Not So Complicated

I channeled Mary Poppins: resplendent with unwavering decisiveness and spit-spot, lickety-split efficiency, two of us turned the spare-bedroom/storage-room into comfy guest quarters in less than 45 minutes. Easy-peasy…

…because it was not MY spare bedroom. No emotional investment, no weariness at once again facing the task at hand, it was, actually, fun. Change is refreshingly simple when it doesn’t cost you a thing.

When it costs something, change seems complicated and hard, even impossible.

Almost everyone I know has argued, in vain, with newspaper articles, the radio or television newscasts. As if briefly overcome with psychoses, they shout at the television and argue with the radio in their car. (Me, too). Whatever their position – progressive or conservative, libertarian or statist – they are frustrated and amazed, over and over, at officials’ protestations of how hard it is to make change happen.

Everyone has ideas on how to make change happen. Some are terrifying; others are naïve. Many, however, have the ring of common sense, and it makes one wonder, why are these officials, whether elected or snugly sinecured, acting as if everything is so complicated?

There are many different government programs aimed at moving people from one place to another. Why many? Who knows? Could it be simplified? Yes, and probably elegantly. Everyone on Medicare, for whatever reason, use service A; everyone who meets whatever clearly established criteria (such as Medicaid) for need, use service B. Give every participant a chipped card to use, require photo ID (or put it on the card) to be sure the cards don’t turn into underground currency like food stamps sometimes do, and then the details entered into the program (A or B) for that individual will determine: medical taxi, van assistance, reduced or free bus fare? A bright STEM high school senior could write the bulk of the program in a day or so. If you immediately imagined the most complicated possible situations just to pick a fight with me: sure, those exist. If someone needs a wheelchair-accessible van, then that goes into the electronic info on their card; if they merely need a cab for doctor appointments, that’s on the card. As circumstances change, someone in a remote office can input the update. When Mr. X no longer needs a wheelchair van to get to his appointments, his account can (spit-spot, lickety-split) be adjusted to provide for the appropriate transportation benefit. Plus, with GPS it won’t be hard to figure out if the beneficiary had the cab drop them at Dr. K’s or at K-Mart: auditing for abuse becomes simple. Ta-da: not easy, but simple.

If the object was to make sure poor people had good quality healthcare, one might wonder, why not simply work with what we have? One, we have a public health department system and two, we have a VA system to serve as a model for comprehensive (albeit labyrinthine) healthcare. What makes it so complicated to appropriately expand the one, based on what we know from the other? Doctors are leaving, or not going into, private practice and instead signing on as employees in the private sector, so a nice government job with benefits and a pension seems like a tempting offer for many D.O.s, MDs, ARNPs, RNs, dentists, and other healthcare providers angling to be someone’s employee. Yes, we’d need more buildings and more staff, and probably some specialty services would be outsourced (the VA knows all about that, too). Who uses them? How about anyone who meets criteria for transportation assistance, as above? They already have the ID card; add that info. Outsourcing so little of it will lead to much less fraud, the latter a cause of handwringing for the same politicians who resist change.

Oh, I know. I can’t possibly understand. It’s far more complicated than that. Well, no, it’s not. It’s not going to be easy, but that is not the same as complicated. From out here, it is very clear that sometimes what is explained as “complicated” really means “not easy.” These are different things.

A marathon is not complicated. It is a matter of stepping forward and repeating that action for 26.2 miles. I know; I ran 79 of them. They were not easy. They were simple and hard. So are lots of things. It is just easier to see “simple and hard” from the outside than from the inside.

“Complicated” is a euphemism for something along the lines of, “Well, we don’t want to change anything; some people will be unhappy, and maybe we’ll lose some votes, so somehow we must give the appearance of changing things without actually changing anything.” The best we seem to get sometimes is the legislative version of buying storage containers during the January sales. It’s the same pile of junk, but it’s temporarily neat. If the object is to pretend to change, then, yes, everything we shout at the newspaper and radio about is quite complicated. I have no idea how to run AND not run at the same time, so how could a bunch of bureaucrats figure out how to simplify programs while simultaneously avoiding any changes?

Our ambivalent relationship with change makes it simple, and enjoyable, to help other people organize their stuff. The books were not MY books, the stuff was not MY stuff. People who have enough money and stuff hire people to come in and bully them into getting rid of stuff. The theory is that someone else, who is not emotionally invested, will be able to confront me. I can imagine the process:

Professional organizer: “Now, Lori, how many CS Lewis books do you really need?”

Me: “I dunno. How many ARE there? Ought I leave room for more?”

It goes downhill from there.

