Fail is a four-letter word

A revolutionary failure
The Liberator from Blakes 7 – a series where the good guys failed to win

In the world of Blakes 7 fandom, there are many hotly debated issues, but the end of the series is particularly divisive. There are many fans who feel let down by the fact that everyone (debatably) died and that the evil Federation ‘won’. Personally, I have always been happy, although obviously also devastated, that it ended in such a strong way; I would have hated for the series to drag on too long and then just fizzle out. I have posed the question before – if it had had a happier ending, would I still be obsessed with it forty years later?

However, this isn’t an essay about Blakes 7; I’ve just used that for illustrative purposes. My real aim is to talk about the nature of failure and to determine whether I should feel more disturbed by my failures (they are many). It seems, even before the rise of social media, that we have been increasingly encouraged to sanitise our failings and the word “fail” itself has been demonised. The mantra nowadays seems to be “praise the successes, gloss over the failings”. I, for one, am beginning to wonder if this is really wise.

This has been on my mind over the weekend because I have been watching YouTube videos by someone who writes, self-publishes, and also has a business advising other writers about planning their work/lives. The channel is Heart Breathings, if you would like to check her out; I’d say she does about 50% good commonsense and advice and 50% hustle, and there are a lot of YouTube channels out there with much more hustle. I will come clean and admit I watch a lot of YouTube videos in search of inspiration about tackling my own lackadaisical approach to planning. You have my permission to question whether watching YouTube videos is a sensible way of dealing with a lack of enthusiasm and determination or whether it is yet more procrastination.

I watched one particular video in which this writer and her buddy had a writing retreat and I found myself wondering about the fact that she didn’t meet the targets she set herself. Now, she is heavily pregnant which would definitely affect her ability to work, and the word count goals she had set at the beginning of the break seemed incredibly high to me. Although the first day was mainly travel, she was already far behind her target at the end of it and I wondered why she didn’t revise her target based on that fact. It is fine and dandy to forgive yourself for not achieving your targets, but you need to be realistic when you decide whether you can catch up over a set amount of time, and if you can’t, you will need to lower your expectations.

One of the most interesting things my weekend’s viewing has me thinking is that I should care more when I fail. If failure doesn’t upset me, then what I was trying to do wasn’t important in the first place. I’ll be honest: I’m getting on, I don’t have time to be doing things that I don’t care about. Failure is a feeling, as are success, love, and hunger. Why would I waste my remaining days ignoring such feelings or, worse, not feeling them at all? To a certain extent, we judge which things we care deeply about not only by how happy we are when we succeed, but also by how we feel when we fail at them. When something is important to us, the stakes are automatically higher. We can shrug off a disparaging comment from a stranger far more easily than the same comment from someone we know and admire.

From the partial reading I have done of The Bullet Journal Method (see my previous One Book July musings), one strong idea I have taken away is that if you continually fail to do a particular thing on your list, you would be wise to examine whether it is actually important to you. I am guilty of carrying certain tasks forward from day to day, often tiny tasks that take no time at all to do, because I don’t feel any sense of guilt that I didn’t do them. I need to look at each of these things and ask if I actually care about it. If I do, then I should feel guilty that I am pushing it endlessly into the future; if I do not then I shouldn’t be trying to do it at all.

It reads as if I just spent the whole weekend watching videos, but that is not the case. I spent a couple of hours on Saturday sketching out a version of a planning page that would help me to set goals for the next quarter of the year and break them down into a list of tasks for each month and week. Doing this, I discovered that I don’t actually have a problem with the goal-setting side, and I can see the actions I need to achieve the goal, but I struggle with the concept of assigning particular things to set time periods. Perhaps it is because the projects I am currently working on really consist of doing the same thing repeatedly. Take, for example, searching for a job, which involves checking out particular sites for vacancies each day. I can’t control how many suitable jobs will be advertised in a week, so I can’t plan ahead to put in, say, two job applications every week. All I can do is repeat the process and ensure that when I see a vacancy that I think will suit me I send an application in a timely manner. That doesn’t count as ‘planning’;  it is, by its very nature, reactive. There is a more proactive method which is to send of a set number of ‘cold-call’ letters every week on the off-chance that someone might be thinking about hiring, but that doesn’t appear to be how the job market works nowadays. There is a similar conundrum with writing my novel: I am trying to write a minimum of 500 words a day and the aim of finishing first draft will be achieved when I’ve finished telling the story. In this instance, the proactive course would be to determine at the outset the number of words I want the novel to come in at and set goals of when I want to be at the 25,000 or 50,000 words mark. That is certainly something I want to consider. Funnily enough, knitting is the one thing where I find it very easy to set goals and break down a project into components – when I want to have the back or the sleeves finished by. In fact, if I could approach different types of projects with the same clarity that knitting has, life might be a little easier.

