The On-going Magic of Tidying Up

A fellow KonMari-er requested I turn a recent Facebook post into a proper blog post so here it is Maria..!

A couple of days ago I walked into the craft room and found this:

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Instead of feeling a little shocked to find the bookalanche, I was more disturbed by the volume of stuff that had been spewed forth.

This time last year we completed a year-long KonMari (KM) de-clutter of the whole house so I didn’t think clutter was too much of an issue here at Chez Murphy but it appears I was wrong.  It’s amazing how seeing ones possessions from a different angle (in this case in an unceremonious heap on the floor) can jump-start a fresh engagement with your things. Stuff on shelves has a tendency to become invisible after a while but when it shifts physical position you can see it again (this is why Marie Kondo invites us to gather all items belonging to the same category into a pile; changing location shakes them up a bit). And thus I saw the contents of my shelves with fresh eyes. ALLLLL of it.

This unexpected event prompted a revisit of my books ‘category’ and I let go of quite a stack that I hadn’t been able to bring myself to discard before.

All my old diaries written from age nine and into my mid-twenties had been on the top shelf (the one that seemingly tipped the balance!) and even though I have very mixed feelings about them – so much angsty content and FAR too much detail –  I’m not ready to get rid of them, not yet anyway.  Not least because they could contain more lucrative ideas like this beaut from 1996 which could lead to untold riches:

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One thing I realised is I don’t want them on view, and whilst looking online for some sort of vintage trunk to stash them in, I suddenly remembered my dad’s old boarding school tuck box which I’d had restored earlier in the year. This is part of the KM magic; when you need a solution, the perfect one often presents itself from what you already have, and just to add to the magic, the box is the perfect size to house them all snugly together AND it’s lockable!  The shame will be contained.

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In amongst the strewn items I also found three VHS tapes that’d escaped the KM cull, titled: ‘Village Show 1983’, ‘Village Show 1984’ and ‘Family’.  They’d obviously made it through Round #1 of KM but what struck me upon seeing them again was how dormant and pointless they were in their current state.  I don’t have a VHS player, hell we don’t even have a TV, so today I’ve packaged them up ready to be converted to DVD.  It’s not that expensive and then at least they can be viewed.  I remember at the time feeling I ‘should’ keep them as there are lots of people still living in and around our village who were either in the shows or who helped organise them and I’m pretty sure my dad was the only person who recorded them.  I felt a responsibility not to just toss the tapes as they have irreplaceable content and other people might be interested in them, but without converting them and sharing the footage with ‘local folk’, the tapes had a bit of a negative psychological weight to them just sitting on the shelf, unwatched.

I also came across several strips of black and white negatives from photo’s I’d taken at art college over 10 years ago.  It was just from an experimental roll and I never got round to processing any of the images as soon after taking them my lovely mum died and, well processing negatives was taken to a whole new level. I know why I kept them…partly it felt like an incomplete project but mostly it’s because there is one negative, unintentionally double-exposed,  where one half of the frame is of a tree and the other is the last photo taken of my mum before she died, plaster-of-paris’d arm held aloft.  The same realisation hit me…there was little point in holding on to them without ever processing them.  So to that end I’ve also parcelled them up ready to be scanned.

I already feel lighter for having tackled these dormant items, hopefully breathing some new life into them.

This is why I am an exuberant advocate for the KonMari method, the process continues to provide endless opportunity for insights, it’ll be a life long relationship for us.  It’s been a revelation to me to be conscious and mindful of what we own and what we bring into our home;  to carefully choose those items and to revisit and review from time to time.  And I can’t think of a much better yard stick than to ask ‘does it spark joy’?

 

 

Breathing through fear

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This morning I woke up at 5am from the most awful, awful dream about a terrorist attack in my town.  I won’t give all the gory details but let’s just say it paralleled with the recent London Bridge attack.  In the dream I was with Vince and Spike and other locals trying to hide and protect ourselves.  As a mother it was gut wrenching to have to be protecting our sweet child from the horror.  When I woke up I went into the bathroom to try to shake the dream but I couldn’t and for the first time in over 20 years I felt the first flurries of a panic attack.  The root of the fear that was trying to take hold was the realisation that, unlike nightmares I’ve had in the past where Vince has left me for Juliet Binoche, when I woke this time I didn’t have that comforting realisation that it wasn’t true, that it was just a silly dream, that all was well in the world.

