It’s great to be back. I really enjoyed my time away. I savored my month of not having looming blog deadlines hanging over my head, a time when client work gets a little slower and I can focus on other things I have been neglecting. I always use the time to get to things like yearly medical exams and taking on a big project. Last year it was revamping my website and this year it was revamping my apartment.
As you may know, I live in a very old pre-war rent-stabilized apartment in a coveted Brooklyn neighborhood and this January it will be 24 years that I have lived here. A few years ago, my building, which was previously owned by a slumlord for years, was purchased by a larger developer and as old tenants moved out, the new owners gutted and renovated the units, two of which are directly above and next to my apartment. My old plaster walls and ceilings, which were never well cared for by the previous owner, cracked from the construction, and the years of my old slumlord just slapping layer upon layer of paint on my walls caused the paint in my apartment to peel horribly. It was bad and August finally freed me up enough to allow the building to send workers to replaster and paint my living room and bedroom.
Anyone who has been through any type of home renovations knows what a drag it can be. You have to deal with people in your personal space and no matter how nice they are, it’s draining. There is noise, your things being moved and packed away, limited space, strange smells, plastic covers on everything, and dust. For nine days this went on and my life was reduced to one chair at my kitchen table because my apartment is so small. Some evenings my husband and I felt like we were camping and there were days that our apartment looked like a scene from The Money Pit. But it was all worth it. We used to have terrible walls and ceilings that were embarrassing. Now they are beautiful.
When my building paints apartments, they use a pretty standard paint color in White Linen with white trim, which is fine, free, and looks perfectly acceptable. Over the years, I always turned down these standard colors in lieu of more creative shades for my walls. I’d put the extra effort and expense to choose and purchase alternative colors. This year, I just couldn’t muster the energy or interest in looking at paint chips. My bedroom and living room are now painted in the building’s standard white linen. It looks perfectly lovely.
The day after my renovations were completed, I had a cut and color scheduled. I was long overdue and the high maintenance nature of my hair had been bothering me. While I wasn’t feeling ready to embrace my natural swampy brown color that has hints of grey or give up my red hair completely, the current boldness of the color was starting to feel like a lot of work. Work I just didn’t feel I had the ability to deal with any longer. At my appointment, my hairstylist and I discussed starting to tone down my red over the next few appointments to a more coppery red that is easier to maintain.
It was then that I started to notice a theme.
When the Easier Option is the Better One
Shortly after the completion of my apartment and hair appointment, I was working with a client on Zoom. We got to chatting about the state of the world and the prolonged stress we have all been living under. My client used the frog in the boiling water analogy to describe what it has been like for all of us for the past year and a half. The premise is that if a frog is put suddenly into boiling water, it will jump out, but if the frog is put in tepid water which is then brought to a boil slowly, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death. Currently, all of us are like frogs who have been living in hot water that has been brought to a boil slowly and not fully able to realize the level of sustained stress we have all been under. Obviously, to a degree we get it. We know we’re stressed, we know life has been difficult because of COVID among other things, but to the degree that it has worn us down, I don’t think we will fully get how challenging these times we have been for us until we can look back and reflect.
It was then that I realized why I have been choosing the simpler solutions to most things lately; I just don’t have the bandwidth to devote to the extra effort and for right now I need to be okay with that. We all do. I am seeing it again and again with my clients when they tell me what they want from their wardrobes going forward. Most are asking for limited color palettes, fewer options to choose from, clothes that can only be machine washed. Clients who were purge-averse, are now happy to let go of the things they don’t wear. Everyone wants to simplify because they just don’t have anything left over to mentally devote to more.
It’s Time to Be Gentle
By nature, I’m not gentle with myself. It’s not that I beat myself up or haven’t learned how to love myself but if there is extra credit, an award to win, or the more difficult yet ultimately more rewarding path, I will take it. I’m a perfectionist by nature, and if I can do better, I will. However, I have learned that now is not the time to go at life full throttle. It’s okay to lower the expectations I put on myself and let go of the version of myself I was pre-pandemic who wasn’t emotionally, physically, and mentally tapped out. Instead of trying to be who I was able to once be, I am being the best version of the person I am currently able to be.
It’s interesting when you let go of a vision of yourself you can no longer sustain being because the results of doing so can actually surprise you. By taking the pressure off myself a bit, I actually learned more about myself than I would have if I gripped hard to keep it all together to the point of exhaustion. As a result, I haven’t felt like I have lost anything, in fact, I feel like I have gained while also honoring who I am in these moments we are living in. There is true power in embracing your current limits.
How are Your Honoring Your Maximum This Season?
So as we start a new season with COVID still part of our daily lives, with the world still in upheaval, and now with the holiday season right around the corner, I am asking you the same question I asked myself during my break; in what ways can you simplify your life, loosen your grip or create more calm, while still reaching whatever goals or plans you have set for yourself? Is it time to modify or recalculate so you can still get to your destination but with peace and your sanity intact? Most importantly, can you give yourself permission to do so?
One of my favorite idioms I ask myself often is, “Is this the hill I am willing to die on?” which is how I assess if it is really something so important that I am willing to fight to accomplish it. More often than not lately, I’m not. I may be living a more simplified version of what my life looked like at one time, but I am happier, more content more rested, and definitely a lot less stressed. Right now, I think this is what we all need.
It’s great to be back with you. I am so grateful for your readership and I look forward to sharing more posts with you this fall.