A cluttered mind

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-

  1. 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.

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  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Moving away

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.

Happy and perfect

‘Just do it’ is the phrase used by a well known sports brand but I am using it in a different way.  I am using to mean a determination to be happy- to be just happy.  I was recently watching a programme about advertising and how advertising creates a gap between yourself, the reality and the image presented (the illusion).  We try to buy stuff to try to close this gap.  Often we get ourselves into trouble of various sorts, such as financial difficulties or unhealthy mental states.  In particular women are more prone to compare themselves to others and make themselves unhappy.  So many of the ‘happiness or beauty products’ are aimed at women because it creates a compulsive and everlasting consumer.

I have also been cleaning my house, using the ‘Konmari method‘ which is basically a method of editing your stuff (keeping only stuff that ‘sparks joy’) and keeping them tidily.  Out of my dark cupboards, hidden for years, have come out piles  of self help books, mountains of clothes, cosmetics, and many things I bought for ‘just in case’ occasions. Looking at them and adding up the costs of buying them, not using them and now having to dispose of them in a responsible way, is costing me more time and money.  Why oh why did I buy these things?  Perhaps I could have saved some money to pay off the mortgage, perhaps saved some time looking after myself instead of shopping for that perfect thing that would make me happy?  Perhaps.  Anyway, the feeling was first of disgust at myself and then forgiveness.  Perhaps, it was convoluted path I took to get here and some people don’t get here easily.  So I have decided not to buy anything more unless it really nourishes my life, not to watch any thing that doesn’t inspire me to do good and not to feel bad about the past.  I decided, I am happy as I am- that is it.  No more reading about happiness or perfection- I doing it, I am already happy and perfect as I am.

Two sides of each emotion

Buddhism says that each of our emotions have two sides- positive and negative.  While one can’t anything about having emotions and one has to live with them, one can change our reaction and outcome for each emotion. So for example, tranquility can be seen as a positive thing but taken too far, it can make us seem too complacent to be bothered about anything.  So as long as we are happy in our little world, we are not concerned about the rest of the humanity.  On the other hand, anger is seen as a negative emotion.  But it can be a force for good too. It can be justice, it can be a strong concern to change something in ourselves and others.

I mostly live in the world of tranquility- happy to live and let live.  But because of this attitude, I have been taken for a ride, people have cheated me and I have been hurt. It takes me a long time to be angry but I have noticed that when I am angry, I get things done.  Recently a second hand shop sold me a radio which was defective. I took it back three times and each time the shopkeeper said that it would work after I tuned in at home.  This has turned out to be false.  The man also spoke to me in a patronising way.  So last week, I got really angry- angry at both the man and at myself.  But keeping anger bottled up is also negative, so I used that energy to research and get myself a nice radio. I needed to respect myself.  No more going back to that shop and I am now back to my world of tranquility again.  But I realised that it is good to get angry (but not destructively) once in awhile and get things done!

When children grow up

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.

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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.

Life’s lesson from Picasso

Yesterday I watched a documentary on Picasso. Picasso was womaniser, philanderer and lier. He made the women around him unhappy.  He also used them as muses for his art.  Of the five most prominent women out of the several, who became his wives or lovers, two committed suicide after his death and two died before him. Only one who had the guts to leave him, made him unhappy.  She was a one gutsy lady!

One the other hand, Picasso died what he loved doing- drawings with pencils, aged 91. Especially towards the end of his life, he started painting prolifically as if he knew that his end was near.  During his early days in Paris, Picasso shared a small apartment with Max Jacob. They took turns to sleep- Max slept at night while Picasso slept during the day and worked at night. These were times of severe poverty, cold, and desperation. Much of his work was burned to keep the small room warm.

The ladies seem to have been dependent upon him emotionally while Picasso was always in love with his painting.  In the end, it seems that his love of painting won over the love for womanising. Of course, circumstances for women were very different when Picasso was a around- they were dependents.  But if a lesson could be learnt from this great painter’s life would be that whether one is a man or woman, one must always have a creative goal or passion that is not dependent upon people.  It is this passion that must last until the end of life.  This is the authentic life.

what is success?