The truth is that my nightmare has been many people’s reality and, sad to say, will be likely be a reality for others in the future.  This was where I started to panic. My bad dream was to some extent true.  The bogey man does exist. I knew I needed to somehow put my existential dread back in it’s place, and I did.   I was able to stop the attack from taking hold by yoga breathing and repeating the mantra: ‘There are so many good people in the world, there are so many good people in the world‘ and as I did this I could literally feel my heartbeat slowing down, the swirl of fear in my brain subside and a level of calm descend.

It’s an awful feeling to know I have no direct control over preventing awful things from happening to me or worst of all my family; and the responsibility I feel for bringing a sweet life into this world weighs oh so heavy on my heart.  The future, as it’s ever been, is uncertain but I believe we will always be able to count on the fact that there will more good people in the world than bad, legions more, and what we can do on an individual level (short of joining MI5) is live good lives, actively seek positive connection with others, create communities even on a small scale and live as fearlessly as we can.

The well used meme has it that television’s children host Mr. Rogers said his mother responded to scary news by telling him ‘look for the helpers’ which is a beautiful idea, but let’s not wait for the disasters before we look for the helpers, let’s actively look for the goodness in our every day.  Let’s draw it in and beam it out, all the good people of the world breathing our way through the fear as one.

 

Photo credit: https://tinyurl.com/ybp6jevl

My Mother’s Love Runs Through Me

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May 20th will (quite unbelievably) mark the tenth anniversary of my beautiful mum’s death.  As is so often the case when it comes to time passing, it simultaneously feels like yesterday and a lifetime ago that I last saw Anne Wardrop, held her hand, plumped her pillows, held my breath as she took her last.

She’s missed so many major events in the lives of my brother and I; we both met and married our partners since she died, developed our careers, moved houses but the thing I find hardest is she’s never met any of her three lovely grandchildren.  She would have adored each of them, and they her. We call her ‘Granny Anne’ when we speak about her to the children, which is often, but the truth is we never got to ask her what she’d like to be called so we had to decide on something we thought she’d approve of.  No teacups have mysteriously been hurled across the room so we take that as tacit consent.

Of course I miss her for my own sake; as my life unfolds there are constantly new conversations I’d like to have with her, ones we couldn’t have had when she was here because I hadn’t reached that particular stage of my life yet.  But at least I was fortunate enough to have almost thirty three years with her. The Little Chap will only have our stories and photos to know her by, and I suspect she may be not much more than an abstract figure for him, just as was my maternal grandfather to me, as he too died before I was born.  I’ve lamented my mum and the Little Chap’s lack of physical knowing of each other, no hugs, kisses, playtime, mealtimes, her cool hand on his poorly brow but it’s felt futile dwelling too much on that as there’s nothing to be done to ease that sadness…or so I thought…

The other day my wise and intuitive friend Wendy told me an incredible fact which concurrently blew my mind and brought me unexpected comfort; namely that when I was inside my mother’s womb, I was already carrying the egg that would go on to create the Little Chap.  This means my mum carried within her a physical part of my son. There was a physical ‘holding’ of him by her, just not the one I’d pictured.  I love that thought so damn much. Of course it doesn’t replace the daydream of them actually spending time together but that piece of information has given me something in place of the nothing I previously thought I had.

Over the last forty-three-and-counting hours I’ve been with the Little Chap around the clock as he’s had an awful vomiting bug poor love.  Of course it struck the night before I was due to see a friend in London, my first overnight trip away from the small one in TWO YEARS!!  But while I was really sorry to have to cancel our plans, there is nowhere I’d rather be than by his side when he’s ill.

He’s by nature a stoic vomiter.  No fuss. Which makes us love him all the more.  But I really understand why my mum used to say she ‘wished she could be ill for us’, as you would take their sickness away in an heartbeat if you could (instead we just take it in turns to pass it between the three of us, just so we can ALL suffer.  Not quite the deal my mum was after, Mother Nature). Although my mum is long gone, it’s at these times of intense care-giving that I notice that the way I show love and care for the Little Chap has the same quality as the love and care my mum showed me. I truly feel a flow from her, through me, into him and this also keeps a feeling of connection between her and my son alive.

