Mindfulness & money

I had a really interesting insight this afternoon, and it was all about working out my values and what I want in life. It was part of a simple living online community I’ve a part of, and it was on mindfulness and money.

The accountant / mindfulness expert / clever little lady called Sam didn’t jump straight to the numbers or a god-awful spreadsheet. God I hate spreadsheets. Instead, her first step to managing your finances was to make you ask yourself, ‘What do I want?’

It’s probably the first time I’ve seen an accountant as a person, as something other than a clone in a white shirt and tie behind a desk wearing glasses (no offence, accountants). And it was really nice, because throughout her session, she continued to pose thought-provoking ponderings like, ‘What are your values?’ and ‘What is enough for you?’

Instead of focusing on making more money, she was almost opposed to it – unless it had purpose. Her goal was literally to identify your purpose and life goals first, then help discover how to manage money in order to achieve those goals. And even though it took an (obvious) financial turn – and yes, there was a spreadsheet – it got me thinking about what I want, which is something I haven’t done for myself in a long time. Well, not including the mammoth move to the country thing. Just ignore that for now.

So here’s a few things I jotted down:

  • A feeling of inner contentment
  • More ‘good’ days than ‘bad’; I want to feel happy more often, but know it’s never going to be an all or nothing thing. You can feel sadness and not have it drag your life down, in fact it’s normal and I’m ok with that. But I’d like to move the little lever thingy more towards the 100% end of the spectrum.
  • To keep learning and developing my knowledge and skills
  • To read more books – scratch that, to finish the one I’ve been meandering through for months now.
  • To feel happy and healthy in my own body. (Side note, yesterday I went to Anytime Fitness and was the only person in the gym!! It was the strangest and funnest thing, I tried every single machine!)
  • To keep writing – in whatever shape or form that may be, but especially on this blog, and maybe one day for a magazine I feel passionate about, and possibly even a book. Children’s books would be pretty cool.
  • To be considered a great writer and to actually contribute to a bigger purpose through my writing. This one’s not fully formed, give it a couple of months/years.
  • To steer well clear of stressful situations, again knowing it won’t always be possible.
  • To get a dog (should’ve put this at #1).
  • To travel every few years at least.
  • To feel content with my pace of life (so far, so good – thanks Mudgee!)

That’s about it right now – seems like a lot, but when I looked at the list I quickly scribbled in my journal during the session, I realised it’s not really that much. I just want to feel happy more often, keep writing – and get better at it, go on adventures, and make more valuable use of my time, sans stress.

I actually highly recommend this exercise as something to do when you have a couple of spare minutes, because for me it was incredibly insightful. I’ve always made sure I work heaps, had plenty of money coming in, and always always think about how much I have, where it’s coming from, and how I can spend and save it. But given I just moved somewhere where living costs are basically cut in half, from rent to entertainment to things like insurance (my car insurance dropped from $100-and-something to $55 the minute we moved to Mudgee!), I probably don’t need to be pinching pennies, so to speak. I can actually focus on life goals as well.

It’s been an interesting test to try and identify the things I want from my life right now, and not get bogged down by the idea that money = happiness. In fact, most of the things I want don’t even require money, just time. And I’ve got plenty of time, and ‘enough’ money. So instead I’m going to try and stop over-analysing every single dollar coming in and going out, and think more about what I want to do with my time, and how I can weave that into a richer life, terrible dad pun intended.

That starts by looking at my list of things I’d like to achieve or do, because realistically, I’m earning ‘enough’ but I’m not always doing ‘enough’ to tick off some of those goals. I might’ve moved to Mudgee in what a colleague called ‘early retirement’ but I still haven’t fully inched out of that full-time work mentality, where I’m always thinking about how to make more money. It would be nice to just feel content with the solid income I’ve managed now, save what I can, and just enjoy this adventure for what it’s supposed to be.

Weekend adventures

So there’s literally too much to do in Mudgee. Being a small country town of less than 11,000 people, I thought we’d run out of things to do pretty damn quickly. But then we tried to show Alex’s parents around for a weekend and ran out of time – not stuff to do – before this morning arrived.

Saturday was absolutely pissing down rain, so we went street exploring in our raincoats, showed them the town, and had a delish food platter at home. Yes, I make food platters now. You should visit.

Then we went to Alby & Esther’s for dinner, which is this adorable courtyard cafe with trees and vines growing everywhere and fairy lights scattered around so you can still see your food. We had awesome cocktails, wine and tapas, before wandering home. We live a 10 minute walk from town so pretty much walk everywhere. Except when we can’t be bothered and we drive literally 30 seconds down the street to buy bread. Or to the gym.

