3 Things that are saving my life right now

As I mentioned in a previous post, I was quite taken by one of Tsh’s (from The Art of Simple) recent posts about ‘things that are saving my life right now’. Perhaps the title is overly dramatic, but I think the intention and meaning is probably correct. There are always a few things in life which help save our mental health, and it’s worth taking a look at what these are and why. There are definitely some which are making life substantially better for me at the moment, so I thought I’d take inspiration from Tsh and start another series of themed posts. These will probably be occasional rather than weekly or monthly, and nowhere near the ‘7 things’ she manages, but I hope you enjoy them.

So, for the first time, here are three things that are saving my mental bacon right now:

  1. Being at home. I realised recently that it is critically important to me at the moment to have intentional time at home, with my partner, in my house. Part of this is because maintaining a home takes time and intention; it takes effort to keep it clean, tidy, to prepare clean clothes and have food in the cupboards. I need to be at home to do those things for myself. But part of it is also because I find it very grounding to be in my home, pottering around, tidying things and generally making small things better. To be clear – I don’t mean those times when I come home exhausted, slump on the sofa and watch videos and generally do nothing. I mean times when I am present and active and engaged with my partner and my home. Time to do this was one of the things I longed for in a soulful way at the end of my PhD, and it is deeply satisfying to be able to have that.
  2. Decluttering. I’m not talking about a going-for-it throw-down style decluttering extravaganza. I’m talking about a little here and there, a slow paring down of things. Hell, not even a paring down yet – I’m still in the process of getting rid of so much junk from my life and home. I mean, I’m still dealing with boxes of old photographs, hoarded cinema tickets from the 2000s, clothes that I haven’t worn in ten years. But I am slowly, slowly thinning it out a little. I’m not doing it because I want the house to look nicer, although that is a nice side effect. I’m mostly doing it because I need the mental space. I need to push back the wash of things all around me. I also desperately need to be in a space which is not dirty as it does bad things to my mental health, therefore I need a space which is clear enough to be cleaned with reasonable ease. So decluttering, as and when I find time in my pottering at home, is totally saving my head.
  3. Reading on the bus. My journey to work is 30-40mins each way, every day. But recently I’ve managed, for the first time in my life, to teach myself to read on the bus without feeling ill (most days at least). That means I hop on the bus, open my book, and before I know it I’m pulling up outside work. I don’t get stressed, I don’t feel overwhelmed by the press of people, and I don’t think about my day ahead earlier than I need to. It makes the journey pass without distress or annoyance, and I’m really appreciative of it. And it helps me work through my hoard of books-to-be-read, which helps contribute (however slowly!) to the decluttering. If you can read on a moving vehicle, I thoroughly recommend you try it on your commute!

I hope these provide some food for thought. Everyone needs some things that help save their mental health, and I hope you have some too!

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3 Things that are saving my life right now

Getting inspired to declutter your clothes

Sometimes the amount of clothes I own can feel overwhelming. I look at them, and I feel guilty for not using lots of them, but then frustrated because I can never get to what I own, or even see it. Everything is just piled on top of everything else. Then I get that classic “nothing to wear” feeling, and I just get in a complete grump. I don’t even want to go through stuff, because it’s all so horrible I don’t even want to look at it.

But this time, I’m not ignoring it. I’ve gone through my regular, day-to-day type clothes and culled a whole bin-liner to give to charity. I’ve done this not because of some New Year’s resolution, but due to a happy coincidence of inspiration which has helped me face the mess. So if you’re looking for a bit of motivation or inspiration for tidying or decluttering, here’s my list of ways to find it:

1) Visiting (tidier) friends

I visited a friend for New Year, and the experience was surprisingly inspiring. The friend I was visiting very kindly gave me and my partner their bedroom to sleep in. The bedroom wasn’t inspiring in itself: it was actually the spare room of the house, didn’t really have very much in it, and was a rather uninspiring pale brown colour.

