I recently went down to the Wairarapa, and visited the gallery of iconic New Zealand potter Paul Melser, who’s been in the trade for over 50 years. His handcrafted pieces reflected the beauty of his natural surroundings, and seeing his pieces in context resonated with my soul. I hadn’t anticipated a shopping experience to be so profound, but it was.
It made me realise that most often when we buy things, we are utterly disconnected from the the source of our purchases, from the craftsman, from their creative process, from their intentions in their work, from the humanity present in each piece. Mindlessly choosing pieces from shops that are drowning in mass produced products that really hold little meaning and value to us. The polar opposite of the experience I had.
I chose pieces that were made with love and care by a true craftsman. I was present, in the moment, aware of my surroundings and of how each piece made sense in that context. The experience steeped each piece with such significance, and now, when I use them, they retain that memory and value. They are both useful and beautiful, and pieces that I’ll keep for a very long time.
We obviously can’t meet the craftsman behind every piece we buy, but I wish there were more opportunities to buy directly from the source; the impact this experience had on me makes me want to hunt them out.
I’d encourage you to seek opportunities to buy direct from the crafter, the maker, the source. Even just going through this experience once will increase your attention and awareness as you make purchases. Buying local and ethical can be more expensive than cheap mass produced imports. But it won’t be more costly in the long run. You’ll tend to think harder about what you buy, and buy less but better. You’ll buy because you really need something, not because you’re having a bad day. You’ll be helping the planet, helping your fellow human beings, helping your own soul to feel less burdened.
And while there’s a lot more to the soul than buying stuff, choosing pieces carefully, thoughtfully and mindfully can tap into a place in the soul, to what makes you come alive.
And that’s the goal. To become more present and mindful with all our actions.
I’ve just been going through my blog archives and found this post I wrote 3 years ago. Reposting it here as it’s still so relevant, so important, and so essential in our overloaded, plugged in 21st century world.
I’ve written about decluttering your physical space, but there’s somewhere else that you live, that tends to get cluttered. It’s your mind.
Because we can’t actually see the mind-junk, we all too easily allow a cacophony of unchecked noise and distraction to run riot in our heads.
So what are the best techniques to tackle the mental clutter?
1. Switch on your brain
We have thousands of thoughts racing through our minds each day, and we need to learn to reign these in. Mindfulness meditation is scientifically proven to tame our distracted, unfocused minds.
If you’re just getting started, mindfulness of the senses is a great place to start. This technique brings your focus into the present, into your body, away from the racing thoughts in your brain. Even just 2 minutes a day can reduce the noise going on in your brain for the rest of the day.
And if you live in Auckland, the mindfulness courses at Renew Your Mindprovide a brilliant introduction to mindfulness. I highly recommend it.
2. Don’t switch
We associate multi-tasking with efficiency. But research has shown that you are far more efficient when you do one thing at a time. Despite what you may think, your brain cannot focus on more than one thing at a time. The more you try to do at once, the less productive you become. By being fully present to the task at hand, you allow your brain to function optimally, rather than being divided and distracted.
3. Switch off
Multiple browsers, notifications, text alerts, news updates … endless noise and distraction are constantly pulling you away from the present. If you want to learn to have a calmer, more uncluttered mind, switch off all the noise. Turn off notifications. Learn to work without hundreds of browsers open. Move away from your phone. Focus on the present. If you haven’t already, check out this clip. It’s pretty powerful.
4. Switch foods
The more I’ve pursued a diet of whole, unprocessed food, free of refined sugar, additives and preservatives, the clearer my head has felt. Want some convincing about the effects sugar is having on your brain? You have to watch this.
5. Switch on your body
Exercise. We all know this one. Since I’ve prioritised exercise as a daily part of my routine, my anxiety levels have been lower and my head’s been clearer. I know, because the days I skip it, I notice a shift in my mental state. I exercise first thing to make sure it gets done before the demands of the day squeeze it out.
