Minimalism and Nostalgia – What I’ve Learned.

If we were to make a scale running between “cold hearted bitch” and “tears up at every Disney movie ever made”, then set me up with some Kleenex because I am most definitely a nostalgia loving, sappy, kid at heart. Even for those who would consider themselves more “practically minded” than me – the person who kept every sketchbook I ever filled as a kid (spoiler: they were all filled with pictures of horses and ‘fashion designs’ – all named after birthstones or zodiac signs. The fashion designs… and the horses) – I think the idea of tossing out irreplaceable childhood mementos and memories can be pretty daunting. I mean, I can’t just go out and get some Tazos if I decide I want to get into it again, can I?

And of course, as I would point out with all aspects of minimalism – if you want to keep all of those mementos, then you do you – there is of course no right or wrong here, BUT, what if you do decide you don’t want the entire space under your bed to be occupied by Beanie Babies and souveniers from a theme park that doesn’t exist anymore? Well, here’s what I did – what worked for me, and what I regret.

Method One: Put things away in a cupboard? (AKA the “Out of Sight Out of Mind” Method)
 
The first thing I did came right at the start of my decluttering journey, and to be honest, didn’t work that well for me (I mean, there’s probably a reason everyone advises to leave photographs and sentimental items until the very end, but hey, I’m a rebel). I chickened out of even dealing with all the ornaments and trinkets I had amassed from 18th birthday gifts and the like, and instead I put them all in a box and we shoved them at the back of a cupboard somewhere. Some people like this approach, the idea is that you put them away for some months and then if you don’t miss them, or feel anything when you take them out, then they go bye-bye. Of course, the cupboard we shoved the box in happened to also house the Christmas tree, so when my box of precious, irreplaceable items came back out it was during the annual Christmas Tree stress-athon (“Which cupboard did you put the tree in?” “How should I know you put it away!” – Christmas is not Kenny’s favourite thing in the world.) We plucked the box out by accident, thinking it housed the sparkly reindeer (as you do). So, as I looked back through my items it was less of a ‘well thought out reunion’ and more of a quick rifling through newspaper and trying to make a split second decision before the “high up cupboard” was closed again and out of my reach (I do not ‘do’ ladders, for everyone’s sake). In amongst this I sort of realised that this just hadn’t worked for me, because I hadn’t dealt with the emotions associated with the items before I put them away, I just had that decision to make from scratch when I finally took them back out, which made the whole excersise seem a bit pointless (and we never did find the sparkly reindeer last year). It took me just as long to decide how I felt about things then – and at a much more stressful, less convenient time – than if I had just gone through the process properly in the first place – because of course I didn’t actually want to keep the ceramic owl I painted when I was six, I wanted to ‘keep’ the memories associated with it, so physically hiding the owl didn’t help – it was never about the owl.

Method Two: Taking Photographs of Items and Then Getting Rid of the Actual Items (AKA Let’s Get Digital, Digital)

Another thing people suggest doing if you have a bunch of bulky items that you only keep because they remind you of something or someone, is to just take a photograph of those items and then toss the giant stuffed bear/vase you hate/hat that hasn’t fit you since you were eight, and hey presto, a giant box of memories can be condensed down to the size of a flash drive. It sounds great, and for some things I did like this – like, for example with my childhood sketchbooks, I took a bunch of photos of the meticulously labelled sketches I made of outfits for each of The Spice Girls (trust me, they have no idea what they’re missing out on here), and stored those digitally and then was able to get rid of those books and believe me, that felt great, they really did weigh a ton and take up hella space, but… that was about all I liked it for. During my degree (which is in art), I primarily kept visual journals, and again, these things were so bulky that they took up about half of my bookcase, and I mean, how often did I even look at them? So I did the same thing, I took photos and then tossed them, and boy, do I regret it. These pages were layered and textured – they were tactile and meant to be interacted with – the emotion that I felt both for and from them, came from physically touching them and seeing all those layers of writing, of scribbles, of images, and in reducing them to a 2D photograph I robbed myself of ever really getting to “experience” those pages as they were meant to be experienced again. The same is true of some stuffed animals I got rid of – it wasn’t what they looked like that held the magic, it was the feel of their ‘fur’ or their particular level of squishyness if you gave them a hug, and a photograph just doesn’t give you any of that.

Ultimately, I  regret getting rid of my journals – if I knew then what I know now, I would have kept them. With the teddy bears and everything else, I think ultimately I would have let them go onto new homes (and new hugs #sappy), but I think I would have less emotions about it now if I had made a clean break  – thanked them for their service and released them with love – rather than trying to kid myself that I could “keep ahold of them”  through the photographs. You cannot have your massive Eeyore and eat it, or something like that.

Method Three: Better Check Your Mum Doesn’t Want That Teapot

Marie Kondo cautions heavily about storing things in other locations – whether that’s hoarding 33 lipsticks in your desk at work or never fully moving out of your parents house; all of these items are still our posessions, even if they’re not physically in our homes. I totally agree with her there, and I did even go as far as clearing all my stuff out of the attic at my Mum’s – well, except the guitar, I mean, I feel like I totally might come back to that. One day. Not soon. But here’s the thing I learned with nostalgic items – it wasn’t just me who felt nostalgic about some of them. There were items I literally had boxed to go out to charity, but after mentioning them to family members they gratefully scooped them up – totally appalled that I would consider getting rid of them at all. The reason I didn’t feel like this was ‘cheating’ was because I had made my peace with these items and was ready to let them go, one way or another, but I’m not going to lie, it was easier to know they were going to my mum who would cherish them, rather than just releasing them into the big unknown. Of course, I have no idea if she still has the items (I mean, yes, of course she does, she is NOT into minimalism), but it did make it easier to let them go at the time. So while clearly this shouldn’t be your main method of letting go of items, it possibly is worth checking if that handmade felt Christmas tree bauble you made at pre-school means as much to someone in your family as it once did to you (Unless you’re a member of my family where my mum “forgets” to take my 23 years old felt bauble out of the Christmas Box, EVERY YEAR).

