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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Reflections & Discoveries: Asking quality questions

R&D quality questions

Reflections

Have you ever visited someone’s home for the first time and taken a gander at their collection of music, films or books. It’s usually accompanied by judging and comparison. Do they like the same things we do? What does there collection say about them? It’s a type of values foreplay that I’m sure most people, myself included, have engaged in.

5 years ago when my wife and I met she was astounded by the number of DVDs I had. I did not have a TV but I had DVDs. LOTS of DVDs. She ‘modernised’ me, introducing a TV, kettle and microwave into my home but the DVDs remained. Over the last year I have whittled my collection down to a mere 280. Some of them are hers and I wouldn’t choose to keep them, but to be honest most of them are mine.

I’ve been through them twice already – a quick first pass and then using the Marie Kondo method of taking them all off and asking “Does this spark joy?” before replacing any that do. I was surprised therefore that joining Netflix triggered the immediate thought – well I can get rid of Heroes and 24. Netflix apparently is providing me with some form of psychological safety net. However not one to pass up the opportunity for self reflection and removing things I tackled the DVDs again.

I recently came across a quote: “The quality of your life is determined by the quality of questions you ask yourself and others. What are you asking?” My research suggests this is based on a quote by Tony Robbins, however the idea has been a sticky one. What if the quality of my decluttering is based on the questions I’m asking myself?

When deciding to remove possessions we all ask ourselves questions. Does this spark joy? Do I believe this to be beautiful or know it to be useful? Would I buy it now? Am I holding on to it because of an association? Am I holding on to it because it represents an investment? Is my fantasy future-self desperately trying to hold on to it? Why am I holding on to it? Would I prefer the money/space? If I let it go and regret it, is it easily replaceable?

What I became aware of was actually asking one question was too simplistic an approach. Would I buy this now? Well no because I’m not generally buying anything. Do I believe it to be beautiful or know it to be useful? It’s a DVD it doesn’t fall into the beautiful category and the usefulness is based on a scarcity and instant gratification mentality. Does it spark joy? Some of them were easy and brought an automatic smile to my face. Others however did not immediately spark that smile but I was uncertain about letting go. There were a fair few that ended up in an ‘I’ll watch once more and then get rid of’ pile. The following day this pile simply moved to the get rid of pile.

I don’t have a favourite movie and have always thought of myself as having eclectic taste. However through this process I have discovered the films I want in my collection are my go to movies. Those I reach for time and again and do not loose their appeal in the 100th viewing. That, it appears, is a much higher benchmark. I have discovered while I have enjoyed many different films, my tastes are quite simple. I like

  • romantic comedies,
  • a few straight up comedies,
  • feel-good teenage movies usually with some form of physical activity (gymnastics/dance etc),
  • musicals,
  • action-porn (think Mr & Mrs Smith, Day after tomorrow and you get the idea)
  • Specific Trilogy/series (X men,Lord or the Rings, Harry Potter, Sharpe etc).

But having enjoyed a film does not mean I’ll necessarily watch it again. I don’t have to keep it to remember the film. That’s just not going to happen: I enjoyed Ghandi a few years ago but have no idea what happened. So why was I holding on to the others?

  • Nostalgic value…Goldfinger was the first Bond film I watched on terrestrial TV when I was a child however I’m far more lilkely to reach for Casino Royale given the choice.
  • Life stage specific e.g. Human Traffic, Monty Python and Battle Royale.
  • Films said something about me. What I wasn’t always sure perhaps they were merely supporting my ‘eclectic’ tastes e.g. The Princess Bride & Life of David Gale.
  • Films I “should” have in my collection: Pulp fiction, Flashdance, & American Beauty all fit this description.
  • Excess of the films I like. Some films were simply not high enough calibre. They fit in the categories listed above, however there were others in my collection that were my “go to” movies.
  • Films and shows my fantasy future-self was going to get round to watching e.g. Spirited Away & City of God.

This time 200 DVDs survived the cull. That brings the total number of DVDs I’ve removed to 130.  It’s not even half way and there are a few that I’m erring about but for now it’s good enough.



Discoveries

Once upon a time, Leo from Zen Habits had another blog mnmlist. One of is last posts was entitled The Dangers of Reading. It was a thoughtful reflection on how reading can activate our fantasy future self (although that is not what he called it). Inspiration can lead to distraction and this lack of focus can keep us from doing anything well. His answer is not to stop reading, but to be more mindful of our impulses when we do.

Declutter 101: 7 tips to begin a minimalist journey

where to begin

This weeks post is motivated by a comment on last weeks Reflections and Discoveries: Is it fit for purpose? and gives 7 top tips to begin a minimalist journey.

