On the Konmari band wagon

Throwback Thursday – My take on minimalism.

There has been lots and lots (and lots and lots) of talk about the Konmari method of tidying. The Netflix series has  nearly broken the internet! Marie Knodo’s website IS an elegant, simple and beautiful place. She IS elegant and beautiful. In preparing for this post I got lost looking at her clips for folding socks and underwear. It’s very alluring!

I was out with friends recently who were talking about how its really helping them get tidy. I can see it’s appeal and how it’s a good starting point to get things organised in your home. Not everyone agrees that it’s simply a quest to be tidy and see a more disturbing side. This article in by Erin Stewart in Overland challenges the ideals offered by the konmari approach. Erin confronts the idea that the people who may have “messy” spaces as being lazy.

Rampant consumerism isn’t revolutionary, but nor is discarding things. What would be revolutionary is an aesthetic – and a society – where those who aren’t streamlined are kept; where we aren’t judged for how well we keep spaces, but spaces are judged for how well they cater for us.

Another view is that as non-Japanese people; white, western culture cannot really understand some of basic philosophy behind her finding of “joy” in objects because we don’t share the same spiritual beliefs. This lack of empathy or understanding have led to people being critical of Marie Kondo’s success through cruel memes and comments that ridicule her Shinto background.

Even though Kondo delivers her dictates in the gentlest ways possible (I watched her show with the subtitles on; they kept saying she cooed), the message was clear to me: White people are comfortable when a woman of color takes on a stereotypical service role, but they are uncomfortable when a woman of color deigns to upend our unspoken societal rules. Even if she gets a bunch of men, who’ve left all the emotional labor of managing the daily stuff of living to their wives, to actually pitch in — even if people have padded too much into their lives and she helps them enjoy what they have again — it’s not enough. Unconsciously or consciously, Kondo had struck a nerve.

It’s worth having a look both sides of the argument.

I’ve written about minimalism and my quest to live a more simple life previously but I must admit my skin still prickles a bit about this subject. I still think it’s something that only the more privileged in society can embrace. Being tidy is an option for everyone but getting rid of perfectly good things because they don’t bring you “joy” is a different matter. I haven’t read the book and only glanced at the website but I understand the basic idea is that you only keep items which bring you joy and discard, donate or sell any other items. In my mind minimalism and tidiness are two separate issues, although to be tidy you need less stuff than you have storage spaces.

I think it’s better to start off with the philosophy of not bringing things into your home in the first place and only replacing it when warranted. Rich people sitting on the floor because they have given away their furniture is just plain silly! Getting rid of the thirteen of the fourteen handbags you never use is a different story.  Not buying new towels (or whatever) every season is sensible.

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They might be ugly but they still work!

The links below will take you to my previous posts.

Digital Ephemera and the cloud keepers: A fictional look at the future post-minimalism

Feeling sentimental: Dealing with sentimental items

Consuming interest: A report on my challenge to not buy anything new for a year.

Now… right now… I am going to go and make my t-shirts stand up!


This post is another occasional series I am starting. Throwback Thursday where I will link to my previous posts to current issues/ideas.

Mothers’ Day

Bah humbug! Today is Mothers’ Day in Australia. The second Sunday in May. I don’t “do” Mothers’ Day. I have told my only daughter not to worry about gifts, or breakfast in bed and all that jazz, because in my honest opinion it is just a marketing beat up. A bit like the diamond lies in this story[1] that is doing the rounds of Facebook.

Mothers’ Day more than any other day epitomises to me the overreach of marketing and consumerism. Hang on, hang on! On second thoughts there is also Easter (buy more chocolate), Christmas (buy gifts nobody really wants or needs because they might get you something), Fathers’ Day, Halloween, Back to School, Valentine’s Day…. the list goes on.

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I don’t think there is a time in the calendar when we are not bombarded with messages to BUY things for the one(s) we love. But more and more scientific and psychological research shows that STUFF is not how we get happy. We get happy by DOING things for and with people.

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Part of an exhibition at the New York Public Library

I have written before about my quest to spend my disposable income on experiences rather than stuff. See my blog post entitled A consuming interest. https://wordpress.com/post/oldchookenterprises.com/1845

 

However, if we stop buying things our economy will come to grinding halt and we will all be in dire straits. What to do? It’s an issue I don’t know how to answer but I am trying to do my bit by not buying stuff. My year long challenge to not buy anything new comes to a close at the end of June. I have not succeeded, as I have bought some new things but for the most part  I have stuck to my rules of nothing new unless it was a replacement for a broken or worn out thing and essentials.

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I ‘spent’ my Mothers’ Day pottering around, not doing much. My Grandson and I inspected the beetles that live in a nearby tree. I rang my own Mother and chatted with her. I wrote a couple of future blog posts and I answered some emails all before cooking a big pot of tasty soup. All in all, a very nice day.

