Inspiring me to enjoy “Growing Up”

Just stumbled over Mackelmore & Ryan Lewis’ newest song, “Growing Up.”  It’s absolutely lovely!  Inspiring to a parent but also, a dreamy reminder to all of us on these breezy August days, when it feels like the sunset is getting closer.  We, too, are still growing up.   We, too, are still young.  We, too, should savor our own advice to our children.  May we continue to enjoy the simple pleasures of growing up.

Some of my favorites of the song —

“‘Cause your momma’s the toughest person I know.  I want to raise you to be like her.  And watch you show the world how to do it on your own.”

“You put the work in, Don’t worry about the praise, my love.  Don’t try to change the world.  Find something that you love.  And you do it every day.  Do that, for the rest of your life.  And eventually, the world will change.”

“Find God.  But lose the dogma.”

“The quickest way to happiness.  Learning to be selfless.  Ask more questions.  Talk about yourself less.”

“Wear a helmet.  Don’t be stupid.  Jay-walk, but look before you do it.  If it snows, go outside, build a jump, get some help, get a sled, thrash the hill, with your friends, ’til it melts.”

“Take risks.  Cause life moves so fast.”

Going Rogue in the Closet: The Companion Guide to Decluttering (Pt. 1)

Yes, those ARE yellow rubber gloves! Decluttering = Power (Courtesy of Marvel Comics)

Correct me if I’m wrong but are those yellow rubber cleaning gloves??
(Courtesy of Marvel Comics)

As a self-annointed devotee, I have pitched unrelentingly the awe-inspiring merits of the newly-translated book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying up.”  I stand by my rants (and my now 1-stick-only lipstick box).  I (without exaggeration!) have spent the last 3 weeks constantly decluttering drawers, shelves and hidden stashes of stuff throughout my house.

I even taught my kids how to do it yesterday (“Hey kids, wanna do something really fun this Sunday?”)

But… but… but…

There are a few things that don’t really work for me.

Don’t get me wrong!  Ms. Kondo’s book has changed my life — and I feel the deepest level of respect for her.  But even a disciple has to strike out on her own once-in-awhile, no?

Here is my quick-guide for” Tidying Up Your Closet: Finding Your True Self in the Clutter” (A Companion Reader: Pt 1 of an infinite-part series):

  • Decide you wish to declutter and organize the “things” in your life (which is really code for “you’d like to kick up your life but don’t really know what that ‘kick-up-your-life’ means”)
  • Start in your closet.  Find that one piece of clothing you simply LOVE.  The favorite jeans you wear the minute they come out of the wash, that dress that makes you feel like you could concur the world from the bow of a yacht, that scarf that reminds you of the best day of your life (in a piazza in Rome, no less).   For me, it’s a particularly simple white Oxford that makes me feel immediately strong-yet-feminine, smart-yet-pretty, corporate-yet-artsy with perky breasts and a smaller-than-reality waist (don’t ask, I address my issues in Part 14).  Hold it up and feel the joy it’s sparking in you.  This is your “joy-standard.”  Take a minute and revel in the feeling.  Close your eyes, if you want.  Then, place that item within arm’s (and eye’s) reach.  I like to hang mine on the closet door.
  • Turn back to your closet and pick up the next item of clothing.  Hold it at arm’s length.   Quick.  What’s the FIRST thought that comes to mind?
    1. “Okay, this shirt is great for running errands on Saturday.”
    2. “Oh, Mom.  I wish you wouldn’t spend your money buying me “going-out-blouses” in silver lamé.  It reminds me of that dress you bought me for my piano recital that didn’t…”
    3. “Okay, this blouse looks good with white pants.  Didn’t I wear it last summer to that school luncheon when my favorite blue dress looked a little tight in the tush?”
  • Look at your “joy-standard.”  Ahhhh.  Now, look back to that shirt.  SEE the DIFFERENCE?!?!  One elicits joy.  The other… not joy.  Put the not-joy in the give-away pile.  Your goal?  To surround yourself only with those things that bring you joy.  I know.  You’ll have nothing left.  It’s true.  But there in lies the REAL decluttering.*
  • Repeat.  Hold up item, Register FIRST THOUGHT about the item, Compare FIRST THOUGHT to your “joy-standard.”  Keep or give away.
  • Stop when you feel either very accomplished or overwhelmed, emotionally-exhausted and/or depressed.  Put the discards into a shopping bag and close the door.   If you’re able to this for 5 things in your closet, consider yourself a rock-star.
  • Return to that closet daily.  Look at the clothes you kept yesterday.  Look at your “joy-standard.”  Do they match?  One of them… not so much, right?   YAY.  You’ve an even bigger rock-star today than yesterday.

