Profound words

When my oldest was five I overheard him utter some profound words. “Be what you want to be in your life,” he said.
I was so proud. Through these words, he demonstrated an understanding of things that were way beyond his years. I was pleased because this suggested a realisation that to be happy and successful in this world you needed to be true to yourself. I hoped that understanding this concept from such a young age would make it easier for him to resist the pressures that he would undoubtedly face throughout his life.
I then turned inwards and reflected on my own life. Had I succeeded in this? Am I what I want to be in my life? A million thoughts ran through my mind. How could I be more productive? There was so much I wanted to achieve, but I always seemed to have excuses. I was too busy…too tired…I didn’t enough energy…I had my hands full with the kids. These were all indeed true, but deep down I knew I could do better, deep down I knew I could accomplish more.
 
As I sat there with my new found determination to be more productive, I decided to get up to investigate and discover the context of my five-year-old’s wise words….
 
As it turned out, he was actually issuing some friendly advice on which character my husband should select in a computer game they were playing.
And just like that, I learnt another important life lesson: Overthinking can sometimes lead you to take yourself a little too seriously.

When KonMari doesn’t spark joy: Five lessons learnt through decluttering with KonMari

KonMari and decluttering in general seems to be the latest fad.  Fueled by the current show on Netflix people are lining up to throw out their possessions.  There something oddly liberating about getting rid of things, perhaps only matched by the joy of purchasing them in the first place.  When we release this clutter, along with them we release years of frustration.  The frustration of not being able to find objects,  seemingly forever lost in a sea of clutter. The frustration of not knowing where and how to store excess goods, moving them in desperation from one place to another, unable to find them permanent homes.  And finally, but perhaps most significantly the frustration of not being able to keep our homes tidy.  In this way throwing things become therapeutic, and indeed makes us less anxious and stressed.

I first came across the KonMari three years ago. I had a clutter problem and wanted to use the extra time I had in the school holidays to tackle it. Through my attempts of using KonMari on and off for the past three years this is what I have discovered:

1) It’s not always wise to throw everything out that doesn’t spark joy:  My toilet brush, for example, doesn’t particularly spark joy, but it’s not something I necessarily want to let go of.  On a more serious note, even if we’re dealing with clothing, for example, I don’t recommend throwing out everything that doesn’t spark joy, at least not initially.  There are some things in my wardrobe that I don’t really love, but they do fulfil a function. If my budget had no limit I would consider replacing them, but even beyond money, it would also take valuable time to find something that fulfils that same function that I really love.  Truth be told, I’m so fussy that it’s possible that it does not even exist.  So I recommend that unless you have unlimited time and money, maybe hold onto those practical things, and consider replacing them when your circumstances permit or as you find a replacement that you love.

2) Take what she says about books with a grain of salt:  Marie Kondo recommends limiting yourself to 30 books. This one area that has been widely criticised recently and rightfully so.  Reading and books should be central to every home.  Ideally, children should grow up surrounded by books.  Being read to and seeing their parents reading is invaluable, as a former English teacher I can’t stress this enough!  Even just having books around for little ones to flip through and ‘read’ before they are able to, is something you can’t put a price on.  My oldest daughter, now an avid reader, at the age of three, carried approximately five books around the house with her at a time.  She would pile books up so high on her bedside table that I was afraid that they’d fall and crush her when she slept.  Was it annoying? Yes.  Did I love having books scattered throughout the house? Not at all.  But I was raising a reader, and that was more important to me than aesthetics, so I encouraged it and quietly placed piles of books on the floor beside her after she fell asleep.

If however, you have a ridiculous number of books, no children, and you don’t even read, then yes, its probably a good idea to get rid of most of them.  If you are not a book person, as I suspect is the case with Marie Kondo, then keep what serves a function, or what will fit in your bookshelf.  There is probably no need to keep your university textbooks from decades ago, or the highly outdated book on how to make a website.  Be realistic and practical; if you don’t love it, will never use it, ditch it.

3) The KonMari method of folding is not as great as it seems:  Don’t get me wrong, I do really like her folding.  But its not the magical solution she makes it out to be. Suffering from a severe lack of drawers I was unable to utilise this method for my own clothing, but I did trial it for two of my children.  While I loved it to begin with it was more time-consuming.  Furthermore, I found that when in a rush or one of the kids got something out of the drawer, it quickly got messed up and had to be tidied up fairly regularly.  This tidying process was also more difficult and time-consuming than usual.  So although it may work well for an adult, it does take a little longer and it needs some regular maintenance when it comes to children’s clothing.

