Monday, January 22, 2018

Noughts and Crosses

My two main reasons for a Nothing-New Year were to (1) generate less garbage and (2) save money.

Yet, despite having been waste-conscious for years and forced into thrift by circumstances for years likewise (not always overlapping), it is amazing how much more challenging it is to be thrifty when you are time-poor and not quite so money-poor as to have your back to wall.

This year started with a bunch of travel. Lucknow, first, for a "working leisure" trip that is typical of our profession. And two days later, Kolkata, to see my folks back home. Coming back, we had a day to sort ourselves out before we were again caught up on the hamster wheel—work from workplace, school, therapy, work from home, long commutes, a fortnight's dust and smog to scrub out...

In just the last fortnight, lessons were learnt on the road, and some challenges wore me out:
  • On one trip, we packed food and forgot cutlery and napkins. That was messy. LESSON: As my friend Vru points out, the best-thought-out kit is no use unless you remember to pack it!
  • On another, we thought we were being clever and asked for food to be packed by our hosts, so we would not have to buy our own in plastic packaging. We got sandwiches that were in disposable plastic boxes, which in turn were packed by the hotel inside a paper box. Amazing! LESSON: Specify the packaging concern.
  • On the flight back home from Kolkata, we ended up seated further apart on the plane than I had bargained for, and our child went into meltdown mode with one parent. This meant I was unable to get to the packed food, which the co-parent had put up in a baggage bin (I am really short), and accepted the in-flight meal, with plastic cutlery, plastic trays and all. I managed to refuse the condiments and cups and beverages, even the excess of paper napkins; but I suspect they were trashed right along with the messy trays. LESSON: Keep your necessities to hand. Next time, I need to use a roomier backpack as personal item so that the food and kit are handy, under the seat in front of me, and not in the carry-on bag.
  • Hotel rooms in India only offer plastic bottles for a hygienic supply. I don't have a way around this yet, as it is not really practical to carry three people's worth of hydration for a 3/4-day stay. Best I could do: drink up at mealtimes, and order hydrating meals, so as to need less bottles.
  • Hygiene makes waste! Long road-trips in India seem to have this pitfall, that access to a clean toilet must be paid for by the purchase of a meal. It was too often the case. Best I could do: Choose non-cutlery foods, or those that came in reusable trays. At one such, I managed to buy a muffin in paper as the most minimal option and the child got a paper cup of boiled corn, while the spouse had a thali meal in a plastic tray (I was not happy that they each used a plastic spoon and paper napkin, given I had packed cutlery and napkins; but I had promised this would be my journey and I won't be forcing the issue with the rest of the family anyway).
  • Some of the foods we packed, such as energy bars and crispbread, came in plastic packets that generated waste :-/ I just do not have the time or organization to make it all from scratch yet. 
  • On a few occasions, I was able to head my child away from an ecologically poor choice. But he is less than five years old, and sometimes delayed gratification or better alternatives could not stave of the lure of instant satisfaction with a chocolate bar wrapped in plastic, or a drink with a straw. LESSON: Alternatives need to be kept more handy and more attractive; I need a running list and to be organized enough to ensure we aren't in a shop when he is hungry.
  • I ended up in a cafe to meet an old friend, who had had a surgery recently and could not take the stairs (we were staying with family, and they don't have an elevator). There was literally nothing I could order that was plastic-free and okay for me or my child to eat or drink (neither of us can handle spicy foods; I struggle with sugars and carbs a lot).
  • I had one takeaway meal (yesterday) because everyone else in the family wanted to, and I didn't have my own meal prepared already. LESSON: Keep a back-up meal in the fridge or cupboards, always.

