tales from urban dilettantia

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I Hoard Stuff

I hoard stuff. Anyone who has spent much time in my space will know that.

When I look at diagnostic surveys and photographic guides, I find I fall solidly into the ‘you might want to think about getting some help’ category. It’s not reality-television-bad, but it’s bad enough to hurt.

To provide some context, here are a few of the things I have done.

  • Completely lost a room. At least twice. I forget how many times.
  • Avoided having people around without preparatory time to haul piles into spare rooms and close doors.
  • Spent months letting the laundry pile up, buying new underwear instead.
  • Was repeatedly too scared to tackle what’s in the fridge, or in the sink, or in mysterious boxes.
  • Failed to open mail. Piles and piles of mail. (You know what? They send you loads of warnings before they cut services off.)
  • Failed to do my tax for years on end, the paperwork being lost in my piles of clutter.
  • Lost a bunch of clothes when it rained inside and I just…left them there getting rained on.
  • Never cleared my gutters (hence the inside rain).
  • Climbed over piles of things to get to the front door.
  • Slept on half of a double bed, while the clutter napped ominously on the other half.

Now apparently ‘admitting you have a problem’ is half the battle, but I’ve been admitting that for years and you know what? Admitting you have a problem doesn’t open boxes, plug up inside rain, or magically grant access to abandoned rooms.  And, at least in my experience, it doesn’t make you feel much better about yourself either.

Thankfully, I know other people who have done this hoarding thing too. Brilliant, beautiful people who are great friends, great professionals, great human beings. And I know that they are no less great friends, great professionals, great human beings for having hoarded. And on occasion, some of them have been kind enough to let me help them sort a little of their hoard, and I am honoured by that.  It is a hard thing to let people see the piles of stuff, and even harder to let them see one’s emotional reaction to tackling it.

Personally, I’ve fought my hoarding as well as I’ve been able, which hasn’t been all that well a lot of the time.  Occasionally, I’ve had frantic bursts of energy and hired skips and filled them.  From time to time, I’ve bravely emptied a handbag, typically discovering a muddle of medication, old receipts, and oozing nail polish at the bottom.  I’ve researched treatment approaches and developed excellent organisational techniques…and then failed to apply them.

But this year, I think I may be turning a corner. I hope.  I’m taking a new medication for some of my other issues, and it seems to be moderating my hoarding behaviours too, complementing K’s gentle life coaching, and the patience and absence of judgement offered by both my partners.

It seems nuts to think a small pill at night could keep the laundry under control, get dirty dishes into the dishwasher, pick the clothes off the floor, or start chipping away at the deep clutter – the drawers, cupboards, and containers that have been abandoned to their mysterious contents. But it appears that it may well do so.

Just got to clean those gutters. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Just got to stop the rain.

Sharing-Share

As promised in last month’s post, here is the mindmap for my 2016 theme, ‘Share’, along with a couple of mini maps about things that block or enable sharing.

They’re all dodgy phone photos, because the perfect is the enemy of the good, and because holding off until I manage to post beautifully scanned, cleaned-up versions in late 2023 won’t achieve much.

 

2016 'Share' Map

2016 ‘Share’ Map

 

Four central questions, or bundles of questions, popped up while I was working on the map.  I don’t have answers for any of them now, but I’m hoping that by the end of the year I’ll be closer:

  1. How to manage overcommitting? How to say no? What not to share? Boundaries?
  2. But who wants to hear?
  3. What does sustainable sharing look like?
  4. Why does this scare me so much?

 

Share Enablers

Share Enablers

 

Share Blocks

Share Blocks

 

2016: Share

Before I die I want to...

Once a year, every year, I choose a theme.

It’s usually no more than a word. A guiding thought for the year to come. A subject of inquiry. A standing piece of advice for life’s decisions, big or small. Once, it was ‘sovereignty’, once ’hearth’, once ’capability’. I think once it may have been ‘balance’, and once ‘the small’, but my record-keeping is somewhat lacking.

So, once a year, every year, I choose a theme. But ‘choose’ isn’t quite the right word. It implies a range of possibilities, when in fact it is a matter of a single idea, bubbling to the surface. Almost always, it emerges when Ju and I meet to discuss the year just gone, and the one to come.