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A Facebook acquaintance inserted this photo with the title, ‘The 380 upper deck is, well…um, a kind of different, I’d say’ and then he inserted another one which offered views of the scenery he could see from his hotel window, saying, ‘Not so bad view from a window you have to spend four days in.’ And so came more gloating- we had photos of him drinking wine, trying different kinds of foods, etc. He got 28 ‘likes’ for that first post and 37 for the second one. The thing for me was that this was the same guy who worked for an organisation that helps the poor.  Not many of his ‘customers’ would have experienced this luxury and again, the organisation that sponsored his visit, would perhaps be uncomfortable with his boasting.  I thought that his aspirations and his work were so opposite that perhaps he does not find comfort and happiness in what he does.

For many of us, one’s career can different from one’s calling, leading to a dissatisfaction with our everyday lives. A calling is something we do from our hearts, it is part of our whole lives so that is it not an incongruous part of it but something that is natural. Thomas Carlyle said, ’Blessed be he who has found his work, let him ask no other blessedness’.  But success is a bit more difficult to understand. Alain de Botton recently posted a blog about learning from the 80’s pop group, Wham!. One of the lead singers, Andrew Ridgeley, is living a comparatively unknown life with his wife, who is also a former pop star from ‘Bananarama’. de Botton contends that Ridgeley is the ‘winner’ and more successful than his former partner, George Michael, who is in the news all the time (sometimes for the wrong reasons) and wealthier. Success is about more than accumulation of money, travel, homes and carsl- ‘The life of Andrew Ridgeley belongs in the public realm. It’s one of the great moral fables of our time. It’s the story of one man’s redemption – from manic, narcissistic pleasure seeking to maturity.’

I have been thinking of success and what it means to me. For me success is a quiet confidence that we have lived the life we wanted, regardless of what society thinks of it and to have contributed to the world a similar amount of time and resources that it has given us. Success does not shout its status from the roof, it is solid and deep, grounding us with our calling- inside out.

Clutter project lesson- one big idea

Time for confessions and to start a new journey.  This is the very real washing of dirty laundry in public!  I have been unable to finish writing my books on time.  I have also been coughing with my nose being blocked, despite having medications.  Reflecting on why that might be, I started to think about where I do my work, more specifically the state  of my home office.  Looking around, I realised the place is absolutely cluttered. I am a visual person and clutter just detracts my attention.  So I started cleaning and decluttering last week, thinking that it would take a couple of days.  But I am still not finished.  So I decided to go public and shame myself further by posting a photo of the clutter from my office.

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It is not funny- clutter is costing me a lot of money.  I found so much stationery I had bought that it will take me years to use up those.  Of course I can throw or give them away but I realise that these were bought with my hard earned money.  I am not rich at all (perhaps because of this?)  I wouldn’t throw away a £10 note, why would I throw these away?  And then there are tons of books I had bought. I went to Amazon listing and found that I had at least £100 worth of books, lying around, unread. Paper and Printer inks that have dried up and so on.  Further, as I stumbled about, I fell down on the clutter and now have a 14 cm long and 4 cm wide bruise on my leg from that apart and cuts (shameful photo also posted for posterity).  There are also a lot of newspaper cuttings which I use for my work but these were also everywhere.  The clutter is harming my life, physically and mentally.

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I have read many books on clutter prevention and these books were now cluttering my bookshelves!  I had books about organising and yet, my life was disorganised.  In reality, I knew the theory but failed in practice.  As I have started decluttering, here is the one big idea I have used, which could be useful for creative people, who create mess! And for visual people, who get distracted.  And for those in small spaces.  This big idea is about using just a few big boxes. I found some cheap boxes from Amazon in a colour I like- yellow and bought four of these. I have decided to give away or sell many books. I looked for organisations looking for the stuff I didn’t want- I gave away a chair and fabric swatches to a local school, books and extra stationery to the charity shop and local library, etc.

1. Simplify and save time by keeping ‘like with like’ together and in one place- So for instance, I have put all my stationery in one box, everything; instead of having separate boxes for notebooks, pencils, tapes, etc. I just now have to look in one box, instead of many. Many decluttering books recommend putting ‘like for like’ but in separate boxes (just look at any Youtube videos)- but these only increase time looking for things and also need space.

