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Minimalism

Making space the KonMari way

January 2, 2016
Declutter your life

Despite my best efforts to keep things clean and tidy around here, I’m afraid my house in the past few months has become one massive, disorganised mess. Papers and books cover random surfaces, my clothes don’t fit in their drawers and don’t even start me on trying to find a matching set of salad servers in the second kitchen drawer.

Clutter, to me, is not just physical. A crowded, disorganised space does not make for a calm, peaceful mind. It also means I waste a lot of time looking for stuff that is not in its right place and that makes me frustrated and stressed.

That’s why I was intrigued when I first heard about Marie Kondo’s bestselling book “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying”. Marie is a Japanese declutter expert with a unique approach to the task of reducing the amount of stuff in your house. I’d known about the book for a long time before I decided that things had gotten so out of hand that I needed a bit of KonMari in my life (KonMari is her nickname and the name given to her unique method of tidying.)

life changing magic of tidying up
Marie Kondo’s bestselling guide to decluttering.

My priority was to clear my space, physically and energetically, for all the things the new year may bring and for about a month now, I’ve been quietly, excitedly anticipating the day when I could begin shedding my excess and regaining my peace of mind. That day was January 29th, which means I’m now a few days into my decluttering process. I have a very long way to go but I thought I’d share with you the basic principles of the KonMari method in case you too are keen to clear some space in your life and mind.

Here’s my quick rundown:

  • Decluttering is best done category by category, NOT room by room. So whether you’re doing clothing or books or papers, you go around the whole house and collect everything in that category, then begin the process;
  • Next, you take everything OUT of the wardrobe (or bookshelf or cupboard) and decide one by one which items deserve to stay;
  • Deciding which items stay and which ones go involves holding each item in your hands and deciding if it brings you joy. Seriously, hold it, connect with it and ask yourself, ‘does this thing make me feel happy?’ If it cost you $500 and you wore it once before you realised it was itchy and uncomfortable, it’s not sparking joy therefore it’s gone! I bloody love this because it’s not so much a rational process as an intuitive one. Marie says quite rightly that with a little practice, you will immediately know which items spark joy. (hint from me: if you feel stuck, it’s because your thinking mind is weighing in on the process);
  • For those many MANY items which do not spark joy, you thank each one for the purpose it served and then you let it go. I especially love this. Because I find the hardest things to let go of are those which I might have purchased on a whim, or which were expensive, and I feel guilty about giving away perfectly good (expensive!) things. But the KonMari approach says that any particular item’s purpose may have been served the minute it brought you joy when you purchased it. Or its purpose might have been to teach you to be more mindful about your spending, or that the colour orange doesn’t suit you and never will. Thank it and bless it out of your life;
  • There is a particular order to the decluttering process. By the time you get to photos and keepsakes which are hardest to let go of, you’ll be more skilled at knowing what sparks joy;
  • After you finish sorting, the next stage is storing things in such a way that everything has its place. This way your home will never be cluttered again. There’s a unique process here too but I’ll let you get the book for that!

And that’s pretty much it. She says most of her clients end up keeping about a quarter to a third of their original amount of stuff. I believe her.

As for me, I’ve just completed clothing over several days (contrary to the ‘do each category from start to finish’ rule). Everything I own is now in plain sight in my bedroom wardrobe – nothing hanging around in the spare room or in storage. And when I go to my wardrobe, there is nothing I automatically skip over because I don’t like how it looks on me. It really is a great feeling.

Probably the thing I really liked about the whole book was the amount of gratitude that goes into the whole process and continues as you actively appreciate those items you have chosen to keep. It’s well known that gratitude is fundamental to happiness, and Marie advocates expressing gratitude for the very things we take so much for granted on a daily basis.

I  plan to spend the next week continuing the process, and then I hope to maybe reap some of the ‘life-changing’ rewards that others report experiencing – including ‘KonMari’ing’ all the activities, obligations and people which do not spark joy in my life. I’ll keep you posted!