This year, somewhat to my surprise, my theme is ‘share’. I am surprised because it seems more outward-looking, more engaged with other people, and more open than any introvert-who-just-wants-to-be-left-alone could be. Consequently, I have found myself stubbornly pushing back against the idea.

Sharing time? I don’t have time!

Sharing energy? I don’t have energy!

Sharing stories, experiences, food, friendship, space? Did you hear what I said about time and energy?

Evidence that I have found a fitting theme.

As usual, perfectionism – ever my companion – intervenes. It appears self-evident that I need to conduct this inquiry on a grand scale, at no cost to all the other things I do. That somehow (if I’m a better person, a kinder person, a healthier and stronger and more organised person) time and energy will rain from the heavens and all will be well.

This is – self-evidently – ludicrous. I have learned and forgotten and learned again that the only way I do things well is incrementally, in tiny, successful steps. (I recorded this knowledge many years ago on The Map of Win which hangs in my hall, but I still forget and re-learn.)

And so, some tiny sharing possibilities.

Write here again – just a little. Nothing epic, nothing grand.

Help organise Cary’s open-house breakfasts at The Workhouse (instead of just showing up at best).

Process and upload just a handful of a three-year backlog of photos to my Flickr.

Give a tiny gift.

Make a date to appreciate a friend’s new house.

I will – as usual – make a mind-map soon to explore the idea of sharing more broadly and deeply. And this year, I will share it here.

 

The map is not the territory, but today it will suffice.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted one of my maps.  And now there are two!

The first is a picture of something I’ve been working on since January; namely, the idea of sovereignty.  The idea is a work in progress, and the map is one of many spanning that progress.  I am posting it for Nathalie and Jaunita, who are right there with me when I need them.

The second is a picture of change.  Once upon a time I was the girl who could not walk across campus without tensing every muscle for fear people were looking at her.  The girl who would blush and stammer rather than hold a conversation.  The very queen of awkwardness, the non-phone-answerer, the one who declined every invitation.  Twenty years on, I am the woman who will pounce upon a friendly looking stranger with a ‘hi, I’m an enormous introvert; pleased to meet you!’  How did this happen you ask?  Still trying to work that one out, and I am posting this map for a dear friend who is on the journey too.

Pictures make me feel less mopey about the ten half-finished blog posts in my notebook. Let’s all forget about those posts and enjoy the shiny.  Or else.

Crashing back into it

Quite a long time ago, four long years ago.  Big, fancy house.  Husband.  Cats.  Three and a half years ago, suddenly looking hard at my tangled, messy, perpetual barely-hanging-on-ness.  Starting to think about ‘happiness’ even though – as many pointed out to me – this wasn’t quite the correct word, and it was prone to be confused with hedonism.  What I was trying to express was ‘rational, loving and sustainable well-being’.  But that’s too long and too difficult to explain.  So I talked about My Happiness Project.

Looking backwards for a moment, there are posts from that time on my old LiveJournal with tags like’my happiness project’ and ‘lifehacking’, arbitrary words for a much bigger thing, and recording fragments of a journey.   On that journey, I got somewhere; some great distance from the place where I had been before. It started to feel like it was somewhere I could stay forever.  And then moving out, immeasurable sadness, innumerable boxes, and constantly fighting everything down on every front.’The thing I regret the most over the last couple of years is not having had the capacity to hang onto tight the gentle, kind love for myself that I’d been carefully cultivating.  Finding that it was possible to actually like myself was – for various historical and then-current reasons – a great, unfolding knowledge and a completely new experience.  It is utterly unacceptable to live in such a manner that when I look hard at myself, I sigh.

Somewhat unexpectedly over the past few weeks, the spark that triggered my first headlong crash into really, truly learning to be okay has been reignited.  I’m thinking about well-being, looking again at my mechanisms of self-sabotage, starting to clear out all the clutter – mental and physical – that has accumulated in every corner of my life.   Looking at being a woman who does something more than just hang on, just cope, just hoard every little bit of energy and sanity to be able to get up, go to work, and do it sufficiently well.

I’m waking the hell up and crashing back into it, in the passionate, enthusiastic way I crash into things when I’m  very excited.  I’m reading, re-reading, thinking, planning and considering two years’ worth of swirling chaos dissolve in the face of one little step after another.