If anyone ever asks me how I came to be a minimalist I blame the baby! My nesting instinct during pregnancy was to get rid of stuff. Lots of stuff! During my third trimester I embarked on 40 bags in 40 days. I was inspired by a fellow aspiring minimalist who I’m fortunate enough to now call my friend.

I lasted all of 9 days! In those 9 days I managed to create 15 “bags” albeit some of them virtual. If you asked me now what I removed….erm out of date medicine and my emails. My emails took 15 hours (2 bags) and the medicine cabinet 30 minutes (1 bag). Other than that I’d have to check out my list of places that I had identified before I started. I know some areas I’d identified still haven’t been done (the shed!) and others have been gone through numerous times, although not in that initial flurry of activity.

It took a further 9 months before I began my consistent, step by step journey towards a more mindfully minimal lifestyle. In November 2014 I started to remove stuff/things/items/possessions. Call it what you will, it was clutter and it was getting in the way.

I actually restarted because I wanted to acquire something. A wooden 12 piece rainbow for my daughter’s first birthday. If 12 pieces were coming in I wanted to have sold sufficient ‘stuff’ to fund it. I didn’t actually need the money but it was useful having a target. I did it in 2.5 weeks. Since then I’ve used money from selling to fund two dress making classes and to buy another laptop. I can’t say replace as the previous four are still in the house but it is a replacement. I’m now saving to do a Masters degree.

I’ve tried numerous techniques along the way. Some have stayed, some have been discarded along with more clutter. These however are my top tips to get started.

1. Start

This may seem obvious, but just start. You don’t have to wait for the perfect time, or until you have the perfect strategy. Just start. Put the pile of read (or unread magazines in the recycling). Pick up 5 things that are in the wrong room and put them in the right room (preferably away but to be honest in the early days there may not be space).

2. Start with the end in mind.

Start with the end in mind and set yourself up for success. Most people know where their bin is and hopefully their recycling too. If you don’t I suggest you acquaint yourself with them as a first step as they are essential parts of a minimalist journey. It is much easier if you know where you are going to put the items you remove.

I use the four ‘box’ method – trash/recycle, donate, sell, relocate. They are not so much boxes as bags and a basket for the items for relocation. I prefer to have them all with me and then move them at the end of a period of decluttering (or when they’re full) to the end point (i.e. the bin outside/charity shop/put the relocated items away).

3.   Identify high hit rate areas

When paying off debt one school of thought is paying off the smallest debt first (while maintaining minimum payments on others) so you start to see small successes and can snowball them. I feel it is the same with minimalism. Rather than thinking I’m going to tackle the entire bathroom, focus on the medicine cabinet. Rather than the entire bedroom, do your sock drawer. Kitchen = pantry. It may sound crazy but I don’t think most people have a lot of emotional attachment to their out of date medicine or holey socks. Identifying these areas can give you quick wins as whether something needs to go is usually obvious. If you need any convincing on why it is important to get rid of out of date medicines then Anne Lene at Minimalist sometimes wrote a great piece on the very topic: Expired medication…It is important to remember to dispose of medicines safely at a pharmacy though.

4. Have a target

Having a targets has helped immensely. My original target was 40 bags in 40 days. At the rate I was going, if I had maintained momentum I would have done 40 bags in 24 days.

What I learnt was having realistic goals helped build momentum as I had a sense of achievement. The two most depressing days were the email clearing and eventually I counted it as 2 bags. It felt never ending yet on a different day, Medicine Cabinet – done. I may as well do the under the sink cupboard and pantry too. Three bags in one day!

Once I had embraced the idea of getting rid of stuff, early on I found it much easier to do  quick sweep round a room pulling out anything that I new immediately needed to go. This is great if you are wanting to do a lot quickly, however in depth decluttering will hone your skills.

Maire Kondo recommends a specific order with which to proceed as the difficulty increases. It leaves sentimental items until last and having recently been through the memory boxes in the attic, I was glad I had honed my skills as three rocks in a box and a bit of wood gnawed by a beaver could just go!

If you are at the start of a minimalist journey, the target of bin day or trash/recycling collections can be a real motivator as deowning is as important as the initial decluttering. Fill an extra bag with rubbish or recycling and get rid.

5. Take the Goldilocks challenge.

Never heard of the Goldilocks challenge? It’s making sure that you are taking the just right challenge. Rather than biting something off that is too big to chew like the entire kitchen, break it down to a challenge that is just right. You could break it down by location or type of item. Personally I’ve tended to break it down by location: the fridge; the freezer; counter tops; top cupboards; bottom cupboards. When you’re starting perhaps only doing one cupboard at a time, especially when you are time poor.

6. Aim for progress not perfection

As we are all so used to feeding our fantasy future self, it is equally important to not act into her when we are removing things too. She may want to live in an amazingly minimalist house, but you have to live in this reality. Even if you are on the journey it, much like a river, will ebb and flow.

