Mental decluttering

I’ve done a decent job over the last year decluttering my apartment with guidance from my bible (more on that here). But now that I’m done distracting myself with tidying, I’ve found that it’s my brain that’s cluttered with minor annoyances that keep me from accomplishing anything useful. Usually this causes me to rant to anyone who will listen, and that’s even worse because now I’m wasting someone else’s time too.

Basically, mental decluttering is a formalized version of the Serenity Prayer. Here’s what you do.

First, identify pointless trains of thought. I know, easier said than done. For me, these usually come from minor annoyances throughout the day. For example: a double parked UPS truck blocking the road. I get irritated and start fantasizing about policy changes like meter maids following UPS trucks around and giving them a ticket each time they stop. If it’s a deep dive kind of day I even start pondering what the fiscal implications of this would be and how UPS might respond by producing ad campaigns showing sad children who didn’t get Christmas packages on time to sway voters. Right. So. How to identify a pointless train of thought? Ask yourself “Is there anything I can do to change this?” If the answer is “No” or “Only if I put in a lot of effort that I’m unwilling or unable to commit” then it’s a waste of your time to keep stewing over it.

Now that you’ve identified the pointless thought, you’ll have to find some way of distracting yourself from it. Here’s where it gets fun. You could try:

Having a to-do list. When you see that you’re obsessing over something useless, do something from the list.

Read. Read things from your reader, or keep a book handy. I don’t know about you, but I never regret time I’ve spent reading.

Treat yourself. Positive reinforcement for identifying and distracting yourself from going down the rabbit hole. Do this enough and you’ll associate positive feelings with breaking away from pointless obsessing.

Ignore. Sometimes it’s not a solo act. Maybe you have friends that you go back and forth with over politics or policy. Maybe they have opinions you can’t stand and you feel the need to “call them out” on it. It’s a waste of your time. You probably won’t ever convince that person they’re wrong. But eventually they’ll see that no one is responding to them and stop saying the same things over and over. Any response only lengthens the amount of time you’ll spend thinking about (and being annoyed by) it.

Screen saver. I like the idea of keeping a few pleasant thoughts or memories at easy grasp to function as “screen savers” of the mind. To free yourself from brain clutter, hold on to a few of these that bring you joy. When you find yourself getting worked up over something you can’t fix anyway, think about one of these things instead. Maybe it’s a memory of your last beach vacation. Or your cat purring on your lap. Or something completely made up involving vampires and unicorns. Is this a better use of your time? Maybe not, but at least it doesn’t take up as much mental energy and it’s not as bad for your mood. Plus, once you get bored of the beach, you’ll have distracted yourself from the annoyances enough to get on with something else useful.

Dear Donald

Dear Donald Trump,

Congratulations on winning the election! It must be such a relief. Now that it’s over you don’t have to pretend you’re pro-life or religious or that you give a damn about building a wall at the Mexican border.

Maybe you can get the religious Republicans who voted for you to be pro-choice too! Here’s how. You tell them that when abortions are illegal, more unwanted children get born. And unwanted children end up being costly to the taxpayer. Most of the time, their parents can’t afford them. They’re a burden on welfare, food stamps, the school system. Then by the time they’re old enough to be productive members of society, they’re more likely than wanted children to be committing crimes instead. That means they’re costing the taxpayer in cop salaries, court time, prison accommodations. None of your base likes to pay for welfare, food stamps, schools, public housing or prison. All of that is costlier than just offering free and widely available contraception / abortion services.

It goes against their morality? Well, you tell them that these folks don’t live by the same set of moral standards they do anyway. Why would they want their tax dollars to go towards services for these people to continue reproducing? Why fund their immorality?

Speaking of religious convictions, you’re secretly an atheist, aren’t you? Oh, all right. You’re not. I’ve known people like you. You don’t even think about all of that spiritual, metaphysical mumbo-jumbo. Waste of your time. Maybe that’s something you can spread to your voter base too! Here’s how. Show them all your glorious business winnings. Your apartment in NYC, your piles of money, your illustrious orange.. err.. I mean… golden hotels soaring skyward. You’re a winner. Everyone wants to be a winner like you. They want to be just like you and guess what? You’re too smart to believe in god. You have better things to do. You got this far without a god — maybe they could get where they want to go too if they’d ditch that dead weight. What a waste of time, religion. Right?

