Friday, January 16, 2015

New Year's Resolution ... A Tidier house (and life!)

I hope you had a lovely festive season and are feeling positive and ready to embrace the New Year, whatever that means for you.

My sister and her family visited the States in December and for a few days before they left they stayed in an apartment in Manhattan, kindly lent to them by neighbors of friends in the same building. We headed into the city on their last day here, to spend the day together, and got to have tea and some hanging out time in that beautiful apartment.

It's hard to explain exactly what it was that made it such a beautiful and peaceful place. From the minute I walked in the door i wanted to curl up in their red armchair beneath the window and drink long cups of tea. I think what really struck me was that every object seemed to have been chosen with care, they had chosen the most beautiful of everything to fit their space perfectly. From the deep red armchair below the window to the wall of bookshelves, there was no clutter, only a few select pieces. Three small pieces of art on the wall. One lovely rug. In the kitchen a rack hung with mugs and each one was hand painted or brought from travels far away ... each would make drinking out of it a special experience. Their son's bedroom had simple wooden furniture and the toys were tidily packed away in baskets - the whole room felt nurturing and well put together, simple and effortless. 

Long after we left and said goodbye to my sister and her family, my thoughts returned to that apartment, wondering why it had appealed to me so much. And then I realized that my own home contains so many things that are not my favourite, or even the best I could find ... they are items bought impulsively on sale, or to tide us over until we find the right thing to fit a space. Time and again I read articles about homes which have been lovingly put together over time, and the owners always talk about being patient - not rushing to buy something for the sake of buying, but to wait until the right item presents itself. If you're shopping for a rug, wait until you find one that makes your heart sing. And really, shouldn't we have the same standard for the mugs we drink tea out of, the clothes we wear each day, the towels we dry off on.

Yes there are practical limits ... of course most of us cannot afford to splurge on the most expensive luxury items we see. But even at a low budget we still have choices - to buy what really appeals to us and to leave the rest behind. To fill our home only with the things which really make us happy.

A week or two later I came across this book online ... 'The Life Changing magic of tidying-up' by Marie Kondo.

                                                 (Image via Pinterest)

I'm not sure how to be honest, I don't think I did a google search for tidying ... but I was reading on clear simple spaces and it came across my path. I was a bit sceptical at first, there are so many books and magazines and websites devoted to clearing clutter and living a simpler life but that's not really what I was after. I ordered her book (kindle edition) and read it in just over an hour. The principle is very simple and yet so different from other articles on similiar subjects that I have read before ... she tells her clients to only keep those items in their homes which 'spark joy.' To let go of anything that is being kept because it was given as a gift, inherited (unless there is emotional attachment), kept to be used at some point in the future, a reminder of past achievements (like books from courses taken long ago). Unlike other authors and 'de-cluttering' experts, she doesn't care how long last an items was used or worn, it's about the emotional connection we have with our belongings. She claims that if we use this criteria to de-clutter our homes, we really will only need to tidy up like this once. It's called 'getting your house in order' and it make sense that once we let go of things which do not make us happy, we're not likely to fill our spaces up again with things that don't. We'll be more aware as we go shopping and travelling in the future, mindful only to purchse the things that we love and really want in our spaces. Whether that's a piece of jewellery or something practical like a dishcloth, shouldn't we place the same amount of importance on that choice and allow our homes to have space and light in which to appreciate the things we truly love ?

Her clients typically throw out bags and bags of books and clothes and things they no longer love. They are told to say goodbye and to thank those items for their role, now that it's time for them to move on. It's a beautiful and very Eastern sentiment. She also does not recommend storage systems to help in the process - her belief is that once the tidying has been done according to her principles, the storage system in the home or room that is already there, will be just enough. 

I'm not one for New Year's resolutions - it feels like too much pressure to place onto a year that's brand new and just unfolding, but I think all of us have ideas of what we'd like to achieve, how we'd like to live, be, feel in the year ahead. For me, this year holds a lot of decisions around work or staying home, art and how to include that in my life again without a studio space in our new home ... writing and how that fits in, starting a business or not, studying ... so many decisions and choices and I have been craving the home around me to feel lighter, simpler and less cluttered. It's not as if I have heaps of things lying around on the floor or in my closets, but the weight of all our possessions has been heavy of late. So it seemed like the right time to try out Marie's method after reading her book at the beginning of a new year.

Honestly, it's a very liberating approach, to only keep the things you love. Gone are the heavy art history books - I finished studying and don't use that in my day to day life anymore. Gone are the piles of novels and books on parenting and self-help. They were reminders of where I came from, not of where i am today. The clothes I was keeping because I had them and need clothes, but when i held each one up I realized they really did not make me happy and I never felt good wearing them. The shoes I never wear and the ones I bought but that hurt my toes.

