If you asked me five years ago when I got my first apartment if I could ever see myself living in a space that was 2.5x smaller I would’ve said “no way!” Coming off the heels of living in my family’s expansive 3,000 square foot home I thought my measly 730 sq ft of space was small, but livable. My next apartment was 850 sq ft. The apartment after that was 1,200.
It’s almost expected in this society to keep “moving up.” You keep striving for the higher paying job, the nicer car, the bigger house—but what ends up happening is that we eventually plateau. Suddenly there are no more higher paying jobs within our reach, we have the nicest car we can afford, we have a house that is far bigger than we need. What happens then?
The idea of a minimalist lifestyle first appealed to me when I moved to Maine last year taking only what could fit in my car with me. Not knowing how long my Maine experience was going to be I didn’t see the point in getting another spacious one-bedroom apartment when I hadn’t even procured a bed yet.
My first Maine apartment was 500 square feet. It had enough room for my bed, a nightstand, a chair, a bookshelf, and still plenty of room to do yoga and get around. The best part of my new space was being able to vacuum my whole apartment without changing outlets. I know this is a small, seemingly insignificant thing, but I just thought it was cool! I was doing so well in this small space that when I was looking for my next apartment I thought, “Just how small can I go?”
I’m currently living in 300 square feet, and I love it. I like that it only takes me 15 minutes to clean my entire apartment, and yes, that includes a single-outlet run with the vacuum. I like that all my things fit just so. It doesn’t feel like the space is jam-packed full of stuff. There’s also plenty of room for yoga and getting around.
What I love most about my little shoebox apartment is the freedom it has given me. This is by far the most inexpensive apartment I’ve ever had, and I’m finally living below my means instead of being a good head above it. With that I’ve been able to travel and have more adventures which was the whole point of this Maine experience anyway.
I used to feel so guilty whenever I spent too much time away from my other apartments. I figured since I spent so much money every month just “having” the space I should be there as much as possible. And because I was spending so much money every month on living expenses, there wasn’t a lot of extra money to go out and do things. I knew I had to get out of that vicious cycle, and I’m so glad I did because I have so much more freedom now.
I don’t hesitate to sign up for the dance class I really want to take. I don’t think twice when booking a weekend getaway, or a week-long visit back home. I have the freedom to do those things now. I am able to balance spending money now, and saving for later—something that was severely out of balance before.
Even when I’m staying local, I’ve noticed that I spend far more time out and about than I used to. Again since my expenses are so much lower I no longer feel that guilt to always be in my apartment. I take walks after work, go out to dinner, hit up the library, or whatever else I feel like doing that day sometimes not returning to my apartment until later in the evening.
Living in a small space isn’t for everyone. Some people are of the mind that more space equal more happiness, and that’s okay. That might be true for them, but this is what works best for me. To me living smaller is not limiting, but actually makes me feel limitless.
People decide to get a tattoo for a myriad of reasons. Sometimes it’s for a nostalgic reason, or something they really like, or some kind of political statement. But more often than not people get tattoos in tribute to something deeply personal to them.
When I was younger I didn’t understand the point of tattoos. Why permanently scar your body for something that can quite easily (and painlessly) hang on your wall or be kept tucked in your wallet? In my creative moments I like to think of myself as an artist, but I never understood the point in using your body as the canvas.
As I got older and things started affecting me more deeply, I started understanding the point of a tattoo–that something can touch your soul in such a way that a mere poster or crumbled-up photo in a wallet could in no way suffice. I knew several people who had gotten tattoos in remembrance of deceased relatives, or as inspirational reminders to be their best selves. That is all well and good, but nothing had affected me so deeply that I felt inclined to have it etched into my skin for the rest of my days. That is until my Carmela passed away.
The bracelet that I made out of her old dog tag was just a painful reminder of what I had lost. Every time I looked down at it and let my thoughts wander for a moment I would become overwhelmed by her loss and immediately break down in tears. I stopped wearing the bracelet and instead opted to keep it in my purse to feel like she was still “with” me.
