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Apt2B: L.A.'s Local Resource For All Your Home Needs

Hi there, it's me. I wrote a new post, but it's not here. It's on my brand-spankin'-new web site, under my REAL NAME not this pseudonym that I've been hiding under lest my employer slash clients discover my innermost thoughts on the internet. So it is, and my web designer will be doing that magical thing where this URL auto-directs to my new site but I didn't want to just spring it on you, you know?

So! The post, near and dear to my heart, about the joyful magic of unfollowing hot people, can be read here. My new website took all of your feedback into consideration and includes a robust archive of all my articles, organized by category, that can be accessed here. Taking it to the next level, friends. Going from hobbyist to whole hog, whatever that means, and taking myself and my writing seriously from this day forward. 

Thank you for all of your support, I love you, that is all.


Hello there, happy Fat Tuesday and sixth week of 2018. This post has been floating around in my mind for a while, loose and seemingly random ideas that I've now realized are closely connected.

Wes and I started the year of less as a way to eliminate activities and things that weren't adding value in order to refocus our resources and energy on what truly matters to us. In the original post, I gave a lot of examples that centered on impulse shopping and eating out because those were the major activities that wasted our money, prevented us from appreciating what we already had, and kept us from planning, creating and enjoying healthy meals in our own kitchen.

After that post, I received a lot of comments, email and direct messages on Instagram about this idea of 'letting go,' asking if I'd considered expanding the definition beyond tangible things like shopping and eating to cover arguably more important topics such as how we spend our time and where we focus our attention.

The truth is, I hadn't gone very deep on what I really meant by 'letting go' as it related to the year of less. It was more of a reaction to all the stuff and Amazon boxes and overstuffed closets and overwhelm that came with a tough, disorganized year and wanting to get back to a simpler, more manageable and enjoyable life.

Thanks largely to all your comments and suggestions on how to expand the concept, I've been putting a lot of thought into what we mean when we say we're going to 'let go' of something. In a world where we're encouraged to always be adding more to improve our lives (more clothes, more things, more workouts, more progress, more connections, more responsibilities, etc.), it's sort of countercultural to shift your focus to letting go and having less in order to improve your life.

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you'll know that I'm a big proponent of taking control of your own mind and thoughts, and actively redirecting them to drive better outcomes. While the year of less is certainly about stopping the flow of 'more' and letting go of things and activities that aren't adding value, many of you have helped me to realize that I'd been missing the bigger purpose behind it. Yes, it's a challenge for Wes and I to create a better life for ourselves, improve our savings, and refocus on what matters - but at its core, this year is an effort to permanently shift my mindset, to train myself to identify areas of my life that are sucking time, killing energy, sapping joy and committing to do what it takes to drop them for good in order to live my best life.

Thinking about the year of less from this perspective has expanded the challenge beyond just dialing back my home, and has shifted the frame of how I was thinking about it. After mulling this over, I realized that to get the most out of the year of less, I needed to structure my thinking about 'letting go' according to the areas of my life with the most opportunity for improvement. I landed on five basic categories, and outlined them below along with some of the decisions I've made according to each category. Without further ado...

#1 Letting go of things

Although this has been covered at length in the original year of less post along with the basic rules for how we're stopping the flow of new, the things we already own that I've decided to let go of this year have been any material item in my home or life that isn't serving a purpose, clouding my ability to appreciate and use the things that are value-added. I've been purging my wardrobe and donating / consigning clothing, shoes and accessories. We've gone through our garage and gotten rid of an astronomical amount of clutter that has built up in that space in the year-and-a-half we've lived in our home (think old paint cans, broken appliances, the fluorescent lightbulbs that I hate and hide from Wes in there, lawn games we'll never use, etc.). I've been slowly working through our kitchen, starting with the dry goods and spices, to get rid of expired labels and items not aligned to our diet and reorganized those cabinets to put the commonly used items in easily accessible places to support our meal planning goals.

The tangible and measurable progress that comes with letting go of things is incredibly fulfilling, an exercise that it going to take many more months for us. (Even the thought of attacking my bathroom cabinet and drawers terrifies me…) It's been kind of fun to take stock of what we have in our possession, and put it to use in the way we intended to when we bought it. Rescuing an old bookshelf from the garage that formerly held clutter and placing it in our loft has allowed us to go through our paperbacks and bring them back out into the daylight to be read and enjoyed.

Rearranging the furniture and décor around the house has given me fresh ideas on how to design rooms to better support how we're using them, like hanging old shelves sitting in the back of our garage in the office to provide desperately needed storage. Opening my newly organized spice cabinet has inspired me to create new recipes and allowed us to stick to our meal planning goals, and we've been enjoying long homemade Sunday brunches at home and improving our communication as we discuss the week ahead and what meals we'd like to eat and what we need to get at the grocery store to create them.

#2 Letting go of habits

Although the original year of less post touched on some of the habits we needed to break (e.g., shopping mindlessly, eating out at restaurants multiple times a week, etc.), it didn't address the fact that there are plenty of habits we have that suck time and energy, sap joy, and don't add value. Things like spending too much time on our phones, drinking too much, spending too much time in front of the TV, throwing our things around our homes instead of putting them in their place, eating out of boredom, gossiping about coworkers, friends or family members, saying judgmental or negative things that make other people feel bad about themselves, avoiding paying bills, etc.

It can be kind of painful to recognize your own bad habits, and super uncomfortable to break them. However, it's necessary if you want to carve out the time and space to build better habits that serve you and help you to realize the outcomes you want in your life. For me personally, I've recognized that I need to let go of my habit of checking my email and social media on my phone during downtime. It's a distraction that limits me from fully enjoying time with my husband when we're hanging out at home, and sucks time and attention when I'm bored and might really need to be alone with my thoughts rather than looking at #fitspo on Instagram. So I've been considering putting some rules around it, including having off hours where I set my alarm for the next day, plug it in next to my bed, and don't touch it after a certain time of the evening, or implementing off days where I avoid use of my phone entirely except for text messages and phone calls.

Another habit that I've decided to let go of is throwing things around my home instead of putting them where they belong. Wes and I had gotten in to this habit when I was traveling and we relied on our cleaning lady to put everything back in its place only to have our house fall to disarray a couple of days later. It simply wasn't working, and it caused a lot of stress and fights. We decided to do daily and weekly chores and forego the cleaning lady altogether! Now we make our bed and straighten our master bedroom daily, clean our kitchen nightly, follow the 'one minute' rule for picking up around the house (if it takes a minute or less, just do it) and take a little time to divide and conquer bigger chores (e.g., vacuuming, cleaning bathrooms, etc.) every weekend. It's not perfect, but has definitely gotten rid of the cluttering habit since we know we'll have to deal with it!

