Reading: “The Bullet Journal Method” by Ryder Carroll

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“Studies have suggested that we have 50,000 to 70,000 thoughts per day. For context, if each thought were a word, that means that our minds are generating enough content to produce a book Every. Single. Day. Unlike a book, our thoughts are not neatly composed. On a good day they’re vaguely coherent. This leaves out minds perpetually struggling to sort this gray matter gallimaufry. Where do you even begin? What comes first? Inevitably we find ourselves tackling too many things at the same time, spreading our focus so thin that nothing gets the attention it deserves. This is commonly referred to as “being busy.” Being busy, however, is not the same as being productive.”

I’ve started bullet journaling more than 3 years ago, though it wasn’t love at first sight (you can read all about that here, here and here). Wonderguy introduced me to the concept of bullet journaling and when I started, I was extremely under-inspired. Watching a video by Ryder Carroll in which he introduces the ‘bujo’ to the world I found the idea intriguing and interesting but wasn’t sure it would work for me. After halfheartedly journaling for a few months in 2016 I quit, only to return to it in the summer of 2018 after realizing that bullet journaling could be extremely helpful for people with ADHD – like me. What brought me back to the bujo was watching Jessica from How to ADHD explain how the BuJo could improve my everyday life (watch it here) and what she as a fellow sufferer advises to focus on (watch it here). This inspired me to give the concept another try since I’m always open to ways to optimize my ADHD me without meds. The second time around I tried harder, buying a new notebook and pens and getting more creative with my spreads and lists and the like. This time around it worked and I’m currently on my third notebook in 17 months. Overall, bullet journaling works way better than most organizational systems/methods or apps I tried over the years, so I’ll stick to it. Pinterest and Instagram are huge inspirations and I realized how much I enjoy drawing and creating bujo layouts, which offer me a creative outlet while also doing something useful and relaxing. As with Marie Kondo’s spark of joy, the bullet journal won my heart the second time around. 

And until roughly three weeks ago I never thought about diving deeper into the subject because hey, it works for me, so what else?

 

The Bullet Journal Method – the book

Well, in 2018 Ryder finally wrote a book about his wonderful organizational system called The Bullet Journal Method. I immediately put it on my wishlist and shortly before the start of my Low Buy 2020 challenge on January 1st, I decided to treat myself with a few more books (also thanks to my uncle and the invention of gift cards!!), amongst them being Ryder Carroll’s book. I read it within two days – probably because I had some previous knowledge but mainly because its conversational tone and the way Ryder structures the book make it an easy and inspiring read. Starting with “Preparation” concerning such topics as why we journal the way we do and how it could help you, he goes on to explain “The System” – a how-to bullet journal on a practical level –, which is followed by “The Practice”, a close-up look on how-to and also why to bullet journal on a theoretical and mental level, and “The Art” about additional important elements of a bujo. Throughout the book, you find parts that are designed like bullet journal entries to emphasize his point and illustrate Ryder’s concept of the bullet journal.

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Though I’ve been bullet journaling for some time now I still found new insights and ideas. Reading the book I realized that I had completely misunderstood the idea of collections – instead of using them as a way to collect notes, ideas, or make a list, I always thought they were a sort of advanced to-do or shopping list firmly set at the beginning of the bullet journal and without any logic or system. I’ve never made any use of collections therefore, even though I made tons of lists, tracking my reading, collecting meal ideas, wish list of books I want to buy and sewing projects I want to tackle … I’ve just never thought of them as ‘(custom) collections’ and that I could use them in various ways and for different purposes, not just as some sort of shopping list.   

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Additionally, I’ve never worked on my goals in my bujo, mainly because I don’t think that much about goals and plans in general. Since my sanity canceled the contract with my mind and decided to go rogue on anxiety and depression many years ago, I refuse to make long-term plans because I think of them as a waste of time and energy. So much can happen in only a few weeks or days, I don’t like to plan traditionally and much rather try to structure my projects in a to-do list kind of doable chunks with a rather open schedule. So when Ryder tasks us with focusing on our goals and structuring them according to his system – 5 years, 4 months, 3 weeks, 2 days, and 1 hour – I was overwhelmed, surprised and a bit angry at the same time. For one thing, I realized that I should probably review my goals and plans from time to time just to see where I’m heading. It doesn’t always need to be a structured plan, I can adapt it the way I want, but it indeed gives me a sense of security and structure seeing what I want to do, already have done, and may need to work a bit harder on. Still, strict timetables don’t work for me because they make me feel caged which in turn makes me furious and unable to focus on anything. I prefer deadlines that give me a certain time frame without scheduling every minute (okay, hour) of my day. Therefore, thinking hard about what I want to do in the given periods when doing Ryder’s exercise was a challenge for someone like me who much rather just waits to see what would come up – sometimes also for practical reasons in regards to working freelance jobs – than actively planning the upcoming weeks, months, or even years.