Method Four: Suck It Up Buttercup

I wish I could say that there was some easy way that worked for me; some trick or step by step process, but there wasn’t. I’ve taken several passes through my memories box at this point and honestly, I still don’t really have a shitting clue about what to do about a lot of it. I have days where I feel like my heart is being ripped in half at the thought of throwing some of these things out, and then I have days where I feel like my memories box is like a dangerous, emo, wormhole transporting me back to my teens – which it has to be said, were not great – and really, should I revisit those times? Is it healthy to keep the memories of these places and people alive? Is it healthy to not remember them?

Ultimately though, the best method that worked for me was just to sit down and really face the music, and go through it all, all at once. I had huge success in some areas – such as the afformentioned childhood sketchbooks – but I have not done so well in others – stuffed animals have faces, okay, so it’s harder, you have to like look them in the eye as you tell them you don’t love them anymore, oh jeez, here come the Toy Story 3 flashbacks…

Anyway, I have learned a few things along the way through doing this though, namely:

1. The memories that really matter to you, the people that really matter to you, you won’t forget, no matter what, so while I’m not suggesting that you throw out all the old photos of your closest family members and just keep the ones of you with random people at parties (that would be a hilarous photo album to show future children though), but just that if there are items you’re holding onto purely because you’re scared you’ll forget an amazing day, then it is ok to let go. You won’t forget.

2.  You don’t have to get rid of anything. I mean this in both the short term and the long term. Marie Kondo talks of the importance of decluttering once and doing it so thoroughly and properly that it is not an ongoing process, and while for the most part I do think that makes sense, I also know I had good days and bad days (or good months and bad months actually) when it came to decluttering and if I had tried to force anything I would just have ended up building a Beanie Baby fort and defending it with my life – so yeah, in the short term, if it really doesn’t feel right, then it isn’t right; stop the process for as long as you feel you need to. And of course, in the longer term, even if you feel commited to minimalism, remember that there are no rules attached to minimalism, so you can keep every certificate you ever got in school, or have every wall decked out with 100 photos, that’s all totally cool – if it’s what feels right for you.

3. Not all memories are good memories, and by that I don’t just mean the ones that are obviously not good – like the time I was chased by a gaggle of geese at a farm park when I was a young child. I still can’t hear that awful honking noise they make without practically hitting the ceiling. I’m also referring to memories that “should” be good, but aren’t – for me, for example, that was basically anything to do with school. My anxiety crippled my life during my school years and while I always did really well academically (well, I mean, PE doesn’t count right?), I found that any time I looked at a school certificate or souveneir from a school trip, or even photos from back in the day, all I really felt was the fear and the shame and the guilt associated with my anxiety back then. I could consciously remember the feeling of our choir winning the competition, or of getting an A in maths when nobody thought I would (I did do well academically in school, honestly, but there was a certain floppy haired boy in maths class, so you know) – but at the same time as I was trying to focus on those memories, I would also feel the bottom drop out of my stomach and all those bad feelings from the past come back, and ultimately the bad feelings were worse for me than the good thoughts were good. So I got rid of everything from my school days – at least this way nobody can hilariosuly print an old school photo of me in A1 size for my 30th birthday or something…

So that’s it, that’s what I tried and how it worked, and what I know now, which admittedly is arguably still not very much. For me, this was definitely one of the most challenging aspects of shifting to minimalism, but I overall feel I’ve done pretty well in letting things go, but as you can hopefully tell from the hopefully artsy pictures that I have hopefully taken and sprinkled gracefully thoughout this post, I definitely haven’t gotten rid of everything either.

Ironically enough, for me the next step is to actually bring out more nostalgic stuff in the form of getting some digital photos printed (did you know we can do that??!?) and getting some memories put up on our walls. I very much like blank walls, but I very much like some of the people I’ve been lucky enough to know and some of the places I’ve been lucky enough to go to, too. The difference is that while sometimes I used to feel like I was living in a time capsule surrounded by so many memory triggers, now I can be sure to choose the photos of the times I really want to remember and then bring them out where I can enjoy them.

As always, if you yourself have gone through the decluttering process – KonMari style or otherwise – let me know what your experiences were, and hey, if you’re not into the thought of minimalism at all, let me know about that too!

Sneaky, Sneaky FOMO

I had heard of FOMO (or “fear of missing out”) a lot over the years as various bloggers on my feed lamented not going to Ibiza for the first Summer in 5 years, or not going to the music festival that EVERYONE was going to. I saw colleagues totally burn themselves out drinking many nights in a row because they couldn’t bare the thought of not being at the party, just in case – but honestly, FOMO was never a big part of my life.

As I think I’ve talked about a bunch on here, I was never part of the in-crowd as a kid – like it or not, that was something that just wasn’t an option for me – so growing up I missed all the parties, all the scandalous happenings, the drunken outings and the ‘squad’ holidays. As time passed, I never did go out to da club and I never did get something pierced.  I never got sunburned, never had a crazy fling, never kept up with the chart music, the TV shows or the celebrities.

