Seth Barham Design
Minimal and effective design, inspired by culture.

spartan wanderer

Taking Care of Life Maintenance

When I was a child, my parents made being an adult seem easy. Then I was suddenly there, and probably like yourselves, discovered that this is not necessarily the case. Unfortunately, work takes up the biggest piece of the pie chart for most our life activities, which seems a shame considering that we’re basically here by cosmic accident with a lifespan about as long as a lightning strike in relation to the rest of the universe. Yet another piece is occupied by mundane yet necessary tasks, such as cleaning your house, buying groceries, or working out your finances. I’m not here to trigger an existential crisis, however. That’s for another post.

I want to focus on a very thin sliver of Life’s Pie Chart, the one we only seem to attempt to attend to once a year when we’re making New Year resolutions. It’s something that I call life maintenance. Everything else in Life’s Pie Chart becomes unnecessarily difficult if we don’t address life maintenance. Essentially, life maintenance is working on yourself. Performing a self-audit and identifying good habits, bad habits, toxic things in your life, and things you should be doing to help you get more enjoyment out of life. I understand this is starting to suspiciously sound like Scientology, which also involves an audit, but packaged with aliens, Tom Cruise, and giving up your life savings. None of that is required to improve yourself.

Taking a look in the mirror and identifying your flaws does not need a step by step guide as long as you’re honest with yourself, so instead of all that I will show you a few things that I’ve been actively changing about myself since I’ve been back from China.

1. Staying fit and eating right

At least in America, this is the most obvious thing that everyone needs to be doing that not nearly enough people are doing. I’ve been running long distances ever since high school, but my time in China was my longest break from a consistent routine. I ran off and on, but my erratic work schedule, lack of motivation, and the piercing cold in Heilongjiang’s winters always held me back. 

Spoiler alert: You will never suddenly be inspired into a consistent exercise routine. It’s something you have to make yourself do until it becomes routine. That’s basically what I’ve been trying to do and these last couple of months I have been doing some form of exercise every day, mostly running and yoga. I’m now in that transition period from making myself to enjoying myself. 

Working out is a lot harder to do without the right fuel, so I’ve also been watching what I eat. Nothing too complicated; I just avoid artificial ingredients and make sure I’m eating enough calories to support my workout routine. I’ve been considering cutting out red meat, but…baby steps.

2. Tracking my spending

I’m a coffee fiend and working from home every day eventually gets boring. The inevitable solution is the warm embrace of a nice café. This solution presents another problem, however. Buying coffees out adds up very quickly, something I’ve known but haven’t truly felt until I’ve started tracking pretty much every dime of my spending. Did you know the average American spends $1,100 on drinks from coffee shops every year? Holy shit!

It’s patterns like these that I’m trying to identify and not necessarily cut out completely - what’s life without the occasional treat - but certainly reduce to a reasonable amount. So, for a monthly period, I tracked where my money was going in a spreadsheet and made a chart. At the top, of course, were restaurants and coffee shops. I’m going to try to spend about half as much as I am now in that category next month. There was a noticeable spending decrease in another category, thanks to…

3. Drinking less

If you know me at all, then it’s no secret that I love a good beer. The craft beer scene here is a rare reason to be proud of North Carolina. However, I haven’t been enjoying them during the week as much. I find that even one or two beers can interfere with my workout routine, so I generally avoid drinking until the weekend. This is in sharp contrast to China, where I had ample downtime, which generally leads to boredom and drinking more. Daqing winters can give you an especially strong thirst.

I’ve gone about a month now limiting alcohol to the weekends, with a single beer at dinner maybe once or twice during the week. I’ve noticed that it’s easier for me to get to sleep at night and I have much less fatigue during the day. Not to mention my bank account has been avoiding any big hangovers.

4. Maintaining a healthy sleep schedule

In China, I didn’t really have a weekend per se. There were some days in the middle of the week that I barely had any work while Saturdays and Sundays were my busiest days. Because of this, I would stay up late one night and then needed to go to bed early the next, and so on. My sleep schedule was all over the place. Now that I’m self-employed and working from home, it’s more important than ever that I exercise discipline or risk falling into an unsustainable cycle. 

I don’t use an app or anything to track my sleep…I think that complicates a simple problem. All it takes are two things: 1) A comfortable bed that’s good for your back, and 2) listening to your internal clock. I simply get ready for bed when I start feeling tired, which is around 11:30 on week nights. Don’t get me wrong - I’m a LOT more of a night owl on the weekends - but I’m keeping a pretty consistent schedule of 11:30 to 7:15 during the week, and my body thanks me for it.

5. Internalizing negativity less

If you’re a thinking person, it’s easy to look at the state of things all over the world and feel a sense of outrage and anger. One of my biggest hobbies is keeping updated with world news and politics, so I am well-acquainted with the feeling. It can strike anywhere. Someone cuts you off in traffic. You have to talk to Comcast over the phone. I think it’s perfectly fine to be angry in the moment - it’s normal - but I try not to dwell on it. 

Journaling helps with this. I find that journaling is sort of like emotional and mental bloodletting, only it works. You can drain out the toxicity onto paper. Or positive thoughts. I write in a stream of conscious style with no real goal in mind. 

It starts with you

We all have different priorities that we’re constantly working toward, and this is all part of self-actualization, one of our greatest needs. We have the power to make the path to these goals less rough and meandering. It all begins with working on ourselves. If you’re unhealthy, not sleeping well, grumpy, and mismanaging your finances, then it will be that much more of an unpleasant journey to those goals. Take the time to identify some areas in your own life that need maintenance, start addressing them, and enjoy a smoother path to wherever you’re going!