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.

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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]