Minimalist Fail

rd-minimalist-fail

Reflections

For those of you wondering about my absence, I’ve taken inspiration from Frank at London Minimalists and have actually started a Masters degree. I’ve been meaning to start one for 8 years but something was always in the way (my stuff!). Although my free time is next to nothing and I wouldn’t be able to do it without the support of my amazing dryad wife, I’m thoroughly enjoying the learning.

It has been challenging to not be able to embrace minimalism with quite as much fervour as I used to: The Minimalist Movie is still on my to watch list on Netflix, I still need to sort out the attic etc. However I have continued to try and be a “good enough” minimalist and feel like most of the time I’m getting a good balance.

Today has felt like an epic fail! I was off to a good start with digital decluttering. On the way to the library, I removed Facebook and Ebay from my phone in the hope they will stop sucking my time, or perhaps I will be more responsible and go to sleep instead. I also culled my Facebook friends.

On the walk home from the library, I stopped at the local charity shop to see if they had any Duplo. Before Christmas a friend made the statement “all the plastic ever made is still in existence.” She’d heard it on a podcast and it has completely changed how I think about plastic, particularly toys. Hence my search for Duplo in a charity shop. I’m looking specifically for 4×2 bricks or bigger and large base boards. So why did I leave with:

  • a huge bag of Playdoh and related paraphenalia (all plastic),
  • a large box of Mechano (plastic again),
  • a dinosaur (you guessed it – plastic!)
  • 7 books (thankfully paper).

If anyone can enlighten me, I’d be awfully grateful! Perhaps I need to take a leaf out of Michelle MacGagh’s (the other half of the London Minimalists) book instead!


Discoveries

There is a new UK minimalist blog! Although I’ve not had chance to fully explore it Catherine is writing over at Midlands Minimalist. She’s got some great tips for getting started with #Unclutter2017.

Reflections and Discoveries: Feeling more or less

R&D Feeling more or less

While I have published regular posts recently I haven’t actually written anything related to minimalism and mindfulness in over three weeks. I efficiently planned ahead to allow myself space for writing a chapter for a up coming book. I endeavoured to use my efficient planning ahead to manage my life load (and work load) but as invariably happens Life often has other plans for us. As yet, the chapter is only partly written and a variety of challenges have arisen, both at work and at home. What I’ve realised is I have ended up in a spiral of feeling more of the things I don’t want to feel and less of the things I do want to feel.

I’m feeling more stressed, more tired and more overwhelmed. I’ve walked less, done less yoga and eaten more chocolate. I’m more angry and irritable and less patient.  The house feels more chaotic (and a lot less minimal) as I’ve felt too tired to even engage in the day to day maintenance that keeps our environment calm. I’ve also noticed a few of the old habits have snuck back in related to mobile phone use. I also appear to have stopped noticing the positive things I am doing as the mountain of what is not done feels so big.

Enough is enough. On Sunday my wife and I had a very pleasant walk back from the local shop with our 18 month old daughter. The 15 minute walk took about 90 minutes. We walked over a bridge which required much investigation and several attempts to climb various bits of it, conversations about the birds she could see, walking down a huge flight of steps (very carefully!). We took a detour into the park to kick through the autumn leaves, visited the ducks, geese and coots and ensured we said goodbye to the squirrels when we were leaving. Rather than feeling the urge “to do” we went with the urge “to be”.

Often I use the phrase “this too shall pass” to help me tolerate difficulties and challenges, however that day I realised it can also be used to focus appreciation on the positives in my life. The munchkin will only be young for such a short space of time, if my focus is else where on less important things then I will miss it.

I’ve recently been reading around Appreciative Inquiry. This model of inquiry advocates inquiry into the “best of what is”, in order to “imagine what could be”, followed by design and implementation of the desired future. So I decided this week to use these ideas to focus on what ‘sparks joy’ in my life and specifically around what enables me to feel calmer. I’ll let you know how I get on.

What helps you to remain calm in a sea of chaos?


Discoveries

It will be no surprise, given the above, that Leo Babuta’s recent post The Underrated, Essential Art of Coping has resonated this week. The idea of using curiosity and openness to explore uncomfortable feelings and self compassion as a way of coping are not novel, but were useful reminders.

