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.

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No apology needed

R&D no apology needed

Reflections

Apologising is a very British past-time. Someone bumps into you on the street and you apologies. It’s like a reflex. The Sorry reflex.

I remember the best apology I ever received. It was from a client at work. I had stepped in to facilitate the group in the absence of the regular facilitators and she, being angry (about what I can’t remember) had proceeded to lie down on a sofa with her back to the group. No way was she going to participate!

After the group she approached the staff office to apologise. She wasn’t being made to apologise but my goodness did she mean it. She started with ‘I’m sorry’ but then followed up with ‘for my behaviour in the group’. Being specific about what you are apologising for is a great way to reduce overly apologetic behaviour. If you don’t know what you’re apologising for do you actually need to be apologising?

The client then explained her reflection on what impact her behaviour might have had on me and the potential consequences for the future e.g. I might be less inclined to step in and facilitate such a group again. It was an amazing apology as she had clearly articulated what she was sorry for and considered the impact of this both in the long and short term. I felt like she had really empathised with my position.

What might you ask has this got to do with Mindful Minimalism?

I’ve been thinking about my recent foray into discarding yet more DVDs and realised that much of my movement came from my combined use of mindfulness skills of non-judgemental stance and acceptance.

Historically, albeit unintentionally, I had been holding on to films for other people. To support my fantasy self who had eclectic taste in films AND needed to communicate this to others. By being able to accept my go-to films are specific fantasy/superhero, romantic comedy and teen musical dramas I’ve been able to let many more go. I really enjoy watching an eclectic range of films but I no longer need to let other people “see” that. No apology is needed for my go-to movies or for being current reality me!

Minimalism is about accepting who you are. Too often our possessions provide us with a wanted distraction. We might be too uncomfortable to sit with ourselves so the distraction is welcome. As we begin to remove the clutter and distraction we are left with the space to explore and perhaps accept those aspects of ourselves that we have spent years running from; too caught up in impressing others to realise how impressive we are.


Discoveries

I came across 5 Productivity rules you should know in your 20s by Michael Gregory. While usually I’m quite cynical about these types of posts, actually I enjoyed this one. Perhaps it was because both mindfulness and decluttering make an appearance, but lets face it we all have biases.

  1. Know your sleep
  2. Know how to declutter.
  3. Know how to read at least once a day.
  4. Know how to uni-task instead of multitasking.
  5. Know how to eat that frog!

I’m not in my 20s but I’m sure you’ll agree his advice is ageless.

Reflections and Discoveries: The sadness of ‘No’

R&D Sadness of No

Reflections

My daughter’s favourite word at the moment is no, or more accurately vigorously shaking her head from side to side and saying “Doe”. Sometimes I think her head shaking is simply that she enjoys the sensation, however I also think we could all learn a lot from the liberal manner with which toddlers use this word.

It can be frustrating when someone says no to us (particularly when the person is knee high to a grasshopper and you are apparently entering serious negotiations over whether it is the end of bath time). But I’m not sure it is because we can empathise with the other person that so many of us struggle to say the word.

The idea we can’t do everything is not novel, yet many of us cling to our fantasy future self who is often Superman; Superwoman; Super-parent; Super-spouse; Super-friend; Super-everything. Saying no can be a uncomfortable as it acknowledges our limits, our fallibility and our agency in letting people down.

This week I’ve said no twice. Well actually I’ve said it numerous times to ‘small’ things but twice to ‘big’ things. Francine Jay notes “My goal is no longer to get more done, but rather to have less to do” and it was in this spirit I said no.

I’ve been a member of a Lesbian Reading Group for 7 years and have coordinated it since 2011. I met the woman I am lucky enough to call my wife within the hallowed halls of the library (when we still met there) and it inspired, in part, the literary theme of our wedding. Over the years I have gathered many fond memories of discussions (usually heated) and the group offered a haven to meet like minded women that was not the ‘scene’. But life moves on and I have other priorities in my life right now. I am unable to give the book group what it needs in terms of energy or commitment AND I feel immense sadness about saying no, even though I know it is ok to.

