“Sell your clothes and keep your thoughts.”

Hello, readers!

     We can thank dear Henry David Thoreau for the title of this post, and we will delve further into it in the later on. Thanks for checking in on how the Billings Babes are making our way in the world as Former Jesuit Volunteers (FVJs). Even before publishing the final post of my JVC Northwest blog, A Billiken in Billings, I began considering new outlets for my writing. Throughout my year in Montana, I received many gracious comments about my work—its style, its honesty, its need to continue. Ideas have flared and faded since my return home to Flossmoor (25 miles south of Chicago) and, for now, this is my frontline vehicle for continuation and improvement.
      I have much to share about my transition, so I will focus on the major points to make sure to leave space for my pillar of emphasis. I will focus on Simple Living and my deepening interest in minimalism later on.

     In some ways, it’s a tale as old as time.
     Kid goes to college. Kid changes in college. Kid moves out after college. Plans change. Kid moves back home. And things don’t fit quite like they used to.
      Over the past few months, our family has undergone some big changes as my two brothers have both gone off to school for the first time, and now I am the only sibling at home.
img_3299     Being home has been rejuvenating in many aspects. I have seen many family members and reconnected with high school friends who are in the area. I have grown to appreciate the city of Chicago more deeply, babysat my ever-growing cousins, and ridden the waves of the start of hockey seasons and the dramatic end to the baseball playoffs in ways only Chicago sports fans can know.
     Overall, my parents have been very accepting of the new habits I have brought home with me from JVC NW. We also have had our share of disagreements and times to conciliate. Some of the issues were left behind here when I moved to Montana; others are a result of personal growth while I was away. Normal growing pains for the most part. We look forward to weekends when my brothers come home and we are all together again.
     img_3301My aesthetic soul is absorbing all of the change of seasons as possible, in everything from the falling of leaves on mild, breezy days to the chilled wind that sweeps out the summer dust from spaces deep within your gut. We had a very rainy end of the summer which has lead to a lovely, (relatively) gradual transition into autumn so far.
I dearly miss the campestral, golden northern plains and the bold, blue Beartooths of Montana. Toward the end of my service year, I found myself venturing to the Rims to overlook the city under the sunset. Now, the tallest vantage point I know of is a hill rising above a water basin overlooking Interstate 80 (for those who know the area, a view from afar is no less stressful than from behind the wheel). Needless to say, the sky isn’t as big here. Sometimes, distant clouds wafting off the lake look such that I can imagine without much difficulty that the purple shadows are mountain peaks.

Keep Calm and, Well, Start With That
img_3302     After months of job searching prior to my arrival home, I hadn’t found anything by the time I returned. I’d just be in town for about 5 1/2 months between JVC NW and graduate school, and not many social service positions were hip on taking in a short-term intern or employee. So I find myself at a British bakery in my hometown. It seemed like a great solution at the start. It’s a short walk/drive from home, we locally source some major ingredients like eggs and meat, my coworkers come from an enriching range of ages and life experiences, and I can interact with the once-familiar Flossmoor kith that I had been away from for the better part of 5 years. And the ambrosial fragrance wasn’t a bad perk, either.
     To keep a long story short, the job is not what I expected. The demands and environment triggered my anxiety rather frequently to compound fritzy coping mechanisms following my uproot from the support systems of JVC Northwest. At the end of a long shift a few weeks ago, I experienced a sudden panic attack at work. I started to cry, I could not breathe, and my duties were such that I could not leave the environment right away, making me feel trapped. So I had to explain to a higher up, in the midst of the anxiety attack, that hey, sooo my anxiety is a bit out of control these days. And my relationship with this person is such that this forced vulnerability was not a welcomed opportunity for understanding but rather an awkward and embarrassing moment.
     Aside from the insignificant events that lead to it, I interpreted the episode as a manifestation of transitional instability following a simultaneously uprooting and solidifying year in Montana. I recall thinking that I could use counseling while in Montana, so clearly this is rooted in something deeper that isn’t healing itself. Thankfully, a dear coworker came in the next day and asked how I was, and she said, “We are all entitled to a meltdown once in awhile.” And that helped me remember that life is demanding for everyone in its own way, and sometimes we crack under the pressure, and it is okay. I have started to see a counselor and will continue to meet with them until I leave for school. There was a time when I wasn’t sure when that would be!…

