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Monthly Archives: August 2012

Now that the Great Clean-out of 2012 is over I am enjoying the physical space that I have created in the garage, and in my wardrobe too. It is very satisfying to see the difference. I know where everything is and how to get to it;  and I no longer have to fight to close the sock drawer. Having a clean up gave me a sense of purpose, I was on a mission and worked on it every day for  quite a few weeks.

As well as the physical space, I am aware that now the project is over, I have to find other useful ways to use my time. I have space (time) to do something new. It could be tempting at this point to just keep on with the clean out, in an attempt to fill up the time and stretch out the feeling of purpose and satisfaction. But I know that that episode has run its course and its time to move on.

These times of stillness between periods of activity can be tricky to deal with. They make me edgy. My mind wants to run around like mad looking for something ‘worthwhile’ to do. But in keeping with The Experiment, I am going to stay calm, and be alert for a new direction to emerge. My thinking is that if I am patient, and don’t clutch at straws, something new and different will have the chance to emerge.

Misty Stillness – Mirror Lake at Lake Placid

By the way, welcome to my first “follower”.

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The truck from the charity shop came yesterday and took away six boxes of household belongings that I no longer need (and maybe never did need). I was very pleased to see it go. However it did get me thinking about where all those things are going to end up.

The age of materialism has been building momentum for centuries, and unfortunately we have used too much of the worlds resources making too much stuff, only to throw it away later. Like many people, I am reluctant to see the things that I no longer want to keep go into landfill if they are in good condition. I hope they will be useful to someone else. But who? Am I just palming my junk onto someone else who has not learned to say NO to a cheap deal or a freebie?

Fortunately there are people who are willing to take on second hand goods and give them a new lease on life. These are people are acting out of a commitment to sustainability, or want to save money, or who appreciate old things.

Collectors who appreciate old objects are a special group, because they get pleasure out of gathering things to them, which seems to be the exact opposite of a minimalists mindset. These are people who get a lot of pleasure out of the beauty of physical objects – of art, antique furniture, old cars and the like. They enjoy the challenge of sourcing, purchasing and restoring old things, and in the process develop friendships with likeminded people. Is this a bad thing?

Of course there is great scope for collecting to get out of hand, in terms of the time devoted to the hobby, the money spent and the space taken up. But if people do have the time, the money and the space, and get pleasure out of keeping or restoring a little bit of history, then I think they are performing a useful role by handling some of the material excess that would otherwise go to waste.

There is a difference between appreciating the beauty of the physical object, whether it be a painting or well crafted chair, and rampant keep-up-with-the-Jones materialism. Collecting is not a lifestyle for me, but must confess that in the interests of sustainability, I am glad there are people around who are willing to make use of our castoffs.

Old bicycle

Just because I don’t’ know what I am going to do, doesn’t’ mean I don’t know what I am doing.

– me

I came up with this saying to capture the distinction between having a concrete plan for the future (ie knowing what you are going to do), and living confidently and competently with the unknown.

I first felt the need for this saying when I was travelling around the world earlier in the year, without a fixed itinerary, and without a job to return to. Someone I met on my travels was anxious on my behalf that I did not know where I was going next.

The problem with people being anxious on my behalf, is that it can very easily trigger my own anxiety. Am I missing something? Should I be more worried? Fortunately I was wise enough to this phenomenon to question what this fear was about, and where it was coming from.

In the case of my holiday, my intention was to explore the world in a spontaneous way, responding to what emerged during the course of the trip. The uncertainty was part of the purpose of the trip. I wasn’t trying to see specific sights or experience specific cities or wonders (other than Paris), I was trying to experience myself in the world unconfined by the restrictions of a set itinerary or a date that I needed to return to work.

The downside of this flexibility is the difficulty of researching and negotiating transport, food and accommodation while on the road, and the possibilities of being overwhelmed by isolation or illness. I felt that I knew myself well enough that I could handle the emotional buffeting of travelling alone, in fact I was testing out my robustness in the face of uncertainty.

I came to the conclusion that although there are risks associated with solo travel, I knew what I was trying to do, and why. I was fairly confident that I could respond appropriately if difficulties arose.

Keeping clear on the distinction between knowing what am going to do, and knowing what I am doing is even more important now that I am back home and not working. I really have no idea what is going to happen in the long term, but I have a growing confidence that this is the most competent thing I could be doing right now to move myself in the direction of a happier and more meaningful life.

Flower Barge on the Seine

By the way, I have managed to attract a few views, which is great and was excited to find my first “Like” this morning. So welcome to my first readers!

This blog is part of a bigger experiment that began in earnest a few months ago. I have never had a good answer to the question “What do you want to do?” when it comes to deciding on a career. I have always felt like I didn’t know what I wanted to do and despite doing a lot of courses of various kinds in areas that interested me – helping professions, literature and writing, and training – but none of them manifested as an actual career. In the meantime I have had a successful working life in administration and IT. This feeling of not knowing, and the disconnect between my education and my work has always bothered me, but I didn’t know what to do about it. Just doing more courses that led nowhere did not seem to be the answer. Something else needed to be addressed.

Recently it occurred to me that I did have ideas about to do, but that I was instinctively blocking them before they had a chance to develop into anything concrete. Instead of paying attention and picking up on my own instinctive direction, I was trying to work out what I should do, and drive myself along in that direction. This would account for the courses that led nowhere, because my heart was not in them.

Earlier this year I decided to embark on an experiment to listen to my instincts and stop blocking myself from acting on the few ideas that I did have. I resigned from my job of 8 years and went overseas for six weeks. Now I am back home, living cheaply on my savings, paying attention to what comes up.