I know how lucky I am to have known a mother’s love like hers, it’s a great foundation from which to build a life and plenty of people aren’t so fortunate, so the least I can do is create the time and space to share that love with my own son and hope it continues to flow through to future generations.  There is a law of physics which states ‘energy can neither be created nor destroyed but it can transferred and transformed’…

I like to think the same applies to love…

 

Educating with Freedom

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Last month many of our friends found out which primary schools their 4 year olds had got in to. We, in theory, will be doing all that next year.  I was struck by tales of mums in tears because their child did (or didn’t) get in to their first choice of school.  There is so much anxiety around education and schooling in this country and I worry about how that transfers onto our children, the last thing we want is for their place of learning to become associated with anxiety.  I also worry that the school system is so rigid and test based that parents feel disempowered to take the lead in their own child’s education.

From way before we even became parents we’ve long admired the Finnish model of education with the ethos being to wait until the child is 7 before introducing formal education i.e. numeracy and literacy. In the early years the focus is on play-lead learning and developing social skills such as caring for others, empathy and self-care.  It’s also worth noting Finland has some of the best education outcomes in the world.

As the UK is not set up for a delayed start we would either need to ‘home educate’ or find the funds for something along the lines of Steiner so his early learning is play- / creativity-based and child lead. Every fibre in my body feels we start formally educating children far too early.  I also feel culturally there is a rush for our children to hit every milestone as soon as possible, when there is much to be said for letting their childhoods and achievements unfold at a natural pace, lead by them and facilitated by us.

In terms of our approach to parenting our instinct has been to sit back, and let the Little Chap take his time in discovering his capabilities and the world around him. For our family this has worked very well.  For example he stopped wearing nappies a couple of months after he turned 3.  Some of his male peers were considerably earlier than that.  But what I can say is that we never had any tears, there were no battles, and pretty much nothing in the way of ‘accidents’ because we gave him the time and space to do it when he was ready, there was no ‘training’ involved.  We had no need to rush that transition.  It’s been totally stress free, and actually a real pleasure to tune in to his pace and watch him succeed in his own right.  And I want to offer him that same approach to his early years of education.

There seems to be a huge shift between how our infants learn and how our pre-schoolers and beyond learn.  We didn’t sit down and formally teach our chap to roll over, to reach out for toys, to crawl, walk, say his first word. These things happened naturally through us playing together, him watching us, through his own biological imperative, through him testing things out in his own time, through us gently encouraging and facilitating.  None of his progress has happened as a result of us sitting down and making a lesson out of it. It was his own curiosity / frustration which lead him to try to roll over (and fail) and try again until he figured it out.  And then suddenly this style of learning stops and learning through play becomes ‘learning to the test’ and little fidgety children are expected to stay seated, to focus on one topic; and just as they are in the flow, the topic changes and they’re expected to switch gear and with it their focus.

Currently Little Chap is in the very common phase of asking a million questions every day; How is the sky made? (ask your father). When I’m bigger can I fly my helicopter up to heaven and bring Granny Anne down? (if only!), How is poo made?  Do foxes eat poo? Does anything eat poo? (I googled that one, it’s a surprisingly large list).

A recent non-poo-based question was ‘how are volcanos made?’.  I’m not even sure how he got to hear about volcanos but it prompted him and I to sit down and watch some videos on volcanos.  Vince went out and bought a book on volcanoes and a volcano making kit which they made together. In that one project they got to learn about mould making (by using plaster of Paris to create the volcano), they did some painting to make it look realistic and then some chemistry in the form of mixing store cupboard ingredients to make the erupting lava.  The Little Chap also asked his Uncle Grant to tell him about the time he was filming at a Volcano and they sat together and looked at the pictures of that trip as the stories unfolded.

None of these activities felt like ‘education’ to any of us, they were fun, we all learned stuff and we had the time to follow these activities through until he was ready to shift focus.  But the point is he expressed an interest, he chose the topic and therefore he was totally engaged.  This is what I want for his early education.  I want him to be able to immerse himself in a subject, an experiment, the creation of a piece of art until he’s done.  I want him to freely follow an ever unfolding thread of learning.  I want him to learn to learn for the love of it and not because he’ll be in trouble with the teacher if he doesn’t.

