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Feeling 30

My head has been sloshing around with negative thoughts lately but occasionally, little bubbles of positivity seem to rise through the sludge, somehow having survived. Since overthinking the negative is something I specialize in – and rarely never gets me anywhere – I thought I’d instead entertain the positive.

Lately I’ve been feeling more my age. I turned thirty last November but you can’t really turn into an age in one day. It has taken many months to let this new decade – an undeniably, wholly adult decade – settle over me, for me to find its comfortable grooves. And just to be clear, this is a positive thing. Aging is scary, sure – but acceptance of where you are in life at any particular moment is always the surest way to feel content.

Here are some things that make me glad to be thirty and feeling it:

1. I’ve grown into wearing nicer clothes. Maybe it was being a student for so long, or living on the west coast, or looking younger than my age, but through most of my twenties I felt uncomfortable if I wore anything dressier than jeans and a decent top. Blazers, nice skirts and dresses, and tailored shirts all felt like playing dress-up. I still dress fairly casually – I work in research science after all – but now when I catch sight of myself in the mirror on my way out of the office bathroom, I sometimes spot a respectable-looking professional. And I like that.

2. My house is mostly clean, most of the time. We were never total pigs, but we definitely tested the “maybe if I put it off a bit longer it’ll magically get done” theory a little more (fair enough, it is worth checking that one out thoroughly). Nor have we since reformed into clean freaks; our kitchen cupboards are still grimy if you get up close, the floors will rarely be clean enough to eat off, and you’ll find all kinds of funky dust bunnies under the furniture. But in the last couple of years we’ve gotten to the point that if someone was to randomly come to our door, for example, to exchange a gold-painted rock for “something larger” as part of a game they were taking part in, I can have them step into my home without embarrassement. Our house looks lived in – there might be some dishes soaking in the sink, some crumbs on the counter, and a pile of unopened mail on the kitchen table – but it looks lived in by adults. Mostly. (We ended up giving them a box of tissues in exchange for the gold rock.)

3. I have gotten relatively comfortable having friends over for dinner. Because of my perfectionist tendencies, hosting will never be completely stress-free for me. I will worry about the food turning out right and at the right time, I will worry about our dog being a nuisance to non-dog people (she likes attention), and I will worry about how long these damn people are going to stay in my house because I’m ready to go to sleep now! But I feel comfortable that John and I can host a decent social gathering. We can cook some yummy things, we can trade off on kitchen duties without ever pausing the conversation, and we never take ourselves so seriously that our friends don’t feel comfortable grabbing what they need if we forget to offer. Oh and since the wedding, we have some kick-ass wine glasses too.

4. I’ve started to see the value in spending more for the things I use everyday. Maybe it’s realizing that I have arrived as much as I will ever arrive (meaning I’ve realized there is no such thing), but rather than grabbing the cheapest thing that will do the job I’ve grown more patient in waiting for the right thing and then being prepared to pay for it. For example, we bought a new couch a few months ago to replace the Craigslist find that had served us for six years. We thought long and hard about what to buy and ended up ordering a couch from a shop in our neighbourhood. The couch is made locally and in the fabric we chose. It cost more than an IKEA couch for sure, but not obscenely so and we felt really good about buying it because it was exactly what we wanted and we’ll be sitting on it practically every day for years to come (or more accurately lying on it – which we can both do AT THE SAME TIME!). Recently, I splurged on a nice powder brush and realized for the first time how amazing a quality makeup brush feels. It’s like a silky hug for every pore of my skin! I’ve since decided that each month or two I’m going to replace one of my worn, drug-store brushes until I have a good set. “Spend money” is not the aging lesson I’m trying to convey here – it’s spend money on the right things. On the things that will add value to each and every day.

What are some things that you appreciate about growing into your age?

On giving

I am very fortunate. John and I are both employed and the paycheques that arrive in our bank accounts each month add up to more than we need to cover the bills. After many years as cash-strapped students, it’s a wonderful place to be and I am painfully aware how few young people can say the same in this tough economy. While it took hard work and sacrifices, we are aware that we also had the wind at our backs. We’ve had advantages, whether we knew it or not, and we’ve had luck.

Now I want to give to those who haven’t had as much. John and I agree that charitable giving is important to us. We want to donate to organizations that are reputable and provide concrete help to those that need it. Food. Clean water. A warm bed. A vaccination. Whatever simple need that will make life more livable, both locally and globally.

We agree on all this, so why is it that we only donated 0.2% of our income last year to charity? The facts should be simple: we have more than we need to meet our basic human needs right now and there are people around us who don’t. As decent human beings, we know we ought to help.

But then other voices kick in. Ones that say “what about saving for the kids you plan to have?” and “you really should put money aside to go visit your mom” and “there is no such thing as extra money when the bank owns most of your home.”

These voices are strong and they are smart. In fact, these voices have gotten us to the point where we can even contemplate giving in the first place. They often keep us home when we are tempted by dinner out or a weekend away, so they certainly make themselves heard when we are contemplating giving our money to something with far less instant gratification. The quiet satisfaction you get from donating to charity requires a more sophisticated palate to be appreciated. It becomes all too easy to put off. As we do.