And I’m going to write about it a little, because sometimes the best thing of all is remembering that you’re not the only one on the road.

Letters from 2009

This morning, I went for my first run in weeks. It wasn’t a long run, or a fast run, but it felt remarkable nonetheless after weeks of Valium and medication-induced sedentary dizziness and vomiting – so good to be strong and springy and back in my body. The running deserves a post of its own, because it’s been such an important part of my life this year, but this one isn’t about the running.

When I came bouncing back through my gate, I checked the post and there was a letter there, addressed to me in my handwriting, and I wasn’t quite sure what to make of that. I’d forgotten that I spent last year helping conduct a mentoring program with some super awesome teenagers, and on the last day we all – mentors and kids – wrote ourselves a letter to be delivered in one year’s time.

I feel a little shy sharing it here, because at the time I never shared it with anyone.  But I want to, and so this is my letter:

My dear,

I want 2010 to be a better year for you, and I promise to do my best to achieve that.

I want to see food growing in your garden, friends dining at your table, and love and forgiveness in your heart.

I want – no, I need – to know that you have actively worked on your mental health and made progress in conquering your anxiety.

I need you to live a year that you will look back upon with respect and peace in the years to come.

Take care, be strong, learn (and re-learn) to ask for help from those who love you, and never, ever stop dreaming, loving, learning and creating.

All my love.

I am surprised (in all my deadly perfectionist glory!) by just how much I have lived up to hopes and expectations of Last Year’s Me; I trust she’d be proud.

Happiness Elsewhere

A recent post over on the Wired Science blog reminded me that I have been neglecting my favourite subject lately, discussing as it does the way in which happiness and sadness appear to fit the infectious disease model in large social networks. The Wired article leans a little far towards generalisation and pop-science for my taste, but the original study looks quite interesting and has made me wonder about the underlying assumptions, methodology and data set.

Looking through my bookmarks, it turns out that over the past few months I’ve hoarded quite a number of interesting articles on life, happiness and well-being.  In March, Scott Berkun wrote something that really challenges me to read, dealing as it does with being unbusy, being still and cultivating time.  It’s called The Cult of Busy.

Last month Dave Navarro (no relation) from Rock Your Day posted How To Stop Telling Your Sad, Sad Story, which I really loved; it’s such an ass-kicking.

Over at Fora.tv, you can watch Is The Pursuit of Happiness Making Us Miserable (which is probably is, if we take ‘happiness’ to mean hedonic pleasure).

Tim Ferris has written an epic piece on vagabonding, simplicity, travel and well-being.

Everyone’s been writing about Stuff versus Experience this year. There are posts on Unclutterer and CNN and The Frontal Cortex. This is something I wrote about some time ago, at least in relation to my personal experience, and it’s interesting to see it unfolding elsewhere.

On a slightly bigger scale, The Atlantic has an article from back in February on What Makes Cities Happy.

And lastly, the FlowingData blog has these two wry charts: Flowchart to lifelong happiness, and Path to happiness gets complicated and confusing.  FlowingData blog, you make me happy.

Day Two: On should, need to, ought to, guilt and language

Being Day Two of the Festival of Miss Dilettante Posting Things About Her Happiness Project That She Didn’t Post Last Month or Indeed Last Year, which really is a fairly awful name for a festival and may need to be revised.

In the process of looking at language, communication and mental health, I’ve also come across some of my other ways of speaking (both internal and external) that haven’t been particularly healthy.

By far, the most pervasive of these has been ‘should’ (and other ways of saying should – need to, ought to, and so forth). For a born perfectionist and procrastinator, these phrases are the devil. For me they carry loads of guilt, obligation, resentment, self-blame, pressure and expectation. I’m learning to say ‘I will do x’, ‘I’ve chosen not to do x’ and ‘I would like to do x, but don’t have the capacity right now, so I’m putting it on my ‘maybe-someday’ list’. Do or not do, there is no should!

Is this anything more than semantics? Perhaps not, for some. But for me, the improvement in my quality of life is dramatic when I’m not playing ‘should’ and spending every second moment cringing in indecisive guilt.