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I am glad to say no flowers were killed in preparing this post!

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oh dear! Spelling and apostrophe fail!

[1] https://www.facebook.com/todayeyewatched/videos/199952127459890/UzpfSTE2NTgwMTU1Mzc6MTAyMDk2ODYyODI4NjgwMTE/

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PS: I certainly I don’t want to devalue the effort of others in celebrating or valuing their mothers. I think we could celebrate it without all the marketing hype and make it more genuine.

 

PPS (Added after publication) one of my friends told me about this article where the founder of Mothers’ Day try to stop the commercialisation pf the day.  https://abcnews.go.com/GMA/Family/mother-started-mothers-day/story?id=47333654

 

Remember to look out the window!

I read that life goes by quickly for adults compared to children because we have fewer new experiences. For children most things they do are brand new. Something they have not experienced before and this makes time go slower. For adults, because we have done most things before we don’t anticipate, we know what’s going to happen and this makes time appear to go more quickly. Ergo, to make time seem slower, adult needs to do more new things.

When I look back over 2017, it certainly was a year of new things and while it seems like the year has whizzed by, when I look back on what I have done I find it hard to remember that if it was this year or last year. I seemed to fit a lot in!

In 2017

I did 6 writing courses 5 face to face and one online

I went to two writers’ festivals

I went to 8 meetings of my writers’ group and about 5 meetings of a screenwriting group in Sydney

I started this blog

2 online courses through Udemy – food photography and inDesign

I did several online modules through the Adobe Education site

Wrote at least 7 short stories plus 35 blog posts, a screenplay and 4 chapters of a novella.

I entered 5 writing competitions and 7 photography competitions.

I won none! But that’s not the goal. The goal is to actually do it. After all you have to be in it to win it!

I went on a short cruise with friends

I went to Canberra with the same group of friends

I hosted 3 (relatively) fancy dinner parties

I went to the Sydney Mardi Gras

I did a general rescue course with the NSW SES

I started running and trained hard over several months and built up to a 15km run which I completed in good time.

I lost 7 kg.

I did a full Tough Mudder (17km and 18 of the 20 obstacles)

I started to de-clutter my house and sold some stuff at the local markets

I haven’t bought anything new since July 1 (well anything that does not fit in my guidelines)

I bought and paid off a new car (I bought it June 30!)

I took over 2000 photos of various subjects.

I bookended the year with two trips to Israel to visit my daughter and her family.

Oh and I worked full time in a demanding job.

I did a lot and I don’t think this is a complete list because I forgot to bring my 2017 diary with me.

It was a good year. I felt content and fulfilled and despite the long list I did not feel “busy”. I have come a long way in my journey to live meaningful life. I have a ways to go.

2018 is shaping up to be a different sort of year. My daughter and grandson will be staying with me in Australia me for a visit. I already have a writer’s course booked in for February and I am going to New York in March.

My goals include

To continue writing

To keep getting better at taking photos

To make a few short documentary style videos

To keep fit

Stay creative

Continue to downscale my material goods by natural attrition and not buying anything new

Continue with this blog. (And learn how to set it out better from my iPad!)

I hope you have some goals. In my opinion, they keep you grounded, give you clues for what to say no to and provide you with some directional signs so you don’t meander around too aimlessly. Although a meander can be good too as it puts new and unexpected things in your path.

Happy New Year! Remember to look out the window – there is always something new to see!

A consuming interest

At the start of the financial year[1] I set myself a challenging goal.

Not to buy anything NEW for a whole year. There are a few caveats around the goal:

  1. It does not include consumables such as food and cleaning products.
  2. If something essential breaks or wears out I can replace it, preferably with something second hand.
  3. It does not include experiences.

After six months in I am doing OK, I have not brought anything new into my home.

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I tried to argue with my accountability partner that magazines and books were experiences and not stuff, but she said they were stuff because I could borrow them from the library or read them online, so I cancelled the subscriptions I had.

Have I missed buying stuff? So far –  no. I have made do with what I have. The hardest thing so far was what to do about gifts. With the holiday season looming I was not sure what to do. For the most part I bought experiences or perishables or gave second hand stuff. As a last resort, I decided that since it was not coming into my home, a new book and essentials like socks were OK. (This may be cheating a little bit I think!)

Over these last six months people have asked me why?  Why would I set out not to buy anything new for a year? “That’s crazy” they’d say.

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It wasn’t about saving money – although I have. It’s not because I am a hoarder, although I do sometimes feel crowded in my little home. The real why emerges out of several interlocking events and ideas that have been with me for a few years and which all came together in a flash of realisation.

