Hard

Week two of the uncluttering course, under the guise of gentle motivationning, actually threw me in at the deep end. Though titled “The case for less” and subtitled “Believe it is possible”, its assignment involved actual disposal of things! The hardest thing for me in this whole process.

The first part, looking around and assessing the clutter, was easy enough, and something I’d really already done. So I used the time allotted for that part of the exercise to write down in one of my many notebooks a list of all the areas of clutter in each room.

The second part, putting things in a bag that I identify as “not wanted in my house”, I chose to opt out of, because it was not really practical – things I want rid of are either already in a designated pile based on the desired treatment (i.e. a bag of things to give away), or very voluminous (the ladder I borrowed last year). Instead, I went through my notes, made a list of things to get rid of and colour-coded them by order of priority. Then, I assigned potential times to do the necessary (run to the tip, charity shops) in the coming week.

Most items though will require time to process – I won’t get into details of all the multifarious and very personal reasons why letting things go is difficult for me, I’ll just name one and its subtopics.

Hate for waste

The disposal methods listed in the assignment are: “recycle, donate, throw away”. There are problems with all of these things and at least one missing, from my point of view at this stage.

Recycle

Many, many things can’t be recycled right now. Anything that is easy to let go of and can be recycled leaves my house weekly. The exception: a drawer full of things that may take a bit more effort to recycle (printer cartridges, water filters) – but this is not a priority as we’re not meant to tackle the inside of drawers yet!

Donate

This, unlike the other two categories, is presumably for things that someone else may need and or want.

As I mentioned I do already have a bag of things that are destined for charity shops. Why are they not there yet? Good question. Partly because of charity shop opening hours – but as I am currently not working part-time I no longer have this excuse. Partly because many items would be best shared with fellow vegans and this requires an extra layer of organising.

I have other perfectly good things I do not need or want that I currently put in a fourth category: (try to) sell. Something I find faffy and difficult, and when I have got round to it I have so far not had any success (unlike at least one of my friends, who is a semi-pro at eBaying and other reselling methods).  Possibly bad luck, possibly because I price things too close to their original cost. I am just reluctant to simply give away something I spent good money on and hardly used. Nowadays I am better at avoiding such purchases, but letting go of past ones is not trivial for me. I hate having wasted money.

Throw away

Serendipitously I happened upon a meme this week that said: “There is no such thing as ‘away’. When we throw anything away it must go somewhere.

The quote is attributed to Annie Leonard and the image is watermarked ‘The Story of Stuff’.

no-away

Before I throw anything away, I need to be satisfied that there is no way it can ever be of any use to anyone ever again. And the rise of the Repair Cafe has made me more reluctant than ever to just consign things to the tip if they could be fixed.

So, I will look upon this assignment as a kick up the butt to take a few actions I already intended (I was already very conscious of the fact my decluttering efforts so far had mostly just moved things around). But it is a bit disappointing to have to address the hardest things so soon, when I had hoped for a more structured experience, and alone as no advice or pointers to external information have been provided.

 

 

 

 

 

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Needs

…18 months later, I am once more only partially employed and finding myself with the time and headspace for writing. As well as for picking up the self-improvement pace, not least because having hit middle age and unexpected health problems in the last couple of years I feel I am running out of time to get somewhere with my life that I’m content to be.

Step one is ‘sort house out’. My issues with all things domestic have stood in my way for too long, have always affected me negatively in multifarious ways, and now need addressing more than ever as downsizing is a key part of my master plan (not least as a measure to make keeping on top of domestic things easier in future).

Sporadic decluttering has happened over the years and the house is better than it’s ever been, but still not ‘normal’ in the sense of somewhere I’d feel comfortable inviting people in without considerable notice (though friends are now OK, which wasn’t the case until early last year).

Possibly the best push so far happened when I used my 45th birthday as an excuse to ask friends to donate an hour of their time to help me with the tasks I found most challenging, which was further evidence that deadlines and accountability are the way to go for me. The idea came from the deepening conviction that I suffer from AD(H)D, and that having someone by my side or looking over my shoulder or depending on my work can help me focus*. Hence being so much more organised / likely to finish things when I am doing work for someone else.

Therefore this year I have started following a page on Facebook called ‘becoming minimalist’ (they don’t even use capital letters in the name, presumably to show how compact they can make life, shame about all the syllables, eh), and enrolled on their 12-week online decluttering course, as I don’t want to keep imposing on friends, and a structured approach by someone who makes a living of this will hopefully be even more effective. The fact that it’s online makes it much less terrifying than having someone come to my house and tell me what to do, it feels introvert-safe and like there’s less danger of counterwill kicking in.

