Category Archives: Happiness

All I Want For Christmas is Low Stress

It is only 11 days until Christmas and I’ve already got my best present so far: low stress.

How?  Well it comes from two main things in my experience.  First we have always been the sort of people that plan to get things done early during the holiday season.  So by Dec 1 we usually have the following already done:

  • Home is decorated and tree is up
  • 90% of presents are already bought and we are under budget
  • Family Christmas picture is taken and prints are ordered
  • Wish Lists have been finished and sent to others
  • Christmas baking recipes are picked out and ingredients are purchased

So that means that we don’t have that much we actually need to do in December itself which leaves more time to actual enjoy the holidays rather than getting freaked out trying to get everything done in a week or two.

Then the other main item we try to do is keep our amount of social engagements from getting out of hand.  For example, this week and next week we only have a handful of items on our family calendar.  This leaves us time to hang out with our kids and just have fun.  For example, last Sunday we went sledding in the morning, drank hot chocolate after,  built a snowman in the afternoon and then baked cookies with the kids.  My youngest declared it was the best day ever and honestly it didn’t take much other than some time.  We also have a few other immediate family items planned prior to Christmas like watching a movie together, playing a board game and likely some sort of excuse to consume more hot chocolate (hint there may be some reading of books involved).

I know what a novel concept: actual enjoying spending time with your family without feeling stressed about it.  That is really what I think people should focus on during the holidays.  Forget about making things to some sort of unrealistic picture perfect moment and freak out when it doesn’t happen.  Forgot your social media feed and just pour yourself an eggnog and relax already.  Do something you love and share it with someone you love.  It doesn’t have to be complex or difficult to be wonderful.

So how do you keep the holidays fun for you and your family? Any other suggestions on how to keep your stress low?

Giving Up on Numbers

First let me state this for the record: I am a numbers geek!  And not just a passing sort of geek who tracks his spending and net worth on his blog.  Oh no, I am in fact a professional engineer number geek who worked at creating corporate Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to track the company’s environmental performance. I lived, ate and breathed data and calculations during my career.  I created Excel sheets and databases that give people the sweats just looking at them and take over 20 pages of documentation on how to use one of them.

So when I tell you I’m starting to care less about numbers in my retirement that should strike you as a bit shocking.  After all most of my personal self worth was defined by numbers like:

  • How many steps I took in a week according to my FitBit app on my work phone.
  • How much my net worth increased each month.
  • How many words I could write in a day on a novel.

Yet as I’m spending more of my time just enjoying life after leaving my job I’m been reminded that the best things in life can’t be measured or quantified by numbers.  You don’t measure:

  • The pleasure of an afternoon nap.
  • Or the colour saturation of fall leaves as you go on a walk.
  • The satisfaction of fixing something by yourself.

And this shift can be incredibly difficult for a numbers geek like me.  After all I used to more or less live by the phrase: what gets measured gets managed.  So to not measure things on purpose initially feels wrong or sacrilegious to me but I’m starting to realize that just because you can measure something doesn’t mean you should.

Case in point is I am no longer tracking my steps during a week.  My old work phone allowed me to track that without any extra hardware by just installing the FitBit app.  So I used to review that daily to see how I was doing.  And initially that information was useful, it helped me get into the habit of taking walks during my lunch break at work.  Yet after I quit my job, I handed that phone back in the work phone and my new phone doesn’t allow that sort of tracking. So I could break down and buy a tracking device but I choose not to do that to see what the difference was.  After all, if I missed it I could ask for a tracking device for Christmas.

And here is the thing, if I was tracking my steps I would guess I am moving more after leaving work but I no longer care about how many steps I take in a day.  I used to feel guilty at the end of the day if I didn’t hit my daily goal when I was tracking or I would do silly things like walk around the house just before bed double checking the locks just to hit my target.  Where as now I know I have my busy days where I walk more and less busy days where I walk less.  So my activity level seesaw during the week but the point is I feel good about my activity level so who cares what number is associated with that level.  In short, I care more about how I feel than an objective number telling me how I should feel.  And for a numbers geek like me that is a bit of a break through.  I will say I still miss knowing an exact number but I have been beginning to see sometimes that the un-measurable in life is the better way to gauge your life.

