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Kings Mountain, North Carolina, United States
"A mind lively and at ease" is a blog by a first-generation Russian-Ukrainian immigrant Maria K. (Maria Igorevna Kuroshchepova). An engineer by education, an analyst by trade, as well as a writer, photographer, artist and amateur model, Maria brings her talent for weaving an engaging narrative to stories of life, fashion and style advice, book and movie reviews, and common-sense and to-the-point essays on politics and economy.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Big Little change digest - November, 2015

Weekly small change challenges

Week 1 - learn to ask for and accept help.

You will ask – but isn't it a contradiction with one of the other challenges about being self-sufficient? Not really. It's the other side of the balance. Many of us struggle with this. Somehow, somewhere, someone pounded it into our heads that asking for help is a weakness, but forgot to explain the difference between constantly leaning on someone for assistance and knowing when to make do on your own and when to rely on others. As the result, we proceed to shoulder more and more, until we collapse – physically and mentally.

By all means – be independent, know your stuff, be tough, be brave. But also, know your limits, recognize it when you are starting to crack under pressure, and give people around you the benefit of the doubt. If you ask for help graciously, they will not laugh at you, they will not berate you for being weak or somehow deficient. There are tens of thousands of amazing stories out there about this very thing – people providing help, when and where it is needed, and everyone coming through a better person as the result.

So, this is your challenge – find that balance between self-sufficiency and ability to ask for help when needed, and accept it graciously when offered.

Week 2 - reduce, reuse, and so on...

I know, I know... Not all areas make it easy or fun to recycle. My favorite is New York state (where I went to college) – where you can take your cans and bottles to Wegmans and get paid for doing so. If you have that sort of thing – a recycling reimbursement program – going on in your area, do please use it. As with grocery bags, discipline yourself to throw a bag or a box of recyclables into your car every time you go to the grocery store.

The next best thing is when your trash pickup company helps you out. Some companies offer both the regular trash bins and the recycling bins, which makes recycling very easy. In some cases – as in my area – they don't offer recycling bins BUT they will pick up recyclables in the blue trash bags (you can find them at the grocery store, where they sell all the other trash bags – apparently it's a standard for recognizing a bag of recyclables). So, almost just as easy as a bin – just drag those bags to the curb on trash day.

The last but not the least is when you have to locate a recycling station in your area. Yes, it does require a separate trip. However, there is one huge advantage. I used to make a point to go to the recycling station on those days when I was in a really foul mood. Flinging bottles into the bins and hearing them crash worked better than any therapy ever could. So, think of that and go find your local recycling dropoff station.

Week 3 - whip your money into shape.

Now, now, don't groan at me. I am not going to bombard you with bank-speak or any of that. No. However, I do want to ask you a question…and request an honest answer: how do you keep track of your finances? Do you still balance an old-fashioned checkbook? Do you keep a spreadsheet? Or do you do the "oh, I just keep the tally in my head" thing and are constantly (and often unpleasantly) surprised at the end of the month by a bounced bill payment or rejected debit card transaction?

My husband and I lived on one salary – mine – for several years, until his business started taking off. The only reason we survived, with lights on, internet service and roof over our heads, is because I ruled the budget with an iron fist. And used the same discipline to this day to keep things in order.

All transactions are recorded. All accounts are balanced monthly against the statement. All the essential bills and savings are subtracted from the income at the beginning of the month – that way, there is no chance of accidentally spending them. I am not saying that it's easy, but it certainly has worked and continues working for us. After years of just barely keeping our heads above water, we are able to beef up our charity donations, aggressively pay down our debt and stash aside some serious cash for household projects. Oh, and we just replaced Gerry's almost-dead car with another one, for which we paid cash.

Money can't buy happiness, in the emotional sense. But there is a reason why the majority of arguments among couples center around money. We all need to eat. We all need to live somewhere. We all need clothes. We need companionship and information. Money buys all that. So, perhaps, now is the time to stop regarding money with hostility and start considering it a useful tool in what you want to achieve for yourself and your loved ones.

Week 4 - Slow is smooth, smooth is fast

I was first introduced to this concept when training in aikido. Many of us, martial arts students, were tempted to attack our techniques at full speed. However, the true skill and smoothness of movement came from slow, painstaking practice, until it finally became possible to go faster and still preserve good form and efficiency.

The same applies to our daily life, if you think about it. When are we at our clumsiest? When we are in a hurry. Suddenly, our furniture grows extra corners for us to bump into, every object we pick up becomes extra-heavy or extra-slippery – just waiting to be dropped, and our elbows and knees seem to add at least ten inches to their size because they seem to run into EVERYTHING.

Slow. Down. Take a breath. Even if you are running late – trying to do everything at a frantic pace will only make things worse. So, take a deep breath, and slow down. Go through your tasks at a more sedate pace. Before you know it, the furniture will shrink to its normal size, as will your elbows. The household objects and articles of clothing will stop trying to be juggling balls and flying out of your hands. By slowing down, you will be able to do what you need to do smoother, and the pace will pick up without you noticing. Even if you start behind schedule, going slower might actually help you get back on time. Pretty cool, no?

Big little stories

- A small way to make someone's life easier.

- Invention done right.

- What a way to turn something really shitty into something fantastic.

- Go Sausalito Marin City District!

- More stores need to do this.

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