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I know there are benefits to going to school and for some children it’s a place where they thrive but it’s not for everyone.  One of the most common things I hear when I tell people we’re thinking of home educating is ‘but what about socialising him, won’t he miss out?’  Well yes and no.  He will miss out on seeing the same people every day and forming friendships (and potentially enemies) on that basis but home educating doesn’t mean staying at home all day.  We would meet up with other children (of all ages) being educated outside of school.  He will have playdates once school is finished for the day with his friends who do go to school. He will hang out with his beloved cousins and the whole host of adults he encounters in his life.  He’s currently not in school or even pre-school and yet already he’s one of the most social three year olds I know.  He instigates conversation with his peers and adults alike.  I don’t think his socialisation will be a problem.

For the sake of super easy access to 25-30 other children his age on a daily basis I’m not prepared to accept unquestioningly the structure and ethos of school.  Why are primary school aged children getting homework when research shows there is little benefit and a very real risk of negative psychological effects?  The school day is long enough, I believe they should be playing, or doing recreational activities they love, spending time with their families.  And yet I regularly hear parents talk about the nightmares they have getting their child to do their homework, how there were tears, tantrums, bedtime anxiety over homework not completed, how the parent spent the evening finishing the homework etc.  As the young people say: WTF?? The more empowered amongst my friends send the homework back to the school, unfinished, with a note to say they are not putting their child through that level of stress aged SIX, and I applaud them for this.  Why are we doing this to our little children?  If primary aged children want to continue working at home then happy days, let them do it with joy in their hearts, but at this tender age, and where there is resistance and anxiety, we run the risk of turning our children off learning completely if they feel forced.  There is plenty of time for them to develop self-discipline around study when they are mature enough to understand the benefit.

And why are we testing them so young?  It is absolutely not for their benefit.  Teachers are saying they don’t want to be doing it, it’s box ticking, it’s for the stats, not for the healthy development of our children.  These tests aren’t measuring a child’s self confidence, self-esteem, creativity, wellbeing, love of learning, ability to engage in a topic of their choice, life skills, social skills, vocational skills, empathy, dexterity, and these are some of the vital skills we need for a healthy, happy adult life.

Not all children are destined to be academic so what about them?  Where do they get their educational and personal validation from if all the tests are about academic ability and demonstrating you can commit a bunch of facts to memory?  We each have our own set of valuable talents and abilities, and when we emerge from the school system (for many of us) that is where we begin to learn who we are and how to be who we are with confidence (I’m still learning), how to figure out where we belong, what we are good at outside of whether or not we know how to do quadratic equations.  It’s a worry.

School never suited me, I did well enough academically but even in primary school I used to look at the cars driving past the school and long for the freedom of those drivers…I was eight!  It’s therefore little surprise that I’ve spent most of my working life as a freelancer or self-employed.  I find institutions stifling.  I never wanted to be a sausage in a sausage factory. The current school model is based on the early days of British industrialisation when children were being primed for life in a factory.  That is just not the future our children are facing.  With the rapid growth of Artificial Intelligence taking over the human workforce we are going to need to get creative career-wise.  And therefore we need to be teaching our children how to be adaptable, free-thinking, self-directed, entrepreneurial individuals with a life long love of learning.  This way they will stand a chance of finding their place within a fast changing world.  I simply don’t feel confident our school system is going to do this as well as we can, for our specific child, particularly in the earlier years.  As a side note, some years ago I came across an exciting alternative to mainstream secondary school (unfortunately as is always the case the fees are ££££) but the style of learning they offer would have suited me to the ground.  I’m certain I would have flourished there and I would love the same for our Little Chap.  I highly recommend a watch of their video.

We will certainly visit our local schools, we’ve by no means made up our mind (although having written this post my gut tells me I may have!) but I will remain open to what our local schools can offer.  Taking the unconventional route feels both liberating and daunting, taking the conventional route feels societally simpler but at right angles to our values and how we choose to live our lives.  We’re a way off needing to make a decision, thankfully, but these things creep up and I want us to glide into this decision feeling well informed, and not rush it because a deadline is snapping at our heels.  So watch this space, I will post an update once we are clearer about the path ahead.

Hey friend,

I am aware this may be an emotive subject for some, and this post is not designed to be a critique of your own choices around education, we are all striving to do the best we can for our own children.  I’m still trying to figure this stuff out and I’m choosing to do it here because if I’m honest I have been fearful of negative reactions and people telling me we’re going to fuck our child up or turn him into a weirdo so I needed to walk through that fire and put my thoughts out there.  Fear can be a crippling voice in one’s head, but my gut tells me we’ve got a lovely boy so we’ve done a good enough job so far, and there’s nothing to say we can’t continue to do so.  I’m inclined to listen to my gut over fear.  I can see pros and cons about both routes and I would love you to share your thoughts and experiences, whatever your choices have been.

