup for success: I’ve already scheduled the end-of-month blog dates so that I can visit the post weekly to add goal updates prior to the last day.
A few specific goals in the Self-Improvement category include continuing my weight loss journey that began on Tuesday, August 9 with Optavia. Although the week of Christmas has included a period of grace for some indulgences, I am 48 pounds lighter than I was when I began, and less than 10 pounds from the top of my goal weight range. I will reach my weight goal around the beginning of February and will begin maintenance. I will continue to give away clothes that begin looking frumpy so that I minimize the opportunities for “personal re-growth.”
At the risk of today’s post becoming too lengthy, I’ll delay sharing any more specific goals in this category and will share these on regular blog posts throughout the year. I often add shorter goals in this category, and they’re met quickly. For example, instead of setting the goal as “conduct spring cleaning,” I may claim an unforeseen snow day as a day to “clean out the upstairs closets.” Smaller steps, sometimes spontaneous, seriously sizzling = SUCCESS!
Cheers to the betterment of all of us throughout 2023!
As we move toward the beginning of a brand new year starting at midnight, on this last day of the year I'm taking time to reflect on 2022 and all the living we’ve done in its 525,600 minutes. My blessings far outweigh my challenges and setbacks.
Last December, I chose listen as my One Little Word for 2022, which Ali Edwards has made popular since 2006. I suppose it’s what daily writers do: we listen to the world around us. We listen for what inspires us and what we can take from conversations, moments, lessons, experiences - and time we share with others - to make sense of our world.
What we do with all the listening is what invites me to choose pray as my word for 2023. It wasn’t my first serious consideration, or even my second. My initial choice was believe. During my week of Covid confinement in December, I almost prematurely announced believe and all my reasons for choosing it. It’s the essence of my Christian faith, the verb of what we do with our faith to trust in God’s plan. It’s what gets us through tough times. Long moments of pondering all that I don’t want to be quick to believe led me to think more about the power of sharing. Share was my second consideration. I share what I experience and what I believe as truth, often on my blog.
Then I thought of my word listen this year, and all of the listening that happened through prayer. I wondered: what if I spent an entire year with the word pray as my guiding light word? My little Caribbean blue Rav4 has been my twice-daily prayer chamber for years as I make my way to and from work. I don't turn on the radio ~ I pray. I believe fully in the power of prayer and the difference it makes. I see miracles that have happened because of prayer, and I often wonder about the miracles that happen that we never see, also because God answers prayer.
As we step into 2023, I've chosen an action verb again. Pray. What a blessing I feel already!
If you’re taking a One Little Word as your guiding light this year, please share in the comments below or send me a Facebook message - - I love all the thinking that goes into OLW choices! Cheers to you in 2023!
Tomorrow, I will begin daily posts in the areas of my seven goal categories this year. They are: Reflection, Inspiration/Spirituality, Self-Improvement, Creativity, Literature, Experience, and Gratitude. I've never succeeded at keeping New Year's Resolutions, but what has worked for me for the past 12 years is establishing goals and adding an accountability measure in my writing through a month-end checkpoint. More on this beginning tomorrow!