Archive for category Bad Habits

The contradictions of the Christmas list

It’s right around this time of year when an assignment comes due. This isn’t an assignment at work or at the career center where I volunteer — it’s one I owe my family.

Thanksgiving hasn’t even hit, and it’s Christmas List time in my think-ahead family. When I complete the assignment of emailing my mom some things I’d like as gifts, I’m sure to feel the same way I’ve felt each year after sending that email: materialistic.

There’s no avoiding it. I will have just sent a message about, you guessed it, material goods. And I will have thrown out the window the idea of need and listed a bunch of wants, unnecessary yet fun things like new Ugg boots, expensive running tights and back massage certificates.

Listing what I want for Christmas makes me feel selfish and spoiled — things I’ve worked hard throughout my twenties not to be. I’m blessed to have a supportive and stable family, but I try not to take advantage of that.

Throughout the year, I pay all my own expenses and try to do little things, like send real thank-you letters, keep in good touch with close friends, share candy and goodies at the office and call my grandparents occasionally, that show my appreciation for all the fantastic advantages and privileges in my life. In my heart, I’m thankful.

On Thursday when we go around the table and list things we’re grateful for, I’ll have plenty to say — my mostly enjoyable, challenging and important job, my reasonable and understanding boss, my simple ability to move all of my body parts and function fully, without disability, my enjoyment of physical activity and healthy eating, the friends I know will always be in my life, my faith, my fiancee and plenty more. I have so many things to be thankful for, but I know I don’t show it enough.

And then Christmas rolls around. And there are so many celebrations. Believe me, I’m not complaining. Just listing all the occasions for which people want to buy me gifts, even if I don’t need them, makes me see the blessing and the curse of it all.

There’s the real Christmas day, on which my family still has managed to celebrate with gifts in the morning despite three twenty-somethings working new-kid schedules that often include holidays. Then there’s Christmas afternoon, when my fiancee’s family gathers for a gift extravaganza that hasn’t scaled itself back to a Secret Santa or a cards-only occasion. Before the big day, my mom’s side of the family gathers over the weekend for a variation on the Secret Santa theme, and it’s a grand fiesta of family and festive foods. Before even that, it’s my fiancee’s family at it again, gathering for the German tradition of St. Nicholas Day.

It’s a first-world problem, for sure, but the spectacular celebrations of Christmas always make me feel materialistic along with blessed and loved. I’ll make some donations, but somewhere inside I’ll still feel selfish. I’ll give plenty of gifts to others, and I’ll put as much time and thought into them as I can. But I’ll still feel some guilt about the nice things I’ll gladly receive regardless of need.

Christmas isn’t supposed to be a time for materialism. So it’s time to change the focus. When my Christmas list comes due, I’ll find a way to complete the assignment — I am a rule follower, after all. But maybe, gradually, I’ll also find a way to work less material goods into the picture, leaving more room for what the season truly is all about: love, family, support, charity and a fresh start. Wishing you all that and more this holiday season.

Speak soon. Stay lucky.



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How to do laundry: A twenty-something approach

I still approach laundry like a college student.

Oh, the hamper is overflowing? No biggie. It can wait a couple more days. This doesn’t all want to fit into the washer? Too bad. Stuff it down harder. It’s not quite dry yet? Oh well, I’m out of quarters – time to air dry! No more socks? Well these ones don’t stink too bad – throw ‘em on again! And why bother sorting anything by color or fabric type? Wash it all in cold and you’re good to go.

“Don’t worry if you forget to add the laundry soap,” my mom told me during one laundry lesson before my freshman year of college. “As long as everything gets sloshed around in there, it’s better than nothing.”

That “better than nothing” philosophy still permeates my laundry habits today. That’s why I’m not picky about load size, type or colors. And I usually skimp on the powdered laundry detergent, too, buying the cheapest or second-cheapest variety at Wal-Mart and never filling the scooper completely to the top before dumping it to the bottom of the washer and calling it good enough.