For helping remind me of this I love Elsie Joy’s poster Big Things Happen One Day at a Time. It helps me to remember that even if I don’t manage to do something everyday it is the overall progress that is important. Commit to working on having a more mindfully minimal life and every day you take a stem towards it, cross a day off.

7. Get a community

I’ve already written on The importance of community on a minimalist journey. Whether virtual or real, set up your support systems (even if they don’t realise that is what they are).

It helps to have people in real life who you connect with over minimalism, whether a partner, friend or community who just get it. They understand why shopping is not, in your world, a leisure pursuit without feeling judged.

As I said, my inspiration came from a very good friend who is also an aspiring minimalist, and since then many in my local parenting community have embraced to a greater or lesser extent the idea of decluttering. Even when decluttering is taking a back seat in my life I enjoy seeing how much others are doing online but I must admit it is the face to face conversations I find most powerful. The evolution of ideas that come from dialogue rather than monologue. While on maternity leave I spent many a Friday lunchtime discussing minimalism and I now no longer get the chance to do that which saddens me.

Having said that, in the early days, in the middle of the night I gained inspiration and enthusiasm from reading blog posts. Online communities can be as powerful, sharing ideas across the globe. Many blogs are US based and it was with these I started, particularly Becoming Minimalist. However there is a growing online community in the UK and a list of UK Minimalist blogs can be found here.

Ultimately, if you want to become a minimalist (or even just a little more minimalist), start today. Tomorrow is now!

Reflections and Discoveries: Is it fit for purpose?

use it up

This frugality slogan from the Great Depression is too often forgotten in the age of mass production, quick fixes and one-click buying. Many find it useful as a minimalism mantra. I do not.

It’s the make it do aspect that I struggle with. Frugality may be a side benefit, but it is not the reason I became a minimalist and making something do does not work for me in the long run. This does not mean that the instant something is not working, wears out or is just not quite the right fit, that I run to the stores for the opportunity to spend a day shopping.

Historically I would not have thought twice about replacing an item (or more accurately buying another one and storing the original item ‘just in case’). So why have I struggled so much this week to add pegs to my shopping list?

As a more mindful consumer I have one rule. Whatever it is, it must be fit for purpose. If it doesn’t do what I need it to, or doesn’t solve a problem then it’s not fit for purpose. If I don’t like the aesthetics of it then it’s not fit for purpose (it’s got to live in my house after all). If I don’t like the feel of it, it’s not fit for purpose. This is obviously very personal – my wife and I have two potato peelers as we disagree on which is fit for purpose.

I’ve been uming and erring about a waterproof coat for months. I need one, but deciding which one to put on my Christmas list has proven hard. I loved the sewing machine I received last year. It has given me a lot of joy developing new skills and gaining the bonus of perfectly fitting new skirts!. This year, I figured contributions to a coat that would last years would be ideal.

My requirements are that it needs to be

  1. Waterproof – this may sound obvious but we don’t have a car and I commute to work on foot. In the depths of winter it rains…a lot!
  2. In my colours – I’m not particularly fussy about which, but it needs to be a yellow-based bright Spring colour.
  3. Preferably mid thigh to knee length – see point 1.
  4. Have a hood – see point 1.
  5. Be warm(ish) – I don’t mind layering but don’t want a flimsy coat.
  6. Good quality.
  7. A good fit – some form of gathering at the waist if it is a longer one.

I’ve hit a glitch though. Christmas is 13 weeks away and in addition to accidentally minimising my phone contacts I’ve also accidentally minimised my raincoat (aka lost it!) . There is definitely a downside to minimalism!

Urgency has yet again reared it’s ugly head in my minimalism journey. With the pegs, I struggled to even put them on the shopping list because of a lack of urgency. I did’t NEED pegs. I had pegs. Did they ‘Spark Joy?’ Certainly not. Well six of them did, but the rest didn’t. They were an eclectic old bunch, mismatched and liable to break. It wasn’t urgent that they were replaced, particularly as we’re coming into winter, but I realised there is a difference between pegs and my coat. I knew which pegs I wanted.

On the other hand I have a sense of urgency about getting a coat but haven’t found “the one” that ticks all the boxes. Should I just make do? Compromise? Buy more than one?

On Sunday, after buying my new pegs, I visited a shop and found a good quality, pink waist length jacket with a hood that was waterproof and a good fit. I also found a waterproof, knee-length coat that was warmer, had a hood but was not in my colours and made me look slightly ill. I haven’t bought either and I’m resisting but the urge to buy is strong! Neither is completely fit for purpose, but….

What would you do?