Header image courtesy of: www.homeschoolersanonymous.org

Setting myself up to fail?

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A month or so ago, after reading my Creating Daily Rituals post, a friend asked if I feared I might be ‘setting myself up to fail by creating a list of daily goals?’  ‘Was I creating a situation where I would end up berating myself if I didn’t hit those targets?’

These were great questions and really got me thinking.  My initial response was, no, I didn’t think I felt pressurised by it and I had faith I’d just get back on the bike if I did fall. Little did I know this theory was about to be tested!

Two weeks later (and two weeks ago today) our little family of three set off for a much needed break to see friends in Norfolk.  I did yoga that morning (check) and I confidently wedged my yoga mat into the back of our rammed-packed-jammed car as we set off (check) (insert smug halo smiley face emoji here).

On our first morning I joyfully rolled out my mat and began…only to have to stop for two false-alarm loo trips (not mine) and the flow was gone – ha! no pun intended!! – so I called it a day on the yoga front and we headed off for a beautiful but bone-breakingly bitter jaunt to the seaside. By the next morning the Little Chap had become really unwell; horrid throat infection, swollen glands etc.  We knew he was truly suffering as our usually stoic boy just wanted to sleep and stay ‘home’, so he and I pretty much holed up for the remaining half of our break, and my yoga mat remained forlornly rolled up in the corner.

Our first morning back at ‘home-home’ I woke up feeling like I was now coming down with the Little Chap’s virus (par for the course in parent-land) but I managed to limp my way through Adriene’s ‘Yoga for when you are sick video (man, that girl covers all bases). Hooray I was back on the mat (check).  And then I became too sick to do ‘Yoga for when you are sick’ and took to my bed for the next 4 days.  I had excruciating sinusitis and there was no way I was lowering my head below shoulder level for fear of it exploding. Where is that tank of gas ‘n’ air when you really need it?

So between being away, and round the clock comforting of a sick child, and nursing my own poorly self*, I fell off my ‘bike of virtue’ on every level.  I stopped making entries in my Daily Greatness Journal, I stopped doing yoga, I stopped updating YNAB, (I did listen to quite a lot of meditations on Buddhify to ease my suffering so err…check) but essentially my ‘Daily Rituals’ list crumbled big time.  With this lack of action, my friend’s question ‘have I set myself up to fail’ rolled around in my mind.  And yet despite the evidence seemingly being to the contrary, my resounding answer was ‘No!’.

In the past, the answer would have been a self-flagellating ‘YES’!  Followed by a big dose of ‘I’m clearly not cut out to have a regular yoga practice / keep on top of my finances / keep a journal so I’m giving up the lot’.  But this time feels very different and I’ve been curious to understand why.

I think there are several factors, but for me the key element is around making ‘conscious choices’.  Just as I had previously made a conscious choice to implement various positive actions into my daily life, likewise I made a conscious choice to hit pause on all those good things as circumstances changed.  Less a case of falling off the bike, more a decision to park it up for a bit.

I made a conscious choice that the right thing to do was to watch crap on YouTubeKids with my poorly little chap at 7.30am when I would normally do my yoga / write my journal, and another choice was made to not make up for it later with some bedtime yoga / journal update as he needed me to go to bed with him as we were in a strange (but oh so lovely) house and he couldn’t settle without me close by.  And again, when the lurgy hit me full-force I made a conscious choice to cut myself some slack and rest up, choosing instead to binge-listen to the incredible S-Town podcast and watch ALL the new eps of Grace and Frankie because these things took my mind off the pain (these, and some strong pharmaceuticals). My friend G sent me a message asking if my sinusitis was ‘the burning kind like when you accidentally snort pool water up your nose, or the other kind that feels like knives being stabbed into all your face holes’ – for anyone interested it was the latter, and it was awful, even laughing at her text hurt.

