I’m in the Pursuit of Happiness

I’m in the Pursuit of Happiness

Have you ever put off things when you’ve really wanted to do them? How many times have you said, “Oh, maybe next year”? How often have you wished for the financial freedom to live out your dreams?

I can tell you that my answers to those questions are probably not surprising. They may even coincide with yours. If I had a dollar for everything I wish I could’ve done in life, I probably would have had enough money to have done them. I’m not even talking big trips or vacations, but small excursions that someone else may take for granted. One example: Each year I see a list of concerts coming to Pittsburgh, PA and I list out all the ones that I’d love to go to. I check ticket prices, I check sales dates, and I mark my calendar. And do you know how many I go to? I’d say, on average, 1-2 per year. (And that is only because last year and this year I’ve gone to more than usual.)

Here’s another for you. I often get too lazy to see my friends. I rationalize to myself that it will cost too much in gas, plus then we meet somewhere to eat, plus a drink or two, and before you know if I’m crashed on my couch pants-less eating Cheetos and Twizzlers for dinner having canceled on my friends yet again.

Does that ever happen to you?

I hope so, because if I’m the only one that does this, that’s pretty embarrassing. Well, me and Ron White

In any case, I’m going to operate under the assumption that I’m not alone since I know plenty of procrastinators and putter-offers. You don’t have to admit it here, or even to others, but for the sake of your own mental health you must at least admit it to yourself.

We all have different ways of doing this. Some people fill their schedules to the point of bursting until they have a mental breakdown. Others feign being busy so as to rest, watch TV, or Netflix and chill (alone). Still others just ignore problems until they no longer can, which in my opinion is the worst approach to take.

I’ve been guilty of each of these at different times, but at least I know it now. I know that when I put off doing my dishes for the third straight day to watch reruns of “Law & Order” that I’m not being productive. I know that when I wake up earlier than usual and waste that time on Facebook rather than getting ready or taking out the trash that I’m not making good use of my time.

So why do we do this? Why do we procrastinate? I’m guilty of it, obviously, and in many more ways than I mentioned above. But why do we do it?

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One theory I have is that we always assume that we’ll improve our circumstances by next week, next month, or next year. Much like our oft-forgotten and ill-begotten New Year’s Resolutions, we assume we can change our lives without making much effort. I see all the infomercials and ads for “quicker-faster-better” results. Burn fat now! Get rich quick! 22-Day Fix! But does any of this really last?

No, is the short answer.

We have to want to change our lives and ourselves before we actually embark on this journey.

First, we have to WANT to change. Now I don’t mean:

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Or:

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I mean you actually have to define what you want in real terms. It’s too easy to ignore a goal when you have no accountability for it. But if you take the time to lay out a plan, it will seem like you’ve wasted time by giving it up. Rather than joining a gym alone, get yourself a work-out buddy. Instead of promising to read more on weekends, join (or form) a book club. Instead of wishing you were outside, go outside.

The great thing is that we all have our own goals. We all have the right to pursue our dreams the way we want. But in this TV-watching, movie-streaming, Facebook-stalking “modern” world, we have to hold ourselves and each other accountable.

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So now let’s focus on the JOURNEY.

We need to accept that the best things in life are worth working and fighting for. Is it more rewarding to work hard to buy your mother a birthday present or to steal it? Would you rather earn your diploma or cheat your way through school? Is it better to read the entire book or just the CliffsNotes? (On second thought, don’t answer that last question. I’m afraid of your choice…)

When I started college, I assumed I’d graduate in four years like any “normal” student. After all, I was always smart and I did well in school. That didn’t happen for me. After giving up for five years, I went back and reached my dreams. I finished that journey.

And I started a new one. After four years of being in a so-so relationship, I made the very difficult decision to break up and learn what it meant to me an adult in the world. It’s been tough and it’s been wonderful. It’s necessarily had its ups and downs. It’s been a learning experience and I hope it never ceases to be. I have found pieces of me that I never knew existed. I’m still trying to regain pieces of me that I thought were lost forever.