The Behavioural Chain Analysis of a phone zombie

chain

I’ve worked for nearly a decade helping women change unhelpful behaviours and either discover, or recover, the life they want to lead. One of the technique I use is called a behavioural chain analysis: you analyse an unhelpful (or self-defeating) behaviour, looking at what made you vulnerable, what prompted the behaviour, what are the links in the chain and what are the consequences. You then move on to looking at what you could do differently, what skilful solutions can you identify, prevention strategies and how you might repair any consequences, correct the harm caused and then over-correct it (make things just a little bit better than they were before).

This weeks post is a follow-up on my phone zombie tendencies and I’ve decided to complete a Behavioural Chain Analysis, partly to see what it uncovers…


What is the problem behaviour I am analysing?

I have been mindlessly and habitually using my phone internet and would like to eradicate this behaviour. It is getting in the way of how I want to live. I do not want to completely stop using my mobile internet, I simply want to be mindful about when, where and why I’m using it. Particular problematic times when I consider it to be unhelpful, mindless and habitual are:

  1. While walking to work.
  2. While waiting for someone/something.
  3. While feeding my daughter.
  4. Before I go to sleep.

Describe the prompting event that started the whole chain of behaviour.

It has been a gradual, slippery slope of phone internet use which has become habitual. However this week I have noticed that there are two particular triggers that increase my likelihood of using it mindlessly.

The first trigger is urgency. I hadn’t previously considered the link between urge and urgency but there is certainly a sense of “I need to do this now”. Making a note of what I wanted to use the internet for helped me identify what was important enough to wait until my allocated time in the evening, what was actually urgent (looking up an address) and what was neither urgent nor important (these ultimately remained on my urges list). I only kept the list for three days as after this point my urges were non-existent. It goes to show that while the first step to behavioural change is becoming aware of how much you use a behaviour, the second is riding the wave of urges.

The second trigger is overwhelming emotions. This only happened once during the week. Emotions are an important part of life, yet at times we are all guilty of using unhelpful strategies to avoid or escape from them when they feel “too much” (for example food, alcohol, cigarettes, other substances or psychological strategies). The occasion this happened, I was both aware of what I was doing AND wilfully continuing to do the behaviour. I was using my mobile internet both mindlessly and in bed. I was using it as a way to shut off from both my thoughts and feelings. This trigger is likely to be at play in my use (and probably other people’s use) of mobile phones while waiting. Who likes to be the odd one out, not on a phone?

Describe in general what things made me vulnerable (both in myself and in the environment).

I have a phone with internet capabilities which I have used for several years (environmental vulnerability). I have a, albeit misguided, sense of being able to fit things into less time, i.e. multi-tasking rather than engaging one-mindfully (personal vulnerability). I can value doing more than being (personal vulnerability). There is a cultural drive towards being ‘connected’, particularly via social media (environmental vulnerability). The transition to a new home internet provider did not go smoothly (environmental vulnerability).

Describe the links in the chain of events (these may be actions, body sensations, thoughts, events, or emotions & may include both helpful and unhelpful behaviours)

Although this is a general behavioural analysis rather than one focusing on a specific instance, there are certain common links I am aware formed part of many instances of the behaviour.

  • “I’ll just” (check/look up/find out/buy) thinking.
  • “I can’t deal with this ” (overwhelming feelings).
  • Sense of urgency.
  • Dealing with de-owning (particularly on Ebay and local parenting group).

What are the consequences of this behaviour?

Short term consequences

  • Wasted time (resulting in more stress as I have lots of things still to do).
  • Tired as I don’t go to sleep as early.
  • Fewer quality connections with actual people in my life.
  • I miss the world around me.
  • Less thinking space.
  • Fewer restorative experiences.
  • Superficial virtual relationships.

Long term consequences

  • Damage to relationships through neglect.
  • Exhaustion (physical and mental).
  • Ill-considered decisions.
  • Not living the life I want.

Describe in detail different, more skilful solutions to the problem.

Identifying a list at the start of what I could do instead was helpful, particularly as I had identified things I could do in both specific circumstances (e.g. read my book in bed as I can’t navigate away from it) and in general (e.g. using mindfulness). I didn’t do any yoga but my informal mindfulness practice has increased exponentially, particularly on my way to work. By being mindful of my walk to work, I have been mindful of:

  • The wake of a duck paddling across the river.
  • The army of purple thistles lining the path.
  • lots of bees buzzing around a plant with yellow flowers.
  • 2 types of thistle.
  • The hill at the end of my walk to work.
  • The warmth of the sun on my skin.
  • Plants scratching past my leg.
  • My daughter signing bird for the first time.
  • A dandelion seed blowing past my cheek.
  • Canine doo-doo.
  • Altocumulus and cirrus clouds
  • A discussion between my wife and daughter at bath time about Signor ‘Green Boy’ (a duck!) jumping out of the bath which one party found hilarious.

