Monday, 30 November 2015

The unexpected emptiness of minimalism

Minimalism has been emotional for me. I didn't expect that at all when I started on my journey to simplicity. As I was letting go of the extra stuff, I was confronted by the reasons why I held on to it all for so long. The hopes, dreams, guilt, expectations, demands, ambitions... It's exciting and difficult. It’s liberating and a little scary.

But after that extra stuff is gone, now what? How do I spend that free time and energy that used to go to my stuff – maintaining it, acquiring it, storing it?... I can't use my stuff as an excuse not to live my life. "Oh, I can't possibly go, I have cleaning to do." "I can't possibly invite people over, I have cleaning to do." "I can't take on this new project, I have so many other unfinished projects already... *long pause*... and I have cleaning to do." etc... And it's not like I would actually do anything about it. It was almost crippling.

You see, before all of this freedom I never really gave much thought about what I really wanted out of life. I didn't have the time or energy. I had an excuse not to really consider it. (You know, the cleaning...) However I knew that I didn’t want the status quo.

So now I'm left with this sort of emptiness. I’m not exactly sure what to do next. There are so many things to choose from. Do I learn a new language? Do I travel? Do I read more? Do I write more? Do I get back into an old hobby I used to enjoy? Do I discover new hobbies? Do I volunteer? Do I just be still for a while and let the dust settle?

It's a little like when you're in a relationship with someone; they take up such a big part of your life. All of that time you spend texting and calling each other and the time you spend together. That's even truer when you live with this person. And when all of that suddenly ends whether it's because of a breakup (especially if you're not the one who wanted to end things) or death, it can leave you with this unexpected emptiness. You mourn the life you used to know.

Now don't worry, I'm not suffering in this. I find the possibilities of how things can be for me to be exciting, but still a little unnerving. I'm not used to all of this freedom... I made significant changes in a somewhat short amount of time. In the span of a few months I went from "maximalist" to minimalist – from suburbanite to urbanite. So I suppose I've lost my bearings a little.

When I go shopping now (usually for food or to take my mom run her errands), it feels weird to be in stores faced with all the kinds of stuff I used to buy. I still have the old habits of looking at these things and considering them. However, instead of buying them, now I walk away. But it doesn't feel quite natural yet. It's not that I necessarily want any of these things; it was just a habit to acquire them.

I've read that a good way to rid yourself of a habit is to replace it with a new one. But I thought that that was just to make it easier to let go of the habit you wanted to change. And since it wasn't that difficult to rid myself of that consumerism habit (for the most part), I didn't even think of adding new habits to replace the old ones.

I've read many articles on minimalism, but I've never really read anything discussing this unexpected emptiness. Are the other minimalists in denial? Did they already know what they wanted to do with the extra free time? Are they just writing about mostly the good parts of being a minimalist? Am I the only one experiencing this?

I've read about how to "fit in to society" after you've become a minimalist. You know the "gift experiences instead of stuff" kinds of advice, or the "people just don’t really care if your wardrobe is not varied" pep talks. I've even read about the emotional reasons and difficulties that keep us from letting go. But I've never read anything that talks about the unexpected emptiness that may occur after letting go, especially when you do it quickly and significantly. Maybe I just missed those articles in my excitement of getting started with minimalism.

I think it's important to write about this issue so that if anyone else has experienced this, they'd know they’re not alone.

So now what? Well, I think maybe we should ride it out - at least for a while. Do a little of that "being still" thing, let the dust settle. And after some time, then we can start looking at taking deliberate action after giving it some thought.

Friday, 27 November 2015

Highlighting flaws

Have you ever watched reality TV shows on hoarders? I'm fascinated by these people. They ruin their homes and their lives hoarding stuff. According to the shows, it always seems to stem from some tragic event that made something "go off" (for lack of a better term) in these people's mind and they just gave up on cleaning and started keeping everything because they felt they needed it or that these things were precious. They can't even let go of items that are damaged beyond use.

Years of hoarding has a serious impact on these people's lives in more ways than one. All the stuff eats away at their home damaging the structure - literally and figuratively. I've seen shows where the situation was so bad that they actually had to condemn the house.