6. Switch off the excess
If you’re doing too much, your brain will be on constant overdrive. You need to do less. Declutter your schedule, and get rid of all but the essential things in your life. Look critically at every commitment you have, and assess whether it is truly important to your life. I’ve written more about this here.
None of this is rocket science, but we all (myself included) need constant reminders of these key activities, that we all too easily neglect in the hustle of life.
First published 12 Oct 2015 here on lifeedit.co.nz
People often ask me if I have a capsule wardrobe. If I fold Marie Kondo style. If I’m a minimalist. How many items do I have? Where do I buy from?
So let’s talk about wardrobes. One of the first things you have to do in the morning is get dressed. If you’ve got an overloaded wardrobe full of things you don’t like, it’s going to make for a stressful start to the day. But if you’ve culled it down to items you love and use, there’s one less decision to stress over as you begin your day. Less chance of decision fatigue later on.
Capsule wardrobes: inspired by the matchy-matchy craze of the 80s perhaps? I think they have something going for them. While you might not want to have matching family tracksuits these days, having a wardrobe of items that go together well, and that you love, takes a lot of morning decision making angst out of the equation.
Steve Jobs wore the same outfit, a uniform of sorts, because it removed decision making and gave him headspace for the decisions that matter. So did Barack Obama, and many other prominent leaders. With a far wider array of wardrobe colours, styles and options available for women compared to what menswear sections tend to offer, a narrow uniform style isn’t so straightforward (or appealing, if you love variety). But still, aiming for a reduced level of options has its many benefits.
Some purist capsule wardrobe types aim to have a certain number of items. If this works for you that’s great; rules can be a great place to start. But sometimes too many rules can become legalistic, making us a slave to them rather than working for us. I’m not a minimalist. I don’t try to survive on the fewest items. I love beautiful things and they bring me joy, so I aim to have what I love and need, and no more.
The main thing is to focus on the mantra that I continue to teach: Only keep what is truly useful and beautiful to you. If it’s neither of those things, get rid of it. Be ruthless.
You will know when you’ve arrived at a wardrobe that works for you. It should contain items that you feel comfortable in, that you love, that suit you, that fit you well. If they don’t, they shouldn’t be in there gathering dust and stressing you out.
If you’d like ways to fold your clothes beautifully, Marie Kondo focuses on that. This works for some people, not for others. I fold most of my clothes in the way she teaches because it’s a simple, and efficient way to keep my wardrobe organised.
If you’re curious, here are some of the basics that make up my current capsule-ish wardrobe:
1. Knitwear: I generally buy NZ made knitwear, because it’s ethical, and beautifully made. I often get Juliette Hogan and Kate Sylvester merino pieces in near new condition off trade me. It means I get beautiful quality pieces for a fraction of the price.
2. Jeans: I bought a pair of Madewell jeans several years ago, and I love them. They’re the perfect cut, size, shape, and super comfortable. So now that I’ve found them I stick with them. I’ve got a black, grey and a dark blue pair in this style.
3. Shoes: I live in white sneakers. I wear them with jeans, dresses, shorts, activewear, everything. My current go-to are these Reeboks. I walk a lot, and they do the miles without giving me a sore back.
4. Tops: I aim to buy all natural fabrics: merino, silk, cotton, linen. I’ve become far more fussy over the years and can’t stand to wear polyester. It doesn’t tend to wear well, and can look cheap and worn pretty quickly. Many of my pieces I’ve had for years, and I still love them. I choose carefully and try to buy things that will go the distance. Over time I’ve gravitated to a small colour palette that go with most of my other pieces. Most of my tops are white, navy, blush pink, grey and black. They’re colours I’ve worked out that suit me, I feel good in, and that go with other items in my wardrobe. [If you’re trying to work out what colours suit you, notice what colours you feel the best in, and also what people compliment you on. You’ll tend to get compliments on things that naturally suit you.]
So if you’re keen to go and attack the wardrobe, remember my simple process:
1. Take everything out of the wardrobe.
2. Go item by item and ask yourself, “Is this useful or beautiful?” and ONLY keep the items you say yes to.
3. Put each item into one of 3 piles; keep, throw away, give away.
Well hello, I’m back. I’ve had a long hiatus from the blog side of things. A season of quiet.
