Taking inventory

By Caitlin Kelly

Lincoln Center, one of my greatest pleasures of living in New York. More culture in 2016!

It’s a normal and essential activity in retail — where I worked part-time for 2.5 years from 2007 to 2009, (and the subject of my last book.) An entire team of strangers, all wearing matching golf shirts, would take over our store for a few days while we watched in awe at their efficiency.

It’s a good idea to take stock of our own lives as well. So often, we just keep stumbling, or racing, ahead, too exhausted or distracted to notice the patterns guiding our behaviors. We’re all creatures of habit.

And some need a reboot.

As we slip and slide into 2016 — I’m writing this post during the first huge snowstorm of the year — I’ve been thinking about what to keep, what to ditch and what to add to my life, whether personal or professional.

Jose, at my Dad’s house


A happy marriage

Thank heaven! Jose and I met 16 years ago in March after he saw my profile and photo on aol.com (remember?), posted for a story I was writing about on-line dating for Mademoiselle magazine, (also long gone now.) My headline, truthfully, read “Catch Me If You Can.” He did. We would never have met otherwise — he lived in Brooklyn and I north of Manhattan. But we  both worked for The New York Times, he as a staff photographer and photo editor and I as a freelance writer.

Our living room, reflected

A home we love

It’s been more than 20 years since I bought a one-bedroom apartment in a suburban town north of New York City, whose downtown towers we can see — 25 miles away — from our street. Luckily, we’ve had the funds to pay for high-quality renovations of our bathroom and kitchen and have made minor upgrades like a glass door to our balcony and lined custom-made curtains. As someone who spent ages 8-16 in boarding school and summer camp, sharing space with strangers in rooms whose design I couldn’t choose or alter to my taste, and a few years in fairly basic rental apartments, I love that we can create and enjoy such a pretty space.

January 2015, meeting a young blog follower in Paris

Deep and abiding friendships

I’m so grateful for the friends I’ve made, worldwide, and for their support and belief in me, even when things are rocky; it’s the measure of true friendship that we don’t flee one another during the tough times. I love chatting with them on Facebook, Twitter and Skype, from Berlin to Dublin to New Zealand to Toronto.

The tedious-but-necessary habits of frugality

Ugh. So boring! But the only way I know to save money is to…save money. You can spend it or save it. If you never save, like millions of Americans who don’t or can’t, you can never, ever stop working and you live in daily terror of the next fiscal crisis. I’ve been working since I was 15 but didn’t start saving hard for a while. The only reason retirement is even an option is decades of living carefully and saving money.


Toxic relationships

I recently resigned as co-chair of a volunteer board I had served on for seven years. One of its members, an imperious and demanding older woman, immediately showered me with  a Niagara of personal insults — and publicly — for my putatively disastrous tenure, however brief. QED, kids. Happy to flee such a swamp of nastiness. Same goes for anyone whose SOP is constant criticism, undermining, snark and whining. It’s exhausting to listen to, respond to and absorb.

Who owns your time?

Miserable work

Last year was an eye-opener, as I took on a few projects that looked initially pretty alluring, clear-cut and decently paid. Nope! They blew up within weeks, costing me thousands of dollars in lost and anticipated income, not to mention the emotional wear and tear of working with people who were bullies or micro-managers. Not this year, thanks.

Not going to feel as trapped as this guy…

Soul-sucking situations

Like that volunteer commitment above, which I struggled with for months before walking away. My nature is to be extremely tenacious, to keep going to the end, no matter how desperately unhappy I am along the way. That’s a decades-old habit and one it’s time to shed.


As my Jamaican-born friend said, “Don’t borrow trouble.” If it’s fixable, get it fixed. If it’s not, move on.


I suspect many women struggle with this one. New motto? “Give me the confidence of a mediocre white man.”

New horizons!

The unappreciative

My hourly fee for reading your work or advising you on how to improve it is $225 and I may raise it yet again this year. I prefer being generous, but after reading too many words unpaid, I’m weary of seeing young writers crow loudly on social media about their supposedly solo writing accomplishment — when in fact their weak first draft required  many revisions, and many invisible and unacknowledged editorial questions and suggestions.

