Monday, November 25, 2013

Saying Au Revoir to Magazines

The last of my magazines waiting to be read and donated

In my quest to simplify, I have come to realise that magazines do not currently have a place in the vision I have for my life. They have always been a bit of a love/hate thing for me. On the one hand I get excited to see the new glossy covers for the month and the possibilities that lie inside.

But on the other hand, all that gloss falls away literally as soon as I get home and I see that I have many others that look very similar, and I haven’t read them completely yet and it almost seems a chore to do so. When I do, it’s to get rid of them and I flick through searching for the odd good article but finding mostly ads and vacuous sound-bites that do nothing to improve the quality of my life.

I think I’ll find that one sentence or point of view that will change my life, make everything click into place but I never do, and I’ve realised I don’t need to. Everything I need to know is already inside me and will come out at the right time.

And I haven’t even mentioned the envy yet. The feeling of ‘not good enough’ and inadequacy I get from seeing a perfectly staged home in exactly the style I think I want, well, I am paying someone to make me feel this way?

What I need most is not stacks of magazines staring at me and taking up space, but the calm and serenity of an empty space, where those magazines once sat.

Even ordering the latest magazines from the library has lost its appeal, and that seemed like a perfect system when I found out about it. I can order in specific copies, and yes I might have to wait a couple of weeks, but I can still read them for free, and then return them after a fortnight.

Even this, the free, no-clutter magazine solution is not for me. Two weeks would almost be up and I hadn’t even opened them. So I’d spend the night before they were due back scanning them so I had ‘read’ them.

By their very nature, magazines are not the place to find information on living a simple and stress-free life, how to dress in a classic way and not buy new clothes all the time, how to not spend much and live frugally. Why? Because they are a vehicle to sell you things. Things that you didn’t even know you needed or wanted.

Having worked for a huge French cosmetic company before I became a self-employed shopgirl, I know that the editorial pages, where items are written about in an ‘impartial’ manner, are filled with the products of advertisers. If you don’t advertise then you will be unlikely to get promoted in the editorial pages.

So really, I have been paying for shopping catalogues all these years. Yes, I admit, I have torn a lot of good and interesting pages from magazines (just my own mind, removing library magazine pages should be a criminal offence) and these are in files that I periodically read. But I could have lived without them. And I am now on a quest to go through those files and bin a lot of the info, because it isn’t anything special. The rare diamond will go into the ‘keep’ pile. How is it that something you previously thought was fun has turned into work?

I have been working on thinning down my style files this week, and I would estimate at least 4/5 of what I had has gone into the recycling. It has been quite an illuminating exercise though. Much of the written information that was helpful at the time, I now do as a matter of course, and some magazine articles I look at and think ‘I could have written better myself’.

In the home-style file, it was fun to flick through all the images and easily see the ones that weren’t quite me, or might have been me a few years ago. Now I can see I just need to tweak the odd thing here and there in our home to achieve the style I am drawn to (I want to add a bit of shine to my decor to pretty up the rustic).

So my library magazine request list is down from a dozen titles to just one for now. I vow not to buy any magazines, not that that will be hard as I’m already not buying magazines. And the magazines I have designated as being keepers (the handful of Victoria magazines I have, as I find those very relaxing to read) I will be reading through one at a time, and donating.

Sure I’ll read through the odd one here or there if I’m passed them on, or if I’m in a waiting room. I’m not totally anti-magazine. However I know that doing this one thing of eliminating magazines for the most part will encourage peace and serenity in my daily life. I’d far rather read a book.

I feel like I am being quite ruthless and a little bit dramatic about it but you have to be. You have to decide how you want to spend your time because it is precious, and life is short. I want what I choose to be in my life, not any old twaddle that finds its way to my door.

I spent at least an hour on my last day off reading through house and garden and Vogue-type magazines so that I could donate them. I also spent a similar amount of time weeding in our garden. Crazy as it sounds, the weeding gave me much more satisfaction, and it was exercise at the same time. Not that I was doing cartwheels on the lawn, but getting up and down and moving around is better for you than sitting on your bum on the carpet wishing you didn’t have so many magazines to get rid of (yes, another first world problem as they say).

I’m doing really well with my decluttering (for those of us that naturally accumulate ‘stuff’ it may be a lifelong endeavour) but there are just those last few areas, like this one of magazines, that need to be dealt with. They are almost like a weedy patch that keeps sprouting up!

Just as there are ‘hotspots’ in your home that seem to become cluttered automatically and need constant vigilance, I think there can be genres or categories for each of us that require strictness to stop them getting out of control and adding stress to our life.

I hasten to add, please don’t think I am bagging magazines. Over the years they have been a great friend and have provided me with company and inspiration. But now, well, I think it’s time for my old friend and I to amicably part company.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Cultivating Calmness


‘Make inner peace your highest goal and you will probably never make another mistake.’ – Brian Tracy

I heard this listening to an audiobook by my friend Brian Tracy when I was driving home from work a few days ago. I wrote it down at the next red light and put it in my little French Chic notebook when I got home. I have been repeating it to myself since I first heard it and it has been so helpful and comforting.

Getting worked up over little things always makes me feel awful and I know it’s not good for me, both mentally and physically. Now that I have taken on board to ‘make inner peace my highest goal', situations that I would have become quite annoyed with were simply smoothed over and I felt much better about everything afterwards even though ‘by rights’ I should have been bothered about something.