What a minute!” you shout.  “Ms. Kondo says to do it in one big purge.  This doesn’t sound like success?!”

*The truth is… you’re NOT just decluttering your closet.  You’re decluttering yourself from all the baggage you’ve been carrying for your whole life.   The responsibilities, obligations, guilts, burdens, pressures,  fantasies, should’ves, should’nts… They’re cluttering your closet.  And your ability to live YOUR honest, true life.

And that doesn’t come in one 2-hour clothes-tossing session.

Getting in touch with your true self is akin to building the strength of a newly-discovered muscle; latent in its power yet weakened by its lack-of-use.  It’s your emotional truth.   Your true meaning in life.  Your purest form of self.  I don’t know… call it what you want… but it is YOU.  The YOU you were meant to be.   The YOU that you are.  Just a bit lost in the shuffle of all those damn shirts that kinda itch,  too quickly stain around the armpits.  Getting in touch with your true self?  Not going to happen just because you gave away a pair of purple-patent pumps.

Do a little a day.  Yes, you’re going to slip back into old habits.  Remind yourself of your goals.  Try again.  Hold your “joy-standard” in your hand.  Ahh, that’s what it feels like.  Go back into the world, with that feeling still in your mind.

In time, it becomes easier to know what brings you joy and what doesn’t, without having to compare it to your “joy-standard.”  It becomes a part of your conscious-mind.

Who knew the "joy-standard" could be so simple and basic, eh?

Who knew the “joy-standard” could be so simple and basic, eh?

Still with me?  Okay, so now what?

  • Open a kitchen cabinet.  See all those tea bags?  Which one do you ALWAYS grab when you want to have a cup of tea?  Darjeeling, because you like the taste AND you love that it reminds you of that tea luncheon your best friend threw you for your wedding shower?  “Joy-standard.”  That really-bitter dandelion-detox tea you bought because you should be more focused on your health but it tastes like dirt and you gag with every sip?  SEE THE DIFFERENCE?  Toss out that tea, you rebel!  You’ve just decluttered your life.  And got to know yourself a little bit better.  Baby-steps towards the honest life we should all be living.
  • Do it everywhere, all the time.   Find your “joy-standard.”  Then, apply it to ALL things around you.   Go back into the sock drawer you decluttered last week and give away that pair of argyle cashmere socks that somehow remind you of Sister Marilyn, that up-tight, highly-judgemental high-school Principal who still gets your goat.  Go into the garage.  Get rid of those dusty roller-blades that pinched your toes 18 years ago (but keep that box of old towels you love to use when you wash your car because not only are you recyclying but you’re saving $20 from the carwash, you industrious gal, you).  Go into the den.  Get rid of that book that reminds you of that vacation you fought with your boyfriend and the one that’s over-written and dull, despite the NYTimes’ opinion.  Keep the one about Jackson Browne, ’cause you just like him and it’s fun to be reminded of that.
  • And on-and-on it goes.  Bringing forward the life that brings you joy, the life you SHOULD be living.

Everytime you declutter, think to yourself, “Oh, my.  I think I’m beginning to understand who I am and how I really feel. ”  Soon, you’ll not need to reach out and touch your “joy-standard.”  You’ll just know it when you feel it.  And when you don’t.