I struggle with the noise of the internet. With more people saying more things just to try and shout the loudest and get heard and build their business and sell more of whatever they’re selling. It’s not my style. I want to say something because I’ve got something to say.
So while the blog has stayed quiet, my mind has been active, with thoughts, dreams, ideas.
There’s so much to learn when we dial down the noise (some noise and chaos is just part of life, I get that, but much is there by choice, or because we let it creep it unintentionally). When we get quiet enough, we begin to hear our own inner voice and connect with our true selves. And there’s so much the true self has to tell us. That we don’t have to be productive to have worth. That we don’t have to have a job title to have worth. That doing “nothing” in the eyes of the world doesn’t make it a waste of time. That building relationships – with our kids, our families, our friends, our communities – is the richest, but often most undervalued work, we can do. In many ways this has been a richer season of growth and development for me than any season, however difficult I’ve gone through before.
I initially thought my desire to remain quiet for a season was a problem, that it felt like giving up. But I have not given up. Far from it. There’s so much I’ve learnt from this season that I want to teach. I just want to say it for the right reasons. In the right way. At the right time.
I’m still passionate about simplifying. About getting rid of all the clutter that crowds us out and weighs us down. There’s been a recent spike in interest in decluttering thanks to Marie Kondo, and several people have asked what I think of her methods. She’s got some helpful tips to get people started on their decluttering journey, and these may be just the motivation you need. However, there’s a greater purpose to decluttering than pretty homes and nicely folded socks, and sometimes this purpose seems to get forgotten amidst the obsession with just how to fold your undies. I am about that greater purpose. About the life that you can discover when you remove the clutter that is crowding out that gold.
I’m going to keep on telling this story, keep encouraging you to remove what shouldn’t be there, so that what remains brings you life, joy, energy, hope, connection, love.
The entrenched culture of consumerism we Westerners live amidst, reaches its tentacles far further than just the physical stuff that we buy.
We consume entertainment. We consume experiences. We consume social media. We consume news feeds. We consume relationships (to the point that we throw them away and get new ones when they no longer work for us). We consume holidays. If we can find a way to consume it, we will.
And this paradigm of consumption is destroying us.
It’s rendering us stressed, unhappy, unfulfilled, discontented, and always in pursuit of the latest thing to consume that will fill the gap.
We know none of these things will. But we continue to live as if they do.
The more I continue on the journey towards simplicity, the more convinced I am that this is the way we were designed to live. To embrace being as more important than doing.
How do we navigate through our culture of consumerism, towards the pursuit of a life of simplicity and meaning?
When you deal in the tangible and the concrete world of your material possessions, you can see the results of living with less. You feel lighter, more peaceful, less stressed by clutter screaming at you on all sides.
Why are you so busy?Until you’ve addressed the why, there is no point tackling the how. Ask yourself what is driving your pursuit of more. Generally it’s a combination of the sense of importance you get from being busy, and being so addicted to busyness that doing less feels uncomfortable, even painful.
But start to sit in this discomfort. Force yourself not to run from it. If you find yourself with a moment of having nothing to do, resist the urge to pick up your phone and fill the void. Sit. Wait. Breathe. Notice what’s going on in your body. In your head. In the world around you. Because it’s in these moments that we can retrain ourselves that it’s ok to stop consuming. That waiting is ok.
It’s in these moments that our souls have a chance to breathe. And we can start to listen to our very selves. And begin to hear the story of our lives speak.
There’s so much to learn in the pursuit of living a more simple, mindful and intentional life. It takes a strong act of the will to resist the strong current of busyness, distraction, haste and urgency that most of us live our lives in. I’ve been reading, and loving, “Looking at Mindfulness” by Christopher Andre. I love this description of learning to pay mindful attention to the present:
“It’s now, right now. In a little while it will be something else … it won’t be better, or not as good, it will just be different. So now is the time to stop walking, feel the cold air sting our nostrils, listen to all the muffled sounds and admire the extraordinary light of sun on snow. We must stay here as long as we can, not waiting for anything in particular – quite the opposite! Just stay here, doing our best to perceive the countless riches of this moment … everything is perfect. Nothing more is needed for this moment to feel complete. With mindfulness we can simply be present to this ordinary moment of light and grace.”