#3 Letting go of thoughts

We hear a lot about 'negative self-talk' these days, and regardless of what you may think about it or the approaches to overcoming it, I think we all have certain mental loops that suck our time, damper our happiness and crowd out more productive thoughts. I'm going to put myself out there and share some of the mental loops that I get stuck in that I've decided to let go as part of this year of less:
·       "Everyone has figured out what they want in life except me"
·       "At this point in my life, I should have achieved more"
·       "I'm unqualified to be doing this job"
·       "Why is she so much more successful?"
·       "I should weigh 120 pounds and wear a size 0"
·       "The time I have to do this is running out"

I've realized that I have several mental loops that focus on defining success / achievement, comparing myself to others, and obsessing over weight / dress size and they are almost like background noise, thoughts that pop up often without me even realizing it. They're crazy and 0% value-added, they sap my joy, and they're totally fixable if I am willing to take control of my own mind and stamp them out.

Practically speaking, I've been attempting to recognize and catch these thoughts as they come, and redirect them to a more positive, productive place. Instead of allowing my mind to focus on weight or dress size, I will catch that thought and make myself consider if I've been eating clean, healthy foods that nourish my body. Instead of letting my thoughts center on comparing myself to someone and thinking about where I am falling short, I will catch that thought and redirect it to acknowledge all of the hard work I've done and support I've had to get to the place I am today. Instead of permitting my mind to stress about a false life clock that dictates when we need to do certain things (ahem, have a baby), I will catch that thought and refocus my attention on appreciating my life at the present moment. It sounds so crazy to type this out, but it has helped me to feel lighter, more free, and more grateful.

#4 Letting go of people

Honestly, I debated putting this one in here, but decided it needed to be said. We all have those coworkers, family members, long term acquaintances, childhood friends, etc. who are balls of drama and negativity. They're the people who take, but don't give; who complain, but don't listen; who judge, but don't reflect - and being around them always seems to sap your energy. As they say, ain't no one got time for that! They also say that you're the average of the five people you spend the most time with, so if you want to be an amazing, positive person who brings light to the world, your inner circle cannot include Debbie Downer who you've known since preschool.

The good news is, letting go of people is an actual solution. Really! Although for family members it is more about limiting your time, for almost everyone else it is actually quite simple and easy to do. You know who they are, they may know who they are, and you know the situations where you encounter them regularly. If it's a colleague you're trying to let go from your life, you'll need to find a way to change desks, or projects, or invest in a great pair of headphones or find other reasons to limit your interactions. If it's a family member, you'll need to figure out the events where they'll be and choose not to attend, or influence the seating chart to avoid interaction. If it’s a friend, you'll need to either fade away with noncommittal text messages or have an awkward conversation with them where you explain that you feel you're going in different directions. If it's a romantic relationship, you'll probably need to have the awkward conversation.

My point is, just make the decision to let them go and then do it. We all have these people in our lives, and while some of them may be worth the time investment to help them see the light and change, most aren't worth the cost of your time, energy and joy. We so often keep these people in our lives because it seems somehow easier than committing to one of the tactics I described above but the reality is that we end up just delaying the inevitable and wasting our precious time in the process.

#5 Letting go of obligations

Do you feel it, too? That pressure to say yes, to do all the right things, to be everything to everyone at every moment, to bite off more than you can chew, to be as overwhelmingly busy as everyone else? The truth is, so much of what we think we need to do (and define as 'obligations') are spreading us so thin that we're basically making no impact at all. We're not progressing, generating the outcomes we want, or pleasing anyone - especially not ourselves.

A few years ago, I read Greg McKeown's "Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less" where he articulates that relentless need to say yes so poignantly, and offers perspective on how to pare back to find meaning and purpose in what you do on a daily basis. It changed the way that I approached my work, made me so much more protective of my time, and in general improved my effectiveness. It also led me down a years-long reading wormhole (is that why they call us bookworms?) on the topic of how we spend our time relative to what we're trying to achieve. After rethinking the letting go process, I went back through my 'books to buy' note in my iPhone and downloaded Cal Newport's "Deep Work" that covers this topic from the lens of creative output and how to maximize it in a distracted world. 

The concept has been blowing my mind lately, and is the reason I've been giving impassioned speeches on conference calls that could be titled "What the heck is this meeting for, anyway?" It also helped me to define 'letting go of obligations' as a category to evaluate as part of the year of less and consider the areas of my life where I feel obligated to do certain 'otherwise optional' things. We do things like attend weddings we don't really care about, accept invitations we don't really want, say yes to requests for help that we'd prefer to avoid, etc. There are two reasons to let go of almost everything you feel obligated to do, but would prefer to avoid. The first is because time is literally our only limited resource, and there simply isn't enough of it to spend doing those things that should be optional but you feel some innate sense of pressure to say yes. The second is because it is sort of dishonest to do those things that you wish you'd avoided. Personally, I don't want someone agreeing to have lunch with me because they felt they had to, but wanted to be somewhere else the entire time. So I've started taking the approach of, "if it's not a hell yes, it's a no" to optional requests of my time, time that could be better spent doing practically anything else - including providing the necessary downtime to sit on my couch in my pajamas for a full day to recharge.

I hope you found 'things, habits, thoughts, people and obligations' framework to be helpful when considering where you have opportunities to let go and refocus on what matters in your life. Would love to hear your thoughts on this post, and if you're going to be doing any dialing back yourself. As a Catholic, with the 40-days-of-less that is Lent starting tomorrow, this post was helpful in choosing what to give up for it. I'm toying with using Lent to change one of the most difficult areas to let go in my life and resolve it for good: my addiction to SkinnyPop. No, really. I hit rock bottom lately after Wes purchased a bag from Costco that was almost as tall as me and I cannot admit on the internet how quickly I consumed it. (See picture below.)

Anyway, that's all I have - thank you as always for reading and please let me know what you thought of this post in the comments!


Hello there, I'm writing to you from my clean, orderly kitchen and happy to report that one month in, 'the year of less' is going very well. To be fair, we've had a few challenges and still have a ton of work left to do, but I thought this post could serve as an update on one of the most impactful projects we've completed to date and its effectiveness at improving our lives and savings overall.

