Every lesson you have learnt about time management, decluttering, managing your work, dealing with people, healthy living and finding happiness boils down to one thing- the choices you make. Whether you decide to spend some time reading, keep a piece of paper, do a particular type of work, the friends you have, your weight and the fun you are having is down to the choices you have made in the past. Buddhism says that if you want to know the future, look at the choices you are making today. And that if you want to change your future, you need to change the choices you are making today- it is as simple as that. However, despite being simple, this can be a daunting and not everyone is ready to throw something away- whether a piece of paper or a friend. But as I have grown older, I think it is getting easier to let go. But if you can do, you have the most powerful tool for living your life as you want- your choices.
This powerful talk by Caroline Myss is worth listening to if you have any doubts or are feeling you need some support in this area. It really helped me.
I have recently been revisiting videos and writings on decluttering. Why? Because I forget to clear up and then I find more clutter when I am busy with other things but why is clutter collecting anyway? Here are some things I have found out about reasons for clutter collection with some useful tips. According to Oxford psychologist Stelios Kiosses, ‘There’s a bit of the hoarder in all of us … it’s when it gets out of hand, there’s a problem.’ My thing is once I have cleared up, it builds up again and then it gets out of hand. I don’t have a cleaner, manager or organiser. How can I stop cluttering? I have tried so many methods. As someone who is actively working in the environmental and ecological fields, I feel ashamed that I have so much stuff in my own house and office.
I have tried the Marie Kondo approach but you have to be very careful with that as you might end of throwing away useful things and also that approach doesn’t go far into why one creates clutter in the first place. You have to know yourself in order to find out why you create clutter or collect. So here is what I have learnt-
- Look around to see what it is that is cluttering up your environment. In my case, it is definitely paper in some form- books, documents, paper, cuttings, etc. I spent more than £5000 on headed paper and have hardly used those and they clutter up my office storage. Then there is also stationery that I have never used- dried up pens, rubber bands that have crumbled away, tags that don’t fit and so many items that don’t work. Kiosses also believes that hoarding comes from suffering owing to a loss of some kind. But then we all have had loss of some kind and yet some of us hoard more than others.
- Hence you need to think about why you hoard that particular thing– again in my case, it was always ‘just in case’. I write a lot so there are books and cuttings. But there is also my fear of appearing ignorant, so I keep the backing for ‘ my proposition or thoughts to prop me up intellectually. In other words, I need these bits of paper to help me because I can’t be bothered to think for myself or challenge an argument. It is also a habit that is built up through our education system, with constant referencing that is required for any essay or paper you write. But there is no need to store references- most are available on the Internet. My headed paper also reflects an insecurity and an allusion to scarcity- I kept those sheets for the future. Then the future arrived and everyone is using the internet and so paper sent by post is getting scarcer in every discipline.
- Be kind to yourself as you decide to change- I realised I had to treat myself gently in order to draw me away from drowning in my clutter. The more harsh you are, the less workable decluttering is; which is why many give up on the Kondo method. Rome wasn’t built in one day and the clutter wasn’t created in one day. Clearing up one small area that is bothering you works best as the clearing ripple spreads. I am also now less harsh towards others- I recognise the hoarder that Kiosses talks about exists in me and others too. There is no need to look down on others. Also, I recognise that it is precisely because of this reason that you can’t clear someone else’s clutter. That is why you can’t have decluttering theories that apply to everyone and follow ‘how to declutter’ books by someone else. It is all in your mind. Just as you are unique, your style and method of decluttering will be unique.
As one website says, “When you get rid of the vast majority of your possessions, you’re forced to confront your darker side:
- When did I give so much meaning to possessions?
- What is truly important in life?
- Why am I discontent?
- Who is the person I want to become?
- How will I define my own success?”
The aim of decluttering, should not in fact be to purge your belongings but to enjoy the objects and environment you’ve chosen to live with. That knowledge comes with knowing yourself deeply and well.
I am dealing with my 12 year old son’s bullies right now. For many weeks, I have not seen him smile and he looked tired all the time. He was being bullied with physical, racist and homophobic (yes, even that age, bullies use all sorts of excuses) abuse in school. Initially I told him to ignore it and deal with it with humour. After he was set upon by the gang of boys last week, I was livid and complained to the school. I also found out that my son hadn’t told me about the attack because he was ashamed. Here is what I have learnt in the last ten days-
- Bullies, like other people, change when they want to. They won’t change because you want them to. Don’t stay with a bully thinking that they will change.
