Updated on 03.05.12


Trent Hamm

It’s the little things that inject poison into your life.

There’s a particular flavor of soda that I really like. I often absentmindedly buy a bottle or two of it when I have an opportunity. I’ll drink them in rapid succession, enjoy them in the moment, and then find that I have a headache within a day or two and I don’t feel all that great.

There’s an old acquaintance of mine who posts hate-filled diatribes on Facebook. If the ranting and raving came from someone I didn’t know, they wouldn’t bother me. The fact that it’s a person who I’ve known for so long and always thought had more sense than that somehow bothers me very deeply.

There’s a particular team-based computer game that I enjoy playing with friends. The only problem is that if I play three or four games of it, I usually wind up getting really irritated with the people on my team and come away with some negative feelings towards myself and towards the people I was playing with.

There’s one particular person in my life who seems to take pleasure in informing me that I’m doing things wrong with my life. In this person’s eyes, I’m wasting my life and damaging my children by not having a “normal” job, and this is on top of criticisms about my marriage, my parenting style, and other issues.

There’s a shop in a nearby town that’s run by an old friend. Whenever I’m near it, I feel guilty and sometimes go in there. Whenever I’m in there, I feel guilty about not supporting my friend and wind up buying something I don’t need.

These five things (and many more) are toxic elements in my life. Each of them consistently bring down my attitude, my self-esteem, my financial well-being, and other aspects of my life.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve started taking actions on them, one by one.

I used a trick from a friend and added a bunch of vinegar, dill, and hot pepper to a bottle of the soda, then drank it. At this point, the thought of drinking another bottle of it sounds disgusting, and I’m not going to spend my money on it any more.

I left a brief note for my friend saying that a lot of his friends don’t agree with him on those issues. It received a bunch of likes and then was deleted. Since then, there have been no crazy rants, and in fact there was something of an apology.

I uninstalled the computer game and instead keep up with those friends using other means.

I told the life critic that I’m comfortable with the choices I’ve made and I can live with the mistakes I’ve made, and left it at that.

I made the simple decision to shop at my friend’s store only when I actually had a reason to buy an item from there, but that I would make sure that my friend would be the vendor of choice for those items.

These changes felt good, not just in the moment at which I took action, but in the positive effects that carried over in my life. There are fewer elements bringing down my day, fewer dollars leaving my pocket, and a greater sense of well-being when I reflect on my day.

I challenge you to do the same thing. Think of five small things that are an irritant in your life. They can be financially related or not. They just need to be little things that bother you on a consistent basis.

Then, use them as a checklist. Come up with a way to lessen or eliminate the irritation from each of those things. You’ll be able to eliminate some, but with others you’ll find improvement from just reducing the impact it has on you.

What you’ll find is that your entire day-to-day life subtly improves. You’ll feel better about yourself and you’ll also find it easier to make great decisions each day.

Do a subtle detox on your life. You’ll be surprised as to what it can change.

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  1. Becky says:

    Loved the soda trick! That is hilarious.

    But on a more serious note, I agree. It’s amazing how often we let little irritants get us down, when all it takes is ten minutes to think of a helpful thing to *do* about it. There are things in my life that, during the time I’ve spent complaining about them, I could have fixed them three times over. (I try not to do this anymore–but let he who’s never done this cast the first stone.)

  2. David says:

    Vinegar, dill and hot pepper? Splendid stuff. Better than soda, anyway.

  3. dogatemyfinances says:

    Funny, with this post, you became the ranting guy to me. Why do I keep wasting my time reading this garbage?

    If you didn’t feel insecure about a “real” job, no one’s opinion would bother you.

    Stick to the money saving, not the deep thoughts, Trent.

  4. Gretchen says:

    Who else thought: thing one, reading this blog?

  5. Jen says:

    @Gretchen +1…hilarious…Regarding the soda mix..I don’t like this idea; instead of saying the soda is so horrible, allow yourself a soda..don’t restrict it…Restriction causes cravings and binges!! PS: Is Trent still a vegan/vegetarian who eats a little bit of fish?

  6. kc says:

    Thank God you didn’t have hemhorroids – who knows what you might have done!!