I love this: “Nothing more is needed for this moment to feel complete.” If we could all grasp a little more of this truth, it would go a long way to stilling the urgent, hassled, stressed pace that we all think is an inevitable part of life. Most things are far less urgent than we make them out to be.
Here’s to this moment, and to celebrating it for what it is. Everything is perfect. Nothing more is needed for this moment to feel complete.
2. This coffee grinder. I love the process of making my morning coffee. I used to buy ground coffee, but now buy beans and grind them by hand. It takes longer, yes, but I can use the time to be mindful, to start the day slowly, and to pay attention and be grateful for the small things.
3. My matchy matchy spice jars. Many of you will have heard me quoting and quoting my favourite William Morris saying: “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” Finding things that are both useful and beautiful makes me happy. Like I say, small things.
4. Ballet. I’ve just started adult ballet classes again after 20 years. I LOVE it. If you’re keen to pick up a hobby but can’t think what, remembering back to what you loved doing as a child will often give you a few clues.
We are living such distracted, plugged-in-but-tuned-out lives, many of us have lost touch with our ability to be still, to sit in silence, to do nothing. Mindless distraction is at the tips of our fingers, at all times. But in the midst of this distractedness, we find ourselves craving stillness, singularity of focus, and mindful appreciation of the present moment.
So what does getting rid of stuff have to do with mindfulness?
“The state of our living space also tends to be a pretty accurate representation of the state of our mind. Psychological research has shown time and time again how physical clutter overloads our senses and stresses us out. We need a clutter-free environment in order to feel rested, calm and content.”
Our stuff pulls us in all directions, and prevents us from living more mindfully in the present. I’ve identified three main selves that our stuff pulls us towards:
Our past self
If you’re sentimental, you’re probably being drawn into this self by your stuff a lot. Those things that were once important or special to you, or that you once loved, and once served a purpose. But do you love them now? Are they serving a purpose now? We can of course make space for a few keepsakes and special memories, just not a houseful of them. A very small handful of the most special things, things that you still love now. Like an old tea set from your Granny, that you still use. Things shut away in boxes tend to burden us, and pull us into the past.
Our future self
It’s far too easy to use the line “I might like (or need) this again one day”, but we can end up overwhelmed by stuff that we are hanging onto, “just incase”. It’s weighing you down. It’s costing you. Give yourself permission to let things go, and live freer and lighter for it. And make peace with the fact that if you need that thing again, go buy it. The benefits of living with less FAR outweigh the cost of replacing the odd thing that you discover you need again after all.
Our imagined self
How many of us hang on to things because we thought we were a certain type of person but aren’t? Did you imagine yourself as the snowboarding type but it turns out you aren’t? Or the type that would wear 6 inch heels everyday, but they’re killing your back and they’re just not “you”? Be honest with yourself about which things are really serving you, and cull the rest.
The more we clear our houses of stuff that no longer serves a purpose in our lives, and keep only that which does, the more space we create to be mindful, present, and to get in touch with our true selves.
[ This post originally published on 7 July 2015 ]
I’m presenting a workshop on “Mindful Decluttering” in Auckland next week, on Wednesday 10 May. I’d love you to join me. Head here to buy tickets.
One of the most common responses to the question, “How are you?” is, “Busy.” Why is busyness the new normal? Why do we so easily over schedule ourselves?
Laziness: It’s somewhat easier to just say yes to everything that comes along, than to be thoughtful and intentional about how we fill our days.
FOMO: Social media and our global society exposes us to so many more available options with which to fill our time, and we can’t bear to miss out on what others are up to. So we overcommit and stretch ourselves beyond the limit.