On Sunday we did our second – Alex’s parents’ first – Farm Walks around Mudgee. We sussed out the gorgeous Bacchus Range farm where we got to see where so much local Mudgee food comes from. Both Paul and his wife run a farm with vineyards, apricot trees, desert lime trees, cumquat trees, salt bush, lettuce and so much more, in addition to their day-to-day jobs, which they sell onto local restaurants and at markets.

As Paul says, ‘I grow it and my wife makes it’, referring to their delicious sauces and jams they produce. Think smoked Hickory BBQ sauce, lemon spreads, desert lime pastes, capsicum and chilli relish, and stacks more. It was really cool to learn that a lot of the produce they grow gets sold to Artisan Cafe, where we eat regularly and always take visitors to. 

The other farm walk visit was to Karrabool Olives, about 20km out of town, where they boast rows and rows and rows of stunning olive trees. They harvested them earlier this year and it makes some of the best olive oil you’ve ever tasted. Naturally, we bought litres of the stuff. It sounds really weird to talk about the taste of olive oil given it’s so often used just for cooking the main attraction in, not showcasing the stuff itself. But this stuff was top drawer, seriously.

It’s pure, 100% natural oils from olives. Nothing else. Sometimes, David the grower and his wife will add some freshly squeezed lemons or limes into it, or some slices of fresh chilli or basil, but that’s about as far as it goes. And we couldn’t stop drowning our bread in the stuff, it was that good. 

We finished the day with a trip to Bunnings, of course, where I bought sunflower seeds to plant my first ever garden thingo – after my strawberry plant when I was 6 sadly perished. Watch this space to see if the bastards grow or if my green thumb is still missing somewhere.

We had dinner at the Lawson pub’s Red Heifer restaurant, indulged in dessert at the Wine Glass, walked home and spent a good half hour spotting shooting stars in the prettiest night sky you’ve ever seen.

Another breakfast out this morning, numerous coffees, and it’s back to everyday life here, as Alex’s parents head home, and we work, play music, eat, nap, and write. I still can’t believe this is our life. I’m very much in love with this lifestyle change.

There’s a lot more I hope to achieve, and sometimes when we’ve had visitors or done a trip to Sydney or deviated from the slow paced existence we have here, my head can get a bit scrambled and I lose focus or forget to meditate or crave time alone or an afternoon nap. But thankfully, we always come back to this, and despite still feeling the hangover of a disrupted routine, life is slow enough out here for me to catch up.

Now, I’m staring down the barrel of a seriously uneventful week, and I’m in heaven. Aside from mornings of work and some extra hours put in for other jobs that crop up, I’m looking forward to working out, taking bubble baths, learning to make new foods and DIY gifts, learning more about low waste and low tox living, trying to declutter, and taking things uber, uber slow.


To declutter or not to declutter?

So. My house with Alex right now is adorable. It’s got two offices for both of us to do work/play games/be alone and quiet when we need it. It’s also got a guest bed which finally has a bed in it for guests – thanks dad – and of course, our bedroom.

The kitchen is all kitted out, and we have more couches and desks and random bits of furniture than you can poke a stick at, courtesy of my late mama and my beloved (also late) grandma on my dad’s side. Seriously, if you wanna get rid of furniture when you die just make sure someone in your immediate family moves to the country and upsizes in real estate. Yes, I’m morbid. Let’s move on.

I even bought a desk for no reason from an old local who collects all things vintage and antique; we went to his house and he had three giant sheds full of stuff. And only now he’s decided, after decades of collecting (hoarding), that maybe he should offload some stuff so his kids (down in Sydney – no room for extra furniture) don’t have to deal with it all when him and his wife pass away.

Then low and behold, we also bought a lounge and two armchairs off him because they were cheap – $200 for the whole set, and despite being old and retro, are in mint condition. So when I decided I hate the free dining table we got from my uncle – and which has no matching chairs and doesn’t match any other furniture in our house – and buy a brand new one more suited to my taste, spending money I don’t have, I wondered if I have a consumerism problem.

When feeling sad, or lonely, or depressed, or anxious, or uncertain, I shop. I buy clothes, furniture, food, art, bags, books, DVDs (we don’t even have a DVD player) and lamps. And now, apparently, dining room tables. So now I’m thinking a bit of de-cluttering of junk might be in order. Partly to test myself and see if I’m as good at getting rid of stuff as I am at acquiring it (definitely not) and partly out of torture. Maybe also to teach myself I don’t need stuff to be happy.

I’m looking into de-cluttering and minimalism through the lens of Brooke McAlary, my go-to person currently for all things slow living and simplifying, in a session where she tries to gently encourage people to give de-cluttering a go, while still being ethical when ditching your crap. I also heard about, and have since Googled, a game known as the Minimalism Game. Definitely torturous.

