Words & Images by Jill Wolf, LCSW

I fell asleep last night, and it was snowing. I woke up this morning, and it was still snowing.  I live in Chicago – East Rogers Park for those of you who know Chicago geography. I live near the lake, which means we benefit from a ‘weather perk’ – it is just an utch cooler in the summer and an utch warmer in the winter. It also means we experience the ‘lake effect snow.’ It is actually kinda cool – if you can stay inside without a need to leave the house or drive anywhere.

There were more than 12 inches of beautiful, wet, perfect packing snow on the ground in the morning. This makes my ‘sweet-home-Chicago’ heart smile. I love the challenge a good winter storm gives Fiona, my well-loved Subaru Crosstrek (why she is named Fiona is a different story for another time.) I also love staying inside and watching people struggle to get out of their parking spots with their Ford F-150s or Honda SUV. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I am not cruel or anything. I am just a true Subaru appreciator.

Today I noticed my neighbor was having trouble with his car. My neighbor and his family recently arrived in Chicago from a tropical climate, and they’re still getting used to how to maneuver a minivan in thick snow. It does not take long to drive in a winter storm to learn that snow driving is truly a skill.

I walked out of my house holding the handle of my half-filled, 20-lb kitty litter container, which really meant it was 10 lbs., but it was the new lightweight litter, which makes it only a % of the actual weight, so really, I am not sure how much it weighed.

I said, ‘hey neighbor, I see you’re stuck. May I help?’

Like anyone stuck in a Chicago storm who could use an extra hand to PUSH, he said ‘yes!’

I said, ‘I am going to use this kitty litter,’ and with a very puzzled look on his face, he said, ‘why?”

I told him that it would help provide some traction for his stuck tires, and he said, ‘Oh, yes, great, thank you.’

I threw some litter under the back tires, shoved a bit more snow out of the way, and instructed him to try again. He gave it gas, we pushed, and BLOOP, it worked – he was free! Whoot Whoot.

We exchanged gloved hi-fives, and I asked him if he wanted the rest of the litter – probably like 7ish lbs. by then? He said, ‘Nah!’ His wife said, ‘oh yes, we will take it.’ I smiled and handed her the kitty litter. I think she knew they’d need it again, and she prolly didn’t have a cat.

As I was trekking back inside, smiling because I just helped a neighbor and heart beating because I just pushed a car out of the snow and had to basically snow shoeless my way through the unplowed alley, I thought, now that’s an innovative use of kitty litter! And I giggled.

It got me thinking. What are some other ways to use everyday tools to almost trick me into improving my world-view, increasing my mental wellness, and keeping my body moving along the way?

I got to mind mapping it – or my version of mind mapping – and I came up with this.

Kitty litter helps to provide traction for your tires on a winter day. It can assist in helping your neighbor whose car might be stuck. This will put a smile on your face and will increase your heart rate because litter is fricken’ heavy and you just helped push your neighbor’s car out of the snowbank. How is THAT for a deposit into the mental wellness and movement bank?
Games are an innovative way to call your littles (the kid within you) to the table. Invite them to chop some fruit with Fruit Ninja or beat it out with Beat Saber (amazing VR games), just watch your language about beating when speaking to adolescents. This is bound to make you sweat, make you move, and giggle all at the same time.
Drums and music are my tools and I innovate with them when I fantasize about backing Beyoncé, Aretha, and Otis on the drums. What a damn fine show that’d be – a girl can dream, can’t she? Music and dancing are innovative ways to trick yourself into moving. Try turning on some 70s disco soul and tell me your body doesn’t just start moving. Use the creative movement to build your TikTok library
I use my somewhat structured yet also creatively open-ended Passion Planner to get. it. out. I use colors, images, thoughts, and words. It’s my accountability holder – it’s my place where I can go back to last month and see this cute little doodle I drew next to some random idea I had that I can ABSOLUTELY move forward with. Or, maybe I just need to marinate on it a bit more and come back to it next month. Just get it out of you!
Boundaries are a tool. We all need ‘em and most of us don’t know how to use ‘em. Boundaries are made to move – they’re fluid and they’re yours. You get to decide how you move and shift things around for yourself. What are your boundaries around work? Family? Friends? Wellness? Movement?
Your outlook and attitude are your tool. Use these tools innovatively by CHOOSING the perspective you take and maybe shifting the lens just a bit. What might it look like if you chose to have patience with yourself? What might it look like to allow space for whatever may come up – anger, irritation, sadness, laziness, fear, impatience – and still move towards mental wellness and movement
Jill Wolf’s table of tools. Kitty Litter among them.