This journey that I’ve embarked on this year has taken many twists and turns and it’s only been a few months. I’ve changed my mind, made decisions over and over again, and changed my mind some more. I’ve angered people, pitied people, been angry, and been pitied. I’ve taken some hits and I’m sure I’ve dished some out. I’ve made some good deals and I’m sure I’ve made some bad ones.

I just know that I am no longer willing to exchange the life I want and the life I lead for the life I could maybe-possibly-someday have. I’m no longer willing to suffer today in hopes that tomorrow is better. This life is a journey, and I’m going to enjoy it until the end.

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Back from the dead…

Back from the dead…

First, I want to apologize to those of you who were/are loyal readers. I obviously took a more-than-brief hiatus from blogging about my Tiny House journey. I shan’t do it again.

Second, I’d like to take a brief moment to appreciate the beauty that is young Bruce Campbell from his “Evil Dead” days.

*pause*

Le sigh. Now that that’s out of the way… It’s time for some Tiny House (and life) updates!

I will try to blog each day this week to document what has been going on with my Tiny House. For one, I must introduce her in all of her glory. This is a picture of my THOW the day it got delivered to my parents’ house…

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Tiny House delivery

This, my friends, is Matilda; I call her Tilly for short. I named her such for several reasons.

  1. I loved the childhood book-made-movie “Matilda”. I even re-typed the entire book in grade school to improve my typing. #goals
  2. In the book-made-movie, Matilda is small but magical. I’d like to think my Tiny House will be the same…
  3. Tilly is the name of my high school lunch lady. She was small, adorable, and gave us extra tots. Who doesn’t like free tots?!

I have been working on Tilly most weekends since she was delivered. Needless to say, things have been taking much longer than expected. Here is Tilly’s near-finished exterior. (It’s still got painters’ tape on it so she doesn’t look 100%.)

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I’ve also updated my interior plans for Tilly, which I’ll show you later this week. #teaser

All in all, things have been going well. However, I’ve had many changes in my life since my last post…

  1. I changed jobs.
  2. I am only working one job right now.
  3. I am happily single and not looking for anyone.
  4. My depression is a bit more under control.

I am working for a non-profit very near my apartment now. I ditched the waitressing job for a few reasons, but mainly due to the long drive. I will pick another one up here shortly, but for now I’m enjoying having my weekends to myself.

I have also been buying MANY things to outfit Tilly which I will probably update this weekend. I am also thinking of switching my blog over to a wordpress.org site so I can generate some income from my writing. That is probably a big part of my lack of blogging the past few months… I was afraid to blog more on here in case I switched over. But since I haven’t made that decision yet I couldn’t wait to post any longer!

More to come later tonight…

The Millennial generation: Entitled or just different?

The Millennial generation: Entitled or just different?

You can hardly peruse Facebook or news sites these days without finding some commentary on Millennials. Some articles insinuate that Gen-Y is entitled and lazy, while others delve a little deeper to look into the challenges many in this generation face.

I recently read an article about how Millennials spend their money titled “Pets, debts and e-cigarettes: how millennials spend their paychecks”. Now I wouldn’t consider myself part of this so-called Me Me Me Generation but according to Wikipedia’s age range I am smack in the middle of it. (Okay, so maybe being born in 1986 puts me about 1/4 of the way in, but I look younger than I am… Right? Right?!?) In case you don’t have time to read the article, here is an overview:

  • A non-scientific case study of six Millennials ranging in age from 23 to 29 was completed to see how they spend their money and how much they earn.
  • Salaries ranged from $0 (one young lady was unemployed) to $130,000 annually, with a median income range of $30,000-$33,000 a year.
  • Each person spent their money in different ways, but both income and spending were self-reported. Their expenses were then broken down into the top five categories.
  • The highest reported expenses were typically rent, food, and student loans, closely followed by things like medications, daycare, and car payments.
  • Of their top expense categories only one person listed hair appointments, one listed cigarettes, two listed gym memberships, and one listed travel.