  7. Matt says:

    I actually really liked this post – made me think of what similar things might be happening in my own life that I’m letting get to me, instead of taking action.

    @ Gretchen/Jen – then why do you read it? I don’t always agree with Trent, and I sometimes think he writes/posts without thinking everything through, but I hardly think it’s a toxic influence…

  8. Adam P says:

    Nah Gretchen, I read the blog for the comments so it’s not toxic, you guys are awesome! Only arguing with people in the comments section here (or any internet forum type place) can be toxic for me.

    I think it’s a good topic actually, if not much to do with PF persay (though like any topic, it’s not hard to bring it back to money if you try). If you are doing something in your spare time that regularly brings you more grief than pleasure (as Trent did), it is worth while to step back and say ‘I’m going to stop doing this!’. If you spend money to do it, then it’s personal finance related advice to stop doing it :)

    For me, as I mentioned, reading/posting in certain forums or news comment sections just gets me angry; I recognized it was toxic and stopped doing it. Much better.

    Good on Trent for recognizing some things that were making him feel bad.

    I too had a friend who was toxic, just always miserable and negative and never happy. Whenever I spent time with her I felt like I was on eggshells trying to keep her happy. It was so exhausting. She’d spend a weekend visiting me and when she left I felt miserable. Eventually I had to do the friendship break up with her for my own sanity.

  9. Jen says:

    I’ve already said a million times why I still read: 1.His posts are simply entertaining, and 2. I’m addicted to the comments. It’s a toxic habit that I can’t/don’t want to break!!!

  10. Angie unduplicated says:

    Toxic people are gonna hate rhis post.
    Sometimes it’s difficult to recognize a toxin wihout a fast. I learned that peanut butter and aged cheeses aggravate (my) arthritis by eating each, immediately following fasts. An extended abstinence from social contact spotlighted toxic acquaintances. Good for both health and budget.

  11. Jen says:

    Don’t we all have a little toxicity in us?

  12. Vanessa says:

    @ Matt

    Trent has three healthy children, a loving wife, and is living his dream as a writer yet he often comes across as miserable. I don’t think I’ve read one joke in all the years I’ve been reading this site. I mean, vinegar and hot sauce in soda? You can’t joke about that just a little bit? I’m not saying I expect Trent to be Don Rickles, but he is so dang serious. All. The. Time.

    Almost every post is full of dire warnings and admonitions, and in the rest of them Trent is beating himself up for all his faults and failures. That, to me, is toxic. Why do I still come here? Maybe there is a dark side of me that is drawn to the negativity. Like the saying goes, “misery loves company.” But I am trying to change my life and focus on things that make me feel supported, and I’m not sure if this site fits the description anymore.

  13. Adam P says:

    The soda thing is a bit weird (and funny). I imagine the vinegar/hotsauce is like that bitter clear nail polish you can get that breaks people of their nail biting habit.

  14. tentaculistic says:

    This idea of toxicity is something I am really struggling with. I realize that a lot of the toxicity I deal with comes from inside of me, and reacts with the minor irritants of daily life. I am really working on this, and also working on what a book I’m reading calls “toxic nostalgia” – the hoarding of past hurts like treasures. It’s really hard and will probably be a life-long effort.

  15. Snowy Heron says:

    Some of us are just more serious than others. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t joke around with friends and family, just not here. And he has written about issues with depression, particularly seasonal issues. So cut him some slack in the jokes area!

  16. lurker carl says:

    I remember some story a few years ago about
    Trent’s favorite soda being altered by the bottler to make it look and taste like Mountain Dew. Trent hated the change. I wonder if his complaint campaign worked and the bottler returned to the orginal formula?

    You can not trick yourself to dislike something via self inflicted adulterations unless you have severe short term memory loss. Because the product makes you sick should be incentive enough to not drink the stuff, that makes it a toxin in the literal sense. Simply avoid it, absentmindedly or otherwise.

  17. Jen says:

    I think Trent’s joking…I mean he’s purposely kidding on some of the writing…isn’t he? Also, I hate when I absentmindedly find two sodas in my yellow neon.

  18. Michael says:

    Trent, was it League of Legends? I bet it was. I agree that game is horribly toxic, and it’s also designed to fill as much of your time as possible. (So fun, though.)