So today is Friday; as of Tuesday late afternoon I tentatively started to feel a bit better, but the bike of virtue remained firmly locked up in the bike rack of failure conscious choice, until yesterday when I truly felt a good 90% better and I knew I was ready to clamber back on (I’m labouring this metaphor and the irony is I can’t actually ride a frickin’ bike in real life but let’s gloss over that).  I wrote my morning journal entry, followed by an early Operation Bloom Skype call (which is always recharging) and I committed that I would get back on the yoga mat that evening and ease myself back in with a gentle bedtime routine. Which brings me to today, the journal is back in full, twice-daily, flow, I was on the yoga mat by 7.30am this morning for a 20 minute sesh’ and I’ve made a date with YNAB this evening (oh Friday nights, how you’ve changed).  This would never have been me a year ago.

As I pay close attention to this falling off / getting back on process, I am sensing there is a critical tipping point (again, no pun intended) between the falling off bit and the getting back on bit, and if too much time passes where we remain down but without genuinely good reason it becomes harder to jump back on. Under the circumstances I felt totally at peace with my decision to park the bike, because I very much knew it was a temporary state of affairs, and as soon as I started to feel better my thoughts turned to me jumping back on. Amazingly there was no doubt I’d get going again, but even so, when the time came to resume action I noticed, running alongside my steely resolve (!), there was a low-level resistance, a physical apathy.  Had I chosen to ‘string out’ the effects of being ill and told myself (lied to myself) that I should wait until after the weekend, ya know to get fully, fully, fully better, and then get back to the Daily Rituals list I think it would have been a hundred times harder to get motivated, because the truth for me was I was ready on Thursday.  Really listening to myself and taking action right at that perfect sweet spot in my recovery where resolve was high and illness was bidding a hasty retreat has made getting back to it relatively easy (albeit I’m only on day 2 y’all but I’m celebrating the act of getting back on, always the hardest part for me).

It seems to me that over time there are natural ebbs and flows to our activity and motivation levels, sometimes we simply need to hit pause, to park the bike for a bit, but intuiting how to respond most usefully to this waxing and the waning leads us back to our dear old friend authenticity.  Namely us being authentic with ourselves.  To make a personal commitment to choose not to delude ourselves but to really tune in, notice when we really are too sick to do ‘all the things’ and give ourselves unreserved permission to press pause (and boy does that feel good), but in turn create a counter-balance by being honest about when we feel able to return to those good actions; acknowledging the reticence but refusing to let it have the louder voice.

It’s also fine to start off gently, ease ourselves back in to the saddle.  The crucial thing is to get back on, it needn’t be to do the London to Brighton first time out, it could just be a spin round the block in the sunshine.  As my lovely husband says, ‘it’s not how many times we fall off, it’s how many times we get back on again that counts’.

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*Vince and the Little Chap were very sweet at looking after me and keeping the ship running smoothly, I can’t fault them, they picked me flowers!

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Header Image: Copyright: <a href=’https://www.123rf.com/profile_dasha11′>dasha11 / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

Simplify: Part I – KonMari

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Oh how I love this word.  It has been my ‘mantra’ for the last two years and whenever I say it to myself I can feel my heart rate drop to that of a contented sloth dangling from a shady tree.

Last year, one of the ways we brought simplification to our lives was by following the KonMari decluttering method.  It took us exactly a year to complete, a toddler is not the ideal co-pilot for such a mission, so we had to grab windows of time when we could.  We held every single item in our house and asked ourselves whether it sparked joy.  If it did, it stayed, and if it didn’t, it exited the building*.

I’m embarrassed to think about just HOW MUCH STUFF got carted away; many, many, many car loads.  Many car loads. So many car loads. And here’s the crazy thing…we’ve. not. missed. a. single. thing.  Oh tell a lie, I ditched a pack of wooden clothes pegs I’d stored for circa 15 years and never used.  The following week I decided I wanted to set up a gallery space for the Little Chap’s paintings and could’ve done with those pegs to hang his art up with.  THAT is the only thing I have missed. Truly. How weird is that? And what does it say about our attachment to ‘stuff’? In particular stuff we didn’t use, didn’t love and, it turns out, weren’t going to miss?