So, here we are, heading into a new week and it might seem negative to start off with the objective of feeling more disappointed and unhappy if I don’t do things well, but being disappointed by my failures is a key component in moving forward. After all, fail is a four-letter word, but if I own my failures and use them as rocks to form the foundation of the life I’m trying to build, it does not have to be a bad word.

 

One book July drop-out!

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_1432
Ah, One Book July, it wasn’t you, it was me.

It was always quite a stretch of the imagination to think I’d commit to following something like this for an entire month, and no surprise to me that I decided to drop it. Not that it was in any way a waste of time because it afforded me a pause in which to look at what exactly I feel is lacking in the planning/motivation/time management area of my life.

Ryder Carroll’s “The Bullet Journal Method”

At the beginning of July I was keen to take part in the community read-through of this book because I started it in June but got slightly bogged down. What has been interesting to me is that throughout July I have continued to get bogged down with it and have pretty much ground to a halt at Page 183. The book contains some interesting thoughts, and Ryder Carroll has a very compelling narrative to tell about his own struggles with finding the best way to record and appraise his activities, but I find it impossible to complete the parts where he asks me to work through an exercise to uncover things about myself. It isn’t that I am averse to self-analysis – I do it all the time, so perhaps the problem is that I don’t need to go through more ‘why’ processes; I need to nail down a firm ‘how’ process.

Using the “Method”

I was going to use my Filofax Notebook incorporating the Mark and Fold week-to-view diary because that has been serving me as well as anything does. Then I decided to go whole-heartedly into the Method: use a bound notebook and follow Ryder Carroll’s guidelines by approaching each day one at a time, listing everything you need to do, bringing forward things you haven’t done previously, and making notes on anything you do or think during the day. Ever since I first read about using bullet journals, this was the way it made sense to me, however after a couple of weeks it really wasn’t hitting my sweet spot.

First and foremost, I wasn’t actually achieving anything more than I do with any other method, and it certainly didn’t motivate me to get on with the highest priorities in my life. Then there was the fact that whilst Ryder Carroll advocates what he calls rapid logging with very brief bullet points capturing just the essence of each idea or action point, I found it impossible to set aside my story-teller instincts. In fact, in a free-format notebook I was actually less inclined to be brief than I am using a traditional printed planner with its associated space limitations. One very strong positive thing to come out of the two weeks I spent doing the bound bullet journal was finding that I enjoyed recording more information about my daily exercise and activity than I had previously done in my week-to-view diary.

At the end of the second week, I tried one or two different ideas in my bound notebook to personalise it to my tastes, then returned to the Filofax Notebook/Mark and Fold diary combination for the third week. However, I already know that this is a system which doesn’t push me to do my most important tasks. All of which leaves me pondering…

The way ahead

Now we are in the fourth week of July and I am doing something that I have previously found useful in paid employment – keeping a log of what I am doing as the day progresses so that I can try to identify why I don’t do the things I should be doing, and what I do instead. One thing I’ve taken from Ryder Carroll is that you need to understand why you are avoiding doing particular things. It may be that you’ve chosen totally the wrong path (he gives a very good example of his own experience in the book); it may be that there are certain items that appeal to you, but that in reality you are never going to follow. For me, bullet journaling appeals, but it’s not a system that is going to add anything to my life, at least at the current time.

I’m doing my logging electronically and have stepped away from the whole notebook and diary system until I’ve sorted out my thinking.

