"Possessions, like fat, insulate us from the outside world, building a wall of junk which we can hide behind. Our clutter becomes an insular mechanism for shielding ourselves from pain. We all do this to some degree, but few ever make the correlation. The sheer act of acquiring stuff, too, can be a self-medication. How many of us shop in order to feel better? But it´s a temporary fix that, in the end, only adds to our depression.”– Christy Best, Professional Organizer
This is a topic that fascinates me, because I see not only myself, but most of my family and friends flitting along a sliding scale of mood and materialism much of the time. Shop to feel better? Sure! Then feel overwhelmed by clutter? You bet! Declutter and start all over again? Often! We've all done it if we're honest with ourselves.
Well, I'm no expert, but I have learned a few things over my 50+ years here on the good Earth. Here's my personal thoughts on this topic. I'm no professional, but I'm a Mum and Nanna, and have been a career girl and a stay at home Mum, a single parent and a married one, so I've seen life from all sides.
First of all, if we are organised, and live in a household run on a smart routine, a budget that allows for a bit of fun whilst still meeting our commitments, and healthy lifestyle habits, we won't need to 'shop to feel better'. We'll feel content with what we have, and where we are in the scheme of life. This goes for the entire family. A peaceful home, generates people who are at peace with life.
If we are busy AND disorganised, routines evaporate in a puff of good intent, and we can spiral into a sort of temporary chaos. Not only do you suffer personally, but smart routines, clever budgets and good habits tend to go down the toilet, so the entire family suffers. The family get tired and scratchy with one another because they're out of routine with sleeping and waking times, they eat poorly because basic food pyramid and 5/2 fruit and veg servings are abandoned, we neglect our 8 glasses of water a day so our body and it's waste elimination cycles don't function efficiently, we feel sluggish because we don't get out in the open air and exercise and get our Vitamin D. It all adds up to yuck.
The washing then mounts up because we're tired and out of sorts, and can't be bothered, and stress ensues because someone doesn't have a part of their uniform or a shirt for work. Meals are focused on quick and easy, rather than tasty and nutritious because we're all worn out. More scratchiness results and we're all unhappy. Does this sound familiar?
You can then become stonewalled and I know if it's me, I don't attend to important tasks in a timely fashion, because the sheer number and enormity of tasks overwhelms me. In preference to tackling things in my usual timely and orderly fashion, I do nothing, or distract myself with unnecessary tasks, because I can't complete things to the high standards I set myself. Is that you too?
Then I start to feel like a Deer in the headlights, where I simply can't start on anything, because I can't make a decision on what tasks need my attention at a given moment. I get out of the house and go browsing in my favourite homewares, garden or thrift shop because it soothes my mind. Then nothing gets done, and I'll usually arrive home with some little purchase or other, and the buzz I just got from my little spend-up evaporates because all of those tasks are still there. Stuff still needs to be done. The amount of money spent is not the point. Mostly it's $10 or less. It's just that it's not an item I need, and it's comfort is extremely temporary.
The thing is, that all we have in a day is a string of moments. And it's what we do with that string of moments, that dictates whether we have a peaceful life, or a chaotic one.
That's where my Mum used to say 'Just do one thing Darling. Then do one thing more.'
Of all the advice my Mum ever gave me, that is probably the most useful. Do one thing. Then do one thing more, then another. Don't think. Don't procrastinate. Just start. And keep going. It's a really valuable mindset to cultivate.
Now on the subject of depression, which apparently is the curse of modern society and now being treated in epidemic proportions, I've seen people who are depressed because they have nothing, and I've seen people who are depressed despite having everything a human being could want. Conversely, some of the most content folk I know, have 'nothing' compared to others. And the ones who have 'everything' and are content, would happily give it all away tomorrow and still be content.
So how is this 'contentment' accomplished? It clearly doesn't have much to do with 'having' or 'not having'. It has to do with 'being'. And learning to just 'be', is a fast disappearing skill in todays must-have society.
Can I share some tips that have worked for me? They're not a magic solution, and I don't pretend they'll work for everyone. But maybe they can help you too. Maybe, just maybe, they'll help you to find time in your day to just BE.
1. Get enough sleep. Seriously, this one thing can make all the difference. That might mean disconnecting from technology earlier in the evening, watching less TV, going to bed earlier, and making sure that you've exerted yourself sufficiently throughout the day to actually tire yourself out. If you've sat around on the computer all day, not only will you not have accomplished much else, but your body simply won't be ready to sleep. It might mean seriously evaluating your caffeine or alcohol intake. It's well known that those two things are sleep thieves. It might mean something more basic like whether your bed is comfortable, whether your pillow needs renewing, or the linen needs changing. And give your brain time to wind down too. A little quiet time whether via a warm shower with lavender body wash, or a soak in the bath with candles lit, is a good strategy.
