I have a bit of a confession to make. Something I am somewhat ashamed to admit, but I feel I need to come clean. I love shopping. I don’t know why I love shopping, but there is something about it….the fulfilment of a perceived need, the excitement of a bargain, and the ability to walk into a shop and to acquire whatever goods I desire. I really can’t pinpoint exactly what it is, but there’s just something about it that I find quite exciting. I never really noticed this before. I always knew I enjoyed shopping a little, but it took a shopping drought, brought on by the birth of my baby, for me to notice exactly how much. After not shopping for a couple of months I finally visited a local shopping centre, and I’m embarrassed to admit I found the experience somewhat exhilarating.
I should probably point out here that I’m not a huge spender or anything. I’ve probably just given the impression that I go throwing wads of money away on next to nothing, on the contrary, I am quite careful and even my husband says I’m pretty good with money. I look for bargains, rarely buy myself clothes, often buy the kids discounted clothes at the end of the season for next year, and talk myself out of numerous purchases that we don’t really need. I do, however, sometimes indulge a little more than I should, and I know I can do better. So it’s not that I find my love of shopping problematic in and of itself, it’s just that on a personal and spiritual level I find it quite disturbing.
What I find equally, or perhaps even more disturbing is another discovery I made about myself recently – I love throwing things out! There’s something empowering about getting rid of objects, objects that you no longer need, and more often than not, you never did. Objects that just sit around taking up precious space, making it harder for you to clean and tidy based on the overwhelming amount of things that you have. With each thing you get rid of you create more space for yourself and make your life that little bit easier. Curiously, the more I get rid of, the better it feels! As I declutter more and get rid of more things I can feel a weight lift from my shoulders. It’s liberating.
Upon reflection, I have come to realise that I have become the perfect citizen in this capitalist world; I have become the ideal consumer. We love to buy and obtain more and more material possessions. The next bargain, the next breakthrough in technology, the next fashion item, and the latest gadget to teach our children. Then, over the years, we realise we have accumulated so much that it becomes suffocating. So we go through the cleansing process of eliminating that which we do not need. We throw away what is not worthy of keeping, ‘blessing’ others with the objects that no longer add any value to our lives. This of course, in turn, makes room for more possessions and the cycle begins all over again.
How do you break free of this cycle? I am not entirely sure. However, I do have some ideas which I hope will at least help alleviate part of the problem. The first step is awareness. I know it has become a bit of a cliche, but I really do believe that the first step to finding a solution is acknowledging the problem. Furthermore, before making any purchases I will ask myself “do I REALLY need this or will it just end up in a garbage bag, as so many things have before?” “Is purchasing this akin to throwing money down the drain?” Hopefully, this will help me to avoid unnecessary purchases and keep me on track.
Another area I need to work on is to focus on quality instead of price. In search of the elusive bargain, over the years I have prioritised price over quality. The result is that many of my possessions needed to be replaced regularly. Not only do I end up being stuck with things I don’t really like, but I spend more time and money having to constantly replace them, often holding on to the older item, and thus generating more and more clutter.
I made this discovery a few years ago when I discovered Kon Mari. As her method dictates, while decluttering my closet I held each item, asking myself “does this bring me joy?” It was rare that I would answer in the affirmative. This was quite an eye-opening experience as I came to the realisation that I barely had anything in my wardrobe that I actually appreciated. Each day when I’d try to find something to wear I had to navigate through an abundance of clothing that I never wear and don’t even like. I promised myself that going forward I would be kinder to myself, allow myself to spend more on individual items that bring me joy, with the knowledge that in the long term I would be spending less. In my futile attempts to be selfless, I had been wasteful. I was spending more, buying things I didn’t like, and generating clutter.
So going forward I plan to focus on quality and enjoyment instead of quantity or price. I doubt the results will be instant, but I do hope that within a year or two I will notice a big difference. I don’t expect that I will ever cease to be a consumer, but I do hope that my role as one will become limited and that over time I can learn to live more simply.
Earlier this year, when I had my baby, I went through what was probably one of the most difficult weeks of my life. My pregnancy was high risk and my birth, a c-section under general anaesthetic, was in complete contrast to all my other births. Unfortunately, it didn’t end there, and without going into too much detail my baby ended up in ICU after breathing difficulties. It was one thing after another and I was just embracing each hurdle that came my way because, the way I saw it, I had little choice. But when one of the doctors witnessed a suppressed cough, suspected pneumonia, and I was told that I could no longer visit my baby, I was at breaking point.
I remember laying there, the nurse trying to insert yet another cannula, my arm by this point resembling a pin cushion, tears streaming down my face. I was in hospital, I was in excruciating pain, and I could barely move. I had no recollection of giving birth, I was only with my baby for a few hours before he was whisked away, and although I would go down and visit him for his feeds the pain made it difficult to stay long. To make matters worse the painkillers were messing with my head and when away I could barely remember what he looked like. And then the last straw – being told I could no longer see him.
