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A Budget is a Boundary

By John Rose

I’ve written in detail about boundaries before. I’ve spent a lot of time on the concept because boundaries were a key piece of healthy functioning I never understood or had before I was 50, and that lack caused constant problems and stress in my life.

This week I came across some questions about budgeting from Seth Godin that really caught my eye and started me thinking about boundaries again. Budgeting is much in my mind as we transition into our new house, new systems, and a new routine for everything from cleaning out the cat boxes to paying the bills.

A budget, in essence, is a boundary. I never thought of it that way before, but a budget is a framework we agree to stay within as we manage the resource of money. Boundaries are not specific to money, and three of the questions Godin proposed can be applied widely:

  • Are you able to understand yourself and your needs well enough to put boundaries around them? If you don’t, are you aware enough to know what you need to learn so you can?
  • Are you willing to be on the hook for managing your life so you don’t exceed your resource (time, energy, money, etc.)?
  • Can you embrace the imperfect nature of life and plans as you lean into boundaries and flex when appropriate?

Godin comes at this as a businessman, but the idea of budgeting (effectively managing financial resource) can be expanded to include any resource.

It strikes me budgeting is adulting. It requires a clear picture of expenditure and income, the ability to think ahead, the humility to acknowledge what we don’t know and need to learn. Whether we’re trying to shape a more effective life or remodel a bathroom, the process is the same. What’s not working? What are the needs? What are our options for change? What will the project cost in terms of resource over a period of time? What do we need in terms of resource for learning what we don’t know? Are we investing our resource wisely? What’s the starting point?

(This circles back around to showing our work, the subject of last week’s post.)

If we can’t dig into these questions, we can’t become a professional adult.

Budgeting also requires responsibility. Are we willing to be on the hook? Are we willing to make written commitments to ourselves and others? Are we willing to build in consequences for failing to meet our commitments, both to ourselves and others?

Lastly, perfectionism is not resilient. Plans, budgets, and boundaries are frameworks. They support us in meeting our goals and functioning effectively and appropriately. While we’re making plans and drawing up spreadsheets, however, life happens. Pandemics happen. Economic changes come and go. New technology comes onto the market. We often need to flex, consider new information, accommodate change, deal with delay and unexpected events.

None of those inevitabilities are excuses for abdicating from creating boundaries. If we care enough to take charge of our own lives or dive into a project, clarity and boundaries are essential, including a budget. It’s not good enough to fly by the seat of our pants, to say contractors won’t work within a budget anyway, or budgeting ruins the fun, or we’re unwilling to compromise in order to maintain our boundaries.

If we won’t take responsibility for our endeavors, why should contractors or anyone else? If we can’t manage boundaries around our lives and resource, why should anyone else respect our needs? If we won’t do the up-front planning and work and communicate it clearly to those we’re engaged with, how can we expect to meet our goals?

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Moving into a new house invariably results in needing skilled tradesmen like plumbers and electricians. Such people are not easy to find, especially in a small city. Obviously, one wants someone who is skilled, but I’ve also been reminded how important it is to find someone who runs an effective business. Liking and appreciating people who do work for us and being pleased with the work done doesn’t balance out lack of written bids, receipts, invoices, contracts, etc. I can’t budget if I don’t have good information. I can’t plan payments. Flying by the seat of one’s pants is not good business. It leaves both customer and service provider in the dark. Fortunately, I keep good notes and records, but there’s a big difference between a handwritten (by me) list of dates and amounts paid (Labor? Equipment? Was this the outside faucet or the leaking sink? How much more will I owe? When is the final total due?) and a professional invoice indicating costs for equipment, labor, the work that was done, and payment status.

Budgeting and boundaries. What an odd couple. Recognizing budgeting as a boundary makes me determined to embrace it, no matter how uncomfortable it is. I know all too well the result of having poor boundaries.

More or Less

A frequent conversation among my coworkers at our rehab pool facility, as well as our mostly middle-aged and older patrons and patients, has to do with the unexpected places life takes us. How did we get here from there?

