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Monthly Archives: April 2013

I read some wonderful books and blogs and thought I would share a few of the things that caught my attention this week.

I finished reading Natalie Goldberg’s The True Secret of Writing in which she outlines the process adopted in her True Secret Writing workshops. Natalie Goldberg has been an long term zen meditation practitioner, and uses that foundation as a basis for her workshops. Having some experience in zen retreats, I could relate to her description of how she integrates writing practice with other forms of meditation. It got me thinking about taking my own writing more seriously, and treating writing as a practice to be sunk into, rather than a task to be ticked off.

One of my favourite posts this week was on Simple and Minimal blog by Regina Wong who writes from London England. The post is called What If Money Was No Object and contains a link to an audio recording by Alan Watts. He is talking about the advice he gave to students preparing to leave university and unsure of what to do. He asked the students to imagine what they would do if money was no object, and then pursue that. I found the audio very moving.  I have a book called The Way of Zen by Alan Watts on my bookshelf. He is someone whose opinion I value, and it meant a lot to me to hear him encouraging people to pursue the things that were important to them, rather than be limited by convention. I also enjoyed Regina’s reflections on her own life journey, and whether it would have been different if she had heard this advice earlier.

The Minimalists Blog has a link to quite a long talk on How Minimalism is Changing Entrepreneurship. It features some of the leading lights of minimalism, Joshua Becker, Joshua Fields Milburn, Ryan Nicodemus and Courtney Carver. I have all their blogs in my reader and it was nice to hear their voices and interactions. The talk is a good introduction to minimalism and gives a sense of these fascinating personalities.

For light relief there was an entertaining post on The Great Jollyhoombah blog.  In Mindfully Picking Up the Slack CJ shares his thinking on how to prepare for his wife Tammy’s return after a few days away. That was relevant to me as my two weeks of alone time were drawing to an end and I also needed to think about making home comfortable and welcoming. I did an online grocery order so that we were stocked up with essentials which seemed to hit the mark.

This weekend I am adjusting to having company at home which involves sharing and cooperating. Yes, they teach this on Sesame Street, but its a lesson we need to continue to learn. Much as I enjoyed my TV free fortnight, I need to let go of that for now and allow myself to enjoy the TV as a shared activity. I don’t want talk myself into thinking I can’t cope with the TV being on or I will make myself into a bedroom isolate or the grumpy TV police.

Somehow since starting this blog last year I have managed to create a situation where I have three blogs/websites, four blog readers, two Facebook pages and one Facebook group, a Linked In account, two Pinterest accounts and online selling accounts  with eBay, Gumtree, and Etsy. No wonder I don’t have time for TV.

Some of this activity has been for the purpose of exploration. Learning how to write online, to sell online, and how to make good use of my photography. I don’t do everything everyday, however it does sometimes feel a bit too complicated.

Originally I was trying to keep these activities separate from each other, but that became impossible, and I was losing the benefits of being able to direct people from one site to another. However this makes it all the more important that what I write in once place does not undermine or contradict what I say in another. If someone who wants to hire with me as a professional organiser finds their way over here to May and September, I want them to feel comfortable with the person they find here. If someone interested in my photographs finds my professional organising board on Pinterest, I want them to get an accurate impression of who I am. The posts on each site might be emphasising different themes, or taking a different tone, but overall I hope that there is some coherence between them all.

This is the blog that is easiest to write and feel like the truest voice, the closest to how I really think and feel. I am comfortable with the photography blog. It has a lighter tone, being about images rather than words. Since I started the Etsy store it has been challenging working out how stay true to my original vision for that blog while linking it in with selling greeting cards. I am still working that through. I am not really comfortable with Facebook, Linked In or Pinterest at this point, and maybe I will need to rethink those.