I wanted something that would pay tribute to the amazing dog she was, but wouldn’t hold the same depressing magnitude that her dog tag gave me. I decided to get a tattoo.
As soon as I decided that I would get a tattoo in tribute to Carm, everything else clicked into place. I knew the design and the placement of the tattoo that I wanted. I also realized that her birthday was the following week and what perfect timing it was that my local tattoo shop had an opening that day.
The thing about me is once I’ve decided something that’s it. There’s no debate or second-guessing. It was a done deal. Even though a tattoo (for all intents and purposes) is permanent, I had no qualms about getting it done because it was for Carm.
The tattoo artist I worked with was precise and efficient. The whole process took less than an hour, and it didn’t hurt as much as I thought it would. It felt more like somebody was pinching me with only with their fingernails. While irritating, it’s not really painful. My tattoo artist, Matt, and I discussed Star Wars the entire time, and to me that was perfect. Here I was talking about something I loved while getting a tattoo in tribute to someone I loved. It couldn’t have worked out any better.
It’s been a few weeks since I got my tattoo, and I still have no regrets. It’s been interesting to watch the expedited healing process. Much like matters of the heart it burned at first, then it just felt raw and exposed, then it finally scabbed and healed. Now it’s just a part of me like she is for the rest of my days.
Recently I took up running. While I love a good walk, hike, or yoga session, running has never appealed to me. I’ve always associated it with the annoyance I felt during my High School gym class when the teacher would have us run around the track in 30-degree weather yelling, “Looking good…” prompting us to reply with “Feeling good!” even though we felt anything but.
Running always seemed like a hardcore lesson in masochism. I see runners on the street completely red-faced and gasping for breath. I hear stories about runners blowing out their knees, throwing out their backs, or breaking an ankle from running. I couldn’t imagine how anyone could possibly enjoy running especially since most people look miserable doing it, but then again a lot of people run. Surely some of them enjoy it and don’t harm themselves, right? I admit I was intrigued, but still not enough to try it myself yet.
I woke up one sunny, Sunday morning antsy as hell. I did my yoga, sit-ups, push-ups, and lifted some weights. I still had an exorbitant amount of energy so I went for a run. Then the strangest thing happened: I actually enjoyed it! All the things that were once roadblocks I figured out how to overcome. I felt like I metaphorically stumbled upon secrets that afforded me the ability to love running, and I’m going to share them with you! These are all things I’ve experienced first-hand and how I’ve beaten them.
Roadblock 1: “I don’t want to spend a lot of money on running “stuff.”
Solution: Despite what many retailers may try to tell you, you don’t need much to take up running. The only thing that really matters is a good pair of shoes. I started running in a old pair of sneakers and noticed that I kept landing awkwardly, was getting fatigued, and my feet were just killing me by the end of my run. Then I got a good pair of running shoes and all of that changed. Save your money on cute, compression leggings or an expensive top with a funny exercise quote on it, and invest in a good pair of shoes.
Roadblock 2: “I get tired too quickly.”
Solution: Conserve your energy. Don’t focus on going fast. Take your time and go slowly. You’ll have way more energy and will be able to last longer if you go at the pace that works best for you.
Roadblock 3: “I can’t run that long because I’m always gasping for breath.”
Solution: Again, go slow. Running at a slower, consistent speed will allow you the ability to catch your breath more easily. You’ll still have moments where you feel like you’re breathing too hard. This is when I take 3 large, deep breaths–almost like I’m hyperventilating. I take in as much air as I can and quickly exhale. Do that 3-5 times and you’ll be breathing much more easily.
Roadblock 4: “My knees/back start hurting soon after I’ve started running.”
Solution: Make sure that you’re running on the balls of your feet. My inclination is to shuffle and pound my feet flat on the pavement, but I’ve noticed that this makes my knees ache. Instead pick up your feet, make sure you’re running as upright as you can, and gently touch the balls of your feet to the ground. Don’t pound the pavement.