It is definitely easier to give up a behaviour when you have an idea of what to replace it with. I have also cleared more things of my to do list, including replacing the fridge which has been driving me bonkers for over three months and booking a dental appointment. I have even managed a couple of formal mindfulness practices which I feel very proud of.

Other skills that I could/need to use are:

  • Radical acceptance – I have had to rely on my phone internet to manage my de-owning efforts
  • Forgiving myself – it takes time to change behaviour and I’d like to aim for progress rather than perfection
  • Dialectical thinking – I can both be frustrated by my mindless use of the internet & want to change this AND have discovered this weeks blog I enjoyed while mindlessly using the internet.

Describe a prevention strategies (to reduce your vulnerability).

Mindfulness is a key prevention strategy to help me manage my vulnerabilities. The more I use mindfulness (both informal and formal), the more value I place on being a human being rather than a human doing. My interpretation of minimalism is just this; keep in your life the things that allow you to simply be.

I am used, in many ways, to living a life that is “different”, and resisting the desire to know everything, all the time, as it happens is another example of this. Trusting my intuitive knowledge of what is right for me (it doesn’t have to be right for anyone else) helps me to simply be. Therefore my mobile internet can be used to add value to my life rather than distract from what is important. For example, today it enabled me to arrange a play date that both I and my daughter thoroughly enjoyed!

Describe how you are going to repair, correct and over-correct the harm.

The repairs to relationships, particularly with my wife and daughter, have already begun. When I am with them I am mindfully present, enjoying their company and appreciating the subtle changes that occur daily. Completing this behavioural analysis has been part of the correction of the unhelpful behaviour as it contains reflections on the behavioural changes I have already made (i.e. the new skilful behaviour I am now using).

To over-correct the harm and make things a little better than before I have shared this behavioural analysis in the hope that others will become more mindful of when, where and why they use their phones. I’m also going to extend (or is it shrink?) my boundaries. For a month I’ll not use my phone at all on my walk to work, while feeding my daughter or before sleep.

Reflections on this behavioural analysis.

Given I ask my clients to think about thier unhelpful behaviours in this way, I really should not be surprised that this structured approach can be beneficial to identify what leads us into using a behaviour that interferes with minimalism and the life we want. Many of us have used the mindless pursuit of possessions as an attempt to assuage or completely avoid our feelings, impress others, or pursue a life that does not leave us fulfilled. I feel strongly that the removal of physical clutter achieves nothing if we do not understand our reasons and drives for the original accumulation. If we remove the excess we are left with ourselves and, if unable to tolerate what we find, the cycle begins again.

Mindfulness can lead to acceptance: it is as it is. It’s not good. It’s not bad. It just is. We are as we are.


Items de-cluttered this week – This week has been (unsurprisingly perhaps) all about removing the digital/electronic clutter.

  • I’ve removed all items from my email inbox (again!) and several email folders have been deleted without even looking in them.
  • I’ve removed all files from one computer so I can dispose of the computer. I realise I’ve merely postponed the hard drive declutter but I’m using Marie Kondo’s technique of getting everything in the same place first. Only two computers to go!
  • I’ve unsubscribed from a variety of email newsletters and have set up more rules for my emails coming in.
  • I’m trying to adopt a new approach to only checking my emails at certain times (work in progress!)
  • I’ve tackled the cables box (I’m sure everyone has one!) and removed 2 cable tidies for phone line (we don’t use a landline), a phone line extension (we don’t use a landline), two bases and one portable phone (did I say we don’t use a landline?), Adsl filters x3, 2 Wifi routers,  Adaptor plugs x3 and a 5m TV coax cable and female adaptor (I have no idea what this is!). What I kept were (in addition to the extension leads we currently use – a 3m coiled extension, a 10m coiled extension and 2 other adaptors. I know we use all of these (although not permanently).