  19. Andrew says:

    The Facebook friend and the critic of Trent’s home life are external forces which can be excised easily and neatly. I’d agree that they are toxic, and damaging.

    The other three examples of toxicity are a bt strange in that they are not harmful in and of themselves. If drinking a soda or playing a game screws around with your sense of well-being, don’t drink the soda and don’t play the game. And calling a store toxic because you feel some weird inner compulsion to buy something there is truly bizarre.

  20. Kacie says:

    It’s kind of a problem if so many of us are like “I read this site for the FAIL!” But I was thinking about it, and I think that’s why I’ve been reading lately.

    Several years ago, I got a lot out of this site. Now, I get more out of the comments.

    Simply put, my time might be better spent elsewhere on activities that provide me more of a benefit and make a better use of my time and mental energy.

    And yet, I come back anyway.

  21. Andrew says:

    I actually dreamed about Trent last night, which may indicate a true toxic crisis in my life.

  22. Jonathan says:

    This is a great topic. Like Adam P, I have stopped participating as often on some sites/forums, and have completely stopped visiting some completely. There are certainly other activities that are more negative than positive for me. This post is a good reminder to keep identifying those toxic activities and remove them from my life. I think everyone can benefit from doing the same.

  23. Maria says:

    Better solutions, IMO:

    Facebook Friend: Stop reading it and don’t get involved ie:..some of your friends don’t agree..this is childish. (If this problem extends beyond Facebook see below)

    Critic: I’m tired of listening to you.. you have not given me one piece of good advice.. please shut your mouth,and refrain from ever speaking to me unless it is friendly and uplifting. .. Of your five this one is truly toxic and should not be tolerated AT ALL. Drop them like a hot potato if they can not refrain from putting you and your family down…friend or family.

    Business: ALWAYS stop in to say hello to a friend if you have time, if you need something but it, if not don’t. True friendship is not about buying things to support the friendship. If you stopped by his house to say hello he wouldn’t expect you to support him by cutting his grass or cleaning his house. Just welcome the friendship.

  24. Lilly says:

    @ #19 Andrew, that’s exactly what I was thinking… why not just NOT buy the soda (or buy it occasionally and enjoy it, and don’t feel bad about it!)
    As much as Trent talks about setting a good example for his kids, I wonder what message he is really sending… drinking soda with hot pepper because he CAN’T stop himself from buying it any other way, and refusing to enjoy a game with friends because he gets irritated?

  25. Lilly says:

    And I kind of understand the issue of wanting to support his friend’s business but feeling bad about spending money there… I’m active in a small facebook group for work at home moms who make and sell things on Etsy – and I do find that I get sucked into browsing my friends’ stores and rationalizing spending money on things I don’t “need”. But that doesn’t mean I can’t be active in the group or even drool over their products… I just don’t buy anything unless I need it (well, most of the time anyways.)
    But Trent seems to have issues with impulse control (didn’t he recommend driving a different way to work to avoid stores you would be tempted by?) so I guess I can see where he wouldn’t be able to go in his friend’s store without wanting to buy something.

  26. Maria says:

    I thought the soda/hot sauce was strange until I read #13 Adam P. It really is no different. In fact the bitter nail polish sounds even stranger to me. I drink maybe 2-3 sodas a week and would have a hard time giving them up. I truly enjoy them around 3:00 at work for a mid week/mid day pick me up. However, I really wish I could break the habit, soda is truly awful for you.

  27. Mister E says:

    The soda thing strikes me as odd, but whatever works I guess.

    It’s strange that Trent has the willpower to turn his finances around but can’t just go cold turkey on crushing 2 bottles of pop in rapid succession.

  28. Vanessa says:

    @ tentaculistic: What is the name of that book? It sounds like something I could use.

    @ Snowy Heron: I get that some people are more serious than others. I’m not saying that all Trent’s posts need to read like late-night talk show monologues. But there is an underlying tone of heaviness that comes through so many of his posts, no matter what the subject is. Even his announcement about becoming debt free was surprisingly joyless. And I see little that would suggest the way he presents himself here is any different from how he is offline. We humans tend to be pretty consistent in our behavior.