A post published by the page today gave me the impetus to come back to this blog, because it brought up a lot of resistance, some of which may be justified but needs exploring. This is the post, a beautiful image of autumn leaves on the ground with the words ‘Don’t carry what you don’t need in your pockets, in your home, in your heart’**.

Immediately I thought of the little rucksack I take everywhere with me. “but, but, but… what if I might need it later?”. Example: I live in England. It seems sensible to always have an umbrella with me, and I feel smug when people get caught short and I am prepared. However, when I think about it, I very rarely use it. For one thing, I live in the South West, not Manchester – it’s really not all that wet here. For another, these days I cycle everywhere, so don’t spend much time outdoors in a situation that would make an umbrella convenient. On top of that, my winter coat has a perfectly good hood. So perhaps what I should do instead of carrying an umbrella at all times is only have outerwear that is hooded, try to remember to check the weather forecast before going out, and make peace with the possibility of getting wet every now and then.

OK, so now I’ve removed my folding umbrella from my everyday bag. I have hung it on a hook by the front door with another folding umbrella that was there just in case. I have therefore increased the clutter in my house! What to do? And here I am, in typical AD(H)D fashion, getting bogged down in incipient detail instead of focussing on the topic I set for this post – need.

So back to that.

A lot of people commenting on the Facebook post with similar objections to my kneejerk thoughts are parents who carry a lot of stuff that may be needed at some point while being out in the world by their predictably unpredictable offspring. I have a very high-maintenance inner child if no others, so can relate to an extent.

But what defines need? I guess the impact of the thing’s absence. For example, if you’re a city-dweller with a deathly allergy to bee stings, your EpiPen may only be useful once in a blue moon, but if you didn’t have it that day you could die. On the other hand, the roll of dental floss I carry ‘just in case’ (I barely ever floss at home, never mind in the wild)? Now back in the bathroom cabinet where it belongs.

And as a bonus, looking through my ‘essentials’ bag-within-my-bag, I found the long-lost tool that unlocks the front wheel of my bike. Somewhat spooky as just today I had been wringing my hands at having destroyed the front wheel skewer head using a Torx key instead. The proper tool still works. Finding things is one of the most satisfying things about tidying up, and I have just saved whatever it would have cost me to sever the skewer and get a new one!

*see ‘Scattered’ by Gabor Maté. Equally someone being there can be thoroughly distracting, it’s all about context.

**I had to type this out as there didn’t seem to be a text version, bad, ableist webmaster (unless I missed some clever newfangled invisible code in which case clever, clever webmaster).

Rescue me

I’m not sure how I got my Cinderella complex, never having been a pink tutued princess type, but it could be something to do with 95% of pop culture suggesting I hold out for a hero. I even went out with one for two years in my twenties. By most people’s standard I am pretty damn independent, but still there’s a part of me that craves a saviour who could somehow make everything OK. While many of my crushes clear my thoughts of mundanities via obsessing about beautiful eyes and gorgeous voice, I am not immune (yet) to gender-normative fantasies of a DIY-happy alpha male sorting out my domestic headaches or a broad-shouldered millionaire ‘taking me away from all this’. But I am just about as ill-suited as I could be to a relationship with this type of knight in shining armour, as a disastrous date reminded me this month.  I am neither trophy girlfriend nor housewife material. What could I possibly bring to the table in this kind of deal? I had much rather pay my way and leave my DIY undone (and consider doing it myself or paying someone to) than learn to cook or spend much time or energy doctoring my appearance. It’s perfectly legitimate to think all this makes me sound lazy, though more generous souls understand me as a contemplative type who would rather spend life lost in a world of ideas than attending to the sysyphean everyday, and that it is not inherently wrong to be more of a thinker than a doer. The constructive conclusion is of course somewhere in between. Respect and compassion for my preferences and acceptance that some knuckling down to the less-preferred is a necessity of a well-functioning life (for the unwealthy at least).

I also really dislike feeling in debt to people, and have inherited a bit of a family tradition that limits requests for help to a small group of trusted insiders, who inevitably resent and pull away from the responsibility sooner or later. A pattern I am hell-bent on breaking, using strategies that range from broadening and diversifying my social circle, increasing my self-reliance, and doing more for those who help me. This is not only because of my own experience of ‘breaking’ close friendships by asking too much, but also because of watching others vainly hope to be rescued. This includes an acquaintance currently floundering because of changes at work, who is very difficult to help because when she reaches out, she asks not so much for moral support or information but, it seems, for ready-made answers, someone to make decisions for her. Few want such responsibility for anyone other than their own young children, and when they do it tends to lead to at best co-dependent and possibly abusive relationships.