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For some this is a bittersweet question, for others an amusing one, and for others a bewildered or even despairing one. Whatever our current reality is, none of us could have foreseen or imagined it when we were young adults.

We can all talk about dreams we’ve had, intentions, hopes, and choices we’ve made in pursuit of the life we imagined we wanted, but life itself is always a wild card. It picks us up by the scruff of our neck, sweeps us away, and casts us onto strange shores.

As I age and practice minimalism, I realize keeping my dreams flexible has never been more important. My dreams, along with everything else, change. What I longed for as a young woman is not what I want now. What I needed in midlife is not what I want as I approach my 60s. Some things I’ve thought of as merely desirable are now essential, and other things I thought I needed no longer seem important.

In some ways I like dancing with change, my own as well as external circumstances. It feels dynamic and healthy. Resilience and adaptation are strong life skills.

In other ways it’s hard, the way my needs and I change. Often, I feel my own natural change and growth are hurtful to others. I try to hold them back. I try to stop myself, make myself quiet and small so no one will be upset, including me!

In the end, though, there’s something in me that’s wild, and sure, and deeply rooted in the rightness of change. It can’t be silenced or stifled, and there’s no peace for me until I begin living true to myself once again, no matter the cost.

The costs are very high. The personal costs of living authentically have been catastrophic for me. Sometimes I feel I’ve paid with everything I ever valued.

And yet the power of living authentically, the peace of it, the satisfaction of shaping a life that really works and makes me happy … How much is too much to sacrifice for that?

For a long time, I’ve thought about balance. Financial balance. Work-life balance, which is a term so nonspecific as to be useless. Balancing time. Balancing socialization and solitude. Balancing sitting and writing with physical activity. The complex balance of give and take in relationships. Balancing needs and power.

Minimalism is about balance. Achieving a simple life demands balance, something hard to find in an overcrowded life. Practicing simplicity and working toward balance take mindfulness, which is a difficult skill to hone in our loud, distracting, manipulative and addictive consumer culture. There’s a lot of social pressure to want more and bigger, to hang on tightly to our things.

But I want less. I want less stuff, less expense, less noise (visual and otherwise), less maintenance, less complication. I want less because I want more. I want more peace, more beauty, more sustainability, more time for loved ones and the activities that are most important to me. Gardening. Animals. Walking. Writing. Playing. Spiritual practice.

I don’t want more than I need. I don’t need more than I can use, enjoy, take care of, or pay for.

I do want to accommodate change, my own, and changing circumstances around me. The simpler and easier my life is, the more space I have to welcome my own aging and wherever my life journey takes me next. I don’t make myself crazy trying to anticipate all the future possibilities, but I want to know I can live well with the resource I have and build reserves for whatever the future brings.

Ironically, it often takes resource to go from more to less. Financial resource. Time and energy resource. It takes sacrifice, in the sense of being willing to give up things valued for the sake of things even more valuable and worthy. In its own way, moving in the direction of living simply is as much work and emotional cost as the endless treadmill of more. It does have an end point, though, whereas more is never satisfied.

Last week I read a post from Joel Tefft titled ‘Abandon, Embrace‘. He suggests daily journaling (which I also highly recommend) using the writing prompts: Today I abandon ___ and today I embrace ___. This is balance in action. What is not helping? What is most important? Abandon something in order to make space for something better.

We can’t find a place for what’s most important if our cup is already too full.

Photo by ORNELLA BINNI on Unsplash

Deciding what kind of a life we want to live and working to create it is a difficult process of choice. It’s difficult because it can be so hard to tell the truth about our needs and feelings. Sometimes we have to give up on cherished dreams and hopes, come to terms with our current limitations. Our choices can affect others in hurtful ways. Sacrifice is not easy. Managing our feelings is not easy.

Choosing, as I’ve said before, involves consequences we can’t always control.

But to make choices, especially difficult ones, is to be standing in our power, as is creating an authentic life that allows us to grow deep roots and be the best and happiest we can be, for ourselves, for our loved ones, and for the world.

Fantasy or Reality?