Now I've said it before and I'll say it again, I was nowhere near to qualifying as a hoarder. I just had a lot of stuff. Since embarking on my minimalism journey, something's been going on. I have less stuff in the way distracting me from old pains that haven't completely healed. I've found that as I was getting rid of stuff (material possessions, expectations, relationships), I've exposed the "structural damage" that the years of neglect and denial have had on my life. Now there's not much else left to do than to face them.

I don't remember exactly where I first read about this, but there's this ancient Japanese art form that mends broken vases using a bonding agent containing gold, silver or platinum. It's called Kintsugi. According to Wikipedia, "the philosophy behind it is to treat breaks and repairs as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise". Highlighting the flaws as part of the piece's beauty. Oh how our lives would be different if we treated ourselves and others in this way!

So now with less stuff in the way, the hard work starts. The work where I mend those pieces back together with the gold that is acceptance, forgiveness, love, and life itself. It's scary to face some of these things. And it can get kind of lonely. But I have to deal with it. Slowly and patiently, piece by piece - accepting, forgiving, loving and then letting go.

I used to want to hide my flaws thinking it was the only way I could gain acceptance from others. I've come to realize that the only acceptance that really matters is my own. Besides, I wouldn't be the woman I am today if I hadn't made all the mistakes I've made, and all the good decisions I've made for that matter.

How beautiful it is to behold someone who accepts who they are! Not that we shouldn't strive to "better ourselves", but finally accepting who we are as we continue on the journey to self-improvement. And maybe actually using that acceptance as a tool or strategy to help with self-improvement.

I'm still struggling with that, working hard on it. I shall persevere.

My goal - serenity.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Downward trend of moving costs

I like concrete facts and figures that show me my progress in any aspect of my life, whether it's tracking the distance I cover when I go for a walk, to the money I've spent in a day. I was reading an article by James Clear in which he wrote: "Data improves awareness and awareness is the first step to behavior change"[1]. So I think that this particular aspect of my personality can serve me well, as long as it doesn't become an obsession of course... which I doubt it would.

I was sorting through my personal paperwork the other day and came across my 2013 and 2015 moving bills. I hired the same company for both moves. In 2013, I paid the company a little over $1,200 for their moving services. In 2015, I paid them a little less than $500. A bit of a difference, no?

It shocked me to see how significant a change I made since February. I knew it was less for this year's move than it had been for the previous one, but this was a bigger variance than I remembered. I mean, I know I own way less than I did... I can see it. But this is another way to measure the progress.

I do still want to keep going. Experimenting with how much I own in different categories of things (kitchenware, clothes, furniture...). I've noticed that there are some things I haven't used since I've moved that I think I may not use any time soon. So I'll probably let them go before the end of my lease.

I'm almost looking forward to my next move to see if I can keep costs about the same or even reduced. However, they might be a little higher because next time I plan on using the company to move ALL of my possessions, not just the heavier bigger pieces. So if I can get organized well enough for that to happen and still keep my costs below $1,200, that would be fine by me!


1. Feedback Loops: How to Master the Invisible Hand That Shapes Our Lives by James Clear

Friday, 20 November 2015

Timeless wisdom

Have you ever heard of Seneca? I discovered him because I had seen a few quotes while reading minimalism writings that were followed by his name. At first, I didn’t realize it was a name. One day I decided to finally look it up. Turns out he really was a person. According to Amazon:
Lucius Annaeus Seneca, statesman, philosopher, advocate and man of letters, was born at Cordoba in Spain around 4 BC. He rose to prominence in Rome, pursuing a career in the courts and political life, for which he had been trained, while also acquiring celebrity as an author of tragedies and essays. Falling foul of successive emperors (Caligula in AD 39 and Claudius in AD 41), he spent eight years in exile, allegedly for an affair with Caligula’s sister. Recalled in AD 49, he was made praetor and was appointed tutor to the boy who was to become, in AD 54, the emperor Nero. On Nero’s succession, Seneca acted for some eight years as an unofficial chief minister. The early part of this reign was remembered as a period of sound government, for which the main credit seems due to Seneca. His control over Nero declined as enemies turned the emperor against him with representations that his popularity made him a danger, or with accusations of immorality or excessive wealth. Retiring from public life he devoted his last three years to philosophy and writing, particularly the Letters to Lucilius. In AD 65 following the discovery of a plot against the emperor, in which he was thought to be implicated, he and many others were compelled by Nero to commit suicide. His fame as an essayist and dramatist lasted until two or three centuries ago, when he passed into literary oblivion, from which the twentieth century has seen a considerable recovery.
Quite the life, no?