Another exercise I did not find to be helpful was one in which Ryder wants us to find ‘our meaning.’ To do so, he describes the exercise of “Two Lives” inspired by Robert Frost’s poem “The Road not taken”, in which we should write two different obituaries for ourselves, one for the self that took the well-worn path (stayed within the familiar) and another for the self that took the path less traveled. After doing so, we should reflect on the two lives we described, what we felt during this exercise, what we realized while writing the obituaries, which life we preferred and how we could integrate the accomplishments described in the obituary into our own goals. I found this exercise a bit pointless since I assume most of us prefer one of the two options long before actively deciding which life we like better, therefore following a (subconscious?) inner guiding when writing the obituaries. Also, as stated before, I don’t plan long-term, so I had a hard time imagining two different life paths that I could relate to. And while I did my best I was glad once it was over and could go on reading. Nevertheless, I found these exercises interesting if a bit underwhelming, because even though I’m not a planner and don’t intend to become one I realized that it couldn’t hurt to review my plans and progress from time to time – for someone like me, this is a huge realization. 😀

 

Benefits and Insights

“[…] the benefits of writing by hand stem from the very complaint consistently leveraged against it: inefficiency. That’s right: The fact that it takes longer to write things out by hand gives handwriting its cognitive edge.”

I agree with Ryder that one of the main benefits of bullet journaling is writing by hand: the haptic experience of the notebook itself, the countless options on how to tackle your special interests and needs in this very own notebook of yours is what makes the bullet journal unique. Everything you add, be it colorful spreads, creative doodles, various collections and whatever you need that makes it work for you is the special magic of this concept.

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I thought long about buying this book because I already practice bullet journaling and I didn’t ‘need’ the book. I don’t follow Ryder’s concept to the t because I need some color and I’ve come to realize that I like drawing and all that (even though I’m shit at it …). Though I embrace minimalism in various parts of my life, my monthly spread is not the place to be as minimalist as Ryder is and that’s also what he mentions repeatedly: What makes the bullet journal special is how adaptable it is. You do you, and while he provides you with a concept and overall structure, what you make of it is up to you.
In his book, he gives an excellent overview of his method with an in-depth analysis of its concepts and ideas. And though you can find information and inspiration regarding the bullet journal all over the internet, nothing beats the original source. Ryder does not simply bolt through his ideas and topics, eager to fill a book with much information and hardly any soul. Rather, he gives insights into how he came to develop the bullet journal method in the first place and what fundamental issues lie beneath, such as the effects of writing by hand, or why rapid-logging is beneficial to the fast mind and why we should keep track of our goals (yes, even me …). Without reading this book I would’ve never realized how much more a bullet journal can be than just a ‘personalized planner.’ So if you’re already bullet journaling and feel like it is perfect just the way it is, you may feel no need to read this book. But if you are curious about what this concept could do for you apart from the obvious things so well documented on YouTube, Instagram, and Pinterest, you may want to give this book a try.

I am happy I did and it will continue to inspire and guide me for some time to come.

How to … Low Buy?!

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Being the ADHD nerd that I am, I always try to be prepared the best I can for upcoming plans and challenges. Educating myself in regards to every possible eventuality that could occur gives me a sense of security and peace of mind, knowing I will be able to handle pretty much everything life throws at me (note that I say “pretty much everything” and not “all” – I’m an absent-minded idealist, not a complete idiot). This, of course, means that I did my best to prepare myself for the challenge ahead, my Low Buy Year 2020. Watching videos, listening to podcasts and reading some inspiring blog posts all contributed to me still going strong and not even missing shopping in any way on day 12 of this new adventure. It wasn’t that easy and enjoyable to quit smoking, that much I can already say. My various sources provided me with some valuable tips on how to best navigate through a world that is focused on mindless consumption as a way to raise your spirits, and I picked those that work best for me. Here are my favorites. 