Oh yes.  Imagine the implications of using this process on EVERYTHING.   Your job.  Your hobbies.  Your friends.  Your relationships…

Imagine spending 98% of your life experiencing your joy-standard?

Thank you Ms. Kondo, for proposing the unimaginable.


My whacky, Japanese-Style, decluttered New Year

Screen Shot 2015-01-04 at 11.23.12 PM

$11 at Amazon… does change your life

According to Marie Kondo, a life is best-lived uncluttered and surrounded only by the things that bring joy.  Undeniable, right?   Who isn’t a neat-freak like me?  When a friend showed me this book, I thought to myself, “Rats, I should have written that book!” But, oh no.  How wrong I was!  Ms. Kondo thinks nothing like me.   She’s kinda… whacky.

As anyone who’s seen my alphabetized spice rack can attest, I’m organized.  I believe in storing tax receipts for 7 years, color-coding my t-shirts in rainbow-hue order and using my label-maker to identify the contents of every box stored in my garage.

Ms. Kondo thinks inanimate objects have a calling, the unncessary words on boxes scream out in the silence of the night, and you’ll lose weight, embark on a new career, have clearer skin and discover new relationships if you clean out your closet.

Whacky, right?

I wish.

Turns out, being organized isn’t the same as being decluttered.  And while organization is something at which I’ve excelled, decluttered living is not.   And you know what sucks about this?  Ms. Kondo’s right.  A decluttered life is magic.

The book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of DeCluttering and Organization” is one of those quiet reads that, at times, feels child-like and self-published.  Maybe that’s typical of Japanese-to-English translations?  But, having read the whole book two weeks ago (yes, you have to read the whole thing), I can attest that it grows on you more each day that passes.  It speaks to you like the wisened Zen-master you never had.  I hazard to say… it’s profound.

As a consummate organizer, I quickly took to Ms. Kondo’s general thesis that I could declutter more from my life.  I’m a high-achiever.  I strive for the 99% — and who doesn’t like to spend Saturday night rolling their socks into sweet-rolls?  Plus, I was intrigued by her way of doing it.  She asks you to hold up every item (done by category) and ask yourself if the item is either actively useful or “sparks joy”.  If yes to either question, you keep it.  If no, you throw it away.  And if you waver in answering the question, you throw it away.  It’s so simple, I tried it immediately in my closet.

I was shocked how few of my clothes elicited the “Ah, this brings me joy.”

Instead, I found myself saying, “Well, this might work one day if…” or “Yeah, I don’t love the way I feel in that but..”  Ms. Kondo says we keep many things in our lives out of guilt (“It was a gift from my mother,” or ” It’s still in good condition”) even though they don’t make us happy.  That sweater that makes you feel frumpy? It’s cashmere and you got it on sale at Neiman Marcus.  It’s wasteful to throw it away, right?   NO.  That’s not joy.  That’s a version of Catholic-guilt.  Throw it away!

She also says we shouldn’t keep those wishful things (the jeans we hope to fit into again, those cooking magazines we hope to use for dinner some night, those funky shoes we might want to wear to a funky party, should we ever get invited to one).  Every day we see those things, they remind us of what we DIDN’T accomplish today.  That’s like a nagging, negative mother-in-law who hates your guts — and yet, shadows your every movement in life.  Throw those things away!   If you’re serious about your “dreams to one day be proficient in Italian,” then sign up for that Italian class at the Community College.  But in the meantime, throw away that Italian textbook you bought at a yard-sale.  You can buy a new one on the first day of class.  Stop living in the “maybe one day I’ll do that” place.  Live in the here-and-now.  Only surround yourself with things that spark joy in your heart, here-and-now.

