A Trip to the Hardware Store

Finding the remarkable in the unremarkable is like finding treasure hidden in plain sight.

loppers 53117                                             My new pair of bypass loppers*

Remarkably, I bought several things at the hardware store yesterday.

You may ask, what’s so remarkable about that? Why write an entire blog post about a trip to the hardware store?

There are several reasons I found it remarkable, and you might too.

Before the 1,000 things projects, buying a bunch of stuff at the hardware store was as unremarkable for me as it would be for most people, but doing the 1,000 things projects made me much more aware about buying stuff. It changed the default setting on my buying habits from “yes, if” (as in “yes, buy it if I want it”) to “no, unless” (as in “no need to buy something unless I really need it”). This zero-based budgeting approach to buying most consumer items has become habitual for me.

So I haven’t been buying much stuff, period. In fact, this is only the second time this calendar year that I went to a store and bought non-consumable items (that is, things other than groceries, restaurant meals, gas and car repairs, fitness classes, massages, and various miscellaneous items). In February, I bought several sets of bed sheets to replace ones which had worn out. This time, I bought stuff for yard work: work gloves, masks, yard waste bags, and a pair of “bypass loppers.” The main reason for buying this stuff was to make it easier to clear out the invasive bamboo in my back yard (and the reason for that is another, longer story for a future post) and to tackle the poison ivy and other vines that are stressing the black cherry tree in my vacant lot next door.

So it was remarkable that this trip to the hardware store was remarkable for me; it was out of the ordinary instead of being ordinary like it used to be. I noticed the difference and appreciated it.

The second reason this trip was remarkable was that I bought the pair of bypass loppers* even though I already owned a pair. The old pair was seizing up and difficult to use on the thicker bamboo stalks I’ve been cutting down. I could have taken the loppers to the hardware store and asked them to sharpen and fix them, but I didn’t want to wait that long. Still, I asked myself if I was being wasteful somehow or if buying a new pair was really necessary, and I surprised myself a little by deciding to buy them. I think this was because I’d been focused more on the “No” part of the “No, unless” formula; I’d been saying “no” to buying new stuff a lot more than I had in the past. When I bought the bed sheets, the “unless” part was a little clearer; there, the decision was basically “no, don’t buy these new bed sheets — unless you want to stop sleeping on bed sheets with holes in them.” Well, in that case…  For the bypass loopers, it was “no — unless you want to make the task of cutting down bamboo easier, faster, and less frustrating.” Sometimes, as in this case, “unless” makes more sense.

The third reason this trip to the hardware store was remarkable was that my decision to buy the new pair of loppers became easier once I decided I would give the old pair away; they still worked fine, and someone else could sharpen and fix them if they wanted. This  is another big change for me: being comfortable with simply giving stuff away when I didn’t want or need it anymore instead of saving it up Just in Case I might need it Some Day. So I noticed and appreciated this too, that my willingness and ability to generate gratitude by giving stuff away had notched up a level.

Buying stuff thoughtfully instead of being mindless about the process, taking the time to appreciate something when I do buy it, and making sure that stuff circulates through my house instead of simply accumulating there, is all pretty mundane stuff. But the real takeaway from my trip to the hardware store, besides the things I bought, is that finding the remarkable in the unremarkable is like finding treasure hidden in plain sight, right under my nose.

So, time to go cut some more bamboo and put that old pair of loppers on Freecycle. Anyone need some bamboo stalks?

*Of course, it was also remarkable that I was learning what these things were called for the first time in my life…


Cutting the Cable Cord: Three Weeks Later

It’s been three weeks now since I cut the cable cord (well, technically 20 days, but I’m not counting… ;-)), and the verdict: so far, soooo good…

        The DVD player has the shelf to itself now that the cable converter box (& its clock) are gone…

Do I miss cable TV? No, I don’t, with one odd exception.

The only thing I miss is the digital clock on the cable converter box. Turns out I looked at that clock a lot, probably because it was the only clock in the living room. Apparently I had looked at it a lot when I was leaving the house and when I first came into the house. This must have been a deeply ingrained habit because I’ve looked for it a couple dozen times at least since it’s been gone. Still, if having a clock in the living room was that important, I’d just put another one there, and  I haven’t done that yet.

The TV remains dark and silent most of the time, but it has not gone entirely unused. My son has hooked his computer up to the TV and watched various things now and then, and I’ve watched a couple of movies that my son played from his computer.

Other than that, I’ve barely glanced at the thing. I was a little surprised to learn that looking at the TV was not a big trigger for me.  Instead, as expected, my most common triggers are related to sports, most often from reading about a sports event online. Other common triggers happen around meal times, especially starting or finishing meal prep. Passing through the living room at the end of the work day or later in the evening has also been a trigger a few times.

Having said that, I have not followed my plan to track my triggers as rigorously as I did for my social media/news diet/habit reformation. The main reason it feels OK is that it doesn’t feel like tracking triggers is as necessary when there’s nothing to trigger.  There’s no TV to watch, so I don’t need to understand so well what triggers me to watch.

