The first small choice.

The choice that started it… This is the first story of how my life changed dramatically for the better.

What changed the game for me?

Tidying. Seriously.

And while the whole of this blog isn’t focused on tidying, it was a huge driver and kick-starter to everything that happened next. Here’s why.

In early 2016 I was moving into my first mine-all-mine, one bedroom apartment. Before this move I’d always shared larger spaces with roommates. By default I was a pack-rat. It’s not that I needed or even wanted to keep everything, it’s just that it never occurred to me to get rid of it. I’d “sort” on occasion and donate a trash bag full of clothes, but that was about it. So, it wasn’t until I was downsizing living space that I thought to question why I owned such a tremendous amount of stuff.

In the midst of this move a friend recommended Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Marie, your title is not an oversell. This tiny book clicked the missing pieces into place. It introduced a process (tidying) that I hadn’t even considered, and gave me a simple, perfect, overarching standard with which to execute it. She teaches you to ask, does this item bring me joy? Quickly, I began the process of delving deep into the underbelly of my space and considering every single item, keeping what brought me joy. I’ll tell you all about it sometime, but not just now.

The shift was this: I went from living with a mountain of stuff, to asking why? When I realized I wanted something better, I put in the work. It was in that process that I learned discernment. I developed an awareness of myself. I learned what’s important to me and narrowed down at least some of what will (and won’t) meet that standard. I learned to let go of things that aren’t important to me.

Guys, it’s the process. Tidying taught me how to decide what actually matters.

My space is beautiful, don’t get me wrong. The relief from the oppression of so many things is still palpable, even two years later. But that’s not the point. The point is what happened next. I had made a dramatic, tangible change. Now, I had skills.

This is where the money comes in…

For nearly a year I had been dimly aware that my finances were out of order. Just dimly though. My default mode in finances was something like “spend what you’ve got.” Of course, with a few circumstantial changes that morphs quickly into “spend what you’re used to spending, even when you haven’t got it.” That’s my best explanation of how I woke up one day in the fall of 2016 to realize I had over $5,000 in credit card debt.

Now, I know other people rack up much larger bills than that on their credit cards. I wasn’t necessarily impressive in my disasterousness. This was the wake up call though, it was the magic number that flipped a switch in my brain. I had a heap o’ student loans that I kept meaning to “work on,” yet I had been spending in the red for nearly a year. Dramatically in the red for the past few months. I had a decent income, and somehow no savings whatsoever.

It hadn’t occurred to me not to spend the money. It hadn’t occurred to me that if I buy X now I can’t buy Y later. I’m making this sound elementary, but I know for certain that I was not alone in my frame of mind.

The only thing I realized at the time was that I was moving quickly down a slippery slope. I got scared, appropriately, and started to piece together a plan to climb out of the ditch I’d dug. Finally, at 30 years old, I looked my finances dead in the eye and applied all of the skills I’d developed tidying. I looked at each financial decision I was making, every coffee, every dinner out, every music subscription, and decided whether it was important enough to keep me in debt. Was my fancy face-wash worth me working extra hours? Hells no.

Having the skills to cut incisively through my spending habits and financial obligations was just the beginning, but it changed the game for me. Later I’ll put some details to these topics and show you all the places I chose to cut the fat, but for now let me tell you what I discovered.

During that inspection of my spending I found that I had been ignoring many of my goals, financial and otherwise. My spending was often a sort of distraction. I was dissatisfied with several aspects of my life and doing little to fix it. Instead of being engaged and creative I was consuming, and the credit card tab was the double-whammy. It was the price I chose to pay to be disengaged and dissatisfied, and I was paying for it at 20% interest.

This is the story of how I paid off my credit card, and put together a small safety net fund. This is the story of how I confronted my habits and learned how to choose carefully where to spend and save.

This is a story of choosing to be active, intentional and present.

This is a story of how small steps toward frugality, health, and well-being are making a dramatic impact on my life.

Feel free to read along.

Comments (1)

  1. Congrats on digging out of the credit hole. We’re still in the process of paying off dumb debts that have built up to a good chunk. I’ve had The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up on my audiobook list for a while now, I think it’s time for me to give it a listen.

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