Part of this, I think, was falling in with an older crowd at college – as in, they were in their 40s – and then also being in relationships with older men – all people who had done all the typical “young” stuff and had moved on – so I think I just sort of moved on too. That and the fact that as time passed, I felt I had sort of missed the boat on a lot of it: getting drunk at 18 for the first time and making a fool of yourself may be excusable and pretty normalised, but I felt it would just be a bit awkward at 25 or whatever.

So yeah, I kind of marched to the rhythmn of my own drum, I guess: I had my interests, my music taste, my Netflix list, and I didn’t really care if they were “cool”. In a lot of ways, I suppose I didn’t know what I was missing out on. Colleagues at work would initially spark conversations with me about current goings on, but after a few rounds of; “no, really, I don’t own a TV”, and “Yeah, I’ve never been on a night out”, or even, “what’s One Direction?”, and people soon gave up on me and moved on to chat about the weather – now that I can do, have you seen the rain lately? Occasionally my sister would look at me like I had three heads as we listened to music together, but other than that, basically everyone knew I was on my own path.

Now though, having started this new barista job, I am surrounded by lovely young folks who are so nice to me, and don’t seem to be giving up on me easily either. We’ve had lots of chats about what the nightlubs in Glasgow are called, what Grindr is, what the bands I listened to when I was 14 are doing now (hint: it’s not good), and why Love Island is such a thing (I still don’t get it). But, despite how nice everyone is, as time passed, I started to feel really out of it, I felt “uncool” and like I was really missing out on a lot. I started to want to keep up with the things they kept up with, I vowed to participate on the next night out and I would grimace at myself when I was just so out of the loop with EVERYTHING.

Eventually, thankfully, I had a couple of realisations – brought about by a guy at work talking about “dabbing” and the awkwardness of us just staring at each other for about 10 seconds after we realised I had no idea what that was. The first realisation was that I am older. I am 26, my fiance is 35, so of course my life does not look the same as my 20 year old colleagues’. They’re out partying and eating instant noodles (I mean, probably not at the same time, although as I’ve covered, I actually have no idea what goes on at parties), and Kenny and I spent yesterday at Dobbies choosing out compost (honestly. not. even. joking). Our idea of snuggling up to watch something does not involve the dramas of random singletons on an island (‘cos I think that’s what Love Island is… right?), we’re currently rewatching David Attenborough’s The Private Life of Plants, and you know what? We love it. While age certainly shouldn’t be something used as a rule – as in I don’t think every 26 year old is too old to hit the clubs, I just know I am – life does move through natural chapters, and I am not in the same chapter as my workmates are.

That sort of leads me onto my second realisation about why I was all of a sudden drowning in the FOMO. More than the fact I felt out of touch, and like I was missing out on things now I think it was the realisation that I am truly past the point of a lot of things happening in my life. I am an adult. I am a pet-parent. I’m getting married. I think working with all these young people who are so free made me freak out a little about the fact I’ll never be like that again. I will never be able to just “crash on someone’s couch”, I have a cat who would spend the night sharpening her claws for when I did come home. I will never use a dating app, heck, I will never have another first date. I’ll never have a holiday romance, an awkward morning after or a love affair with Aragorn (although that might be mostly because he’s ficticious). I’ll never know who’s on TV, I’ll never keep up with the Kardashians. I can’t go back and have a massive 21st birthday party, I can’t get a drunk tattoo and regret it when I’m older, I can’t… well, I can’t be 20 again.

It has to be said that I have a history with struggling to accept things like this: that my life has passed some sort of threshold I can’t go back from. I spent much of my 11th birthday in tears becuase my Hogwarts owl never arrived (I sat up half the night with my window open, waiting for it), and on the eve of my 16th birthday I had quite the freak out about my CHILDHOOD BEING OVER, prompting my mum to rush out and buy me several My Little Ponies. So, yeah, I think this is another example like this: something I just need to build a bridge and get over. Because let’s face it, I have a lot to be grateful for; I shouldn’t be sitting around feeling jelly (that’s something young people say) of my fellow baristas.

I have my wonderful fiance who is just honestly like the other half of me, I have my beautiful fur-baby who I love more than I would ever have thought possible. We own our awesome flat, I’m lucky enough to be studying again and at 26 I can finally use a can opener with at least some competence. With so much to be thankful for, it’s time to let go of some things too – and to accept I’m the outsider at work, and that’s actually okay.  So here’s to propogating aubergine seeds, shopping for a new matress, listening to Bach and still not having a fucking clue what dabbing is.

Minimalism Means Muffins

I’m not 100% sure where I’m going with this post if I’m honest; I’ve changed the title 11 times and normally that’s a sign for me that I’m not sure enough to write whatever I’m trying to write, but I’ve had the idea brewing at the back of my mind for a while and figured it was about time I try and commit something to paper, erm, web page. So, a lot has changed since I started embracing a “less is more” way of living – a lot of things that can be easily quantified or explained a la “oh my gosh, there was floor under all those clothes?!”, but some other things that are potentially even more palpable for me as experiences, but at the same time, a lot harder to pinpoint. This post is about two of those things.
 