- Bullies cannot be appeased by good humour and manners. This brings out more of their ugliness. Do not associate with bullies- get away from them and leave them to deal with the emptiness of their lives.
- Bullies only listen to fear, so put fear into them by reporting it. Transmit it widely because the only thing the bullies care about is their image and their power. Bullies do not like reciprocal or equal relationships.
- Let children and all vulnerable people know that bullying is never okay and never to sit in silence. Bullies love it when people take it without complaining. Never be ashamed of reporting bullying.
- Build up the broken self esteem of the bullied person with love and support. Find other people who can support the bullied person. Build a fortress of love and teach that person to always respect themselves.
I was thinking about how I used to like the ‘likes’ on my social media pages. Now, they don’t matter so much. So I began to reflect on why that might be? I know that since starting these pages and sharing my thoughts, I have also began to clarify my feelings and experiences. Consequently I am feeling stronger and happier than I ever was before. Childhood experiences often shape us stealthily and it is much later when we ourselves become parents that we start thinking about these experiences. Thinking back to my childhood, I had a very critical father. Some of my work involves being critical- writing and to choosing employees, etc. But was I transferring my critical habits at work to my home?
Now, being critical has its good points and bad ones. Critical people are able to distinguish between important issues, make choices and reflect on things intelligently. In the fields of arts and literature, being critical helps us to edit and curate our choices. However, taken too far, being critical, can be very dangerous. Especially where personal relations are concerned. If someone is very critical, then they are less likely to have close friends or family. Critical people also have a need to be in control and to have a say in everything. Criticism can become all consuming anger at every one and everything that is not going someone’s way. Having an overtly critical parent can turn to us to wanting love and attention in other ways. Wanting ‘likes’ might be way of saying I need love and attention because I am not getting it in other ways.
I breathed a sigh of relief when my younger son announced the other day that he was not going to go for a school prize that is given to ‘popular’ children- that is popular with teachers. He said that he would be pleased to get it on his own terms (he is a polite and popular boy anyway). He didn’t want to do things like writing poems or ‘thank you’ letters to teachers for no reason, staying on for extra lessons (not because they want to learn but to earn points), smiling all the time, etc. He said he just wanted to be himself and if anyone thought he was good, then it was fine. Here was a boy who used to be anxious to see how many ‘likes’ he was getting in the social media posts. I realised that I had become happier, let go of the past and become less critical, so my son was a result of the change in my parenting.
Our early and later relationships in life can be shaped by our childhood. People we are attracted to could be either opposite or similar to our parents or any significant person in our early lives. It is only when we begin to move away from these ‘types’ and start to look for what makes us happy, then only we find people and things that do. Marie Kondo, a Japanese organising expert, has started a trend to keep things that only ‘spark joy’ rather than concentrate on throwing things that we don’t like. It is always better to go to things we love rather than run away from what we don’t like. When we run away due to fear, we do not notice anything else- even things that might be good for us. Its like we are running in a dark forest without the ability to pick or choose our paths. This is a fight or flight reaction. Note that it is a reaction rather than a pro-action. It is a situation where we are not in control.
But finding that calmness where we can decipher what is good for us or not, can take many years and decades to find. It is only now, I find that I am much happier and able to find things and people who ‘spark joy’ in me. It is not that I am not my parent’s child any more but it is more that I refuse to live by the past. Of course, I wish that this had happened much earlier but then that is life. This is when it was meant to have happened and I am grateful that at least it has happened. Now days, I am quicker to find joy and move on quickly from people that don’t bring me joy. And strangely enough, I find that even people who I did not get along with in the past, are people I can now tolerate or even like. By finding joy within, I am finding joy outside.
About ten days ago, I went to a funeral of a neighbour. I had designed the ‘Order of service’ booklet which she had left to the last minute. Through doing this, I had learnt about the remarkable life of her husband. I learnt about her life and her children. From knowing nothing about her, apart from greeting her when I met her, I learnt so much about another person. I felt uplifted by this experience.
Unknown to me, she had mentioned to many of other neighbours who had come to give their condolences that I had helped her so much. So couple of days ago, when I needed help to move furniture and sort out some house repairs, I was very grateful to have the help of neighbours. My little act of helping someone had ignited the spirit of help across the block. I regret now that it took a funeral for me to get to know someone and help them but also grateful for the realisation that all it takes for a community spirit to begin is to knock on people’s doors and ask them if they need help. I am now helping another neighbour who is seriously ill. So much of our modern lives are taken up with living just for ourselves or family. Our human family is much bigger. This is our privilege and honour to be part of this human family.
