Build Capital!

I want this blog to have a personal finance component, partially because I’ve been writing for a few personal finance sites and have the topic on my brain, but also because I think that such an important part of life for us compulsive messy planners is to plan for the financial future.

I’ve also been thinking a lot lately about the in-between times in life – perhaps you don’t have a job yet but you are aiming to get one, or you have a low paying job that you would like to eventually pay you more, or you want more freelance work than you have but cannot seem to find it. In every case, there is the temptation to rest easy in between work, or to just apply like crazy for more opportunities. I would argue that there are other, more valuable ways to build your future income.

Namely, I expand the idea of capital. Capital being the investable resources you have at your disposal that might at some point yield something. The traditional definition of capital would be your ‘nest egg,’ or whatever money you have to use to invest in ventures that matter to you. But I’d argue that there are so many other kinds of capital:

  • social capital, or the people you know and the people specifically who know you, trust you, like you, or want to see you succeed. This is sometimes discussed as the importance of “weak ties,” the people who aren’t your inner circle but who would still do you a favor or help you if they were given the opportunity.
  • educational capital, or the skill sets and knowledge base that you have. In the past, it was pretty much impossible to further one’s education without money to pay tuitions, but now with courses on sites like Coursera and Udemy, as well as many others, you can start the learning process during your “downtime” and end up with a skill that increases your pay in the future.
  • locality-driven capital, which might be social or might be otherwise. I’m referring to the ways you contribute to your city or town and to non-profits that matter to you. Have you volunteered with them? Have you cleaned up the streets in your neighborhood, which long-term makes property more valuable where you live and helps people take pride in their space?

Sure, you can wait until a great job comes your way, but you can also find an hour or two a day to meet new people, take a course online for free, or volunteer to make the place you live a better place. I’m trying to do a little of this every week, and I hope that long term it enriches my life, whether it also grants me more wealth or not.

What do you do to increase your various kinds of capital?

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But I'm getting older

I read someone’s post the other day about “feeling 22” and realized that I was in a unique position – I am the same age as Taylor Swift, so when the song 22 came blaring over the airwaves 6 years ago, I was able to sing along loud and proud. 22 was a big year for me – graduating college, moving to Texas for summer work, and moving to Spain for a job. I also met so many new people, kept up with old friends, learned a new language.

Early 20s were an important time to me, but late 20s are now a different kind of important. I didn’t realize it at the time, but once I could answer the question, even a little, of “What will I do with my life?” there was a huge loss of stress. That stress was replaced with a different, in some ways harder question to answer: “Am I doing this right/well/do I want to do it any more?”

In my mid-20s there was a lot of joy over finding jobs that were a good fit, continuing my education to become more specialized, and finding the person I wanted to marry. After all of that, my life has gotten… tame, in a somewhat surprising way. Now that I have answered a lot of those questions for your 20s, I’m trying to figure out what is to be done with the years I have left before 30, and what the next challenge is.

One of the big ones for me is learning to love the place I live – neither Husband nor I are natives of this place, but through getting work and buying a house we found ourselves committed to this small midwestern city. We’re trying to find the people in the city that fit with us, but even more so we’re trying to figure out what positive impact we can have on our community. This wasn’t what I was doing when I was Feeling 22, but it feels just right right now.

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Flora & Fauna.pngSo Husband and I are volunteers at a food pantry, and at some point, we were asked to sit at a table at a fair and tell people about volunteer opportunities at the pantry. We thought we’d be there anyway, and we were happy to do it, so I said yes. We were planning this a while in advance, but I assumed – so dangerous – that I would remember.

This just doesn’t work in the Messy Mapmaker household. Sometimes, I have a problem with making too many to-do lists, and sometimes I have a problem with making too many plans, but once in a blue moon, I remember why I tend to overcompensate with the documentation-of-the-future thing: because I forget! I let things slip out of my mind like a sieve, and honestly, Husband is even worse. He remembers things later than I do, so in practical situations, I am always the first line of remembering.

Except when I’m not; we were both feeling kinda “meh” on the day of the fair, and so we decided not to attend – if we’d remembered our commitment, we would have gone for sure, but because we’d assumed in the first place, we forgot how compellingly we needed to go. We only remembered an optional event, not a required-attendance commitment. We let down some friends (it wasn’t the end of the world), but what bummed me out was that I want to be reliable among my friends. I want to be a person who you know will show up.