Because once you’ve gotten them to let go of their Christian god, you know what? You can be their god. I’ll say it again. You, dear Donald, can be their GOD. It’s one thing to be a winner. That’s cool and that’s great, but lots of people are winners. How many people are gods? Just think of the glory. You’ll be the bigliest, winningest winner of them all.

Oh, but if you’re they’re god then you have to take care of them. They’re like your little children. And I know you love children, you have so many and they’re great. I heard that you liked some parts of Obamacare: that’s a great start! Also, did you know that the United States government currently pays 2nd most per capita in the entire world for health care? That’s not including what companies pay for their employees or out of pocket costs for individuals. Just government spending. That’s a terrible deal. We are getting a terrible deal on health care. It’s because we aren’t bargaining with drug manufacturers, care providers, hospitals. But when you’re the god of all your voters and you want to take care of them and make sure they’re in good health, you can change all that. You can do all the negotiating and make sure our government doesn’t get ripped off. You’ll make the best deal. We’ll get health care like Sweden has for a fraction of the cost. Everyone will have health care. I have faith in you.

Okay, that’s enough talking, you’ve done a good job reading all this. Have you a nice Big Mac now. And remember: you’re gonna be these people’s god. You have to take care of them.

The emperor’s naked

Or, “This is why I’m cheap.”

There are many factors that go into the price of a consumer product. The only one I willingly spend more on is marginal cost of production. That is, how much it costs to make one more unit of the item. This factor includes things like cost of materials, labor, electricity to run the factory, etc. In most cases (i.e., besides in the case of inefficiently produced goods), marginal cost of production is directly correlated with quality.

Wine is a good example of this. Did you know that even wine experts can’t tell expensive from cheap wine? Or that people report wine tasting better just because they’re told it’s expensive? They aren’t lying: the increased pleasure shows in their brain scans. Here’s the solution to the wine problem: have your friends bring you cheap wine and tell you it’s expensive. Do the same for your friends.

Here’s another great example:


The MSRP on this designer (Eames Hang-it-all) coat rack is $199. But on Amazon, you can find one that looks similar for about $35. It’s even lower on Alibaba. We can assume the marginal cost of production is less than $30. Why does the original cost 6x as much? If there is really a noticeable quality difference, that would be fine, but for me, that would justify a price difference of 2x at most. Is it that the designer gets a royalty? Again, that would be fine, if most of the markup went into the designer’s pocket. However, I don’t think that happens. So why the price difference?

Here are things I won’t pay extra for: advertising, exclusivity, gimmicks, company bloat. I especially won’t pay for what I’m guessing is the most common reason things are overpriced for what they are: no reason at all. Simply to line the pockets of whoever is selling the overpriced things.

I wish the price tag of each item included MCP (marginal cost of production), so we could all be informed consumers and know what percent of our purchase price is pure bullshit.

What’s in my purse


I remember reading articles in magazines where famous women would empty out their purses for magazines and talk about the contents. They probably got paid to pimp certain brands and products. I understand that I’m not famous and no one cares what’s in my purse, but I thought it’d be fun to write a post about it anyway.

  1. Phone. Okay, not really my phone. But how to take pictures of your phone with your phone? I haven’t gotten to that level of ninja yet. iPhone 6s, if you’re curious. I don’t like that the 7 has a nub camera that sticks out. Or that I have to drill my own headphone jack.
  2. Wallet. It’s not big enough for all the cards I want with me so that leads us to…
  3. Wallet addition. This holds my slightly-less-commonly used cards.
  4. Shopping sac. Yeah, the black rectangle with reindeer and trees. It’s from Monoprix and self-declares as the best shopping sac in the world.
  5. Floss. Worst feeling ever: something stuck between your teeth that you keep trying to dislodge with your tongue. But it won’t budge.
  6. Keys. The boat keychain lets me hang my keys near the door.
  7. Chapstick. Actually, I haven’t needed this in a while. Maybe I should remove it. I’m told this chapstick makes me look like I’ve been feasting on fatty pork. Attractive!
  8. Pen. I can only remember to do things if I write them on my hand. I don’t have the habit of checking notes or productivity apps, but my hand is pretty much always in plain view. Otherwise I have bigger problems.
  9. Comb. I shed like a Persian cat in summer. If I combed my hair inside the apartment my boyfriend would probably evict me.

