About that fancy cage. What's it costing you? Do you enjoy the bells and mirrors or does a taste of freedom sound more satisfying? We are mostly prisoners of our own making. Set yourself free. Take charge of your things. Bird-brained might be smarter than you think!
This article in the WSJ caught my eye. Apparently the very large house, formerly known as McMansion, has been rebranded as Megamansion. What exactly qualifies a house for this distinction? Features, square footage, price? With developers’ egos in mind, maybe hubris house is a more apt designation. The most mega of the featured mansions was a 100,000 square foot, single- family residence, costing $500 million- a mere $5,000 a square foot.
The other mega-contenders in the story were a bit less pricy and capacious, but still over the top by any rational measure. Crocodile skin-lined elevators, helipads, jellyfish aquariums, 40 seat movie theatres, candy walls (whatever those are)… veritable “monuments to excess”. I’ll say! These “modern-day palaces” stand in stark contrast to the little jewel box of a home which starred in my essay, Perfection… on January 27, 2017.
The notion of enough is the soundtrack in my head. It informs my decision-making. It’s my North Star. We’re all entitled to our own measure of “enough”, so I’ll not try and change the minds of these megamansion developers. To think I could do so would be arrogant. But I will remind you of the words of two great thinkers.
“Small dwellings discipline the mind. Large ones weaken it.” Da Vinci
“Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing more to take away.” Antoine de St. Exupery.
Many things are best, just done. Learn when good suffices or when better is worthwhile. When neither of these is adequate, you'll know you're going for perfection. Jeremy's right about one thing. Perfection can be the enemy of the good and the done. Aiming for perfect when good is a plenty is often a way to procrastinate. But I bet Jeremy's English teacher will remind him that the done didn't do it this time.
"We first make our habits, then our habits make us." John Dryden
This line is catchy and easy to remember and probably is a misquote. What is attributable to the English writer is this. "Ill habits gather by unseen degrees, As brooks make rivers, Rivers run to seas." While the lines from the poem aren't quite as pithy as the adage, they tell a fuller tale.
Habits, good and ill, are powerful things. They feed on themselves. Actions that begin with little to no conscious thought, become patterns. Patterns become deeper and more entrenched. And it's only in retrospect that you realize that the groove you're in is so deep that changing will take some doing. You've formed a habit. Excellent- if the habit is a "good"one-one that makes life easier, healthier, happier. Like putting your car keys in a certain place or flossing your teeth or paying your bills on time. Good habits ensure that lots of things that could be confusing and time-consuming become simple and routine. The proverbial wheel doesn't need to be re-invented hundreds of times a day. We know and are comfortable with our habitual ways of doing and being.
But Dryden writes of ill habits. What about those that make your life harder, sicker and sadder? They are sneaky, insidious, and stealthy. Little by little, a seemingly innocuous behavior becomes a troubling pattern. The babbling brook, becomes a racing river and the river empties into the churning sea. What started out with little to no conscious thought, certainly with no intention of doing oneself or others harm, has become a way of life. By unseen degrees, you're in a mess.
So how do we break destructive habits? How do we stop the knee-jerk actions and reactions that we live to regret? Name the behavior. Identify its replacement. And then stick with it. Habits die hard. The bad ones are especially hard to bump off. Some self-help Pollyanna suggested twenty-one days was the magic number for habit formation. And it does seem that forming bad habits is much easier and faster than forming good ones. But more careful research indicates that a habit doesn't fully root for at least two months. And old, really bad habits might take a whole lot longer to vanquish.
I'm telling you about my ill habit abatement plan as a way to keep on track. You know, public proclamation makes throwing in the towel a little harder. The copper chain has twelve loops, one per month. I'm not taking any chances! I've hung the chain in a prominent place where it will serve as a visual reminder. Clipping a loop will be ceremonial. The goal is perfection- nothing more to take away. The chain and the ill habit- vanquished.
I'll keep you posted.