    I’ve heard Trent mentioned his battles with depression, I am not blaming him for that. I am, however, pointing out that his unhappiness influences his writing, and that writing affects my mood when I read it. But I do not place sole responsibility on him. Ultimately it is up to me to do as Trent says and cut the toxic irritants out of my life.

  29. Steve says:

    The soda thing seemed weird to me too. What stuck out to me was that Trent gets a headache a day later. What the heck is in his soda?

  30. Adam P says:

    @Steve, if he’s not ingesting a lot of sugar in his life regularly, and then quickly drinks 2 bottles (60g of sugar or so at once) then I’m sure he’d feel gross the next day as his liver processes all that fructose, also withdrawal from it the next day. Fructose is alleged to be responsible for a lot of ills, and I think anyone not regularly drinking pop would probably feel sick the next day if they drank 2 in a row quickly like that. Didn’t strike me as strange, anyway.

  31. jackie says:

    Bitter nail polish and hot sauce in soda are not similar. Nail biting is an unconscious habit. The purpose of the polish is foremost to make you realize that you’re doing it and make you stop in the moment and overall learn to be aware of keeping your hands out of your mouth. Hot sauce in soda is designed to give a bad association with the soda. The only way it’s similar is if people bite their nails because they crave the taste of fingernails. Or if Trent was buying soda unknowingly and set up some scheme to have someone else sabotage the beverage without him knowing.

  32. jim says:

    I can understand the Facebook thing. One of my relatives is a total raving crackpot on Facebook. Every day he posts some sort of extreme political commentary and sometimes he’s outright offensive. One of my friends gets abnormally argumentative and preachy there. Its odd that some people think Facebook is their personal soap box or something. I guess people think they’re sharing and assume their friends all think like they do so they’d be interested in it. Sometimes it can be hard not to want to reply to that stuff.

    I’ve found the best solution is to just ‘hide’ the comments from the people who annoy you. I’d say to unfriend them but that can cause more drama than its worth. People can take heavy offense to being unfriended.

  33. Tizzle says:

    I never thought before about how this blog lacks a sense of humor. I kind of agree, although I always assign Trent’s writing style to his being Midwestern (where I’m originally from and so it feels nostalgic a bit). Note I don’t think he needs to write jokes, and I probably wouldn’t like it if he did.

    A feminist blog I occasionally read coined the term “Hate Reading” for when you just can’t stop reading even when it’s toxic. If you blog (or just talk a lot), it could give fodder, so it’s not like it’s inherently a bad idea. I can’t stop reading comments on blogs I frequent, and sometimes that is like one of the pits of hell. I had to block youtube comments.

    I’m gonna go think about my offline life, and if there is anything too toxic there.

  34. Emma says:

    Trent, your children will judge you. You can not escape that. In good way or bad one. Therefore your calling yourself a “good father” or feeling “intoxicated” is just the feeling you don’t know about . You are not your own child.Obviously you do have doubts about your life style, the critics get deep under your skin. You can silence all your critics but not escape the effects of choice you have made. Good and bad. I know you do not need anybody’s advice but…kindly allow your wife to feel the joy of combing her own daughter’s hair in the morning and spend a day home with a sick child. Chances are she misses it.

  35. kc says:

    The soda thing isn’t weird. It’s insane.

  36. RJ says:

    I think the soda trick is hilarious and I’m totally going to try it. For years it’s been one of my guilty pleasures every couple of weeks or so at work. But like Trent, I end up with a wierd headache late that night or the next morning. Since that hasn’t been enough to make me adopt a “no soda” mindset, maybe the more immediate association with the hot sauce will help.

  37. Raya says:

    #3 dogatemyfinances @ 8:37 am March 6th, 2012

    “Funny, with this post, you became the ranting guy to me. Why do I keep wasting my time reading this garbage?”

    You, mister, have a website too, I see. (Not nearly as good as this one, but that’s not the point.) What do you think you’re doing by coming here just to criticize? That’s so low. I mean… so so low.

  38. Joan says:

    #3 dogatemyfinances i just checked out your blog. I found lots of links to other places and no comments. I expected a really great blog, sad.

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