Since there are literally dozens of mini projects that we need to do that involve sorting, tossing, and organizing, we started with the ones that were most relevant to the habits we are trying to break as part of this year of less. In reflecting on the past month, I've realized that our commitment to omit non-social eating out has been the hardest habit to break and has also paradoxically led to the most amazing benefits well beyond our savings goals.

So this post is going to cover just one project, which I will henceforth refer to as "The Great Kitchen Purge of 2018" that entailed organizing our kitchen to make it as easy as possible to plan, purchase, and cook our own food in support of the goal to break our eating out habit.

This project was formally initiated when Wes and I sat down at our kitchen table with a pad of paper and a pen exactly one month ago, and talked about the meals we both liked and could easily make at home (which fall in either the Crock Pot or frozen protein + fresh produce categories), and wrote them down on a Post-It note, along with the ingredients we needed to make these meals.

With a  clear understanding of the meals we wanted to make at home, we needed to 1) understand what ingredients we already had 2) identify the ingredients we needed and 3) organize our kitchen to make it as easy as possible to use these ingredients and create the recipes of our dreams.

In order to understand what ingredients we already had and organize our kitchen to make it as easy as possible to use them, we embarked on an inventorying and organizing process which entailed:
  • Purging the spice and oils cabinet, which taught me that I love impulse buying cayenne pepper (we had no less than four containers of various sizes) and owned bay leaves that lived in individual jars a la the decaying rose in the Disney Beauty and the Beast movie. Literally everything came out of the cabinet, and I tossed anything expired, suspect or rarely / never used. Then I reorganized the spice and oils cabinet to put the spices and oils we use most often (cumin, oregano, parsely, red pepper flakes, sea salt, avocado oil, coconut oil) on the easiest-to-reach shelf and DID NOT CROWD THEM. No sir, no mam. Those spices and oils have room to breathe, to stretch, and be seen. Meaning that they shout at me, "Make white turkey chili!" or "How about chicken taco lettuce wraps?" the moment I open the cabinet.
  • Cataloging the dry goods cabinets, which showed me that I inherited my mother's tendency to believe that dry goods can be harbored and used to survive for decades in a bomb shelter should we need to go down that road. Those expiration dates are just marketing! Wes and I used to have CONSTANT debates about expiration dates. He's a stickler for them, I ignore them except for perishables. Realizing that Wes would not eat things like chickpea pasta purchased back in 2014, all dry goods past or approaching their expiration dates were tossed. As were all dry goods that are no longer conducive to our diet (goodbye, wheat flour, white sugar and breadcrumbs). Our dry goods cabinets were reduced to a hand-selected assortment of lentils, cannellini and garbanzo beans, flax and chia seeds, cans of diced tomatoes and grain-free things like edamame spaghetti noodles and almond flour.
  • Downsizing the nuts and sweets cabinet, which demonstrated that we have a strong preference for marcona almonds, macademia nuts and walnuts, yet tend to allow pine nuts to waste away because Wes hates them. In the process of going through our nuts and sweets cabinet, I decided that I was no longer going to do things like toast my own pine nuts and toss them with my own plate of long-expired chickpea pasta while Wes eats leftover Papa John's pizza. We also threw away the wayward candies and sweets that get tossed into that cabinet and forgotten. Wes doesn't have much of a sweet tooth, and I stopped eating sugar almost entirely back in July. (Instead, I purchase Lily's vegan, sugar-free dark chocolate bars in bulk to have on hand when I inevitably get a sweets craving.)

It took about a weekend to get through all of these cabinets, and resulted in a TON of junk getting tossed that was distracting us from the meal options sitting right in our very own kitchen that we'd been ignoring in favor of heading to a restaurant. With a clear view of what we had on hand, along with a list of ingredients we needed to make the staple meals we'd agreed on, we went grocery shopping to fill in some of the gaps of items we wanted to have on hand - organic chicken stock, canned green chilies and jalapenos, jars of roasted red peppers, frozen organic shrimp, ground turkey, salmon, and chicken breast  - as well as the produce we needed to create our meals for the week.

In case you're curious, here are the basic meals we've had in our rotation:
  • White turkey or chicken chili, made with organic frozen meat that we defrost in the refrigerator the night before and put in the Crock Pot in the morning (I love this recipe from Williams Sonoma, altered to remove dairy)
  • Baked salmon or tilapia with roasted vegetables, made with organic frozen filets that we defrost in water shortly before cooking and organic produce purchased that week (typically broccoli, green beans, Brussels sprouts, etc.)
  • Sausage and lentil soup, made with canned tomatoes, dried lentils, and spicy Italian sausage (here's the recipe we love)
  • Shrimp or chicken stir fry, made with onions, garlic, a little coconut oil, red pepper flakes, almond butter, low sodium soy, and assorted fresh vegetables. Someone suggested we buy a party platter of chopped vegetables each week, and it's THE BEST for cooking two-person meals and limiting waste. We add snap peas, pepper and broccoli to shrimp stir fry and snack on the rest.
  • Taco salad, made with organic frozen lean beef or turkey and organic taco seasoning and served over chopped romaine with canned jalapenos and roasted red peppers.

A couple of other notes: we've been cooking extra dinner, and then packaging it for lunch the next day. It's not a perfect lunch planning system, but has been a dramatic change in the amount of 'buying lunch out' of our former lives. We've also decided to allow takeout once per week as needed, as well as one date night per week. For takeout, we plan to order Thai on nights where we both have to leave early and work late and have been buying cauliflower rice each week to have on hand as a replacement for the white rice to keep it healthy. 

The Benefits of Our Great Kitchen Purge of 2018

This may sound crazy, but this exercise has dramatically improved both our relationship and our waistlines beyond the obvious monetary savings we expected.

From a relationship perspective, taking time to plan our meals for the week on Sundays (over a homemade brunch of coffee, eggs and almond flour pancakes) has led to better communication about our work and social obligations. We used to fight when one of us (OK, usually me) forgot to mention that we had to work late, or had a client dinner, or scheduled plans with a friend on a Friday night. Now we have a structured time to talk about our upcoming week, and jot down a simple meal plan on a Post-It note that we use to guide our grocery shopping that day, and then put on the refrigerator as a reminder.  We've also decided to allow one date night per week, with the rule of treating it as a special occasion. It's amazing how much more fun our nights out have been with that mindset shift.