My younger son is now at a stage when babyish words, songs, cuddles, etc are an embarrassment. He has his smartphone which he uses to organise get togethers with his friends and his own time. He doesn’t need me to wake him up or remind him to do his school work. I don’t have to pick him up from school or take him there. He was the last of my babies- who has grown up.
Needless to say, it is sad for me. Although there is much more time I have for myself, there were many days, when I felt unwanted and abandoned. It took me many weeks to dissociate my feelings for myself from that of what was happening to my son. He had to grow up, of course and I knew that. Gradually I have learnt to be grateful for this time that has suddenly been released to me and be grateful for that independent young man he has become. Life is a series of losses- as we age, we lose people, we lose things and ultimately face the biggest loss of all, life itself. However, that is what life is and if we can accept that and learn to be grateful for everything, then all our love and humanity will be revealed in what we do.
This is my friend, whom I have known for 25 years. He is sitting there with his card from the Queen to congratulate him on his 100th birthday and the two cups of tea he made, one for me (he will never allow me to make the tea!). (In case you wondered, when people turn 100 in the UK, the Queen sends them a birthday card) When I met him last week, I asked him what he thought was the secret to being 100. Of course, one must allow that unfortunate accidents and illnesses cut short one’s life, so if those are to be discounted, then he said the secret is to living a long life is being ‘open’ to life. We then talked about what being open to life means.
One meaning of being open is about being grateful for what life brings. David’s wife died more than 40 years ago and he still clearly grieves for her but he is grateful to have seen his great grandchildren and his own children and grandchildren leading happy lives. He was a tiny boy when the Great War broke out and he was a young man who served in the RAF in the WWII. After that he settled into a life of domesticity and peace, working for British Council until his retirement. He is grateful for the chances that life gave him. David has been a Buddhist for more than 30 years.
The other meaning of receptive, he said, was about being kind to people. He often tells me the same story (and I pretend I have not heard it before). This is about his friend who hated ‘doctors, Jews and blacks’. Once this friend collapsed outside a pub with a heart attack and he was helped by two young men who probably saved his life. David visited his friend in hospital and found him to be a much changed man. His friend who now had a different opinion of doctors, said, ‘You know what, one of the men who saved me was black!’ To which David responded, ‘Then the other one must have been a Jew!’ Being receptive and open means being kind to all people and free from prejudice.
Over and over again, most old people who have lived a long life, say similar things to me. I can’t remember even one bitter and angry person who has lived a long life, even with the benefit of modern medical care. David’s friend unfortunately was not able to mend his ways, despite being very rich and died early, always complaining and bitter. So there you are, live a long life by being open and receptive!
After watching this, as an architect who has suffered from stroke, it reinforced my desire never to miss a single opportunity to express gratitude, help others and be happy in every way that I can.
This has to be a very important lesson I have learnt in the last couple of years. I am naturally trusting and also keep promises- this means that I expect others to mirror this. Alas, many are not like me and one has to accept this. Sometimes I wished I had been less trusting as I have been cheated and sometimes I wished I had not kept my promises because they turned out to be meaningless or insignificant to the other person. However, there is an important thing I have learnt and want to share with you. This is that one should rely on what people do, rather than what they say they will do.
Some years ago, I worked with an unpleasant colleague who was forever skiving off on various excuses and bullying me. After a year of this, I complained to my line manager about him. The line manager listened to me very gravely and agreed that this colleague should be disciplined, even calling him an ‘idiot’. So I went off, feeling reassured. But in the years that followed, not only was this colleague not disciplined but actually promoted. Even though he was earning far more than me, any expenses he incurred were reimbursed [while the same expenses from me were disputed]; he was given visiting cards and customised brochures when the department was in financial trouble and no one else was; and he was given a fair bit of the limelight when there were visitors about even though what he had to say was nothing special. I realised that nothing would be done and left a couple of years later when a suitable job arrived. I realised that I should have left years ago when I could see that nothing was being done.
So now I am a bit wiser. I don’t get all excited when someone says they will do something for me but wait until that actually happens. If it doesn’t happen, then okay, i get on with my life and find the best way to cope. That way I am not frustrated or angry. If it does happen, yippee, that is great- it is great when people keep their promises! They are my friends for life.