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May 10 2020: Three Things on My Desk

May 10 2020: My workspace is pretty clean and clutter free. I’ve got my laptop, a lamp, my bullet journal, and a pen. Periodically some stuffed animals or dolls come to visit, courtesy of my wife Katie. There are only three things on my desk that aren’t essential to my work. All of them are there to keep me grounded.

Three Things on My Desk

The first is a small brass Buddha, about 2.5 cm (an inch) tall. It’s there to represent my values. Not just Buddhism specifically, but to hold kindness in my heart in general. Because I suffer from anxiety, it reminds me to ground myself meditate when I get stressed out. When I’m lost in thought, trying to work out some problem, I tend to pick it up and fidget with it. Like all of the objects, it brings me some comfort.

Next to the Buddha is a green-glazed ceramic elephant, about an 2.5 cm tall by 5 cm wide. Katie found it for me at a thrift store for 50 cents. I was raised by my grandmother, and the only thing I used to have of hers was a ceramic flower pot, green-glazed and shaped like an elephant. She made it while she was in a nursing home, recovering from a stroke. The little elephant on my desk is a reminder of where I cane from. Although it’s not an object from my past, it connects me to it.

The final object is a 1966 Batmobile. Not an original Corgi, like the one I had as a kid. This is a Hot Wheels version from a couple of years ago. It’s there so I remember to lighten up and have fun. You would think that I’d roll it around and play with it, but no. It stays put, only getting picked up when I need to dust. I just need to see it, to conjure up vision not just of Adam West’s Batman but Mister Rogers and other role models from my childhood. There’s a weird mixture of joy and duty, pop culture and service to other wrapped up together in my mind. I’m trying to lean into that more.

May 10 2020

  • If you get anything out of these blog posts, consider buying me a coffee. You can also purchase one of my books or zines from Gumroad or DriveThruRPG.
  • I check all email and Twitter DMs, personal and professional, three times a day. Responses are made as time allows; if it requires some thought or research on my part, it will take me longer.
  • I am actively avoiding news and social media to focus on writing. Please take your information from reliable sources and certified experts, not the Mad Carrot and its puerile cultists.
  • Today is Day 55 in isolation. 
Journal Simplify Thrive

Let’s Talk About Toilet Paper

Seriously, let’s talk about toilet paper. There’s been a shortage in the United States since the pandemic began. We’ve all heard the jokes. The assumption is that people are still hoarding. Which is weird, right, because presumably people should start running out of space to store it. There’s something else going on that people are overlooking. It’s the simplest, and actual,explanation.

When you stay at home, you use more toilet paper.

Seriously, you’re not going to work, or school, or out to restaurants. You’re doing all of your persona business at home. That means you’re using more toilet paper, which leads to buying more, which results in empty shelves at the store.

From toilet paper manufacturer Georgia-Pacific’s FAQ on COVID-19:

“Based on IRI (Information Resources Inc., a retailm marketing research group) panel data, along with the US Census, the average U.S. household (2.6 people) uses 409 equivalized regular rolls per year. Using our own calculations, staying at home 24-7 would result in 40% increase vs. average daily usage.”

Let’s Talk About Toilet Paper

How long it will take for the supply to catch up to the new demand is another question. Retail corporations no doubt has standing orders, based on historical sales data. The manufacturers make enough to cover those orders, and maybe a bit more since it’s not perishable. They in turn only ordered at much material — wood pulp, recycled paper, whatever — to fill those order. The supplies of the raw material need to do whatever they do. Add in that a lot of these jobs are going to be considered non-essential, travel restrictions interrupting the supply chain, and everything else going on.

There’s also the issue of when demand will go down. If they increase production and suddenly “the country is open” again, will they end up with a surplus? If they do, will it lead to a drop in price? How would that affect their bottom line? I’m not saying that it’s not a bit warped, but that’s how businesses think. They need to protect their long-term profitability, and that makes seemingly simple things complicated.

tl; dr It’s likely going to be a while before there’s enough toilet paper.

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Minimalism in a Pandemic

There have been several articles declaring that COVID-19 will bring about the end of the minimalist movement. As we settle into our homes to shelter in place, we want comfort. In order to work from home, we need flexibility. A degree of clutter will inevitably set in as we spend more time occupying a finite amount of space. Minimalism in a pandemic is impossible, they say. What hogwash.

Minimalism is getting rid of what you don’t need to make more space for what you do. When needs are in conflict, prioritize. Full stop.