The first picture below is utterly shocking to me (and Vince, I’ve just shown him and his response was ‘what the fucking hell…?’) Knowing there was a room like that in our house, I now realise took a heavy psychological toll on us (for those that don’t know us, I promise the rest of the house looked nothing like that!).  I felt utterly overwhelmed by it prior to discovering KonMari; we were happytired with a fairly wakeful toddler and would chuck in the next load of outgrown baby stuff and lock the door.  Out of sight out of mind, right?  Wrong. It felt like an oppressive pulsating mass in the bowels of our house (I may be slightly over-egging things), but it was full of our crap, my late parent’s things including a mountain of their paperwork, a trazillion photographs and slides from three generations, plus the evidence that our tiny newborn son was growing up at the speed of light.  But the KM methodology gave us a framework that felt manageable to gradually tackle it a bit at time, and slowly the mists cleared the awful navy carpet emerged.

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Basement ‘Room of Doom’ November 2015
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Basement ‘Room of Bloom’ March 2017

The central aim of KonMari is to surround yourself only with ‘joy-sparking’ items, and looking at all our possessions in this way has fundamentally changed how we live.  No longer do we buy things saying ‘ah, this’ll do’.  What we buy / bring into our home has to spark joy for at least one of us, otherwise we don’t get it.  We’re also much more inclined to buy less and choose better quality.

“But what about loo brushes?”, I hear you cry, “how can a loo-brush spark joy?” Of course on first glance there is little obvious joy to be found in the humble loo-brush BUT there is joy to be had in a clean loo, courtesy of a well functioning loo brush, one where the brush doesn’t regularly unscrew and drop into the pan requiring deep-sea operations of retrieval. (I never imagined I’d have cause to write a paragraph with FIVE mentions of the word(s?) ‘loo-brush’ in it (Roget’s Thesaurus was of no help to me here, so loo-brush it was…SIX…gah).

KM (that’s KonMari Graduate lingo right there) has finely tuned our ‘joydars’ and it’s value has rippled out to other aspects of our lives beyond decluttering; deciding what we want to eat, how we want to spend our time, which relationships to prioritise when limited for time, what type of holiday we want, which direction to follow with creative projects. It’s given us a new lens through which we can identify the joy (or not) in how we’re living.

And most of all it has brought an intuitive simplicity to day-to-day life.  We have order; places for everything so things get put away without the tiresome mental effort of deciding where to ‘shove’ it. No more hunting for the top I need, I can see everything I own at a glance. And, no exaggeration, I get a little hit of joy every time I open a drawer and unfold a perfectly folded knicker…

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Perfectly folded knickers ^^^^

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If you have any questions or want to share your own ‘life hacks’ that bring simplicity to your life, please do leave a note in the comments – I’d love to hear about your go-to simplifications as I’m always on the look-out for the next good ‘un…

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*Caveat, as we didn’t / don’t have vast amounts of money stashed in offshore accounts (actually none) there were non-joy-sparking things we kept temporarily as they served a purpose.  Those things were earmarked (in a Wunderlist list), and as and when we found joy-sparking alternatives and budget allowed they’ve been replaced – a list like that makes for wonderfully mindful shopping.

Stepping forward

Stepping Forward

Over the last month or so the same ‘lesson’ keeps presenting itself to me, namely ‘good things come from stepping forward’ (G.T.C.F.S.F – hmm that acronym needs work).

For example, I’ve already mentioned the super-stylish, Canadian mama I met on Instagram who’s helping me kick my wardrobe into touch.  This purely came about as both of us were willing to ‘put ourselves out there’.  I fell in love with some images she’d posted of her capsule wardrobe so I made the effort to connect and left a gushing complimentary comment.  I then left a follow-up comment to tell her she’d inspired me to do another clear-out of my wardrobe and as a result of my ruthlessness I was almost rendered naked, the situation was dire, the services of the John Lewis personal shopper may be required. As she too is someone willing to put herself out there, she DM’d me and tentatively offered up her services, for a modest fee, to help style my wardrobe, having recently done the same for someone else.  I bit her hand off! And so, a really lovely, creative, connection has been made, and only because we both took the risk of stepping forward towards the other, extending our reach beyond our immediate comfort zones.