 

So, guys I’ve been making muffins. Like on multiple occasions. I know, right?  Baking for me is one of those things that I always see myself doing (and for some reason I always tell employers I do when they ask me about “me outside work” at interviews – what’s that about?), but I actually never do. I guess it always falls below the other tasks in life like work, cleaning and making “proper” food, because apparently “brownies aren’t a nutritionally balanced dinner”, pfft. Even in terms of hobbies, baking falls way down on the list for me; something about the idea of dragging 18 utensils out from the back of cupboards, and then reaching for all the ingredients – about 50% of which will have now expired of course – and then after it all, I have to clean up, are you serious? Yeah, somehow reading a book with a huge mug of tea and a blanket just seems more relaxing somehow.

My muffins – because I’m only competent enough to make one kind, you see – are banana based, and one day, I was working at my laptop at the table and I noticed the bananas in the fruit bowl were really past it. Huh. Those would be good to go into muffins, or else they need to go in the bin. Then I literally just turned my head to the right – didn’t even have to move off my chair – and I could see we had flour, oil, etc. I could picture the mixing bowl’s location, the baking tray – heck, I even knew where my apron was. And all of a sudden I stood up from my laptop and I made some muffins.

Normally, I plan baking like a week in advance, warning friends and loved ones not to call that day BECAUSE I’LL BE BAKING, only for it all to end up in a frustrated mess starting as soon as I lay the scales out on the counter. Normally it seems arduous and like it takes hours, and now, suddenly I’m that person that just “whips up” some baked goods in time for Kenny coming home – I mean, just the one type of baked goods really, but you know. Could this spontaneous muffin spawning be related to minimalism somehow?

Another thing that happened is my return to the world of lasagne making. I’m not a great cook, I’m not even really a good cook, but I am competent, especially with simple recipes, but guys, can I make a lasagne? No, no I cannot. Every single one is either too dry, or to saucy, or the béchamel is sweet or something else weird. I actually gave up altogether a couple of years ago because I got so frustrated and it legitimately made me feel not so great about myself – I’m the daughter of the world’s best lasagne maker you see, although I could be biased there. Anyway, one day recently, I woke up and I wanted lasagne, big time. I went to the store and I’m peering into the ready meals cabinet, having resigned myself to something sub-par and preservative laden, and suddenly I think, “no, I’m going to make a lasagne for dinner tonight”. I Google a recipe on my phone and standing there in the store, I’m able to recall what ingredients I have, what size dish I’ll use, and exactly what’s on my schedule for the rest day – so I know how to time this out. I was so calm, so able to make this split-second decision, whereas normally with my legitimate anxiety issues and my not-so-legitimate lasagne angst this would have had me in cold sweats and ready to hide under the duvet. Long story short, I made a lasagne, my béchamel vanished altogether (?!?!?!?!) and we ate dinner at like 9:30pm, but you know what I did after dinner? I didn’t cry. I didn’t apologise 8,000 times to Kenny for making us eat so late because I had some weird whim. Nope, I cleared up and then I reached for my cooking notebook and made some notes re: my discovery of vanishing béchamel. I stored the leftover pasta sheets, calm in the knowledge I’d be reaching for them again soon, and I went on with my life. Could this be a minimalist thing?

Erm, yes I am aware that all of the photos in this post are in fact of pancakes, but I didn’t take photos of the muffins ok? So these are banana pancakes instead. Close enough.

It’s very hard to see how muffins and lasagne would be related to it all if I look at the big picture, but I think when I break it all down it becomes pretty clear that all of this was a direct result of my adopting a more minimalist lifestyle. Everything from the fact I could actually see the fruit bowl on the table to know that we had bananas that needed using – rather than finding some furry blue unidentifiable shapes in a bowl under the clutter three weeks later – to knowing what ingredients we have and where they are, to not being so hooked on some trashy Netflix show that I feel I don’t have time to make a lasagne. I could make notes in my cooking book, because I could FIND the cooking book. I didn’t end up a frustrated, sauce covered mess while cooking, because I had my apron to hand and I wasn’t multitasking 17 things so I actually remembered to put it on.

I feel this may not come across that clearly, like I said, it’s harder to draw an arrow pointing to it and say “result of minimalism”, but for me, the connection is as clear as day and I honestly, truly, would not have believed before I saw the results for myself that learning to adopt a more minimalist lifestyle would have opened up my mind and my mood and my opportunities so much that I would feel like I had the time, or the ability to make muffins – as silly as I’m sure that sounds. I feel more in control of my own time and my own mind; there is no “chore I should be doing”, there is no Netflix running in the background to distract me. I feel like I’m really starting to see the effects of my hard work to “live lighter” trickling down into real world results, and I like what I see. Now, does anyone have a good lasagne recipe they’d like to share?

A Simple Way to Help Fight Daily Anxiety

There are a million posts like this on the internet, and, generally speaking I’m not that into posting ‘tips and tricks’ for anxiety or depression because I feel like they’re complicated illnesses that a) there’s unlikely to be a ‘quick fix’ for and b) I’m probably not that qualified to give out advice on the subject, BUT, I had to share this idea…

And what makes this one different? Why share this one? Well it provides almost instant gratification, doesn’t require any prep work (or require you to happen to own a full set of healing crystals, or live next to lake you can swim in…), and I think it’s pretty risk-free, you don’t like it; you stop it.  

