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.

 

 

 

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.

Anxiety vs. Minimalism – Can I KonMari My Way to Happiness?

 

Like millions of others, I recently caught the organising bug after reading Marie Kondo’s ‘The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up’ – or should I say I eventually caught the bug as the book had in fact sat on my shelf for many months, not being very contagious at all really.

Like so many have done before me, I spent a week ripping my house apart, visiting the local charity shop to donate entire car loads (more times than I’d care to admit, frankly), showing my socks some love and having some really terrifying moments of wondering just how the heck I ever got to be someone who owned a huge box full of high heels. I moved to Glasgow two years ago. I moved with all these shoes. I have worn none of them since being here. What? How? Why?

The end result was, to be honest, mind blowing. As in, inviting family members round to see it (and then showing them inside every cupboard and drawer, smugly,) levels of impressive. Me, little ol’ ‘keep it just in case’ me had finally turned a corner, seen the light and I’d add some more cliches in here, but oops, I’ve decluttered those too. I was happy, actually happy sitting on my couch doing nothing, just breathing.

That last statement perhaps could use some context.

You see, I came to pick up the book one day when I’d been signed off work with anxiety and depression – I was, in other words, not in a good place. Not at all really. I wasn’t coping anymore; with my job, with relationships, with my home, or even really with myself, and reading this book and cleaning up was the first time I had wanted to do anything, or for that matter felt like I could do anything in, well… a long time. For the first time in forever (sorry) I had a purpose, I had something to work towards, I felt proud of myself – I was taking control, I was facing up to things, I was throwing out nail polish, damn it. My life was pretty much in tatters around me but I was taking those baby steps, I was achieving something.

So there I was, on my couch, breathing. My fiance was so proud of me (after he finished emptying all the discarded items from the flat ASAP, in case I changed my mind, of course), my mum pretty much thought I was a pod person, even the cat seemed more relaxed, although, admittedly, that’s hard to measure. I should have had nothing else to do but give myself some pats on the back and soak up the calm vibrations (and the dust, we had really kicked up a lot of dust). But I couldn’t, and I didn’t. Everyone else saw the job as done, but frankly all I had were more questions.

Sure, I can now safely say that each one of my sweaters brings me joy, great, but cumulatively, am I happy being someone who owns 15 sweaters? Why do I own 15 sweaters? I can, after all only wear one at a time. Do I enjoy walking into my closet and choosing between all the pieces of clothing that I love, or would my life actually be easier with fewer knitwear-based decisions to make? I could go on, but I imagine you can extrapolate the sweater situation in your mind by yourself. Ultimately, I was asking some big questions; why did I buy all these things in the first place? What is this void, this wanting I am trying to fill? If I don’t want this, what do I want?

Sure, I can now safely say that each one of my sweaters brings me joy, great, but cumulatively, am I happy being someone who owns 15 sweaters? 

So I wanted to try and find other people who had felt this way. Other people who had become disillusioned with their very lifestyle and the core paradigms they had formed to guide them through adulthood. I learned that, shockingingly enough, my feelings were not unique to me – so many people had felt like this that the new lifestyles they had created for themselves even had a name: minimalism. So, I tried to take a peek at what living a minimalist lifestyle means. Unfortunately, like a lot of topics on the internet, there isn’t a shallow end where you can dip your toes in and look around, nope, it’s very much like falling down the proverbial rabbit hole into a swirling void of anti-consumerism, terror tales of fast fashion and stories of people finding inner peace after removing all their electical appliances. I read blog post after blog post, from people who can fit all their worldly posessions into a carry-on bag *hyperventilates into a paper bag*, and people sporting the most chic, loft style apartments, with drawers that had one t-shirt in them. But I couldn’t see where I would fit into this, I couldn’t see any of me in these lifestyles.

I want to live like me… just with less. I’m not suddenly going to become a back-packer and frankly, I do like all of my fluffy pyjamas. All the pyjamas. I spent hours, days in fact reading everyone’s definitions of minimalism – ‘lighter living’, ‘less is more’, ‘freedom from white noise’. I studied every aspect as an individual concept – capsule wardrobes, minimalist cooking, the environmental impact, the financial impact – as well as reading numerous accounts of how minimalism had changed peoples’ lives completely. And then, like a toddler who can’t open the bubbles, I got frustrated and threw them at my sister, or, err, wait this metaphor didn’t really work out… This was just something else I was failing at. What a shock. Something else I’m not cut out for, another thing I don’t understand – this is another phase my family will crack jokes about at Christmas dinner, another desperate and misguided attempt on my part to cope with long-term mental health issues. What a fool I’ve been, I’m no minimalist.

I want to live like me… just with less. I’m not suddenly going to become a back-packer and frankly, I do like all of my fluffy pyjamas. 

So I tried to shrug it off and go back to shopping for eyeshadow. I loaded up baskets, I browsed all across the web, I went to the checkout page and I just sat there; why? Why am I doing this? Why am I suddenly not doing this? I realised that whatever seed has been planted in my mind; it isn’t suddenly going away. I eventually stopped pouting, and began reading minimalist blogs again. Slowly I began to understand. I’ve been reading all these accounts from people who’ve been living as minimalists for years; who’ve had time to define what it means for them, how it fits into their lives. I’m looking at a finished product and putting myself on the spot to get there, now, when in reality, this is going to be a journey. Moving to minimalism, whatever that ends up meaning for me, looks like this terrifying leap – I cannot currently see anyway in which I can further reduce my possessions and re-wire my consumerist brain. But that’s okay. All I know right now is that I don’t want to keep living this way; nesting among my things, a la Smaug, and hiding from the bigger, psychological issues (because, maybe if Smaug had learned to KonMari, things wouldn’t have gone as far as they did). All I know is something doesn’t feel right anymore and minimalism is the direction I can feel myself being pulled. It’s in my nature, with my anxiety, to hate uncertainty and to want to feel in control at all times, and this, well this is like being swept off into the unknown. But something inside me is telling me to let go of the tree branch I am clinging to (*has nightmarish The Lion King memories*) and allow myself to drift along and see where I end up… hopefully not under a stampede of wildebeest. Or sweaters.