There were some triumphs too:

  • We managed to refuse plastic boxes for some cake slices and got them handed over in paper. Which, actually, mixed blessing—I have recently learnt you cannot recycle paper that is contaminated with food!
  • I managed to bring food with NO waste for myself on one leg of the road trip and one leg of the flight. I had enough for the child, but he did want to share with the co-parent, who bought meals on both trips.
  • Having packed extra empty food containers, I was able to refrigerate leftovers from our in-room meals at the hotel and bring them back for supper.
  • We weathered at least one meltdown over a mango drink in a Tetrapak, with plastic straw, and after eating a sandwich (he was tired and hungry), my four-year-old finally conceded a glass jar of strawberry lemonade concentrate, made with seasonal produce and no additives, was a better choice.
  • I was able to stick eating at home (or in the hotel) for the rest of the two trips, barring the one cafe visit—which I am super proud of, because nostalgia often fuels the eating out on trips 'home' and adventure on the trips to new destinations.
The biggest overall lesson has been to be a lot more organized around food (that has been the biggest pitfall, I see, over the fortnight), and to be stronger in the face of temptation from family and friends.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Wishlist for a Not-Much-New Year

I considered making 2018 a Nothing-New Year. Or a No-Spend one.

But I know that isn't going to work, not really.

There are things we need, if not I personally. My child needs a new carseat, the family car is  whinging about needing an update, and we broke the dining table with Yuletide festivities.

So: I am hoping for an Only-the-Essentials sort of 2018 instead.

Why wish for less?
Because the debt is making me anxious to the point of losing sleep, especially combined with the need for savings to very likely cover my child's adulthood. And I am missing the self-sufficiency I once had, financially. I am also missing the things I never did, because I spend the money on things that were each cheaper thrills (but totalled more than the required savings). Plus, after a few years of juggling setbacks, I am finally at a place where I have all my necessities covered, and the paranoia of being caught without is starting to recede. Also, not least, because it is bothering me to watch the world drown in stuff.

The plan: Less of stuff. More of experiences. 
That said, less of paying for experiences too, at least this year. I want to make paying off EMIs and other debts (and then building savings) a higher priority for this year. I also want to challenge myself to make more—cook more, craft more, maybe compost and grow more. I do want to travel—but it may be best to save for next year, and plan over this year (including getting the five-year-old's long-overdue passport and updating my own). Especially, I need to lay off on my two biggest non-essential expenditure categories below.

Enough with the eating out
I like to eat out as much as I travel, and yes, it is an experience. But I want to hit pause on this. Some experiences are amazing, and seem like value for money—like that meal at Masala Library in 2017. But they are not essential, not really. I need to re-evaluate entertainment as an "experience" that must be paid for—there are legit free movies and TV and books all over the Internet, and meals don't need to be paid for to be special. Also, too many disappointing meals were paid for last year—I need to find better use for my palate and wallet alike, for health and happiness.
Possible exception: Ice cream. The real kind.

Wardrobe holes: 0
I love dressing up; not just getting dressed. Because dressing up is fun, like painting my nails or colouring my hair. So I do have some things I want in shoes, bags and clothing—but nothing I really need, unless I manage to wear out literally a dozen pairs of footwear or underwear. Not likely. So, no more clothes and accessories. Not this year. (I should confess I am starting in a space of abundance, with plenty of room for shopping my own closet, thanks to a very generous friend—I should in fact be able to pass more of the bounty around, because I doubt I can use quite so much in even a whole year.)

And while this plan pertains to me, not the whole family, I will be looking to shop less for my child's wardrobe as well, this year. He is hard on his clothes at times, and needs at least six of every item (pants, underwear, socks, t-shirts, sweatshirts), barring outerwear like parka, cap, gloves and swimwear. However, unless he has a drastic growth spurt, he should be good at least till next winter.