Roadblock 5: “I never know when to stop running. How do I know when I’ve had enough?”
Solution: Stop running when your body tells you it’s time. For me it’s past the time when my thighs are burning, but before I feel like they’ve turned into jelly. Listen to your body. It’s going to enjoy exercising and you may be tempted to keep going, but your body also knows when it’s had enough. Stop when it tells you to.
Roadblock 6: “I’m always too sore after a run.”
Solution: Make sure you stretch before and especially after your run. Also don’t immediately sit down after a run. Take a shower, make a snack, or clean your apartment. I try to stay upright for at least 20-30 minutes after a run. This will help you cool down, and keep your muscles loose so they don’t atrophy and make you feel sore.
Roadblock 7: “Let’s say my first run was a success. How do I stay motivated to run every other day/few times a week?”
Solutions: 1. Download a fun running app, personally I like Runkeeper. It tracks your runs and gives you detailed stats. You can also set up your own personal goals and have it remind you to run, if that’s your thing.
2. Join a running group.
3. Figure out what time of day works best for you. Some people like to start their day with a run, while others prefer to run later in the day. Maybe you’re like me and like to switch it up. It’s up to you.
4. Do it because you remember the endorphin high you get afterwards. That feeling alone is the only motivation I have some days.
5. Run outside whenever possible, and give yourself something pretty to look at. My best runs are always the ones when I’m running along the water. Maybe your best runs are through a park, or down the urban sidewalks of downtown. Wherever you feel most at peace, go there.
What do you like most about running? What are some of the tricks you use to stay motivated?
Lately my life has been pretty much all about dogs. I volunteer at the local animal shelter, I donate monthly to the ASPCA, I read tons of articles about dogs and things that are happening to them around the world–don’t worry; I won’t go into that here. Even my day job is about dogs! The company I work for builds online pharmacies for veterinarians. Then I started dog-sitting because obviously I wasn’t around dogs enough. Day in and day out it’s dogs, dogs, dogs.
Naturally people ask me, “So when are you getting another dog?”
It’s a logical conclusion, I guess. You have one dog that you love with all your heart, you surround yourself with dogs every day in one way or another, people keep telling you that you have a way with dogs, so it’s inevitable that you get another dog, right?
The truth is every dog I see on the street, or in the shelter, or dog-sit for, or see online begs the question, “Am I ready?”
My heart still breaks every time I come across something that reminds me of my baby, Carmela. Whether it happens naturally like seeing another Yellow Lab on the street, or intentionally like digging up her old veterinarian records to pour over, I am overcome with emotion and loss.
At this point it would feel too much like I was trying to replace her. Carm was one-of-a-kind and every dog I interact with is a painful reminder of that. I still compare everything a “new” dog does to that of Carmela. I’m just not ready to open my heart up to the one who comes after yet.
The silver-lining in all of this is that I’m really enjoying my freedom. I’m reminded of it whenever I have a dog staying with me for a few days, and I’m thrown back into the world of “doggy care.”
I like not having to run home at lunchtime to take a dog out, or run home immediately after work. I like not coming to any surprises like an accident on the floor, or a chewed up front door. I like having my weekends free to get up when I want and explore at my leisure without having to work around someone else’s bathroom schedule. I enjoy having a clean apartment. For the first time in my adult life my days revolve around my schedule, and that’s a pretty cool feeling.
I know I will get “another” dog some day. Like everyone tells me, one day I’ll meet the right dog and I’ll just know. Sounds a little too Rom-Com for me, but I’ll take their word for it. For now I’m okay with missing my girl, and enjoying my newfound freedom.
Let me start off by saying that I am not a die-hard vegetarian. As you may have noticed in some of my earlier posts, I am a big believer in all things in moderation. I believe that life is too short not to have a second helping of ham at Christmas, or savor a delicious Italian Beef sandwich when you’re back home in the Midwest–yes, Portillo’s, I think of you often. But I also believe that you need to have balance in your life, and this is what led me to becoming mostly vegetarian.