I don’t advocate for a “good enough” or “better than nothing” philosophy in other areas of life. I’m all about keeping my word and exceeding expectations in my career. I’m all about being thoughtful, caring and loyal toward others in my personal life, definitely not about doing the bare minimum in anything that matters. I keep my life organized (except that my to-do lists often become messy) and my apartment clean (except when I’m attempting to bake chocolate chip banana bread), and I take care of my possessions so they’ll last a long time.

But when it comes to laundry, I’m not a stickler. I’m not a germaphobe. I know people aren’t very observant, so that speck of blue ballpoint pen ink on my light khaki pants surely will go unnoticed. I know people are lazy, so if I show up to work in an un-ironed shirt that’s slightly wrinkly, either no one will notice, or they’ll smile and understand. I guess I just have better things to worry about than what temperature my clothes reach inside the shared washer at my apartment and whether my sheets are washed with my dishcloths or the T-shirt rags I use to clean the bathroom sink.

The college philosophy is great – give it the old college try. Stay up until 2 a.m. and sleep until 9, then still make it to a 9:30 a.m. class on time. Think ahead, but only to next weekend or next summer. Try new foods, classes, drinks, experiences. Meet new people and make them your favorites. But spend as little time as possible on dishes, cleaning, paperwork and laundry.

We’ve got all of our lives to manage our households and keep our things fresh and clean. So why spend any more time during the adult version of the “prime of our lives” than we absolutely have to worrying about doing the wash? Even college-style – crammed, procrastinated, mismatched and lacking adequate supplies – the laundry will get done. And that’s something to be thankful for.

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Why it’s OK to love pajamas in your twenties

Sometimes as an adult, I feel like I wear exactly two things every day: Work clothes and pajamas.
It seems the moment I come home, whether it’s 6:37 p.m. after the average day shift, 11:03 p.m. after a slightly long night shift or a lucky 5:22 p.m. after the rare easy day, it feels like pajama time. Being at home as a twenty-something immediately makes me want to slip into comfort and slide on my PJs.

Comfy shorts or drawstring pants, here I come! Oversized free T-shirts or old tank tops, here I come! No more itchy lace trim or bra straps to adjust or belts to unbuckle before going to the bathroom. No more shoes that only pretend to be comfortable, and no more “trouser socks” that feel tight below the knee after a full day at the office. When I get home, it’s time for relaxation and freedom of motion. I throw on my pajamas and 27-year-old me couldn’t be happier.

This is the life, I think, as I finish making dinner, watch a couple of half-hour shows on Netflix, check my email (maybe), recap the day, call family or friends and accomplish a few to-do list items. To be able to lounge around in mismatched, old clothes meant only for sleeping, at my own place, on my own time is truly a freedom I’ve earned at this stage. So I’m going to savor it.

We all deserve to exercise the freedoms we’ve worked hard to achieve. Because let’s admit it, there are some freedoms we can’t really access anymore. We can’t see our college friends at every meal and eat from what seems like a free buffet. We can’t be petty to our parents and have anyone write it off as teenage angst. We don’t really get recess or art class, music lessons or snack time – unless we seek out these opportunities and create them for ourselves. And we certainly can’t resort to crying to express all of our wants, needs, mistakes and emotions.

We have to show up on time, buy and make our own food, answer emails professionally, remember birthdays and anniversaries, find time for our hobbies and energy to pursue our goals, and stay sane in this vibrant world full of pressures and expectations.

A lot is asked of us. So the least we can give ourselves is pajama time.

It’s OK. No one cares how old those shorts are or which embarrassing concert that T-shirt came from. It’s your life, your freedom, your pajamas. So close out that work day with your best effort, then get comfy. You deserve it.

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Older and wiser? True, but it takes work

Now that it’s swimsuit season, I find myself thinking back to a piece of “news” I heard on the trashy TV playing in the locker room at the gym, back when there was still Super-bowl Sunday snow on the ground.

This “news” really should have been ordinary by now, but somehow, it wasn’t.

There was a plus-size model in the Swimsuit Edition of “Sports Illustrated” this year.