These days our yearning for rescue also has stealth outlets. We compulsively check online social networks, hoping to be saved from boredom, loneliness or tasks we dread by getting involved in someone else’s life or an intriguing news story. This can be a harmless crutch to get through the day (most of us aren’t lucky enough to spend all our work time in flow working endlessly fascinating vocational jobs, and even some of those that do are known for procrastinating a lot). Or it can be a sign you should reconsider your career choice.

As with most things in life, finding the right balance between self-sufficiency and interdependence takes some trial and error. Self-awareness and the ability to embrace change are distinct advantages.  Problems are usually best approached by asking ‘what can I do about it’, then doing it. Occasionally what you can do about it is seek help, from a friend or a professional as applicable, and those who don’t do this can be equally as infuriating and inefficient as those who never try to work things out for themselves first. But rescue should really only be expected in cases of fire, floods and suchlike.

“Change is the essential process of all existence.”*

Another month has swiftly slipped by (but then February does tend to do that more than most). Cutting it fine again to make my monthly post target – which I’ll choose to see as the exercise in writerly decisiveness and concision I have so far mostly failed to use Twitter for.

Mathematics is continuing its major contribution to me becoming the person I am meant to be, though it frustrates me when the rules appear illogical, asymmetrical, unfair and unrelatable to anything in life. My teacher has apparently taken such things as a self-improvement challenge for himself and has vowed to try and find me examples to bring the latest one of these maths-things-I-don’t-like to life.

Bike maintenance skills/confidence slowly but steadily progressing – this month, I managed to squeeze more rarefying drops of life out of my old bike’s old brakes on several occasions, all by myself.

Habits RPG is working out quite well, though proved counter-productive on one occasion – vainly scrambling to update tasks on an unresponsive app making me miss my early night target. Turned out to be a hiccup caused by a sudden onslaught of new memberships from a post somewhere popular. I ‘died’ once (lost a level and all my gold) for forgetting to update before midnight. Have since found out you can ‘sleep at the inn’ to not be penalised when actual life events such as holidays get in the way of your routine. Discipline is good, slack is also good.

*Quote from the poster person of logical thinking (apparently not an INTJ but close enough), Mr Spock, in Star Trek: The Original Series –RIP Leonard Nimoy

30 Days of Biking #8 – on Drivers as Bladders

First proper commute to work since The Scary Fall went OK, though strong winds made it harder and scarier than strictly necessary.

On the way home, I started a different way than usual (presumed shorter and lighter on traffic and lights), which I didn’t like as it began with an uphill. I finished the usual way, complete with white van zooming past me a cat’s whisker close on that last bit of 30 MPH non-motorway road before the M32 that so many drivers seem to think is the M32. Tricky surface too, with long, deep potholes at the edge, so there is essentially no stress-free position to be in.

The pavement along it is shared, but I don’t like using it. It’s complicated and risky to get onto and off it – in fact my first ever bike tumble as an adult was there, and like The Scary One, involved a low bit of pavement, but somehow speed appears to have made it less damaging). There are pedestrians to work around (who by and large don’t know what a shared pavement is – I know I didn’t before I started cycling) and a petrol station’s entrance and exit to negotiate. It also looks very slippery when it rains.

Bad drivers, bad roads and bad infrastructure (numbers 1-3 on the Guardian’s top 10 things that put people off cycling) are not major concerns of mine. I’m generally OK with taking the urban environment as it comes, and find most drivers well-behaved (as I’ve always been myself when I drive) most of the time. However, this particular bit of my commute is quite annoying. It’s a short but inexplicable no-bike-land between a lovely cycle lane and a great cycle path, on a major gateway between the centre and its periphery.

There are of course other routes, but they all have their own perils. I prefer to avoid:

  • Narrow roads (awkward when cars are coming the other way), especially when they have…
  • Parked cars along both side. I have seen cyclists thrown off their bikes by opening car doors several times. The first time – long before I got a bike myself – was enough to make this the number one danger of cycling in the city as far as I’m concerned. I always aim to give parked cars as wide a berth as I can, and if forced to get nearer, go slow and scrutinise the inside of each car as I approach for potential careless occupants.
  • Congested areas with no filtering space. The main point of cycling for me is to move faster than if I was driving, bussing or walking. I ♥ filtering.

So I guess I’ll keep battling it out with drivers acting like a stoic bladder suddenly finding itself near the loo (6 months of religiously drinking two litres of water a day can do that to you).