One day I was at the grocery store thinking about what I wanted to make for the week. Mentally I ran through my go-to list of winter recipes like sausage, pasta, and peppers in a marinara sauce, or ground beef chili, or a “light” chicken/pasta dish with some other kind of sauce. I felt heavy just thinking about it! I was curious…
“Could I make a healthy and hearty meal without feeling lousy afterwards?”
Up to the challenge I decided just to wing it. I knew what foods make good meat replacements, but I didn’t have any recipe in mind. I just picked things that sounded good together like lentils, peppers, beans, and a curry sauce. All together my groceries were much less than they were when I had opted to include meat. Plus I didn’t have to engage in the moral debate of Cage-Free, Free Range chicken, versus saving a few bucks by getting the “regular” chicken. I was sparing all the chickens!
The meal itself was much faster to make, too. I didn’t have to worry about making sure the meat was cooked through or that I had washed my hands thoroughly enough. With vegetarian cuisine you can just rinse and dump it in a pot. Even I can do that. Without all of that meat stress I was actually enjoying the cooking process!
Afterwards I felt full, satisfied, and way better than I was used to feeling after a meat/pasta dish. I wasn’t tired or lethargic. I was actually able to get a post-dinner workout in which up until this point was a summer-only thing. After that night I was hooked.
I started experimenting with other vegetarian options like quinoa, eggplant, and beans. It was interesting, as I worked my way out of the meat market I was forcing myself to think more creatively and intentionally about the foods I was putting into my body. I got lazy when I was a mostly-meat eater. This experience was challenging me in a fun and engaging way.
Pros of a (mostly) vegetarian diet:
- Forces you to think creatively
- Cheaper groceries
- Less stressful cooking experience
- Feel fuller longer
- Have more energy later
These days I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve eaten meat in the last month, and I honestly don’t even miss it. Occasionally I’ll give into a craving for a burger or ham sandwich, but I have noticed that those cravings have become fewer and farther between. Maybe one day I’ll be able to call myself a full-fledged vegetarian, but for now I’ll settle for being mostly-vegetarian.
Has your taste for meat changed over time? What’s your favorite go-to meatless meal?
Winter is a magical, but difficult time for me. Once the awe of December wears off, and you’re in the throes of January/February it’s hard to shake the feeling of the winter blues. Even though I was putting myself out there and doing things, I couldn’t shake the feeling of loneliness.
In one week I went to my oil painting class, a concert, The First Friday Art Walk, and out to dinner two of those nights. I did all of these things by myself with no hesitation. In fact, I had a great time people watching and enjoying my solitude. However, by Friday night I was feeling more alone than I’ve ever felt.
Why? I did everything right! I went out and did things. I wasn’t being a hermit. I was getting out and being social!
The truth is even though there were other people at these events, I was still 100% alone. No one was there to share the experience with. No one would know or care if I went home early. No one would know I was there at all. I came home and promptly had a 10-hour panic attack.
What has finally settled in is the fact that this is home now. The newness of living in a new city has passed. I’m just living and working here now. I am no longer in the vacation mindset. That compounded with the winter blues has made everything look rather bleak.
I thought having to dog-sit this weekend would be THE worst thing for me to do right now. I just wanted to crawl in bed and feel bad for myself. Yes, I would do something about it…later…However, there is no later with a dog. If they want to go out, you have to take them out NOW. If they want to crawl into your lap and cuddle, there’s no way around it–you’re going to have a puppy in your lap.
I was walking Junebug earlier when I realized that he has given me exactly what I needed this weekend. I had someone to cuddle with when I needed it, someone to walk and enjoy the sunsets with, and I had someone help me reconnect with myself.
My friends and family have always said that I have a way with dogs–that I am attune to them and know what they need. It also looks like the opposite might be true as well.