Lately, I’ve been struggling emotionally. I won’t go into what’s been bothering me as I would like to keep these matters private. But one of the things that has been helping me through it has been reading Letters from a Stoic. These writings don't necessarily address what I've been struggling with, but I find them helpful nonetheless. I don’t know if it’s the wisdom I find in these writings or if it’s the tone, but they soothe me.

Here are some passages that stood out. They're all separate quotes:
"Whatever years be behind us are in death's hands."
"They allow the cheapest and most useless things, which can be easily replaced, to be charged in the reckoning, after they have acquired them; but they never regard themselves as in debt when they have received some of that precious commodity, - time!"
"I do not regard a man as poor, if the little which remains is enough for him."
"The primary indication, to my thinking, of a well-ordered mind is a man's ability to remain in one place and linger in his own company."
"It is not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more, that is poor."
"Do you ask what is the proper limit to wealth? It is, first, to have what is necessary, and, second, to have what is enough."
"Most men ebb and flow in wretchedness between the fear of death and the hardships of life; they are unwilling to live, and yet they do not know how to die."
"That which is enough is ready to our hands."
"Beasts avoid the dangers which they see, and when they have escaped them are free from care; but we men torment ourselves over that which is to come as well as over that which is past."
"Eat merely to relieve your hunger; drink merely to quench your thirst; dress merely to keep out the cold; house yourself merely as a protection against personal discomfort."
"... our ideal wise man feels his troubles, but overcomes them..."
"In this sense the wise man is self-sufficient, that he can do without friends, not that he desires to do without them. When I say "can", I mean this: he endures the loss of a friend with equanimity."
"Unblest is he who thinks himself unblest." [sic]
"Let us cherish and love old age; for it is full of pleasure if one knows how to use it. Fruits are most welcome when almost over; youth is most charming at its close; the last drink delights the toper, the glass which souses him and puts the finishing touch on his drunkenness."
Those are not the only passages I've highlighted, and I'm just 7% through the book.

Obviously, I’m not reading these letters in their original language (which I assume must have been Latin). And I know that translations are not always accurate. Nevertheless, there is wisdom in what I’m reading and it’s helping me. Maybe someday I’ll learn Latin (I’ve been wanting to for years), until then this will have to do.

I told someone that I was reading this book looking for wisdom, the person asked how can any of it be applicable to today. Well, based on the passages I've quoted above, do you not think that these writings are absolutely relevant? Most wisdom, I believe, is applicable to any time.

Monday, 16 November 2015

The missing photograph

Well, it seems I have to come to terms with the fact that I no longer have that photograph I was looking for. I went through everything I have left, which isn't much, and I can't find it. I must have given it away in one of the boxes I dropped off at the Salvation Army. Pity. I would have wanted it to complete my set.

It's a little disappointing and a little annoying, but it's definitely not the end of the world. I can reconfigure the remaining photographs, or I can get something else for the wall I was going to hang them on.

It's funny but I expect that I'll remember that missing photograph for as long as I have the others. But if I got rid of them all, the memory would eventually fade away.

I guess it's similar to when we hold on to other things or feelings or relationships that just remind us of disappointments or missed opportunities or guilt or whatever other bad feeling. Letting go, even just the thought of it, can be scary. But once we finally do, those memories and bad feelings eventually fade away also. Out of sight, out of mind, right?

Oh I know it's not always as simple as that. Sometimes the work of letting go takes much longer and is more involved than just eliminating the "source of pain" from our lives. And I'm sure in some situations, the memory never completely leaves us. But I guess it's a start...

Will I get rid of the other photographs? Nah! Not yet anyway. The joy the remaining ones bring me outweighs the disappointment of the missing one.

Friday, 13 November 2015

When I was your age...

This past Wednesday, my daughter and I were invited out to a restaurant in honour of one of her friend's 16th birthday. This friend's mom (who also now happens to be my friend) asked the adults to write words of wisdom for her daughter along the lines of "When I was your age, I wish I knew..." What a great idea for a birthday gift!