I come from a family – in fact, a culture –  where charitable giving never entered the conversation at the kitchen table. In Finland and other socialist-leaning economies, the social contract doesn’t leave generosity up to individual choice – a highly progressive tax code ensures that those who have more give to those who have less whether they like it or not. In exchange, the government does a relatively good job of ensuring that no one in the country goes hungry or cold and the highly taxed can sleep soundly at night.

Now, in a country with a smaller social safety net, I simply don’t know how to negotiate the personal choice to give.

And it’s no surprise – there is very little guidance on how to negotiate this choice. In the secular, middle-class world, charity is such a personal and quiet choice it becomes very nearly invisible. In the finance books and blogs I’ve read, charitable giving is conspicuously absent from spending breakdowns, except maybe as a tax break for the wealthy or a teaching tool for young kids. For everyone else, the message is always focused on all the other places our money should go. Are young families simply not in a position to be giving money away? Or are they just not talking about it?

We should talk about it, because charitable giving is not easy, especially in isolation. If I’m completely honest, I’ll admit it’s hard to give up luxuries we enjoy, like dinners out, only to then give away the money to someone else. There, I said it. I might as well dye my hair rainbow and move to the Capitol. (Oh who am I kidding – we’re all already there.) Giving will always be a deeply personal choice and one that you have to prioritize for yourself, but I know more open discussion would help quiet those voices in my head and make the sacrifices easier.

John and I will always be somewhat cautious because it’s our nature, but we know we can do better than 0.2%. Yes we need to save for a rainy day, but there are people standing in the middle of storms right now. What we need is to find our own comfortable balance between the moral imperative to give and the practical imperative to save – while still preserving the life imperative to have fun once in a while.

What are your thoughts on charitable giving? And if you donate/plan to donate in the future, how do you balance all these competing priorities for your money? And I am specifically speaking about donating money – I think I’d like to talk about donating time in another post.

The very best sale

via we heart it

When I was a teenager, it was not uncommon for me to have an assortment of CD’s, video tapes, and various clothes belonging to my friends strewn around my room. We were always trading, sharing, and borrowing each other’s things. I guess it was a solution borne out of our incessant want for more things, and our inability to buy them for ourselves. It was quite smart really, even if not always well executed. (Who has my blue sweater? And when will Janelle finally return my Ace of Base CD??)

What happened to all that sharing now that we’ve grown up? Perhaps it’s just a lack of close girlfriends in near proximity, but I almost never share clothes with anyone anymore. It seemed to stop right around university, maybe because we all got busier and moved further apart, or maybe along with making money we started attaching more honour to being able to buy our own clothes. Whatever the reason, I’m pretty convinced my teenage self had the better idea – a more wallet-, closet space-, and planet-friendly idea.

Luckily, some wonderfully down-to-earth friends I’ve met recently think so too and actually did something about it: each spring for years now, they have been holding a clothing swap. I’ve had the privilege of attending the last two, most recently this past weekend.

It’s pretty simple: you get together a group of girls (of hopefully varying but overlapping sizes – this has seemed to work out well for us so far) and each brings their rejected, their no-longer-fitting, their I’m-just-plain-sick-of-it stacks of clothes. It tends to add up to a shocking amount. We go through the bags one piece of clothing at a time and you just grab whatever piques your interest. Once you’ve got an armload, you run off to change and trade, to gasp and compliment, and sometimes outright laugh. Whatever isn’t claimed in the end gets donated to charity.

I came home from this weekend’s clothing swap with basically my entire summer office wardrobe in tow. I got four pairs of capri pants, a few t-shirts (one brand-new), a dressy red knit vest, a silky turquoise top, a black pinstripe blazer, and a wonderfully flowy white top that is just begging me to take it to the beach. (A cute black dress with the tags still on nearly made it on this list, but alas, was too tight – bugger!)

I also got to be a bit adventurous in a way that my practical self would never allow if money were exchanging hands: I picked up a sweater dress and denim tights that I am not quite sure I can pull off, but am willing to play around with since there is absolutely no reason not to at least try (except to avoid potentially looking ridiculous, but I rarely reach my daily recommended intake of that anyway).

via we heart it

Besides the new wardrobe, what I love most about the clothing swap is the stereotype-busting display of honest female camaraderie. There is no underlying cattiness – we each just want to match the right person to the right piece of clothing, and that means conceding with a cheer a piece you had your eye on when you see how perfectly it accents another woman’s eye-colour, small waist, or newly-acquired mom-boobs. And accepting the compliment proudly when that woman is you.

So if you can find a group of easy-going women willing to share the deep crevices of their closet with each other, I highly recommend hosting a clothing swap. Cause you know what they say, one woman’s angst-inducing pre-motherhood oh-god-my-body-will-never-be-the-same-again clothes are another woman’s new summer wardrobe.