With my anxiety, I definitely need to feel organised and in control – I make lists, I catalogue eyeshadows, I have a Spreadsheet for what I eat in a day and one that lists all the bras I own, but sometimes, I end up feeling like I’m being controlled rather than like I’m the one in-control but I still need to track things, I need to make that list. (And yes, it would be great if one day I could tame that need and not feel so out of control if I haven’t planned for something, but honestly, one battle at a time…)

So every night before bed I make a to-do list for the next day – I’ve done this for as long as I can remember. Now when I’m ‘well’ this list will consist of bigger, more impressive things like:

– jog 4 miles in the a.m.
– work 10am – 7pm
– dinner with Dad after work
– going to the cinema @ 10pm

You know, normal life stuff. And then, when I started to get mentally worse recently, I adapted the to-do list so it looked more like:

– get up before 9am
– wash hair
– eat either breakfast or lunch
– text someone

Really simplified right? I thought I would set myself super achievable goals and that would allow me to easily tick them all off and feel really accomplished and proud of myself, gold stars for me. But let me tell you, when you deliberately write a list of four ridiculously easy things to do in a day and then, because you’re so unwell you can’t do any of them… that is not a healthy or a good feeling. I was going to bed every single night feeling more like I was failing, like I was falling further down into the depression  BECAUSE CLEARLY I COULDN’T DO ANYTHING SO WHAT EVEN IS THE POINT. Seriously, for every one thing I managed to tick off the list, there would be three or four I just couldn’t face (sometimes, for days at a time), and those to-do lists would just rub that in my face, day after day.

So it was time to regroup and try and find a way to still make those lists without those lists making me crazy and I remembered something I’d learned on a training day in some job or other (you know, the sort of days where there are ‘team games’ and ‘creative exersises’ *shudder*) and the tip was actually given as a tool to motivate staff when you’re running a particularly difficult shift, but hey, it applies here and the idea is… to write a done list.
So simple, and so widely used by people in all sorts of settings, it’s potentially not that surprising that it would help manage daily anxiety, but what’s interesting to me is that it doesn’t seem to just be a tool to help me cope day to day, it actually seems to be improving my overall mood. Having the list to look at at the end of the day is cheering, but having a week’s worth to look back at lets me really see how all the little pieces come together. Sure I only managed to study for 2 hours a day instead of 3, but you know what – that means I’m still 14 hours closer to achieving my dreams than I was at the start of the week.

It also helps me plan my time for the week ahead (because yes I do still need to have a rough plan of my time or else I just feel so lost). I can see realistically what I was achieving each day and I can be more gentle when structuring the week ahead – it means I can see I can usually study for about 2 hours a day, so I plan for 1.5 and then I’m proud of myself for doing more, rather than planning for 3 and ‘failing’ every day. 

One thing I would say is that I think these lists are pretty personal – and of course, completely relative. For example, here’s my list for yesterday:
– Managed to cook dinner
– Managed to text my sister to say good luck for her interview
– Managed to do some programming
– Managed to listen to my body and sleep when I needed to
– Managed to speak on the phone

So… for me, that was a pretty alright day actually, based on how my life is at the moment, but clearly to almost anyone else this list would look ridiculous: ‘I mean okay, so you managed to take a nap, stuff your face, mess about on your phone and what even does ‘some’ programming mean? Did you call the doctors? You know that’s important. Did you eat anything before dinner? You know you need to eat…’ and so it could go on. One thing I’m really learning with my mental health is how personal the journey is. My done list is (usually) for my eyes only and that way I can choose to attach only positive feelings to it. I’m learning to measure success by my own standards and to notice all progress, not just significant progress and sometimes even though the people around us might only ask because they care, it can be hard having to say over and over again; “well no, I … I didn’t actually manage to do that today…” and have them look shocked – that always makes me freak out about why I didn’t do it. 
Every journey starts with a single step, and the journey to mental wellness is no different, it’s just that while from the outside, the first step might be “eat breakfast each day”, depending on your starting place your daily achievements might be “was able to consider eating today, and was able to open the fridge”, and there is nothing wrong with that. Even the smallest step is a step in the right direction and so I think the done list is a great idea as long as you remember to count everything you’ve done as an achievement not just the big stuff, and you know what it’s okay if all that’s written down some days is “kept breathing” because I know that sometimes, that can feel like a battle in itself.

The Cabinet.

When Kenny and I moved into our flat we didn’t have a lot of money and so we were incredibly lucky that the previous owner left us all his furniture (actually, he just packed a suitcase and moved out so he also left cupboards full of food, his slippers by the bed and 72,000 containers of shoe polish, but that’s a story for another day…). Anyway, yes, we were very, very fortunate not to need to worry about buying furniture or appliances for the flat at all initially, however, as grateful as I am, there were two big downsides to this. 1) I got kinda lazy about the furniture. I really didn’t like a lot of it, but hey, I mean, it was there. Even when I did have decent money coming in, I kind of didn’t bother to even look on GumTree or anything for something I liked more (we live on a third floor flat, so moving furniture in and out is not the most fun thing ever), so I was never really happy with how the place looked. When people came round I often felt uncomfortable. 2) You know how they say that fish grow as big as their pond/tank allows them to? Well, I did that with my posessions. If there were 8 drawers to fill, I just kept shopping and filled them. Whereas if we had initially had zero furniture, and everything was in bags on the floor, I think I’d have been much more aware of what I owned.