I recently read a thought-provoking piece by Patrick Rhone about faith, fear, and facts. I’ve written before about my bewilderment concerning people who don’t want to know. This writer suggests fear is the root of such behavior.

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Fear. It’s so mundane. It’s so extremely powerful. It’s such an extraordinary tool for manipulation.

Rhone asserts faith is frequently more powerful than facts. I might have doubted this once, but after the last four and a half years I agree. We continue to play out the conflict between those who are fact- and science-based and those who are not, especially in social media, steadily becoming more divided and disconnected as each side polarizes further.

We are evolved to experience feelings, and fear in particular is an important evolutionary advantage.

I think of faith as a spiritual connection, and we’re evolved, as social, conscious beings, to connect. Connection is a primary human need.

It seems to me a balance of faith, fear, and facts is optimal for navigating through life.

Where does the balance go wrong?

It goes wrong when we deify a misinformed or dishonest person. When we misplace our faith, in other words. We accept someone’s version of reality, their ideology, their beliefs, without question. Sometimes we do it because we believe they have power we need. Sometimes we do it out of fear. Sometimes we do it because we have no self-confidence; we feel powerless to think and learn for ourselves.

The balance goes wrong if we fear our fear and are unable to manage it. Fear becomes so consuming we’ll do anything for relief, including refuse to deal with facts that scare us.

So we develop faith in something – anything – that makes us feel better and relieves our fear.

Photo by Talles Alves on Unsplash

Perhaps our problem is not literacy, or education, or access to resource, or discerning fact from fantasy, but simply our inability to cope with fear.

Fear is a feeling. Managing feelings effectively and appropriately is emotional intelligence.

During my lifetime, I’ve watched our culture become increasingly inauthentic as we consumers demand more and better ways to live in a fantasy world. Role playing games, superhero movies, digital image manipulation, porn, virtual reality tech and special effects allow us to sink into illusion.

Over Memorial Day weekend I did an experiment. I installed a free hidden objects game on my laptop to see what it was like.

It was a big file and took several minutes to download. When I opened it, it covered my whole screen, corner to corner. I couldn’t see my task bar or clock. There was no obvious way to exit; I used the Escape button. The graphics were colorful, animated, attractive, and interesting. A pop-up suggested I use headphones to fully experience the sound. Constant pop-ups urged me to join social media communities playing the game. Constant pop-ups advertised other games (paid) I could play, or pressured me to purchase tools and tokens that would make me a better, faster, more successful player in the “free” game I downloaded.

Free, yes. Want to compete successfully? Want to win? Now you have to buy things!

By the way, if you play every day you get extra points!

The game was cluttered. It provided constant validation and reinforcement. The characters were good-looking, well-dressed and Caucasian. Beautiful food and drink, jewels, and true love were heavily emphasized. One collects points and objects and advances in levels. You don’t have to search for what you need, though, if you’re feeling fatigued. You can simply buy what you need.

The puzzles were timed, of course, which made them a lot less fun for me. Although one plays alone, the competitive aspects were continually reinforced.

The reviews of the game say things like “Beautiful!” and “Addictive!”

Because, you know, addiction is a good thing.

Photo by Patrick Brinksma on Unsplash

I played for a couple of hours. During those hours I didn’t invest in health, happiness, resource , resilience, or my own power. I wasn’t present in the real world.

I also didn’t think about climate change, politics, my job, or getting the car into the shop for brake work.

My feelings were numbed. I wasn’t afraid, but I wasn’t anything else, either.

When I exited the software, I felt as though I’d eaten a bag of jelly beans. I uninstalled the game Tuesday morning.

Have we become a culture that favors illusion over real life? Do we prefer fantasy, as long as it makes us feel “good,” entertains us, or distracts us? Do we prefer being led and manipulated to thinking for ourselves and forging our own paths?

I feel sad and scared after this experiment. If we don’t choose to live in the real world and deal with facts, we have no hope of solving the challenges and problems facing us, from maintaining our cars to managing climate change.

Fear helps us survive. The feeling tells us we must take action. If we refuse to feel fear, or respond to it, we will be deselected.

