Living With Less

I have again neglected this blog because I have been, for the first few months of the year, getting rid of clutter – working through the pile of old magazines and removing the few useful pages from each and so on. Once this was done I have then moved home, to somewhere smaller, much smaller it seems.

I am not complaining though, this is a good thing.  I wanted less clutter, I wanted separate storage for tools and so on, I wanted a kitchen that wasn’t in the living room and had more cupboards and I have all that so in real terms I have more actual storage space but only for the things I really need and, or want to keep.  In effect it’s more efficient storage in that everything’s accessible rather than packed into one cupboard or stacked up behind my sofa – as my toolboxes were before.

The old apartment, being two large open rooms with a bathroom between the two felt like living in an open-plan office with everything on display, not very tidy and not very homely but now the living room is a living room, the bedroom a bedroom and the kitchen is the office too and is where I am now, typing this and listening to the TV in the other room.

It’s amazing how many things that you previously couldn’t possibly let go of suddenly become very disposable when you don’t have anywhere to put them.  Having less space for clutter is a filter that brings into clear focus what is important, and whether stuff from your past really has any significance today.  I’ve looked at things like diaries containing logs of changes I made to software when I was an amateur coder in the nineties and I think “why do I need to keep this, does it hold some kind of special memory?  Bin it”.  So much stuff is kept because perhaps we feel the need to hold onto the past, like we’ll forget it but I’ve found that the things I’ve got rid of don’t define me now and are things I don’t really need to remember the details of, much of what I’ve done years ago means very little now.  I don’t need proof of much of the stuff I’ve done in the past and this process has helped me to realise just which things I do want the souvenirs of and which ones I don’t.

My parents have kindly taken half a tonne of stuff to the charity shops of my old home town including a box of Christmas decorations for a large tree that I didn’t even have space to put up in my old apartment any more, never mind the new one.

It’s so easy to hold on to things, assuming they may have some future significance, or that they’ll be a source of reminiscence, but the truth is often that they won’t and having that big clear out leaves you with what is significant and holds memories that are worth keeping.  It feels cathartic to do this and having less clutter, a tidier home to look at, feels good too.

Of course, had I done this earlier there wouldn’t have been a little bit less to move.

There Can Be No Comparison

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Someone once said that they felt unhappy because everybody else was out doing exciting things but they weren’t, it was all work and home life. The thing is that this feeling was mostly based on Facebook – seeing “all” their friends doing these things. The problem with Facebook is that it expresses a natural Human tendency to only present an edited highlights to others, or alternatively only the worst aspects. For every person showing off on Facebook about all the amazing things they do there’ll be others like me who hardly ever post anything, even if I do do something interesting or go somewhere because it’s not in my nature to believe that anyone else would really want to know every single thing I’m doing on holiday.

“Just saw a dog in the surf on the beach #wetdog”

It’s all too easy to compare your life to others, in real life you might see someone you like the look of and they’re with someone more extroverted or wealthy than you and you might think “typical, they never want someone like me” and so continues a cycle of feeling “not good enough”. Some people similarly feel the need to have better material stuff than others, bigger TV, more expensive Smartphone (“sent from my IPHONE, did you see that, I have an IPHONE”) the old “keeping up with the Jones'” is still alive and well but with more Jones’ to keep up with.

Facebook turns this up to eleven as you see a concentration of all aspects of others lives that you consider are better than yours without the mundane, judged through the lens of what you perceive from the media as the perfect lifestyle, what your life must be like to not be boring.

“Friday night dinner; chips, beans and chicken dippers #livinlavidabirdseye”

They were good chicken dippers too. Happiness is complex in so many ways, but comparing your life to others can erode it. Deleting your Facebook account may not be the answer, you need to evaluate what you personally find true joy and fulfilment in, isolated from those around you. If you really need to be partying every night then nothing’s going to change unless that desire is based on making sure that other people know what you’re doing, that they know you’re such a cool person. As someone said on TV recently “what’s the point of doing something if you can’t brag about it on Facebook.” For many people though knowing what really matters can restore your satisfaction with what you have. Often the joy in the little things is far more important than impressing people who probably aren’t even bothered…

Lazlo’s Chinese Relativity Axiom: “No matter how great your triumphs or how tragic your defeats, approximately one billion Chinese couldn’t care less.”

Procrastination and The Fear of The Future

Anxiety

Anxiety

How did I write this post?

This blog is looking more abandoned than last year, to the point where the neighbours might start complaining, and despite what I’ve written before about just getting started and so on I’m still not writing anything.