As I also expected, I really don’t miss watching soccer or other sports; they seem to be important when I’m watching them, but once they disappear, their importance fades as well. As for channel surfing and mindless aimless watching, I do not miss that at all, not in the slightest.  Nor do I miss anything enough that I have felt the urge to get a Roku or antenna or subscription of some service.

Instead, I’ve gone out to a couple of movies with my son (at his suggestion). This is a big deal in that I had gotten entirely out of the habit of going out to movies. It seemed like there was a long stretch where there just wasn’t anything worth watching, and they’ve gotten rather expensive if also more comfortable and amenable. But in the past three weeks I’ve seen Hidden Figures and Lion, both very well worth the price of admission.

And without the easy choice of watching TV to fall back on (literally, by plopping on the couch), I’ve been getting out and doing things much more often — Spanish conversation class, improv classes, exercise classes, lunches and dinners with friends, protest march. In the process, I’ve entirely avoided the toxic soup of cable news that has accompanied the dawning of the Chinese Century — oops, I mean the start of the new presidential Administration — which is quite possibly the most salutary benefit of all so far.  My (now more carefully managed) news consumption from online sources supplies me with more than enough information and sense of outrage; I even read a print newspaper on the Metro once last week.  So it definitely feels like I’ve replaced my cable TV viewing time with other, far healthier choices.

Still, I don’t feel quite like an advocate or acolyte of the cable-free lifestyle just yet — not so much because I have doubts about its value, but because I have doubts about the value of proselytizing others. I don’t want to be like that person who bends your ear about the benefits of giving up sugar or processed foods or animal products until all you want to do is find a grateful escape. I’d rather it be the case that this new habit (in conjunction with and supportive of other new habits as necessary) have such a positive effect on me that you start to notice. And then you might venture to say something about it — ‘You seem happier/livelier/calmer/more centered lately. What’s going on?’  And then I’ll happily bend your ear about how wonderful it’s been to be cable-free…

Cutting the Cable Cord

At long last, the deed is done: I am cable TV free, and then some…

fios-cord-010917          This is one way to cut the cable cord (but not the way I did it…)

Well, I finally did it!  This past Sunday, I cut the cable cord.

The decision was a big deal, which is why a strange mix of thoughts and emotions passed through me after I returned the remote device and converter box. I felt a keen sense of detachment and release, as if I had removed a horse bit from my mouth or some other apparatus that I’d worn for so long that I’d forgotten it was not really a part of me. I felt the presence of attachments waving frantically like tentacles trying to regain their hold on me, as if I was freeing myself from one of those disgusting human birth pods in The Matrix movie series. (Yes, those images really did come to my mind.) Maybe that would also explain why the phrase “naked and afraid” kept running through my head.

There’s another reason I had such a strong reaction: because I’ve replaced cable withnothing.

That’s right; no Roku or Apple TV or anything like that. No TV at all, in fact — at least for now. Unlike my recent social media/news diet, I went cold, cold turkey on this one.

This decision evolved from my ongoing quest to build a healthier relationship with my stuff. Now that I’ve dealt with most of the physical things in my life, moving on to other types of clutter seems like a natural progression.  Watching cable TV was for me probably the biggest example of the mental and digital clutter that inhabits my life. The bulk of my viewing time was spent watching sports — soccer, baseball, and an eclectic variety of others. Most of the rest of my viewing time was spent channel surfing through programs which I really didn’t care much about. There were certainly some occasional nuggets here and there, but mostly it felt like a not-very-effective way to relax and decompress and possibly a huge waste of time as well.

So cable TV was a ripe target for some zero-based budgeting  — setting the counter back to zero to determine the actual value of watching TV through questions like these:
– What do I really need and want for TV consumption?
– What will I miss so much that I’ll be able to calculate that it’s worth the time, energy, attention to purchase it, knowing what I’ll be paying for it instead of having the cost hidden in a cable TV “package”?
– Since being able to afford it is not an issue, what other factors will form the basis for my decisions?
– Will I be able to discern what I’ve removed from my life that needs restoring? Will I find that I can replace what’s valuable to me by other means? Or will I find out that my TV consumption was in fact just a huge waste of time?

This decision has been a long time coming and involved a lot of unraveling for me to get to this point. I’d been meaning to do this for well over a year, but I kept putting it off. There were plenty of reasons to keep dragging my feet on the decision. There was the time back in April when someone reminded me that I wouldn’t be able to watch Washington Nationals baseball if I got rid of cable. That stopped me in my tracks for a while. Then there was the unnecessary need to time the event with the end of my billing period, which hardly seems like a savvy cost-savings decision in retrospect, given how many months it took for me to make the decision. The last straw was having the complete Verizon FiOS service — cable, internet, and phone — stop working on Saturday night. I thought, well if I’m not going to have cable for the next couple of days anyway, why not go ahead and do it now? Spending hours trying to troubleshoot Verizon FiOS on a smartphone also helped push the decision; adding on the extra two hours or so it took to cut the cable service on top of the hours I was already spending on dealing with the service issue didn’t seem like much of an extra effort  (see above pic for the cause of the disruption).