It’s too bad this happened for the first time in 2015, that plus-size models are just beginning to become mainstream in a nation where the average woman wears a size 12, at least according to my memory of a news report I heard a few months ago.

But more saddening than the news itself was the reaction of a 65ish woman, who heard the plus-size swimsuit model story and then lamented how models create such an unattainable image for the rest of us.

This woman seemed genuinely disappointed that she’d never have a body like a model’s, genuinely torn up about the prospect of having to compare herself to that ideal.

I’d say she’s in her 60s, maybe closer to 70, and that’s how she had to start her day one winter morning – feeling wholly inadequate.

I thought that feeling was something we’d get over. I thought comparing ourselves to others – be it based on the shape of our stomachs, the size of our salaries, the grades on our report cards, the titles on our business cards or any other factor – was something we’d grow out of.

I’m feeling pretty adult these days at 27 and I haven’t grown out of my own bad habit of comparing myself to others at times, so I don’t know when I thought this would happen. But I was holding out hope that it would. Magically. Without any real effort. The way nothing in this world ever actually happens.

And that was my downfall, I guess. I assumed age would instantly solve problems, when age really does nothing but convey the passage of time. Time can heal all wounds, but only if we apply the ointment. Time can make us wiser, but only if we use it to educate ourselves and expand our perspectives.

In this case, time can help us stop second-guessing ourselves … if we work on building confidence from within. Time can help us be happy with our own lives instead of measuring them against someone else’s … if we celebrate our own successes without making others feel inferior.

Time can help us, but only if we help ourselves

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Kids are extra-special, but what about the rest of us?

Anyone who hears me gripe about covering education probably thinks I hate kids. I want to prove them wrong.

I don’t hate kids; I like them. I think they’re hilarious and sincere — a welcome breath of fresh air from this serious adult world. I like kids, but I don’t worship them. I just don’t think they’re any more special than anyone else.

Kids often get preferential treatment: free restaurant meals, cheaper basketball tickets, free festival admission, even free airline tickets if they’re young enough. And everyone seems to think they need to be first in line for everything, to be spoken to in sing-songy voices and to receive prizes and awards galore.

I’m not saying we should ignore kids or jack up their ticket prices because they might cause a scene or do anything to make them feel like their accomplishments aren’t significant. I’m just suggesting we apply our respectful and caring treatment of children much more broadly – to everyone, not just those of us who are still cute and little.

For all the energy and effort our society devotes to babying our kids or talking about them as if they’re more important than anyone else, we could spend just a little more of it treating everyone better – regardless of their age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, or any of those pesky differences that often divide us.

We seem to value children more than anyone else, but we should be honoring everyone’s dignity, promoting everyone’s accomplishments, supporting everyone through their struggles.

Sure, kids have their whole lives in front of them, and they’re our future. Yeah, yeah, yeah. So were we, when we were lucky enough to be considered kids. But now that we’re twenty-somethings – ahem, adults – we have the power to expand our top-notch treatment of kids into top-notch treatment of all people – ourselves, our families, our least favorite people, our friends, our co-workers, our bosses, even strangers.

So let’s remember that everyone used to be a kid, and everyone still deserves the respect and fair treatment some reserve for only the youngest among us. Let’s treat kids well and bring our treatment of everyone else up to that standard. Let’s do it today.

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Here’s one healthy habit worth fighting for

You know what’s awesome? Having a sleep schedule.

For the first few years of twenty-something life, oversleeping was my worst bad habit. I lost the ability to wake up on the first alarm during college, and it took years to gain it back. I’ll spare you the details, but I’ll tell you this much: If you’re fighting the snooze button, you’ll have to lose a lot of battles to win the war.

But winning is worth it.

Keeping a sleep schedule means having a predictable amount of time in the morning before work, which makes it a whole lot easier to fit in time for things like going to the gym and eating breakfast. Having a sleep schedule means feeling tired at a (somewhat) predictable time each night, which makes you (accurately) feel super old, but also makes you more likely to be productive until that magic sleepy-time strikes. Having a sleep schedule means actually giving your body what it needs, and our bodies respond better when we listen to them. What a thought!