The things I do anyway

This is not to say that I have abandoned my notebooks and pens, even briefly. Whatever happens, my morning routine includes writing my journal in a notebook with a fountain pen. It’s where I record the things I’ve done, write about what I enjoyed and what I didn’t enjoy, and make my plans for the future. It is probably the reason why the analytical side of The Bullet Journal Method book failed to gel with me.

Another thing I do every morning is read my horoscope. I don’t believe in horoscopes, per se, but it is no more and no less useful than reading a motivational quote every morning, or reciting affirmations. I don’t need it to do anything more than remind me that no two days are alike and that life ebbs and flows according to principles that cannot be altered by mere mortals.


Disclaimer: after I wrote the title of this post I had to nip onto YouTube and watch “Beauty School Drop-out” from “Grease”. Feel free to follow suit.


 

3 questions, then I can do it

ICDI a

If you are female, and living in the twenty-first century, you can’t have avoided seeing this inspirational phrase. Indeed, you may have it in your planner, or on your wall, more than likely printed in a calligraphy-style font, quite possibly in minimal black on white, or in rose-gold with some marbling if you’ve gone for more bling. It is a quote which is designed to motivate us and to stop us cowering within our comfort zone and I can see the appeal. However for it to be truly relevant I believe that it needs to be preceded by three very important questions.

ICDI b

As a standalone phrase, “I can do it” is very nebulous, and in reality it may be preferable to interpret the words as meaning “I can do anything I put my mind to”. In order put our minds to anything, we first have to determine exactly what it is. If we fall into the trap of believing we can do anything at all, but don’t decide on specific things to actually do, then we will just sit on a sofa forever (which, if I am honest, is one of the few things about which I can honestly say “I can do it”).

ICDI c

It is entirely probable that each of us can achieve anything we truly set our minds to, but we won’t do things if we do not have sufficient desire to do them. If we are not entirely honest with ourselves we will be able to come up with endless perfectly believable reasons why things are not going to plan and we are not reaching our objectives, but we need to see past those and question whether we really want to do what we are working towards. I have found that self-knowledge is hugely important when it comes time to set goals. I have to understand myself and what I really want to achieve; what makes me happy, or sad, or angry; what I can live with and live without. With a good understanding of myself and my motivations, I can look at the ideas my mind spawns and judge them not simply as to whether they are ‘good’ or ‘bad’, but whether they are something I really want to do.

ICDI d

The “I can do it” quote is not all alone in the universe, many of us also know the one that goes along the lines of “Good enough is done” – it is often recommended as an antidote for perfectionism. This is sound advice if you struggle with completing things because you are judging the results by unfeasibly high standards. This one always rings a little hollow with me, perhaps because I belong to a generation raised with the idea of achieving the best we possibly can. I know that it is not good for my soul if I feel I am are consistently submitting work that falls short of my best. Hand-in-hand with this goes my attitude that there is no point expending my energy on things that I am not ever going to be particularly good at. Naturally, how well I need to do a thing depends on the level to which I want to pursue it; I am an average swimmer and that is fine, but my standards for the things I do professionally are much higher because I want to be proud of my achievements and not feel that I am simply coasting along doing a “good enough” job.

So, here’s my take on “I can do it”:

21-06-19 ICDI d

Imagining my brain is exactly the right size

“Come on, Frank, an officer files things in his head. He doesn’t remember them until they pop up, you know that: a face, a street, a name, a number, zabba-dabba-doo, like that…”

Lieutenant Theo Kojak/1976


Listen to – Gladys Knight and the Pips “So Sad The Song” (I know that we both talked it over, said it’s best to forget)
Read or watch – Ray Bradbury “Fahrenheit 451” (people memorising stories because the books are being burned)


My avid consumption of books and videos about various methods of time management/planning has led me to an interesting juncture; a conundrum which is summed up by two equal and opposing concepts:-

  • “Use it or lose it”
  • “Your brain is not for storage, it is for creativity”

Most planning systems are based on the second of these two ideas and posit that you cannot trust your brain to store and organise all of the information about your life. You therefore need a trusted system to capture all your memories, all your thoughts, all your ideas, everything you need to do and everywhere you need to be so that your brain can be clear.

There is a barely disguised suggestion in this that life is so complex and so fast that your brain is not big enough for it.