Grad School Sorcery
     Since January, this was the easiest part of my plans in FJV life! But October brought toil and trouble that turned my plan to attend Tulane University into a tourbillion of unknowns. With a plan to start a Masters of Social Work in New Orleans just after the New Year, the arrival of my financial aid package revealed only loans—no scholarships, assistantships, grants,  or mercy, it seemed. That—in combination with a higher rate for housing than I hoped for, with a side of another emotional breakdown—lead to a gentle nudging from my parents to take a look at some in-state options that might be somewhat close to a disaster mental health concentration, which had been the lodestone of Tulane’s program.
 img_3300    At first, the last thing I wanted to do was rethink a decision I made two years ago about where I wanted to pursue my MSW—especially less than 3 months before it was to begin. How easy it is to ride the wave of financial me-tooism as friends from all circles take on loans for grad and med school. After a dishearteningly hard look at the numbers, I began the process of relinquishing my spot at Tulane. With no true “aid,” it was too heavy a price to pay. I turned my sights to University of Illinois – Chicago (UIC) and Dominican University’s MSW programs. In addition to gathering application materials, I once again began applying for jobs and AmeriCorps positions in the city. A simmering sense of peradventure—chance, doubt, uncertainty—took hold. The fickle nature of financing higher education seemed to have taken another victim.
     And then Tulane called. A recruiter for the School of Social Work heard that I was financially unable to attend after being accepting and then deferring, and she asked the expensive question: how much scholarship funding do I need for Tulane to be competitive with the costs of the Chicago programs?
I almost didn’t say, and I almost didn’t call her back.
     But I called back. And 6 days later, $17,000 in scholarships appeared on my student account! Setting frustrations about communicating with folks at Tulane aside, I’m back on track to start in January!! HUGE SHOUT OUT TO SHEILA GOLD for bringing my TU dreams back to life!! And thank you to all my friends and family members who have been with me in this process!

 Simple Living
     And now for the pillar of focus! Let’s talk about some things that I have been sure of since the day my Chacos lifted off the platform and onto the Amtrak in northern Montana.
     Some things I instantly wanted to implement when I arrived home. One thing was to make Ecosia my primary internet search engine. Now I can search anything that comes to mind while helping pay to plant trees across the globe! A “10/10, would recommend” small step to save the planet with a simple search.
     Now let’s talk about my favorite part of keeping up the Simple Living pillar in FJV life: Learning to live like a minimalist.
img_3304     I have grown to love learning about minimalism. It started when one of our official Support People in Billings shared “The Minimalists” with me toward the end of the service year. After many months of listening, I highly recommend their  Passion and Career podcasts—two of my favorites. There are several topics that Joshua and Ryan discuss, some directly related to getting rid of “stuff” and others geared towards how mental clutter affects our lives. The site contains hundreds of essays and links to content found in their podcasts, and they released a documentary just this year.
     They always remind their listeners to remember, if nothing else,
Love people, and use things, because the opposite never works.
     I have personally adopted Minimalist Monday. Since I don’t work that day, it’s the perfect time to comb through my possessions since they are concentrated either in my room or the basement storage room. So each Monday I have made a habit of going through a certain area of my room or a bin in the basement and pulling out things I no longer use or need. After all, if I didn’t use them during my JV year, there’s a good chance I do not need them anymore since I survived without them. What matters is the chance in mindset that is represented by each box and bag that leaves my room. I have already been through my closet 3 times, each time filling boxes and large plastic bags of donation swag. And it feels awesome seeing all those little things piled up and ready to move on because soon I, too, will move on and have much less physical stuff to consider taking with me.
      Recently, I was struck out of the blue by my New Years’ Resolution for 2017: purchase as few plastic products as possible. In my rudimentary reflections thus far, my ideas include:
  • avoid one-use plastic cups, plates, cutlery and bags
  • make sure I have my own water bottles, silverware, and reusable bags on hand
  • when within my purchasing power, buy products that come with as little plastic wrapping as possible
  • buy products the come in recycled and recyclable materials
  • find ways to upcycle the plastic I can’t avoid accumulating
     I can spend November and December preparing myself in small steps to make the big jump in the New Year when I begin a new chapter in NOLA.
     Additionally, I have just begun to think about cyber minimalism. With the seemingly increasing prevalence of cyber security breaches happening every year, I can’t help thinking about my personal information floating around in the netherworld of the internet. Think about it:
  • How many of us keep track of all the online accounts we’ve created over the years?
  • And what are those accounts for—clothes, news, school, sports, bills, jobs?
  • How many dusty accounts are floating around out there with our user information left un-accessed because we have long lost the password or interest in the service?
  • How many email lists are we subscribed to that we don’t really read?

Why stop there—what about snail mail?

  • What kind of paper trail are we leaving as we move from place to place?
  • How many magazines/newsletters do we get in the mail and then either a) toss them out right away with the thought, “I should take my address off that list,” but never do, or b) give it a few weeks to sit in a to-read pile before meeting the same fate?
  • What paperless options have we not opted into yet? (However, consider the points above)
img_3305     Minimalism in regards to limiting physical stuff if just the first step, one that I no doubt have taken wholeheartedly. The More of Less, a great beginner’s guide to minimalist habits. Author Joshua Becker started the blog Becoming Minimalist, which I would recommend to anyone looking for a father and pastor’s take on what minimalism can look like and how to get started.
     This post has been a few weeks in the making, so I’m happy to finally publish it and move on with more ideas about Simple Living! I am already working on a holiday post related to minimalist gift ideas. So stay tuned!
     Thank you for supporting all of us in our transition, and I hope you check back with us again soon.
Song to end this post:
Every Little Thing, Peter Doran

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