I have just come back, having spent a couple of weeks decluttering my elderly and disabled parents’ home. One of the triggers for this was watching a Youtube video where someone was describing house clearing after their parent’s death. Don’t get me wrong- I am not wishing for an early death of my parents but this is was a practical necessity as my parents do not have the time and inclination to declutter now. They were brought up in extreme poverty and have got into the habit of extreme saving. They have kept everything from scraps of rags, my school books to letters, just in case, even though they no longer had any use for these. There was a danger from not only vermin infestation and hygiene issues but also the clutter was in the way of them getting about their lives- my mother often fell down as she hit something. I have often helped other people after their deaths to declutter but with my parents, I wanted to do it now to help them to make their lives easier.
The decluttering was physically and mentally very tiring- I had to stop often and rest. It is also very interesting to see what people collect towards the ends of their lives. In the case of the people I had helped in the past, I remember a man with over 40 mirrors and a lady with a room full of scented soaps! In my parents case, while they used only 20% of the space and contents, the rest was full of books and stuff left by my siblings. They also had huge amounts of kitchen paraphernalia and crockery- mostly not needed now as they only used one or two plates. While I was clearing the stuff, I also went through my own therapy. I saw how what my parents had collected was also reflected in my own home- too many books and crockery! Why did I do this? Even though my parents must have influenced me, I cannot blame my parents as I have had enough time to correct this tendency myself. But I found it very interesting to see how my childhood in a cluttered home had led to my own clutter and disorganised home.
Some people react in different ways to their childhood environments- some children grow up to be very organised as an antidote to their parents’ disorganisation. In my and my siblings cases, we had all become very disorganized and cluttered as we grew up. So when I returned home, I started to take a deep look at what was in my home and where. My mother is especially grateful to me as we managed to sell some of the stuff and make some money. However, I am even more grateful to her for letting me do this and also take the decluttering further and clean up my own environment. For those who want to declutter, it might be a useful thing to examine the place they grew up in- it might offer clues as to why you are what you are now. This decluttering of my own place has had effect on my own children- they have naturally begun to give things away and keep their bedrooms tidy- a small trickle effect. This is much better and more effective solution than nagging at your children to be tidy.
Now the clutter of my parents has a very different origin to my own but the effect is the same. My parents wanted to save every scrap of thing that they had because they were poor while I just have too many things. So regardless of the intention, the effect manifests in similar ways. Some people believe that by treating the cause, you will cure the problem. But I believe that just like how you can change your mental attitude by forcing yourself to smile, in a similar way, this problem can be tackled by just removing the clutter. As soon as I moved her stuff outside to the yard and the rooms began to look clear, my mother began to clear up other areas of the house herself. She needed to experience the clarity of the space to get clarity of her intention. It is said that making people clear up their clutter is impossible but I think through this experience, it can be done. In fact, each person comes to the point when it all gets too much and they want someone to help them. It is at this point that this kind of help can be given, not before. My mother wasn’t ready before. The fear of letting go of things is tied to the fear of dying, as people relate their possession of things to their lives. Letting go is very freeing and empowering- that relates to both possessions and people!
Last week I attended an art workshop. Using materials and techniques I would not otherwise use, I created couple of large drawings. Although my instinct is to go back to what I was doing before, yet by doing something different, I feel I have extended my creative limits. I was like a child at this workshop, trying colours such as black and white spray paint and stencils- which I have not used before. I used calligraphic pens and rulers too- some new things for me.
Perhaps these things are not new to you. The point that I am making is to try new things whenever you get a chance. Not only does it extend your repertoire but also tells you why you like what you do. So now I realise why I paint the way I do- for instance, I like telling stories through my work so I use found objects, newspaper cuttings, cards and photographs. This is one of my paintings below. It is called ‘Looking, Watching, Seeing’ about fear told through different events that happened in 1976-77.