However, because the room was quite sparse my friend had folded and stacked most of their clothes on the shelves. And it just looked so simple and functional! Unlike my own shelves, where I had left my clothes tangled up, confused and generally stuffed in as tightly as possible, my friend’s shelves were neat, tidy and definitely not over-filled. I was pretty jealous of how easy it was to see what was there and get to it. Seeing it up close, by accident, also made it very real. This wasn’t some show home, or someone known for their tidiness or obsessive decluttering. This was just a regular person with similar hobbies to mine.

I’d definitely say, if you’re looking for real slap-in-the-face inspiration, take a few minutes to privately peruse one of your tidier friends’ rooms!

2) Reading books (or articles) about tidying

A good writer not only communicates their passion, but actually makes you feel like you can do the thing just as well as they can. A friend very kindly gave me a copy of Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and I’ve just read the first quarter or so. I may talk about the book in more detail later, but it is a pleasant and easy read. To a Westerner her perspectives on inanimate objects seem rather odd, but she makes you really feel like you could tidy your whole house and keep it tidy. I probably wouldn’t spend money on the book myself, as it is repetitive and could be much more firmly edited down to a hundred pages or so, but it is invaluable as inspiration if not actual content.

3) Working out what you really want to wear.

Marie Kondo tells you to hold each piece and ask Does this spark joy in me? Which I think is definitely a good way of getting past the excuses we often make of but I might need it… it’s very functional… etc. But when I was decluttering I focussed more on Is this clothing actually me? As well as the obligatory Does this shit even fit me properly? and Do I even like this any more?

The key, as Kondo identifies, is not just to have a bunch of clothes which are good enough for their use but which you are apathetic about, but a smaller number of pieces you actually really like. You don’t need to have a Pinterest board of ‘your own personal style’ to do this. You already know who you are, and what you’re comfortable in. You need to pick out those clothes which allow you to really feel genuinely like yourself, and recycling everything else (assuming that leaves you with at least enough clothes to last a week!). Pretending to be something you’re not is awkward and uncomfortable, and other people do sometimes spot it. Your best clothes, the ones that you will actually wear rather than pushing to the back of the shelf/drawer/closet, are the ones that truly resonate with who you actually are inside.

I know it doesn’t initially seem a big deal, but I think that getting rid of the boring clothes I only have and wear ‘because I should’ is a small but important part of learning (remembering!) how to be more myself on a day-to-day, moment-by-moment basis. So I’m trying to give up all the things that look ‘okay’ on me, so that what I have left are the good things, the things I actually like wearing and make me feel more like myself. I don’t need a lot of clothes, I just need to be able to easily access ones which I am confident and happy wearing on a daily basis. And which don’t make me feel too drab! So if you’re feeling dowdy, or uncomfortable, or just not able to really into to the clothes you have and wear, you could use that as good inspiration to declutter your wardrobe. Just don’t ‘throw out’ the whole lot (as Kondo seems intent on doing, much to my annoyance!), give them to charity or recycling!

4) Realising your body shape or needs have changed and responding to that fairly and honestly

I have to admit that this cull highlighted that I’ve fallen into some terrible traps with my own clothes. One of the worst has to be One day I’ll lose weight and this will fit again. It’s so easy to say this to yourself and then push the offending item to the back of the closet. I’ve done it loads, specially in the last year or so, when my IBS has played up and made it impossible to wear some things due to tightness, or waistband position.

As I picked up, tried on, held, and generally considered all of my clothes, I’ve realised this is an absolutely poisonous mindset to have.

Please, please please don’t do this to yourself. The last thing you need if you have any self-consciousness about your body is a bunch of clothes that you wish you could wear but which can only hang around making you feel shit about yourself. Get rid of them. It doesn’t mean you don’t intend to lose the weight, it doesn’t mean you won’t ever wear that sort of thing again. It isn’t a defeat. It’s just getting rid of something you are essentially keeping around to remind yourself that you are not good enough as you currently are.