Here's the Ill Habit Abatement update. Come September 1, 2018 the last loop will be clipped and discarded. How satisfying! It's been a good reminder but I won't be sorry to see it go. My good habit has taken root but it's still a sapling and could succumb to neglect. But life is easier with this good habit, so I'm optimistic that the sapling will one day be a sturdy tree that holds up effortlessly.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act, but a habit.” Aristotle
If we spent even a fraction of the time exercising our restraint muscle as we do on the better known ones, we might be not only healthier, but happier. Practice saying no to a bunch of pretty things you will not buy. And for the love of Pete, remember to say no to a bunch of so-so things you won't buy. Setting some guidelines, I call them Rules, lets you create an emotional firewall between impulse and intentionality. Think before you spend, lest you are parted from your $200.
A reminder from my 21st century comic-enthusiast although it sounds like something from the 19th century Devil's Dictionary. "Shopping: Money in search of a distraction". Sounds right on Target to me.
One of my Rules- “Curate Your Collection. Sounds like something reserved for a museum or library, but it works with possessions. They are your collection. Editing isn’t a matter of just getting rid of things you used to like, but of getting rid of the ones you’ve always disliked.”
It's the stuff you used to like and the stuff you’ve always disliked. So search your pockets and your pocketbooks. Your cabinets, closets and cars. And certainly your paid storage units.
How’s your report card?
Be a fine curator and turn that F Minus into an A Plus by getting rid of your junk and taking good care of your collection- the things you do need, use, and love.
In a word, yes. It should have been obvious. This picture doesn’t lie. Well, maybe it lies a little bit. There really is a lot more junk in our house that needs to go. But this is a decent start. And it all began with the story by The Minimalists that recently caught my attention. When we sort our things into only three categories- essentials, non-essentials and junk…
“Sadly, most of our things belong in the junk pile. These are the artifacts we like—or, more accurately, think we like—but they don’t serve a purpose or bring us joy. The average American home contains more than 300,000 items, and most of it is junk. While this junk often masquerades as indispensable, it actually gets in the way of a more meaningful life.”
The line between non-essential and junk is blurry. It’s different for all of us. And lines shift over time. One time essentials or very usefuls can become junk as children grow up, housing changes and technological advances render old gadgets dinosaurs.
Just because something once was valuable or useful or loved, doesn’t mean it gets a free pass forever. An honest reassessment of your things can be an eye- opener. It was for me. It doesn’t matter if it’s in good shape. It doesn’t matter if you have room for it to be nicely stored. It doesn’t matter if you paid a lot of money for it. It’s still junk. If you don’t use it, find someone who will. If you claim to love it but still never use it, maybe you don’t love it as much as you thought you did.
Letting go of your junk... winning by losing.
These comics remind me of the wisdom of Will Rogers, the early 20th century cowboy-columnist. "Too many people spend money they haven't earned, to buy things they don't want, to impress people they don't like."
And if you're actually spending money you have earned to buy useless stuff- that's even crazier. A gulliblity check is in order. You're not that naive. What besides the cowl-induced sploin-built krypton converter and the hardpoint quadraphonic ion-inverted tesselator do you not want?
Ask yourself one question. What need does this purchase satisfy? An honest answer might protect you from being easy prey. If there is a genuine, demonstrable need, forge ahead. If the satisfaction is purely emotional, It might be a want rather than a need. If polishing your reputation as a trend setter, style maker, or early adopter is your best excuse, proceed with caution. Not every want needs to be satisfied.
Even cave merchants knew the power of branding and marketing. Unique gifts or useless junk? Another good question. If the cave consumer has it figured out, we can too.
The Minimalists duo are well-known for their dedication to “less”. I’m on record as being intrigued by their work but not a card- carrying, 'Minimalists' disciple. I’m a self-branded 'Enoughist', not a minimalist. But maybe it's splitting hairs. Their recent essay (excerpt follows) on how to sort your possessions caught my attention and since it wouldn’t let go, I decided to quite pondering and start doing. After all, I've long championed the philosophy of William Morris who is saying much the same thing.
“Everything we own can be placed in three piles.
Essentials. Few possessions should fall into this pile. These are the necessities we can’t live without: food, shelter, clothes. While the specifics change for each person, most of our needs are universal.
Nonessentials. In an ideal world, most of the things we own would fit in this pile. These are the objects we want in our lives because they add value. Strictly speaking, I don’t need a couch, a bookshelf, or a dining table in my living room but these items enhance, amplify, or augment my experience of life.
