When I started this blog, I wasn't particularly sure what it would be about.  Heck, I didn't even really know why I was doing it.  I picked a name and ran with it without really thinking too much.  Somehow, the 'Organized Geek' name just never felt quite right.  But I didn't want to let the need to find the perfect name stop me from barreling ahead and starting to write. 

In short, I've come to realize that I don't really write about either organizing or geekery. 

What do I write about?  Simplifying, living mindfully, achieving debt freedom, embracing change, minimalism, money and budgeting.  With an occasional dose of body image awareness and nutrition.  I document my journey toward greater satisfaction, simplicity, and freedom in my life, and hope someday to provide inspiration for others to do the same.  I want to encourage finding one's passion, living a more remarkable life, and sorting out priorities, by figuring out and living these things myself.  I want to make life better, damn it.

It's time to move forward, and embrace a new identity that better encapsulates what it is that I do. 

To that end, I've created happysimplefree, and will be moving over there from this point on.  It'll have the same sort of content, but branded under a more sensible name.  I'm dropping the 'Organized Geek' moniker entirely, and welcoming this new, more mindful refinement of my message.  Join me as we work toward more happiness, simplicity, and freedom!

~The Organized Geek, signing off.


may financial retrospective

In may, I spent a lot of money.  I only went slightly negative, but it's still unfortunate and regrettable. 

Why the heck is the blue 'household' pie-slice so huge above?  Timing, really.  May happened to have two vacations on subsequent weekends.  We went to Las Vegas one weekend, and had a fabulous time.  We ate some of the best food ever, had amazing cocktails, and saw a great show.  Unfortunately, those things are quite pricey.  Even though my in-laws let us share their timeshare and we drove instead of flew, having a good time in Vegas is still expensive.  And I didn't even gamble, beyond putting a single $20 bill into a slot machine.  And watching it disappear, of course. 

The weekend after that was a camping trip at an SCA event.  What can I say?  Apparently we enjoy dressing up in silly clothing, getting windburned, eating a lot of dust, and sleeping on the ground.  Anyway, when I go camping I tend to cook for people, so there was some non-negligible expense there.  Oh well, it's fun.

Both trips were known about ahead of time, and I was able to plan ahead enough that the expense didn't hurt too much.  No real problems here.  Some things are worth spending more on, especially when it comes to excellent experiences. 

Other than travel expenses, we're totally on track.  I made my full (but not overfull) debt payments, still have a comfortable cushion in my account, and didn't overspend on any categories other than that for vacations.  This month just means a little belt-tightening is in order for a while.

Onward to debt freedom!


today I love...

...Sally's treatise on the importance of body image.

Now, I'm not a body image blogger, and I don't pretend to be one.  But Sally really hit the nail on the head with this one, not only regarding why such conversations are useful and necessary, but also part of what's so very broken about a culture ruled by advertising and corporate interests.

Every Wednesday, I write about something I love that day.  It doesn't necessarily have to be remotely related to anything; it just has to be fabulous!


too much

The other day, I was invited to join my coworkers in going out for lunch.

Sure, I had packed a lunch and am working on spending as little as possible on eating out.  I also wasn't particularly hungry, and had even been debating skipping lunch entirely.  Listening to one's body is a good idea.

But hey, they were going to a new restaurant that I hadn't been to before.  That justifies an entirely unnecessary expense, right?

Predictably enough, I wound up sitting with seven of my officemates at a large table at a local posh burger restaurant (yes, those terms seem kind of contradictory.  Apparently this exists).  I could have gotten a small salad to quench my insignificant hunger level, but I wanted to try the thing that sounded the best.  This was my first time here!  I must splurge!

Shortly I found myself staring at a portobello 'burger' with carmelized onions and bleu cheese, and the dang thing seemed bigger than my  head.  Certainly it was taller than my stretched jaw could accommodate.  Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, it was also delicious.

As I attacked my superfluous lunch with vigor, mushroom juice dripping all over my plate, I realized about halfway through that I was not only full, but uncomfortably so.  My body was quite clearly telling me to stop.

Did I listen?

Of course not.  Logistical concerns filled my mind.  If I had a half-sandwich left over, then my plans for the week's lunches would be thrown off.  Not to mention that the bun would get all soggy.  So I finished the thing, and accepted my coworkers' congratulations on my victory over the doom-sandwich.  

After waddling back to work, I found myself drowsy and groggy for the rest of the day, and my body physically hurt from too much food.   I had virtually no energy, and felt almost sick.  This was the result of my fun, impromptu lunch out with my friends?  Was this really what I wanted?  To be uncomfortable, too unfocused to work, and in pain?

Why did I do that to myself?