Other recent examples of where I’ve stepped forward and been rewarded, are growing in number:

  • There was this dress I’d pinned on Pinterest from the US that I became a little obsessed with, it was out of stock everywhere so I emailed two recent stockists and told them I was in love with the dress and asked if it was likely to be restocked.  I got helpful replies from both, but one of the them said whilst they weren’t going to re-stock (boo) she thought she might have one left in my size in the warehouse and would be happy to check (yay!).  Low and behold she was true to her word and it was in the post to me the next day.  I would have been ‘THAT DRESS’-less had I not made an extra push or written a less impassioned email. PS I love the dress, we’re getting married.
  • Then I got a great deal on the Little Chap’s new bed by asking the supplier if they would match a discount they had on a very similar package but in the colourway I wanted.  They went off to ask their powers-that-be and came back with the same great deal saving us £60 and giving us our ideal bed combo.
  • An Ebay supplier who sells pre cut / set sizes of brass sheet was happy to custom cut some sheet to my specifications when I explained what I wanted them for (making my bangles) and gave me a great price.
  • I fell in love with a pillowcase I saw in a Next display for the Little Chap, I searched the shop for the set but couldn’t find them, I might have given up but I asked a shop assistant who kindly went to great lengths to track it down and eventually order it (even though it wasn’t even showing on the website). (No hyperlink as it’s still not on their website, spooky, mystery, ghost bedding that it is).
  • We recently ebay’d some old photographic slide boxes of my grandfather’s and one got damaged before we posted it out.  I felt awful and contacted the buyer to let him know how sorry I was about the breakage and that I had gone ahead and posted it along with the other items he’d bid on but had refunded his bid and his postage.  He was so sweet about it and this lead to an unexpected, poignant exchange of emails. The buyer was a man in his 80’s, he didn’t have long to live, his ‘lovely wife was clearing out things from his old life and had just taken a car load to the charity shop that day’. He was taking pleasure from looking through his old slides collection from the 50’s and revisiting those memories; clearly bittersweet.  I truly believe because he and I were both open to connection, the few emails that we exchanged about life and change were meaningful on both sides.
  • And my latest endeavour involves me trying to get in contact with the originator of the Operation Bloom roses photograph, used as the header.  It’s an image I found several months ago and fell in love with.  As I felt the first flutterings of Operation Bloom (before this project even had its name) the image in my mind that accompanied that delicious feeling of being on the edge of something exciting was of roses in full bloom, opened wide, wide, wide to their fullest potential.  I found myself searching for images of roses and I came across this one; it leapt out at me as the perfect one to represent the image in my head.  I saved it as my desk top image and each time I looked at it, it made my heart lift. So when it came to starting this blog it was the only image I wanted to use. I hadn’t made a note of the original source so I had to do some super-sleuthing google image searching and eventually tracked down the photographer to Instagram.  I sent a message asking for her permission, and meanwhile took the risk of going ahead and using it, but I felt very uncomfortable not yet having her go-ahead.  Morally I knew I would have to change it if I wasn’t able to track her down within a month.  Almost three weeks passed and then I got a sweet message back from the very kind Sheila Peterson saying she’d be flattered.  I was over the moon.  I’m so, so happy to have the image I absolutely LOVE and have her blessing – such a relief.  Again, another lesson in putting myself out there and having the courage to ask, and risk rejection.

One last note about one of my earliest learnings to step forward… I was in my early 20’s sat face to face with my boss, a fairly formidable Scot (total pussycat underneath as it turned out) at my annual review where I was getting my first promotion at the film production company I worked for.  He favourably reviewed my work and told me what my salary increase was going to be.  I nodded and said thank you but as we continued talking I had this rising feeling of crushing disappointment at the figure, I felt I deserved more. Just as he was drawing our meeting to a close, I plucked up every ounce of courage I had, it was now or never, and I blurted out that I was a little disappointed with the increase, and gave him my reasons why I’d hoped for more.  To my amazement, his face broke into a beaming smile and he said the words I’ve never forgotten, “I’m SO pleased you spoke up, I wasn’t allowed to offer you more but was told if you asked I could”.  And lo, I got the salary I’d hoped for.  So at the ripe old age of 23 I learned ‘if you don’t ask, you don’t get’. And likewise, if you don’t step forward you miss all those opportunities for meaningful human connection or even getting that perfect dress, pillowcase, bangle sheet size!

Asking for our needs to be met can make us feel vulnerable, there’s a chance we’ll be rejected, told ‘no’.  But I truly believe life becomes all the richer for stepping outside our comfort-zones, stepping forward, taking relational risks, investing a little more of ourselves and seeing what happens in response.

I’d love to hear your examples of when you’ve put yourself out there, or what holds you back from asking for something or taking those emotional risks…