From a waistline perspective, it's natural that cooking at home more often gives you improved control of what's going in to your body. But I think there are a few other factors in play related to the weight loss we've both experienced this month:
  • Our meal time has shifted to be an experience rather than a utility: we started taking time to set the table, light candles, play music and actually enjoy each other's company for 45 minutes vs. our old pattern of running out to a restaurant in starvation mode, eating quickly, not registering as full, and finding ourselves snacking at 9p.
  • One of my personal goals related to the 'letting go of things and activities that don't add value' was to stop my obsession with weight and dress size (if we're connected on Instagram, you may remember this mini post on the topic): instead, I decided to replace it with a healthy focus on eating whole, clean, nutritious foods. Redirecting my thoughts has been challenging, but has resulted in me thinking about eating less often, and therefore actually eating less in general. Who knew!
  • Overall, we're in a happier and more contented place in our lives and relationship: in addition to the better communication, improved connection over meals and what that means for our relationship, Wes and I are individually in better places. For me, I think it's largely because I'm focusing so much more of my energy and attention on what I have vs. what I do not have, and seem to have more time to spend thinking and reflecting. Although I'm certainly no expert on the topic, a lot of what I tend to read related to health claims that our mental states directly impact things that affect weight like gut health, sleep, etc. 

At some point I'll do a comparison of what our hard savings are in the category of omitting eating out but thought that these benefits were surprising and a lot more interesting to share. Also, I'll be sharing a bonus post with the breakdown of all of the projects we've completed this month, along with the simple, low or no-cost approaches we utilized to get them done. If you're interested in this content, please sign up for the newsletter.

Thanks so much for reading, and for all of your input / suggestions / tips related to this year of less challenge (especially those meal planning tips… all of them were spot on)! Please feel free to let me know your thoughts in the comments, and I hope you have a wonderful rest of the week!

Hello there! Happy mid-January to you. Popping in to give a brief update on how the year of less is going, and also update an old post from the archives of this blog covering a topic near and dear to my heart this time of year: how to style your outfits when you live in a climate of single-digit temps, snow, and slush. You know, the kind of place where it becomes socially acceptable to show up to social gatherings in marshmallow coats with snot frozen to your face, glasses fogged over, and pants that you've slept in (possibly multiple nights in a row). (I've been there… recently… so this refresher is for both of us.)

Ok, first things first: the YOL update! Two weeks in, and we're going strong with meal planning and have received only one Amazon Prime delivery to restock my Skinceuticals CE Ferulic serum. I've had zero temptation to buy anything, but we have run into a few questions around rules for the year:

  1. Are we going to allow ourselves a 'date night' budget that counts as social eating out, or does it need to be eat at home if it's just the two of us?
  2. Should we have more constraints around budgets for social eating out? After I went out to dinner with a girlfriend at an extremely hip, very expensive restaurant and we accidentally had multiple very expensive bottles of wine, Wes made the point that it would be easy to inadvertently shift our savings into overspending in other areas we're allowing for this year and it might be wise to hold ourselves to a cap each month.
  3. Do candles count as groceries? (I burn candles constantly, and they are important triggers for me to unwind, right up there with music and dimmer light switches.) My candle supply is going to last me until mid-February, so have a little time to think on this one.
  4. How should we handle birthdays? Allow for gifts, or contain it to experience-based investments?

If you have advice or thoughts on how we should answer these questions, please feel free to leave me a comment or shoot me a note.

Alright, on to the topic at hand for this post: how to avoid succumbing to the temptation of dressing like the Michelin man for the next few months. If you live closer to the equator or in the southern hemisphere, you can drop off here.

Figuring out how to style myself for an average winter day was challenging when I moved back to Chicago a few years ago. Learning how to invest in outerwear and boots was one part of the challenge, but figuring out some of the following questions took time for me:

  • What kind of pants do I wear with equestrian boots? Snow boots? Chelsea boots?
  • What kind of socks do I need to wear so they don't fall off in my boots?
  • Are there ways to style my clothes so I can avoid wearing tights?
  • What kind of coat do I need to wear with a dress? A tunic?
  • How can I layer myself so that I don't suffocate on my train commute?
  • How do I wear these leather leggings in a way that does not make me look like a dominatrix?

You get the idea. They sound funny when I type them out, but all of those questions have come up for me in the past as I tried to get dressed for the cold.

If you've been reading for a while, you know that I am big on planning out your outfits in advance in order to improve your style. You also may remember that I believe that all outfit planning should start with selecting the shoes (or boots) that will work for the various activities you have going on in a day. I know some people wear snow boots and carry extra shoes with them to change into at work or at a party, but for me that's too fussy and would introduce the risk of forgetting or losing my shoes.

Anyway, I am saying all of this because I spent one Sunday afternoon planning a few weeks' worth of outfits to avoid YOL boredom / temptation to buy, and decided to kill two birds with one stone by sorting through every single pair of winter-appropriate footwear I own and building outfits around every pair to have plenty of options for the various* activities I do during the winter.

Speaking of boots, this is a great segue to the first tip below - I hope you enjoy them all (and the reminder if you remember this post from back in 2015)!

#1 Collect boots that multitask 

Invest in boots you love that can be worn in a variety of settings, from hiking through slush to the train, to meetings at work and social events on the weekends. I ignored the over-the-knee boot and Hunter boot trends for this reason, because I didn't think they would get great mileage in my wardrobe. A great pair of black ankle booties with a pointed toe, a pair of flat boots in black leather that are roomy enough to be worn with Smartwool socks, and a pair of knee-high black rubber equestrian boots for really snowy days are really all you need. A few years ago, I also invested in a great pair of black suede mid-calf pointy-toed Sigerson Morrison booties that are the perfect high heel replacement for any outfit.

Since this was originally posted, I also added a pair of simple Stuart Weitzman tall black leather flat boots that hit just below the knee, and ended my search for a pair of boots with the comfort and utility of UGGs but chic. (The ones I bought were from House of Harlow 1960, pictured below.)

#2 Up the quality of your sweaters

I have a few amazing cashmere and wool sweaters (I love the brands Vince, ACNE and Eileen Fisher) in neutral colors (cream, black, gray) that are on constant rotation in my wardrobe during the winter. I've shown an oversize ACNE one styled a few ways in this post. After cutting out shopping for a year, I realized that I gravitated towards my sweaters that were super high quality, slightly oversize, and in neutral colors. After recognizing that, I made an effort to avoid anything that didn't meet those qualifications and developed a willingness to spend significantly more if I found one that did.