The analogy ought to fail because the people we elect should not be emotionally attached to ineffective programs. They behave like people suffering the deep heartache that leads to hoarding behavior, but I suspect the attachment is less suffering and more sinister: each entanglement serves a gratifying purpose or two.

Imagine members of Congress clinging, weeping, to the thousands of pages of regulations that describe the several programs to provide fuel (or rather, money for fuel) to poor people in winter. Why would they fret about merging these into one, clear, program? Where is the burning enthusiasm to ensure that the funds to help people stay warm are used prudently and effectively? I don’t want to read about one person collecting fuel benefits from multiple funds and using some of it for frills, while someone else freezes to death. I want everyone to be warm and cozy. If there were one program, would people find a way to abuse it? Surely; but simplicity reduces the camouflage.

I suspect we will all be shouting at the news for a long time. Meanwhile, I have to go pretend to be someone else so that I can impose some order on my stuff: a process that will be simple and hard.

Dr. Lori Puterbaugh, LMHC, LMFT, NCC

© 2017

Posts are for information and entertainment purposes only and should not be construed to be therapeutic advice. If you are in need of mental health assistance, please contact a licensed professional in your area.

 

Surprise! Today is mostly the same as yesterday…

Surprise! For most of us, today is mostly the same as yesterday!

Huh?

Well, maybe I am letting a pinch of my grew-up-in-Jersey show, with an unhealthy indulgence in sarcasm…but I have a point.

Why are so many people surprised when every day, so much is the same?

Why do some sources tell us the “average American woman” tries on four or five outfits before leaving for work? Is it really possible this hypothetical average woman is perpetually surprised by the obligation to wear something besides yoga pants and a slept-in t-shirt? Imagine: “D’oh! Get dressed again???? What the…?” It’s much more likely that what-to-wear becomes, under pressure, an emotional decision (what do I feel like wearing) instead of a practical one. The cool, calm decision on Sunday (what makes sense based on the demands of each day of the week) turns into a workday morning emotion-fest for people who get caught up in “I feel fat” or “I look terrible.”

It’s not just about prepping for the non-surprising workday.

Why is anyone over the age of twelve stymied by the multiplication of dishes in the sink, the need to do laundry, or the fact that garbage cans get full? Worse yet, why are so many couples arguing, night after night, about “what to do about dinner,” as if the need to eat sometime between finishing lunch and going to bed caught them unawares?

I try not to be surprised by the every-day. Maybe I am flattering myself by mincing words here: I am dismayed that Darcy the twelve-year-old cat has once again thrown up in the middle of a wood floor. I am, regrettably, not surprised.

The school year is beginning here in West-Central Florida, and so families all over are waking up to unpleasant (non)surprises: pack lunches? Matching socks? Complying with uniform rules? What??? I am right there with you, folks, amazed that it is once again time to get into the autumn routine.

For me, that includes packing a week’s worth of lunches and ironing a week’s worth of clothes on the weekend. Crazy, right? Until you imagine it taking two minutes to get dressed for work and a few seconds to grab a lunch out of the fridge, instead of trying to figure out what to wear, heat up the iron or touch up shoes, wash fruit and veggies, etc., while the work day morning clock’s ticking. I have it figured out: less than 30 minutes total for all clothes- and lunch-prep on Sunday or cope with 15 minutes or more five times a week. I am saving myself, at minimum, 45 minutes

Emotions are what get in the way for families bickering about “what to do about dinner,” or “how are we going to get the laundry/kitchen/pet duties done.” People are tired, they are hungry, they are stressed out from the day. Tired, hungry, stressed people are not as good at negotiating and decision-making, whether at home or work. Instead of wishing you could come home, magically downshift to a Zen-like mindful state and engage in creative cookery and Pinterest-worthy home maintenance, why not just plan to deal with reality?

The reality is, you will be tired, you will be stressed, and you will wish you had something easy, tasty and nutritious. You will not want to spend a half-week’s worth of grocery money on takeout because the dinner hour caught you by surprise.

The 1990s bestsellers by Elaine St. James (Simplify Your Life, Living the Simple Life, etc.) included very down-to-earth, helpful tips: have a weekly menu that rarely varies. It keeps life simple. That doesn’t mean you can’t have wonderful, complicated meals, but it does mean that you can also plan for: Ugh, it’s been a 14-hour day door-to-door and that homemade soup from the freezer/half a lasagna/whatever ready to go and bag of salad are going to taste really, really good…in about five minutes, instead of spending a half-hour bickering, grumbling, and absent-mindedly eating a half-bag of chips while you try to figure out what to do.