All those bloody unread books

They clog up the shelves and prop up my ego — oooh, I feel so smart for having them around me for all these years. But I’ve never read so many of them and I doubt I ever will. Better to box them up and sell them, as we’ve done so in the past successfully. Allowing me to buy new books I’ll actually, you know, read.


Healthier choices

More exercise. Fewer calories.

Our visit to Donegal, June 2015

More travel!

I’m insatiable when it comes to exploring new places, while wanting to revisit old favorites like France, Ontario and California.

Professional help

Whether turning to our trusted career coach, accountant or lawyers, when I need help to quickly and effectively resolve a difficult or messy challenge, I’m bringing in the big guns. Yes, they cost money. So does every lost minute of my mental health and focus!

More face-to-face meetings

I’ve vowed to spend at least one day every week — that’s 52 meetings — sitting face to face across a table with someone, whether for work or friendship. In an era of social media , texting and mediated communication, I increasingly want to see people at close range, and have them see and know me, not some virtual notion of who I am. Intimacy is ever more a rare and precious commodity now and I’m determined to add more of it to my life.


Attending more cultural events

A mix of live music, dance, theater. Art galleries and museums, as every time I do so, I come home refreshed and enlightened and inspired. My default choice, always, is going to the movies, and my best weeks I might see several films in the cinema. But I need to be more adventurous.

Music lessons

Gulp. Terror! I don’t even  know how to read music, but a friend has lent me (!) a practice cello, now standing in a corner of the living room and making me feel guilty for not getting started.

I loved this inspiring blog post about choosing a theme for your year.

How about you?

What’s on your keep/ditch/add list these days?




25 thoughts on “Taking inventory

  1. Oh. My. God. “I suspect many women struggle with this one. New motto? “Give me the confidence of a mediocre white man.”

    Wow. I’m going to use this a million times this year, and it’s not as if I have a lack of confidence to begin with.

  2. Fatima

    I will go on a solo trip to New York as part of my add list. I feel tired of waiting for the perfect time, the perfect body, the perfect everything. I figure go now and enjoy the city for seven days.

    My ditch list has a lot of habits I want to change. I started with speaking my mind. Unfortunately, it means some people will take issue no matter the tone and that leads to one habit I want to add: look at myself through my own eyes. Didn’t somebody once say ‘start small’?

    1. Yes, come visit NY! Please look through my archives under “travel” and you’ll find all sorts of fun insider tips. But only come in spring or fall…summer and winter make a challenging city really tough. And seven days is a good long time to really get a feel for the place..Harlem to Battery Park City.

      Women who speak their minds (ahem) get into all sorts of trouble.

      You know my other favorite saying? “Well-behaved women seldom make history.” 🙂

      1. Fatima

        Sadly, I am breaking one of the travel rules and coming next month. I live in Canada and you know we can tough out a winter. I plan to visit lots of museums and I have a play to see. (A View From The Bridge).

        I will look at the archives as I doubt this will turn into my only trip to NY.

      2. I know you’ll really enjoy it, even with that 1.30 U.S.dollar for you right now.

        Feel free to email me if you have questions when you’re here — and I am dying to see that play. Nice choice!

      3. Fatima

        Thanks. A co-worker found a great deal on airfare way back in July. I will fly to New York, through Montreal, for under five hundred dollars. I made a conscious decision to see a play and I get to see three actors I watch on film and TV act on stage makes me feel like I will watch musicians play unplugged.

        Hopefully the dollar will bounce a little when I go.

  3. Good thing to get us thinking about, Caitlin. I actually have been thinking a lot along these lines for about a year now. I’ve gotten rid of those toxic situations I can and limit my time in those where the person matters deeply to me but can be harsh. I got rid of something like 1,000 books and I’m almost ready for another round. I’d like to add a musical element too, but before that more time painting in my studio. Wishing you a great year ahead!

    1. Thanks!

      I find it really hard to extricate myself from toxic people so this is a big one for me.

      Good for you on the book purge! We live in a 1bdrm apt so we couldn’t even own 1,000 books to start with. We’ve already sold many many boxes to the Strand and hope to sell a few more. I find my interests change, so my books need to as well.