However, there is an increasing amount of media coverage about the first of the concepts, advising us on how we need to exercise our brains and do crosswords, or Sudoku puzzles, or memorise poetry if we are to avoid our brains atrophying.

Oh, you are not memorising poetry yet? I have several large passages committed to memory and am currently working on “Meeting Point” by Louis MacNeice: I know all the verses, but struggle to keep them in the right order.

The idea of being able to trust my brain appeals to me, perhaps because I have never really been a list-maker and regardless of how many hand-written or device-orientated “to do” lists I have, I tend to do what is uppermost in my mind. Conversely, I find the idea of not being able to trust my brain very upsetting because I want to be in control of my direction; I don’t want to cede that control to a leather-bound planner or a whizzy device, however much I enjoy owning and playing with such items.

My brain, when I choose to use it, is actually pretty good at recalling things, and at prioritising what needs to be done. When I begin to lose track it is usually because I have become over-burdened, either with tasks that need doing or with more insidious “input”. It is not that I have forgotten what is most important at the time, more that I have successfully over-written it with fluff. In fact, I feel that often failure to accomplish something because “I forgot” is inaccurate and I should instead say “I chose not to remember”.

Of course, I am not espousing the rejection of all written or recorded material in favour of brain-power alone, just a more organic and more thoughtful use of both. And now I have to refer back to Kojak to illustrate a way of working that could be relevant now, either between managers and their team members, or just within your own personal task-setting.

Here is the scene – Kojak is sitting in his office and he yells “Crocker!” Detective Crocker appears and Kojak barks one concise instruction at him. Crocker doesn’t need to write it down, he has a single, well-defined task to do and he shoots off and does it. If it involves finding some information, he comes back, maybe with a brief written note, and tells Kojak the answer and that progresses the investigation. (I accept that sometimes even Kojak is a little blurry – like the episode that contained the line “Crocker – do it all.” On the whole he’s pretty good with his instructions.)

You will note that they didn’t have to book a meeting room and work through a long list of items of varying importance which they could only recall because they’d written them on a @Kojak/@Crocker list. I think in the modern workplace we can get bogged down in detail and lose immediacy. If we were giving our brains the leading role in our work, we might focus more on the really important and the really urgent and leave behind some of the purely bureaucratic and petty tasks that we consider so important in our current endeavours.

It is useful to write down times and dates in a diary, to remind ourselves of things that we need to attend to at a given moment and sometimes it is necessary to write a list of everything you need to do because you lack focus on that day, or in that hour. I just don’t want to delegate everything to some other system when using my brain could be a better way all-round.

So, this week I am trying to think hard about what I need to do next to make progress on the important things in my life and I am treating pen and paper, and my electronic devices, as aides-memoire instead of using my brain to assist the all-important List. I hope I will feel more human this way, because no-one wants to be just an organic limb carrying out the demands of a non-sentient catalogue of tasks.

Yes, I have no doubt there will be a lot of things that I forget, but I think that is how we sieve out that good ideas from the not so good ones. I wonder if, somewhere along the line, I might find that my brain is exactly the right size for my life.

Word of the Week – Noctuary

06-01-19 Hygge
Just the night for a noctuary

 

Noctuary  (noun)

A record of the events, or one’s thoughts, during the night.

(From the Latin “nox, noctis” meaning night; on the analogy of “diary”)

Here’s a word for anyone to use if they wake in the night and have to write down something that has just struck them. For anyone who writes down their dreams. For those of you who keep a notebook on the bedside table.

Me? When I’m in bed, I’m in bed; my dreams can come and go as they please, if they are important I will remember them; if I forget them, clearly they were not important. Almost any night, the only thing that will get me out of bed once I’m settled is a trip to the loo.

Except, that is, on Saturday night when I thought something just after I got into bed and had to put the light on, pad out into my living room, sit at my desk and write down the single sentence that a fictional character had uttered in my head, then pad back and settle down. It momentarily crossed my mind that I should have writing equipment by my bed for just such a chance; I didn’t know that I needed a noctuary.

Do you have a noctuary? Did you know that was what it was called?