The question I’m left with after reading this article is:

If we’re spending money on the same things as other generations, why are we being labeled as entitled?

Now let me jump to my own life; if I were to be included in that article, what would my “Top 5” look like?

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Now let’s see how my income stacks up:

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Assuming everyone in the article works an average of 40 hours per week, the average hourly rate would be $21.31. In comparison mine is $20.24. With my second job and working about 65 hours per week, my income per hour drops to $19.55.

It looks like I am right in line with others in my generation. I know there are a few in the higher echelon and many more making less than I am, but for ease let’s just go with the numbers we have here. With the average monthly rent payment of $790 and a mean net income of $2,770.83 per month (if we are all in the 25% tax bracket), this means that Millennials, on average, are spending about 28.5% of their income on rent. Completing the same calculation for student loans, Millennials spend an additional  24% on college debt each month.

When other generations describe Millennials as being lazy or extravagant spenders I get a little riled up. In fact, one of the issues my own parents have when it comes to my spending is that they “don’t know where all my money goes”. Even when I break everything down, showing them my budget, they don’t believe me. It seems like a lot of people from Generation X are wearing the same blinders. After all, they paid rent (or a mortgage) and made much less money than we’re making now. So why can’t we save like they did?

There are a myriad of possible answers to this question, not the least of which is inflation, but I’m not going to get into that right now. What I’d like to focus on is student debt. This 2013 article featured in The Huffington Post goes over some of the numbers haunting Millennials. The most relevant point to me is that the average student loan debt of Millennials graduating with a 4-year degree is around $26,600. The article points out:

This can be contrasted to 1993, when less than half of students graduated with debt, and those who did had an average of $9,350 in loans. Maybe we are just bad with our money?

This writer echoes what I’ve heard so many Baby Boomers say: “You’re just bad with your money.” I think all Millennials everywhere throw our hands up and retort right back with me: “Fuck off.” Because it’s not just the fact that we have student loans. It’s the inflation of the cost of a college education that’s really killing us.

I started college in 2004; the tuition there at that time was about $34,000. The tuition at that same school today, 12 years after I started, is just under $55,000. The same education now costs 62% than it did when I started college.

You read that correctly – 62% percent.

In comparison, let’s look at U.S. inflation over the same period of time:

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Calculated by http://www.usinflationcalculator.com

 

I’ll just come right out and say it. $42,700 is nowhere near $55,000, and 25.5% is nowhere near 61%.

So the added burden of student loan payments, is it any wonder why Millennials can’t save for a mortgage, pay for a new car with hard-earned cash, or deposit more into their 401k each month?

I think this is part of the reason people my age (or younger) get excited when they hear me talk about buying a Tiny House. They struggle with the same financial burdens that I do. Even if they can’t see themselves living in a Tiny House, it inspires them to think outside the box in terms of living situations and expenses. The people that balk at this idea are primarily members of older generations who do not understand the weight that is student loan debt.

We can’t buy huge houses then pay them off in 10 years (like you did) because we’re paying the amount of your mortgage in student loan debt every month.

I can’t keep banging my head against the wall to conform to what one group of people thinks of as “normal”. My circumstances are different than yours were at my age. My priorities, therefore, must be different.

It’s time for our parents and grandparents to look at us in a new light. It’s time for Generation X to give Generation Y a little break. It’s time for us to look at our futures differently. Because we are different. And like you taught us Mom and Dad,  different just ain’t so bad.

Let us become the swans you always said we could be.

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People don’t suck?

People don’t suck?

So yesterday I posted about the terrible happenings of this past weekend. (If you missed it, read the last post here.) I also posted a link to my GoFundMe page asking for donations to help me get back some of the money lost in the burglary and to replace the window. I didn’t expect much… maybe $100 or so to help me pay back some of the ensuing credit card charge. But you guys have been very generous and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for it. So far you’ve raised $350 in less than 24 hours.

You are amazing.