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All about Essentialism

August 23, 2015
essentialism

I’ve been reading a book called “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less” by Greg McKeown. I ordered it on the recommendation of a friend without even bothering to read the blurb and assumed it was going to be about my wardrobe. (In theory, I’m very interested in the minimalist movement but I’m crap at putting it into practice). While this book does use wardrobe analogies quite frequently, I was surprised to find it’s actually a book about how to simplify your  work (and life) and I’ve absolutely loved reading it.

My husband also loved reading it so if you count my coaching friend that’s three from three who would recommend it, so I thought it was worth sharing some highlights. (And if you’re time poor, I’ve dot pointed the highlights at the bottom of this post!)

The gist of it, as applied to your working life, is that when we’re good at doing things, we get asked to do more things (or we volunteer to do more things because we know we can do it better than anyone else) or we get offered business/career opportunities. However the more we stretch our resources to do more things, the less energy and focus and time we have available to devote to the things we truly love to do, that we are exceptional at doing, and that give us the highest satisfaction/return for our efforts.

So, in order to make our highest contribution, we need to say no to all the non-essentials.

Which all sounds utterly lovely and makes perfect sense but as you can imagine, it’s a whole lot easier said than done. Sometimes opportunities present themselves and we get hooked up in thinking we should take them because they’re good opportunities, or we don’t like to let people down and we’re not very good at saying no.

Ultimately the price we pay for this ‘non-essentialism’ though is that our resources are stretched, our energy is scattered, our focus is unclear and our work is not the best it could be, which means those opportunities quickly stop appearing. Not only that, but you’ve sacrificed the opportunity to continue targeting and focusing your efforts on making your highest contribution.

To go back to the wardrobe analogy, McKeown suggests that if you decide to clean out your wardrobe using the criteria of ‘Is there a chance I might want to wear this one day in the future?’, we end up holding onto a lot of stuff we don’t want or need. The question to ask instead is “Do I love this? Would I buy it right now if I didn’t already own it?” and that this gives us a much tougher selection process but the result is so worth it when we have a clean clear space, a select few pieces we highly value, and we are no longer overwhelmed by too many choices when deciding what to wear.

What I love about this idea is that it can be applied to any area of your life. Think about your personal commitments, social obligations, and even (dare I say it?) your friends.

When you consider where you spend your time, money, physical and mental energy, how much of the stuff of your life truly nourishes you and fulfils you and how much is there out of obligation, fear, or just because it’s always been there and you’ve never thought to get rid of it?

beware the barrenness of a busy life

Below I’ve listed a few highlights from the book if you’re interested in applying a bit more essentialism to your own life:

Discern the trivial many from the vital few

Non-essentialists view all opportunities as equal and ask “How can I make it all work?”

Essentialists ask “What do I want to go big on?” using the criteria: “What do I feel deeply inspired by?” and “What am I particularly talented at?” and “What meets a significant need in the world?”

Starting from zero

In zero based budgeting, every expense has to justify itself at the start of the financial year (rather than just being included because it was there last year).

Using this analogy, if you had the opportunity to build your life from scratch today, what things, people and projects would you add right now if it didn’t already exist?

Learn to say no without apology

I don’t think this one needs any more explanation. Saying no feels awkward and impolite but it’s a vital skill if you don’t want your time and energy drained by non-essentials.

And remember, if it isn’t a clear yes, it’s a clear no.

Recognise sunk-cost bias and know when to bail out

We overvalue things we already own (see your wardrobe for evidence).

We also feel compelled to continue investing in projects, people and things we have already heavily invested in. It’s why we keep waiting on hold even after hours of our time have been wasted – we want to hang in there until we see a return.

We need to get better at admitting mistakes and changing course when we realise something is no longer working for us so that we don’t keep throwing good money (time, energy, effort) after bad.

Live with intent

This applies to more than just your job. It’s a bit like having a clear mission statement for your life.

Your essential intent will be informed by your values, create a sense of purpose and help chart your life’s course.

It is making one decision which eliminates a thousand others and it takes courage because to decide literally means to cut off all other options. This means making tough trade-offs and getting over the fear of missing out, but only with this kind of clarity and purpose can we live truly fulfilling and inspired lives and achieve our highest point of contribution.

SO… if you were to be more of an ‘essentialist’, what might you declutter from your life? It’s definitely worth thinking about!