 

I’m doing this…

17-05-19 I'm doing this

Here’s a snapshot of what is going on around here these days. This is what was piled on my settee when I started to tidy up last night prior to heading off to bed (before I took the photo I did move them into a more pleasing arrangement than the ‘old heap of stuff’ that they had naturally formed!).

The new Avon brochure commences today, so I had been busy setting them up and getting a .pdf version of the brochure up on my beauty blog  – feel free to head over there, or visit my webshop where you can browse through the products and, so long as you are in the United Kingdom, order online for delivery direct to you from Avon’s warehouse. I’m trying out the Vitamin C Serum that’s launching this month. I like a nice serum and, truth be told, I’d rather use one cream day and night but add in a serum in the evening than have separate day and night moisturisers.

Then, of course, there has been knitting. The photo shows how far I have got with the first sleeve of my cardigan. I have been resting my hand but still doing a few rows each day just to make sure the cardigan continues to grow. I am enjoying working with this yarn and the pattern is really simple but effective.

The book, The Bullet Journal Method by Ryder Carroll, was an impulse purchase this week. I have been following the buzz about this method of planning/tracking over the past few years, but ultimately have always felt that a lot of it is not for me. Then again, the basic concept of keeping all your incoming information in one distinct place is very much to my taste. I find having things scattered all over the place makes them easier to ignore. In one of the best jobs I have had, it was common practice to keep a hardback notebook in which you noted whatever needed to be done – in my secretarial role this meant I had lots of notes every day on responses I needed to send to e-mails on behalf of my manager. I found it a very workable system and the Bullet Journal is not dissimilar to that. I am enjoying reading it so far, although I may not adopt the method in its entirety. I decided to buy it after watching a video online that was originally shown at the European Planner Conference; this runs to just over 30 minutes, but I think it’s well worth watching because Mr Carroll comes across as such a genuinely lovely chap. Earlier in the year I read about nine-tenths of Getting Things Done by David Allen, but it didn’t entirely gel with me. It felt to me like it was devised by, and addressing the needs of, business owners and top-level managers, whereas Ryder Carroll seems to be coming from, and addressing, a much broader base of both workers and creative professionals. Have to see if I make it to the end of this one!

I am consistently referring to the diary pages in my Filofax notebook, and also using it for broader list-making and note-taking. I am still very pleased with this set-up and I can foresee it serving me for some time to come. I chose a verse by Dorothy Parker for the creative area this week and I used my fine-nibbed Parker 51 filled with the Lamy Peridot ink. When I am writing in the diary I mainly use the Waterman Hemisphere in the blue finish which you can see in the photo, and that is filled at the moment with Graf von Faber-Castell ink in Midnight Blue. Underlining is done using my Cross Century II filled with the Lamy Ruby ink (speaking of which, I am in love with all the red inks Michael Jecks has been testing recently on his Writerly Witterings YouTube channel – you can check out Ink Comparison: Red and/or Ink Comparison: Red Second stage if you’re interested). I use my other Waterman Hemisphere – the Rose Cuivre finish – to write in my journal every morning. That one is currently filled with J Herbin Poussiere de Lune which is a purple-to-brown ink. In this way I am getting to play with a lot of the pens and the inks in my small collection. I feel a return to a brighter purple ink is imminent when one of the pens runs dry.

The final item I had to clear away was a tube of hand cream because my hands have been very dry recently. This particular hand cream is from one of Avon’s fragranced bath ranges and it is a lovely consistency, but there are more subtle fragrances around. I happen to like this one, but I don’t imagine it would be for everybody – but then, what is?

After a few nice sunny days, we’ve got a fine drizzle this afternoon although it held off until I was back from my regular Friday-morning swim so that was good. Our electricity went off for a few minutes at lunch-time, and all the alarms in the neighbourhood started ringing so it was an exciting few minutes.

Now we are heading towards another weekend which I hope will provide plenty of opportunities to knit, read, and ponder the meaning of life.


 

Word of the Week – Aspire

08-04-19 WotW Aspire

Wow, that’s an image to set us ablaze on a Monday morning!