And this is starting to bleed into the rest of my tracking in my life. So while I do have a goal on my Goodreads account for books to read this year (80 in case you are wondering) I no longer care if I hit a particular number.  Why?  Because last year I realized I was putting off reading some particularly long books because it would lower my count for the year.  The tracking was starting to pervert my decision making to things I never intended by the tracking in the first place.  The point of the reading books goal was to make time in my life to read, not to favour shorter books over longer ones that I really wanted to read.

Yet the one item with respect to numbers that I still am struggling with is tracking my financial performance because on the one hand I need to know if things are going off the rails with my retirement plan but at the same time I want to live my life instead of  just checking some numbers.  So what is the right frequency of checking?  I currently do it monthly out of habit but should I switch to quarterly or just do an annual check in?  I don’t know because sometimes looking at the numbers put my mind at ease while other times I find them stressing me out.  I suspect the answer might be keeping the monthly for the next year or so to let me get used to this new life of using my assets instead of just growing them, but at some point I would like to be able to care less about my net worth and more about just living my life.

So my fellow number geeks, what are your thoughts on tracking things in your life?

Life After FIRE – One Month In

Well it’s been a month now of me not being at work and I have to say I’m starting to settle down a bit more.  The first few weeks really did feel a bit like a dream that I expected to wake up from but now I’ve gotten a bit more comfortable with my new life after retiring early.  So here are a few items that are positives and a few negatives as well.

On the plus side, overall the one thing that really stands out for me about early retirement is this: you are no longer rushed.  I know that might sound odd but think about this.  I found during my working life I always had this low level feeling of being rushed.  During the week I would have to get certain errands done and then on the weekends you had to get your chores done and still squeeze in some socialization with friends and somewhere find a bit of time to relax with a book.  It felt like I was almost always battling the clock to get it all done and feeling guilty when things fell to the side. Now I almost never feel that way.  If something doesn’t get done today, I do it the next day.  No big deal.

Also I should point out I’m not good at doing nothing.  I like to relax with a book for a while but I can’t just do that for a day.  I like to get other things done as well.  So I’ve slowly been getting done a backlog of errands, repairs and chores done around the house.  So that tap in the downstairs bathroom that I have been ignoring got replaced, I got the oil change done on the car,  we renewed the family passports and the fish tank got a good cleaning.

Also I got to do things that I want was well.  I signed up to help out at our local school library once a week.  I have been doing research for my next novel and I have read about 12 books, finished two tv show seasons on Netflix and still managed to easily have time to host my family in town for Thanksgiving. So I have this weird thing where I feel relaxed and productive all at the same time.

Yet there is still certain basic limitations in life, you still have some negative things to your days.  Those don’t go away when you retire.  For example, I still only have 24 hours a day just like you and I don’t always get everything that I want to get done in a day.  Having more time during the week I find just means I can get more easily distracted from what I want to focus on.  After all I can just tell myself I will get to what I should be working on later on.  Until I realize I have been pushing something back for two week already and my wife is giving me that look again.

Or another example is bad luck still happens.  Case in point, our dog had a small growth on her back leg and we took her into the vet to get it checked out.  Well there we find a few other growths that have to be removed.  Oh look there was $500 I wasn’t planning on spending that week.  Then our dog has a complication from the first surgery (no ones fault, just bad luck) and she needs to have most of her tail removed in a second surgery the week after.  Our total vet bill for is at $1100 for the month, but the good news is our dog is doing well now.

Yet overall I have to say even with the negatives I like this lifestyle. The only thing I feel that is missing is I haven’t been working that much on anything big lately.  Just a series of smaller items, so  I so I plan to write a draft of a novel this November as a bigger project.

Any questions?