It's a slow process. In her book she talks about it taking half a year to do it thoroughly, and i can see why. She talks about taking it in stages also, dealing with clothes, books, papers and so on in increasingly difficult levels. It's often easier to get rid of clothes, but not as easy when it comes to photographs or decorative items gathered from travels. Papers are definitely my downfall and I haven't reached that stage yet but already I am feeling so much lighter, as if I can breathe in my space again. Furniture that was making me feel heavy is on it's way out, we are ripping up more carpets and I am arranging the things I have chosen to keep so that I can see them and enjoy having them in my space. And already I have found that the areas I have worked on are so much easier to maintain, the space and simplicity makes me happy so i want to tidy a few minutes each day to keep them like that.

At the end of this process I hope my  home will make others want to curl up in an armchair with a blanket and a cup of tea ... make our family feel rested after spending time in it ... recharge and rejuvenate us rather than leaving us feeling overwhelmed and tired. An emptier space is easier to keep clean, and hopefully the cleaning and tidying will become more of a daily practice rather than an overwhelming chore which never seems to end.

So that's my start to the New Year. In her book, Marie Kondo talks about how sometimes the clearing out and making choices around what to keep and what to let go of, signals deeper changes in her client's lives around work and passions and life direction. I am hoping for a little of that too. In the meantime I am boxing up books and drinking tea and preparing myself to tackle piles of old letters and photos, and the towering heaps of papers that really set this whole project off.

Here's to a light bright year, hopefully filled with clarity and fresh new beginnings.


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas ...

However you celebrate, wishing you a beautiful festive season. May there be light and a little love, a dusting of magic and a lot of laughter. 

It's a bitter-sweet time of year for me always ... being away from family and friends, and this year especially as a storm took out the phone lines so not even a phone call home. There are delayed flights today as we wait for family to arrive, and a few recent disappointments along the way ... but I'm thankful today for family visiting from far away, for friends to share the holidays with ... for cookies and a beautiful dog we are babysitting for a while. For the sillyness of kids and presents under the tree. For a little down time from the hectic pace of life.

Merry Christmas.


Friday, December 19, 2014

On paths less travelled and being a little lost ....

'I chose the Road less Travelled, and now I don't know where the hell i am.'

(Print of the quote available on Etsy here).

A friend of mine posted this on Facebook this morning and it's so exactly where I am right now. Where I've been for a while. So maybe putting words out into the universe will help me find the direction that's proving to be so elusive at the moment.

Maybe it's the midlife thing. The questioning all life decisions made ... wondering about paths taken, and not. I know it's important to leave the past behind and to look forward. I read all the quotes on Facebook every day. About positive energy and accepting one's mistakes and choices and making peace with the past (And the funniest dog videos. Which I'm not sure why they are shared. I ignore those). There are beautiful mantras about living life to the full, being at peace, striving for ones' dreams. There are adverts for soulful retreats and rekindling your creative passion and finding your true calling and so the list goes. I'm tempted by some of them. If only it were that easy ... take a course and everything will fall into place. I've signed up for Beth's online 'Do What you Love' course in January, so i'm not a total cynic and I'm holding onto that spark of hope ! I met Beth 5 years ago just after Lexi had been born, when I was just emerging from months of bed rest and baby focus to remember the big wide world out there. We took an online creative business course together and she has just flown. I remember meeting her for lunch one sunny afternoon in Hoboken and being so amazed by her life story, her drive, her vision. Her business has grown from strength to strength. So maybe I'll find some answers ... maybe she'll help me ask the right questions. 

It's not the first time I've been in transition. That place in between what was, and what is yet to come. Only not always knowing what's around the corner, feeling worried and uncertain and wondering what's to come. If anything is waiting. Maybe that's the biggest fear - that the best is behind me and there's nothing more there. I remember struggling to choose where to study - tossing two completely different lives from hand to hand, wondering how on earth I was meant to pick one of them to follow. Choosing to leave to travel, and how difficult that was. London. New York. Marriage. Jobs. Studies. Children. 

The past 8 years have been about settling us in a new country which is no longer new and is now home. It's been about building family and putting down roots and making friends and losing some along the way. It's been about finding the place we think will be good for raising our munchkins, somewhere with space and room to run. It's also meant hard choices and sacrifices and lately, I've realized it's meant a lot more loneliness - out here in the country. Also feeling cut off from old friends and old lives, and from two other countries which also hold people that I love.

Now that Lexi is in school full time i'm in transition again. I know a shift is coming. I hope a shift is coming. At first i welcomed the free time and the hours of peace and quiet. But I find myself running errands and cleaning floors and day after day has begun to feel the same. I'm restless and a little sad and very lost about where to go next. 

Erika Jong said (and I'm quoting loosely here) that you cannot write a book and have a clean kitchen. You can't be a writer and bake home made pies. The idea that domestic bliss leaves little time for creative pursuits for a woman. I agree wholeheartedly and I know it comes down to carving out time for what's important. But here's the thing she didn't say ... that it's easier to clean a kitchen and bake home made pies than to write a book. And that's exactly where i'm at. Right now, I'm keeping busy with the floors and pretending that's enough. Even though I know it's not.