And don’t EVEN think of keeping that frumpy and kinda-itchy sweater to just “wear around the house.”   Ms. Kondo laces in to the reader that loungewear-is-loungewear and, why shouldn’t you be filled with joy in your loungewear?  Ill-fitting shirts, slightly-too-tight pants, a dress that is comfortable enough to sleep in but makes your breasts look like oblong pancakes?  No joy.  No loungewear.  Throw ’em away!

On-and-on she goes, giving advice on how to throw away the things you thought you needed — or worse, kept because you felt bad about giving it away.  She’ll even help you say goodbye to those things in the most corny way that “honors” their presence.  Seriously, it’s so corny (it involves talking to inanimate objects as if they were people)… but more seriously, it alleviates your guilt & lets you release all those things from your life.  I’m raised on the East-Coast.  It’s malarky.  But it’s brilliant malarky.

Trust me.  Everyone needs to try this.  Decluttering isn’t about your closet.  It’s about living the true potential of your life.

But how can I be so sure? 

Giving up the size 6 ghost of yesteryear

Giving up the size 6 ghosts of yesteryear

Last week, I started “decluttering” my clothes closet, one linen closet and two kitchen shelves.  I threw away the 5 pairs of jeans that haven’t fit in 2+ years as well as 8 bags of “wishlist” stuff (which included dozens of vases for when I thought I might take up flower-arranging, 4-sets of spare bed linens in case I ever needed to house a displaced family on a moment’s notice and too many pairs of shoes that pinched my toes after an hour but hey, if I wore them to a dinner party, I could slip them off under the table).  Since doing this?  I’ve lost 5 pounds, reconnected with two great friends and completed a PowerPoint presentation on which I’ve procrastinated since December 11th.

Now, isn’t that whacky?

Better get living while you’re alive

The constant chorus throughout my days — and in the days of many of those around me — is that life is busy and stressful & we’re not accomplishing enough today and we’re worrying too much about tomorrow.   How do we manage and keep life in perspective?

My daily stresses are presented in various arenas — financial, emotional, parenting, health, global, career… and sometimes, they overpower me.  Luckily, more often, my awareness of these stresses and my conscious reaction to them have helped to better balance the ups-and-downs of my life.  This blog is often about those travails.

Over the past few weeks, a few experiences have served as direct reminders of how to keep life in perspective.  I want to share them here.

Live your life as if it will end suddenly

Screen Shot 2014-11-03 at 7.12.51 PMA few week’s ago, I received news that a friend (a fellow mother in my daughter’s preschool class) had died after being struck by an elderly driver.  She had been standing beside her parked car, just before noon on a beautiful day in downtown La Jolla.   I suspect she was out running errands.  The accident left three young children motherless.  I often wonder what the Mom’s last words to her children were that morning.   “I’m glad we spent last night cuddled together on the sofa talking instead of cleaning out our backpacks, practicing our spelling words and arguing about who gets which water bottle for lunch”?    How careful I now am that my own parting words to my two children are not, “Hurry up or we’ll be late!

Screen Shot 2014-11-03 at 7.09.37 PMIn September, I stumbled over the blog postings of a young Harvard college freshman who, during her first trip overseas as an earnest, fledging editor of a European travel guide book, stumbled on a hike, fell into a waterfall and died.  Reading her travel journal, knowing that she dies, is a terrible experience — and one that will make you tear up.  And then, weirdly laugh with joy when you read about the over-budget lunch she splurged on in Vienna, one month before her untimely death.  I’m not saying you need to go out and buy that expensive purse you’ve been ogling for months BUT if you do splurge on that purse, go about it as if it’s the last purse you’ll ever own.   Why not?!  I had that second glass of wine last night — and you know what?  I REALLY enjoyed it.

Screen Shot 2014-11-03 at 7.08.55 PM

Earlier this week, Brittany Maynard committed assisted-suicide (or death-with-dignity, DWD).  I did not follow her story before its end (although I do recall hearing a sound-bite in the last month or two).  Brittany did what my friend — and Harvard’s friend — could not.  She was ever-present and in-control of her own life AND her own death.  It’s quite a powerful position — and I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was a bit envious of the true consciousness in which she lived her shortened life.