It seems to me, looking at the human race as a single entity, that it is driven by aspiration now more than in its recent history. It isn’t so much that there is a greater desire for achievements, but that the achievements themselves are less practical, more nebulous, than, say, in my parents’ generation. Then, we might have aspired to retire to Margate; now we aspire to ‘travel’. In the first instance, there is a specific place that we would see ourselves living in; in the second we wish merely to be somewhere else. I am not sure that either way is right, or wrong, but I do think that they are different. I think that both could lead equally to great satisfaction, or great dissatisfaction.

The thing that made me think about aspirations was the list of activities on a local convenience store window. I read these initially as a list of aspirations, and it made me wonder what sort of person would aspire to such things? And if I judge these as falling short of the acceptable role of an aspiration, what does that say about me and my perception of how the world should be?

Less loftily, this simply made me smirk and I had to photograph it.

08-04-19 Aspiration
Reads, Eats, Drinks, Smokes – an aspiration list?

My list of four aspirations might be: Dreams, Writes, Knits, Walks. Limiting to four, what would yours be?


 

I packed my bag and in it I put…

Pack my bag

Today being the first Saturday in the month, I went off to Norwich Castle Museum to my writing class. I thought before I set off that it might be fun to take a photo showing what I pack in my bag when I’m off to class, so here it is.

Bag: Knomo “Antwerp” cross-body bag

Contents from top left moving clockwise:

  • Woollen fingerless mitts — similar available from my Etsy shop
  • House and bicycle keys on lanyard
  • Wool felt beret
  • Cath Kidston small leather purse
  • Wizzard little tool for repairing glasses
  • Mark and Fold A6 stitched notebook printed up with monthly diary
  • Mark and Fold A5 linen-cover stitched notebook
  • Cath Kidston glasses case
  • Pappersbruk top-bound spiral notepad
  • DIY tinted lipbalm
  • Waterman Hemisphere fountain pen in Rose Cuivre finish
  • Swizzels Parma Violet sweets
  • Avon Encanto hand cream
  • Envelope containing Waterstones gift cards

In our class today we studied objects in the current exhibition Viking: Rediscover the Legend. By the end of the class I had written the following poem,

This supple leather had, in previous days,
Cradled the calloused foot of Ivar’s father
As he traveled the familiar paths of a city
Many miles, many years, from home.
Each morning Ivar watched as the shoe
Was drawn with barely audible creaks
Onto the foot it had sworn to protect,
And the bone of a long-dead sheep
Passed through a loop of hide
To join foot and shoe in solemn matrimony.
It went thus each day, until one day
Foot and shoe did not return
And Ivar, in his grief,
Walked the path in his father’s stead.

I have to say I am loving my monthly get-together with other local writers and the chance to focus on things that I wouldn’t perhaps be drawn to on my own.


How was your Saturday?


 

Vanity

05-04-19 mask

It took me a long while to buy into social media. Oh, I’ve always been a fan of blogs and I love writing this blog in particular. I reluctantly signed up to Facebook simply to be in the loop with information about the Blakes 7 conventions I attend, and I have come to enjoy it as an easy way to keep up with the millennials in my family and with friends I have made at the conventions I’ve been to.

When I started selling Avon products at the beginning of this year I knew I would have to up my social media game since my intention was and is for it to be primarily an online shop (I sell to anyone in the UK at pamalisonbeautyshop). I signed up for a twitter account and for Instagram accounts for both the beauty shop (@pamalisonbeautyshop) and the Etsy store where I have some hand-knits for sale (@pamalisonknits). I do not like Twitter at all; I just don’t see the point of it and cannot be bothered to put in the time to learn. Instagram, however, has been another story.

I think the big thing I like about Instagram is seeing little updates and photos from people I was already following on YouTube. These are mainly people in the knitting, writing, and paper planning communities. As far as posting items myself goes, I realise now that there is quite a learning curve and I am still pretty near the bottom of it. I’m not too bad with photos like the one above where I can stage a little scene and photograph it. I am planning taking some “contents of my handbag” shots featuring some Avon products along with the purse, notebooks and pens I usually carry and I feel quite enthusiastic about that. Where I struggle are what I would classify as the vanity shots – selfies of me wearing a particular make-up look, or demonstrating a product. That is because I almost always hate photos of myself. However, in the interests of promoting my business and trying to encourage people my age to invest a little in their beauty routines, I have come to the conclusion I will have to start being in some shots. I had an experiment with it this afternoon and was surprised to come up with a photo I rather like, totally without make-up, the light is what it is, I don’t ever use filters because whenever I try I always find I liked a photo better without them.