Out of Sight, out of Mind – Unsubscribe and Unfollow

I heard and read different opinions regarding unsubscribing and unfollowing to remove yourself from even the slightest temptation. Whereas some want to stay informed about what’s going on – especially those coming from makeup low/no buys – others insist on unsubscribing and unfollowing to make your life a lot easier during a low buy or no buy challenge. I agree with the latter. Consequently, unsubscribing from newsletters and similar E-mails as well as unfollowing some accounts on Insta makes this challenge a lot easier. I’m susceptible to seeing something online and instantly wanting it, especially regarding clothes, backpacks, and bags. I’ve worked in marketing and advertising long enough to recognize certain linguistic devices and design elements, thus it’s not necessarily the ads or E-mails I fall for, but rather a look promoted by some influencer or a certain kind of website with a minimalist look, elegant and low key – that’s my soft spot.
So better safe than sorry – unsubscribe, unfollow, un-everything that helps you not to feel like you’re missing out or denying yourself a better life. Also: less spam mail, more spare time – hooray!

When removing myself from all temptation, this also means not going to the stores or shopping malls. Since I’m not a big fan of crowds in general this is a rather positive consequence of my Low Buy. The same applies to online shops: I don’t want to buy anything so why should I visit their website?

Plan ahead

I removed every shopping app I had on my cellphone and tablet – nothing is more convenient than scrolling through Amazon when you’re bored, so by simply removing the app it’s not THAT easy. Some suggest to also deleting your credit card/bank detail from online store accounts so that you have to fill in all your information every time you want to make a purchase. This would probably thwart quite a few shopping ambitions since most of us can’t remember all their information and are often simply too comfortable to get up and search for it in a bag, wallet, or wherever you store it. I haven’t done this because I don’t think I need it – but it’s a good advice for those who may need it.
In addition to removing all shopping apps, I’ve also created a wish list were I record all the items that I may want to buy after giving it some time and consideration. As my Low Buy Year should largely be a No Buy Year, I won’t buy most of the items on my wish list  before 2021, if ever. The only exceptions are items deemed necessary (as I explained in my Low Buy Rules). And books. But I got a separate wish list for books since a monthly book budget of €50 doesn’t necessarily mean I can buy every book I want. Planning is key. Always.

Furthermore, meal planning will also help to shop consciously, though this might not be for everyone. I started meal planning a few months ago – inspired by Anna Newton and her book The Anna Edit – because I don’t like cooking and I’m not exactly creative in the kitchen department; in combination with the fact that without a clear plan I have a hard time shopping groceries (some say that’s one symptom of ADHD – whatever it is I hate it) a meal plan is a great way to make my life much easier. However, one of the side benefits I never thought of is that we’re saving money. 

To plan ahead also means keeping track of your money. Even though this challenge is not mainly about saving money but rather about my inner peace and freedom from shopping as a crutch to use whenever I feel low, one of my main goals is saving a decent amount of money. Having some money on the side will buy you the freedom to live on your own terms whenever you feel the need to do so.
Keeping a budget will help you to track your money, seeing where it goes and planning where it should go instead. I don’t like apps so I do it the traditional ‘analog’ way with charts and lists, and I’m only at the beginning of actually telling my money where to go BUT I’m on my way. If you decide to keep a budget yourself, find a way that works for you – you will find tips regarding #budgeting all over the internet.   

That’s the last post of my Low Buy for Beginners series – for now.
I will continue to write about my Low Buy Challenge 2020 as well as the books I read and the life I live … just as I did before. Enjoy 🙂 

“Any fool can make a rule …”

Before deciding to start my Low Buy 2020 Challenge I went on YouTube and watched videos by Hannah Louise Poston, Christina from style apotheca, Signe from useless_dk, and Hailey Evans, amongst others, for inspiration and to get an idea of what I actually want to do – low buy, no buy, a whole year, just a few months?
Thanks to Signe I realized early on that a complete No Buy year would very probably set me up for failure because in the end I wouldn’t be allowed to buy a single book for a whole year (yeah, I know, I’m such a drama llama when it comes to books …). That’s why I granted myself the luxury of a 50 Euro book budget every month. My main objective is to rediscover my bookshelves and read what I have – so best case scenario would be to save additional 50 Euros every month – yet if I absolutely HAVE to get a certain book (maybe even for professional reasons) I can buy it without breaking the rules of my Low Buy challenge feeling like a total loser.