I negotiated my bill with the auto glass company down to $300 including tax, so this has already been covered. I thank you so much! The money left to raise will go toward the cash that was stolen. I’m almost tempted to take the GoFundMe page down, but then I remember how much my feet hurt after working from 8:00 Friday morning until 1:00AM Friday night and I resolved myself to leave it up. Plus, the kindness and support and messages I’ve received are wonderful. You are wonderful. Thank you.

Now I turn to the real reason for this post, which is to take a moment and reflect on this situation in its entirety. To start, one person sucked, and sucked big time; he took my money and wrecked my car window. Then, people hugged me, bought me drinks, and sat with me while I was in a bit of shock. Yesterday, people started donating to help me recoup some of this money; people who couldn’t donate sent notes of encouragement.

So how can I look at this situation and conclude that people suck?

That night, after my money was stolen and I’d had a drink (or three), I started talking to one of my friends about the situation. (Mind you this was before I’d considered the cost of the window repair. I was only thinking about the stolen cash at this point.) In my slightly tipsy and ever-pensive state, I started talking about the nature of human beings and my relationship with them in the world.

There have been many times in my life when people have tried to break me. I assume everyone reading this has been in at least one similar circumstance. Just a few examples: My purse was once stolen out of the trunk of my car at a football game. I was once stalked and forced to quit my job because a co-worker was upset and decided revenge was the ticket. (She even wrote, “I’m going to rape and kill Rachel” on the door of the building I worked in. Fun, right?) There have been countless occasions of bad friends letting me down amidst the depths of my depression. And after each bad interaction I think to myself, “I should just stop trusting people. People hurt people. I’m sick of being the nice guy while everyone else shits on my life.”

But after this situation, in that moment, with the people around me being so kind as to make me cry, I didn’t think that. Instead I said to my friend:

I’m not going to let this break me. I am not going to allow some lowlife junkie to determine how I’m going to feel. So my tips were stolen… No one was hurt. I’m not going to allow this one awful person to make me a worse person. I’m going to continue to try and do good. I’m going to be the person I am. I’m not going to let this jade me.

And in that moment I felt what I was saying with my whole heart. While it should be noted that the next day I had other (angry) thoughts, nonetheless I’m back to feeling this way now. And the reason I feel this way again is because of the people who have reached out. It’s because of those who are determined to prove that not everyone sucks; not everyone is out for only themselves. There are still people out there who have sympathy, empathy, or compassion.

I’m lucky in this life to have even a few of those people around me, and I can’t thank you enough.

And now you:

What have you overcome in your quest for goodness? What is the worst thing someone has done to you that has made you question your intentions?

“It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.”

“It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.”

I have this quote by William Shakespeare tattooed on the inside of my upper left arm. Call me a dreamer, call me edgy, call me a true English major. Call me what you want. But this quote rings true.

It’s not up to us to look up at the stars and hope, pray, or dream something into reality. You can hope, pray, or dream of course; but you cannot expect anything to come to fruition unless you work at it. My Tiny House dream has taken a lot of work and the work is about to quintuple.

I paid the rest of my money toward my flatbed trailer today.

I finalized my floorplan and am placing my order for the materials my builder needs today.

I made an offer on a piece of land today.

Things are moving right along. No day but today!

“You Need A Bigger Dream!”

“You Need A Bigger Dream!”

In my ever-fruitful search for more and more (and more) Tiny House information I came across a few posts this weekend that mentioned Steve Harvey. I know him as the host of Family Feud and for his recently botched gig as Miss Universe host but not much more. So hearing him associated with the Tiny House movement came as a surprise to me. Here is the TV show segment where he seems to address Tiny House dreamers directly:

 

Steve Harvey starts by saying that the average American home measures about 2600 square feet. This seems a bit high to me, but let’s see some comparisons.

  • The house I grew up in with my parents and brother was just shy of 1400 square feet. In that house we had 3 bedrooms, 1.5 bathrooms, a dining room we rarely used, and a full basement.
  • My old boyfriend’s parents’ house is 2200 square feet. They have a master bedroom suite plus 3 other bedrooms and 2 more bathrooms, a huge family room in addition to a formal living room, a dining room they used twice a year, and a basement.