The most difficult blog to write has been the blog page on my professional organising site. It has been a struggle to develop a consistent tone and rhythm of postings. Recently I have realised that I have been unconsciously trying to “sound like a professional organiser” and this has me to feel the need to write about how to sort and organise stuff. I now realise that I have got things backwards. I never dreamed of being a professional organiser, I just made a change in my own life and that led to me wanting to help people lead simpler lives. I wanted to make myself available to stand with them in the mess, literal and metaphorical, and help them work out what to do about it. “Professional Organiser” turned out to be the closest name I could find for that activity, but by choosing that term to define what I was doing, I took on the risk that the label would start to define me.

Lately I have written some blog posts on the professional organising site that reflect more of my personality and world view. The turning point was What I Learned from Bedbugs which was about learning the benefits of travelling light when I had to clean every item of clothing I possessed on an overseas trip. Soon after I wrote Showing Up in which draws and analogy between Natalie Goldbergs method of showing up for writing practice in the True Secret of Writing, with showing up for a session of simplifying and organising in your own home. And today, I have posted Ordinary Beauty about appreciating the simple everyday beauty available in our own homes. By writing these posts I am setting the tone for my own business and helping potential clients understand my values and perspective.

In May I will be doing an online writing course with Tammy Strobel from Rowdy Kittens. Tammy is a writer and photographer who blogs about tiny house living and how to be happy with less material posessions. I think she does a great job of presenting an authentic voice and vision across various mediums. I am looking forward to linking up with her and other writers in the hope of deepening and focussing my own writing.

I have been butting up against a dilemma in the past couple of weeks. It has been simmering in the background, but it keeps rising closer and closer to the surface. Pretty soon its going to break the surface and I am going to have to confront it head on.

This dilemma concerns the tension between the desire to create, and the desire to simplify. One involves producing, the other reducing. One involves making use of resources, the other involves conserving resources. On the one hand I want to be creative, and also value the creativity of others. On the other hand, I am conscious of the resources that are used up in this creative process, and also in packaging and shipping creative output if it is to be sold.

I have been exploring my desire to create through writing and photography. My writing is mostly online, and immediate, in blog form. I like not having to store up my words in books, boxes and folders. I just post it and let wordpress do the archiving. I have been doing some journal writing lately, with a pen and paper. I make sure not to write anything I would not be willing to have someone else read. I have a box of old journals in the “too hard” corner in the garage. I don’t want to add to it. I am going to try to make sure that anything of importance ends up in digital form so that I can shred the physical notebooks when the time comes. I think I am going to be doing more writing, and may need to come up with better solutions for storing and archiving my notes and finished work. I am grateful for the computer and the online resources available to do this.

Photography is really a hobby and a lot of the photos I have been using were taken on overseas trips, with no expectation of being reproduced or published in any public arena. I have enjoyed using my own work to illustrate my blog posts on this site, and I also enjoy having a photography based ImageChest Photography blog. The dilemma here is that I have been getting prints made of my photo’s and making greeting cards for sale. I have enjoyed this and explored different outlet for selling them, including shops, an online store, and markets. This is where the dilemma is, because I am conscious of the resources required to make and store physical photos. The cardboard is flown to Sydney from Tasmania. If I sell cards online, I need to post them around the world. Although this is small scale, it does consume resources.

The main dilemma with selling greeting cards is that thrusts me into the world of product marketing. When selling online there is the opportunity to get involved in teams and market each other’s products. While some of the items I have come across for sale online are beautiful artworks or valuable vintage items, a lot of the products are ephemeral expressions of our materialistic age. In other words, clutter in search of a home. I enjoy looking at other peoples online shops because I see the product images as just that, images. I don’t get hooked in by what they represent, and rarely feel the urge to buy anything. However I know that other people who look at these images are seeing something else. They are seeing products they can buy, and perhaps feeling excited about the prospect of a parcel in the mail. After all that is the point of the product promotion.

What I am learning is that in order to make and online shop work, you really need to engage in many forms of marketing, including social networks and blogs. And here is where it gets complicated. You see I don’t think my family and friends need me to be encouraging them to buy more stuff. I don’t think you need me encouraging you to buy more stuff. I have already put a few people onto online shopping sites and began to wonder if that was doing them a service. Much as I hate to say it, I feel like I am sending mixed messages by advocating simplicity while at the same time promoting online selling, even if it is handmade arts and crafts.