You are good enough. Even if you want to change your body shape or weight, you are still perfectly sufficient right now. Don’t keep things that tell you otherwise, or make you feel guilty or ugly or un-wonderful. If your body shape or needs have changed, but your wardrobe hasn’t, use it as a chance to declutter your wardrobe. It may seem too hard, or be painful to face up to, but being honest with yourself is important, and you can get through it. It’s okay to be you, and it’s okay to want to change, but if you’re anything like me, holding onto these objects just lets you use them as mental cudgels to induce guilt and dislike for yourself.

 

I haven’t finished decluttering my clothes yet. Whilst I have a bin-liner full of day-to-day clothes from my shelves to go to the charity shop, I want to be more rigorous with my more formal clothes in the little wardrobe, and the (argh!) hats, box of scarves and gloves. However I have culled a bunch of stuff for being way too fucking boring for me and that’s given me quite a lot of joy!

I hope these suggestions help you find inspiration to declutter your wardrobe, and re-discover all those things hiding at the back!

 

 

 

Getting inspired to declutter your clothes

The soothing (and unsoothing) nature of cleaning

It’s Boxing Day, and I’m enjoying a little tidying up. That’s right, I’m enjoying it. What’s that about?

Having a quick research, it appears to be that psychologically, cleaning can be what is termed a self-soothing activity. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing as the term doesn’t carry any judgement. A self-soothing activity is just something that helps bounce us out of the doldrums, distracting us from negative feelings for a while. That little bit of breathing space is good for you, even if it is just temporary. Sometimes negative feelings and thoughts can be overwhelming, and a bit of distance is a welcome relief.

I know cleaning is a distraction for me. It requires fine motor skills and attention to detail, and that stops me from thinking properly about other things. Thoughts arise and depart, but attention is elsewhere, so although I note them, I don’t pursue them or dwell on them.

However to be really satisfying, distractions need to both suck you in, and actually interest you. Most of the time cleaning isn’t interesting, but it does have the potential to be really satisfying. Take today. We have a black mould problem – it’s one of the joys of living in a 1980s house with double glazing. Water condenses, dust accumulates, and before you know it there’s black mould growing along your windows and up your walls. It demands constant vigilance, or it spreads, mould-suppressing paint or no (though if you have any suggestions on this, do drop me a comment!). So today I did the bathroom window with bleach: a few very careful squirts, ten minutes or so waiting, and some cautious washing down, and the window was white again. Visible, satisfying, results!

There’s a more recent aspect to cleaning and tidying for me too – not just resetting the situation to regular levels, but actually making it better. Decluttering. Today I hit the bathroom stuff. I didn’t just tidying things up by arranging them, I chucked out a bunch of old things I won’t need any more. I know it’s not frugal or green to just throw stuff away, but I honestly will not use these in the coming years, and neither will anyone else who I’m close enough to actually ask them if they want my half-used dusty old bits and pieces! THis kind of decluttering makes cleaning interesting in a way it isn’t usually, as I try and work out what I actually need, what I can do without, what can be charity-shopped. Maybe that helps to make it a psychologically self-soothing activity.

It does feel odd to enjoy cleaning. Less odd, when I think of it in terms of my ever-present but as-yet-unrealised desire to do a full declutter. But still, enjoying cleaning? Surely horribly gender-normative. I struggle so much when things I want or enjoy are the same things that I’m expected to want or enjoy. I don’t trust them. I feel like those are the things I ought to struggle against – why does society want me to enjoy or be good at these things? Cleaning is just part of the female-dominated work that anyone could do but that usually devolves to women, most of which isn’t recognised and isn’t thought to matter. I try not to do more than half of the cleaning, but I usually do. Isn’t it somehow even worse to actually enjoy it as well? Buying into all that bullshit about women and wives from the mid-20th century?

Balancing these things is difficult, and I’m not there. I don’t know how to reconcile these two aspects. How do you balance house work in your home? How do you fit being someone who likes cleaning and cooking with someone who also wants equality and to reject gender- and sexual-normative behaviour? Answers on a postcard…(or comment!).

 

 

The soothing (and unsoothing) nature of cleaning