#3 Invest in a several simple-yet-wonderful coats

In cold temperatures, your coat sets the tone for your whole outfit and it's worth having a good selection that you can rotate. Over the years, I've invested in a few basics with timeless shapes (like a wool pea coat and a long blazer coat) and have used them season after season. You can also layer lighter coats to get more out of your collection. I should also note that I have a long down jacket a la sleeping bag that I use for purely utilitarian purposes like taking my dog out and other non-stylish events of the like.

(As an update to this tip, I decided to style my long down jacket with an oversize cashmere scarf, great shearling gloves and apres ski boots for an example of how to upgrade the basic leggings-and-UGGs when you venture out on the weekend! See below.)

#4 Use hats as a statement piece

For a really long time, I hated hats and convinced myself that they'd ruin my hair volume and make me look ridiculous. But they are absolutely essential to staying warm, so I got over it and have since built up a nice collection of cool hats that not only keep heat from escaping from my scalp but also add an element of cool to my winter outfits. I've got a Russian fur hat, a basic American Apparel beanie, a classic French wool beret, and a cashmere beanie that I rotate as accessories. When I started thinking of them as accessories, it changed everything. Where my 22-year-old self would think I look crazy in a hat, I think they lend my outfits an air of "I don't take myself too seriously" or just that practicality never goes out of style. As my dad says, it's impossible to be cold if you're dressed right. 

#5 Add an unexpected accessory

By unexpected accessory, this can be a pair of fun earrings, a vintage silk scarf worn as a bracelet, or a beautiful clutch that hasn't gotten enough airtime lately. Lately, I've been trying to mix in my 'summer' bags to freshen up the monotone, all-neutral looks I tend to wear this time of year.

#5 Mix and match your hats, scarves and gloves

I've built a small collection of oversize cashmere scarves in neutral colors (one each in black, gray, and cream) and love to mix and match them with my collection of hats-of-varied-textures referenced in point #3 above. Because my scarves and hats are so simple, they go with all my coats and add variety and a much-needed element of eclectic luxury for those days that I'm plodding through slushy, brown snow to the train. 

#7 When all else fails, wear red lipstick

My aunt recommended Armani Express Moisture lipstick a few years ago when I was complaining that my dry, chapped lips were interrupting my lipstick game. I picked it up in the perfect red shade called Rouge Ecstasy and it's changed my life. Even when there are tears frozen to my face, I feel stylish whenever I wear it. I wear it constantly and it lasts forever, and is worth every cent. However, if you cannot reconcile spending $40 on a tube of lipstick, Burt's Bees lip balm with a red tint does the trick as well and adds some much needed color to a simple-yet-very-warm outfit of all neutrals.

That's all I've got for you, hope you enjoyed this post and would love to hear your thoughts in the comments. 

*By various, I mean three activities, if we are not counting my homebody habits of sitting in front of my fireplace in my pajamas or in front of Wes's ginormous TV watching Netflix with a Costco-sized bag of SkinnyPop at the ready. (Which has been done more nights in the past two weeks than I care to admit. Old habits die hard, especially in winter.) Those three activities are going to the office, dining out with friends, or relaxing with friends via pedicure, Chinese massage, or sitting around someone's living room with wine and Cards Against Humanity.

Happy first day of 2018, folks! Thank you so much for your readership and all of your support over the past year, and especially the outpouring of love and encouragement following my last post on the struggle that was 2017. I'm happy to report that we're on the up-and-up, photo of us smiling in Hawaii as proof. 

Today marks the beginning of a year-long project that I am calling "The Year of Less" because it is focused on subtracting things and activities that are not adding value to my life in order to achieve a few objectives that are important to both me and Wes. It's a long post, intense with lots of bullet points, most of it written in my iPhone notes over the past several weeks. Some of you have reached out to me via email or Instagram that you're taking steps this year to reduce your own consumption. I encourage you to share your thoughts and approaches in the comments on this post for the other readers of this blog who might see a need to cut back in their own lives, but the approach I am describing here might not be an appropriate fit for what they may want to accomplish. That said, here's the post:

What The Year of Less is all about

If you read my last post on happiness and living life to the fullest, you may remember that there was a nod to the idea of living beneath your means. An idea that honestly used to tick me off, growing up with frugal parents who made me babysit and do odd jobs to earn money and ride around in ultra-uncool cars.* Basically, my parents were extremely wealthy and we wanted for nothing: my dad was a corporate litigator for the largest power utility in the country, my mom stayed home to raise us, we lived in a 6-bedroom, 4-bathroom McMansion that they custom-built in a community so elite that the village property taxes paid by individual families regularly hit the 20 to 30 thousand dollar mark and the high school student parking lot was filled with Range Rovers.

In the midst of this abundance of wealth, my mom and dad's strategic approach to parenting was to convince us that we were dirt poor, a giant Irish Catholic stereotype plopped into a bubble where we didn't belong. They provided the basics and routinely reminded us of this fact: roof over our heads, three square meals a day, the necessary clothing, shoes and accessories for our lifestyles and various extracurricular interests, etc. My dad was notorious for telling us that he owned everything, including the shirts on our backs, and that our home was not a democracy but a dictatorship. Our room and board was contingent on successful completion of daily and weekly chores that were cruel and unusual punishment: making our beds and cleaning our rooms, clearing the table and doing dishes after dinner, sweeping the floors for the former, and Saturday morning yard work** for the latter.

Three things happened to me as a result of this parenting style:
  1. I learned what it took to make money, and how much the non-necessary things I wanted cost in both money and the effort to make that money.
  2. I developed expensive taste and love to spend money on beautiful things.
  3. I married a CPA who routinely goes to lunch at Costco to eat a $1.50 lunch of hot dog and soda.

My point is, this concept of living frugally despite having plenty of money is sort of embedded in my psyche. It was probably one of the subconscious reasons I was attracted to and then married Wes, because he embodied this value my parents prioritized yet I detested growing up and my subconscious mind figured he would keep point #2 above in check.

Although it took some time to land on a balanced approach to spending versus saving versus investing our money, Wes and I made it a priority to strike that balance early in our marriage. (For more on our approach to money management and building wealth, read this post.) In 2017, we were faced with a few major challenges but money was never part of our decision-making process because of the fact that we had been consciously living beneath our means and had a generous cushion of savings.

In reflecting on the past year, I've come to recognize a few things as true and important that need to be a bigger priority in my life:
  1. Wes and I have enough, of everything. More than enough, in fact, in our home and in our closets and in our lives.
  2. We have done a bad job of appreciating and valuing and using the more than enough that we have, and spending time and money on things and activities that aren't adding value.
  3. Because of point #1 and point #2 above, we are effectively bloating ourselves, complicating our lives, and adding unnecessary stuff and stress and weight and spending money that would be so much better used to grow our investments and savings.