And that’s why I’m redoubling my writing-it-down efforts: not just writing commitments down somewhere, but writing them all down in my planner (I will share about my planner soon; it’s amazing). That way, when I get that creeping feeling that I’m forgetting something, I can check and not be surprised. It’s so simple, to either make sure I write it on a piece of paper and transfer it later or immediately add it to the planner.

How do you make sure you don’t let others down when it comes to planning for the future? Share your best tips in the comments.

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IMG_4673I think that minimalism is a really lovely ideal – there has been much love for the Minimalist documentary lately and I appreciate that it gets people to think about the quality and quantity of goods they keep in their lives and how those goods bring them joy. It seems like a great way to live if that is the way you like.

Husband and I seem to have aimed for a different ideal; our house is certainly not free of clutter and we have some low-quality items around us at times. Our first goal was to not buy things just to fill spaces; our furniture was beat-up and old and donated from friends and family and it works just great. We don’t replace it until it loses functionality (the one totally ripped up couch got put on the replacement list when we could hardly stand up from it any more), or until we have something wonderful to take its place. A good example would be the bookshelves that Husband loves to make, or the great deal we got on a beautiful wooden hutch at the Habitat ReStore.

Once the big 100-year-old house we bought stopped feeling so empty, we started trying to make some things go out every time something new came in – this is hard to do, but like this Saturday, we just committed to organizing and filing a bunch of papers in our spare room and ended up throwing away or donating 5 grocery bags of things. We itemize all our donated items just in case because it really only takes 10 minutes and if we make it above the standard deduction, it’s basically free money back to us on our taxes. It also gives me a little positive jolt, getting things we don’t use out of the house and back into a world where someone else might want them.

Lastly, we don’t mind keeping things that don’t go bad on the off chance that they will help someone. I know that the spare room would be less messy if I got rid of some craft supplies and saved trash items (like cardboard paper towel tubes) that I still hope to use for a project someday. I don’t mind having these things as long as I corral them in bins or tote boxes, and as long as I reevaluate occasionally – am I ever going to make something with this? It’s a good compromise for us.

What do you do to keep the clutter down in your home, and what things do you not mind being non-minimalist about?

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Life with a Messy Garden.png

I don’t garden by “the rules” – I am friends with the couple who run the local urban garden network here in my city, but every time I mention what I’ve been up to, they note how unconventional I am. “Carrots aren’t started indoors,” one of them pointed out one day, and sure enough, my little carrotlings never seemed to grow right once I got them outside.

This year, I’ve had some surprise successes: a pile of cucumbers, zucchini, butternut squash, and tomatoes later, I’m quite satisfied with the level of intervention I had, but I’ve got mildewy squash leaves, pockmarked kale plants, and the most inpenetrable snarl of tomato vines. Still, I got myself together this year to embark on a new journey: fall plantings.

Last year, high on the experience of eating summer veggies that I grew myself, I let the whole garden run rampant during the September and October months; I continued to harvest a few tomatoes but mostly let everything go. This year, I’m modestly incorporating some spinach, new salad greens, and onions into some plots I ripped free of their summer foliage. I’ve got my first sproutlings, and it makes me happy to think that, while I don’t garden like everyone else, I am getting better every time I get to work on those beds.

What do you love most about what you are learning in the garden lately? I have really enjoyed harvesting kale and freezing it, so that it shatters and can be used easily in smoothies later on. I am not always the most diligent at preserving the foods I grow, so that one is very lovely to me.

Keep your eyes open for a recipe post soon on Tomato Zucchini soup and Butternut Squash mac and cheese, since these days I pretty much incorporate the garden produce into every meal. Delicious indeed.

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Sometimes I think us blogger-types are people who like to complain. English majors, also, teach us to note the weaknesses, flaws, and shortcomings of the things we read, so it makes sense that a lot of how I filter the world is through what it could be. I try to be encouraging of my friends and family, and am invariably optimistic about their chances of achieving their dreams.

Having Husband around has woken me up to how much negativity I introduce into the average day. I try to be positive about Husband: his looks, his abilities, his achievements, and his goals. However, I now have to see the pain on his face whenever I mention how unlikely I am to achieve something, how bad I look, or how disappointed I am with my own productivity. Invariably, he will encourage me, offer a solution to a problem, or just listen well, but I tend to spiral if I start complaining, eventually crying and thinking that everything is awful.

I’m trying an experiment lately, where I try to note every time I say something positive and hopeful about the world and every time I am critical (not in a “turn left, not right” kind of way, but in a way that doesn’t help anyone involved). I’m finding that just the act of trying to notice my complaints is helping me do it a little less. I know there are a lot of times when people appreciate being able to vent, and I don’t think all complaining is bad, but I’m in a time in my life when it seems like complaining itself makes me unhappy, whereas trying to have a positive outlook can reverse the cycle and put me on a path to a happier day.