It turned out that I didn’t have pneumonia after all. The doctor panicked after hearing my cough, but I was fine and I was free to see my baby. My baby was fine as well, all the tests came back negative, and his breathing episode was not due to an infection, probably a combination of being born by c-section, being early, and a side effect of the strong painkillers I was taken. After jumping over a few more hurdles I was able to have him by my side again and after just under a week at the hospital, I was finally able to come home.
As the weeks went by my hospital stay haunted me, and when I would think back about that time I would more often than not feel tears welling up in my eyes. Sometimes I would wonder if I was ok. I had gone through a difficult period and I think it’s normal to feel saddened by it, but occasionally I would wonder if maybe I would need some help to get through it all. I just decided to keep an eye on it, and it appears that time does indeed all wounds – at least to some extent.
About 6 months after his birth I was speaking to a friend about it, I told her about some of the difficulties I went through, and then I added: “in a way, I’m kind of glad it happened, it helped me to realise what people go through”. As soon as the words left me I realised it was a bit of a strange thing to say. I mean who is glad to face hardship? Who reflects back at the most difficult time in their life with some satisfaction. But I also realised that it was true, a part of me did find something positive in the experience. It was puzzling.
Then one day, a couple of weeks later, I found the answer. I was reading ‘The Conscious Parent’ by Shefale Tsabary, and I came across a paragraph that explained my unusual feelings. Tsabary writes:
When you experience everything as a potential teacher, you embrace anything life sends your way. You cease either being at war with life when it presents you with a challenge, or being in love with it when it treats you kindly. Rather, you see both the dark and the light as opportunities for becoming a more conscious human being.
This dark time in my life was humbling. It showed me the fragility of life, it helped me to understand what others go through at difficult times, and it allowed me to realise how blessed I truly am. Just like a butterfly struggling to squeeze through its cocoon, this dark time in my life nurtured something in me which was not there before.
So from now on, whenever life throws me a curve ball I will try to remember this experience. I will strive to remember that with every hardship there is the opportunity for growth. Instead of wishing it away, I will endeavour to recognise that maybe an experience that I would never choose for myself is exactly what I need to teach me exactly what I need to learn. Maybe it is only after the darkness that we can regenerate. And maybe it is only with adversity that we can truly flourish.
During the early days after giving birth to my last baby, I was struggling a little. I don’t have lots of energy at the best of time, but my inability to do anything at this time was particularly difficult. Debilitated by a c-section and time-consuming feeding issues with my baby there was not much that I could do. I decided to focus on what I could do and used my time to start reading some self-help books. The plan was to get myself motivated so that when I did regain my time and health I’d make better use of them and hopefully get on top of it all.
The first book I picked up was Awaken the Giant Within by Anthony Robbins. One part, in particular, asked the reader to reflect on the past ten years of their lives. It wasn’t really about the reflection, and it quickly went on to direct readers to plan ahead for the next decade, but nonetheless, it had an immense impact on my perception of what I have achieved. I’ve never been one to feel like a failure, but the truth is I’ve never felt particularly successful either. However, looking back on the past 10 years caused me to view things in a different light.
Without delving too far into my personal achievements the past 10 years have been busy, to say the least. I completed a post-graduate degree at university, worked and had three babies. I raised happy, healthy children while educating other people’s children, before going on to homeschooling one of my own. I breastfed and cleaned, taxied and washed, all the while juggling various roles. Did I do them perfectly? No. Could I have done more? Probably. But I am human, I get tired and need rest. And like many other mamas, I thrive on some quiet downtime after the kids are all in bed. I put my feet up, indulge in a guilty treat, and then inevitably regret it amid my blurry-eyed mornings.
During this time I felt I was struggling, some of the time I felt like I was drowning. I always felt I wasn’t doing enough. I was neglecting so many things. My house was a mess more often than I’d like to admit, and I was ridden with guilt over all the things I thought I should have been doing but wasn’t able to, either physically or mentally – usually both. Looking back on these past ten years, and despite my regrets, it made me realise, much to my amazement, that I actually did quite well. Despite my feelings of guilt, it helped me to recognise that even though my house didn’t look like a display home, that’s okay. I am not superwoman…really, what more could I expect from myself? Despite my daily struggles and thinking it was never good enough, it led me to understand that over the past ten years that I have actually achieved quite a lot.
I’m not writing this to boast, my achievements were not exceptional and pale in comparison to the accomplishments of many others. I just wanted to share that as individuals, and especially as mothers, we all face daily struggles, feelings of self-doubt and the overwhelming belief that we are not doing enough – most of us feel mother’s guilt. It’s really useful to just take a step back and think about what we have achieved over the past 5 or 10 years. And it doesn’t have to be a degree, work history, or something that society values. Seeing our children grow into the delightful individuals that they are is more than enough. We need to stop focusing on what we are not achieving and start focusing on what we are achieving.