Part of this, I think, is to do with the sheer weight of indecision, and part to do with the paralysis of perfectionism, but there’s another part too. It comes from the knowledge that committing is to take a side, to make a decision, and to accept that not everyone will agree with my choices.  It’s about not camping on the fence, and not spending my life chasing an unattainable goal of juggling the happiness of others.

Day One: On better ways of talking

Being Day One of the Festival of Miss Dilettante Posting Things About Her Happiness Project That She Didn’t Post Last Month or Indeed Last Year, which really is a fairly awful name for a festival and may need to be revised.

One of the most useful books I read last year was Nonviolent Communication. It’s most likely to be found on the self-help shelves, and you know how I feel about the self-help shelves. Nevertheless, I stumbled across a reference to it on the internet it when I was stuck and full of anger and pain, and was searching for a way to talk without lashing out at others. Indeed I think I only noticed it because I’d heard kvratties mention the name in passing. (And indeed I’m still feeling a little shy writing about it here, as I have a quiet horror of becoming Tim Robbins’ character from High Fidelity. ‘Conflict resolution is my job, Laura.’ Oh dear.)

Sidetracking in the direction of John Cusack-alicious films notwithstanding,  the implicit premise of the book is that, for many of us, common use of language and ways of speaking tend to escalate conflict. Assignment of blame, failing to communicate our needs and making demands of others are habitually embedded in the way we speak to one another. Rosenberg proposes a very simple – almost awkwardly so, on first read – practical methodology to deconstruct our ways of speaking to one another and replace them with more functional language.

When I first read the Wikipedia entry for nonviolent communication, it all seemed a bit simplistic and unsubtle, but for me there’s been much value in it. Most significantly, it’s been a tool that’s forced me to articulate (to myself, even) how I really feel, what I really need and what practical things I can do or ask for to get there. And, for someone who previously left these things floating in a fog of inarticulate ‘grrr’, ‘hiss’, ‘rawr’ and ‘purr’ feelings, this has been a huge leap of self-awareness.

I’m unsure much value there may be in nonviolent communication for anyone coming from a family where this kind of healthy interaction was the norm, but for those of us who didn’t, simply learning to say ‘I feel angry’ or ‘I feel invisible’ or ‘I feel sad’ and asking another person if they are willing to help with that – and respecting their response – can be an intensely vulnerable experience.

It’s fundamentally about honesty – about being clear with yourself and with others about what you feel and what you need, and being able to express that without implying expectation or asking more of another person than they are willing to give.  And so, ultimately, it becomes about opting-out of playing games – and if you abhor games and disingenuity as much as I do, that looks like a pretty big win.

Old Year’s Resolutions

[2007] [2008]

In the grand tradition of previous years, behold my list of retroactive resolutions for 2009!

Refrain from triggering apocalypse.

Spend more time involved in activism of various flavours.

Find and buy myself a house.

Consume less, recycle, gift away and reuse more.

Compost.

Watch far, far less television.

Help a dear friend give birth.

Learn even more about being self-sufficient on a bicycle.

Become fitter – run, bicycle, roller skate, box, walk and lift free weights.

Plant a vegetable garden.

Begin to learn to ask for help.

Make a large number of new (and lovely) friends.

Read about non-violent and more effective communication.

Retain a job throughout the GFC.

Draw more, and for more collaborative projects.

Improve my ability to set boundaries and ask for space.

Learn about the care and keeping of rabbits.

Work on and further improve my photography skills.

Attend Quaker Meeting with interest and open-mindedness.

Sit on and actively participate in a committee for Perth’s future development.

Be honest and forthright regarding my philosophy and thoughts on life, the universe and everything, and learn to be more open when talking about these things with others.

Learn to joyfully be in love without expectation, possibility or reciprocation.

Learn to wait patiently, when being impatient will not help.

Learn to love and accept my analytical and rational leanings (they that have me saying things that often attract a ‘wow, that’s cold‘ response) as fundamental and functional parts of my character, not as defects.

Do many, many things that terrify me.

Spread more love, more of the time.

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About

@dilettantiquity is interested in an unreasonable number of things, including the wide and wonderful universe, happiness, well-being, wine, optimal human experience, non-violent communication, complex systems, existential nihilism, rationality, technology, grassroots organising, cacophony, music, creativity, learning and love.