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The ‘slow’ movement and why it’s gaining momentum

October 5, 2014
slowdown living

It’s a funny thing, really… that for all the advances in technology and the myriad wondrous inventions we’ve created to make things quicker, easier and more efficient, somehow we’ve come full circle and now find ourselves so overwhelmed by the busyness and sheer pace of life that we are all looking for ways to slow down.

Fast food, cheap fashion & social media are the signs of our times. They are relatively new concepts in our culture, and all serving the common purpose of providing instant gratification.

But the truth is that despite all the inventions designed to make life easier, the number of ‘friends’ just a button click away, the prosperity we enjoy and the abundant choices presented to us every time we hit the supermarket or the nearest shopping mall, we are experiencing our highest ever levels of anxiety, depression, obesity and debt.

Depression is in fact the leading cause of disability globally. Consumer debt is at an all time high. The planet is being destroyed. We are disconnected, isolated, and dissatisfied; working harder and longer, yet never being rewarded with the grand prize of happiness that we so long for.

And so it appears we have woken up to the con of ‘fast’.

Voluntary Simplicity. Downshifting. Minimalism. These are all terms used to describe a growing movement towards unhooking from our technology-addicted, consumption driven lives and finding five minutes of peace and quiet in the simple activities and lifestyles our grandparents might have enjoyed.

The slow food movement was born in Italy in the 1980s when Carlo Petrini and a group of activists objected to a McDonald’s being constructed on the Spanish steps of Rome. Fast food is a disaster for animals, the planet and our own health. Today, ‘slow food’ embraces the values of wholesome food, grown locally and sustainably, and offering a fair price and conditions to its producers. It is the antithesis of fast food and processed food.  ‘Slow food’ values time taken to prepare and enjoy meals and the role of food in connecting family and friends. Most importantly, it’s a reminder to slow down in every aspect of our lives.

The slow living movement takes its cues from these same principles of mindfulness, connection and community.

Slow fashion for example, objects to the speed at which clothing designs move from catwalk to chain store, inviting us to reconsider our fashion purchases and opt for choices that will sustain us beyond a seasonal trend.  Fast fashion pollutes the environment with its manufacture and its rapid disposal, and demands we keep spending money as seasons and styles change.

Where ‘fast fashion’ often utilises offshore labour with unfair working conditions, chemically laden textiles, and rapidly obsolete trends, slow fashion calls us to choose quality over quantity. It also emphasises getting back to basics and repairing or re-purposing pre-loved clothing. Big fashion houses are lining up to get themselves accredited with Ethical Clothing Australia. Thus, it would appear that consumer demand for high quality, ethically produced fashion exists, and that suppliers are happy to meet our demand.

Slow living invites us to unhook from the continual distraction of our screens and gadgets by taking a regular ‘digital detox’  and spending quality, purposeful time in our real lives and connecting with our people face to face.

With a quick Google search (the irony), you can find a multitude of manifestations of the slow movement: people living in tiny houses, embracing thrift and minimalism, and living in intentional communities. Blogs like Zen Habits and Becoming Minimalist have millions of subscribers, such is the level of interest in scaling back and slowing down.

Most of us will never truly escape the hustle of modern life with our gadgets and our shops and our busy jobs. But we can look for small ways to slow down, shed what is unnecessary from our homes and schedules, shop more ethically and choose more wisely in every respect.

What about you? How do you find ways to slow down?

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Is your TV making you miserable?

September 30, 2014
Downsides of television

I could happily live without a television and yet we have two televisions in our home. I admit there are some programs on commercial telly that I really enjoy, but my tendency to get hooked on a cooking or home improvement show is, for me, another reason to not have the TV in the house because much like wine and hot chips – while I may well enjoy those things, I also know they’re not very good for me.

For now, I’m stuck with a TV due to fierce opposition from my husband and daughter, but I’m not anywhere close to giving up on my anti-TV crusade, and here are all the reasons why:

1. Commercial TV advertising

Research confirms that television advertising increases our desire to buy stuff. Suddenly we want stuff we never even knew existed and our levels of life satisfaction decrease. Of course the TV is not singularly responsible for our increased consumerism but there’s a reason TV advertising is so expensive and that’s because it’s powerful. Children are particularly susceptible to this effect if we aren’t actively educating them about advertising in the media. A Dutch study confirmed that 8-11yr old children who watched more television were more materialistic. I use my 8yo daughter as my litmus test for this. After she’s watched commercial TV for any length of time, the list of stuff she wants grows longer… every time.