Before you ask, I don’t have any makeup in my purse because I don’t know anything about it. I sometimes participate in studies where they pay me to apply makeup to my face and report back if I develop a rash, so I’ve decided I only wear makeup if I’m getting paid to do so. Plus, makeup doesn’t make me look cute. It makes me look like Donald Trump.

Yeah, you should quit your job

Disclaimer: I don’t have a degree in life coaching and no, you shouldn’t be taking advice from a stranger on the internet who doesn’t know you or your situation at all.

Lately several friends have asked “should I just quit my job?” They tell me they’re unfulfilled, bored, frustrated with management. I always tell them “If you can afford to, then do it.” Note: I don’t ask them if they have plans. I don’t ask what they would do instead and whether they’d make the same money. I’m just an enabler. Here’s why.

There’s a guy I knew, let’s call him Ol’ Mac. He’s the father of one of my exes. Ol’ Mac was a responsible family man with two kids, so he stayed for years at a job he hated. He woke up every morning at 5am to drive about an hour to work and would get home pretty late most nights. He hated his job so much that his wife would sometimes find him staring at his socks in the morning. When asked what he was doing he’d miserably say “I’m thinking about which one goes on which foot.” He stuck it out until his official retirement day so he could get a full pension. (Yeah, I know this isn’t sounding like a story about quitting your job. Just wait for it.)

So, you’d think he’d be delighted with retirement, right? Well, after watching golf on tv and snoozing most days for a while, Ol’ Mac began to feel bored and restless. He took on odd jobs to get him out of the house. Then word got around that he was looking to come out of retirement, and he was offered a job doing the things he liked about his old job (hands on technical stuff) with none of the parts he didn’t (bureaucratic managers who didn’t know what they were talking about). It was a more relaxed schedule: one week on, one week off. It even paid better than his old job.

What can we learn from this one anecdote? We all know that the plural of anecdote is not “evidence” but that being said, I’ve heard variations of Ol’ Mac’s story repeatedly. People quit their jobs without knowing exactly what comes next, but they figure it out. And in all cases, they’re happier than before they quit. So if you’re miserable or frustrated at your job and you live for the weekends, save money until you can live without a job for a few months, then quit. You’ll figure it out too.

How I got a Vitamix for less than $210


This deal may not work at the moment you find it because it has some moving parts, but it should recur a couple of times a year.

  1. First, you’ll need an Amex credit card with at least 5 authorized users, because step 1 involves loading the Amex Sur La Table offer onto 6 cards. The Amex Offer seems to come up a few times a year, for a $10 statement credit when you spend $50 or more at Sur La Table. Buy a $50 gift card with each of them, so you’ll be spending $240 out of pocket.
  2. Sign up for a gift registry at Sur La Table and add this Vitamix (it’s refurbished) and they’ll email you a 10% registry completion coupon after the date of your event passes. The frequent 20% off coupons don’t apply to Vitamix, but the registry completion coupon does.
  3. Wait for the Vitamix to go on sale. It’ll go down to $299.
  4. Use a shopping portal. I used BeFrugal because it had the best rate at the time. But TopCashBack is also a reliable one.

There you have it! My total with shipping and tax (which will depend on your state) was $292.60. I got a statement credits from Amex worth $60, and the portal payout was $23.02, bringing the grand total to $209.58.

Of course, this deal will still work if you want a more expensive or non-refurbished Vitamix: you’ll just need more authorized users on your Amex accounts to get the $10 off $50 offer. Something similar would also work at Williams Sonoma.