The second no was to an exciting work opportunity. That no was even harder.
I haven’t worked out what my mission is. I have an idea of my general direction, wanting to diversify my skills and keep my options open, but definitely not a clear mission. Joshua Becker suggests “Staying on mission is about learning to say ‘no’ to the urgent requests, the popular requests, and the countless opportunities in front of you to make an extra dollar.” My work opportunity didn’t fit into any of these categories. It was something I am passionate about, love doing and in a part of the organisation I don’t currently work with but would like to. And I said No.
It was hard as it is the first time I’ve been conscious of saying no when my fantasy future self is being activated. For years I had a fridge magnet (before it was decluttered) that said “Stress is when your tummy says no and your mouth says yes”. I was a yes-person. Of course. No problem. Yes, yes, yes.
And I really did want to say yes. It took me thee days to accept I do not have capacity to do the piece of work as it required an ongoing commitment, a different type of thinking and would decrease the quality of, and time for, all my other work. I feel very sad about it, and I’m holding on to the buzz of having been recommended by two different people, and being able to say no in a way that did not end future possibilities of collaboration. But still it was no.
The ‘power’ of no can hide it’s sadness, but if we don’t let others down we ultimately let ourselves down. Is there anything you need to say no to? What gets in the way?

Discoveries

Zen Habits is one of my favourite blogs as it incorporates mindfulness and simplicity. While Leo Babauta doesn’t set out “How to…” guides, his reflections and personal action plan in his most recent post, I’m Returning to Single-Tasking, really struck a chord.

I’m particularly guilty of getting distracted while at work, especially when I’m on a computer. I often have a ridiculously long do to list, or perhaps more accurately ‘don’t forget to do’ list and rather than focusing on one task I end up switching between tasks or getting distracted part way through. Today I used some of his strategies, and took it one step further by writing down my task of focus as a physical reminder. The difference was immense.

I was focusing on Appreciative Inquiry. I’ve never used this technique before so needed to understand how to develop the questions initially and then begin the process of answering them. Usually opening my internet browser triggers opening a number of irrelevant tabs, each calling me to pay attention to them. Today I only had tabs open related to the task at hand and I even caught myself a couple of times becoming distracted, opening another and said “No” – literally out loud. The result – I understood the task more easily, developed more powerful questions and answered the questions more fully than if I had been multi-tasking, or more accurately switching my attention rapidly between several tasks. Plus it took less time than I had allocated so I had more time for everything else!

The road less travelled: The importance of community on a minimalist journey

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Call it what you will: a village; a tribe; a community. The last year of my life I have come to appreciate the importance of it.

They say (whoever they are) that it takes a village to raise a child and while many of us no longer live in villages, I have valued the support of my ‘village’ in making the transition to motherhood. The women I met in pregnancy yoga who shared their fears, hopes and dreams, the women I text in the early days at 2am because I knew they’d be awake too, the woman I started talking to on the bridge (who is now a good friend) simply because we were both doing the same thing (trying to get babies to sleep by walking!). In short, the women I have shared the highs and lows of the journey to this unknown land of motherhood.

Travelling to the land of minimalism is no less daunting and a community no less important. Transitions are hard. Especially to a new identitiy. Our identity as an individual is bound up with our engagement in occupations in our lives. We are what we do. I bake, I am a baker. I dance, I am a dancer. I work, I am worker. I minimise, I am a minimalist etc.

To make the transition to a new identity (even if this is desired) will take patience, diligence, and determination. There are usually behavioural changes that must be embedded. Skills must be developed and honed. New habits formed. All of this takes time and sustained effort, one day at a time.

Any change in behaviour is easier to accomplish with the support of others. All you need do is look at Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous or even the variety of weight loss programmes that involve some aspect of meeting or group.