So here I am in my unadorned glory, glowing with post-swim, post-facemask health!

05-04-19 me


The facemask I used is Avon Planet Spa Heavenly Hydration. Annoyingly, this isn’t in our product list at the moment. I also use the Anew Ultimate Gold Peel-Off Mask which is very nice and leaves my skin soft, but today I really felt the need for some extra hydration.


 

Decluttering for maximalists

27-02-19 Declutter
Tomorrow’s decluttering target

Oh, lawks – I have too much stuff, I need to de-clutter!

‘The curse is come upon me,’ cried
The Lady of Shallot

Those of us who are not minimalists face a big hurdle in life and that is to determine where to draw the line between “lots of lovely stuff” and “clutter”. On the face of it and particularly, I am sure, to genuine minimalists, lots of lovely stuff looks pretty much the same as clutter. However, there is a tipping point, and I reached that last week. It took a comment by my grandson (the reluctant owner of a minimalist mother) to make me take stock and determine that there is a whole category of things which I regularly move about from place to place and which I neither want nor enjoy.

My favourite temporary storage space for such things is in my wardrobe, but when that wardrobe is required for the purposes of hide-and-seek, the things have to go elsewhere. The only problem with that is that elsewhere is aready full of things. Action is required.

The first step in any action plan is to think. In this instance, the thinking led me to an understanding of the nature of my clutter. For me, clutter is stuff that I have already let go of emotionally and cerebrally, but somehow haven’t physically removed and it falls into a few categories:-

  • Items that might be worth selling – these need to be priced and listed for sale.
  • Items might be waiting to be taken in to a charity shop – hardly difficult to accomplish.
  • Items that I have categorised in my head as difficult to dispose of and therefore have not even tried to think of ways to remove them – these need rather more work, but it can be done.

One example of the latter was my old printer which I could happily have just put it in my garage and forgotten about. One of my first actions after my grandson’s visit was to  list this on a sale site free to anyone who was prepared to come and collect it. I had an offer pretty instantly. Not everything that I want to sell garners any interest, but it’s always a good starting point and if no-one wants it, donating to charity remains an option.

One idea for tackling stagnant clutter is to make a decision to remove a certain number of items each day. This week I am setting aside just 15 minutes after I wash up the breakfast things each morning to go through one tiny area and see if I can remove three items. It might be a kitchen drawer, or a storage box. Today it was the box I use to store my spare make-up and skincare; I easily found more than three things in that which I wouldn’t ever use. One bonus in setting a number is that it’s human nature to try and beat it.

I am writing this on the penultimate day of International Correspondence Writing Month and after I write my final letter tomorrow I am looking forward to going through my letter-writing box and weeding out some things that I no longer want to keep. Then I can recycle the box and that will be a grand achievement for the day.

I’m not a profligate purchaser and there are plenty of things in my life which I am happy to just keep using until they conk out without feeling any need to keep updating. I expect my CD player and television to last me years; I don’t see any need to buy newer, bigger, splashier models. One thing my grandson commented about last week was a couple of framed photographs that I had just bunged under my chest of drawers pending some action. I told him I intended to put up new photos and he asked what I would do with these. I was happy to be able to point out that the existing photos would be replaced, but the frames re-used with new photos in them. That raises a question in my mind, too – in these days where we are all trying to reduce our impact on the planet’s resources, why don’t shops sell cushion covers separately? The vast majority still come with a foam or feather pad inside them, but it would make much more sense to sell the covers and pads separately. I mean, you don’t have to buy a new pillow every time you buy a pillow-case.

These are just some thoughts I am having as I try to create a bit more breathing-room in my flat. I am certain that this doesn’t mean I am going to become any sort of minimalist. I will still end up with more stuff than I need, and I don’t doubt that I will be decluttering in some form until I become too old to get to the charity shop and even the bin.


Do you have any favourite decluttering tips? Are you a minimalist, a maximalist, or something entirely healthy in between the two?