Over the 2 years we’ve been here, we’ve been able to swap out almost everything in the living room and kitchen area (except the sofa, which is filthy underneath the 20 blankets covering it, but I swear it is the COMFIEST sofa of all time…), but until very recently there was still one hold-out from the original storage-set. The Cabinet. It was actually one of a pair, which, for most of the two years we’ve been here were JAMMED full of stuff – to the point where I couldn’t close the drawers a lot of the time. Then, when my KonMari-ing hit full swing last Autumn, we finally got rid of one. FINALLY. The other one was still an absolute mess though, in fact, I think I somehow smooshed contents from the first cabinet into The Cabinet, just so I could actually get rid of one. It was just this huge, unworkable mass of stuff that for whatever reason, I just could not break down. I mean, I think I knew, even then that most of it was ‘junk’ (as in, dead weight, things that didn’t add any value to my life, not actually broken things) but I just couldn’t see how I could possibly reduce it. Eventually, after a lot (and I do mean, a lot) of discussion, Kenny and I decided to pick up a set of the tall Malm drawers from IKEA to replace the cabinet – a lot shorter and neater, and more in line with the other furniture in the room, but still a lot of storage. We picked a day to go and get them and on the day I just shrugged off the plans. Time, and time again.  Day after day.

I don’t even know why the whole thing bothered me so much. Given the size of the room, it certainly wouldn’t have looked ‘too much’ to have the Malm drawers there, and let’s face it, if we ever didn’t need them, we could shift them on GumTree or Free Cycle, really quickly. But it bugged me. I would just stand and stare at that cabinet. Then open a drawer. Then close the drawer.

Over the Christmas period I managed to pick up some retail work, which saw me doing a lot of hours and I swear, literally every day I would come home and stand at the doorway and just glare at that stupid Cabinet, filled with all my stupid stuff. Knowing I had no time to deal with it, suddenly lit a fire under me to face up to it at the first possible opportunity. So January 1st rolled around, the tree came down, my contract ended and I had time to finally take care of the thing – finally.

Going through this Cabinet is the only time I’ve really been angry or frustrated with myself during the whole decluttering process. Usually, even if I feel inner turmoil or I’m just not thinking rationally, I’ll just kind of let it go that day and go back to it when I’m in a better zone. But not this Cabinet. Inside it was my ‘memories’ drawer, my art supplies, my documets (which actually, if you consider the fact I’m a collage artist who works in quite a frenzied manner, perhaps storing necessary documents right next to scrap paper for collage was a really bad idea…), just paper, paper, paper. Piles of it lying about the floor, stacks and flurries and the cat making a nest with some. I was so angry; angry at myself for keeping SO MUCH PAPER, angry at the fact I’d moved almost all of it into this flat with me two years ago, angry that I didn’t practice my art much any more, angry at finding that document I thought I’d lost… for some reason, this Cabinet just took me to a bad place.

So this was the only time I broke the ‘hold each item and see if it sparks joy’ criteria. I just couldn’t. Not with this Cabinet. Not with this paper. I separated the documents, because I had to, and then with all the art paper I just grabbed chunks and bagged them to donate. I filled bags and bags. I kept barely anything at all actually; sitting deliberating between shades of salmon paper just seemed so ludicrous all of a sudden. Honestly, I still have no idea what I all got rid of – which I think says something in itself. All that paper, all those pens that over my years as an art student I researched and shopped for, cared for, used, shared and loved. I sat there looking at it all, and realising that I couldn’t even tell you specifically what a lot of it was for (I mean, I still know what a pen does, but I couldn’t tell you why I liked a certain brand or which ink was the blackest), and it made me really sad. I didn’t just study art at university, I freaking lived it for years. I made art every day, almost subconsciously, as naturally as breathing and now, it would be about as natural as that scene where Bambi takes to the ice. I do still draw, sometimes, sort of, but the person I was years ago at uni was in that Cabinet and in a lot of ways I was saying goodbye to her. I don’t understand what changed and why I broke away so much from my art, and I think I just sort of froze everything in time, hoping that someday I’d figure it out, and maybe I will, maybe one day it’ll all come flooding back, but for now, it hurts too much to look at it all everyday and wonder why I lost what I did. So it’s almost all gone.

The Cabinet, the empty shell that it was in the end, is gone too, and nothing was bought to replace it. I moved over drawers I already had, and we got a lamp (because our ceiling light is as atmospheric as grocery store lighting) and now that corner feels like me, like part of my home. I have claimed that space and banished The Cabinet. But it still makes me a little sad. Yes, it feels like me now, yes I no longer spend time glaring at that corner of the room, but I guess it raises other questions too, about who ‘me’ is. About why I don’t practice my art much, about the feeling of disconnect – of trying to understand if I’m meant to say goodbye to that part of myself, or dig her out from under all the makeup and candles. Art student me would have hated this room. But I am not art student me. I’m mid-twenties me, I’m enagaged to be married me, I’m anxious and minimalist and Glaswegian me. Or am I? How do I know? How can I tell? Who the fuck am I?

So the Cabinet is gone, taking it’s prescence; it’s weight and shadow with it. Out of sight, out of mind I guess. I hoped emptying it out would close the chapter and let me move on – that making a firm decision would have earned me some closure. But it hasn’t. The Cabinet is gone but the doubt remains. I don’t regret physically letting go of… well, whatever it was that went, but I do wonder where the path is taking me now. To loop back around to my art with fresh eyes, and someday end up with another cabinet of paper, or to continue to move further away from one of the keystones of my identity.

Stupid Cabinet.