Now let’s start to address some of these rooms. I am one person. I rarely have large groups of people over. I’ve only ever used a basement for storage and I haven’t had a garage since I moved out of my parents’ house. How many bedrooms do I actually need? How many bathrooms? Do I need a dining room? Can’t I dine anywhere? What if I want to eat my knock-off Frosted Flakes in bed? Who’s going to stop me? And what precisely is the function of a “formal” living room? Why does it have to be so formal; who is coming over?

Verdict: I definitely do not need 2600 square feet. Nor, in my opinion, is 2600 square feet the average.

Steve Harvey goes on to ask his audience, “Who in here is going to work every day to buy a damn Tiny House?” This is met with audible groans, which I hope were prompted by his team of cameramen and not 100% real. I think I’ve made it perfectly clear that the point of this journey for me is not to work every day to buy a Tiny House. I would like to work less and for a shorter amount of time because of my decision to buy and build a Tiny House. People are retiring later each year. People are living house-poor. People are refinancing their mortgages to afford extravagant vacations with their families.

Verdict: I don’t want to be those people.

Here are my favorite quotes from the clip:

  • “Who puts a Tiny House on their vision board? You need to get a bigger damn dream is what you need to do!”
  • “This is for people who’ve given up… this is for people who ain’t got no dreams.”
  • “[If] you want to live in a Tiny House it’s because you done gave up. You’re stupid.”

I’d like to address these in detail but I don’t have that kind of time. I’ll give you my highlights.

I understand your profession is “comedian” but poor grammar is no laughing matter. Telling me I “ain’t got no dreams” is a double negative; this means that what you are actually saying is that “I have dreams”. Joke’s on you, Steve. Also, calling someone stupid after saying “you done gave up” and “ain’t got no dreams” is well-played, sir. You are clearly the smarter human being in this argument.

Who makes vision boards anymore? Are we in the 4th grade? Don’t you have Pinterest Mr. Harvey? And why can’t my Tiny House go on my imaginary vision board anyway? Stay in your 2600 square foot house and look at your own vision board, nosy. As the charming J.K. Rowling once put it:

I don’t think I’m stupid. I have a near-genius IQ, in fact. I have the ability to make rational decisions and I have put a lot of thought and effort into this process. I didn’t “done give up”. In fact, my Tiny House dream is giving me hope. I worked almost 77 hours this past week between my two jobs. My feet are calloused, my knees hurt, and I have shin splints. And I can rest at night knowing my bills will be paid. But do I want to do this forever? Would you? I doubt anyone can answer that with an honest “yes”.

What keeps me going through seemingly endless shifts of chili nachos and over-cooked cheeseburgers is the dream of my Tiny House. Any time something catastrophic happens during a shift (see: every single night), I’ve told my managers to simply say “Tiny House” to me and I calm down. My Tiny dream puts it all in perspective; these 16-hour work days will eventually end, and sooner rather than later.

I’ve never heard an older relative say, “I wish I’d spent more on my house, done less with my family and friends, and stayed home all the time.” What I do hear is more often along the lines of, “I wish I’d traveled more,” “I wish I’d spent more time with my loved ones, ” or “I wish I didn’t wait until now to enjoy my life.” As humans we seem to be programmed to forget the things that hurt us and focus more energy remembering the good times. Do you still vividly remember the pain from your first breakup? Or do you remember the butterflies from your first date? Do you remember the first time you really got sick? Or do you remember the love and get-well wishes from your friends? It’s been almost 15 years since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Americans vowed to never forget. And yet here we are, throwing verbal daggers at one another and following Donald Trump’s lead to oust all Muslims and non-citizens from the country. Remembering something for one day each year isn’t paying homage; it’s lip service.

My vow to myself is not to waste these years. Eventually my youth will fade, my knees will give out, and my drive will wane. I would rather spend my 30s traveling the world, eating dinners with family, and drinking good beer with friends. I can’t do this if I buy a 2600 square foot house. I wouldn’t even have time to clean a 2600 square foot house.

