Keep what you love.

***Time for this post?  Reading…8 minutes. Viewing…2 minutes. Sifting and sorting…as much as you want to.

Last week I wrote about knowing when enough is enough. That post was about medical treatments at the end of life. However, the concept of “enough” also applies to our possessions, and that’s what I’m addressing today.

In either case, determining what is enough—and what is excess—challenges us to think about our values, what’s important to us, what we cherish.

What to keep?

In an earlier post about what to do with your things, I suggested a mind shift…

What if, instead of focusing on what we will get rid of, we look for the treasures in what we have. The point is to keep the treasures and move the rest along in appropriate ways. …Another time we’ll talk about approaches and logistics for lightening your load of excess things.

Well…now is that time!

Curating my surroundings has been high on my mind recently. It started when I had to clear everything except six large pieces of furniture out of my living room and dining room so the ceiling and two walls could be repainted. Because the picture hooks were removed and filled in, I started thinking about how to arrange art and accessories in different ways. That gave me ideas for tweaking the furniture arrangement. Before I put anything back, I assessed what would stay in the space. My criterion was “Does this say something about me?” And the result is perfect for me!

Sifting and sorting…

I have a long-standing interest in the idea of knowing ourselves to shape our environment. My first aha moment came more than twenty years ago, before clutter clearing and downsizing were in our vocabulary. I was living for a few months at Schumacher College, a centre of transformative learning for ecological and social change in the south of England.

I know! I’ll keep only what I can care for exquisitely.

So said Jeanne, who had spent a week grappling with what was, for her, a very big problem. Too much stuff, accumulated in the six years she had spent in the same flat. A gypsy at heart, she’d lived most of her adult life in a caravan (travel trailer). She felt weighed down and didn’t know how to sift and sort her things. When the solution hit her, it was clear—keep only what she could care for exquisitely.

The current version of the same principle is expressed beautifully in Marie Kondo’s books, in which she talks about keeping what sparks joy and thanking our things as we let them go.

Marie Kondo is Japanese, and these attitudes are embedded in her culture. Not so for Westerners, who are generally less tuned in to invisible energy. The following video gives a flavour of Marie Kondo and her approach, starting with a demonstration of what it feels like in your body when something “sparks joy.”  You also get to see her signature method for folding clothes, which includes an energy compnent.

Despite finding it odd when she talks about showing respect for your space, feeling how your belongings affect your energy, and putting love into your clothes as you fold them, North Americans embraced Marie Kondo’s Netflix series (January 2019).

In Spark Joy, her most recent book, she offers a lot of practical tips in addition to explaining the rationale behind her approach. Below are a few key ideas, but I recommend reading her book to get the whole picture. It’s a quick read and available in most libraries.

A few Marie Kondo principles and tips…

Having spent most of my life looking at things of every description, including those in my clients’ homes, I have discovered three common elements involved in attraction: the actual beauty of the object itself (innate attraction), the amount of love that has been poured into it (acquired attraction), and the amount of history or significance it has accrued (experiential value).

  • Tidy by category, not by room. Categories are clothes, books, papers, miscellaneous, sentimental items (includes photos). Bring all items from a category into one room and sort them all at once.
  • Tidy in the order listed in the previous point. Clothes are the easiest and you can gain experience by starting with them. Sentimental items have the most attachments so it works best if you tackle them at the end.
  • Finish discarding first, before you organize what remains.
  • When tidying papers, a “pending box” is essential for all papers requiring action (bills, letters, etc). Put them in it as you find them and forge ahead with the main job of tidying. Your papers will be safe there until you can get to them.
  • “As with clothing, you must begin by taking every single book off the shelves and piling them on the floor. Then take them in your hands and keep only those that spark joy. Whatever you do, don’t start reading them.”
  • “If you have too many books to choose all at once, sort them by categories, such as general (for reading), practical (references, cookbooks), visual (coffee-table books) and magazines, and do the joy check for each category.”
  • Tidy before moving. Note for elders who may be anticipating moving to smaller quarters: This is very good advice.
  • Do not keep something because “it might come in handy.” It never will. (I plead guilty, and she is mostly right. But I’ve been vindicated once or twice!)
  • If you have trouble telling if something sparks joy for you, compare it to other items in the same category. Find your top 3 in the pile in 3 minutes. This will help you hone in on what it feels like when something sparks joy in you.
  • “I’m convinced that things that have been loved and cherished acquire elegance and character. When we surround ourselves only with things that spark joy and shower them with love, we can transform our home into a space filled with precious artifacts, our very own art museum.”

For more of Marie Kondo, I suggest this delightful interview for further insights into her approach. Of course, she isn’t the only person with advice about dealing with your belongings.

Next week: Swedish death cleaning. See you then!

When is enough enough?

***Time for this post?  Reading… 8 minutes.  Viewing…12 minutes. Exploring what is deeply satisfying to you…as long as it takes.