Facts can be inconvenient and unpleasant, but refusing to deal with them is like refusing to deal with fear. They don’t disappear if we deny them. Nothing can be solved or learned if we refuse to acknowledge facts.

Reality endures. Truth and clarity are powerful. Illusion lies. It might be seductive for a time. Illusion might pretend to be power. In the end, however, it’s empty. It only takes and weakens. It enslaves us, confuses us, and steals our power. It increases our fear while pretending to relieve it.

Faith is a choice about where we put our trust and confidence.

Fact or illusion?

It’s a simple choice.

Photo by Jonathan Simcoe on Unsplash

Reshuffle

I love solitaire. I find it infinitely soothing. Of course, there’s a line between soothing and numbing, just as there is with any activity. As long as I mindfully use a game or two as a tool rather than being used by it, it’s one of my favorite wait-I-need-to-think-about-this or catch-my-breath techniques.

Photo by Jack Hamilton on Unsplash

The thing about solitaire, whether we play the old-fashioned way with a deck of cards, or online, is that each game is different because we shuffle the cards.

We shuffle the cards.

We make choices as we play, so we have some control, but the shuffle is random. Always the same cards, but in different positions every time.

Sometimes we win. Sometimes the cards don’t fall right, or we make mistakes, or both, and we lose.

One of the unexpected results of working with holistic decision-making is that it’s forcing me to reshuffle my cards.

Each of my relationships is a card. My job-for-a-paycheck is one, and exercise, and sleeping, and eating. My Be Still Now time is a card. All the ordinary household tasks and activities of daily living have a card. My time is a card, and my energy another. Each piece of my life can be represented by a card.

When I don’t shuffle the deck, I keep laying out the cards in the same old way, in the same old order, and experiencing the same old frustrations and challenges.

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Holistic decision-making demands a fresh look at what I’m trying to manage and why, as well as an assessment of my personal deck of cards, including priorities, resources, and sustainability. In looking at my life from an unaccustomed vantage point, through the filter of Allan Savory’s model, I see previously unconscious choices and patterns that are not in line with my current intentions.

The cards haven’t quite fallen right, or I’ve made mistakes, or both. My deck is too large and I need to discard, or too small and I need to add some cards. I’ve dealt less important cards on top of essential ones.

So I’m reshuffling my cards and exploring new layouts.

I can’t do everything. I want to. I think I should. I can’t.

Everything and everyone can’t be a priority. Some of my time and energy investments have provided little or no return. In some ways my life hasn’t been reflecting the truth of my heart.

So I’m reshuffling my cards.

Photo by Geetanjal Khanna on Unsplash

I could refuse to reshuffle. Eventually, life will force a reshuffle, maybe in painful and unexpected ways. I could wait for that. On the other hand, I can face my fears, be willing to cut my losses, tell the truth (at least to myself), and let go of what’s no longer serving me.

I choose to reshuffle.

Not enough time/space/energy for what’s really important? Exhausted and overwhelmed?

Reshuffle.

Distracted and out of balance? Unfocused?

Reshuffle

Feeling disempowered?

Reshuffle. Take out the Joker. And cut!

Reshuffling my cards. My daily crime.

Photo by Cristian Newman on Unsplash

Holistic Management 7: Ecosystem Management Tools

Three weeks ago, I explored ecosystem processes as part of holistic management planning using Allan Savory’s template for decision making.

This week I’m looking at the ecosystem process tools I might use to manage my writing business plan. Savory defines them as human creativity, money and labor, technology, fire, rest, and living organisms.

Leaving aside all this terminology for a minute, how do we manage our lives and environment? I’ve just been housecleaning with a vacuum (requiring electricity), a dust rag, a broom and dustpan, bleach, vinegar, cleanser, rags, Windex and paper towels. These tools don’t represent much money, but I do need to use labor to optimize them.

Photo by freddie marriage on Unsplash

Now I’m using my laptop and a wireless Internet connection. These technological tools require money, in addition to my creativity and labor.