2. Eat well, and eat nutritiously. I do not advocate giving up sugar or carbs or any other of a million things that are supposed to be bad for us. I've always thought the mantra 'all things in moderation' was a good one. If you're not familiar with the Healthy Food Pyramid, Google it and re-familiarise yourself with what is recommended for a human body to function at it's peak. I bet it isn't takeaway and deep fried. Go to bed on the hungry side of full. A full stomach at bed time is another sure fire way to deprive yourself of a restful night. Indigestion anyone?
3. Spend a part of your evening, preparing for tomorrow. Train your family to do the same. Set out the breakfast dishes, fill the kettle, make the lunches. Iron your outfit if it needs it, set out your accessories, make sure the kids have done their homework and that any messages or notes from school have been handed to whomever in the family is the designated 'note reading' person. Sign permission slips, put money into envelopes or transfer it online...however your school does it. Then it's done. Don't leave things till the deadline to act.
4. Make sure the car is fuelled and ready to go, or that everyone has their bus pass or train ticket or whatever it is they need. You don't want to run late because of a basic transport failure.
5. Get up at the same time every day. The human body likes to know what comes next. Go to bed at the same time, get up at the same time, just for a week, and see if you don't feel better. We get up at the same time every day, even on weekends. We accomplish so much more that way.
6. Try to keep all of your tasks contained within each day. By that I mean do todays washing today, get it dry, fold it and store it. Don't let todays washing (or meeting, or report) mount up with tomorrows and the day afters. If Tuesday is shopping day and Wednesday is cleaning day, don't let the shopping, the cleaning and your Thursday tasks, mount up until Thursday when you've probably also got to pay bills or go to work, and suddenly you find you're under pressure to do three days worth of stuff in one day. I call it Task Leakage. I avoid Task Leakage at all costs. If it means I'm up an hour earlier to hang washing to achieve this, then so be it.
7. Get the family in on the routines. If they can help accomplish some of the tasks in your routine, then so much the better. My family know that if their dirty clothes aren't in the clothes basket by 7am, they don't get washed today. They know that if they haven't written their needs and wants on the shopping list by shopping day, they miss out for a week. They know that the school snacks are all on the third shelf of the fridge and the middle section of the kitchen cupboard. All else is off bounds. They know that Week 1 on our family menu means Thai Noodles and home made Cornetto icecreams, and Week 4 means Lasagna and home made Toasted Marshmallows. Don't bother asking me to change. You get what you like once a month, I get to choose not to cook it unless it's on the menu that week!
8. Prioritise. Making gifts for friends and family is a favourite pastime of mine. But
what's the point of making a birthday present for a birthday three months from now, if you haven't done the washing and prepared the meal for today? That creates stress on every possible level, rather than alleviating it, which is the intent of making my own gifts. I think sometimes we bloggers are a bit guilty of this one. We need a photo or a post for the blog, so common sense flies out the window. That's a path to blog burnout and family stress. Attend to the needs of your real life before you worry about your online one. The online community can wait. Make up two lists. One called 'Essential Tasks', and called 'Fun Stuff' or any variation on that theme. Before you can start on a task on the Fun Stuff list, you have to accomplish three on the Essentials Task list. What a great motivator this can be. You'll be amazed how quickly and efficiently you'll whizz through those Essentials to get to the Fun. I promise! And the best part is, you get to do your Fun Stuff, guilt free.
9. If you feel you're in that Deer in the Headlights mode, the best course of action is action. Do something. Anything. But it must be something on the 'Essential Tasks' list. Do one thing as Mum always said. Then do one thing more. Keep going.
10. Don't let anyone guilt you out of your well earned routines and sense of accomplishment. Yes it might be boring to your friends that you won't meet them for a coffee and a spendup because you're too busy baking for the week, or cutting and colouring your own hair, or doing your budget for the next month, but who'll be laughing come tomorrow or next month, when you're organised and they're not? Learn to nurture a sense of accomplishment and joy in the simple tasks of a well run home, and teach your family to do the same. You will feel so free.
I hope some of my advice is helpful to you. Like I said, I'm not a professional, but I have seen a bit of life, and I know what's worked for me. I hope it works for you too. I hope it helps you find the time to BE, and helps you find a path to being FREE.