I’ve yet to come across a Minimalists Anonymous, however in the early days I purposefully built my community to help me maintain motivation. I have a very good friend who inspired me to restart my journey towards minimalism.To be honest I’m pretty sure she was the person who shared 40 bags in 40 days originally. It wasn’t anything particular she said just her way of “being”.  Her serenity and tenacity give me courage to keep going and validate how far I’ve come. I know other friends in my mother tribe have gained similar courage from shared conversations over lunch in the library, or similar day to day conversations.

Since returning to work I’m increasingly relying on my virtual community. People may not always realise they’re part of your tribe but you can draw from them none the less. There are particular blogs that are my ‘go to’ community. London Minimalists, The Simple White RabbitOne Empty Shelf and Becoming Minimalist are my current favourites. I’ve never met the authors but I like their insights.

The Minimalists have recognised the importance of community and while the feel of their blog is too corporate for my taste, they have recognised the importance of community and established a franchise of 100 community meet up groups across the USA, Canada, Australia, the UK and Ireland. There is one such group in Leeds so I’m on my way to the monthly meeting. It’s completely outside my comfort zone, but they say that’s where the magic happens!

Who do you have in your Minimalist community? Who helps you to keep going when it gets really tough?

One hundred words of now – September 2015

September 2015

Sleep. Cuddles. Work. Mindfulness. Sadness. Change. Madness. Talking. Boundaries. Bonkers. Friends. Daughter. Sun. Seaside. Wife. Birds. Medicine. Duck. Dog. Fish. Flower. Pancake. Desire. Tenacity. Thoughtfulness. Power. Love. Passions. Hopes. Shambles. Orange. Stubborn. Books. Drive. Swimming. Serendipitous. Distance. Cobweb. Front. Sickness. Round. Baa. Eyes. Breath. Life. Focus. Calm. Peace. Walk. Goodbye. Frustration. Fun. Reading. De-clutter. Sculpture. Park. Swing. Brunch. Writing. Words. Enough. Excitement. Impending. Arrival. Water. Dog-dog. Chocolate. Reflection. Freedom. Deadline. Parent. Rainbow. Change. Welcome. Farewell. Home. Dwell. Dwindle. Dwarf. Rhyme. Better. Learning. Pancakes. Lunch. Grow. Maintain. Purchase. Comment. Idea. Spark. Day. Drink. Snooze. Cutlery. Holiday. Sweep. Blue. Pen. Phone. Key.

Stepping into the unknown: Reflections & Discoveries

Steps descending into mist

Blogging can, at times, feel like stepping into the unknown. You put words on paper (or technically a screen) and then send them off into the unknown. Some blogs evolve over time whereas others seem polished and ‘corporate’ from the start.

Since beginning my mindful minimalism journey, I’ve read dozens and receive encouragement and inspiration from both types. I like the sharing of current de-cluttering efforts AND the essays on particular aspects of minimalism. However I’ve become increasingly uneasy with the structure of the posts at Mindful Minimalism.  Enter stage left Katie M Anderson. Her recent post about How to come up with ideas for your blog provided the hammer to hit the nail on the head.

While I’m not short on ideas, the structure of my recent posts have included three aspects (usually) – a reflection/essay on some aspect of minimalism, what I’ve got rid of and a blog post I’ve enjoyed reading. I like all these aspects but feel I never get chance to fully explain the insights and reflections I’ve gained from the possessions I’m currently decluttering. The blog post descriptions are also not what I would like them to be. Therefore Mindful Minimalism is about to evolve.

I have decided to separate the ‘essay’ type reflections and the second part of the posts (items removed & blogs I’ve enjoyed). I’ll now be posting a weekly “Reflections and Discoveries” post containing reflections (surprise, surprise) on the items I’ve removed and the blog I’ve enjoyed. Less frequently I’ll be posting a longer essay on some aspect of mindful minimalism. The reasons are two fold. It will hopefully allow me the space to reflect more fully without a blog post changing pace half way through on to a different topic. Secondly I have a looming deadline of a book chapter that I need to write and something has got to give! For now it will be the essays.