Brittany’s obituary (which I assume was written by Brittany herself) is filled with a few clues of how we can live through the stress.   While we must accept the limits and realities of our life, we must live honestly — and fully.   I can’t speak for how I’ll die (whether it be with such dignity and awareness as Brittany or with no advance-warning as it occurred with Melissa and Haley), but I know that I’ll have to cherish better each moment alive.

Here’s to embracing my stresses… while embracing all the meaningful moments in between.

Happy Friday to you all.

Profound thought delivered in kid-speak

For all of us nocturnal types...

For all of us nocturnals…

“I would like morning-time better if was at the night” — my (8) year old son

Don’t Wake Me Up, I’m working!

"Brain Rules" by John Medina

“Brain Rules” by John Medina

After 10+ years of being bombarded by doctors-cum-celebrity-authors that my children need sleep (“Without sleep, your child won’t go to college!”  “Bad Mommies let their kids stay up past 9 pm!”), I’m here to say that Chapter 2 of that book is much more relevant.  Chapter 2?  That’s the chapter titled, “40 YEAR OLD WOMAN — GO TO BED!”

I’m 42, tired and behind on my reading.   Turns out, sleep is the most important thing I should be doing for my health (and by association, my career, my family and my overall quality of life).   Sounds simple but sleep is always the first sacrifice I make in the craziness of my life.  It’s very easy to stay up to 12 am answering a few more emails or watching a YouTube video series on “E-Commerce SEO 101.”   It’s also easier to drag myself out of bed at 6 am to make breakfast for my kids, pack their lunches and review pick-up & carpooling details with my husband than to sleep in and deal with the guilt of hungry kids &  missed calendar appointments.  That’s why they created the 10-cup coffee machine.  Pour and roar, Baby!

What’s a little exhaustion in the plight of the juggle?!   Honestly, there’s a badge of honor in the exhaustion of burning the candle at both ends.   There’s no balance in the juggle.  It’s part of the Puritan “work-hard” ethic.   If I’m sleeping 8+ hours a night, there’s NO WAY I’ll turn Totefish into the billion dollar juggernaut I dream it to be.   Napping in the afternoon?  That’s so Marie Antoinette!

For the last 18 months, I have been surviving off 4-5 hours of sleep a night.  And when I say “surviving“, I mean “dying a slow death.”  Turns out, exhaustion is like juggling with real knives.  Better re-up your health insurance plan.

My newest trek into non-fiction, soft-science books is with “Brain Rules” by John Medina.  The book outlines the science behind the importance of sleep in an adult’s life.  Proper sleep enables a human to 1.) better process the day’s data, 2.) solve problems, 3.) remember things, 4.) be in a better mood, 5.) make fewer mistakes, and 6.) not suck wind.

Spoiler-alert.  I’ve been sucking wind.

Screen Shot 2014-03-18 at 8.44.01 AMLast week, I hit empty.  I sat at my desk and jumped from email-to-email, Powerpoint presentation-to-excel-spreadsheet, To-Do-list to To-Do-list WITHOUT accomplishing anything.  Turns out, when you’re exhausted, your brain is unable to focus on a task AND when it can focus, it takes 2-4xs longer to finish the task, makes 75% more mistakes while doing that task and can’t remember what the point of the task was in the first place.  Frustration and depression follow.  Lack-of-sleep makes one moody, diminishes their short-term memory capabilities and makes learning new concepts nearly impossible (the brain processes information during sleep).  So, while my Puritan values of work-work-work drive me to create massive plans, my Puritan disdain for sleep-rest-and-relaxation drive me to waste my time (and get more tired).

Sleep.  Nap.  Repeat.

I spent the last four days sleeping.  And I am a new woman.  The sun is sunnier.   My kids are lovelier.  And my To Do List ain’t so mean and angry.

Why do you think I’m writing this post today?   I slept 9 hours last night.  Give it a try.  I think it’ll change your life!