It basically prefaces that on day 1 of a 30-day game, you get rid of one thing, day 2 sees you let go of two things, and so on and so forth. I think there’s a few versions of the game (I first heard about one that went for 200+ days), but this one comes from The Minimalists, Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus.

“Whatever you do, each material possession must be out of your house—and out of your life—by midnight each day,” they write.

I’m hoping for a more ethical challenge where I don’t just dump it in the garbage, but rather re-home or repurpose somewhere where it won’t just turn into landfill. This is also a more competitive version where you do it with a friend and whoever can keep going the longest wins. I’ve got a very minimalist friendship circle up here (see what I did there?) and, in fact, I wouldn’t even call it a circle. I’m working on it, sort of, in between emotional mini breakdowns and trying to motivate myself to go to the gym. But I digress – I’ll be doing this challenge solo.

Regardless, the cluttering thing could be a go, because I’ve attached so much happiness to buying stuff, and placed so much pressure on this happiness I’m supposedly getting from every tap of my debit card. I think I’ll be happier when I get rid of this dining table and buy a brand spanking new one from a boutique homeware shop in Mudgee. I also thought I’d be more together when I bought my Birkenstocks a week ago, and yes, they’re lovely and I wear them everywhere, but no they didn’t leave me with less anxious thoughts buzzing around in my head.

Stay tuned, I’ll document the shit I get rid of and if it helps me, because I think the process of acknowledging and letting go – learning to, anyway – might be a more important lesson than frantically searching the house for an old, holey pair of underwear I can ditch to make up my quota for the day.

Sitting with heaviness

I’ve been having a shit day today. Not sure why – maybe the decent quantity of alcohol I drank yesterday – but it’s lingering inside of me and making me feel heavy. Sometimes I wonder if it really is alcohol-related. It wouldn’t be all that surprising, when you think about it. People frequently get drinking regret and emotional hangovers from putting their bodies through that sort of activity.

But it left me wondering if there’s a better way to deal with these feelings when they pop up. In Sydney, I had no choice but to go into work and do my job, because I wasn’t completely comfortable with asking for a mental health day, and truthfully even if I was, there wasn’t enough allocated to sustain how many I probably needed. Or I’d sometimes just work from home to avoid having to open my mouth or smile. But it wasn’t a positive way of coping.

Today, I’ve struggled my way through a couple of hours of work, eaten bacon and buttery raisin toast, and hot chip sandwiches with lashings of tomato sauce. Alex is currently baking cookies, being left in a somewhat similar state to me. I even postponed (again) my free personal training session I had booked in as part of my initiation into a new gym, because talking to people or pretending to be interested feels too hard today.

So my questions and wonderings are around if it’s possible to work with these feelings, rather than having them totally dictate your life for as long as they hang around. For me, usually having a good night’s sleep, maybe meditating a bit and making poor eating choices gives me a cuddly, metaphorical blanket to comfort me while I go through the motions. The next day, it’s usually a bit more manageable for at least a week or two.

But if I wasn’t in Mudgee, I wouldn’t have that option. At least not regularly. Even out here, we still need to do stuff, make money, attend prior commitments, host visitors. When you’re stuck feeling like a tonne of bricks (excuse the cliché) has just been dumped on your shoulders, how else are you meant to trudge along and carry them? Or better yet, find an appropriate time and place to get rid of them? I know plenty of people who feel like this, yet don’t have the luxury of hiding away in bed with Netflix and chocolate, or running away to work remotely from the country.

Recent research shows that at least three million Aussies live with anxiety or depression. And they’re just the people who’ve been formally diagnosed. On top of that, a Beyond Blue report showed that one in every five Australians took time off in the last 12 months due to mental health issues. Workplaces might try to encourage openness and a shaking off of the stigma of mental health, but it’s still rife and makes plenty of people uncomfortable enough to avoid the topic altogether; both the people with, and those without, the problems.

For me today, I’m trying to take a gentle approach. I’m lucky enough to have some room to slow down, avoid people when I need to, call friends, do some yoga, meditate outside, binge-watch old movies, eat hot chips, and sleep it off. I’m not quite sure what else to do when these moments strike, but at least if I lean into it, take it easy, and be kind to myself when I’m unable to do much else, then hopefully it’ll get easier and eventually these waves won’t come as frequently. 

Emotional baggage and metaphors

I keep getting these pangs of despair that I don’t know what to do with. I get despondent, distracted, feel like I’m at fault in something. It’s like when you get a chill down your spine from something creepy or when you’re suddenly really cold, but replace the shiver with a kick in the stomach.