4) Don’t feel the need to talk to your possessions:  In her book ‘The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up’, Marie Kondo suggests communicating with your possessions.  I can love some of my objects, I can appreciate them, but I’m not about to talk to them because somebody says I should.  It might work for some, but I’m just not a talking-to-things kind of person, and that’s ok, I don’t have to be.  As with everything in life, I adapt things to suit my personality.  I don’t believe in trying to be something that I’m not and I don’t believe it will make me more productive. On the contrary, I feel that it’s so much more difficult to do things when you are not being genuine, you’re much less likely to persevere.

5) Don’t insist on doing it all in one lot if you feel it’s not possible:  One of the first things I knew when I started reading Kon Mari’s book is that I wasn’t going to be able to do it in one go.  Despite being on holidays, I still had kids that I had to care for.  I had to feed them, deal with their toileting and break up fights.  I also had to do some basic housework (dishes, washing and general tidying).  With 7 members in my household at the time, just the clothing category in and of itself would take me a week.

I understand her reasoning for trying to do it in one go.  It’s a great idea to ride that initial wave of excitement, to put in the hard yards early on and then enjoy the fruits of your labour.   However, for me, this all or nothing mentality was damaging. It was damaging because from day dot it set me up as a failure.  This is not only the case for mothers, but anybody trying to fit in KonMari with a full-time job, or other major time constraints will face the same dilemma.

In a response to this problem some, such as members in this FaceBook group, have generally adhered to the KonMari method but developed a program that can be done over an extended period of time.  This is very useful for those of us who can not spare so much time in the initial decluttering phase or those who have an overwhelming amount of clutter.

Systems such as KonMari offer hope.  The hope of a beautiful home, full of only well-loved possessions.  The hope of greater productivity and organisation.  And the hope of a simpler and stress-free life. It does not have to be all or nothing, take what suits your values and lifestyle, and tweak it to suit your circumstances.

KonMari is not the first program I have attempted in my pursuit of organisation.  From Getting Things Done to FlyLady, I have tried a few different programs, but the promise they initially held never came to fruition.  Each system was useful in its own way, but none of them was the perfect fit for me.  They provided inspiration, motivation and the proverbial kick up the backside but little more.  They each included some good ideas, some I have adopted sporadically over the years, but I have yet to find a perfect system, particularly one that would work for everybody.

At the end of the day we all have completely different lifestyles and circumstances, it is not surprising that there is no method of organisation that is suited to everybody.  Is it really that remarkable that I, a homeschooler and mother of 6, will not find success in the same methods as, for example, a single executive?  Naturally, these things will be influenced by the amount of free time one has, their responsibilities and the resources they have available to them, just to name a few.  So instead of getting excited by one particular method, I think a far more useful approach is to ask yourself what you want to achieve, do some thorough research of various methods and techniques, trial different things and incorporate that which best suits both your personality and your circumstances.

 

 

 

The Perfect Consumer

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.

 

 

 

Seven Ways in which Facebook has Changed Our Lives

Last week I got an interesting Facebook notification.  Apparently, it was my 11-year faceversery.  Yes, that is a word, or at least it is according to Facebook. It would seem that I have been using Facebook for eleven years. Eleven years!  Has it really been that long? Eleven years of reunions and discoveries.  Eleven years of likes and shares.  Eleven years of socialising in the comfort of my own home.

The first time I used Facebook I had no idea what it would become, in fact, I hated it.  I had about 5 friends, and it appeared to me to have no purpose.  Why are these people sending me cyber flowers that grow?  And what does this poke mean? I was far from impressed.  I don’t think I logged on again for another couple of months.  This time I  found more friends and my wall became less bare.  Slowly it became more and more interesting.  I’m not entirely sure how it happened, but before I knew it I was hooked.  And so began my love-hate relationship with Facebook.

As the world biggest social media platform, with over 2 billion regular users, there is little doubt that Facebook has been influential – for better or worse it has effected the world. Here are just some of the ways that Facebook has changed our lives:

1. Facebook has changed how we socialise:  Why make the effort to get up, get dressed, and actually leave your house to meet somebody when you can do so in comfort of your own home (and in your pj’s!)? When we feel lonely, depressed, or just feel like company, there will always be somebody available to connect to.  As much as this seems like a good thing, its actually robbing us of some much needed face-to-face time with friends which has been shown to have a positive impact on our health. So although it’s fine to hop on Facebook when we’re feeling a little lonely, be sure to also make time for those face-to-face interactions.

What’s more, when we do finally get together with others, our interactions are not the same. The sight of people sitting down to a meal at a restaurant all staring into their phones is so common that some restaurants have taken the extreme step of banning mobiles.

2. Facebook has helped us retain special memories:  Originally introduced three years ago, the ‘On-this-day’ function, as the name suggests, showed us our Facebook highlights from the current date in previous years.  Now, easily accessible as “Memories”, it shows everything from our previous Facebook posts, posts we were tagged in, friendship anniversaries, photos we have posted, and the newer animated recap from the past month or season.