It’s not easy to know when to call it quits, to speak up and change course when we’ve had enough.  This bold action requires us to think deeply about what’s important, and to take a stand for it…even when those around us have a different opinion about what we should do.

We are not enculturated to live—or die—on our own terms.

How much is enough?

… “enough” is not a number—it’s what is deeply satisfying.

The above quote is from Conscious Spending, Conscious Life, my book about using our resources intentionally. It helps us all navigate the consumer culture without being consumed by it.

As I learn more about the way we die in the West, I keep seeing parallels between consumption of consumer goods and our engagement with healthcare services. In both cases, we can end up being used by the system rather than served by it.

One of the primary skills for making our way through the consumer culture is the ability to discern when enough is enough. Conscious awareness is what saves us from being used by the system.

We must become clear about what we consider fundamentally important for a good life. In most cases, this is found in our values—not in things or pills.

Medicalization…

Healthcare is highly driven by consumerist values.These days, many treatments are possible and we can be swept along a long road of suffering just because there’s something more to try.

Medical professionals are trained to save lives, which is exactly what’s needed for dealing with emergencies. But different thinking is required when the medical issue is a chronic condition, terminal illness, or the frailty of old age. Our doctors may encourage us to try everything they have access to in hopes that something “will work” even when rescue from our conditions is not possible.

Pharmaceutical and equipment manufacturers have a vested interest in keeping  us looking for the next new thing. We, as consumers of healthcare, can get caught in the thrall of doing anything and everything to buy more time—without thinking about the price we might pay in unintended consequences.

Rarely are dying people invited to think about what’s important to them and helped to determine which available options will let them live out their lives in alignment with what they really value.

Here’s an exception…

Dr. Atul Gawande is a surgeon, public health researcher, and author of the #1 NY Times bestseller, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End. Here’s a description from notes about his book:

Modern medicine has transformed the dangers of birth, injury, and infectious disease from harrowing to manageable. But when it comes to the inescapable realities of aging and death, what medicine can do often runs counter to what it should do.

Through eye-opening research and gripping stories of his own patients and family, Gawande reveals the suffering produced by medicine’s neglect of the wishes people might have beyond mere survival.

To find out what those wishes are, we need to ask. We haven’t been asking, but we can learn. Riveting, honest, and humane, this remarkable book, which has already changed the national conversation on aging and death, shows how the ultimate goal is not a good death but a good life—all the way to the very end.

This is not a helpful question…

  • What do you want at the end of your life?

Helpful questions…

The following are better options because they get at a person’s priorities. Medical professionals should be asking them, but we can ask them of ourselves , and adult children can pose these qustions to their parents.

Ask these questions repeatedly over time, because priorities change as a person’s condition changes.

  • Well…what’s your understanding of your condition?
  • So….what are your fears and worries for the future?
  • What are the goals you have if your health should worsen?
  • What trade-offs are you willing to make—and not willing to make?

Let them have the damn cookies…

  • Suffering = No one asking you what matters to you, but telling you how they’re going to treat you.
  • When doctors don’t ask what matters to people, what they are doing to them is out of alignment with their priorities.
  • Medicalized nursing homes do not serve us well. Instead, they should create the freedom for people to make bad choices, talking to them about those choices when necessary.

For a fuller version of Atul Gawande’s approach, watch this lunch-hour presentation at Google. I found it well worth the time.

A good life…all the way to the very end.

Isn’t this what we all want? The tricky part is nurturing the mindset—individually and collectively—that will create a climate for our end of life to be humane instead of medicalized.

This brings up issues of quality of life that we should all be thinking about. Knowing what a good quality of life looks like to you will help you decide when you want to get off the treatment train.

It’s not a question of either fighting or giving up. The way through is for you to decide what is worth fighting for…and it may not be a longer life. It may be a life that best suits you in the time you have left. And only you can know what that will be.

Reset as things change…

Your condition will change and so will treatment options. As new treatments are presented, take a moment—or a day—to reset. Remember what you value most and consider how each option will align with it…or won’t align.

Give yourself permission…

I hope this perspective has given you things to think about, and permission to take a stand for what is right for you. We all deserve that.

Your thoughts?

Conscious Spending: A Solution to Stuffocation

Stuffocation-the-feeling

In a BBC viewpoint article about the hazards of too much stuff, trend forecaster James Wallman describes an American study documenting what most of us already know—that we have a lot of things in our houses.

According to Wallman, 2 out of 3 people wish they had less stuff. These people are experiencing what he calls stuffocation—an intriguing word that describes the feeling of drowning in stuff. Not surprisingly, the resulting clutter crisis leads to mental stress, which causes physiological symptoms such as elevated cortisol levels. In this way, the mental stress of excess damages our physical health.

I’m with him until he proposes that we solve the problem of excess stuff by spending our money on experiences instead of things. Continue reading