As for the new format, here it goes…

R&D1


Reflections

This week I’ve been having a staycation (with access to a car and nursery for my daughter). The result has been three glorious days with my wife as a couple (one of which was spent de-cluttering the attic store), visiting the Rob Ryan: Listen to the world exhibition at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park (and getting a sneak preview of Bob and Roberta Smith’s exhibition – I can’t wait to see it) and exploring toddler friendly places nearby that are inaccessible without a car. My reflections…

  • It was difficult to decide which part to of the attic to sort out as we’ve broken it down into several areas and our natural inclination was to put off the store as it contained papers and items that have strong associations to the past. However ‘eating that frog’ has been fantastic and it was definitely in the camp of seeming impossible until it was done. It also lead to a number of other revelations.
    •  I was holding on to past relations by keeping mementos, despite having a continuing friendship with one ex and having been happily hitched for several years. My advice – let go of past relationships to leave room for the present ones!
    • It is easier to de-clutter Christmas decorations in August.
    • One thing can trigger a memory as much as 10 things can.
    • When you realise that the ‘thing’ doesn’t contain the experience or memory it is easier to let it go. This applied to three rocks (stored in a box, in a box), a single juggling ball, a piece of gnawed beaver wood and numerous bits of paper in French.
    • Old letters can say more about the person who wrote them and what was going on for them at the time, than they do about you. I’ve decided to return some of my letters to their authors as they describe the mundane, every day occurrences of their university years. I imagine they would be valued by them more, even if they decide to recycle them after reading them.
    • Items de-cluttered from the attic store: 2 archive boxes of ‘trinkets’, 4 archive boxes of paper, 1 bin liner of rubbish, 2 bin liners textiles/shoes (that weren’t even being stored in our wardrobes), 1 box of toys & 1 tent to go back to my parents, 1 small box of broken wooden dolls furniture, 1 small box of jewellery & 1 bin liner of Christmas decorations.
  • The M1 roadworks need a serious de-cluttering of the signs. Many appear smaller than usual as they are further away and when they are mixed in with signs that are related to site traffic, and reminders to be vigilant to safety (how ironic) the result is a confusing mess that, in my opinion, creates more of risk.
  • Sometimes we have clutter occupying real estate simply because it is hard to get rid of. As I don’t own a car it can be more challenging, but it also means that when I do have the opportunity to do a ‘tip run’ I cease it with both hands. This week we’ve de-owned (to the local household waste and recycling centre & charity):
    • Everything we removed from the attic store (de-cluttered this week!)
    • The bathroom door we replaced when we moved in (occupying real estate since 2012).
    • Light bulbs & keys (de-cluttered July 2015)
    • Door and kick board from replacing the inbuilt dishwasher (de-cluttered November 2014).
    • Garden waste (lots of it – de-cluttered March 2015).
    • Random electrics (de-cluttered August 2015)
    • Washing line prop (de-cluttered 2012)

Discoveries

This week I’ve really enjoyed the exercise of writing a someday list and a today list as suggested by The Minimalists in their Someday essay. I’ve written about de-cluttering my future ‘fantasy’ self who has grand plans to fill the 60 hours in each day with crafting and who knows what else. This exercise takes the next step and while I’ve taken steps to become a present dweller, not paying attention to what I’m doing in the present is never going to get me the future I desire. Tomorrow is made in our actions of today. I recommend you try out the exercise in The Minimalists’ post to reflect on where your today is leading.

Mindfulness and the art of de-cluttering or Why did the chicken cross the road?