I’m a 42-year old Mom & I just launched a website!

Yes, you 22 year olds!  Zip up your hoodies and move your recycled-canvas messenger bags over ’cause I’m working in the internet now.

Congratulations!   It's a baby… website!  Time of birth?  12: 21 am.

Congratulations! It’s a baby… WEBSITE!                            Time of birth? 11:21pm.  Duration of labor?  18 months!


The short answer?  Made a lot of mistakes, went to bed after midnight most nights of the week, read too many articles on “Lean Start-Ups,” learned how to make a Prezi from a 5th grader, spent some serious money and gained 10 pounds.  But that’s not helpful, is it?   NO!  If you’re really curious how to start up a website, read on.

[If you just want to see my site, CLICK HERE (and go to Totefish!).   Otherwise,  stay tuned… ’cause I’m going to be blogging all month about women & websites & children & stuff.]


This list is NOT prioritized by how I did it.  It’s the order, in my next life, in which I will do it.  It is the most efficient,”Learn-From-My-Mistakes,” tough-love advice I can give:

1.  Take a class on HCI (Human Computer Interaction).  

Just because you’ve matched a movie, doesn’t mean you know how to write one.  Same goes for the internet.  Just because you’ve surfed a website (and came up with a few ideas on how it could be better), you are NOT trained to jump in & design a site.  There’s a science and a HUGE knowledge base behind good website development.  I’m not talking about coding — I’m talking about organization.  Trust me.  If you’re going to dedicate your time & money to building a site, take 3 months to learn everything there is about HCI.  It is the theory behind UI/UX.  Wait, what’s the difference between UI/UX?   My point exactly!   If you’d taken the time to study HCI, you’d know your “I” from your “X”.   I took the 12-week studio track of Scott Klemmer’s Human-Computer Interaction Coursera Class (when it was sponsored through Stanford).  It’s the tip-of-iceberg but it will change your “start-up” life.  Check out my Resources: Startups menu above for links to various HCI programs.

2.  Spend a month watching every webinar on the Stanford HCI Group website

And then, go to YouTube and watch every Stanford HCI Group video uploaded there.  It should take about 6 weeks.  No joke.  Keep watching them until the videos get repetitive.  That means you really understand HCI and you’re finally ready to design a great website.   Oh, that sounds boring and middle-aged??  Well, guess what?  Middle-aged folk don’t spend their Saturday nights drinking cheap beer out of a funnel, either.  Experience makes us wiser.  We know that spending 4+ months to learn everything about building a SMART website will save you 10 months of wondering why your site kinda sucks.  You know the joke about the two bulls on a hill, right?

The Stanford HCI Group website is

3.  If you think PHP is a virus, HTML-5 a type of cable and CSS a new cop show on NBC, then you need to find a Technology partner

The interesting thing about an internet business is that it’s combines business AND technology, 50/50.  You need both to make it work.  Running the business side takes intelligence, organization, problem-solving, creativity, multi-tasking, marketing, financial modeling and presentation skills (just to name a few).  Running the technology side takes hard-core computer science knowledge and expertise.  You need both to bring an idea to fruition.  If you’re the business-type (like me), then you’d better find a strong tech partner, otherwise, hiring a tech team will be difficult (and managing a tech team will be frustrating for everyone involved).   [I’ll drill deeper how to do this in a later post — In the meantime,  focus on the HCI stuff].

If you’re someone like me (a Mom who didn’t have a Facebook account when she began this endeavor 2 years ago), welcome yourself to 2014.  Get the newest phone, download the newest APPs, go to the newest websites and never say “Oh, I’d NEVER use that software” without trying it for a week.  If you want to be on the web, you’d better BE ON THE WEB.  Imagine writing a  romantic comedy without renting Julia Robert’s repertoire of movies?   You can’t do something new in technology if you don’t like new technology.   “Respect the Tech” and go upgrade all your devices!