And here is the minimalist artists dilemma. How to be creative without over-using the earths resources. How to sell creative products without buying into our already materialistic culture. The digital arena offers one solution. I think I may be heading further toward digital writing and photography and away from physical products. Although even this is not without is problems, as we use up the earths scarce resources to build our electronic devices, and burn up energy to run them.

Another solution is an emphasis on quality over quantity. Once upon a time ladies did embroidery in the evenings by lamplight. Before there was TV. Before there was radio. Even before there was electric light. Ladies embroidered detailed pieces of work because that was a enjoyable way to fill time, and provided a way to introduce visual beauty into their lives. The investment of time and attention seems to warrant the object, to make it worthy of its existence. Crafting has been simplified, so that finished items can be produced quite quickly, in some cases creating a glut of creative output with is beyond what we really want or need.

So here I am, stating this dilemma. Now its not a secret and I have to deal with it. I have a lot of greeting cards stored in shoeboxes, but I don’t think I will be getting any more prints done for a while. I am going to make up the remaining stock I have, and see about selling it. Then I will work out whether this is really something I want to pursue.

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Since I am on my own at the moment I decided to take the opportunity to have a TV Free week. I like to watch TV shows that teach me about the world and the people in it. I don’t think I would want to never watch TV again. But it is nice to disconnect every so often, and see what happens in the space the TV was filling. Being home alone for a couple of weeks gave me the chance to take a complete break.

I started last Saturday and found that the show I had chosen to be my final fling was boring me, so I turned off early. The next couple of days were a bit odd as I walked around the loungeroom in circles trying not to pick up the remote. One day I found the remote in my hand, and the button pressed, before I even knew I was doing it. The mindless nature of ingrained habits!

After a couple of days I settled down and forgot about watching TV and just did my own thing. I still used the computer and iPad. I also read books and did projects. I did more housework and general odd jobs, because those things stood out more, and because I needed something to do.

Last night, a week into the exercise, I watched an hour of TV as a planned treat, but it was boring again. I have seen a lot of shows about people buying antiques and it seemed like a waste of time to be watching more. I had started to enjoy doing my own hobbies instead of filling my head with other peoples interests.

I mainly watch TV in the evenings after dinner, and at first the newly created free time was taken by resting, snoozing on the lounge and going to bed early. That was disappointing as it didn’t seem to be a much better use of time than watching TV. It seemed like TV was just keeping me awake until bed time. But as they say in the classics “I must have needed it” and eventually as the week has progressed I have been able to do more in the early evening.

I became aware that my idea of “making good use of time” seemed to be related to “being productive”. In fact what was happening was keeping my head free of TV stories gave me more space for my own thoughts and feelings. It made room for musing, ideas and daydreams, that would have struggled to get though the noise in a regular week. This is probably why I wake up at 3 or 4 am to do my thinking. I don’t leave enough space for it during the day because I am trying to be productive.

I also found that time was more fluid when I wasn’t tied to the TV programmers schedule. I wasn’t rushing to eat or wash up before my favourite show started. I wasn’t dividing the evening into half hour or hour blocks. I felt like my time was my own, and my thoughts were my own. I got sleepy gradually and moved into less demanding activities as the evening progressed until I was wound down enough to go to bed.

In the end, the most important thing that I got out of a TV free week was the feeling that I was sufficient. I had been acting as if my thoughts and feelings weren’t enough. It was as if my life wasn’t interesting enough to stand on its own merits, and I had to fill my evenings with other peoples lives. Of course I love to read and watch stories, but only if it is something that contibutes to my quality of life. I don’t need to watch the least worst option to protect myself from my own experience.

The movie "Australia" on TV in Paris.

The movie “Australia” on TV in Paris.

Given this blog has change and transition as a theme, there is one change that I want to mention, although I feel some reluctance in doing so. I feel shy to write about it, but there it is, right in front of me. Looming. The change concerns a women’s health issue, so if thats something that would make you uncomfortable or bore you, feel free to jump over to YouTube or Facebook or the next post on your Reader for 10 minutes. You have my full permission to bail out now!