Although Savory’s focus is on land management, his model continues to lend itself to virtually any kind of management situation, as though all our human endeavor is only a sidestep away from holistic land management. This, of course, is the case, as there can be no human endeavor if we destroy the planet. Whoever we are and whatever we do, our choices and actions have consequences for Earth.

I’m using the tool of creativity as I work with this model and explore all the levels and pieces. Supporting my own creativity as a writer is at the heart of my purpose.

Savory proposes that holistic management planning will always require at least one of the tools of money and labor. Now we come up against the limitations of our resources. We might have money, but no time, energy, or willingness to labor. Or, we might be working as hard as we can, but have no financial resource. Most of us have a mixture of the two, but how do we know how to use our resources of money, time and energy most effectively? This is one of the questions lying at the core of my own situation.

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I suspect many of us operate out of scarcity rather than abundance, out of a sense of limitation rather than possibility. Our lives are busy and our days full. We have responsibilities and deadlines. We respond to one demand after another. We fight traffic, the clock, and an unending stream of messages, notifications, beeps, rings, and buzzers.

Using rest as a tool seems counterintuitive. If we’re already running as fast as we can and we can’t keep up, the sky will certainly fall if we make a choice to stop and sit still, even for a few minutes. However, I know from my own experience that none of our efforts are sustainable without rest. We can’t assess our resources fully on the run. We can’t think intelligently about our measure of money and labor and where to use them most effectively, and we can’t maintain juicy creativity without regular and adequate rest.

Fire is another tool we use to manage land, and I apply it metaphorically to my own situation. Natural creative forces like fire are terrifying, and we usually focus on their destructive aspect, forgetting that destruction always opens the door to something new. Sometimes we use such a force deliberately, and sometimes not.

Photo by Matt Howard on Unsplash

If we are managing humans rather than land, events such as divorce, death, a spiritual crisis, a health crisis, or a wholly unexpected choice can have the same effect as a force of nature like fire. In a very short time, everything changes and we no longer recognize our landscape and landmarks. We feel terror and loss. We feel disempowered. At some point, we begin to shape a new life, adapt to a new job, put roots down in a new place, or learn how to inhabit a new set of circumstances.

Technology is the tool I’m least comfortable with. Unfortunately, in these days it’s a very important tool for an aspiring writer, maybe even an essential one. As I wrote last week, I’m being inexorably forced to make friends with it and develop some skill in using it. Sigh.

Lastly, and closest to the heart of Savory’s work, is the activity of other organisms as an ecosystem management tool. Collaboration. Cooperation. When organism meets organism, both are impacted. It doesn’t matter how large they are, or if they have a Latin name, or if we understand the full nature of that impact. It doesn’t matter if one organism is a cow and one a forb. It doesn’t matter if one is a human being and the other a virus. Life interacts with life, and both lives change.

Photo by Seth Macey on Unsplash

The long tale of evolution is made up of infinite stories of these interactions.

As humans, our cultures, languages, stories, knowledge, artistic expression, and belief systems have given us a social context – many wholes making up the whole of humanity across time. Social context is hugely influential and powerful, as evidenced by the phenomena of social contagion and tribal shaming.

My interaction with all the life around me, past and present, human and nonhuman, is my most powerful and complex tool for managing my business writing plan. Without my social shaping by family and culture, I would have nothing to write about. Without collaborating with others who have skills, knowledge, and power I lack, I cannot succeed. Without the inspiration and support from those around me, I would not be able to fuel my creativity sustainably.

Tools help us shape and manage our lives. We learn to make them, care for them, and wield them effectively. As humans, we have a long history of developing tools to help us master our world, and human endeavor often fails if we don’t have and know how to use the proper tools.

Questions I ask myself: What tools do I need to build a sustainable management plan? Who will teach me to use them effectively? How much money and labor will be necessary in order to use my tools well?

And what about people? People are not tools. How can I most effectively interact, collaborate, and cooperate with the people around me in order to work towards my goal of creating a more secure, sustainable life as a writer?

Thinking about ecosystem management tools. My daily crime.

Photo by Jonathan Simcoe on Unsplash