A blog I’ve enjoyed – As I’ve been limiting my use of the internet this week (particularly in bed) I’ve not read as many blog posts and become more selective about the ones I have. Hilary Barnett’s article Tidying up, over at  No Sidebar was a useful reminder that minimalism is about what you are keeping rather than what you are removing. While I will continue to include a snippet at the end of each of my blogs about what I have de-cluttered each week (I prefer actual examples over vague hypotheticals) I will also bear in mind the balance of what I choose to keep in my life.

Photo: Chain/Pimthida/CC BY-NC-ND

Tommorrow is now – crafting the life you want.

craft room

Last week I wrote about the associations to the past that made it difficult for me to let go of the little black dress. This week I discovered when it comes to crafting, it’s the future that trips me up. Eleanor Roosevelt said “The world of the future is in our making. Tomorrow is now.” Mindfulness is all about being in the moment by moment experience of right now, yet our behaviour when it comes to possessions (and clutter) is driven by feelings about the future or the past rather than our present day experience. If you’ve ever kept something you didn’t like because it was a gift and you’d feel guilty disposing of it you know what I’m on about. Feelings about the future can be equally problematic when removing possessions. I no longer get tripped up by the anxiety of ‘just in case’, but the sneaky twins Someday and One day are liable to get me every time.

I’ve always loved using my hands as much as my brain but I’ve only this week accepted that there is a limit to how much I can do and want to do in the future. Letting go of some of my crafting materials has been hard. VERY hard. I’ve had to face the harsh reality that I’ve been fantasising about a future which seems to consist of 30 day weeks, and 60 hour days. This idealised future does not exist. I live in the reality of now (together with 7 day weeks and 24 hour days).

Minimalism is not about being static, it’s about having the freedom to choose where and when to invest our energy. If something no longer matches my passions and values then it can be disposed of leaving room for other things (not necessarily material possessions) to enter my life. Deciding to leave medical school after 4 years allowed me to discover occupational therapy. OT matches both my passions and values, and it brings me immense joy to see clients crafting a ‘Life worth Living’ that they never imagined possible. Saying no to prestige allowed me to discover passion.

I’m not going to feel guilty about making choices, letting go or changing my mind. I want to be able to be in the flow of whatever crafty occupation I choose. Lets face it, it’s not as though there is going to be a crafting supply shortage even if I do limit what is available in my immediate environment.

So I’ve chosen to keep 20% of my wool and half my knitting needles, my paints (acrylics and watercolours), three embroidery kits, 2 papercraft books & all of my fabric. What I chose not to keep was 4 bags of wool, the other half of my knitting needles, 200 skeins of embroidery silks, tester pots of paints, 10 paint brushes, scrapbook paper, 4 packs of beads and jewellery wire (the rest of the jewellery making stuff went a while ago), vintage knitting magazines, 3 cross stitch books, a knitted dinosaur book & a box of charcoal. I’ve not yet tackled paper-based crafts yet so there will be more but that feels like a good start.

I realised while I was sorting my ‘I could use this in the future’ thoughts were simply another brand of ‘just in case’ thinking. Since coming across The Minimalists post on ‘just in case’ items I have been liberated. Their hypothesis is anything we truly need and have disposed of, we can replace for less than $20 in less than 20 minutes. It is such a simple idea. It is ok to replace things we truly need. Not rocket science but it feels like permission to make mistakes. I have no doubt at some point I will dispose of something I truly need but it hasn’t happened yet and when it does it’s not the end of the world.

Rather than living in the idealised future I choose to craft the life I want now. After all tomorrow is now!

Items de-cluttered this week – Craft items (see above), 2 duvets, 60l rucksack, 4 holdalls, 3 candle sticks, 3 boxes of candles, red sand, metal bowl, 2 shoe boxes of glass beads, 3 bags of rose petals, bag of pine cones, box of autumn leaves, 2 records, 18 spare lightbulbs (83% of the ones I had!), 1 bin liner of scarves, hats & gloves, hen party decorations, baby shower quizzes.

A blog I’ve enjoyed – Canadian Cait Flanders over at Blonde on a Budget has just completed a year long shopping ban after repaying $30,000 of debt in 2 years. The year I embraced Minimalism and completed a yearlong shopping ban offers her reflections and insights on the year and has made me feel that a shopping ban might actually be possible (I’ve always thought it would be useful). While I doubt I will go straight for a year (perhaps a month), I have begun to think about what my “rules” would be. If you were to have a month long shopping ban what would your rules be? What would be your potential downfalls?

Photo Craft Room/chrissy.farnan/CC BY