What came up next was unexpected, the desire to go through my belongings and simplify. It began with letting go of some large items of furniture in the garage, which allowed me to sort though a whole lot of other things that had been inaccessible. Not working has allowed me to spend a few weeks of concerted effort on sorting through everything I own and discarding what I don’t want or need. I also found myself attracted to minimalism, and recognised my own inherent minimalist tendencies, which explained why I was never really convinced that working full time until I was 67 pay off a tiny and inadequate unit (which I sold a couple of years ago) was a good use of my life.

I think the garage clean out is coming to an end for the time being, and a new unexpected idea has emerged – that I might be able to help other people who are having difficulty managing their stuff. A “declutter partner”. I don’t know if this idea is going to get off the ground, but it has certainly taken me by surprise. The decluttering process seems very mundane, even trivial, but it is very confronting to face momentos of the past. Being free of those belongings is about a lot more than being able to get the car in to the garage.

The other idea that is emerging is that pursing the helping professions was a dead end because at the end of the day, I don’t really have a vocation to help people in that way. I thought I should want to be a counsellor or groupworker or community worker, but I don’t. My interest in personal development is mainly about MY development. It didn’t work to try to turn that into a job when my heart was not in it. My interest is more in the direction of creative pursuits such as writing and photography, so I am going to explore that.

So here I am, jobless, thinking about writing and photography, and resisting the temptation to rush straight out and get a “real job”. I have no idea what is going to happen next, but I have never been happier.

Dartmoor Path

One of the reasons for starting this blog was to begin writing in a more organised way. I find it difficult to find a balance between creative “input” and “output”. Input would be things like reading books and blogs, and watching TV. Output would be writing or taking photos, and sharing them. There is another stage in the middle which is thinking and integrating, which I also spend a lot of time doing. The balance tends to swing towards taking in ideas and integrating them in my everyday life. However I would also like to produce more artistic or creative output.

One of the things that holds me back is shyness. People who know me would probably dispute that I am shy as it does not always come across in everyday life. However when it comes to expressing my ideas or showing my writing I feel very self protective. I am more comfortable with showing my photographs, because they seem more external.

For the last few weeks I have been burying myself in blogs on minimalism while doing a major cull on my belongings. I am beginning to feel saturated with instructions for cleaning out draws and discarding unwanted clothing. I already know how to do it, I think I just wanted the company – a cheer squad who understood what I was trying to do. A charity truck is coming in two days to take away quite a few boxes of stuff and I think its time to take a break from thinking about “things” and get back to writing.

One of the conundrums of minimalist blogging is that minimalism is meant to free us from directing too much time and attention to material possessions and their management. I suspect that for many people, including bloggers, once simplicity or minimalism becomes a way of life, it fades into the background and becomes part of the context in which other interests can expand. Thats what I am hoping for myself.

Hiding in the Daffodils

A couple of years ago I became interested in voluntary simplicity. I followed a few web sites and read some books on the subject. I found the idea of a simple lifestyle appealing and encouraging. However there was a lot of emphasis on self sufficiency – cooking, gardening, keeping animals, and other DIY activities. This didn’t really fit with my interests or my city lifestyle.

More recently I have found blogs on minimalism. I particularly like Miss Minimalist who has a very appealing writing style. Minimalism, with it’s emphasis on owning less stuff in order to focus on the more important things in life, seems more relevant to an urban lifestyle. Voluntary simplicity has you bottling your own tomatoes; minimalism has you throwing out the jars! I have read a lot of minimalist blogs and found it encouraging hearing about how other people are shaping lives with less physical and other types of clutter.

Having said that, I am more comfortable with the term voluntary simplicity which is a better description of the lifestyle I am interested in. The term minimalism seems to lend itself to extremes. After all, the minimum is the least and pursuing this aspect can lead to an attitude that if less is good even less is better. Trying to live with the least possible risks a new type of obsession with things, an obsession with not having them or disposing of them. I don’t want to live on the borderline between “barely enough” and “too little”. I am happy with enough plus a percentage for comfort. Then I can stop dwelling on my belongings and get on with my life.

Beautiful Clutter

I have a couple of little characters who sit on my shoulder and tell me what I should do. I like to call them the “Should Brigade”. These characters are very keen, and have an opinion about most things. In the past they used to play a big role in my life, and in those days they weren’t so small, and they weren’t so cute and funny. They used to be very demanding and caused me a lot of anxiety trying to work out what I was supposed to be doing and making me do things I didn’t want to do, just because they thought I should.

The trouble with the Should Brigade is, although they don’t seem to realise it, they have lived  very sheltered lives, and get their “shoulds” from old information, gossip, the television – anything they can find. They seem to have an endless supply of rules and expectations that have not been thought through, and don’t necessarily fit the situation. In fact sometimes what they say makes no sense at all when you challenge them.

It seems logical that we should all do what our Should Brigade tells us, (after all they know what we should do) but I have started to challenge that assumption in a big way. In my case, the shoulds seem to be motivated by fear, or a desire to please and be accepted. They also seem to come from an assumption that my preference or my gut feeling is surely going to be wrong, misguided or dangerous.

As an experiment I started looking out for shoulds, and replacing them with other questions:
What is necessary here?
What is important in this situation?
What do I want to do?
What do I feel like doing?
Whats going to help here?

So far I am finding that working out what I want and need in this way is sufficient to decide what to do. Those little guys are getting very glum. I think they may be out of a job!