Perhaps you have already guessed what this post is about. Given that I am in my early 50’s there’s a physical change I need to go through fairly soon, that can’t be avoided.  When I say it can’t be avoided, thats not quite true, because I am on medication that is postponing the process and masking the symptoms. What I need to do is go off that medication and see where I am up to. If I collapse in a screaming heap, or find myself burning up, or just want to cry all the time, I may need to go on a different treatment to manage the situation.

Those of you who are very perceptive might have picked up that I am a little reluctant to find out where I am up to, and a little fearful of the process. Given that I am the happiest I have ever been, I have been reluctant to rock the boat. In fact I was supposed to go off my current medication six months ago, but felt that I was already dealing with enough transition in my life so have been putting it off.

Having said that, I am starting to be aware of the benefits of getting to the other side of this change. It could save me money, and give me back one weekend in four that is currently given over to lounging around the house. But more than that, I think its important to embrace each stage of life, and not try to hold back the clock. I don’t think there is anything to be gained by avoiding the inevitable.

So I am starting to prepare myself for the transition. If I want to snuggle on the lounge with a hot water bottle and drown myself in TV, I can do that anytime. I don’t have to feel I will be missing out.

Blog on simplicity and minimalism sometimes raise the question of what we should do with the time that is made available by simplifying our lives. Thats an important question, and a very personal one. As I go through a process of simplifying, I become aware of how complex the simple things in life had become.

There are certain things we all need access to, such as clothing, food and shelter. We need to spend time sourcing these things, because these are the foundation of life from which we operate. Yet somehow, those of us in affluent societies have managed to overshoot the target, and have far more than we need. We have access to an abundance of clothing, and spend a lot of time buying and maintaining it. We are overwhelmed with food choices, and can spend a lot of time, money and calories on our diets. Homes are becoming larger and larger, which requires more time for cleaning and maintenance.

The question is, what is the cost of devoting so much of our resources – both time and money, to over satisfying these basic needs? One cost is that we need to spend long hours working to afford these things, which takes time away from family and personal pursuits. Labour saving devices were meant to make life easier and create more leisure, but it doesn’t seem to have worked out that way. These days a working mother spends less time in the laundry and the kitchen, but she probably doesn’t spend less time working.

Over-complicating our solution to the basic questions of food, clothing and shelter, has compromised our ability to spend time and resources on other higher level needs. If every waking minute is consumed with what we believe to be essential survival tasks, when do we find the time for interacting with family and friends, for reading, for creative and spiritual pursuits? Its almost as if these things are a waste of time if you haven’t got all your chores done. But are all of these chores necessary, or have we created new chores for ourselves by taking on too much?

I can’t say what each person will do with the time that simplicity creates, but I suspect it makes space for more complexity in the areas that matter.

I am acutely conscious at the moment, that changes are coming. Of course change is always coming, always with us. Nothing in life is certain. The changes I am becoming conscious of are the big changes that come at the end of our lives.

My parents and their generation are ageing. Early old age, the period after retirement, can be a wonderful time of life, a time of freedom and adventure. A time to see the world and contribute to family and society. But there is a gradual shift that takes place through the ageing process, as illness and incapacity have their impact. Sudden events such as falls and strokes can bring on irrevocable changes overnight. I see the signs of a shift in the older people around me, and their extended circles. I know that as time passes, sickness and death will have an increasing impact, and I will have to be able to respond.

It was sobering to learn that a young woman a little older than me, in her late 50’s, dropped dead of a heart attack recently. She was my generation. I remember her as a little red-headed girl with freckles and its hard to believe that now her life is over. I am not ready to think about the passing of my generation, not yet. Buts its a change that will also come.

I feel a connection between the desire to simplify and the growing realisation of the need to be ready for change. I want to be able to respond as events occur, and not be caught out or taken by surprise. Of course I will be taken by surprise, thats inevitiable. But I hope that my own life circumstances will allow me to be flexible and adaptable as the unfolding situation requires.