The interlocking events included

  • Growth coaching
  • Some workshops on mental health first aid and positive psychology
  • My discovery of the Minimalist podcast[2]
  • My only daughter’s conversion to Orthodox Judaism
  • The ABC TV show War on Waste[3].
  • The Story of Stuff[4].
  • Having lots of time to think and reflect

The interlocking events led to my quest for a richer, more meaningful life. In this post, I will only elaborate on one aspect of the jigsaw. Positive mental health.

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I previously talked about[5] the foundations for wellbeing.  These being

  • to give,
  • to connect,
  • to be active,
  • to take notice and
  • to keep learning.

I discovered these foundations when I attended some workshops about student and teacher wellbeing as part of my day job and much of it began to resonate with me personally.

Some other workshops suggested that there was a very strong connection between positive mental health, diet and exercise. While I initially began the research to help students and teachers at my school, I was able to apply what I found out to myself.

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A small part of one Christmas’ horde

I started investigating my diet and the link between gut microflora and mental health. I had already read some books about positive psychology such as Flourish by Martin Seligman. I disappeared down the google-search-vortex as one thing led to another. I eventually found a paper[6] called A Wonderful Life:  Experiential consumption and the pursuit of happiness.

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The abstract to this article states:

This research indicates that experiential purchases provide greater satisfaction and happiness because:

(1) Experiential purchases enhance social relations more readily and effectively than material goods;

(2) Experiential purchases form a bigger part of a person’s identity; and

(3) Experiential purchases are evaluated more on their own terms and evoke fewer social comparisons than material purchases.

It all boils down to the fact that money can buy happiness, as long as you buy experiences and not things (material goods) . Things give you short-lived happiness. You quickly tire of them and want something else. Something bigger. Something brighter. Something that needs to be stored when you grow tired of it. Experiences, on the other hand, give you memories. You can reflect back on them. They give you something to talk about. They put you in a social space with social beings that you can form connections with. They help you learn about yourself and other people. They help you learn about the world.  They hit on at least four of the five pillars of positive mental health. If you choose to experience the world by helping others you can hit on all five.

If you are waking up from a “stuff-hangover” now that Christmas is over maybe next year you can think of buying the things that make memories. The only place you need to store them, is in your (digital) photo album and your brain.

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[1] July 1 in Australia

[2]https://www.theminimalists.com/

[3] http://www.abc.net.au/ourfocus/waronwaste

[4] https://www.google.com.au/search?q=the+story+of+stuff+youtube&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&client=firefox-b&gfe_rd=cr&dcr=0&ei=oQExWp7jOePDXpuwpJAF

[5] https://oldchookenterprises.com/2017/09/09/wellbeing-an-introduction/

[6] A proper peer reviewed one! Gilovich T, Kumar A and Jampol L Journal of Consumer Psychology 2014) available at: https://www.scribd.com/document/280715372/Gilovich-Kumar-Jampol-in-press-A-Wonderful-Life-JCP

Well past it….

My mum had a can or mandarin segments in her cupboard for as long as I can remember. As a kid l would look at them longingly. They shone, as if lit by some magical spotlight at the back of the dark food cupboard where all the other cans lived.

I would ask, hopefully “Mum, can we eat these?”

“’No” she would say “they’re for a special occasion”.

Exotic but forbidden fruit with a dazzling label.  The choir of angels would sing “Ahhhhhhhhhhh” and I would be turned away.

I am not sure when the mandarins come into the cupboard but they stayed there for at least 15 years and when Mum and Dad moved to the country, they moved with them. As an adult, I used to tease her about them. They must have been getting close to 40 years old when they finally got thrown out, unused. They became useless before the special occasion arrived.

I am not sure what would have warranted their opening. We had plenty of special occasions in the time they lingered. Four weddings, more than four funerals. The birth of grandchildren and the loss of one Angel baby. In the end, I am sure Mum kept them for the fun of it; as a reminder of the earlier days. I used to go looking for them each time I visited and we would have a bit of a laugh.

When I noticed a sticky brown liquid seeping over the shelves of my own food cupboard, I thought I must have knocked over a sauce bottle or something. I cleaned up the bottom shelf, sniffing at the sticky, metallic liquid. I discovered more of the same on the second and then the third shelf. I eventually tracked it down to a can of apricot nectar that had been lurking there for at least four years and probably longer. It was swollen, corroded and hissing. Not waiting for a special occasion but especially bought to make apricot chicken[1] which was no longer on my preferred food options and obviously hadn’t been for some time.

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The offending can of Apricot Nectar carefully transported to the bin like a ticking bomb!

