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…

 

Authenticity, a slippery old fish.

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Tickling Trout – Frans Wesselman

“Authenticity, I think, is simply trying to find the kindest way to speak the whole truth.” Erin Loechner – Chasing Slow

I read this line a couple of nights ago and it leapt right off the page.  I am always on the hunt for just the right language to articulate the wildly wonderful search for authenticity I find myself on.  For the past few months I’ve been working with a treasured friend on ‘Operation Bloom’ and we’ve spent much of our time trying to distill into words our exhilarating, white knuckle ride experiences of tuning in to our authentic selves. Continue reading

J.F.D.I

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Stages of Change diagram courtesy of socialworktech.com

This morning a friend of mine who’d just read my ‘Creating Daily Rituals’ post messaged me to say I’d inspired her to take action. She’d already been thinking about changing her evening routine, had even written a plan but was yet to get going on it, whereas I was ‘doing the doing’.

As I replied to her message to reassure her that her self-awareness to even have written the plan was a big part of the battle, it got me thinking about why it can be tricky to make that transition from thought to action. Continue reading

Yoga Baby

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I’ve always been curious about yoga, had an inkling it might suit me but was also a little intimidated.  I imagined you had to take it extremely seriously and there was no fun to be had. But then last year I discovered Adriene Mishler’s You Tube channel and I fell head over heels in love.   She is just the right blend of ‘knows her shit’ and ‘down to earth goofy’.  At last I’d found my way in to the mystical (it isn’t) world of yoga and for the past 10 weeks I’ve done yoga every day.  I started by religiously following her inspirational ’31 Day Yoga Revolution’ in January and I’ve not looked back.

What has become apparent is that the areas of my life that are going well are as a result of me prioritising them. Continue reading

Creating Daily Rituals

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I’ve become increasingly interested in the benefits of automating and streamlining as much as possible of my day to day life. Aside from the obvious example of the ease of online grocery shopping, I’ve found that creating specific rituals in advance takes care of a good 90% of the motivation needed to start / complete a task in the moment. Continue reading

Finding courage

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Just before Christmas I had an idea for a book. A book about living authentically, listening to our gut; its working title: Operation Bloom.  I felt that fluttering in my belly that told me I was on to something.  As it started to take shape, I tentatively ‘put it out there’ that I was ‘working on an exciting project’ (I figured this would light a little extra fire under me).  For a few weeks I daydreamed and visualised,  meditated and wrestled with it, and thought of little else.

And then I lost my courage.

I’ve never stopped loving the concept but I’d lost faith that I could make it manifest and so I wanted to hide and pretend I’d never said anything to anyone because who the hell was I kidding? And now I’d look like a total douche if they asked how it was going. (Fortunately most of my friends are, like me, mothers of young children so short term memory is not our strong-suit).  

Never-the-less for the last few weeks I’ve studiously hidden from it.  Our house has never been tidier, my friends have never seen me more helpful, I’ve chucked stuff out, and even hired the services of a heart-stoppingly-uber-chic Instagrammer to help me create a capsule wardrobe (once my house is tidy, and I have only 33 items of clothing I’ll be ready to start Operation Bloom in earnest, right?)

And then today, following a long, lazy pyjama day, hanging out in the ‘big bed’ with my three year old,  I told my husband I’d lost my bottle. Maybe I had nothing to say after all, maybe I didn’t have it in me. I don’t know if he was utterly convinced and his response was genuine, or if he was cleverly calling my bluff (in his ‘knowing-me-better-than-I-know-myself’ way, goddamnit) but he said,

“well maybe you have to give up on the idea, then.  Maybe all this resistance is saying it isn’t for you.  Maybe you should just focus on your regular work.”

Cut to me racing upstairs 2 minutes later, elbowing aside my technical intimidation lame procrastinatory tactic about not knowing how to set up a blog, and within 20 minutes I’d set up this page. I know, impressive right?

So here I am, plucking up the courage to follow my intuition which is telling me the next baby step is to simply start writing about my own Operation Bloom experiences; review the things I’ve done, and journal about the next things I’ll go on to do to, in a bid to create a meaningful, authentic life for myself and my family.  

Nothing more than that.  For now.

And maybe, just maybe, I will find I do have it in me…