extricating myself from efficiency

i spent the last year-plus whittling down my life to what i thought were the essentials. some of the changes i made were rooted in the early exigences of the pandemic: stretching seasonal produce over multiple meals; narrowing my roam radius to a handful of neighborhoods; and connecting with kith, kin, and colleagues online instead of IRL. carried out collectively across my city and (to a lesser extent) country, this cutting down likely saved lives.

as my inoculation opens me up to reimagining who/how i want to be, i keep returning to these initial acts of reduction. a year ago, i was astonished that, despite making sacrifices to protect others, i still found life liveable. did that mean that other things i perceived as necessities were actually eliminable superfluities? could i challenge myself to cut more?

i begun to herald efficiency — minimum viable living, if you will — as an end goal in and of itself and soon adopted it as one of my core values. i contorted my quotidian activities around the constraints of one big optimization problem: minimize expenditures, food waste, sugar consumption, and screen time, all the while maximizing library book checkouts, miles walked or run, and muscle tone. i saw my asymptotic striving as virtuous and any deviation seized me with low-level anxiety.

i also diluted my hobbies down to checklists to be completed. i wrote elsewhere about a personal map pockmarked with places to go; i fastidiously pinpointed these destinations ahead of loafing around a neighborhood in an effort to perfect time spent. i force-fed myself novels that my tired-yet-wired mind couldn't fully appreciate and scanned recipe blurbs word-for-word to prove to goodreads that, yes, this cookbook does indeed belong on my read shelf. i grew obsessed with ingredients — labneh, brassicas, oats, and even nut butters — only to turn bitter once they ceased to sate me upon oversaturation in my diet.

in brief, i tightened my grip on the things i could control, metaphorical knuckles whitening as my efficiency ambitions metastasized unchecked.

only now am i sobering up to the reality that efficiency does not ennoble me. efficiency for efficiency's sake is about as sad as uroboric productivity culture. i've ripped off the veneer of "efficiency" to reveal an anxiety that originally arose from my rule-oriented, parsimonious nature and got exacerbated by a pando-fueled, society-wide scarcity mindset. miss me with that veneer; i want to stop pretending that streamlining and scrooging invite meaning into my life.

so where does this leave me? i'm used to blogging with an uptalk-y cadence, always ending on a high (and conclusive) note, and, frankly, i'm not there yet. but i have at least found some preliminary guidance.

recent books that i've read have unwittingly dovetailed my musings. i felt personally attacked by this passage from jenny odell's how to do nothing: resisting the attention economy:

"... 'honing in' would seem to incrementally entomb me as an ever-more stable image of what i like and why."

caveat: i've taken this excerpt wayyy out of context, but i'm sharing it to indicate exactly where odell gave me the slap in the face that i needed to realize that pursuing efficiency is tantamount to burying oneself alive. there are so many better goals out there, as well as laudable non-goals like attending to and appreciating the daily delights of living. how to do nothing has given me much to mull over that i think will help me deconstruct my efficiency-mindedness, holding onto the learnings — which do exist! — and letting go of the hindrances.

(other books in whose brilliance i'm still basking include sanjena sathian's gold diggers and robin wall kimmerer's braiding sweetgrass: indigenous wisdom, scientific knowledge, and the teachings of plants. though i don't expound upon them here, they too deserve shout-outs.)

i'm further rebelling against my rigidities with intentional acts of inefficiency, like purchasing midweek takeout when i could cook at home (though i still care to curtail my food waste) and reading content that pleases me in the moment rather than shackling myself to books that i've already started. though these seem (and feel) like small-fry stunts, i hope that they'll snowball into a more flexible mode of being.

to hack away at the accursed origins of my efficiency kick, i'm seeking resources on forming a healthy money mindset. my lovely cousin came through, but i'm open to other suggestions and conversations on the subject. i'm very much at the beginning of this mental transformation.

serving this smol slice of vulnerability sans a side of answers was... well, something, but a worthwhile something. thank you for reading and, friends and strangers alike, please hold me accountable to uprooting my (over-)obsession with efficiency. ❤️

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