Junk. Sadly, most of our things belong in this pile. These are the artifacts we like—or, more accurately, think we like—but they don’t serve a purpose or bring us joy. The average American home contains more than 300,000 items, and most of it is junk. While this junk often masquerades as indispensable, it actually gets in the way of a more meaningful life.
Of course, the personal effects in these piles are different for everyone. The widgets that add value to my life might be junk to you, and vice versa. The key, then, is to continue to question the things we bring into our lives, and to question the things we hold onto, because the stuff that adds value today might be tomorrow’s junk.”
Essentials are described concisely. Nonessentials need a bit more explaining. And junk, needs more still. And so it is with our possessions- a few essentials, a healthy dose of nonessentials and a sea of junk.
Lest you think you have little junk- think again. In my own exercise to sort the wheat from the chaff using the Minimalist Method, I realized how very much junk I do own. Just because something is in good condition and you have space to store it doesn’t inoculate it against being junk.
“Close some doors. Not because of pride, incapacity or arrogance, but simply because they no longer lead somewhere.”
Opening doors has an upbeat connotation-promise, optimism, and excitement; closing doors sounds like a downer- deflated, missing out, not making the cut.
Not going too far out on a philosophical limb without a rope and harness (i.e. any legitimate study of existentialism), here’s Kierkegaard 101 on the connection between despair and too much possibility.
Too much possibility (open doors) is the gateway to becoming ungrounded and out of touch with anchoring realities. Which way to turn? What’s behind Door # 3? I’d hate to miss out on the next great thing. Where does it end? Too much overwhelms-maybe not at first, but eventually. It leads to regret, heavy heart, and even despair. But so can too little. A dark hall with no doors, just one dead end after another is where woe and despondency lurk and where no one wishes to make their acquaintance.
The work is finding balance between opened and closed doors. Not every knock needs to be answered.
Consider the Brazilian writer, Coelho’s advice for finding both your promise and your limits. Which doors should you fling open and which should you firmly shut? Closing a door doesn’t mean you’re lazy, or inept or hubristic. It just means you know yourself. And it’s a self that is content with enough. An independent self
June 27, 2018
Today is National Sunglasses Day. It squeezed in around National Doughnut Day, National Iced Tea Day, and National Biscuit Day. The list goes on and on…
So called ‘Hallmark Holidays’ (Grandparent’s Day, Boss’s Day and Secretary’s Day) set the stage for the ‘Social Media Holidays’. Apparently people are so eager to post something on Instagram, Facebook et al, that they jump at the chance, using the fete de jour as their excuse.
I am hopelessly behind on all of this. Really, it’s blissfully behind. I only recently learned the social media acronym, FOMO-fear of missing out- gluing yourself to your device to avoid the anxiety that missing a current social event might provoke.
As not to be a total Luddite, I’ve coined an antonym (or antidote) to FOMO. POMO- pleasure of missing out. Relieved that you aren’t in everyone else’s business. Honestly, doesn’t your own business keep you busy enough to not fret over others’?
So today, I’m celebrating National Sunglasses Day by staying in the dark. Join me for some POMO. Now that’s something to celebrate!
Affluenza (n.)- a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety, and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more.
So begins the book, Affluenza. It’s a catchy title that’s endured long enough to merit a third edition but I’ve only recently become acquainted with it. And the core message is that we should learn to be satisfied with “enough”. Keeping up with the Jones’s is a fool’s errand. Clutter stifles. Deficit spending depresses. Winning the rat race? You’re still a rat. You get the picture.
And about this picture? Planning to read a quote from the book to one of my yoga classes, I pulled a shopping bag out from the small collection in a kitchen cabinet and Neiman Marcus is what I got. The irony wasn’t lost on me. A NM bag to hold a book on Affluenza!
The quote is from Lily Tomlin (but it could have just as easily been George Carlin). “We buy a wastebasket and take it home in a plastic bag. Then we take the wastebasket out of the plastic bag, and put the bag in the wastebasket.”
May as well hear what Carlin had to say too. “A house is just a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get more stuff.”