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Another thing that became clear early on was that I needed set up some rules for myself if I wanted to suceed in not buying anything I don’t need. I’m a grown-ass woman and intellectually capable of grasping the basic idea of a ‘low buy challenge’ BUT the issue may get a bit more complicated over time and I know I have to give myself some guidelines to follow so I won’t start bullshitting myself … Thus, I did some research and voilà – THE rules! 🙂

My Low Buy 2020 rules:

1) I will not buy any new clothes, bags, backpacks, or shoes. Nothing. I got enough stuff to get me through more than just a year and I will make use of it.

2) I will keep track of my spending to keep my eyes on the prize, i.e., see how much money I save by not buying shit I don’t need. I will do so by tracking my expenses in my bullet journal because apps simply don’t do the trick for me.

3) I will buy replacements WHEN NEEDED. This includes groceries, medical items, skin care products and toiletries, household goods, stationary/office supplies, plants (as stated before I might have killed one of our green friends …), fabric and wool. BUT: I will buy this only WHEN NEEDED. I will not accumulate a collection of notebooks, deodorants, or candles as long as I got enough of it and don’t need one specific item. I will use up (or discard) what I own before buying anything new.

4) I can sew or knit something new if I want to BUT (again) I will use the fabric and wool I have at home before buying anything new. Only then am I allowed to buy materials for one new item per month. In doing so I want to train my patience by actually making something myself – which takes much longer than simply buying it – and also create a sort of appreciation for clothing in general. Garments don’t grow on racks, they are made by someone and it takes time and workmanship to create a piece of clothing. So why not take a step back and do it myself – I got the equipment but lack skills and patience, so this promises to bring lots of fun.

5) I will only have two take-outs per month at the max.

6) I have a book budget of 50 Euros per month. Since book shopping has never been a problem in the first place, I want this one thing to continue ‘as usual’. However, I will not spend more than 50 Euros – if something is too expensive, it has to wait. So I have to think hard about which books I really want and which ones I put on my wishlist. 

7) I will buy gifts for others or spend money on shared experiences. This includes vacations, lunch/dinner/coffee dates, and trips to a museum, the zoo or the like. Since I’m not a huge socializer to begin with, it’s not like this is something that happen three times a week. Usually I have a fortnightly lunch date with a good friend of mine as well as the occasional coffee date with friends or family. I couldn’t afford vacations for several years not only for monetary reasons but also because of mental health issues. That’s why I don’t want to cut back on traveling for this Low Buy challenge in general, nevertheless I will focus on the experience and not on the shopping opportunities when up and away. In the end it’s not like I’m flying across the globe every few weeks …

8) No IKEA, no mugs, no home decor and the like.

9) No video games. I will use what I have.

10) Whenever I see an item I want to have I put it on my wish list. Having and (pretty much) curating a wish list will give me an understanding of the things I WANT compared to what I actually NEED. It will also give me the certainty that even though I may not be able to buy it now it will not be forgotten and can be bought in a few months/weeks time.

 

My main incentive is to save some money. I was good at saving money when I had none – it’s time to get back into that spirit. Because the only thing worth spending money on is time for yourself … at least to me. 🙂

  

I need a break … My Low Buy Year for Beginners

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Christmas is NOT my time of the year. And this year was no exception. It’s stressful, most people are highly irritable, and it seems to be all about shopping, shopping, shopping. Bigger, better, more exclusive. Not that I’m any better just because I don’t do Christmas – there’s still Black Friday and any other day to shop ’til I drop.  And slowly but steady it’s getting too much.

I need break. Offline AND online. First and second hand.

I’m not a shopaholic in any traditional understanding (I only buy what I can afford and more often than not even have some money left to put aside) BUT I sure as hell have established a nice little retail therapy routine within the last year that is neither healthy nor desireable. Therefore I want to give it up again before it becomes alarming and consolidates its full habitual strength (I’m an ex-smoker, I know what I’m talking about). In the end it’s not only a waste of precious lifetime but also money and more often than not I end up discarding or re-selling the stuff I bought because I already have more than enough.
For several weeks now it feels like I’ve reached a sort of climax and need a nice clean cut to head in a new direction. While looking for some inspiration regarding possible new directions I came upon some very inspiring YouTube videos (which I will share with you in another post). As a result – and because I appreciate the overly dramatic symbolism of a well thought out New Year’s resolution – I decided that as of January 1st, 2020 I will embark on my own Low Buy Challenge for the next 365 days. And to create a feeling of responsibility towards myself and others, I will add a #lowbuy category here on this blog to write about it along the way. Hopefully.

