how to make a big change in your life

Well.  I reckon I'm a minimalist now.

Bizarrely enough.

If you looked at my apartment, my calendar, my truck, my brain just 5 years ago, that statement would crack you up.  You could call anyone who has ever lived with me for confirmation, or we could just leave it at this: 

Minimalism is the single biggest change I've ever made in my life.

It's hard to make big changes.  I'm not talking about the changes where you pick up and move to a new state, or you take a new job, or you break up with someone.  Those are hard, but in a different way. 

I'm talking about the changes that ripple through your value system, your everyday perspective, your definition of who you are.  I actually used to think this was an impossible thing to do.

Now I know it's not.  Here's how you can do it, too:

 

1.  Get sick so much that you can't stand being sick anymore.

It started for me in college.  I got sick a lot.  Intense versions of regular old sicknesses--colds, flus, sore throats.  Once I got so insanely sick that my roommate went behind my back and called my mom to come and get me.  Apparently she knew what she was doing because I needed IV fluids and a crapload of meds to get well again.

Later, when I was in my 20s and making theatre in Chicago, I had: an acupuncturist in Chinatown, an osteopath downtown, a kinesiologist in Andersonville, and a regular old doctor in Lincoln Park.  I spent a godawful amount of money and time trying to keep myself going to work and making theatre and having relationships. 

Eventually, I couldn't cross the street in the amount of time that the flashing walk signal allowed.  I felt like I was 90 years old. 

I understood that I couldn't keep doing things the same way, so I moved home to North Carolina to regroup.

 

2.  Have someone tell you the truth.  Maybe several someones.  Maybe several times.

The move back to NC was well-intentioned.  But exactly 18 days after we landed here, my dad died suddenly of a heart attack. 

Regrouping had to take a backseat.  And even after I got through the worst of the grief, I never could quite get back to that original impulse.

I started making theatre again, and in the first 7 years after I got back to NC, I made a hell of a lot of it.  We made work happen in theatres, yes, but also in empty storefronts and bars, a renovated mill, a transitioning department store, and--my personal favorite--a working warehouse.

Our ensemble was training together weekly--working at it feverishly right alongside the grind of regular day jobs.  I loved where my creative work was headed.  This is what I had always wanted to do with my life. 

But also in those years, I was hearing this:  "I keep getting the shit end of the stick with you."  And this:  "You're a control freak, and you don't let me do my job."  Even this:  "I don't think you'd make a very good mom.  You're a mess all the time."  And the kindest version:  "I don't even know why you do this.  You're not having fun." 

From boyfriends and collaborators and dear friends.  In I-care-about-you voices and in I'm-hurt voices and in what-the-hell-is-wrong-with-you voices. 

Maybe you're thinking that I had shitty boyfriends and collaborators and friends to say those things to me.  And maybe you're right that they said them in less-than-stellar ways.  But they were all telling me different versions of the truth. 

And sometimes you need to hear the truth a lot of times in a lot of different ways before you can make a big change.

 

3.  Decide how you want to change and then read your brains out about it for several years.

Once I realized that I was stressed out way too much of the time and that wasn't how I wanted to live the rest of my life, I tried a lot of productivity fixes.  None of them reduced my stress in the slightest.  I finally realized that I didn't actually know how to not be stressed out.  Not a clue. 

So I started to read.  I read books and blog posts and magazine articles and pretty much anything I could my hands on.  Productivity reading gave way to Zen reading which led to decluttering reading which gave way to Feng Shui reading which led to simplicity reading which eventually got me to unbusying and minimalism reading. 

When I say I read about this stuff for years, I'm not exaggerating.  I was a chronic over-stuffer of things and commitments.  I implemented a small change here and a small change there, but mostly, I read.

 

4.  Get a partner who will help you get rid of your granny's broken teapot.

Reading doesn't actually change anything. 

Which is where a good partner comes in. 

A good partner will let you truck all sorts of odds and ends into the house (mostly) patiently while you're in your reading phase.  And a good partner will believe you when you say you're ready to do this for real this time.  And a good partner will sit with you while you say something like this, out loud, mostly to yourself: 

This teapot.  I need to get rid of it.  It was my granny's.  I don't think she ever used it.  Do you think it's worth anything?  Maybe we could Google it.  The top is broken.  It's probably not worth anything if the top is broken, right?  I have a lot of things that were my granny's, and I actually think this is kind of ugly.  Do you think we could donate it?  I hate to just throw it away.  Can you get my camera so I can take a picture of it?

After I let go of granny's broken teapot, my husband and I started letting go of a lot more stuff.  50% of our stuff, actually, over the past few years.

 

5.  Have a child learn how to be in this world by watching you.

And while we were starting to feel some physical space, I was more intensely aware than ever of the lack of breathing space in my life.  I think that heightened awareness has a lot to do with a small human being who is about two-and-a-half years old. 

Once, when our baby was just about 4 months old, my mom said to me pretty simply (with no judgment on her part), "I think she can tell you're stressed out."  I don't remember what was happening in the moment or why I was stressed, but her observation stuck with me.  Because it was true.

I don't want to teach my daughter that go, go, go is the only way to do this life.  I don't want her to believe that cram-jam-packed is the only available setting. I don't want the luxury of a few totally unplanned hours to be foreign to her. 

So now:  I'm simplifying in every way I can.

Here on the blog, I'll be writing about less.  I'll be writing about the hard choices around things we let go to make space for the things that are truly important.  I'll be writing about creating, mothering, speaking, and leading.  More on each of those over the next four days.

If you're a creative mama who leads a tiny business or a little nonprofit or a small group of some kind, and you feel almost constantly overwhelmed:  I'm writing for you.  And if you're not that person but this stuff resonates anyway, I'm so happy to have you come along for the ride, too.

Because here I am.  At the place where I own 50% less stuff than I did just a few years ago.  At the place where I'm learning to say no to things that I really want to do because there are other things I want (or need) more.  At the place where I believe it's possible to get enough sleep.  To have enough time.  To live without stress headaches and stress stomachaches and freaking out at the people you live with on a fairly regular basis.

I'm not actually fully there yet.  I just believe I can get there.  And I want you to come with me.

Each day this week, I'm touching on the kinds of things I'll be writing about here at one broken teapot.  If you think these explorations are interesting or helpful, you can subscribe to have my blog posts delivered to your inbox.  It's easy, and it's free.