I’ve been feeling a whole suite of new (and old) emotions out here, and a lot of them have been good. Like the ability to sit still, meditate, actually listen to the noises around me and not feel like I don’t have the time or the patience. But sometimes the feelings aren’t good, like this rise in feeling like I’m not good enough. It’s almost as if my body just doesn’t completely accept my new approaches to healing, or isn’t totally on board with me working through shit.

Just when things feel like they’re going well, I get this kick-in-the-guts feeling, and my mood shifts, and everything seems a bit hopeless. I’m still adjusting, I think; learning to be alone with my thoughts, and learning to just be alone. I think I’m also holding myself back from doing things independently, for this very reason.

Alex asked me if the reason I don’t like being alone is because it means all my thoughts, feelings, and unresolved emotions get into my brain, and there’s no talking or distractions to help me avoid them. Not in those exact analytical words, but something similar. And I think he might be right. I’m terrified of being alone, and yet in Sydney it’s all I wanted. I just wanted time to be with my feelings, the opportunity to listen to them and actually feel them, without the constraints of being in an office or when I’ve got dinner plans at 8pm.

And now I’ve got all the time, space and silence in the world, but it’s not as easy as I thought it would be. I had these impressions that I’d get really well acquainted with my internal self, and start to process the trauma and dejection (what a perfect word for it). Instead, I find myself running away from it as much – if not more – than I did in Sydney. But I slip a lot, and they catch up with me, and I’m left lying face down on the couch crying, or hyperventilating in the bath, or yelling because I burnt something I was trying to cook.

Back in Sydney, I saw this wonderful psychologist called Charlene, who reiterated my sentiments about one of my favourite quotes by Robert Frost:

“The best way out is always through”

 She used a lot of metaphors, which I respond incredibly well to, given how often I think and talk in them myself. And she told me it was like I’m in hell right now, and there’s a ladder leading me out. But it’s hot – really fucking hot – and it’s going to hurt to climb it, but it’s the only way out. And I can stay here if I want, but it’s no comparison to the world that’s waiting for me at the top of the very hot ladder. 

I also read something yesterday on the Instagram of Brooke McAlary, the woman behind the Live Life Simply online retreat I’m doing right now. She talked about having those weeks when you feel so disheartened and discouraged, and how right now, in the midst of one of those weeks, she’s just trying to feel her way through it. 

“I spend some time feeling that stuff out. Examine it for a minute. Question it. I try not to be afraid of discomfort,” she wrote. (Side note, that last sentence – golden).

“I look for the gaps. The good habits fallen by the wayside. The extra 30 minutes sleep. The decent breakfast. The morning cup of tea. The lunch time stroll. The deep breaths. I used to spend so much time numbing and distracting myself from feeling my feelings, but I’ve realised that they’re just trying to tell us things.”

I know exactly what my feelings are trying to tell me, sort of. They’re trying to keep me in touch with my mum, trying to tell me not to let her go or run away from the constant pain that’s now attached to every memory of her because I know I can’t make any more. They’re trying to tell me it’s ok to feel this way, that I’ve got to feel this way. I tried so damn hard not to feel this way, and I only made it worse for myself years down the track. 

I think my feelings are also trying to tell me that what I’m going through is normal. I keep wondering how long it’ll take before I feel myself again, that four years is like a lifetime of feeling this way. But four years, I keep forgetting, isn’t all that long when you lose the most important person in your life. I might feel like this forever, but it’s not going to get any easier if I use up all my energy trying to fight these feelings. I’m better off crying because I miss her, thinking about how her voice sounded and the way she laughed at her own jokes. Because if I don’t, not only will I have lost her in the physical form, but I’ll lose her in my memories as well. 

It’s really, really shitty to try and feel things out, but I think one of the luxuries I have out in the country, working from home and essentially for myself, is I have a bit more wriggle room to actually wade through these emotions, and maybe shed some of the baggage in the process. So that’s what I’m going to try and do. When I get emotional, I’ll try not to shut it down and move onto the next project, because as I’ve seen in the last week especially, it just festers away until I can’t even do the simplest of tasks. Instead, I need to breathe, relax, embrace the memory, lean into it, and be ok with it. Accept these feelings, and accept this part of me.

In both good and bad ways, the trauma of losing my mum is a big, fat chunk of my identity, and I need to own it, and not shy away from it, otherwise I’ll just feel like I’ve lost part of myself permanently. And honestly, that prospect is probably worse than sitting in the hellish sauna of my own making, too scared and stubborn to climb the ladder out.


Home among the gumtrees

Thought I’d share a few snaps from around my new, very roomy home that comes complete with four bedrooms (meaning an office each, bedroom and currently, a walk-in wardrobe aka a mess). 

My favourite features are the fireplace (bring back winter!), the newly renovated kitchen with quirky subway tiles, and a yard that literally wraps around three quarters of the house.

It’s a pretty special place to call home.