 

No Buy? No, Low Buy

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Contrary to others who start a NO BUY journey, I prefer to call mine a LOW BUY year, even though I plan on not buying any shit I just want but don’t need. To make this easier and more structured – YES I tried a few low buys before and it went not that great – I will set up some rules which I will explain in my next post (as well as the exceptions to it, i.e. my monthly book budget). Main thing is that I will not buy anything new except replacements and things I really NEED and not only WANT. Apart from groceries I will replace the following items/categories only when needed: 

  • – Medicine
  • – Beauty/skin care products
  • – Stationery / office supplies
  • – Plants (there is a slight chance that I killed our bamboo – if that’s that case we definitely need another plant in its place, no matter if low buy or not …)
  • – Fabric and wool

As you can see I did not mention clothes, shoes or backpacks/bags. That’s because I do have plenty of these and there won’t be much need to replace an item (except for a pair of black sneakers and a leather jacket, but I may find these items even before 2020). Instead of shopping for clothing, I plan on sewing (knitting) more. Since I’m no experienced seamstress it will take me longer until I ‘get’ something new but I appreciate items I’ve made myself much more because of all the time and work I invested – though I often make a stupid mistake along the way and the result looks like something most people wouldn’t even use as a cleaning rag. Well, it’s called “challenge” for a reason.

Nevertheless, with some inspiration and support from the low buy and minimalism community on YouTube, Instagram and all over the web I will navigate through rough waters while discarding old habits. In the spirit of Signe Hansen’s (useless.dk) hashtag #2020wehaveplenty let me tell you that I do indeed have plenty and intend to make good use of it for the coming year.

Well, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Let’s see what will happen – next year. 

P.S.: Of course I will continue to write about books – after all I hope to read much more once I stop wasting my time…so bear with me while I try some new things and rediscover my bookshelves 🙂

So Marie Kondo opens a shop …

… and shit hits the fan – in quite opposite directions.
Die-hard fans and design aficionados appreciate the forthcoming sparks of joy they expect from ordering a $200 tea container or a $75 tuning fork with rose quartz – things every home obviously needs to have. Haters meanwhile have a field day; Twitter and Instagram are abuzz with hilarious comments regarding Kondo’s new business venture.

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“She is never without a crystal” – Marie probably is on rather intimate terms with Airport security personnel … 

I get it. The woman who preaches freedom from all clutter and empty surfaces now sells stuff no one needs at quite hefty prices. Marie Kondo is this cute little Japanese lady who likes to jump around whenever she sees boxes of clutter on Netflix. She has already sold us three books when one would have been enough (who really needs The Life-Changing Manga of Tidying up or Spark Joy when The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying up contains all the main information?)  – and will try to sell you two more, one children’s book on friendship (Kiki & Jax – the Life-Changing Magic of Friendship) and one on organizing your workspace/workplace (Joy at Work – The Life-Changing Magic of Organizing your Working Life) – in 2020. I’m not sure I want someone who sends her socks on vacation every time she puts them in the drawer explain to me how I should streamline my workflow. Imagine explaining to your boss that you won’t be able to make it to the afternoon meeting because it may take a while to thank every individual key on your keyboard for its excellent service today … Well, at least we are already used to Marie writing books. And it’s not the first time someone uses the same ‘story’ over and over again to make more money (just look at Allen Carr’s “Easy Way” books).

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Brace yourself, there are new books on the way.

But a shop? Consumer capitalism tells us that this is OF COURSE the next thing in line. People not only want to read about and implement the KonMari method, they want to live KonMari. And what does ‘living KonMari’ mean? Buying it, of course. That’s also what all the fuzz regarding ‘Hygge’ is about. People in Denmark aren’t just happy because they live in a world full of cozy blankets and lovely interpersonal relations, they also live in a country that provides government welfare, a high wage level, and what Americans like to call ‘free health care’ –  long story short: when you can afford to lose your job or get sick, you can also sell cheap shit like scented candles and polyester blankets under the label ‘hygge’ – and apart from the label this concept does not necessarily include anyone or anything from Denmark at all.

Same goes for Marie. The goods she sells are elegant, well-designed, and nice to look at. She opened her own online store and did not start a partnership with Walmart or H&M to sell tons of junk but instead offers high-quality design items. Of course a tea container also serves a certain purpose; more so than a computer brush or a flower bouquet tote, at least in my personal opinion. Still, nothing in Marie’s shop is important OR something we may not already have (EXCEPT for the computer brush, maybe?). But hey, no one has to buy it. There are people out there buying overpriced stuff from a mediocre blond actress who made an empire out of selling shit no one needs – and I’m not just talking about Goop for that matter. So why should Marie, with her well-thought-out concept of sparking joy not at least try? No one has to watch her show. No one has to buy her books. No one has to feed the money monster.