I might update you all on the complaining department; I don’t think I’ll ever be the kind of sunny person that so many of my friends think I am, but I think I can manage to not always see the worst in myself, and instead try to see hope in my world.

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I’m not a naturally neat person. I joke (but it is true) that I prefer living in a space where I can, at a glance, see everything I own. I don’t do cubbies, drawers, cabinets, or shelves – well, shelves actually work quite well, but

So, this summer I’ve taken to doing something that I believe has been dubbed as “cleaning sprints” – I tell myself a small area or a specific task, I give myself 20 minutes, and I just get that one thing done. I try to do 3 or 4 per day because I’m at home and alternating between a lot of tasks, but with 4 sprints I get almost an hour and a half of cleaning. I naively hope that this is enough to undo the mess I incur per day!

I used to think about cleaning in terms of what was necessary, and that got me nowhere: I can live with any amount of mess if I have to! I had to instead start thinking about how I would want to present my life to others: if my mother-in-law was coming over, would I want her to see this? If a friend was bringing a baby over, would I be satisfied with how clean this was?

It took a long time, also, to make sense of Husband’s cleanliness needs. He is a fairly neat person, but he also doesn’t freak out when things are messy, and he also spends quite a bit of time procrastinating on things like picking up his own socks or getting laundry fully put away. I learned after a while that if I can contribute to surfaces (dining room table, for instance) being clear, dishes being put in the dishwasher promptly, and all junk mail recycled immediately, he was pretty much happy. Everything else could happen when he and I were able to do it.

I will also say he DOESN’T expect me to do all the housework, or even more than 50%. We both work long hours occasionally, so we have an informal relationship of exchange – trying to pick up the slack for each other relative to how much work is taking over our lives at the given moment. It’s a good system, I think, though whenever he has to do the dishes because I have been busy and haven’t pulled my weight in a while, it can be hard. I have much more trouble being taken care of than I have taking care of others.

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            The name of the blog combines my most frequent state, being a bit of a mess, with something I love a lot: maps.

We have a room in our house that is still decorated with sports-ball trim from the children who lived in it before we moved in, and I have covered the walls in maps of the places I’ve been rather than actually painting or wallpapering the space. It’s not a permanent solution (whatever, we might someday have a little kid who could grow into loving a room with sports balls on the walls!), but maps everywhere makes me feel like there is SO MUCH POSSIBILITY in the world. It’s one of the most sane-making feelings for me, perhaps because when I’m stuck in one of my own small problems, it reminds me “there’s a whole world out there, where people are doing amazing and interesting things.” It gives me comfort that I am not alone.

I love the intricacy of maps, and how I can find my way to anywhere I want just by knowing the address and using the indices. It’s a tool, but also so artistic: when I teach English, I hope I can provide that same balance of art and functionality.

I have sometimes created maps just to figure out where I want to be in life, or how my friends are connected to each other, or how topics I need to cover in an essay are ordered. Maps give me a way to understand the world. I mean mapping out in both the physical, geographical sense and also in the mental sense: my to-do lists, my planning, my future thoughts, all are forms of mapping, trying to set in ink what’s just out of my sight.

Not everyone needs these things to get through their days, but with my combination of daydreaming about the future and being pretty messy in the present, it’s an essential part of who I am, always mapping out what’s next.

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The title of this blog is a bit of a contradiction: someone who makes maps has to be pretty meticulous, always noting where things are in relation to each other, always charting a path from here to there. Still, if they are messy they may end up with mountains of maps, smudged lines, and all manner of chaos in spite of attempts to organize their worlds.

This is who I am: I’m the girl who makes a zillion to-do lists and loses them, realizing that most of the lists are just to remind myself how anxious to be and how much I can relax during a given hour. I’m the girl who wants to plan her life a year in advance and then forgets her keys the morning of. I’m fixated on being great at my job, but my wandering eyes always want to be learning something new in addition to getting better at old things. That’s what I want to blog about: I want to blog about getting better at things slowly as I quickly pick new things up. I want to chart progress, and chart what progress means to me.

Some of these progressions will mean a lot to you – if you are a crocheter or home cook, you might gain inspiration here, but more likely you have to be a person who thinks a lot about what a good life looks like, and what being a good person looks like, to appreciate the messy maps I’m drawing. Either way, I hope you find something you like here.

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