Verdict: I don’t expect Steve Harvey to understand the soul behind this movement. I don’t expect him to know my soul. So keep looking at your own vision board, Mr. Harvey. Mine is off-limits.

Happy Birthday J.J.

Happy Birthday J.J.

Today is my little brother’s 28th birthday. This is immensely difficult for me to believe as I’m still pretty sure all of the friends he grew up with are still 19. (They’re not supposed to grow up! I’m still 21! Right? RIGHT?!!) His birthday today brings up memories of birthdays and holidays past, of cheery and unhappy memories. Now, as a busy adult with busy-adult problems, sometimes it’s nice to reminisce on days gone by. The memories that have been haunting me lately go all the way back to when I was little, when I would play with my brother and his friends from morning until well after dusk every day each summer. I grew up on a street populated mostly by little boys, so we would play little-boy games: football, kickball, street hockey, run-down, and “hock-ball”. (We invented this game when we inevitably broke our hockey sticks from hitting each other too hard. We’d use them as bats to hit the semi-deflated kickball with. I plead the fifth on how many windows were broken playing this particular game.) I enjoyed these games immensely and I still love sports, but when I got to choose the game it was always one of make-believe.

I loved pretending to be the Pink Power Ranger, fighting again Zordon and Rita’s monstrous villains. When I didn’t feel like getting bruises playing hockey, I loved pretending to be a reporter; I’d cover the boys’ games as if they were in the pros. On the rare occasions I did play with girls my age, I loved making up storylines for Barbie and Skipper. But my biggest dream and dearest wish was to have a treehouse or a fort of some kind. I wanted a place to call my own, somewhere to escape to.

One of my friends, also named Rachel, had a small backyard with a retaining wall about 4′ high. We’d climb up that wall and from there we could hang out on her parents’ garage roof, play in the woods behind it, and pretend to be anything we wanted. We formed a club that consisted mostly of just me and her, and we would haze anyone who came near us. (I remember ambushing my brother with full jugs of baby powder for invading our club once. Mom was not pleased.) Another friend, Jessica, moved an hour away when we were about 10. She had horses and dogs and a pond and a bit of freedom. We spent one summer building a fort out of fallen trees; it was my paradise.

When people ask why I want to build a Tiny House, it’s hard for me to explain the myriad of things that led to this decision. It’s easy to rattle off numbers to impress upon people the economic value of a Tiny House. It’s easier still to simply say, “Because I can’t afford anything else” and leave it at that. What’s more difficult to explain to someone who doesn’t want a Tiny House is the warm-and-fuzzy feeling I get when I imagine it.

A part of me longs for the simplicity of childhood, of having a place to call my own that isn’t overwhelming to take care of. Having a smaller space means less time spent working, less time spent cleaning, and less time spent dreading both of these tasks. Having a smaller space means more room for creativity, more time for walks in the woods, and more space for daydreams.

My Tiny House on wheels is many things to me. In fact, it is many of the things you think of when you think of a traditional house. It is a place for sleeping. It is a place for bathing. It is a place to put my stuff. It is a place for eating (even if I’m just eating Taco Bell). But it’s also many other things to me. It is a home to take with me when I want to go somewhere new. It is a place for dreaming. It is a loft for painting. It is comfy couch for movies. It is my cats after a long day, snuggling up on that comfy couch. It is financial freedom. It is retiring early.

And yet, there are things my Tiny House is not. It is not built to fit more than 2-3 people long-term. It is not built for 20-person parties held indoors. It is not buy-whatever-you-want-at-the-mall-and-store-it-forever-in-a-closet-never-to-be-seen-again. It is not working 70 hours per week. It is not wearing out my knees waitressing. And it is not for everyone. I accept that.

But it is for me. And quite frankly, I don’t care if you accept that.

Happy birthday little brother. Thanks for the memories and the reminder; life is short – live it to the fullest. “She designed a life she loved” never seemed more applicable.