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Groceries and other things one could carry around in a tote will vanish into thin air the moment they come in contact with this Flower Bouquet ONLY Tote …

Also, while we’re at it, what about all those influencers who promote slow fashion, conscious living/consumerism, and minimalism and still regularly present new stuff? Yes they get free samples from mainly independent companies and small labels that are more often than not worth mentioning and promoting BUT what is slow, conscious or minimalist about presenting new skin care, clothes, bags or the like every other week on Instagram? We are all trying our best to live up to the ideals we cherish, but this might not be as easy or consistent as we would like it to be. Life is full of inconsistencies and gray areas. Is it possible to withdraw from classic consumer capitalism in a way of not constantly wanting new things and being content with what one already has? I guess so. I hope so. I’m sure as hell trying my best. Because I don’t want to KonMari my shit every few years. But I fail quite frequently and there’s much room for improvement.

I’m still following slow/fair fashion, minimalist, eco friendly influencers on Instagram – in some instances the same ones who lost their rather self-righteous shit about Marie Kondo’s shop … whilst promoting new stuff they ‘received for free’ even though they are on a shopping ban right now or so (oh my, what a coincidence!). Because I like their posts, need my daily dose of procrastination, and it’s actually just 4 or 5 people so their ‘influence’ is manageable … 😀

BTW: there’s an interesting article on VICE regarding Marie’s new shop; the NYT too writes about the dubious nature of the backlash Marie is receiving for her new online store. As I said: gray areas everywhere …

Reading Marie Kondo and so much more … “The life-changing magic of tidying up”

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Being the aspiring minimalist that I am, I only got the ebook version of Marie’s masterpiece.

My oh my – the world is my oyster and I am allergic to seafood … I have to change. Or: I have to change something.

Over the last few years and months I’ve read tons of books about ADHD, anxiety disorders and mindfulness. One thing I’ve learned is that I can focus and work better in a clean and organized environment. Moreover, I’ve learned that I should streamline as much as possible – what to cook and eat, what to wear, what music to listen to when working/writing/feeling blue, what to read … – and eliminate unnecessary choices so as to save time and energy.  I’m also practicing my own version of mindfulness, using the App Insight timer for meditation and following advices from authors like Ruby Wax and Mark Williams, Matt Haig and Aaron Gillies (to name just a few).

Streamlining mundane tasks and eliminating choices goes hand in hand with decluttering, at least in my little corner of this world. I’ve already started decluttering and discarding months (years?) ago, and though I read Francine Jay’s The Joy of Less early on, in the beginning I didn’t have a system regarding how and what to discard. I just knew I had too much and I wanted to change that. For further inspiration I read Fumio Sasaki’s Goodbye Things as well as a German book by Lina Jachmann, Einfach leben. Finally, somewhere along the way to ADHD-reducing minimalism I encountered Marie Kondo and let me tell you: I was not impressed.

Marie and me: no love at first sight

To be more precise: the first time I read The life-changing magic of tidying up I was rather disappointed and a bit irritated. Because when Marie Kondo explained that

The socks and stockings stored in your drawer are essentially on holiday. They take a brutal beating in their daily work, trapped between your foot and your shoe, enduring pressure and friction to protect your precious feet. The time they spend in your drawer is their only chance to rest.

I wasn’t sure what to make of this. I felt terribly sorry for my socks which was NOT helpful for someone like me who tends to a) feel guilty for pretty much everything (thanks gran!) and b) anthropomorphize A LOT of things which makes discarding stuff even more difficult. But apart from that all these sparks of joy she was talking about did not resonate with me. Therefore I decided that Kondo was not for me and put it aside. Several months later I discovered the wonderful and hilarious podcast By the book in which the hosts Kristen and Jolenta did an episode on Marie Kondo and her bestseller. Listening to it I realized that I may have missed some important points and decided to give her another chance. I even watched an episode of Mario Kondo’s show on Netflix –and finally I saw the light … once I saw this tiny lady jumping through pure chaos while staying happy-go-lucky I finally understood why she was taking her socks on a lovely little holiday every time she puts them in a drawer. She lives in her very own little world, all tidy and organized and full of joy, which seemes strange but wonderful. I decided to give her book another go.