There’s a mental benefit to establishing a sleep schedule, too – every time you hear one of those junky health/news reports that says “sleep deprivation makes you 17 bazillion times more likely to get into a car crash,” or “research has shown being chronically sleep-deprived takes an average of 36.532 months off a lab rat’s life … and we all know humans are just like lab rats!” you can rest assured. With your scheduled sleep, you know you’re getting enough, so you don’t have to worry about the increased likelihood of crashing your car or shortening your life.

Silliness aside, having a sleep schedule often means waking up somewhat refreshed, and it definitely means not feeling like a bum when you just can’t make yourself move. Sticking to a sleep schedule is an accomplishment and it means you’ve officially reached adulthood.

I said to a couple of high school friends lately during a much-needed catch-up session that a lot of twenty-something life is about figuring out which healthy habits work for you (and how to avoid re-creating all of your parents’ bad habits … but that’s a topic for another day).

In our twenties, we’re trying to figure out which nutritious foods to eat consistently and which treats are OK only once in a while. We’re sorting through what suddenly makes us feel like crap even though we used to eat it with no trouble in high school. (RIP frequent pizza parties) We’re trying to learn what kind of exercise we actually enjoy and when we can fit it into our schedules, how faith plays a role in our lives, how we’ll spend our money and how we’ll save for the future.

How much sleep we need and how we’ll make sure to get it is just another healthy lifestyle challenge we have to navigate, all while working to build a career, being kind and caring to our families, keeping in touch with our friends, becoming informed about and making connections in our communities and hopefully leaving some time for fun.

There’s a different answer for everyone, but one thing has proven true in my life: A sleep schedule is a healthy habit worth fighting for.

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The one bad habit we can’t live without

I could get slightly more sleep; I could have a little more time to read; I could make it to work a few minutes earlier, or have a little longer to cook an actual recipe or gain a bit more time to read about the Bulls or trends in social equality or national news … if only I could stop putzing.

Putzing might just be my second-worst bad habit, behind only oversleeping in how much it annoys me and how powerless I am to overcome it.

Putzing is so seemingly harmless, but it’s such a time-suck.

It’s the time I spend spacing out while kind of looking at my closet, losing visual focus until the colors of my clothes blend into each other and thinking about which old things I should get rid of, instead of quickly choosing what to wear to work tomorrow. Putzing is the time I spend haphazardly deleting a couple of old emails here and there after reading and responding to my new messages, instead of efficiently signing off and moving on with life.

Putzing isn’t in the thesaurus, but opening the thesaurus to look for it, and then getting sidetracked and reading about synonyms to “put-on” or “puzzlement,” or “pustule,” – now that’s another example right there.

Putzing around, frogging around, messing around, hanging around, puttering, tinkering – the meaning is the same: “To move or act aimlessly or idly. To work at random.”

I tell myself it’s OK to putz a bit when I’m at my apartment. Slowing down, looking again at the same pictures in my room, reorganizing one little thing in the kitchen – it’s no big deal to waste a small amount of time at home because I constantly have to be so efficient at work.

Time is deadline approaching or time is money or time is ticking off the clock and we’re not getting paid for any more of it, so it’s to our benefit to “use time wisely,” as they say on elementary school report cards, when we’re at work. But that takes effort and effort gets tiring. So putzing at home is the result.

Are you guilty of putzing, too? Do you catch yourself opening the fridge and staring into it, wondering if you should have a snack or what you should pack for lunch tomorrow? Do you find yourself closing the fridge only to return 10 minutes later and stare into it again? Do you sometimes simply sit and stare into space, or watch bad TV when you know there are better things to do or click on those dumb sensationalized weather warnings for somewhere halfway across the country? Do you wish you could stop?

I sure do, and I sometimes try. But bad habits nag powerfully, and they exist for a reason. Deep down, we need whatever our annoying habitual actions help us obtain. In this case, we need mental rest. Luckily, I know my closet and my fridge and the photos on my wall will be there for me the next time I need to pause, unwind and take a break from being productive.

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