Many people I know will say, ‘So what? Big deal.’  Most of these folks got rid of their cable (if they ever even had it) a long time ago. But many other people I know are surprised or even thoroughly appalled at the very idea of cutting the cable cord (‘How could you even think of doing that?’). Maybe this was why, while it felt as if I’d made the right decision, it didn’t feel 100% right: because it also felt as if I was cutting myself off from an important part of society. If consuming less feels faintly un-American in an economic sort of way, cutting the cable cord feels faintly un-American in a cultural way.

But in fact, my intent is the opposite: to get in closer touch with myself, others, and society by removing mindless distractions of TV viewing which had become obstacles to connecting.  I imagined myself as an observer who had stepped to some outside and was now looking in. I imagined trying to cajole people to join me ‘out here’ but finding that their digital lives made them difficult to access, maybe even impossible.

In any event, it felt good overall, as if I had really turned a corner in my life — from where to where I don’t exactly know yet, but I know that my life will be significantly different somehow and in a positive way. It felt liberating.

So back to zero it is. It’s only been a few days, but I haven’t missed having cable so far. This decision is also a perfect way to launch my next habit reforming project, which is to change my TV and sports viewing habits. (More about that in a future post.) So I’m keeping track of my urges and triggers to watch, and it’ll be interesting to see how they emerge as time goes on…

Social Media/News Holiday Diet: Final Results

Weeks 5, 6:  Taking hold of a new habit…

duolingo-achievements-010317                                                  My Duolingo achievements as of today…

Two weeks ago, I decided to focus on doing what I could to enable my new social media/news consuming habits to take hold.  And take hold they did!  Here’s the tally of views and resisted urges for weeks 5 and 6:

Week 5:
T 12/20 = 2/2 (= 2 looks, 2 ‘resisted urges’)
W 12/21 = 3/2
Th 12/15 = 3/4
F 12/16 = 3/1
Sa 12/17 = 4/2
Su 12/18 = 3/1
M 12/19 = 2/1
Total: 19/13

Week 6:
T 12/27 = 2/2 (= 2 looks, 2 ‘resisted urges’)
W 12/28 = 1/0
Th 12/29 = 0/2
F 12/30 = 1/2
Sa 12/31 = 0/2
Su 1/1 = 0/1
M 1/2 = 1/1
Total: 5/10

The Week 5 numbers dropped a little from Week 4, but they were very similar. The frequency of my habit in Weeks 4 and 5 could be labeled ‘meal mode,’ where I allow myself limited but more or less regular social media and news ‘meals’ each day.

Week 6 was a very different story. The main reason was that I decided to take a vacation from Facebook — no visits to Facebook since December 27th. Week 6 went beyond ‘meal mode’ (if I did this with meals, I would starve). It was more like giving up meat or sugar or some other major diet item, one that could be consumed sparingly or even not at all.

The result? I have to say, I didn’t miss FB that much. I don’t plan to give it up entirely (at least not for now), but I do plan to limit my future visits a lot, including at least a few days each week where I don’t visit at all.

The other big takeaway was that it’s time now for me to treat social media and news separately.  I lumped them together for this project for two reasons: one, they were both means for me to indulge in my worst habits of looking for news that fed my sense of outrage and righteous indignation; and two, I had allowed Facebook to become my primary source of news through its news feed feature.  Although I also looked at other sources, I had used the Facebook news feed feature first as a news source.  As a result, my social media and news habits had become joined.

Thanks to this project, I rediscovered how ‘Catching up with what’s happening in the larger world’ is different from ‘catching up with what’s happening with my FB friends.’ FB makes it convenient to do both at the same time — too easy to become too much of a compulsion. Using this project to reshape the frequency and purpose. As a result, my social media and news consumption have become different habits again. The easiest way to keep this is going is to stop using Facebook as a primary news source.  As a result, I am going to build my own news feed away from Facebook once I return to viewing news online on a more regular basis.

All in all, it feels like this new habit has taken hold. The urges are much less frequent, and I don’t feel any sense of loss. I’ll keep an eye out for slippage, but I’m going to declare this habit as officially reformed!

I also now have another new habit to maintain: language learning.  I’ve continue to practice on Duolingo every day, and my streak is now 42 days and counting. Just reached level 13 in Spanish (54% “fluent”) and am now at level 11 in French (46% “fluent”). I’ve amassed over 8,000 XPs (experience points) and have learned how to use timed practice to accelerate XP accumulation.

Not only that, I have a process now which I’m going to apply to reforming 10-12 habits in the new year (and yes, that is officially a New Year’s Resolution). Next habit on tap: email! I’m also going to see if I can reduce the formation time from six weeks to four weeks, and then maybe even less than that if I can. I’ll report on that once it’s underway…