Oh the (sparks of) joy!

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The ebook from a different angle – taking photos of a ‘real’ book is a bit more inspiring …

The second time around it worked MUCH better! I ignored the cheesy bits and adapted Marie’s plan to my needs. After all, I live in a medium-sized European apartment and not a Japanese single flat; it was also not the first time I started a decluttering tour de force, so I focused on my weak spots and paid less attention to those areas that are already well organized.

Following Marie’s plan I started with my clothing. I imagined I would be left with a few T-shirts, some pants and two skirts but it was actually not THAT bad (or good). Since I’ve applied the ‘one in, one out’ rule long before Kondo-ing the shit out of my stuff, looking for the sparks of joy in my drawers and closet was not as fulfilling as I had imagined it to be. I had already discarded a lot of clothes, shoes, and bags before so this time around it was mainly about the spark of joy and nothing more. Still even the second time around it took me more than one round to eliminate all the items that didn’t spark enough joy. I guess I overlooked some less sparkier items and mistook them for great bearers of joy, love, peace, and happiness.
I still have a hard time figuring out what the spark says about my bags and backpacks – I’m not that much into fashion and shoes but I do love me a good handbag (or backpack for that matter). So I decided to disagree with Marie in that life-changing can be seen as a relative term and also describes a “life-long” process of figuring out which bag to keep and which to let go of. After all everything in life is a process, so why hurry?

A few weeks after the big closet decluttering bash I kondo-ed my books. This was a bit easier as I discovered quite quickly whether there was a spark or not. ‘Professional’ books (mainly academic books) did not offer the option of joyous sparks – Foucault very probably wouldn’t give a shit about his potential on the spark-of-joy-o-meter and that’s fine with me – so they were out of bounds. Regarding most of my other books I realized that I have very ‘sparkly’ bookshelves and still prefer books over pretty much everything else – even bags.

Books were the last category I’ve Kondo-ed thus far. I got a list somewhere which tells me exactly what I should declutter next (bathroom items, maybe?) but my main concern was clothes and books. Since I got these done I feel no urgency to tackle any other category soon. I’m not a fan of relying solely on digitalized photos and documents, so while I like to have a digital backup ’somewhere’ (beware of the ADHD brain’s ‘somewhere’), I don’t intend to throw away all my photos or important documents just because Marie or any other minimalist say so.
Furthermore, for me decluttering and discarding has a calming and cathartic effect so I’m in no hurry to empty our apartment in record speed. To me a certain form of decluttering, discarding, and rearranging is a life-long process that changes the way I myself and my life (our life) changes. So while I appreciate Marie’s efficiency, I see no reason to emulate her. I still stick to my ‘one in, one out’-rule, not with books but with everything else, and I apply Marie’s spark joy approach whenever I’m not sure if I should keep or toss a certain item. Both methods are very useful and give me good results.

However, decluttering is not my main issue anymore. I progressed to a more urgent problem I’ve developed over the last couple of months: digital thrifting.
I invest hours in searching for the right piece only to wait several more days or weeks until the price drops so I can finally make my bid. I get a sort of adrenalin rush when days and weeks of observing an offer finally pay off. On a bad day checking my apps and wishlists is the perfect diversion and also leads me to believe that I’m achieving something even though all I actually do is planning to accumulate stuff I don’t need. What was a nice little pasttime became a nasty habit. While in the past I would have had a few beers to drown a shitty day or smoked more ciggies than I should to calm my nerves, I now found a different crutch to help me calm down when I feel a bit blue – cheaper than drinking or smoking, but only slightly healthier. Also totally irritating for someone who is actually all about REDUCING the stuff she owns …. 

But that’s a different story.

Reading: “Rooms” by Lauren Oliver

lauren oliver rooms

I know Minna had a rough start. All those years in that crusty basement practicing piano until her fingers ached and God knows what else. But listen, we all get served a deck with some cards missing. Get up and get on with it, is what I say. I’ve done my reading about all of it: neuroses, psychoses, anxieties, and compulsions, blah, blah. I used to work for the Dr Howard Rivers, of the Rivers Center for Psychiatric Development, for God’s sake. And I’ve seen my fair share of churches and twelve steps.
It all boils down to the same thing: are you going to play the cards you got, or are you going to fold?

This is Sandra talking about Minna (obviously). Sandra too had a difficult childhood, which led to a rather difficult adult life – you may have already guessed that from the way she talks.