 

 

 

3 Reasons Why I Can’t Shop For Toiletries Like a ‘True’ Minimalist

I’ve been reading a lot of blog posts and watching a lot of YouTube videos featuring tours of minimalistic homes recently, and possibly my favourite bit – the shot that almost gives me a dirty-feeling thrill – is when the bathroom storage cupboard is opened and there’s like one spare toilet roll and a shampoo bottle in there. And nothing else. “I only shop when I need to”, says the zen-like minimalist. And for a long time, I thought this was what I was aiming for, I thought that this was a realistic short-term-ish goal for me. I want visitors to peek in my medicine cabinet and find only nail clippers and two toothbrushes (seriously, where do all my toothbrushes come from?!?!), I want to have so much space in my pantry that the vegetable box becomes a viable location during hide and seek, but you know, the more I learn about minimalism and my life, I just don’t see this style of living and shopping working out for me – at least in the short term – and here’s why.

1. Lack of immediate availability of a lot of cruelty-free/ ethical brands.

There are all different kinds of minimalism and all different reasons that folks are drawn to a more simple life. For some people, it’s about aesthetics or having the right ‘feeling’ in their home – for a lot of these people, it’s easier to shop “only as needed” because they can just pick up whatever from the store. For me, and many others, my minimalism goes hand in hand with my desire to consume less, and to make more ethical consumer choices – the downside of this, however, is that a lot of the brands and items I’ll be using, I don’t have day to day access to. Take the cruelty-free, drugstore cosmetics brand Essence, for example. I plan to purchase a lot of ‘staple’ items like mascara and brow gel from them, but the nearest store for me to buy it in is 50 miles away. Now, while I do find myself in this town, we’re talking a couple of times a year, so yeah, within reason I am going to have to ‘stock-up’ a little on those visits because I can’t just run out of mascara 3 weeks later and grab something from Boots.

2. My Anxiety

You know how for the majority of people, going into a store and buying shampoo just isn’t a thing? Well for me, with my anxiety, it can be. As silly as I’m sure it will sound, my anxiety gets bad when I start feeling like I “have” to do lots of things – now, of course, some of those things like going to work, are things that I “have” to do and I just need to suck that up… somehow. Problems occur however, when I’ve also run out of shampoo that morning AND I NEED TO WASH MY HAIR THAT NIGHT… etc. My anxiety can get bad to the point where I can’t leave the house, let alone face going into a crowded city centre to do some shopping. For this reason I can never leave essentials until they run out to the point of being ‘needed’; for me it just creates far too much pressure, and also, potentially, a lot of greasy hair.

3. The Need to Budget

While sometimes I sure wish it was otherwise, I really do need to stick to a budget – a very tight budget at the moment in fact. The reality is that, while having entire cupboard full of shower gel isn’t a good idea (trust me, I’ve been there), there is also some sense in purchasing consumable items you know you’re going to use, a few at a time when a good offer is on – expiry dates permitting of course. For the past couple of years I’ve kept spreadsheets tracking my consumable items (toothpaste, deoderant, hair gel… it’s an exciting spreadsheet) and how long it takes me to use them, as well as tagging on reviews for different items, so that I don’t re-buy a toothpaste I hated the first time around. This means that I can safely order 5 deoderants when they’re half price and know I LOVE that brand and that Kenny and I will use them up. Sure it’s annoying to open drawers and see 5 bars of soap stacked up, but I’m really not in a position to turn down 50% off prices on items we need.

How about you – how does your shopping style fit in with your minimalism? Any tips for me on how to streamline the whole process?

Learning How my Hobbies fit in with my Minimalism

I realise I’ve always had a lot of ‘hobbies’, even before I was at an age to know them by that name. For Christmas, when I was two years old, I asked Santa for ‘scissors, paper and glue’ and from that Christmas morning onwards I have had an arts and crafts box (with plastic scissors at that age, I must add). It started as a small set from the North Pole and has ebbed and flowed in size over my years as an imaginative kid, a productive art student and even now as an ‘adult’ my arts and crafts drawers are still with me. And this is just one example of my hobbies. Over the years there have been many – from learning French, a recently rejoined pursuit, to skateboarding, which was boy-with-the-dreamy-hair motivated and was, mercifully, a short lived undertaking. But my point is that I have always had my day-to-day stuff that I could sort and declutter like anyone else, but then I would have whole drawers of ‘untouchable’ items because they were my art supplies. Or my makeup collection. Or 10,000 notebooks I had acquired for writing in. And while the specifics have changed over the years, I realise that I still have a lot of ‘hobby’ stuff that I just won’t even consider taking apart.

So how does it fit in with the life I want to live? Paint stained tables and drawers bulging with scrap paper are a far cry from the minimalist images popping up on my Pinterest feed – but how do I feel about it?

The first thing I did when I started thinking about my hobbies going forward, is gave some thought to the Miss Minimalist quote; “declutter your fantasy self”. For a long time after I was out of my teens, I held on to so many relics from my less-than-wild adolescance – Nirvana t-shirts, Hello-Kitty-dressed-as-satan backpacks and some seriously chunky black eyeliner pencils. I held on, not because my teen years were great (they really weren’t), but I think it was more to do with the idea that our teen years are when we make a lot of decisions about college and life and all those big scary sorts of things, as well as have first loves and do a lot of learning about ourselves, and frankly, I think I had a hard time coming to terms with the fact that time was past, and not being able to shake off the feeling that I wanted to go back for a do-over. Holding onto all those clothes and accessories really didn’t make me feel good though. I felt very confused each time I went to get dressed: it sounds dramatic, but honestly, being confronted with those garments in the morning would just have me being hit with waves of nostalgia, regret and panic about where I was now in my life. It was like trying to have multiple identities which, as well as causing some bizarre ‘fusion’ ensembles to appear, also put a lot of pressure on me in an area of my life that really isn’t worth stressing over.