2. The News

Don’t even start me on the news. Is there anything more depressing? Of course we all know that there is a lot more going on in the world than the 30 minutes of depressing highlights you’re fed via a (probably biased) television news program each weeknight. I think it’s important to be aware of what’s happening in the world around us – that makes us responsible citizens. And the older I get, the more effort I make to know who I’m voting for and what they stand for and how this affects my family and broader community. But I do not believe it’s vital to my existence to know of every violent death that’s occurred locally and internationally in the preceding 24hrs and I do not need that negativity in my lounge room and within earshot of my daughter. So I turn off the news.

3. Television kills conversation

I know it from experience and I hear it all the time from my clients. Time spent sitting in front of the box with your partner is not quality time. If there are particular programs you enjoy watching together and which prompt you to engage in conversation, that can be fun for sure. But coming home at the end of the day and veging in front of the telly for a few hours before crawling into bed (or worse still, falling asleep on the couch) creates disconnection and dissatisfaction in relationships.

4. Television is often mindless

And I’m much more about being mindful in my daily life because the benefits of mindfulness are immense and proven. When you sit down to ‘relax’ in front of the television, you’re more likely to eat (or drink) more than you intend to, because you’re not paying attention. More importantly, escaping into television prevents you from dealing with whatever unpleasantness you are seeking to escape. In this way, mindless television viewing is a form of avoidance, whereas living a whole, happy, vital life requires us to increase our capacity to turn towards and tolerate discomfort, not find more ways to escape it.

5. Television shortens your lifespan

That on its own is surely enough to make anyone miserable. It’s been estimated that every hour of TV viewing reduces your lifespan by 20 minutes. Exact reasons aren’t clear but presumably it’s a combination of all those things already mentioned. TV watching is a sedentary activity so unless you’re watching TV while pounding out a few k’s on the treadmill or climbing Kilimanjaro on the stairmaster, the more hours spent television viewing, the less you spend moving your body, breathing fresh air and engaging in physical activities. Our bodies are designed to move, not sit at a desk all day and then come home and sit in front a television all night.

So what’s the answer?

If like me, you can’t have your way in getting rid of the TV, or if you’re not ready to make that change, I offer the following tips to minimise your exposure to its harmful effects.

1. Limit your viewing

Instead of turning on the TV and channel surfing until you find something appealing to watch, check the TV guide online and only turn the television on when there is something you really want to see. Each week, try to have one or two TV-Free days (or even better, no screens at all).

2. Skip the ads

Set your timer to record your favourite program so you can watch it at your leisure some other time and fast-forward the advertisements. The program without the ads will take a whole lot less of your precious time and you won’t be exposed to those enticing advertisements convincing you of all the new things you need to buy to be happier.

3. Do something while watching TV

Lie on the floor and do some pilates exercises or stretches, or if you have a treadmill – position it in front of the telly and get on it during your favourite program. The distraction of the TV should make working out seem less painful and if you’re going to do something mindlessly, it might as well be good for you.

4. Create a TV-free zone

If you’re fortunate enough to have space for a couple of living areas in your home – say a family room as well as a lounge room – make one of them television-free. Keep that space for reading, music, playing board games or talking without the noise and distraction of the TV. If possible, make this space the one that’s more accessible to you and your family, nearer to the kitchen and the major hub of activity in your home. Put the television in the room that’s further away and harder to reach so it’s less intrusive.

5. Consider the possibility of getting rid of it entirely

Rather than immediately shutting down the idea, start to play around with the possibility of what life would be like without it. Be curious and open minded about where your hesitation comes from. What would you be missing out on? What else might you do with your time instead? If staring down a whole evening with your own company seems intolerable, perhaps this is something to work on.

Who’s with me in the No-TV camp? What strategies do you use to minimise it, and if you’ve already gone TV-free, how is that changed your life (for better or worse)?

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