This country doesn't really have what I would call a 'food culture.'  Food culture is a sense of historical identity expressed through food.  It's grandmothers who learned to cook from their grandmothers in the way of their people.  It's the culmination of centuries of local incremental co-evolution to develop an optimal way of getting the most health from the local food supply in the most pleasurable way possible.

What we have is large corporations telling us to eat what they produce.  We have happy meals and factory farms.  We have no idea where our food comes from.  Guidance concerning diet comes not from generations of wisdom but from so-called 'nutritionists' whose educations were sponsored by those same corporations and based on severely faulty science (no offense meant to any good nutritionists out there who actually make an effort to be informed and genuinely care about health.  I'm just speaking from my own observations here).  These are the people who told us that margarine was healthy, and that no-salt diets were a good idea (conveniently forgetting that sodium is critical for neuron function, something that's covered in bio 111).  These are the people who somehow manage to justify ketchup as a vegetable.  Our sources of food information are mostly full of crap.

Above all, we have huge quantities of cheap food.  The 'average American' (yes, I know averages don't mean everything.  But some sort of measure must be picked) consumed 2,674 kilocalories a day in 2008, up from 2,167 in 1970.  At the same time we spend half as much on food as our grandparents did (as a proportion of income). 

Without going into a rant about excessive and ill-applied subsidization of specific crops as inputs for the agricultural-industrial complex, which I'll save for another time, suffice it to say that food is too cheap in terms of money and too expensive in terms of health.  The next time you go out to eat, look at the amount of food you're given.  Really look at that portion size.  Notice that you probably aren't a marathon runner or a professional bodybuilder.  Now look at it again.  Is it realistic?

I fully acknowledge that this all comes from a perspective of privilege.  An astonishing number of people don't have enough to eat or access to actually healthy food, and that's beyond depressing.  But couple that with the rampant overeating and food waste that's found in the privileged classes of the world, and it gets even more ridiculous.  

It's amazing how often we're encouraged to eat until saturation, until we're bursting at the seams.  But this leads directly to 'food coma', low energy, and feeling generally crappy.  Even on the morning after the ill-fated portobello burger lunch, I still felt mildly woozy and uncomfortable.  I'm tired of this.  What if I could simply eat less and feel great?  Eating is pleasurable, but so is actually feeling good. 

From now on, I'm going to make an effort to only eat as much as my body is actually requesting.  I'm going to work on paying attention to how I feel, and noticing when the crumminess sets in after eating.  Fundamentally, like most of my self-work, this is about being mindful.  Maybe I'll even learn something about myself.

Ultimately, everything I could possibly say on the subject has already been said more elegantly and succinctly in this post at zenhabits.  I highly recommend it.

What are your experiences with mindful or mindless eating?


today I love...

...a clean inbox.

Last week I cut my inbox down to size, going from over 1,600 messages to 34.  It only took a few minutes, and had a nice bonus of forcing a few important emails I'd forgotten about to the top where I can see and deal with them. 

There's something about a clean slate that imparts a sense of peace, even if it's in a small and seemingly insignificant context.  And hey, this habit might make me better at making decisions, too!  Who knew?

Every Wednesday, I write about something I love that day.  It doesn't necessarily have to be remotely related to anything; it just has to be fabulous!


today I love...

...Style Girlfriend's list of reasons to 'kick-start' your style.  Style Girlfriend Megan blogs about men's style from a female perspective, and I want to be her when I grow up. 

I'm oddly fascinated by men's sartorial blogs, and have quite a few of them on my radar.  I can't really explain it, but I just really enjoy reading about classic clothing and style for men.  Perhaps because it has so much more subtlety than women's fashion --- fundamentally, the overall shape and style of male clothing (at least what most would today call 'dressed up') --- really hasn't changed much in many decades.  A well-fitting suit now is the same essential shape as a well-fitting suit in the fifties, and there are only so many ways to express oneself with a pocket square.  Contrast that to the insane variety of female fashion as the designers scramble to come out with new, more attention-getting, more flamboyant, different ideas.

Perhaps the lack of change is what I find comforting.

Also, well-dressed men are both delightful and rare in this particular time and place.  As much as it would be nice in some respects if people weren't judged on their outward appearance and sartorial decisions, that's not the case.  People will get their first impression of you from how you look.  Not to mention that clothing is a fantastic way to express yourself and decide consciously how you want to present yourself to the world.  Instead of leaving it up to random chance (which jeans did I pull out of the drawer today?), taking control of your image is a beautiful thing.

Perhaps I'm vain.  But it's fun, and I enjoy encouraging the males around me to step up to the place and kick it up a notch.