Almost as soon as I started decluttering, I spotted this behaviour pattern, I realised that I was holding onto my past, and in seeing it clearly, I felt ready to finally say goodbye to that chapter of my life – have a little cry – and begin to move on. But for some reason, the same epiphany didn’t occur with my hobbies – like I said, the drawers and boxes that stored those items were always sort of invisible to me. They were given a pass through decluttering, because they were ‘specialist’ items. Well, no more. I slowly started to become aware that there were drawers I wasn’t opening, boxes I couldn’t recall the contents of, and in peeking inside, came to realise that they were all full of ‘hobby’ items. With each hobby I remembered I felt a pang of guilt that I was neglecting all these items, I felt shame that I was failing at keeping up with something that I really did want to do, and I felt pressure – how the heck was I going to fit this in? Eventually, a little voice in my head piped up to answer that last question, saying: what if I just don’t?

I love the idea of living a rich and full life, and so I see myself wearing a lot of (metaphorical) hats. I see myself being a polygot because I love studying languages, I see myself being someone who cooks a proper, elaborate dinner each night because I’m interested in nutrition (and because I freaking love to eat), I see myself by an easel, hiking in the hills, filming makeup tutorials, jogging, swimming and visitng the cinema weekly. I see myself doing a lot of things, I just can’t see when I would be doing them.

I think this is a key example of it not being a conscious pressure I place on myself – I don’t literally wake up each morning and give myself a hard time for not going out to photograph local wildlife and then combine it with a 10 mile jog home, but still, subconsciously I’m aware of all these boxes and drawers filled with all these ‘goals’ and ‘targets’ I’m failing to meet. On some level, I am still carrying all this around with me. I am still trying to remember the cheat codes to Mega-Bomberman, and retain the ability to speak conversationally in several languages, to ensure we get our 5-a-day in an innovative and exciting manner, and to pan an eyeshadow palette. It’s a lot of things to remember, really, given that a good chunk of my brain is already given over to remembering the lyrics of every ABBA song (‘cos those come hard-wired, right?).

So how did I go from having about 35,672 hobbies I never did, to picking out a couple that I wanted to continue with right now in my life?

1. Asked some really tough questions – what could I stop?

This line of thinking took me to some really dark places – dealing with the idea that I might never do something, led me to a lot of thoughts about my own mortality – you know, we only have so much time, we can’t do it ALL – I might very possibly die without ever completing Tomb Raider II for the Playstation One, or managing to master night-time photography. And you know what? In the end I realised that it didn’t really matter. While painting is fun and I’d love to be able to make beautiful desserts for my fiance I know that when the time comes and I’m on my deathbed I really won’t care if I ever did beat my sister’s score in the Wii ski-jump (not least because I know I never will). I know this is a really morbid way to think about things, but going to this extreme really made me realise what things were important to me – that added value to my life experience, and helped me grow as a person and express myself – and to be able to tell them apart from the things that while fun to experience now and again, were more weight and pressure than was worth stringing along.

2. What could I hit pause on?

After outright discarding a lot of my hobby items – buh-bye scrapbooking supplies – I was left with still a lot of things that I really did feel connected to, but that weren’t things I reached for everyday. For example, I had a lot of books on learning various languages, and a lot of books and tools related to learning calligraphy and hand lettering. I knew that while I was passionate about pursuing these interests, pursuing them wasn’t going to happen tomorrow or even next week and I wanted to find a way to keep them alive, but free myself from the constant physical reminder of them. I spent a lot of time online researching these subjects and for languages I found many great YouTube channels as well as the language learning website DuoLingo and I realised that actually, this combined with being able to store dictionaries on my Kindle meant that I could actually release ALL of my physical books to go to loving homes, but still be able to hit ‘resume’ on this hobby any time I like. As far as the physical ‘tools’ for hand lettering, or even my huge stash of printmaking supplies, I really looked at what I would ‘need’ to have on hand to get started again – what couldn’t I work without in the beginning? Everything else, I let go, knowing that if or when the time comes and I want to really get involved with these hobbies again, I will find a way to regain items as I need them. I trust that will work out.

3. Could items be loved more by someone else?

Then, when it came to the hobbies that I knew I was going to physically going to keep the items for- like the majority of my art supplies – I went through and tried to feel the joy, and workout if I’d actually prefer to let some things go rather than keeping them sitting in a drawer because ‘it made sense to’. In the end I got a big pile of coloured paper and pastels and various other bits and pieces ready to send off to the youngest budding artist in the family. On paper (no pun intended), it made sense to keep it ALL – paper is a non perishable and it would be a nightmare to try and find all those specific shades, weights and textures again – but in truth, I felt more joy at the thought of gifting them to someone else, practicalities be darned. For me, it was about finding the right balance between having still kept a ‘full set’ of supplies for my ongoing interests, but also that I wasn’t just holding on to so many things that I might actually never get round to using them.

Of course, deciding which objects to physically keep is only half the battle really. As with all of minimalism, it’s more about mindset than anything else, and I had to really have a big shift in my thoughts with my hobbies going forward. Right now, I want my biggest focus, or ‘hobby’ to be about being happy. About pursuing bliss and calm and fulfillment, and maybe once I’m feeling some more of that I’ll look to add in a couple more hobbies again, but for now, I’m liking the peace and quiet and the pressure-free space my home has become.