The main problem is that I look at the list of potential posts, think “I couldn’t do that justice in the time I have tonight, I’d miss something out or get something wrong, or upset someone” and give up.  This is a typical example of a feeling that whatever I do will be wrong, an image of a future in which I fail – this is a big problem for me and one I’m trying to get over.

It happens all day, every day, I’m forever thinking that I’m bound to make a mistake, or someone will say I haven’t done something I have done, or done something I haven’t; I’d upset someone, or someone will think I’m boring or aloof because I won’t be able to think of anything to say;  something I’m waiting for through the post will go missing; something will go wrong etc.  Constant negativity.  It’s exhausting, being constantly anxious about the future.  Anxiety puts you in a dark, cold and lonely place with no obvious way out, I’ve spent far too much time there.

I recently read a Lifehacker article about this very issue which explains how reframing your image of the future to be a positive, successful one is crucial.  Once you envisage things turning out ok you can feel less anxious and as such become less stressed and just let life flow.  This is easier said than done, admittedly and as the article says it’s no cure for an actual anxiety disorder.  This is one of the great resources of the internet, support, even when it is serendipitous like the Lifehacker article, just seeing that how your feeling can be changed, that others have been there, helps.  In a way my state of anxiety had become normalised, I expected to feel that way and reading the piece made me think “no, it’s not the way to live.”  I had been wondering why I felt uneasy, uptight, stressed, afraid to talk to people I didn’t know, and why I couldn’t write posts anymore, I had my answer, well, an answer.

At the end of the day nobody knows what’s going to happen in a minute’s time, or what someone’s going to think, or assume, and anxiously trying to mentally prepare for every bad thing that could happen is just going to make things worse.  The worst things that happen are usually things you don’t see coming, as in the Baz Lurhmann song Everybody’s Free (to Wear Sunscreen) “The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind.  The kind that blindside you at 4pm on some idle Tuesday.”

So trying to keep that in mind perhaps I can then just write a blog post and post it, like this one.

Reclaiming The Evening

Fairground At Night

Fairground Lights

Another of the reasons my blog turned silent for eight months was the fact that I didn’t have time to write it.

There we go, that’s a good enough reason, so let’s move on.

No, actually, let’s not. The reason was that when I got home from work, by the time I’d eaten, by the time I’d watched two hours of TV repeats I then wanted to catch up on some online reading, and I felt tired, so I thought “I haven’t got time, and I can’t think straight” and I went to watch some more repeats on TV instead.

Seven hours passed like nothing and the next thing I know it’s the next morning. A couple of months ago I finally made plans to do something about the cycle of believing that I hadn’t got the time, or the energy. Firstly the tiredness; I bought a new mattress as I thought that the old one (creaking all the time, springs jutting into me) might be disturbing my sleep. The new one is much more comfortable and combined with cutting down on excess light (I tried blacking out the window first to no difference then moved a bedside clock-radio) has made a difference, I feel much less tired and more energised than before in the evenings.

I have been eating Bananas religiously in the mornings which has possibly helped, although getting better sleep has similar benefits for memory, concentration and creativity so it could be either. The other dietary change has been returning to something I used to love when I was younger – a piece of toast and marmalade at supper time (9pm) as such carbohydrates eaten in the late evening can improve sleep some studies have shown.

Finally I changed my behaviour; I told myself to always go home at five o’clock, don’t think “I’ll just sort this out now”. It’s a little thing but it makes me feel that my life is my own as I’m going home to do what I want to do when I want to not when the job lets me, it’s empowering. I’ve also learned not to worry about work issues which drains you emotionally and leaves you feeling mentally exhausted.

I then told myself that I do have time to do stuff in the evenings and proved it – rather than watching a repeated TV show while eating and then watching the whole thing, the mental equivalent of eating one chocolate digestive and then thinking “what the hell, I’ll finish the packet” I told myself to switch the TV off after I’d finished eating then get on with the online stuff – reading, writing etc. Starting earlier gives you a buffer and once it’s done you’ve still got two or three hours left and can even watch a new tv show or two and listen to music or read before going to bed. There’s even time for decluttering if you feel like it.

As I’ve learned that new experiences and learning new information, exploring new frontiers even in an intellectual way can help with cognitive function I’ve also made space in my day for watching the late evening news, something I used to avoid as I felt that I’d just forget everything I’d seen – the side benefit to this is it gives you topics of conversation, something else I always felt I lacked.

I’ve rearranged things too, making tomorrow’s sandwich at the same time as I’m waiting for dinner to finish cooking, and the same with washing pots still in the sink. It’s about efficient use of the time available and the more time you have left over the better you feel, your leisure time feels less like a high-pressure job and you can enjoy it more.