What I will still spend on:

  1. Groceries, basically food and cleaning supplies... and toilet paper
  2. Bulbs and batteries, as needed
  3. Utilities and investments (electricity, piped gas, maintenance payments, phone and internet bills, library and cloud storage fees, music and movie subscriptions, insurances for car and home and health, petrol and other transportation, parking)
  4. School fees and therapy 
  5. Medical check-ups, therapies and medicines
  6. Carseat
  7. Dining table (we'll look at upcycled options, but cannot be sure of finding something suitable—this may need to be a new or bespoke object)
  8. Clothes and shoes for the child if all footwear outgrown and less than six items of servicable clothing remain in a given category (well, the school shoes are pretty snug already, so at least one pair looks inevitable)
  9. Haircuts (both child's and self)
  10. Books for the child (I could manage not to, but he is learning to read a language in which ebook availability is limited, and free books even more restricted); drawing books (he does seem to run through them rather fast); and craft glue (ditto).

What I need to NOT spend on:
  1. Prepared meals and beverages (so no cafe drinks and deli meals, no restaurant outings, except the reviews I do for work)
  2. Toiletries and personal hygiene products, barring replacing my deo and toothpaste when I run out (I have enough stashed toiletries for a small commune); make-up (because I hardly use any, hence not needed)
  3. Any physical books or too many ebooks for self—easy to overdo the latter because they don't occupy visible space; I shall try to stick with what's free from my library services
  4. Toys, though the child is used to lots and especially around birthday and "Christmas" (which we don't even quite celebrate); but I do have something stashed away for his birthday and will work on making rather than purchasing more play things
  5. Stationery
  6. Hair accessories (see: haircuts!)
  7. Holidays
  8. Cookware, bakeware, crockery, cutlery and utensils
  9. More cleaning supplies than strictly needed (so replace, but do not add to stash)
  10. 'Surprises' to keep child busy on trips.

Challenges I foresee:
  1. Finding alone time outside the house that is free and freely available. A lot of my 'eating out' is really a bid to be by myself in a calm space.
  2. Socialising, of which a lot happens around ticketed outings and (again) at eateries in my life.
  3. Being self-sufficient and not letting friends pay my way to bend the rules, because I have kind and generous friends.
  4. Technology around the house is going to get outdated and beaten up; must resist the siren song of upgrades, barring protective covers (only if utterly ruined).
  5. Ikea comes to India this year (ahem!).
  6. With new school and therapy timings, I anticipate some struggles to be prepared with on-the-go meals, snacks and beverages at all times.
  7. I could buy some things (appliances, entertainment, toys) second-hand, but the co-parent tends to be biased against and resists this option.
  8. I need to get more active, and this MAY need more of an outlay than I currently anticipate (for one, the bicycle I still don't know how to ride needs fixing, before I can actually learn; a swimsuit that fits may be another if I succeed in getting fitter, actually!).
  9. Watching other family members have fun can cause envy.
  10. It is easy to be tempted into curtailing the child's wants—but he has not signed up for this, I have, and while I will talk to him about what I am doing and why, I am not going to insist he follow my rules (this year will be challenging enough for him anyway).

But why not start on January 1?
Because the Yuletide season tends to be splurge-inducing around here. And I want to aim for a more frugal fun experience for the next year. So I wanted to be sure to include January 1, 2019, in my Only-the-Essentials year, and see how we fare.

This isn't very frugal, though, is it?
Maybe not. After all, there is a lot of inessential subscription services involved. Then again, I am not exactly aiming for a zero-waste home or a pretence at poverty. I am privileged, and I need to own that. At the same time, I am hoping the reductions are better than going on as we were. Doing nothing cannot be any better, right? And this will mean huge emphasis on better time management (procrastinator par excellence, here)—though time is a commodity in major short supply where I live, partly due to my family's conscious lifestyle choices and partly because of the way the dice landed for us. So this is still pretty challenging. (I will own I am a little scared. Which is why I am publicly committing to it—for accountability.) Oh, and it also means giving up my Tattoo at 42 dream till next year (good thing I don't have a design finalized—that would be harder!).
So, can I do it? Will my friends still see me, and will my family lose their patience? Let's see. I will update monthly, and more often if interesting things transpire.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013


Aman's properly army crawling at shocking speed and chasing patches of sunlight to the dusty window past my barricade of chairs etc (there's an AC fitted there I don't want him reaching)... 