2. Have just two or three boxes– for instance, current projects, archival and storage for stationery.  The current project box should be to hand, while others can be accessed when needed.

3. Reduce visual clutter and increase productivity– Some organising books for decluttering recommend clear storage boxes but these only increase visual and mental clutter.  So just have big boxes with simple labels- newspaper cuttings, computer supplies, stationery, etc.

4. Digitise– Once a week go through paper work, think, ‘What would be the worst that would happen if I threw this away?  Could I find it online?  Can I scan it instead for posterity?’

5. Don’t buy straightaway– always see first if you have something that you can use before buying (even if you think you know!).  See if you can borrow it?  Even buying from charity shops costs money.

I will post photos as I progress and learn more!

Courage and fear

Like two sides of a coin, courage and fear together make the value of our actions.  The recently departed former leader of the British Liberal Democrats, Charles Kennedy, once said that, Courage is a peculiar kind of fear.’  Rather than being opposites, fear and courage go hand in hand.  Fear is a kind of vulnerability- the vulnerability of our mortality.

Courage or bravado can be faked.  I quoted David Tang in my previous post and he advises us to not show that we are intimidated.  Susan Jeffers said, Feel the fear and do it anyway.’  But we end up ‘fearing the fear’ and never take the next step.  That next step is the step of courage.  And in taking action anyway, regardless of fear or intimidation, is when we show real courage.

In his book, Fiercely Loyal, which is about leadership, Dov Baron says, ‘…real courage requires vulnerability. Real courage requires us to step into something where we cannot predict the outcome; something that, in some way, seems terrifying, not because we could die, although that may be part of how we feel, but because we feel we might receive the most painful of punishments–that of being rejected, disowned, and ultimately isolated….That’s why real courage cannot exist without the risk of vulnerability.’

Do not be afraid to show your vulnerability- for your courage lies in that, whether in personal relationships or in your professional world.

Ego and loss

This week I learnt a valuable lesson about loss- that loss is about ego.  If one loses something or someone, one is really thinking about oneself and how that loss is hurting them.  The loss is not really about what has been lost but about the feelings connected with that object or person.  If one can disconnect from one’s ego then one can see beyond loss and be more able to forgive and remember the thing that was lost, rather than what we are feeling and how hurt we are.

First I lost a lovely silver earring that had been given to me by my colleagues when I was leaving my first job. Yes, I felt sorry and sad for awhile- one of those colleagues was no more and it was a way of remembering her.  But then all in life is about loss- whatever we gain, we will lose one day.  So as soon as I realised that, I stopped thinking about the earring and was able to deal with the day.

That same day, I had a lovely lunch with a former colleague.  He had attended a pottery workshop I had organised almost a year back and had made a cup which I had got fired and painted for him.  He had been asking for this cup and so I was pleased to finally meet him and give him this cup which I had stored for such a long time.  Upon getting to the tube station, I realised that we had left this cup behind at the restaurant. I offered to go back and get it back but he said he was not upset about losing the cup.  But patently I was hurt and perhaps that showed on my face as I saw him sneaking off.  Anyway, I thought I must leave him to find that cup and I walked to the trains a little sadly.  Along the way, I thought about why I was feeling sad and hurt.  Again, it was about my ego. I felt bad that I had organised the pottery, got that cup fired and painted and then stored it for a long time and brought it to this colleague.  By saying that it was not important to retrieve this cup, he was in effect saying that my contribution was not important or even that I was not important.  On that journey back, I fought hard to disentangle my ego from the cup and my colleague. I thought about how kind he had been to me, always and the good times we had.  A cup was simply getting in the way of remembering and honouring that.  In any case, it was his cup and if he had

decided to leave it behind, that was his problem, not mine.  I felt happy and light again. mike's pot

A week later, what a lovely surprise it was to get an email and this picture of dandelions in that cup!  So he had actually gone back and found that cup (contrary to what I had been thinking). Having disassociated from the loss via my ego, this photo now gives me double pleasure.  This is now my simple formula for living a joyful life-

Ego+loss= Unhappiness

No ego+loss= happiness