Fear of silence: We are so addicted to noise, busyness and distraction, that it’s a foreign and uncomfortable concept to find ourselves with unfilled, unscheduled time and space in our day. Quiet The Mind is a fantastic illustrated guide to the art of silence and meditation (it’s short and sweet, for the busy among you).
Busyness gives us a sense of purpose and significance: “I’m busy, therefore I am”. If our schedule isn’t bursting at the seams, we can find ourselves feeling lost and insignificant.
And we’re transferring this busyness disease to our children.
We are scheduling their every spare moment of free time with extra curricular activities, play dates and homework. They hardly have a minute to just be kids. To let their creativity develop freely, and unhindered by their schedule. I highly recommend the book Simplicity Parenting for more great thoughts on this.
So let’s be thoughtful about how we fill our days.
Let’s not fear silence, and space, but embrace it, sit with it, and learn from it.
Let’s allow time and space to embrace the present, to be spontaneous, creative, and fully alive.
When the topic of decluttering comes up in conversation, most people are quick to tell me they’ve got a garage / kids bedroom / storage cupboard / [insert messy overwhelming space here] that is on the to-do list, but they just haven’t managed to tackle it yet. Sound familiar?!
There are common stumbling blocks to getting started on the decluttering journey, but by identifying them, and arming yourself with some key strategies, you can take the bull by the horns and begin the journey to a simplified life. It’s so worth the effort.
Here are top 4 things standing in the way of you and a zen home, and tips to overcome them:
1. No time
This is the number reason for most people. I get it. We lead busy, often overloaded lives. And the simple answer to this, is to make decluttering a priority and schedule it in to your calendar – it could be an evening a week, a weekend day a month or whatever time you can carve out. If you’re serious about tackling your clutter, you’ve got to prioritise it.
Along with scheduling time, start using those little pockets of time when you might otherwise be checking social media, or email, or doing something else that’s really not a priority. If something’s enough of a priority for us, we’ll find the time.
2. Not knowing where to start
When our stuff reaches overwhelm point, it’s easier to do nothing than to do something. The key is not to start with the hardest, most overwhelming space. The size of the task will overwhelm the size of your motivation, and you won’t start. Pick a small area – even just the kitchen junk drawer if you have one. If you can do one small area from start to finish, the sense of accomplishment just might motivate you to tackle a bigger space.
If you’re game to start with a bigger space, start with your wardrobe. Being stressed and overwhelmed by your wardrobe, and struggling with decisions about what to wear before the day’s even started is not conducive to a productive day. Starting the day with a decluttered wardrobe that contains items that you love to wear and feel good in, makes such a difference to your state of mind and the way you tackle other decision-making throughout the day.
3. Thinking we can do it on our own
Often people don’t call on others for help with decluttering, based on the premise that they can do it themselves. But decluttering can be a harder, more emotional process than you anticipate; it requires making a whole heap of decisions. With every item you have to decide whether to keep it or part with it, and if you’re sorting through every item in a wardrobe, or a garage, or any other cluttered space, that’s a lot of decisions.
Getting someone in, whether it be a friend or a professional, who is not emotionally attached to your stuff, can help you to be more objective, work through the many decisions, and actually get the job done.
4. Fear of letting go
The most common line I hear: “I might need this one day.”
Emotional attachments to our stuff, and the fear of letting go, so often stand between us and a simplified home.
The only way through this one, is to accept that, yes, you may get rid of some things that you may need one day, but buying (or borrowing) the very odd thing that you happen to need down the track, is far better than hanging onto everything “just in case”. You won’t need 99% of the stuff you get rid of ever again. It’s not worth the stress of a cluttered home for that 1% of stuff that you may or may not even need. I’d far rather get rid of it all, experience the peace and simplicity of owning less, and accept the small cost of needing to replace the odd thing occasionally. Since we’ve been living this way, we’ve never looked back.
Listen to your emotions, and try to identify what is standing in the way of you and letting go.
We have to learn to let go and trust the process, as we head towards the sense of peace and freedom that lies on the other side of our clutter.