"Not my circus. Not my monkeys." Old Polish Proverb
Monkeys- how evocative. Barrel of monkeys- fun and frivolity. Monkey business- mischief. Monkeying around- goofy, playful.
In the energetic, larger than life vibe of the circus, monkeys make for hijinks and chaos. And the man in the top hat is supposed keep things under control without spoiling the fun. The ringmaster is in charge of the show. He keeps the performers on schedule and on task. And if something goes haywire, it’s his job to fix it. It’s his circus. His monkeys. The audience watches. And no matter how much something needs fixing, the audience is off the hook.
What a relief!
The same is true outside of the big top. We often poke our noses in where they are unnecessary and ineffective. And not having any business doing what we’re attempting to do is stressful and not the least bit helpful.
So next time you encounter metaphorical monkeys in a circus, check to see if you’re the ringmaster. And if you’re not, no matter how crazy, chaotic and confused the situation, remind yourself, “Not my circus. Not my monkeys.”
About the simian assemblage pictured here… they are my monkeys!
I recently had another eye-opener that was just as stunning as learning that some people don’t make to-do lists and yet they persist. They survive. They even excel. So it shouldn’t have been a surprise that many people have an innate ability to compartmentalize thoughts, obligations and time-demands. I’m not put together that way although I often wish that I were. I’m an ‘open-looper’. I have a hard time not thinking about the things that need doing, so doing them is the obvious solution. It makes me productive and often efficient but also a little bit crazy.
How do you deal with all the things that cross your mind, your desk, your digital device? Are you a compartmentalizer or an open- looper? Is your mind like a rodent on a wheel- running endlessly, or a juggler carefully minding many balls? Welcome to the Society of Open Loopers.
At the other end of the spectrum is the person whose mind is like a chest with lots of little drawers each with a sturdy lock, or the bottle sealed tight with a cork. You can put myriad thoughts, tasks and responsibilities in their own little compartments and forget about them until the time seems right.
Most of us fall somewhere between these extremes but we all have our natural tendencies. Sometimes they serve us well and sometimes they swamp us. So we’ve developed coping mechanisms for dealing with the consequences of being ourselves. If you’re quick on the trigger because you don’t want it hanging over your head, sometimes you do things that really didn’t need to be done. And sometimes you do them in a slapdash fashion just to have it done. If you’re inclined to let things ripen in the locked box or corked bottle, they sometimes go from ripe to rotten and you’ve got a mess on your hands.
For one devoted to the notion of a “tight ship”, this little ship in a bottle is a delightful reminder- not just of beauty of things being ship-shape, but of the beauty and utility of the protective compartment. The ship would have been tempest-tossed and surely lost if not for its bottle.
Like the little ship, find your even keel.
“To make sure customers show up bright and early at 9 a.m. Monday — two days before the store opening — to begin queuing up in advance of the store opening, IKEA announced it is offering thousands of dollars worth of giveaways. The first 44 adults in line Monday will get a free Ektorp sofa, and the next 100 adults in line will get a free Poang armchair.” Columbus Dispatch, May, 2017
Goat's correct. Lining up two days before the opening of a store, in hopes of free upholstery... sounds like the sofa and armchair have the upper hand.
Regarding your things, who owns whom?
"Don't own so much clutter that you will be relieved to see your house catch fire." Wendell Berry
This isn't really related to a principle or rule. But having no editor to save me from myself, I a can do as I please. It's with pleasure that I give you the best from a superlative grandmother, to celebrate her birthday, May 17th. The older I get, the more I regret that she didn't write a book. She called a spade a spade better than anyone I know and did so with a goodly dose of humor. So, from the collective memory of her six grandchildren, who issued forth from the adorable little girls pictured above....