This is a problem, people. Maybe you can relate, or possibly Wes and I are alone on this. If you've been reading this blog for a while, you'll remember that I did a "no new things" challenge where I cut out shopping for wardrobe-related things for an entire year. It was the best thing I ever did to hone my personal style: it totally revamped my approach to how I thought about spending related to my wardrobe, allowed me to fully inventory my closet and make best use of what I already owned, and enabled me to make some amazing, thoughtful, formerly cost-prohibitive investments in a select few pieces to fill gaps or add a fresh element that I'll use for years. It worked, and fundamentally changed how I thought about and made purchases.

The objectives for the Year of Less

For 2018, Wes and I have decided to partner on a project to subtract the activities and things that are not serving us. It will be an expansion of the "no new things" challenge mentioned above, covering much more than just wardrobe purchases in order to accomplish the following objectives:

#1 Appreciate, value and take better care of what we already own

There are only so many opportunities in a 365-day period to actually use an item that you own, be it a zucchini noodle slicer or a pair of leather leggings. From a home perspective, we have a list of at least 50 little projects that need to be completed but will be left untouched and the supplies collecting dust if our focus were to remain on acquiring new or different décor or gadgets. From a wardrobe perspective, having too much stuff paradoxically cramps your style because it distracts you from using the items that you love, that are your favorites and deserve more repeat wears throughout the year but fall to the wayside when you introduce alternatives that you don't need or really love as much.

Absolutely all of our basic needs are covered, and then some, for the next year. Forcing ourselves to use what we already own will keep our focus on the abundance we enjoy in our home, and our life in general. Constraints inspire creativity, after all. Personal style, an amazing home and a fulfilling lifestyle all require thought, planning, and originality. They also require love, in the sense of caring for and appreciating the elements you're using to build your style, design your home or create a more purposeful life.

Yet we don't consciously take the time to consider all of the elements we have in our closets or our homes, and ask ourselves if they are truly adding value and serving our lives in the way we thought that they would when we bought them in the first place. In The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy (one of the best books I read in 2017), I learned about the "5X" principle: if you want to truly understand the cost of something you are purchasing, take the price and multiply it by 5 - it will give you the approximate value of that money had you chosen to invest it.

Before you start asking things like "After how many years?" or "What type of investment are we talking about?" or "What if the market were to crash?" or "Isn't this an oversimplification?" let me just say that I appreciate the 5X principle as a framework and a way of better evaluating what we purchase by contrasting it with an approximation of the potential value of that money if applied differently. We will be using that principle to evaluate everything we currently own, and everything we buy after this year of less.

#2 Develop the mental strength and habits to drive better outcomes in our lives

If you read The Baby Post, you'll remember the easy-yet-in-utter-disarray life that I described. So this is a big one for us. Despite the fact that I was consciously cutting back from a wardrobe perspective, I still bought more than I needed this year while already having too much in my closet. From a home perspective, we're still overwhelmed with so much STUFF and it is actually causing stress. And even amidst this overwhelm of stuff and stress, we're making thoughtless impulse purchases, shipping Amazon Prime boxes to ourselves and keeping the 7-Eleven down the street in business.

If you study up on the psychology of purchasing decisions, the general perspective is that we buy things we don't need for one of two reasons:
  • We feel pleasure when we spend money: it "scratches an itch," so to speak, by altering our mental states from a place of discomfort - same goes for eating, drinking alcohol, etc.
  • We believe the thing we are buying will solve a problem that we are currently struggling with: it's a a quick fix, so to speak. For example, gained weight and don't feel good about yourself? Why not solve it with a new pair of pants in a different size that make you feel better? Or, insecure and feeling unloved? Why not purchase a designer bag that will cause others to envy or admire you?

It's so crazy, right?! But absolutely true. For me, and for Wes, impulse purchasing has been a mental crutch to supposedly solve for a whole bunch of problems. We'll have a few drinks to escape the uncomfortable mental state we're in after a stressful day at work, or run out to buy some unnecessary snacks from 7-Eleven because we're watching a movie, a bit bored and it's a thing to do. Then we think that we could stand to lose a couple of pounds, so  we order some fitness products on Amazon Prime that we will definitely use instead of stick in a closet to collect dust / remind us that we have still not broken our drinking and / or snacking habit.

My point is, the thoughtless spending is a mental problem. It requires self-awareness and mental strength to recognize what's driving your desire to consume something, and then rise above it. Keeping our focus on the abundance we enjoy in our lives and using what we already own will put our minds in a better place of appreciation and contentment.

The rules and guidelines for The Year of Less

In order to accomplish the objectives of taking better care of what we already own and developing better habits, we will be implementing the following rules for all purchases we collectively make in 2018:
  • Eliminate all retail shopping entirely, including Amazon Prime, with the only exception being for groceries, health or skincare-related necessities (i.e., supplements, medication, SkinCeuticals, etc.)
  • Eliminate all wardrobe-related purchases, including eBay, vintage and thrifted pieces allowed in the original challenge, and live with existing wardrobe for the next 365 days
  • Eliminate all non-social eating out (e.g., Starbucks runs, buying lunch at work, our new habit of eating at restaurants 3-5 nights per week due to disorganization and lack of planning)
  • Eliminate all home-related purchases, except for improvement projects that add resale value (i.e., refinishing floors, updating fixtures or appliances, etc.)
  • Donate or sell every item in home not used by 12/31/2018.

Sticking to these rules will force us to create better habits, including:
  • Planning out our meals and buying groceries in advance to prevent emergency dining out scenarios (if you already do this, would love any tips / advice)
  • Inventorying everything we own, and organizing our home to support using the things we find worth keeping to test how value-added each item truly is in our space
  • Updating our nightly and morning routines to include eating breakfast at home, packing lunches and preparing dinner
  • Planning out my outfits on a rolling 30-day basis to rotate and use all of the elements I own, and prevent the illogical desire to buy something new.

Although I am sure this sounds slightly crazy or extreme to many of you, I am honestly feeling a little relieved to get started. It's going to be uncomfortable, and difficult. But we needed something drastic to break our patterns that have created many of our unnecessary struggles. It will also help to dramatically grow our cushion of savings, beef up our investment strategy and give our future selves a gift of better habits, more wealth, an improved mindset, and an appreciation of the blessings in our life that have manifested as stuff we currently have in our possession.