Note: The portal links above are referral links. You don’t have to use mine to sign up, but I’m grateful if you choose to do so. Thanks for reading!

Pokémon GO: tips and tricks

Tips and tricks from one week of playing, that is. Ahem. Here are my Pokémon, sorted by CP, so you can decide if you even want to take advice from me:



1. Turn off AV

AV mode looks cool because it uses your camera and places the Pokémon in the real world with you, but the downside is that it requires you to face a particular direction. This makes it awkward to play when you’re walking (believe me, I’ve walked crablike, backwards, etc) and also awkward in a moving vehicle. If you turn off AV, you can face any direction.

2. Use the Sinathrow

It makes it easier to catch Pokémon and keep them caught. I’ve tried it and it takes me fewer balls on average to catch one.

3. Spin the Pokéstops even if your bag is full

You get the 50 XP anyway, you just don’t get items.

4. Save evolutions for lucky egg time

You can do about 1 evolution per minute. You have 30 minutes of double XP when you activate a lucky egg. Instead of 15k XP, you can earn 30k if you save them up for when you have a lucky egg going. Even better if you have eggs about to hatch and you can walk around while you evolve, and get double XP for your newly hatched eggs too.

5. You *might* be able to choose what your Eevee evolves into

This Buzzfeed article says you can if you rename your Eevee before evolving. I haven’t tried it personally, but the poll results at the moment show that it’s working for 75% of people who have tried it (12% success, 4% fail, the rest haven’t tried it).

6. Wait to power up / evolve

It is tempting to evolve or power up your Pokémon as soon as you can, but from experience, I’ve gotten better results from just walking around and finding higher CP Pokémon. As you level up, the Pokémon you find will also have higher CP. For example, if you start powering up an Eevee that’s CP 10, it would cost you about 26 Eevee candies (not to mention stardust) just to get him to CP 400, but you’re likely to just find one of that CP once you level up enough. And with all the Eevee candies you’ve saved, you can evolve the higher level one!

7. Items you get at different levels

When you level up, you start seeing new items at Pokéstops:

Level 8 – Razz Berry, which are a bribe and make it easier to catch Pokémon
Level 12 – Great Ball, like a Poké Ball, but with a higher catch rate
Level 10 – Super Potion, restores HP of one Pokémon by 50 points
Level 15 – Hyper Potion, restores HP of one Pokémon by 200 points
Level 20 – Ultra Ball, like a Great Ball, but with a higher catch rate

[The following discussion of gyms becomes relevant after you reach level 5. At which point you should choose to be on Team Mystic.]

8. Cash out at gyms

You can collect 10 gold coins and 500 stardust for each Pokémon you leave defending a gym. But you can only cash out once every 21 hours. If you think you can leave Pokémon at several gyms at once without anyone getting kicked out before you can collect, feel free to wait. Where I live, gym takeovers are swift, so I collect right away. Just go to “Shop” and you’ll see the shield in the top right corner — click on it to collect your coins. Coins you can use to buy things like more Pokéballs, lucky eggs, more storage, lures, etc.

9. Leave Pokémon at gyms

You can leave a Pokémon defending a gym even if you didn’t ever train there. Look for a button in the lower left corner of your screen when you enter a gym. A gym of level N has N spots for defenders. Sometimes gyms have an empty spot. Leave someone and cash out.

10. How home gyms work

At a home team gym, you only get to pick one of your Pokémon to fight everyone defending the gym. If you win at a home gym, that doesn’t mean you get a spot. You only get the chance to leave one of your Pokémon defending the gym once the gym levels up. Even then, someone could swoop in and leave one of theirs before you do.

11. How enemy gyms work

You can choose a team of 6. If you win, (or even if you manage to beat a few of the gym defenders) the gym prestige goes down. When it goes down to 0, it becomes “unclaimed” and you can take the gym over for your team by leaving one of your Pokémon there. But if you don’t do it fast enough, again, someone else could swoop in and claim the gym, even if you were the one that ousted the last team.

For more info, AppUnwrapper has written a comprehensive post on gyms.