I feel like I should be sitting here giggling at his antics. Instead I am chasing him down and returning him from cold floor (which he also wants to lick) to carpet repeatedly to his vociferous irritation.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Cutting to the Crux of Clutter

Our old bookshelf we brought over from the capital has been bending down for two years too many — it's a matter of time before it goes the way of the London Bridge of the rhyme: breaking down altogether.

It has been burdened with too many books. Many more than it should hold.

Yes. Guilty as charged.

Last year, we sought to relieve the bookshelf of its burden. We rescued three lovely old bookcases from the place where shabby, second-hand vintage furniture goes to be reborn in Calcutta: Judges Court Road. Amit loved the glass fronts, which meant minimal dusting. Me, I believe books should breathe... but I hate dusting and dust mites hate me — so I gave in and consoled myself with the glass sides.

We were set to skim and separate — but first we had to unpack the still-packed boxes from our move...

By the time we were done with 5 of the 11 waiting patiently in the alcove for over a year, the three new cabinets were nearly full. The old bookcase was still double-stacked and top-heavy.

We had to admit it. We have more books than we know what to do with.

So, maybe I should be taking a leaf out of the very inspiring Minimalist Mom's book? But as I read her page (and mused, delurked and commented), I realized that... I can't be shed my paper cocoon and fly away a lightweight butterfly when it comes to my reading; I remain at best a minimal-ish bookworm, taking comfort in paper.

At first, this recognition caused consternation: Oh dear! the dusting will never be done and I will never be free of too-full shelves, never quite caught up!

Then, I felt miffed: Even if I did dare to make a clean cut (and we all know how painful a paper cut can be), how could I do without the sheer pleasure of paper?

Yes, I could borrow from the library... But I already do!

But then, why did I need my own home library? Because some books are so comforting, I like them near. Sometimes it is the story; sometimes the facts (as with my cookbooks); and sometimes it is the when and why and how of the book, its physical form and its possession of me. Sometimes it is the beauty of the book — its type, its textured and fragrant pages, its tooled or otherwise thoughtfully crafted cover, its heft — that comforts my senses, like a crisp winter morning or a good cup of tea.

No, I am not identifying myself with my books. Unlike most minimalist mavens, that has never been at the root of my hoarding problem. But I needed to know: What has? Why do I have excess fat even in my cookbook cupboard?

The more I thought, the more my reply seemed paradoxical. I had too many because I feared I might not have any — which means that now, a guardian of too many, I have every reason to shed my fear.

And indeed, it is this 'might not have many' that has for years fuelled the hoarding habit. In the closet, I would have (say) three perfect outfits. In my teens, my mum would complain that I wore the same outfits so often that I wore them out. I said it was fine — they were my best dresses, and I wanted to look my best. If I wore them out, then... well, there was a closetful of clothes I wasn't wearing, featuring miles of dad's sewing! But this changed. Sometime in my twenties — after our family had taken quite a lot of hard knocks in the wallet, after I had moved out to a new city and a new job that paid barely enough to make my rent and send a sustenance home to my folks, after I made the choice to get married or go study further one year — I woke up one day and found it had all changed.

Suddenly, I had become my father. I still had three perfect outfits in my closet — but now I wore anything but those three!

Like my partner, my dad had known the anxiety of lack, and had known it long and early in life. Unlike my partner, the lack was a real one of necessity, and not a matter of thrifting by choice (what my mother-in-law practised, and it has paid her well in later life, say what people and self-help gurus may).