If you've made it to the end of this post, thank you so much for reading and I hope you found some value in it. Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments, or feel free to shoot me an email. I'll be sharing a lot of bonus posts about our full journey and lessons learned throughout the course of the year. If you're interested in access to all of these posts, feel free to join the newsletter. If not, you can check back here for some of it!

*To be specific, these two cars were either a maroon Ford Taurus sedan (the preferred option) that deteriorated in a compounding manner as each of my five siblings gained a driver's license and proceeded to get in minor scuffles with inanimate objects in parking lots and spill every single beverage that entered the car's gray polyester interior, or a giant Ford Clubwagon van that we referred to as "The Church Bus" for its cavernous capacity and ability to hold all eight of my family members. These cars instilled in me a deep love of walking and public transportation, and later led me to purchase a BMW X5 to compensate which I deeply regret every time I fill the tank with premium gas or have to pay to get it serviced.

**Even when there was no raking leaves or lawn mowing that needed to be done, my dad would make up jobs for the sole purpose of waking us up early and keeping us busy. He got particularly bad about this after I challenged him multiple times, accusing him of having 6 children so we could do all this work for him. He laughed for a solid five minutes. Later, after observing that no other family on our block had a gaggle of children raking leaves or mowing the lawn, I suggested that he outsource to one of our neighbor's landscaping companies, mentioning that I knew he could certainly afford it. Eventually I gave up and just did the work without protest, and took a job working at a bakery in town the moment I could be legally employed. I'd get to work at 5:30a on Saturday mornings as a 15-year-old in order to avoid yard work and eat as many cookies as I wanted.

You know when you start complaining about something, and the person you're complaining to tries to put it in perspective by saying something about how you're lucky that you're not a starving child in Africa or missing a limb or a Syrian refugee and your problems aren't really that bad?

It's the WORST. Technically you know they're right, but since you're NOT a starving child in Africa and all you've got is your own unique set of problems to worry about, trying to focus on starving children doesn't solve anything. Problems are relative. A fact that doesn't make the ones you suffer any less painful to you.

Then there are those people who tell you to just smile, because your muscle memory will convince your brain that you are ACTUALLY happy instead of a girl in two-day-old pajamas with a three-week-old melancholic mood that subsides occasionally but settles right back in once she's alone with her thoughts. And she is going to fake smile about it OVER HER DEAD BODY.

There's a reason that people like to tell you that your problems aren't that bad, to put on a fake smile and snap out of it. It's because our culture suggests that we should ALWAYS be happy. And if we're not walking on sunshine 100% of the time, there must be something terribly wrong with us. A problem that must be FIXED! With a fake smile, a starving African child, a pill, a new washer-dryer set maybe?

But it's a lie. Life is a cycle of highs and lows, times of joy mixed with periods of sorrow and a whole lot of unremarkable time in between, where we're not exceedingly happy or down-and-out but neutral, living our day-to-day lives doing what it is that we do in our natural states-of-being, fluctuating between our wide range of human emotions that allow us to express ourselves and experience our lives to the fullest.

And I've come to realize that living life to the fullest requires us to get comfortable with periods of sorrow, of pain, of melancholy. Those emotions and states of being are part of the experience, making us appreciate the times of joy and the times that are utterly unremarkable, honing our minds to reflect and learn and grow in a way that you simply cannot when your heart is exploding rainbows. And our cultural need to be constantly happy and fulfilled is a problem, making us feel like there is something wrong with us that needs to be fixed when we hit one of life's low points, preventing us from working through it and growing because we're too busy searching for the right solution to repair ourselves.

Now that we've gotten that out of the way, I am going to tell you a story reflecting on the past year. Frankly, it was the hardest I've had in my 31 years of life, and I say that knowing full well that my problems aren't really that bad, yada yada yada. This was a hard post to write, but one that felt important to share here with you. So often, we choose to internalize our struggles, opting to stay silent about the topics that are dominating our thoughts rather than sharing them out of fear of what others would think. That's what I did this past year. I buried my problems, stayed silent, maintained my Polly Positive image and suffered alone despite desperately needing someone who could relate.

Honestly, had I opened up and found this person, I would have hugged her, made her come over, kept her wine glass perpetually full and cried to her while we held hands and bonded. And it would have cured me, made me feel like what I was going through was hard, yes, but also normal. It would have been easier, somehow, to have felt less alone. So that's why I am sharing this post, so you can come back to it when you're having a hard time, pour yourself a glass of wine, and read it from the comfort of your couch in your days-old pajamas knowing that according to at least one other person on Earth, you are normal and not alone.

(In full disclosure, this post is going to get a little dark, but it will have an upswing at the end and have a few life lessons and 2018 resolutions sprinkled in that you might find worthwhile.) 

Why 2017 was a bad year

New year's day of 2017 started off hopeful, with Wes and I agreeing that it would be our 'Year of Yes.' We'd try new things! See new places! Make new friends! And in general, say yes to as much as we possible could fit into our schedules. In tune with that theme, we decided we'd try to see Hamilton THAT VERY EVENING. Boldly turning to Craigslist, we hoped to find a hungover couple who couldn't get it together and would sell us their tickets.

And find them we did, show up to the theater in our Sunday best we did, and discover we were scammed we did, too. (I KNOW. WHERE WAS MY BETTER JUDGEMENT? I WAS TRYING TO BE BOLD AND IGNORE THE RISKS!) Taking it in stride, we dusted off our pride, went to nice dinner, and laughed about how it could only go up from here.

Days later, my husband left his job after requesting flex time or remote work options from his company in order to be with his sick father in North Carolina and help his overwhelmed mother. Sorry, they said. The HR policy does not allow it. SCREW THEM, I said. WE'LL FIGURE IT OUT! YOUR FAMILY NEEDS YOU. WE CAN AFFORD IT.

He packed our car with his things and our dog that night, and drove 16 hours straight through the snow to his parents place for the uncertain timeframe that comes with a declining health profile. "Could be weeks," we said, "or this could last months."  I cried by myself on our couch, sad, lonely, and stressed. In one swift move, I became the breadwinner and my income plus our hard-won savings account that we prided ourselves on were going to have to tide us over for as long as it took, covering our mortgage and typical expenses along with back-and-forth flights to North Carolina as we tried to implement some structure and semblance of balance to an otherwise unpredictable situation.

As if on cue from the Universe sensing our mounting stress and 50% drop in income, my wallet was stolen off of my desk at my client site the next week. With $800 cash in it. (I KNOW. WHO CARRIES THAT MUCH CASH? IT WAS A GIFT, I WAS GOING TO BE ON THE ROAD FOR THREE WEEKS STRAIGHT AND DIDN'T HAVE TIME TO GO TO THE BANK.) [Insert face-palm emoji here.]