1. No need to be so damned sorry. (In response to ‘I’m sorry.’)
2. It’s five o’clock somewhere in the world. (Bring out the bourbon!)
3. She’s in her cups. (Tipsy- given that it’s well after 5 and the bourbon has made its appearance.)
4. Fools’ names, like their faces, always seen in public places. (Facebook et al be damned!)
5. I’ve eaten a bumble bee and it’s under my shirt (aka I’ve eaten abundantly and anymore would be an exert.)
6. Pleasingly plump (Meaning you could stand to lose a few.)
7. Pretty is as pretty does. (Behaving was a big deal.)
8. I’m going to drop down for a few. (A post-prandial midday nap)
9. You going to the picture show? (Meaning, stop picking at your seat.)
10. Old age is a miserable state of affairs. (Said without a trace of bitterness.)
11. I’m happy to be seen. (In response to “I’m happy to see you.”)
12. Suck egg mule. (A more genteel way of saying “son of a bitch”)
14. If you see something God didn't make, shake a stick at it! (If you accidentally intrude on someone in a partial or complete state of undress and hurriedly profess embarrassed apologies, the victim of your intrusion might reply in this fashion.)
15. That’s merchandise! (Meaning you medaled in the retail Olympics)
15. Her taste is all in her mouth. (She was tacky.)
16. Stink face (A screwed up face- like what an NPR host does when talking about Tweets.)
You might have noticed that 13. is missing. It's not due to superstition but rather to a flirt with decorum. Granny would be disappointed in me so I'll just tell you that the punch line is "Arrabella Cunningham". You'll have to imagine the rest! Happy Birthday Granny.
“ If I’m going to advertise something, I should be paid for it. ” WSJ
An article in the WSJ about the resurgence of consumer branding spurred me. Branding with logos, distinctive labels and recognizable embellishments is hotter than ever, turning shoppers into walking billboards. Clever, n’est ce pas. But the cleverest trick? The customer willingly pays to be the billboard.
Branding is nothing new, but we used to wear our own brand. Monograms and trademark touches are examples of self-branding that have been with us for centuries. Shirts, handkerchiefs, buckles and signet rings are familiar examples. And countless personal touches secure our singular brand and telegraph it to others. I have worn a set of square silver bangles for years. They only come off to clear security. People tell me the clink of these little bracelets is the first sign of my approach. I hope they mean it in a comfortable rather than annoying way.
Branding is seductive. You think, “I belong.” And the company doing the branding is in agreement. You do belong. To them! Some brands are subtle, others shout. The loud ones are easy to recognize. The quieter ones require “being in the know”. This of course only boosts their cachet. Unlike the rancher to his cattle and the Brotherhood to the Pledges, the logo wielding corporate branders might not have a hot iron, but they sure know how to exact a pound of flesh.
Take your pick. Brand new, changing whenever the fashion winds shift? Or brand you, confidently content? "If I’m going to advertise something, it should mostly be me."
About the spurs? Branding spurred me. I just recognized the connection between the hot iron and the sharp spike but I bet it was there all along. Don’t call PETA. These spurs have never made their mark on anything other than a bookshelf. They’re a just a bit of a shrinking shrine to childhood. A childhood that began thirty four years ago today.
The denizens of this comic strip are some of my best inspirations. Many consider Pearls Before Swine to be dark, but I think otherwise. It illuminates so many things I hold true. Humorously. Concisely. Brilliantly. It’s the epitome of light.
Clutter is in the eye of the beholder. Where I see clutter, others may see a comforting array of potentially useful possessions. Are you are pitcher or a catcher? Are things safe or out?
A widely accepted definition of clutter is this: Anything that is not used or loved; anything for which you have inadequate storage space; anything that is broken and unlikely to ever be repaired; and anything that can be replaced easily and inexpensively should the need arise. That’s clutter in a nutshell.
We keep clutter because of guilt, inertia, and indecision. You might need your scuba gear, raccoon trap and miscellaneous keys one day. But you probably won’t. Is might a good enough reason to “Always Keep Everything!!”?
Make Pearls Before Swine the wrong name for this strip by appreciating the valuable lessons the comic offers. Don’t dismiss them without due consideration. You might decide Pig, Goat and Rat aren’t blowing smoke, but sending important smoke signals!
“You get so burdened in life by all the stuff you keep.” Pig
Well-written and quite gracious? Certainly not. But Goat gives credit where credit is due. At least Rat hand-wrote something. With your superior brain and manual dexterity, besting Rat should be a cinch. Pull out pen and paper and say what needs saying. Write now.
Well, this isn't the best thank you note ever. A little white lie would have been better than unvarnished honesty. But at least Rat wrote. Maybe promptly. Be like the rat!