Slices of the culture are having a virtual love affair with simplifying, decluttering, etc. How about decluttering and simplifying the routines of life, the predictable little tasks that are the same each day, so you have more time and mental energy for the things you’d rather do?

 

Dr. Lori Puterbaugh, LMHC, LMFT, NCC

© 2016

Posts are for information and entertainment purposes only and should not be construed to be therapeutic advice. If you are in need of mental health assistance, please contact a licensed professional in your area.

Way 16/Day 16: Make it a great year – give it 10 minutes

Some tasks are overwhelming and discouraging. Just thinking about tackling that basement, garage or closet can generate a lot of creativity about what you could do instead, right? So, give it 10 minutes. Set the timer and go…just focus on doing what you can in 10 minutes. Maybe on day 1 you set up 3 baskets, boxes or buckets for keep/toss/donate. Day 2 you just pick stuff up and put into one of those piles. Day 3 you do the same…or whatever else makes sense. Just spend 10 minutes and move on. In a week, you’ve spent over an hour. In a month, you’ve given it more than a half-day, made a dent in it, and perhaps feel encouraged to just dig in for a longer time.

Dr. Lori Puterbaugh

© 2016

Posts are for information and entertainment purposes only and should not be construed to be therapeutic advice. If you are in need of mental health assistance, please contact a licensed professional in your area.

Way 10/Day 10: Make it a great year – give stuff away.

Most people in the US are blessed with having more than we need. Much more. So much more that we invest in fancy containers to hold it in new ways, rent special places away from our home to use as vacation homes for our extra stuff – and yet many of the people who do these things also continue to shop as a form of recreation.

Consider adopting, at least for a while, one or more of these approaches to your surfeit stuff:

  1. For each new non-perishable item you bring home, select something else to give to charity. You may start considering purchases carefully in light of figuring out what goes into the pile for AmVets when you put the new thing away.
  2. Try to select one item per day for a set number of days to give away. One author did this for a year; you might practice it for the 40 days of Lent.
  3. Have a 30-day list. If a non-essential still seems like a very good idea in a month, then you can decide to make the purchase.

If, on the other hand, your problem is an addiction to shopping, recognize that shopping is meeting one or more emotional needs in an unhealthy way, and find a better way to meet those needs. If you are in debt and out of space because of a shopping addiction, consider seeking professional guidance. You may be struggling to sedate emotional pain with the short-term rush of attention and gratification that shopping can provide.

Dr. Lori Puterbaugh

© 2016

Posts are for information and entertainment purposes only and should not be construed to be therapeutic advice. If you are in need of mental health assistance, please contact a licensed professional in your area.

Water, Judgment and Stuff

Sometimes Mother Nature takes a swipe at our stuff, and we find out what’s important and what’s not.

We had a little water in our basement – the ground was so saturated from 2+ feet of rain in a few weeks that water began oozing through concrete blocks. After some initial dismay (Really? This is the moment the shop vac decides to die?), I felt relief at some items not damaged and indifferent to most that were. The truth was, I was more than a little relieved to be able to be rid of some of that stuff. Do you have those things, too – piles of stuff that have accumulated and are neither treasured nor useful?

It’s an interesting mental exercise: if a natural disaster took a bunch of my stuff, what would I be most relieved to find still intact, in the wreckage? I suspect that in a real disaster, I would be grateful for anything that was a link to a swept-away past. Any photo, any old Christmas ornament, would be precious under those circumstances.

Flashes of insight come relatively easily; change, not so easily. After the realization that I was not sad that some old drawings and paintings are gone, and realizing how little I really cared about a lot of stuff I’d accumulated, life rolled on and I did nothing substantive to reduce the clutter.

Not content to let me congratulate myself on my bit of awareness, I was given a dream. In my dream, I was dead and being judged, and the Lord took me into my closet and pointed to the many clothes I rarely wore and gently asked me why I still had them when others needed them? Each tired shirt and sweater, dusty on a forgotten hanger, was a reproach against my selfishness and oblivion to others’ needs. Dickens’ Marley was weighed down with chains of money boxes; I fear I will drag chains of little-worn clothing, books and kitsch. It is time, once again, to start purging: cabinets, closets, overflowing shelves. There is a big box next to the closet – 2 x 2 x 3 – and it is rapidly filling with “stuff” that I hope someone really can use.

I am still not exactly grateful for that half-inch of stinky water in my basement, but thanks…I got the hint, and this time, I hope, it will stick.

Dr. Lori Puterbaugh

© 2015

Posts are for information and entertainment purposes only and should not be construed to be therapeutic advice. If you are in need of mental health assistance, please contact a licensed professional in your area.