The moral of this anecdote is that dogs make everything better. Obviously. But I needed to figure out a way to keep this feeling going for the times I don’t have a dog to look after. I decided that I need to start engaging with people when I’m out and about. It’s not enough to merely be in the same room with other people, I need to start connecting with them, too. Ways that I’m going to do this include: going to book clubs and engaging in discussions with people, going to networking events even though I dislike them, and joining other groups that force me to communicate with other people. It’s not a foolproof method, but it’s a start.
Did you have periods of loneliness when you moved to your new city? What did you do to combat it?
For the last several years I’ve suffered from purging fits: the inexplicable need to go through all of my things and decide what I can get rid of. It was therapeutic in a way, if not a little manic. Nothing was sentimental. Could I remember the last time I wore/used it? Had it been within the last year? Did I even remember that I had it? If the answer was ‘no’ to any of these questions the item went in the donation pile. Astoundingly I was able to get a decent donation pile going every few months. Honestly, how much stuff can one person have?
My periodic purging fits were just a warm-up though for my big move last year when I packed up everything I could into my little Rav4, and moved to Maine. Only the bare minimum made it. Since then I haven’t had one purging fit. That was until the other night.
I looked around my tiny apartment with the urge to purge, but not really having a surplus of anything. Will I ever read this book again? When was the last time I wore that shirt? My donation pile was the smallest it’s ever been, especially since I hadn’t done one in over 10 months–an all-time record!
I went through my “junk” cabinet. This contains special cards, letters, legal/important stuff, research, and photo albums. I was able to get rid of a lot of old bills and other things that were just taking up space. I was feeling pretty good about the whole thing until I stumbled across a blue, file folder.
I’m an organized person by nature. Everything has a place and a purpose, but I could not for the life of me remember what was in this blue file folder until I opened it, and found a meticulous record of Carmela’s veterinary visits. They were in chronological order, of course, with the most recent visit on top.
I flipped through the pages of all of our scary moments together. The time I rushed her to the vet because she was having dizzy spells and banging into walls. The time the vet found a bump on her tongue and had to remove it before we found out it was benign. The time she had another benign growth on her foot and had to have that removed. The first time I took her in for what would become a recurrent ear infection, and everything in between.
I sobbed going though this folder because I remember the face she made at every one of these visits. I remember being scared and frightened about whatever was happening to my puppy and the reassuring facial expression she gave me every time that seemed to say,
“Look, I feel like shit right not, but don’t worry. It’s not the end.”
It didn’t always curb my worry, but it certainly helped.
I debated throwing these records away. After all I won’t have any need for them anymore, but I decided to keep them all. I labeled the folder, and filed it away with all of my other important Carmela stuff.
We all have sentimental things we refuse to give up no matter what. And sometimes those things change. For the longest time I thought I could never part with my books, but now I know they don’t even come close to the importance I place on my Carmela things. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
What are some of your sentimental things that you would never throw away? Have those things changed over time?
“Some people are amazing with children. They have the ability to make an instant connection–and the children feel it. Stephanie has that relationship with dogs. They gravitate towards her because they are drawn to her. I think she’s part canine.” – testimonial from my friend, M. on my dog sitting site.
I’ve always had a special relationship with dogs. Our first dog, Samson, was a German Shepherd who was around before I was. Even though he was the temperamental first child, and didn’t like people invading his space, he was always nice to me. He’d even let me pull his tail, and play with his food while he ate.
Our next dog, Snowball, was a Great Pyrenees who was not the sharpest tool in the shed, but she was a sweetie. She never mastered the art of being housebroken so she was only allowed in the kitchen. I would often lie down on the cold, linoleum floor with her and rub her belly for hours.
Then we got Carmela–the dog love of my life. From day one we had an incredible and indescribable bond. She understood me in a way no human ever could. She was our family dog, but really, she was mine and I was hers.
Even though I’m not ready to get another dog and probably won’t be for a while, I know my connection with dogs and my ability to understand and help them is far from over.
So here are some of the ways I’m putting my love for dogs to good use:
- I volunteer weekly at the local animal shelter. Though my job as a greeter isn’t directly related to helping the animals, I am donating my time and doing my best to entice (guilt) visitors into taking an animal home.