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My current experience of minimalism has an awful lot of focus on stuff. While I realise this is a short term cost for a long term gain, never the less I’m still very much in the land of “stuff”. What stuff stays, what stuff goes and where the stuff that is staying goes. My time is spent dwelling in the past (“Why on earth do I still have this?”) or the future (“Do I really need to hang on to this just in case?”). Having been away from the vast majority of our “stuff” for a week in Bonny Scotland I’ve realised what is missing (at times) from my journey towards a more mindfully minimal life – the mindfulness.

Mindfulness is paying attention to our moment by moment experience, intentionally and non-judgementally. When approaching life, or minimalism, mindfully, you do not discriminate ‘good’ from ‘bad’. It is as it is. Through our quiet, focused scrutiny the object of our attention (be it external or internal) may appear more nuanced, more detailed, even more present yet it has always been so. What has been lacking was our mindful attention.

My mother in law, in Bonny Scotland, doesn’t have a dishwasher so I have washed dishes several times in the last week. I was not washing dishes thinking, “It must be someone else’s turn to do the dishes!” (judgement) or “I’m looking forward to having my cup of tea” (future thinking)”, or “I wish people would wash there own mugs when they’re finished” (expecting things to be different) or “I really enjoyed building sandcastles with my daughter this morning” (dwelling on the past). Or at least when these thoughts did pop into my head, I noticed them and returned to washing the dishes.

As I washed the dishes, I noticed the crumbs of food and dried sauce. I felt the cloth going over the smooth surface of the plate. I noticed the temperature of the water, the smell of the soap suds and the light coming through the window. I felt the tension in my shoulders and moved them. I became aware of my breath as it rose and fell. I rinsed the sink out carefully, watching the dirty water run down the drain.

Having fewer possessions is less distracting – physically, psychologically and temporally. Our attention is liberated to focus mindfully on what we have chosen to keep in our lives. However the journey needs our attention too. At times I find myself making quick decisions and tossing things out – literally tossing them across the room towards the relevant box. While this is great in terms of speed, especially when I’m feeling time poor, I can’t help but be left with the feeling I’m missing something.

My wife and I love reading and books. We met in a book group, had a book themed wedding and we own lots of books. Yet in the process of removing a guestimated 50% of our books (so far), we got faster and faster. The last book case was sorted in 5 minutes with most of that time being spent removing the books from the shelves to begin with. The decision process was quick and only 20% of those books stayed so they were quick to put back. I have no idea which books left that day (rather telling in itself) and an idea of what remain but I wonder what I missed in the process.

I’m a firm believer in learning from our mistakes, not judging the but definitely learning from them. Behavioural change is hard and yet my reflections (and revelations) of why it was so hard to get rid of my little black dress have helped to cement a new approach to clothes shopping: when I need to replace something, I buy the best quality I can afford and ensure it is fit for purpose (in style, colour and function).

Who knows what lesson my books would have taught me if I’d paid mindful attention to that part of the process. Perhaps they were simply the vehicle to encourage me and reaffirm my commitment to being a present-dweller and to practice mindfulness in the art of de-cluttering.

And in answer to the original question, posed in the title…

Why did the chicken cross the road


Items de-cluttered this week – We came home to a freezer which had been off for a week (thanks Mr Tripped Switch!) Therefore there was an unplanned bin liner of food, four books, a DVDs, two CDs, a wrap (baby sling) and a car seat.

A blog I’ve enjoyed – Being away from home has scuppered my efforts to reduce my internet phone use and I’ve read numerous fantastic blogs. It has been tough to pick one however, a friend asked me ages ago about how to declutter children’s possessions respectfully. Therefore, for her, I’ll share Janie Baran’s post over at Simple…not plain on Minimalist living with children. Janie is a mother of two and while her Simple…not plain blog has only been active for four months each post is packed full of inspiration and instruction on what to do. It’s the first time I’ve come across the idea of a capsule wardrobe for children! It’s a great read.


Photo: Funky Chicken/InAweofGod’sCreation/BY-ND