I didn't have room in the card for everything I wanted to write, so I'm sharing it all here.
When I was your age...

I wish I knew that life rarely goes as planned, but it can be better than you had ever imagined;

I wish I knew that the meanest people are often the ones who are hurting the most;

I wish I knew that people are way more interesting than they may appear to be at first (the cleaning lady may have led a more interesting life than the Prime Minister);

I wish I knew and really understood that every day, every minute, every second is a new beginning - you can make it what you want;

I wish I knew how quickly time goes by and not to take any second of it for granted - really be in the moment;

I wish I knew how to listen to what adults were trying to tell me and that I could learn from their mistakes instead of making the same ones myself (although there's no greater teacher than experience...);

I wish I knew that being different is freakin' fantastic! There's nothing as beautiful as someone who accepts who they really are, warts and all (following the crowd isn't always the best way to go);

I wish I knew that everyone is really just doing the best they can with what they have at any given time (we're all trying to figure it out - even your parents);

I wish I knew I could make things happen for myself and didn't have to wait for friends or family or a partner or anyone else to live the life I want to live and have the adventures I want to have;

I wish I knew that it's important to make good decisions, but sometimes you'll make mistakes - learn from them;

I wish I knew that figuring out what I don't want to do is just as important as figuring out what I do want to do;

I wish I knew that I had a bigger impact on people's lives than I thought I did - you never know how your kindness can make a difference in someone's life;

I wish I knew that if you get on the wrong path, you're allowed to change it - whether it's different studies, a different job, different friends, or a different way of life... it's ok to change;

I wish I knew that I didn't have to try so hard to please others, what matters most is that I'm happy with who I am;

I wish I knew to take care of my health - prolonged unhealthy habits can catch up to you;

I wish I knew that you don't have to have a "conventional job" to contribute to society;

I wish I knew that having an expansive vocabulary helps make your point - people take you more seriously when you're articulate;

I wish I knew that you can never know it all, no matter how much you learn - but it's a great endeavour to learn as much as you possibly can;

I wish I knew that everything comes to an end, the good as well as the bad;

I wish I understood that reading is good for you;

I wish I knew that I'm responsible for my own happiness - not in an "I'm all alone in the world" kind of way, but in an "I have all the power" kind of way;

I wish I knew that it's ok some days to just be - that might be the only thing you're capable of doing on a given day and that's enough;

And lastly, I wish I understood how precious it was to be 16 years old (or 5, or 20, or 32, or 41, or 67, or...).
Others had really nice words of wisdom too. One that stood out for me was something along the lines of "Don't trust anyone that says that certain years are the best years of your life - if they're saying that, they're not doing it right".

Monday, 9 November 2015

That homey feeling

This past weekend was a quiet one binging on Netflix and walking around downtown. I felt somewhat at peace.If you've been reading, you know I've been struggling with feeling at home in the condo. Well I did something else this past weekend that helped a little with that. I hung artwork.

A print of the Rideau Canal by Theo's father that Theo gave to me when I turned 17. A city scene my daughter made in school a few years ago combining painting and sculpture. An old painting from my dad's grand-father. (I've never met him, but it makes me feel connected to him to know that he also loved art. There was a time I wanted to be a painter also.) And a wooden frame type sculpture my daughter did in tech class last year.

I'll also hang up photos taken by a friend about ten years ago in the neighbourhood I grew up in. There are six of them in total, but I can't seem to find one of them. I remember seeing it during the move, but for some reason I can't find it right now. Which is really weird because the place is small and I don't have many things left. I don't remember getting rid of it...

Anyway, seeing those familiar pieces helps me feel more at home, more connected. Does it mean that I'll stick around once my lease is up? I don't know. But these familiar pieces make me feel better about being here.

Print by Rasto Hlavina that I received for my 17th birthday

Friday, 6 November 2015

Urbanite chronicles - Two

Weekdays, I listen to the Radio Canada morning news show on my cellphone before getting out of bed. One morning, the traffic report said there were two accidents on a street I'd drive down every day when I lived in Orleans. I felt so happy and relieved that I didn't have to drive through that to get to work that morning, even though I felt bad for the people who had their day start out with an accident...