- I post a weekly picture/bio on Instagram. Since I visit the dogs at the shelter every week anyway, I take a picture of one of the dogs and post a brief bio about them on my Instagram account. If I can help get a dog to a good home, then it’s well worth it.
- I donate items to the shelter. When Carmela passed away I packed up all of her unused dog food, treats, and medicine and gave them to the animal shelter. They were so grateful to have it, especially the expensive medications Carm was taking towards the end, and I was happy to donate it to dogs in need. I’m also going to start using the money I would normally spend on her treats and put it towards items they could really use at the shelter.
- I babysit for dogs. I’ve really missed having a dog around, and since I’m not ready to get another one yet I thought dog sitting would be a good way to hang out with dogs and get paid for it. Plus it’s great piece-of-mind for the owners because the dogs are not sitting in a cage all day like they would be at a kennel. I give the dogs lots of love, and text the owners with daily pictures/updates.
- I take part in fundraising events. The animal shelter where I volunteer at often has fundraisers through various local businesses. For example this week at Flatbread Company if you dine-in/take-out they will donate a portion of the proceeds to the shelter. They are also raffling baskets of goodies to raise more money for the shelter as well.
Even though these are small things they still make a difference. I think a lot of people get deterred from helping out a cause because they can’t make a big financial contribution. I know that I held this mentality for many years, but there are a ton of ways you can help. You can donate your time, resources, or simply opt to buy your dinner at a local restaurant that week. Look up your favorite cause or shelter and find out all the ways you can get involved. I bet there are more options than you think.
What cause are you passionate about? What are you doing to help?
Since I said goodbye to my beloved, Carmela, just over a month ago I’ve developed a lot of mental blocks. These are things that I used to be able to do, but can’t do at the moment because they feel weird without having Carm around.
Some of these mental blocks include:
- Dancing around my apartment. Sometimes after a frustrating day at work when I had a lot of nervous energy I would crank the music and dance it out. Without Carm following me around wagging her tail, or sitting in the middle of room watching me it just wouldn’t feel right. Plus there would be no one to trip over. Where’s the fun in that?
- Doing yoga. Anytime I would whip out that yoga mat Carm would be right there next to me—pacing over the mat, stepping over (on) me, and lying down in the center of the mat forcing me to work around her. She really loved being “right there” for any physical activity especially when she got older and couldn’t do a lot of it herself.
- Cooking any kind of pasta dish. I would often make pasta for myself and inevitably would make extra for Carm. Bow-tie pasta was her favorite so that is what I usually bought. Now when I’m at the grocery store I carefully avoid the pasta aisle altogether.
- Eating/throwing away end slices of bread. Carm loved her bread and peanut butter every morning. She especially loved it on days that I would start/finish a loaf of bread because it meant that she got an extra slice that day. I don’t mind the end pieces, but for some reason since she’s been gone I’ve been saving them. I currently have a bag of bread in my refrigerator that contains 4-5 end slices of bread.
- Eating pizza crust. Yes, a lot of my mental blocks are food-related. We would always share pizza together. She would eat the crust, and I would eat the rest. Currently the crust goes uneaten as well.
- Painting. It has always been an on-again/off-again hobby of mine, but one that I had taken up again a few months ago. I loved going to my painting class every week, and painting at home most nights with Carm by my side. For the moment painting is still something I cannot do.
There are many more mental blocks that I’m currently fighting. Even just leaving the house and coming home throws me off. I often spend several seconds trying to figure out if I forgot something or why things feel “off.” It’s because my buddy is gone. There’s no one that I have to rush outside after work, or give 20 kisses and cuddles to before I walk out the door. My life revolved around Carm, and without her I just feel off balance.
It will get easier. Time heals all wounds. Eventually all of these mental blocks will cease to exist, but the ache in my heart for my beloved Carmela never will.
Did you develop mental blocks after your pet passed away? What helped you get through them?