I particularly like reasons #9 and #15.  If only more lads figured this out earlier...


why I declutter

Stuff is a part of life.  Stuff is accumulated, it serves various purposes, it's an indicator of wealth (did you see how big his flat-screen television was?), it makes us happy.  We need stuff, and over the course of history, most possessions have been valuable, scarce, and often important for survival. 

But that was then.  In the 'developed world,' at this point, stuff is cheap.  Ridiculously cheap.  Most things are essentially disposable; clothing, electronics, furniture, and even vehicles are all purchased with the expectation that they'll break, wear out, or fall apart in a relatively very short time and need replacing.  Where our grandparents would save up for and treasure a good winter coat for many years, we offhandedly own twenty that are all shoddy.  But it doesn't matter, because even before their short lifetimes are up, we'll probably get bored of them and buy new ones out of pure whim.  

Minimalism isn't really about not owning stuff.  It's about identifying value.  

At first blush, it might seem that the root cause of overconsumption, rampant consumer waste, and an actual topic and audience for the TV show Hoarders is over-valuing our stuff.  I can't possibly get rid of any of my twenty winter coats despite the fact that live in the tropics because I love them.  I need them.  They give me a sense of worth, and I would be losing something valuable if I didn't have them.

But let's think about this.

Is this really value?  What is value?  Is it what someone else would pay for the object, or some quantification of the pleasure or usefulness that you personally derive from it?  It's in your possession, after all.  Are you truly happier with many cheap, flimsy things than you would be with fewer really spectacularly well-made ones?  How do you know?

If you're deriving neither use nor happiness from the item, regardless of what you paid for it or what its 'original price' was, it is worthless

Are we, perhaps, actually under-valuing our stuff?  The phrase 'materialism' is generally used to indicate the hoarder-like behavior of accumulating stuff for the sake of accumulating stuff.  But what if we could forge a better relationship with our possessions, and genuinely care about them?  This is a fundamentally different approach.  Appreciating, taking care of, and really enjoying the things in our lives, rather than being ruled by them, seems to me to be a better form of materialism.  If you fell in love with an excellent coat, wouldn't you want it to last for years so you could go on enjoying it instead of throwing it away after a season?  Disposable culture has redefined our relationship with stuff, and not for the better.  Perhaps the problem is that we're not materialistic enough!

When I was little, I participated in the pog craze.  In case you skipped that one, it was technically based on a game developed with milk caps but turned into a pre-teen consumer frenzy in the mid-90's.  Kids bought, collected, hoarded, and traded these little cardboard discs with pictures on them.  Very rarely was the game actually played; it was mostly about the collecting process.  We'd set up little trading posts with each other, and proudly display our expansive collections.  It was quite the phenomenon.

At the time, I had some good friends who lived just down the street.  I'd go over to their house, we'd each claim a corner of the room to set up the pogs we were interested in trading, and then go visit the other 'shops' to haggle and barter.  My little mind was struck with a notion that seemed to have some merit.  My shop instituted a 'quantity for quality' policy, wherein I would encourage my friends to offer their good pogs and in exchange I'd give them piles of crappy ones.  I even made a sign.  They thought this was a wonderful deal.  They were getting ten pogs, while only surrendering one!  What a chump I was!

After a few weeks of this, my friends noticed that I'd accumulated all their high-quality (this is relative, of course.  Fundamentally they were all just silly little cardboard discs.) pogs, while they were left with piles and piles of really cheap, lower-quality ones.  They got sore about it and stopped trading with me.

If what you value is having many things, you will surely wind up with (metaphorically speaking) large piles of low-quality pogs.  Perhaps it won't be a deliberate or conscious process (my friends certainly didn't think to extrapolate the situation beyond each individual trade), but over time actions will align themselves with core values.  Then all the stuff will weigh you down

So what happens if you value good things instead?  If you can appreciate having a smaller number of things, but everything you own is your favorite thing?  Where moving is easy, and there are no piles to trip over, and all your possessions bring you joy?  Wouldn't that be marvelous?

That's why I talk so much about getting rid of things.  Not really out of any ascetic drive or sense of self-deprivation, but out of selfishness.  I want to love all my things, instead of being annoyed by how they're in the way and dusty and taking up so much space.  I want the freedom to take a job across the country and move into a smaller place.  I want to spend much less time thinking about, stressing about, and cleaning my stuff.  I want good stuff that actually enriches my life, dammit!

I'm in no way unique in this, of course, and there are many out there who are on the same journey

On one of the above-linked articles (I forget now which one), one comment in particular struck me:
"I don’t want to be rich, I want to be free. And freedom is worth more than stuff."


it's the little things

This is an off-topic personal-life post.  

I haven't been sleeping well lately.  Whether it's work stress or our aging mattress or some hidden malady, I don't know.  The point is that it's made me groggy and grouchy for the past few days. 