Wes flew home a few days later, to spend some quality time together and pick up a few more things. That weekend, I had brunch plans with some girlfriends and asked Wes to help clean our master bathroom, which has a Whirlpool tub that needed sanitizing. "Plug the tub," I said, "pour in a cup of bleach, run the water to fill it so it covers the spouts, and then run the bubbles for 20 minutes." He was on it, and my brunch was amazing! Until I walked out of the restaurant, checked my phone, and saw DOZENS of missed calls, frantic text messages and even a few emails from my husband, my sister, my cousin, my mom, etc.

Long story short, Wes had followed my instructions but realized he had some time to kill while the tub was filling with water. "Why not check the mail?" he thought to himself, going down two flights of stairs, exiting our home and promptly locking himself out. (To recap, bleach water is running and about to overflow the tub, mere feet from our vintage Moroccan rug and above our kitchen that we'd paid an arm and a leg to have painted baseboard-to-ceiling only a few months earlier. Not to mention that this was all directly over our kitchen table a.k.a. my makeshift desk.)

I rushed home, arriving shortly after the locksmith left, and walked upstairs to find water streaming from the chandelier all over the table and floor and my husband in an eerily calm panic, clipping my notebooks and work papers to various chairs and windows, air drying them in hopes of salvation. My computer was tipped on its side, drip-drying on the kitchen island.

One emergency plumber, $2,000 and a need for another fresh paint job later, Wes and I found ourselves sitting in a dry area of our kitchen in defeated silence, mentally tallying the unnecessary expenses and income forgone over the course of a couple of months. (People, it was THOUSANDS. MANY THOUSANDS.) "We need to get away," one of us said, staring into the soggy mess of our home. We booked a long weekend trip to Miami that night, a brief reprieve from the expensive swirl that had become our day-to-day lives.

Here we are in Miami, avoiding our problems!
We spent months fighting, fueled by Wes's back-and-forth trips, his denial and rage that I couldn’t fully grasp, his dad's nosediving and stabilizing health, and the unspoken understanding that the only end to the situation would be his father's death. One, two, three months went by, and we started to doubt why we'd gone down this road to begin with, that maybe he would get better, that maybe Wes leaving his job was hasty. Four, five months went by and we couldn't find a single thing to agree on. Our relationship was in a pressure cooker, with each of us trying desperately to do what is the right thing to do in a situation that we hoped to never find ourselves again.

One night, after a serious fight that ended in an agree-to-disagree truce, we sat down and talked about whether our marriage could survive if this continued. We were running out of steam, out of money, out of love. And we weren't sure it could. Wes came home, started working again, and his dad died two weeks later, over the 4th of July weekend. We got the call that he was in hospice and flew down in disbelief, then went through the motions of wake, funeral, sorting through belongings, and returning to real life with a dull sense of relief mixed with guilt.

Watching my husband lose his father, grieve him and make sense of the next steps in life without him was hard. It felt like my hands were tied behind my back, with nothing to say and no comfort to offer, feeling selfish for my limited ability to be there for him, feebly suggesting grief therapy and quietly giving him space to process it by himself while simultaneously fearing the intensity of his emotions because they made me imagine the place I would be if (when) I lose my own father and mother. And I've been creepily attached to them ever since. (Morbid, I know. I think my parents are getting sick of me insisting on weekly Sunday dinners.)

What one bad year taught me

While Wes has spent the past several months grieving, waking at four o'clock in the morning and doubling down on his work, I've spent it soul searching, thinking long and hard about what I want our life to look like going forward after a long year that we're ready to bring to a close. Here's where I landed on the important things in life:

  • From a family lens: as hard as marriage is, or as babies sound, this year has taught me over and over again that family is all there is at the end, and that it's a commitment and an investment that grows in value over time. Wes and I had our marriage tested and pushed to what seemed to be its limits this year, and have come out on the other side stronger and more prepared for the challenges we'll face together in the future. Being there for the birth of my nephew, and hearing from my sister and mom and friends (including many of readers of this blog) about their experiences in marriage and motherhood has strengthened my resolve that Wes and I can handle it when we're ready to take that step in life.
  • From a career lens: after years of convincing myself my 80% travel schedule was fine, I finally told my company I needed to be home regardless of what that meant for my career growth. And what an amazing thing it is to be home in the middle of the week! Airline and hotel status be damned, there is no travel perk that can compete for the fulfillment I get from using my Crock Pot and eating dinner with my husband at our kitchen table instead of a desk in my Marriott hotel room.  This set up will last until April 2018, career moves after that point to be continued…
  • From a health lens: almost immediately after Wes's father's funeral, I decided to do something about the physical toll the stress had taken on my body and saw an oriental wellness doctor who put me on a 90-day elimination diet that cut all sugar, alcohol, dairy, processed foods, etc. It reset my health in a way I cannot describe, breaking several bad habits I'd developed, implementing better habits for the long haul, and transforming my body, my skin, my hair, and even my moods.
  • From a money lens: having the ability to go down to one income and rely on our savings reinforced our belief in the importance of living beneath our means because it gave us the freedom for Wes to leave his job with no notice or planning on our part. It's inspired me to do another "no new things" challenge in 2018 to reset my priorities when it comes to money and things. (Post coming soon…)
  • From a writing lens: realizing that the most cathartic posts I wrote this year were also the ones that were the most personal, the most well-received, and the most widely shared has taught me that my writing, at its best, is a tool for processing my own experiences and sharing them here to build meaningful connections. This year has taught me that we need more people and places to turn to for perspective when we're going through those things in life we all experience but don't necessarily talk about openly, and there's no reason why this blog can't be one of those places.

Although it has been an incredibly challenging year, I wouldn't change it. And really, couldn't have changed it as much as I wanted to with something, anything to make it easier to bear. The lessons I've personally learned over this 12-month-long life dip have been incredibly valuable and will stay with me for the long haul, there for utility and comfort the next time I hit a phase in life that doesn't have a happiness cure-all.

The end. Thank you so much for reading, and for all of your support, thoughtful comments, kind emails, and continued engagement on this blog. It is such a pleasure for me to write, mostly because of all of the inspiration you provide through your readership. I hope you have a wonderful holiday season, and here's to a very happy (but with natural ups and downs, not forcefully happy since we've agreed that is terrible) 2018!