But who is Sandra? Or Minna?

Richard Walker is  dead. His estranged family – ex-wife Caroline, daughter Minna, teenage son Trenton and Minna’s daughter Amy – arrives at their former home to sort through his things, look for valuables and collect their inheritance – after all, Richard was a wealthy man. But they are not alone. The old house is haunted by former occupants, Alice, a stereotypical housewife from the 1940s/50s, and Sandra, a raunchy woman in her mid-forties, who tried to drown her difficult childhood and youth in too much alcohol and relationships with the wrong men. The living Walkers hardly recognize the two ghost, only Trenton – who barely survived a near-fatal car crash – senses their presence and sometimes even hears their voices, though he cannot process what he’s actually hearing and fears he’s finally going crazy.

We accompany the Walker family on their trip down memory lane, with each other and on their one.  Each chapter focuses on someone else, mostly told by Alice and Sandra – they intermingle their own stories with the past and present story of the Walker family, which paints an interesting portray of Caroline, Minna, and Trenton and also adds interesting yet spotty insights into Sandra’s and Alice’s lives. I love this technique of telling a story little by little from different perspectives and this is what I really liked about this book – though it did not always live up to the huge potential this technique offers. Oliver knows how to build up suspense so you want to find out how it all ends, even though you may not find every storyline all that convincing… Because this book has its shortcomings, and it actually has quite a few and rather important ones.

For one, a lot of the characters are not all that easy to grasp or likable because they represent a world of cliches and short hints rather than in-depth descriptions or portrayals. That said the question of whether you like a character or not depends on if you sympathize with the stereotype it depicts. Furthermore whether you understand most of a character’s motivation or her/his perspective on something depends on your respective knowledge of said stereotype and the cultural implications it conveys. So Minna, depicted as a surgically enhanced nymphomaniac, beds every guy she meets only because she wants to fill the void she feels deep down inside her with love and attention – or at least sex. This is why Minna is the least interesting or likeable character, because the cliche she represents is of no interest to me (I saw 4 seasons of SATC thank you very much …). Also Caroline and Trenton, both more likable because more tangible for me, represent their respective stereotype just as clearly and obvious as Minna; the same applies to Alice and Sandra. There could be so much more connection with all characters on various levels, but instead it all depends on whether or not you like the stereotypes that are used to depict them in this book.

As it happens I have a soft spot for most of the characters apart from Minna, so I truly enjoyed the book and was curious to find out how it ends, hence I read it in one day. This interest and excitement however did not make me oblivious to further shortcomings of this book, like the fact that on several occasions Oliver hints at something but doesn’t follow through. There is a character who’s presence in the book does not make a lot of sense except for reasons that leave behind the bitter aftertaste of an overtly contructed narrative for the sake of pushing some matters ahead. Also, while we learn that Trenton was in a car accident and nearly died, we never find out what exactly happened – something that I would like to know, especially since the accident is repeatedly mentioned and referred to and seems to be an important part of his story. Amy, Minna’s daughter, seems to mainly be used as a sort of prop whenever its needed regarding the plotline. Alice once mentions that she turned her back on her family when marrying her husband, but she never explains what exactly happens – so why the hell even mention it? For the sake of pushing the clichè of her story even further? 

I imagined lying down with Thomas under a blanket filled with down, talking late into the night, waking up with the tips of our noses cold and the windows patterned with frost.

I imagined that we would be happy together, that together, we would be home.

This is Alice. And [spoiler alert] surprise, surprise: Thomas is not her husband.
Alice’s story was my favorite, maybe because it reminded me of other tragic characters I love, like John Williams’ Stoner or Willy Vlautin’s protagonists. Together with Sandra and Trenton she also get’s the best chance to spread her wings and try to evolve into something more than just another story tableau. You have to see for yourself how this works out for you – I loved her voice, they way she tells not only her own, but also the Walker’s story, and even Sandra’s. She is the oldest and the wisest, the first of them, at least as far as we know. It’s another cliche, maybe, but it also makes her the most sympathetic, at least in my opinion. Sandra too gets a opportunity to develop her story. Her at times vulgar language makes her even more likable, especially when she brings highly delicate issues to the point in her very own way. Thereby she is an obvious opposite to the tight-lipped Alice. Still: another clichè… 

Long story short: it’s entertaining, it’s gripping, and it’s interesting; though it may not always be easy to ignore certain ruptures within the storyline, I really enjoyed this book.