Both my father and my partner are anxious about lack, about the possibility of not having enough. My partner dealt with it by swinging like a pendulum between self-denial and a desperate self-indulgence: He is the one who has dessert first, because what if in 10 minutes there is no dessert? My father dealt with it by saving for tomorrow — not his money, but the things money could buy! He failed to see that three dinner sets today would keep depreciating, even if mint-new; while actual money could grow in his savings account if left alone — enough to cover the cost of seven sets of plates, should the need for an extra one really arise!

My father's concern is 'running out'; my partner's is 'being denied'. And I had become my father. What if I can never afford a really perfect dress again? I'd better buy three, just to make sure I had one — and I'd better never wear them either, to make sure I didn't wear them out.

So while I carefully lined my nest, my closet, I had 'nothing to wear' — because I wouldn't wear what I had. And then I had to spend to rectify that situation and make second-best purchases on a budget — which made me all the more anxious about running out of money, which meant I wouldn't have any to pay for tomorrow. Meanwhile, I grew, I changed — and the 'perfect dress' ceased to fit. It even started to fade, to fall apart. So I soon had nothing wearable for today or for tomorrow!

It took a while to see the problem with this picture — for a long time, I was standing too close to make sense of it. It took another while for Amit and I to take courage into our hands and talk about our own patterns of consumption, as well as each other's — and to pick out the common thread of being taken with the sensual pleasure of a potential purchase: the perfect ivory salad bowl in the just-so fineness of ceramic (that just happened to be the same exact size as the utilitarian glass bowl we had got last year, which we never used because it was a pain to handle, being wobbly and heavy and slippery... and just plain awkward); the perfect grey sweater that cost more than my purse held today, minus the plastic (but which would make up for all the twenty awkward assorted emergency purchases and sentimental gifts that I either wore but felt wrong in, or hoarded and did not wear); the bag that cost more than we thought any piece of canvas could and which meant we couldn't buy the shoes we wanted that month (but which turned out to be the handiest bag he owned, despite my dire predictions about taking it out into rain and snow; and which means I no longer have to tote a tote to tuck his things into; and which makes him worry hours less than me when travelling because his gear is already figured out)!

It took us seven years to own up to the facts.

And to see the patterns in the picture: That we are birds of a feather, fearful of a windblown and unkempt nest — and the answer was not to line it with feathers, but to build it better to begin with. That we are consumer worms on the turn — and we aren't going far without our security blanket of beauty. That we would never be comfortable in debt or while living out of a suitcase (except when travelling) — and that we could spend less and own less by being pickier in what we bring home and making sure to enjoy it while we had it.

Which brings me back to the bookshelves. Yes, there's a spineless few that need to be shown the door; there are generic students' editions I can find online and let go. No, I cannot go clutter-free digital — not yet anyway.

I am still anxious, you see.

About the effect seven hours' of leisure screen time (after eight hours of working at one) has on me. About whether I would want that for my children, or theirs.

About spending on another expensive reading device which needs another clutter of wires, chargers, batteries, warranties... while being less then the perfect reading experience and needing safekeeping from water, tomato sauce and garden dirt (yes, yet again!).

About the issue of books available for only limited download, so that we pay again and again for the same book we've already bought — about the 'rightness' and 'fairness' of that retail model that commodifies the new reading experience of the 21st century.

About losing the comfort of a sensual read (no, I'm not thinking of a bodice ripper).

My anxiety is now about loss of experience and faculties, not possessions. And so this time, I feel comfortable listening. Most of my books, I'm keeping. Even more, I'm borrowing from our library (they even deliver to my doorstep overnight). Several others, I'm downloading.

Because I've decided to declutter the anxiety from my life, first of all, you see. I don't need to deny my senses. I don't need to give up comfort to have security (the idea!).

What I do need to do is make the optimal choice for me, maybe even the maximal — which may not jive with someone else's minimal.

I'm happy to be minimal-ish, rather than minimalist, if I can shelve the hoarding habit for good — downsize old habits and ditch tomorrow's baggage so that I can enjoy today and plan for a future. Save, not hoard. And not throw away the books with the bathwater!