Creativity is the only thing that is a relationship between you and you. Everything else is a relationship between you and someone else- and that relationship can be good or bad, depending upon you and another. However, the relationship between you and you is only dependent upon one person- you. It is the gift you give to yourself. Whether your work is liked or you became rich through it, depends upon the relationship between you and someone else (the viewer/patron) but that is not in your gift. It is beyond your control. Your creativity is your gift to yourself, regardless of external gifts. So always gift yourself!
We can have as many partners as we like but we will have only one set of parents. After having become a parent, I realised that there is no training for parents- you are simply handed a baby and that is it! No matter how much you read on parenting (and I should know as I read about 150 of them!) , your child will be unique and therefore no book can tell you how to handle him or her. It will be tricky and you can go along, sometimes winning, sometimes losing but as long as your child is happy and healthy, then you are fine. Parenting is a great responsibility- the responsibility to make a human being as as best as you can, with no prior training or knowledge! Can’t think of any other work that is so great and yet so under-valued.
Two days ago, I sat on the train, listening to three teenagers, complaining about their parents. It was clear that they were returning from some holiday, tanned and tired. They had fun and probably used some of their parents’ money to fund this holiday. Yet some of the stuff one the girls said about her parents made me sad. She seemed utterly ungrateful. She probably did not realise how it made her sound, how it made her look bad- not her parents.
Part of growing up includes having compassion for others, including our parents. If our parents made mistakes while bringing us up, we can be objective about it. Yet at the same time, we can keep in mind that they were subject to the emotions, mistakes and physical tiredness that parenting brings. We can identify the things in us that may be similar to our parents. Even if we don’t have any outer signs that we share some common features, we must remember that we are half of each parent. In my family, no one looks like each other. On the emotional side, my father suffers from depression and used to beat me and my sisters. I hated him for that. Now that he is a weak invalid, slowly counting his days, I remember that I am half of him. Although I am a happy optimistic person, I know that I could be like him because I share his genes. Something could turn in my life to make me depressed because the latent effect is already inside my cells. I feel compassion for him, although I remember my childhood clearly. After having overcome my habit of hoarding, for instance, I am very compassionate towards my mother who still hoards. This habit comes from her very deprived childhood and I feel compassion for her. If I did not, then I would still be a child. So compassion is not only a great healer but also helps you to grow up!
Why is it that men seek younger and younger women? If famous and rich, men will have companions 20, 30, 40, 50 years younger. But, if a woman seeks a younger man then she is called a ‘cougar’- I have never understood that. In the age of youthfulness, any woman over 35 is an ‘old woman‘.
If I look at my hero, Agatha Christie, she was happily married to a man 16 years younger than her after her divorce. And that was in the 1940’s. So, let us break some of these taboos in the 21st Century and be with someone who totally respects us, whatever our age (and his age).
To tell the truth, when I was younger, I did not have the confidence I have today. And good and kind men want confident women. If you are planning to get old with someone, they will love you even more for being a confident person, especially when youth fades. Actually if you look at many older women, Elle Macpherson and Kristin Scott-thomas, come to mind- don’t they look fantastic? They are quietly confident women, confident in their work and life. Let us follow their examples.
How many times have we waited for thing to change? For other people to respect or love us? For a marriage proposal or commitment even? I have come to the conclusion that if things are right, they happen anyway. Men in particular, change immediately when they meet the right person- they may get a job, change a job, become domesticated, want to marry, have children, whatever, etc. All that happens because they want to do it- not because you want them to do it! I had a relationship with someone- I even hate to call it a relationship now. This man was lazy, unreliable and all over the place. On the other hand, I am organised and very nurturing kind of person- and I thought that by being with me, he would naturally change. No, he did not and I wasted a long time waiting for him to change when I could have gone and found someone else. And to tell the truth, when we first met and I experienced a very unpleasant side of him and challenged him, he did say,”I am never going to change!” Yes, he was right- and how foolish I was! We live and learn as they say.