So, right now it’s 20:54 (GMT), I’ll just finish this off and go and get a slice of toast.  Goodnight.

I’m Still Here – Clutter and Creative Block

4888018The last time I posted to the blog was New Year’s Day and no I haven’t been suffering from a hangover that long.  I was actually suffering from a really persistent cold for the first few weeks of the year which also stopped me going out on New Year’s Eve and this left me feeling bunged-up both physically and creatively.

Colds and the like cause my brain to seize up too, it just wants to watch stuff on TV, coming out in sympathy with the rest of my body saying “look, we’re busy getting rid of this infection you were daft enough to inhale, go watch some QI”.  Anything that isn’t particularly taxing, basically.

Since then however the impulse to write has eluded me and thanks to an article by Mikael Cho on Lifehacker I’ve found out why.  It’s something I’ve thought about before but also didn’t get around to writing about – information overload.

This blog should have quite a narrow remit, it’s about how we cope with modern life; how technology affects us in positive and negative ways; behaviours particular to the 21st century and other stuff about life in 2013 2014.    However, instead of thinking about issues to write about I scour blogs and news sites for things that are relevant, or rather I should do, and it shouldn’t take too long to do, an hour a day should be enough time to skim a few blogs and the news, then move on to the WordPress reader and read posts from the blogs I follow.

I don’t though because I procrastinate, and I do that because I’m afraid of having too much information coming at me.  As the Lifehacker article points out this stream of information actually blocks your brain from getting into the creative mood and formulating an article.  This is why I’d sit down and find that I couldn’t think of anything to write.

I should have known this simply by comparing today to the last time I wrote a complete novel.  It was the summer of 2000 – yes, Two Thousand.  I wrote the book in six months, writing on Sunday mornings, and whenever the mood took me.  There was no internet available to me and only five TV channels.  Research for the book took place at the local library where I read travel books on Italy to get a feel for the locations.  The important thing was that it was the only thing I was doing, I could let my brain focus on one subject, one story, I had no other stories arriving by the hour vying for attention, taking my attention away.

Between news reader apps, Facebook, Twitter etc we are confronted with a constant flow of words and pictures that have to be rapidly consumed and forgotten else you end up with a backlog that more resembles a tidal wave.  You then have the choice of either taking a week off work to catch up (why do you think I’m writing this on a Wednesday morning two days after my birthday) or just taking a deep breath and deleting/throwing out everything you haven’t read (remembers big stack of magazines with “read later” articles hidden behind the sofa).

I’d already started to limit what information I’d add to my future articles notes, defining the scope of what I want to write about, bringing me back to the one story in effect, and as the Lifehacker article says this is an important step.

Clutter is both physical and mental, both affect how you live your life, the important thing is not to let it affect you negatively.

[Lifehacker]

Cast of Thousands

English: Fig 57 on Page 190. A broken arm in a...

English: Fig 57 on Page 190. A broken arm in a splint Flickr data on 2011-08-17: Tags: public domain, copyright free, illustration, drawing, image, Points in Nursing, 1910, Emily A. M. Stoney License: CC BY 2.0 User: perpetualplum Sue Clark (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

People are always saying “oh, you’ve just got to do this before you die” about so many things; seeing the sun set over the Kalahari, visiting Thailand, touring Italy, bungee jumping, and so on.  Breaking your limbs, however, not so much of a must-do and, call me insane if you must, personally I’ve avoided the experience as much as possible.  So far I’ve only managed to crack a clavicle.

One thing I would dread is the cast – the ugly lump of white plaster, er, plastered around your limb getting progressively grubbier and inevitably itchier with every passing day, getting in the way of normal clothes, making it awkward to sleep, bathe, eat and so on.

Well a solution may be on the horizon – Jake Evill, a Victoria University of Wellington graduate, has designed a concept for a modern replacement utilising the current wonder-tech of 3D printing.  While home 3D printers let us make little plastic models this concept spits out something very neat – a lattice-work structured, washable, hence hygienic and non-itchy, cast created using x-rays of the limb fracture which can concentrate its strength and rigidity where it’s needed most around the break.  It would be assembled and fitted together with permanent fasteners to prevent it being taken off prematurely or accidentally and would then later be sawn off in the same was as a conventional cast.  Another advantage is the plastic could potentially be recycled.

Once the current print time of 3 hours reduces this could be the more comfortable and less obtrusive future of broken limbs – just, as Gizmodo’s article points out, without the friends’ decorations.