When I got home yesterday, predictably grumbly, not only had Mr. Geek prepared a delicious dinner, but afterward I was shooed off upstairs to soak in a hot bathtub for an hour and then go to bed early. 

Thank you, baby.  That was just what I needed. 

Sure, the evening could have been spent on doing little household chores or 'catching up' on various things on our Netflix queue.  I'm sure his preference would have been for us to spend it on video games.  But instead, I got to spend my tiny amount of time at home on luxuriously pure relaxation and rejuvenation.  I feel nearly human for the first time in a week. 

It's the little things. 


today I love...

...the notion of washing my hair with beer.  I'm a big proponent of alternative hair treatments (have you ever read all the chemicals they put in shampoo?), and have been using a homemade vinegar-based conditioner for a year or so now.

An idea that keeps some of the world's pervasive chemicals off of me, and helps declutter the bathroom to boot (think about how many bottles of store-bought goo are in your bathroom.  I'm convinced they breed when we're not looking.)?  Sign me up!

I tried the whole 'no poo' thing (which is a really unfortunate moniker for the notion of not washing your hair and letting natural scalp oils do the job for you), which seems to have worked wonders for some people.  However, with my very fine hair I was never quite able to get past the greaseball stage, and the dandruff was unbearable.  So I'm back on the shampoo bandwagon, though I love my vinegar conditioner and am always in the market for new ideas to reduce reliance on commercial chemicals. 

Mr. Geek is a passionate brewer, so we always have beer around.  I may need to try this...


have a plan

Living unconsciously (that is, without an explicit plan or road map) can be an okay thing.  Throughout my undergraduate career I drifted a lot, studying what was interesting and picking up a few accidental degrees.  I did what I felt like doing, and didn't think overly much about where I was going or what came next.

By and large, this worked out just fine; I've got a fantastic husband, several bachelor's degrees, a heck of a lot of experience performing on stage, and a wonderful circle of friends.

The downside is that the hakuna matata approach was applied to my finances as well.  I got a credit card, and then signed up for another one when I was at a conference and they were offering a spiffy-looking duffel bag if you filled out an application.  My parents continued to support me for a few years into college, and I generally spent everything I had.  Oh, my upbringing led me to be generally frugal and I didn't spend lavishly or anything, but I didn't really think about saving and didn't worry too much about carrying credit balances.  I lived beyond my poor-college-student means.  But I'd pay it later.  No worries!

Fortunately I went to an exceptionally inexpensive university, so my debt is a microdrop in the bucket compared to those who had to finance, say, law school.   However, debt is still debt, and it's still an albatross around one's neck.  Making a good salary but seeing such a large portion of it going to fund my past self is rather dissatisfying.  Think about what I could be doing with that money now!  I could be making our emergency fund so comfy that we really don't have to worry about it.  I could be saving up for trips overseas.  I could be throwing awesome parties for my friends.

Now I have a plan. 

My plan, as I've written about before, has several steps.  Fundamentally, it's the snowball method.
  1. Stop putting anything on credit cards.  No really.  Even if you're going to pay it off right away.  You got yourself in this situation, so you obviously cannot be trusted.  Put down the plastic.  Credit balance only gets to shrink from here on out.  
  2. Prioritize debts to pay off.  I chose the smallest-balance-first method because it provides small victories sooner in the process, though as it turned out in my case highest-interest-first would have resulted in the same prioritization.  
  3. Budget a total amount of monthly cash for debt repayment.  For me, this is around 40% of my income, and that seems to be sustainable in my current life situation. 
  4. Make minimum payments on all but the highest priority debt.  Throw the remainder at that high-priority albatross.  
  5. When one debt gets paid off, throw a party!  Your snowball is now bigger.  All the money that was going to the debt you're now free of can now be assigned to the second-highest-priority debt. 
  6. Throw snowflakes at the process when you can, but don't go overboard.  Even if it's for a good cause (getting out of debt), violating the master equation isn't very nice.
  7. Rinse, repeat.
If you're a total nerd like me, a complicated spreadsheet can help, because it forces you to put all your numbers in one place (no hiding!).  It's also fun because you can adjust your monthly debt budget and it'll show you both how much sooner you'll achieve debt freedom and how much less interest you'll wind up paying.  Admitting you have a problem really is the first step.  Look at that total number.  Now look at how much interest you'll pay just for the privilege of owing money.  Notice that it sucks.  Now make a plan!

Bonus points if you can stay out of debt after achieving freedom.  But that's a future mission, and is beyond the scope of my project right now.  

At this rate, I'll be completely debt-free in December of 2013.  Sooner, if I can scrape together more snowflakes.  Here's to freedom!