      Happy 2016 to you…maybe we’ll finally get to Colorado!

  4. I loved that blog post from Pret A Voyager too! It was exactly what I needed to read at the beginning of the year 🙂 Sorry to hear you’ve had some tough times with difficult people lately – it sounds like you’re much better off without them! Face-to-face meetings and making the most of all the cultural events that NY has to offer are on my list this year as well… and travel is always on the list, of course, whether near or far.

  5. great list. i think it’s a good thing to do once a year at least – take stock of things. i tend to do this with the chinese new year for some reason. i intend to get rid of a chunk of my debt, anything in my house that i don’t love or doesn’t personal meaning to me, and to eliminate worry about things i cannot change. i intend to add more time for proactive healthy living, seeing places i have never been, more time with those i love, and maybe a special unexpected thing or two that i don’t know that i will fall in love with on sight and keep for a very long time.

  6. It’s ditch-or-keep year for me, too, this year. Last year was terrible (my Mum died, various other things collided to create an annus horriblis) – this year will be better because it will be made so.

    Incidentally, I agree about the $225+/hr rate, and your reasoning. Nobody realises the value of a professional writer’s time – which is going to be the sum total of the experience they bring to the table, and it’s an expertise and experience that is just as hard-won and complex as the equivalent knowledge, in their own field, of a doctor or lawyer.

    1. Hey, good to hear from you again!!!

      So sorry to hear about your mum. That’s a very difficult time and one several of my friends have recently faced as well. Yes, 2015 was a very rough ride for me in too many ways, hence ONWARD! 🙂

      I may bump that hourly rate to $250 or more. People have no idea (as we know) what skill it takes (and the experience it requires to acquire those skills) to do this work well. I’ve been paying other professionals, like our career coach, this much.

      1. I’ve been low profile on social media for a while, what with all that’s been going on. And working on a reissue programme for my older titles (nice to get them out there again, but lucrative it ain’t). Definitely bump that rate!

  7. Your list is great! I smiled at your self-doubt motto – “Give me the confidence of a mediocre white man”. Ha! That’s brilliant.

    “If you never save, like millions of Americans who don’t or can’t, you can never, ever stop working” – seriously? Do you have a state pension system in the States? As I’ve mentioned before, I’m interested in UK/US differences. The UK state pension, which everyone gets, isn’t generous and many senior citizens struggle with poverty, but some financial aid is available.

    The age at which you’re eligible to get the pension is rising though, and people under 40 are going to be worst hit. Goodness only knows what it will be like by the time I retire; hence my commitment to being frugal and saving. It is boring, but it’s satisfying.

    It’s good to have some treats now and again though. Solo travel is on my add list for this year. I’m excited! 🙂

    1. Thanks!

      Yes, Americans who have worked for income (i.e. NOT housewives!) have a portion of that income deducted for Social Security. But if, for example, you take a decade or more off to raise children, you are not paying into it SS and either can’t collect at all (unless you later go to work) or will get very little. If you earn a low income, your payout in old age will be much lower than someone who made more than you — my husband’s SS payment is more than double mine (!) because he’s been a high wage earner who has never ever been out of work, while I have. I have had years of making a very good income, but a decade ago. That isn’t helping me now with SS. I could never ever survive on my anticipated SS alone. Hence why I URGE everyone to SAVE as much as possible every year. We will only have a comfortable retirement because we ALSO saved hard for years.

      And yes, treats are key! You can’t never do anything fun. 🙂

  8. rich

    If I may ask a question, why the career coach?it would be an interesting post. You seem to have all of your ducks in a row. I consulted one career coach, it was. Okay…..

    1. She’s been very helpful to both Jose and I a few times. I was approached by a head-hunter (who never followed up!) and quickly needed a total resume re-do. We’ve had a few moments when we needed a fresh eye and some insight into an opportunity (and a few crises!) and she’s excellent. We are both wholly self-employed and, even with decades of experience, it’s great to be able to turn to someone we trust for her opinion now that we no longer have coworkers or bosses for advice and feedback.

      They can be a mixed bag — like any “expert.” Sorry your experience wasn’t great.

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