[Gizmodo / Dezeen]

Ditching the Pills?

This image shows a whole and a cut lemon.

This image shows a whole and a cut lemon. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As we face more snow, it always seems to snow on my birthday these days, which is nice, and America is getting more than its fair share too, the folks at Gizmodo UK asked for the commenters’ DIY cold remedies.

The kind of cold and flu pills and powders you find in pharmacies seem to all be variations on the same drugs – pain killers, antiinflamatories, decongestants, lemon or blackcurrant flavourings – and many people are trying traditional methods instead, though many still use some medicines too.

Some, myself included, mix the powdered hot lemon drinks with honey – for its antibacterial properties; some make a honey and lemon drink using fresh fruit juice and take a paracetamol with it; others swear by whiskey.  Hot baths and wrapping up well are always popular, as is staying in bed although for many of us that’s not a viable option.

Finally a good hot curry was offered along with other drinks recipes.  I can agree with the curry option for one because you can at least taste it even if it doesn’t clear you out.

[Gizmodo UK]

Slip Sliding Awaaaay

Snow Dawn (©2012 by Andy Vickers)

Snow Dawn (©2012 by Andy Vickers)

I don’t mind the cold, I like snow and I feel the chill later than most people I know but sometimes I see other people who make me shiver.  During the recent bad weather I have still seen numerous men out during the day in the snow, and more recently gale-force winds and stinging rain in just jeans and t-shirt, or often, football shirt.  The epitome of image over health.

You can see they’re trying to look like they’re not bothered but you can see them straining not to visibly shiver.  “I’m ffffine, it’s not ccccold at all”.  It’s not just men though, I see many women who do the same.  It’s not too bad if you’re only going out in the cold for a couple of minutes, say from one warm pub to the next on a Saturday night, but walking to or from work, going shopping where you’re outdoors more than inside?  I don’t think so.  As any experienced walker, climber or Arctic explorer will tell you layering is important, getting layers of insulating fabric and air between you and the atmosphere, as well as keeping dry.  Hypothermia can set in remarkably quickly and isn’t pleasant.

But it’s not just protection against the cold, people seem to choose odd footwear for the snow and ice too.  The number of people I see slithering around on icy paths in slick soled shoes and trainers is astounding, admittedly nothing’s going to work on sheet ice for goodness sake people you can get basic walking trainers with chunky, rough grippy soles for next to nothing these days, fashion isn’t worth ending up flat on your backside for.  Though at least if you have a decent thick coat on your landing would be a bit softer.

Everyday Dangers

Dangerous Risk Adrenaline Suicide by Fear of F...

Dangerous Risk Adrenaline Suicide by Fear of Falling (Photo credit: epSos.de)

Jared Diamond of The New York Times provides an interesting lesson about how people in the modern world perceive dangers.  After witnessing friends in New Guinea refusing to sleep under an old, dead tree due to the risk of it falling he realised that people have begun to worry more about the bigger, more unlikely risks such as terrorist attacks, nuclear radiation, plane crashes and so on and be less vigilant towards smaller risks that are taken or encountered very often – risks that are ignored because people think “that’s not a problem, I’m careful” while often not being.

I personally have this “hypervigilant attitude towards repeated risks” or “constructive paranoia” – I watch what I’m doing when I’m descending the long flight of stairs outside, I wear well treaded shoes on snow and ice and I’m particularly careful when handling sheet glass; which can literally be lethal, or at least painful as the scars on my hands from unavoidable accidents attest.

As the article states, with access to emergency services and the assumption that help is only moments away the awareness of real dangers has become diminished and unlikely ones exaggerated.

Have a read of the full article, then be careful out there.

[NYT]

Exercising Confusion

English: Exercising outdoors is healthier than...

English: Exercising outdoors is healthier than working out indoors. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We are often told that in our society today we don’t exercise enough and don’t eat healthily.  Much of our dietary tradition is still tailored to when people carried out more physically demanding work during the day.  People drive to work or take public transport, often because of the distances involved.

But it seems that the advice is becoming confused, particularly regarding exercise, research now shows.  Guidelines advising regular exercise were seen as not particularly clear and some studies were uncertain as whether those taking part saw any benefit at all, such as in cardio-vascular health.

So now new guidelines have been published including specific advice for different age groups.  The department of health said “Being active can help protect against heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer which is why we have guidance on physical activity tailored to each age group.”  It is also meant to provide benefits in terms of mental health and happiness too.

I’ll remind myself of that when I arrive home after walking two miles from work, in the rain.  Nevermind, it’s for the best.

[BBC]