Like my perfect dress, I hope to take comfort in them again and againuntil I can let them go for a finer edition, or because they lose their meaning (whichever happens first, and let's hope my vision's decluttered enough to see that when it happens!).

Sunday, January 1, 2012

2012 brings frugal flowers. Tasty!

That was last year's lunch. And will be this year's dinner. In between, it is window dressing. Also counter topper. And table trimmer.

That's a 10-rupee bouquet of pumpkin flowers, which are in blossom at the wet markets just now, and glowing all along the highway so much brighter than the fog lamps.

Yesterday, there were twice as many. But we ate a bunch for lunch. Not even bothering to waste oil and batter on fritters; just munched them like Ferdinand did his flowers from the ring. In a bowl of baby spinach. So fresh, so lovely, so filling... and frugal.

Looks like a talisman for a bountiful new year to me!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Flecks of a White Christmas

Once again, 'Jack Frost' surprised us with a festive show.

Three years ago, when we'd barely moved into our new home in December 2008, it looked like a rather strange holiday season over here. Hardly any neighbours. No tree. Packing boxes from the move stacked and strewn all over the place — upstairs and downstairs and in my lady's chamber! The kitchen a gutted-out square at one end of the living room.

But we knocked together some chairs, unpacked the sole green-leaf-edged plate that survived the movers, and boiled up a pudding. And got started on fitting out the kitchen. Washing up was done in the bathroom sink for a fortnight.

And then, just as the sink was set in, we had to fly away north, like the birds.

Next year, the boxes were mostly gone. The kitchen, with its stove and oven and sink and larder in place, worked. Oh! and it was only me at home for Christmas. Half of this family would only arrive after work was done for the year, on the 26th of December.

But we put up some lights, put out artsy tabletop trees, and roasted bird and roots, boiled a pudding when he did arrive. We debated getting a real tree, but we weren't sure what we wanted to put in the ground. The garden wasn't ready to receive any new roots just then. So we got to work, in the single week we'd have until he headed back to Delhi again. It wasn't done until almost New Years', but at the nursery, we found — way over in a corner at the back, abandoned — two leggy-looking slender specimens with a spray of white at the top.

They reminded me of snow. And Oriental silk paintings. They turned out to be 'poinsettia' that hadn't quite made it big, and could be had for a song. We got a pair. They turned out to be Euphorbia all right — but not pulcherrima. These were Diamond Frost. And apparently they were new and cool.

We left them on the back porch for a year, while we still tried to start the garden. The clay was impenetrable, immovable; yet the weeds were rampant.

December came again. The 'rest of the family' moved to this city, finally. But he was still away for Xmas, on the train home. No tree, again — not yet. But guess who welcomed him home at the door? Though I'd given up on those two frail doormen of mine putting up any fight at all against the hot, wet tropical elements, they flowered! In two sprays of white that framed the garden door, harbingers of what could be.

And this July, when I was out of work and wondering how to make do, when the Diamond Frost had really suffered a roasting over summer and seemingly dried out, the unthinkable happened. A third man appeared among them! There was a tall shoot, hidden behind the untameable weeds of the monsoons. We didn't dare believe it could be the Euphorbia. But it looked like nothing else.

We put the other two in the ground finally, framing the porch. And they first white sepals unfolded, just in time for the holidays, and aptly — on 1 December.

It had risen again, out of adversity and into startling, heartening beauty. Unexpectedly. A parsimonious gift that nevertheless kept giving, multiplying even. A being epitomizing not just of joy, but hardiness and holding on, fortitude and fecundity.

As we celebrated our eighth anniversary yesterday, looking back on years of 'making do', we realized we didn't need a tree this year either — the slender shrubs we were 'making do' with for three years, with whom it was sometimes touch and go in these torrid tropics, would make sure we had our leafy marker of the holidays.

Odd how 'making do' becomes the best of traditions, isn't it?