The mandarin segments and the apricot nectar collided in my brain to create a metaphor. The merging of waste, waiting and the passage of life. The special occasion mandarins ended up wasted as they waited for an ill-defined special use. They could have enriched a meal years earlier. Adorned a special birthday pavlova decades before. The mandarin tree took energy to grow them, the factory used energy to can them and they took up space in at least one packing box as they shifted from a city life to the rural bliss of Bellingen.

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They symbolise a life held in limbo – waiting. Waiting for the right time for something to happen.

They were nothing but a cheap can of fruit that could have been easily replaced. I imagine that lots of families have the equivalent in their own cupboard and this is not meant to be a criticism of my own family. We apply this ‘special occasion’ mentality to lots of life’s good things… the special crystal bowls; the special tableware or the special outfits. If we buy these things and they sit there year in year out in the back of a cupboard we waste money and resources.

I sorted through the cans and bottles and discovered lots of out of date food. Food bought and not used either because I had not been careful in my stock rotation or because I had changed the way I cook and eat. I looked at the pile I had set aside and estimated it was worth at least $40-50. Not a lot, but still a symbol of wasteful affluence that I was not happy with.  Add to this cache, the bits of wilted, slimy or mouldy veggies that get thrown from the fridge each week and it represents not only a waste of my own money but of the world’s resources. It is, on some level, immoral. Here was proof that I was consuming more than I needed to. My wasteful approach to food is past its use by date. I need to make some changes.

This exercise in cleaning has given me two new goals:

  1. To reduce the amount of food I keep stored. I am lucky that I have resources to buy what I need and failing a nuclear holocaust I don’t need to stockpile.
  2. I am going to eat life’s mandarin segments in fancy crystal bowls and enjoy them because life is too unpredictable to wait for the special occasions.

 

small cans
My aim is to reduce the canned foods to close to zero.

 

[1] You know the one. The 1970’s cordon bleu dish of chicken pieces,  French onion soup mix and a can of apricot nectar poured over the top and shoved in the oven for 40 minutes. Simple, fast and kid friendly!

 

Food photography is a crock of shit!

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I work full time. I have a good job and can pay my bills even though I am in debt. I am divorced and have a big mortgage.  I don’t want to work forever.

Woe is me: First World Problem Number 1: I could choose not to work. I have a roof over my head and I have a cupboard and refrigerator (over) full with nutritious food.

Over the last year, I have been planning my life more deliberately. Looking for side hustles so I can quit my job sooner rather than later. At the same time, I am looking to reduce my impact on the planet and use less stuff.

Woe is me: First World Problem Number 2: I have some agency over my own life. I can make choices about how I will spend my time. I can choose whether I consume or not.

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This one’s a bit blurry I know but the concept is good!

Over the last few years I have developed some photography skills and I think this could be one of the ways I can achieve my goals.  One of my other interests is cooking and nutrition. I can see myself writing some freelance articles for magazines about healthy eating, maintaining good mental health through a diverse gut biome and uploading sumptuous shots of various lentil dishes to Instagram. So, to this end, I bought an online food photography course to get the professional lowdown.

Woe is me: Third World Problem Number 3: I have skills, I am educated. I can read and write. I have access to fast internet and (un)social media.

 

Right now, I am feeling angry with myself and the developed world. Why? As I was watching the video lessons on food photography and saw the well-fed, well-dressed photographer with her huge Canon camera and  even bigger lens fuss about the styling of a wooden board loaded up with citrus fruit, my hackles began to rise.

‘I think the white pith on the pomegranate is too much.’ she said

Stylist removes white pith and balances the corners of the board as the photographer pulls faces.

‘I am looking for more tension in the plate.’

Tension? WTF! Oranges are not tense!

She flips over some peel to show the coloured side rather than the pith. Oh! Yes!  That’s so much more tense!

‘Have you got a crustier plate – I want it to look gnarly and poor…

Props boy scurries for a gnarlier board.

There were at least 8 people on set. Camera crew, food stylists, go-fers plus the “audience” which is supposed to give it a live classroom feel.

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I had to hit the stop. I was sitting there swearing at the computer.

‘Of for fuck’s sake you wanker. Just show me how to light the shot!’ I shouted.

I paused a little longer and felt overwhelmed by my luck.  I had been kicked in the head with a huge dose of reality. I can afford to photograph food when around 20% of the global population is undernourished.

What a futile enterprise. As I sit here and write this post for my blog, the irony is not lost.

 

What to do?

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I can’t solve the world’s problems. One little me?  I could hide back in my cocoon of privilege and drink my wine as I get angrier and angrier. Or… I could do something… What?

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I will think on that a while…hang on while I pour myself another wine and check my Facebook feed.  I need to do some research.

Woe is me: First World Problem Number 4: Feeling like I have no part to play. Where is my power now?

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