After, I thought of a comment a fellow urbanite co-worker said to me: "You'll see, you'll also fall in love with winter again!" No more shovelling snow before leaving for work in the morning, or before parking my car after a long drive coming home from work in the evening. No more sitting in traffic because of bad weather conditions. Winter in Canada really is beautiful when you don't have to fight against it.

Speaking of driving, I spent a whopping $35.33 in gas in October. And I still had some left over taking me through the first week of November. Much better compared to the average $200 I was spending when I lived in Orleans. Now I drive my car two to three times a week, maximum. It used to be more than two to three times daily.

Living downtown is nice. But it's not all sunshine and lollipops. The inadequacies of the condo unit I'm renting are still annoying my daughter Cat and I. Not as much as in the beginning, but still. It doesn't quite feel like home yet... Also, my next-door neighbour is somewhat troubled. He comes and goes at weird hours which is noisy because he lets the door slam shut. Sometimes he has screaming episodes in the middle of the night which wake me up. Fortunately, it doesn't wake up Cat so much. It's happened a dozen times or so since we've moved in mid-September. It happened a couple of times just this past week even. I'm not sure if it's mental illness or drug induced. Maybe both...

Cat has been finding the bus ride to school a bit long and she's not enjoying waking up so early. But when we're out about town together, she says she's really happy with the decision I've made. We're looking into possibly having her attend a school closer to home though.

Walking has been fantastic! When I get restless and don't know what to do, I go out for a walk. I easily get in more than 3 km when I go. This past week I've averaged about 6 km a day even though my aim was 4 km. The scenery and my curiosity contribute to keeping me distracted enough so that it doesn't feel like a workout. And on days when I'm too busy to go, I miss my walk. Oh, and I've discovered a beautiful walking path! More nature, less city, but oh so lovely. And it's just a few minutes away from my home.

As I was walking the other day, I felt very happy to be living downtown. I had a little moment when I remembered being a teenager thinking how I would love to be living here. Now I am!

I have a feeling that this won't be forever. Even though this city is beautiful, I feel like I might grow tired of downtown Ottawa. That I might end up moving to a completely different city some day. Maybe Montreal, Toronto, Quebec or Vancouver. Or maybe even a different country. Or maybe to the country or a cabin in the woods... Who knows? Even though I'm very much a routine-loving type of person, I also feel like I have the adventurous spirit of an explorer. I'm open and willing to see what else is out there...

Elgin Street - Where I was walking when I remembered my teenage wish to live downtown.

Monday, 2 November 2015

To settle or not to settle?

That is the question. Whether tis better to settle for "good enough for now" or hold out for what we really want can sometimes be a very difficult choice.

For instance, there are certain elements I like having in my home to make it a comfortable environment for me. In my living room that would be a couch, chairs, an area rug, a coffee table, end-tables, a TV (but that’s mostly for my daughter), something to put the TV on, a couple of lamps and curtains. Those are my basic elements.

However, I’m somewhat particular in the style I want. This makes finding the items that will please me a little difficult. And often, when I do find something that really pleases me, it’s way out of my price range. So, I often settle. I get the nicest thing I can find that my money can buy.

Unfortunately, that’s led to some disappointments. I don’t particularly like the couch I chose, even though I went into many different stores until I found one that seemed like a good choice. It’s not as comfortable as I hoped it would be. And, as I’m sure you know, a couch is not as easy to replace as, say, a sweater. So I’ll have to live with it for a few years. I’m also not sure about the area rug. I may be returning that…

Sometimes, settling can actually turn out to be a pleasant surprise. Take my dining room table and chairs for example. They’re not what I originally wanted. What I wanted was a beautiful mid-century modern teak set I saw at a local second-hand store. But it was way out of my price range. So off I went to look for something less expensive that would still bring me a little joy. I found the table in one store, and the chairs (on sale!) in another. They make for a very cute set that’s about a third of the price of what I originally wanted. And I like the simple lines of the table and the style of the chairs. I’m happy with this compromise.

So I don’t know, should we settle or go without? I suppose if we find that we can go without, that’s probably the best way to go. Then we could take our time to find (or not) the pieces that are worthy of our resources (time, money, space, freedom). And staying open-minded to compromise might turn out to be just as good as or even better than what we wanted in the first place.