I lose the days and myself a little with them in the day to day of keeping home and taking care of a family. I'm aware of it. Completely. I watch my friends and ex-colleagues change jobs and move up the ladder that I used to climb with them. I celebrate as they open their own businesses and sell beautiful paintings, as they grow their galleries and teach and buy new houses. I wave them goodbye on their travels and congratulate them on their PHD's. I glow with pride at their interviews and published work. I watch them find their paths, their life's work, and I jump up and down with joy for them. I'm genuinely happy. For all of them. But I feel just as lost as I was at 18 and then again after university, and a few times along the way, and I wonder when my passion will find me. What my life work is. If I will ever find it. Or has it been there all along and me just not paying attention ?

I don't have a funny quote to end my self-focused post with today ... there's no quick comeback or easy solution. I guess the reason I wanted to share this today is that I know i'm not the only one ... sometimes it takes time to find our feet, to find new paths when the old ones come to an end. I've learnt the hard way that important decisions should not be rushed or made in a panic. That way only leads to chaos and heartache. It's important to take time, to listen to the voice inside, to give the heart time to speak. Because it sometimes only whispers and we have to silence the world in order to hear. To summon courage for a new start. 

So till then, i'll be here, sweeping my floors and baking my pies and waiting for the answers to come. And hoping that it's true that a little faith goes a long way.


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Ava Maria

It's hard to read the news some days .... it makes me want to hide under the covers and run for the hills, somewhere far away where it will not find me with it's stories of death and savagery and hatred. Just the past few days there's been the hostage situation in Sydney, an awful family shooting spree here in the States, and a Taliban School massacre I read about first thing this morning. It was the anniversary of Sandy Hook this week. It's just a little way away from where I live. Just to name a few.

And so this morning this is what I wanted to share ... I think about how it's almost Christmas, how in the midst of all the turmoil and darkness there will still be light - that there are people always doing beautiful things, like the 'I'll Ride With You' sentiment in Sydney ... how hearts swell to love and take care of those around them when it's needed. That prayers are still answered, in the midst of despair.

Wishing you light and love and peace during this holiday season.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

A big sketchbook for carrying memories (or just cutting and sticking) ...

A little visual inspiration today (hopefully) from a windy day in New York. 

Over the years of many homes and many houses and carrying my life from one continent to another, I have always gathered visual inspiration and ideas in little pieces of paper that I could carry with me ... postcards and scraps of wrapping paper, pages torn from magazines, scribbles on napkins, business cards and flyers from exhibitions. They've piled up over the years in boxes and bags, moving with me from place to place. Now that we're in our house where roots are hopefully being put down, i thought it was time to put all of them into one huge sketchbook where i could page through when i felt like a little visual inspiration. Some are ideas for paintings, some capture a mood I love ... some are just beautiful or remind me of places I love. 

When I was in art school we had to hand in our sketchbooks as part of our assessment each term and I remember how I struggled with drawing enough. For me the words came more easily and sometimes all i wanted to do was to hand in pages upon pages of scribbles and collages, just like this.

This is my happy place.


(None of these images have links or are credited to anywhere as they've been gathered over the years from all over the place and I have no idea where they are from anymore.)

Monday, November 3, 2014

On soup ... and sometimes taking care of ourselves too ...

A few days ago I had to run to the store before going past a friend's house to pick something up from her. She'd been sick for a few days with flu and at the store I stopped to choose some soup and fresh bread for her to leave on her porch. As I walked on, adding groceries to my basket, I wondered to myself what I would eat for lunch when i finally got home. Maybe a quick slice of toast with coffee. Did we even have any bread ? It was the middle of a crazy day in the middle of a crazy week when I felt like i was being pulled into a million directions with all the things I needed to get done, and all the people I was doing them for. I stopped for a second then, right there between the milks and the cheeses ... why was it so easy to pick up soup and bread for a friend when she was not feeling well, but not that easy to do the same thing for myself. Why wasn't I paying myself the same attention I was paying her ? Just because I wasn't sick in bed didn't mean I didn't also need to nurture myself a little.

It's sometimes easy to get lost in our caring roles - the friends and family and school and work and other community projects we may sign up for. We rush around being all things to many people - driving carpools and running errands and cleaning and tidying and helping others around us do what needs to be done ... but sometimes we need to take a moment to make sure we're taking equally good care of ourselves.

I dropped off the soup and bread, and picked up the football kit, and ran more errands. And then I came home and made myself take a little lunch break outside too. To eat the soup I had bought for myself too. I sat in the cold fall sun and listened to the trees and for fifteen minutes I took a little time out of the busy day and savored my meal and felt so much better for it.

Sometimes that is all it takes to fill us up again.