“As our dining room tables become filled with laptops, chargers, and other…” No. Have you considered just organizing that stuff? You need a workspace more than you need a dining room table right now. Go eat in front of the television like an American.

“As the pizza boxes pile up…” Stop. Have you considered not living like a pig? You do know you’re allowed to take the trash out during quarantine, right? Don’t be gross.

“The age of bare walls and concrete floors…” Are you just out of school and living in your first apartment? Nothing about minimalism says you can’t have a nice rug and some art on the walls. It’s about picking pieces that you connect with. Quality over quantity.

“People want the comfort of books and decorations…” I’m not a huge Marie Kondo fan, but she never said you can only have 30 books. Minimalism isn’t monastic ascesticism. Just, like, think about what you have, and why you have it. And keep it organized.

Also, design aesthetics aren’t the same thing as lifestyle choices.

Minimalism in a Pandemic

Minimalism is how I’m coasting through this. I’m already used to living and working in a smaller space. It’s optimized for both efficiency and comfort. Because I don’t spend money on things I don’t absolutely need, I’m not as worried about paying the bills. Grouping errands together to make as few trips out as possible is already standard operating procedure. Owning less stuff means more space to store flour, rice, and other essential non-perishables.

Again, there are people worried that when this is all over we won’t go back to spending money. We’ll realize what actually makes us happy, and it isn’t stuff. There will be a new awareness of how little we really need to get by. Things are going to change, and that scares the crap out of people more worries about the economy than human health and safety.

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Spoons, Social Media, and Blogging

Let’s talk about spoons, social media, and blogging for a moment. All of us have a finite amount of energy to devote to work, household chores, and side hustles. Some of us have less-than-typical amounts to work with, so we need to prioritize. Focus your efforts on necessities, and the areas that will get the best results. As my minimalist mantra states, get rid of what you don’t need to make room for what you do. For me, that means pushing the blog and my presence on Twitter to the back burner for a while.

Spoons, Social Media, and Blogging

It’s not just about the effort it takes to write blog posts, or to throw out a few casual tweets. When you suffer from anxiety and depression, there’s a whole mental dance to be done when considering topics, and how those topics will be received. My mind tries to anticipate every possible nasty comment that could result from anything I say on the internet. While this forces me to choose my words carefully and communicate more clearly, it’s still exhausting. It chews up my metaphorical spoons as if they were real flatware caught in a garbage disposal.

To help with this, I now have assistants handling the business email, website comments, and social media. Their instructions are simple:

  1. If it’s not a question, it doesn’t require an answer;
  2. Unless it’s a compliment, then you say thank you;
  3. Rude comments get deleted with no response;
  4. Bring legitimate problems to me ASAP.

I get to spend my time productively. That means writing for the day job, working on the novel, and keeping the apartment in order. When I have the spoons to deal with the blog and social media I will.

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Going Full Recluse

The new desk, as a matter of necessity, had prompted a cleaning spree. I’d purchased some bins and containers to better organize things, and in the sorting process a lot of things were flagged to later disposal. A key element was simply starting the new desk with only the few things I knew I’d need. My laptop and bullet journal made the cut, of course, along with the map and my favorite pen. Space for my coffee cup was reserved, so that it was within reach but not where I’d knock it over accidentally. That was about it. Everything else could safely sit in the bookshelf, with more frequently-used items on top and the rest stowed away below.

This was, quite unconsciously, a re-commitment to minimalism. To invert Marie Kondo, the items I retained weren’t what sparked joy but the absence of clutter. The point of the desk was to improve my physical work flows. This started me on a tear to re-appraise the value of other things. Which naturally led me to my contact with the outside world in general, and social media in particular. I am, once again, quite close to going full recluse.

There’s more to it, of course, but a great deal has to do with the state of the world, my own mental health, and the achievement of my goals. You can fill in your own blanks, I’m sure. In examining what I need, and what I don’t, it was the basic realization that I’m tired of being depressed and angry that defined the problem. Twitter does not spark joy, therefore, Twitter goes into the bin. Certain commitments carry a cost, in time or spoons, that outweigh the benefit.

Going Full Recluse

In the end, really, who cares? I have a quiet and comfortable space to write, as free from distractions as I can make it. Being able to focus on what I’m doing makes me happy. Other peoples’ drama, well beyond my sphere of influence, is not my concern. As I publish things, I will tell people about them, so that I can pay the rent and continue to write. That’s all there is to it.