Discoveries

I’ve had this one in my email to share with you for a while. Melanie Fisher over at Realisation of Good has produced a One page guide to decluttering. It is great and includes a list of 11 questions to ask yourself when deciding to keep something, including “Is it easily replaceable if I end up regretting letting it go?” It’s a perfect introduction for anyone who is thinking about simplifying.

The Accidental Minimalist

iphone-518101_1280

Two days ago I lost my phone. Given my previous phone zombie ways I was surprised it took me four hours to realise it might be missing and a further 14 hours to establish it definitely was missing. I really wasn’t bothered by it’s absence. The most frustrating thing was I couldn’t phone my wife to tell her I got the three messages about it not being at Nursery or to let her know when I would be home.

I have a new one now, delivered to my door this morning. What I am missing, or should I say haven’t got, are my contacts. It is a strange feeling to have minimised my contacts and so much easier to have done it accidentally. I have to think about who I need and want to have in my contacts list rather than who to remove. The subtle shift of what I want to keep (rather than what I want to get rid of) is serving me well in other areas and I guess will also serve me well in filling the currently empty space of mobile phone contacts.

Obviously it is a bit of a bind that in order to let people know I haven’t got there number, I have had to use alternative strategies (I’m very glad I haven’t deleted my Facebook account), but I’m hoping it will be an autumn clean and a fresh start. The silver lining is however that when I’m out of contract in a month, I can switch to a sim only contract with a brand new phone. Always look for the positives and all that!

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!

Reflections & Discoveries: Digital downtime

swimmer

Reflections

This week has not seen much decluttering action. The readjustment to work after two weeks of blissful holiday has been a hard one, particularly the increased presence of technology in my life as a result.

I didn’t abstain from technology use completely while on holiday. We watched a couple of films, signed up for Netflix (now that we have amazing broadband) and regularly used our phone internet to find directions and opening hours of a variety of venues. However I used it a lot less on a day to day basis.

Coming back to reality has given me pause for reflection. That, and I went to the Leeds Minimalists meetup on Saturday. The topic under discussion…Digital decluttering. They were a great bunch of people with a variety of life and technological experiences. It was a wonderful feeling not having to engage in values foreplay before getting down to the nitty gritty.

Personally, I am firmly in the camp of technology should solve a problem rather than create more problems. I dislike technology for the sake of technology. While I imagine, in a similar way to Penicillin being an accidental discovery, technology for technology’s sake has unexpected benefits, but I take Penicillin when needed. I don’t have it as part of my regular diet. So while my post-holiday food diet is adjusting back to home-cooked meals, I’m not sure I want my digital consumption to be what it was pre-holiday.

I’m feeling in the need of some digital downtime. A digital diet if you will. I’ve written previously about my phone zombie ways and have managed to maintain two out of three of my commitments. I no longer use my phone while walking or feeding my daughter. Bedtime is still not consistent so some more work is needed.

Many websites and blogs suggest digitising to remove physical clutter (photos, DVDs and CDs etc.). I fear that ultimately it delays decisions and avoids harsh realities and truths. I think it is necessary to remove the physical clutter before digitising, not by digitising.

Given the state of my external hard drive I would say I’m a digital hoarder. Granted I’m gathering all my historical computer files as I slowly ‘declutter’ each decrepit machine – Marie Kondo digital style – however the fact remains that there is A LOT of digital clutter. So it is an unhappy relationship: needing to minimise my digital clutter while also needing some digital down time. My synthesis is carving out some protected space and time that is technology free.

Some spaces are sacred. In places of worship, swimming pools, and theatres, cultural expectations or physical environment deter the use of phones in particular. But what if those same expectations or restrictions are not present. We must create our own sacred space and fastidiously guard it’s borders. My walk to work is definitely a sacred space. So too is Screen-free evening every Saturday with my wife. Then I get stuck. How to carve out some more screen free time? The exception obviously being the baby monitor!

How about you? How do you get your digital down time? Where are your sacred spaces?



Discoveries

Christy King at The Simple White Rabbit is constructing a Minimalism A-Z. I love how accessible the posts have been and while they can be read as stand alone articles, they are also a beautiful series that explore different facets of the Minimalist prism. So far she has covered Authenticity, Borrowing (and lending), Capsule wardrobe, Debt reduction, Electronic Storage, Freedom and Gratitude. This week she wrote H is for Habits. She outlines the process required to break bad habits by replacing them with good habits. I’ve always found it easier to replace something rather than just give it up. Linking, or staking, a new habit on to an old habit e.g. taking the time a kettle boils as an opportunity to do some mindful breathing or a yoga pose. Her other suggestion is building microhabits. Starting, as the name suggests, really small. I’m going to try out naming the things I have done that move me towards minimalism on a daily basis (even when these are not identifying what to get rid of). What habits do you want to change or adopt?