Now there are three of my slender garden sentinels. Framing both doorway and window.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Resolution: To Make Money...

Stop laboriously picking up peanuts from today.

A short and sweet resolution, because it's important.

Yesterday, I tied up a project of the kind I used to take on regularly. Low pay, relatively easy and enjoyable work, and slow going. Painstaking — which I tend to gravitate to. Painfully slow — because almost always revealed to be far more involved than it sounded on first correspondence. Painfully underpaid too, because the publishing industry has its own caste system, and freelancers are the scapegoats of it.

We get scalped, though often we do the lion's share of work on a book, save the writing of it.

We get condescended to, though we often end up with a clearer understanding of the texts published this year than the house editor ever will.

We get devalued because, ironically, we do it for the love of it and because we can't bear to see a hatchet job done on a manuscript with possibilities, and because in-house editors hardly ever edit any more, so that they are in danger of forgetting — or worse, never learning — what exactly it takes to do the job and do it well: the time, the effort, and yes, even the knowledge, both of the language and of the subject.

But we keep at it. For love and for money.

So why am I quitting?

Because I realized I can't afford a love so draining — emotionally, intellectually, temporally or financially. And conversely, because love can't be bought for peanuts. It's a costly investment. Beginning with the down payment of some respect.

I thought those few thousand rupees mattered too much to let go of, mattered enough that I could put up with less respect. I lost sight of the opportunity costs. No, I hadn't had to turn down too much other work to do it. Yes, I sometimes often let the house become a shambles because I was snowed under with this work I 'loved'. I had let myself become that bugbear: a workaholic, who has forgotten where work stops and other fun starts. And I had sacrificed time in which to find more fulfilling work, and skills that would help me grow into the life I wanted.

However, after many cutbacks and setbacks over the last several months, I have come to realize that no matter how messy things are, they aren't so desperate yet as I've made them appear to myself over the last couple of years. Which means I should not have been scrabbling for pennies (or paise); I should instead have been looking for meaningful, enjoyable work that also pays what it is worth in terms of my time and effort, and — dare I say it? — my expertise.

What was needed was not for me to scramble to do everything (I thought) I wanted to do. What was needed was for me to prioritize and do what was important to me.

I left it rather late — until lack of resources squeezed most other modes of procrastination out of my hands. But having to buckle down — to less impulsive food purchases; fewer wardrobe additions; no more books and magazines; hardly any it-all-adds-up nights at the movies and afternoons at coffee shops and fast-food dinners — and making do with less forced me to focus.

And once I focused on what was important, I saw in a few short months what had eluded me for several years lately — I saw what was really missing from my life.

I thought what was missing was money, because money can buy freedom. What I was really missing was freedom from constraints. I thought I needed to just throw money at my limitations, until they disappeared. Turns out all I had to do was live within my limits to have the life I had wanted all along — a life that was not missing opportunity or time in which to explore a new one. Once I started to work with my limitations, I felt liberated — because I wasn't wasting money and energy on the limitations, I could spend them on things that mattered.

It wasn't just money I had been wasting. I had been wasting time too — it's just that no one bills you for your time. (Well, not yet — but just you wait till someone figures it out.) And a lot of the time, I had been wasting time chasing 'easy money' — money it took far too long to earn... so long that it was devalued.

Because money that steals time also steals opportunity. It steals fun. It steals possibilities: A walk in the park; a run around the neighbourhood at dusk. Time to sing a song; time to sit down with friends. The leisure to enjoy the home I worked so hard to have; the leisure to curl up with a book in the sun. The chance to make time for family; the chance to make them a gift.

Too short-sighted a focus on earning money has robbed me of a chance to live my life a little more.

I can and should use my time better. To develop new skills. To take time for loved ones and loved activities. To give my brain a break from worry and drudgery. To stop and smell the flowers — really.

Making money should be an empowering thing. Not a stultifying situation I have to be stuck in.