This is definitely one of my favourite features of Facebook.  It not only helps me to remember milestones but more importantly it helps me to remember the beautiful memories and funny incidents involving my children.  Like the time I found my little girls had fallen asleep in bed together, sweetly cuddling one another.  Or the photo I took of the drawing my then 4-year-old made, perfectly capturing her anger at my husband who didn’t let her run across the road and forcibly held her hand.  These are all memories I cherish. Most of them would have been long forgotten if it wasn’t for Facebook and seeing the yearly reminders always bring a smile to my face.

3.  Facebook has changed how we share photos: As somebody who has lots of family overseas, this is another feature that I really appreciate.  Long gone are the days where I would prepare photos well in advance and physically send them overseas, now my relatives can see photos of our family regularly.  They can watch them grow and feel closer to us in a way which was never possible before.  Similarly, friends who live far away or just rarely get to see us can still share in our lives, and suddenly the time and distance doesn’t seem so large anymore.

4. Facebook has changed how we perceive others’ lives:  One of the downsides to photo sharing is this perception that others have amazing and perfect lives.  Let’s face it, we are very selective when it comes to photo sharing. I could cook a hundred relatively boring meals, nothing pic worthy, but that one impressive looking meal I cook all year (not necessarily indicative of its taste) is going on Facebook.  Similarly, I don’t photograph the days we spend at home, in our plain home clothes surrounded by clutter. Instead, I photograph our outings and holidays, with our temporary picturesque surrounds and the rare occasions that my children are being civil to one another.  The result?  Our lives look almost picture perfect, a far cry from reality.

On the plus side, this has lead to attempts to counter these unrealistic standards through photos and descriptions of reality.  Often shared by celebrities, but also normal everyday people, these posts are about everything from post-birth bodies, makeup-less faces, and particularly bad days as a parent.  They normalise the hard slogs, the unglamourous mundane days of our lives, and remind us that at the end of the day, despite appearances to the contrary, we are basically all the same.  More importantly, they help rid us of the impossible standards we start to expect of ourselves.

5.  Facebook has changed how we consume news:  Facebook has not only changed the way we access news, but it has also changed the type of news we access.  I rarely watch news through television anymore, often relying on whatever news articles my Facebook friends share to learn what is happening in the world.  There are positives and negatives to this.  The positive is that the big news corporations are losing their domination, they are no longer alone in dictating what is and what isn’t newsworthy.  Additionally, they can no longer restrict the opinions we are exposed to.  The negative is that this can be rather insular, learning about a very small spread of news that people who share similar characteristics, views and values as ourselves find newsworthy.  Ideally, news should extend us, inform us of what is occurring around the world, and sometimes even challenge some of our current perspectives.  Facebook does not do this perfectly, but have we ever had perfection?  And is this the role of Facebook?

Facebook seems to think so and has recently accepted some responsibility for how news filters through its platform by taking measures to reduce the incidence of fake news. Although this looks like a great initiative, the ease with which the fake news label can quickly turn into a form of censorship and a way of controlling information is of concern. Hopefully, the right balance is found, but given how these things normally work I’m not holding my breath.

6. Facebook has changed motherhood:  Another one of my favourite things about FaceBook is the communities it builds, particularly for new mothers.  As a new mother, it is tough at the best of times, you have hundreds of questions, particularly if you’re a first-time mum.  Beyond the practical help, these groups for new mothers can be a life-line.  Sometimes, just when you’re at breaking point, when it’s 3 o’clock in the morning and you don’t know how long you can keep doing this for, just being able to open up, pour your heart out, and have somebody there who knows exactly how you’re feeling is invaluable. The birth of my first was a very lonely experience. Going from working full time and constantly seeing people, to having little communication with anybody for the first few months, made a difficult time even more difficult.  Thanks to Facebook (and to a lesser degree forums) those days are long gone.

7. Facebook has changed how we spend our time:  Although the average person spends 35 minutes a day on Facebook, there is little doubt that many of us spend way too much time on Facebook.  Most of us have our good and bad days and often justify it by using it during our downtime, while waiting for appointments, or instead of television.  The problem is when we use it when we rest at home, it often leaves us unavailable for our families during a time we used to be available and we don’t really know the effect this will have on relationships, particularly with our children. It is rumoured that Facebook is working on an app to monitor our usage to help remedy this. It will be interesting whether this will have an impact on our usage, only time will tell.

 

What started as a way for college students to connect has grown into one of the world’s largest social networks.  Not all the changes described above are specific to Facebook, they do, however, all feature strongly within this platform. There is no doubt that Facebook can be a useful tool, but as with many things in life, there can also be many drawbacks.  The trick is to use it wisely, that way we can reap the benefit without succumbing to the harm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Achievement During Our Struggles

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, 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, 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 made me understand that over the past ten years that I have really achieved 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. 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.