In an instance where I feel myself becoming peeved over a minor annoyance, I repeat the saying to myself and instantly feel transformed. Inner peace is a wonderful thing to strive for and I’m going to use Brian’s saying almost as my life motto.

I was at the supermarket just before, and I noticed I was overcharged for two items. I went to the customer services desk and was told I was wrong. I was sure I was right but after querying them a bit more and them telling me I could ring the toll-free number for their head office to check it out, I said I trusted them, and left the store.

I had planned to call the head office once I got to the car ‘for my own peace of mind’ to know if I was incorrect or they were. By the time I opened my car door I had been repeating my new mantra to myself and realised it wasn’t worth the $1.89 difference to me (even though I believe the saying that if you look after the pennies the pounds will look after themselves).

I could see me spending time on hold and getting myself all churned up talking to someone trying to prove I was right. It wasn’t worth it! Making inner peace my highest goal saved the day and I was calm as I drove home.

Last week I was reading about Kim Cattrell in an English magazine (Woman & Home, May 2013). She was being interviewed, among other things, about how incredible she looks for her age. This is what she said:

When I hit my forties I thought, ‘I can’t play a sexy siren any more.’ Almost 20 years later, it’s still going on. I think that’s because I take care of myself, which includes dieting, exercising and minimizing stress. I joke that I’ve been on a diet since 1974, which is basically true. I like to eat, and my body type is not naturally this thin, especially at this age. So I do watch what I eat and drink but I’m not obsessive – it’s just a way of life. So I don’t have dessert after every meal – I just can’t do it. I have a big appetite, and staying on top of that is about knowing myself and saying, ‘I can eat that today but tomorrow I’m not going to.’ And I’m always aware – from gaining and losing weight for parts – that the time in the gym trying to lose extra weight is really hard work! I always have that in my mind.

Apart from the fact that I was impressed with her honesty, I thought it was so interesting that she included reducing stress in her life as one of her keys to staying slim, healthy and youthful-looking.

You often hear celebrities talk about meditation and I even bought myself Meditation for Dummies which actually is a wonderful book. But I still would get all righteous and worked up over small injustices in daily life and the meditation book couldn’t fix that.

I always felt like I wanted everything to be fair. It was easy when I was the one who had to tell the truth, give back the wallet I found with $400 in it, own up to a mistake and all those sorts of things. But when it’s the other person who should be ‘giving in’, well, you can’t control that and it’s stressful when you try!

So as good as my meditation book was, it didn’t help me be calm in various situations. My ‘new life motto’ does. It helps me see the truth and live a peaceful life. It applies to any and every situation that I have tested it on so far and I am very thankful that I came across it.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Simple and Tidy

What I’m enjoying doing most right now is 'curating' my simple and tidy life. I have been spending five minutes here and five minutes there organizing a corner, decluttering magazines I have read and passing them on to someone else, using things up and appreciating all that I have.

I feel so grateful that I am now a homeowner, literally every day I feel that. On a stormy night when I can hear the rain on the roof, I say thank you for our house. When I walk in the door after work, I say thank you for our house. In New Zealand at least anyway, I know that so many are not able to purchase a home, pay it off and make it their own, so I know how truly lucky I am.

Yes, I work hard and try to spend my money wisely, but I also had a good start with loving parents, a stable home life and a wonderful childhood. Other people haven’t been so lucky.

Part of having gratitude for where I live and what surrounds me is to have airy, open rooms with just the right amount of stuff in them. I know straight away the areas that I don’t like, even when I am out of the house. It’s amazing how much power clutter has on you, when something can actually bother you even though you cannot see it or are not even physically near it.

Each night this week, I have been gathering bits and pieces I want to donate, and putting them on the guest bed (lucky it’s Queen-size). Once or twice a month I do a drop-off to a local charity shop.

I have also been using things up, such as body products and cosmetics. Little amounts left of body lotions I have mixed up into one pump container and now use this every day. I bore of scents quickly so it’s nice to have a ‘new’ one.

I also gathered up three favourite lipsticks that are now worn down flat and scraped them into a cleaned out Bobbi Brown sample pot (5ml or 7ml size, something like that). I then mixed in a liberal amount of Burts Bees lip balm (minty!) and stirred it all together in the pot with a clean skinny wooden stick (the type you get in manicure sets).

I now have a new sheer lipstick which I put on with a lip brush each morning, plus I got to throw out three lipstick tubes without feeling like I wasted anything.

Inspired by Patricia Volk’s description of her mother Audrey in the memoir ‘Shocked’, I pick up tiny bits off the carpet, rather than leave them there to bother me until I vacuum. Audrey would apparently ‘march a sesame seed off the floor to the rubbish bin’ and say to her daughter ‘it’s good exercise, bend from the waist’. I think of that now when I see a piece of cat fluff or a black speck or a tiny leaf. Plus, the carpet looks nicer between vacuum cleanings.

My sister is decluttering and organizing for a cleaned out, satisfying and serene life too. We have both been reading minimalist websites to fuel the desire to live with just enough. It’s an ongoing ‘first world problem’ (even though I can’t stand that saying!) that we have to be on constant vigilance against the ever-present clutter building up. And I’m not even a big shopper.

I know my message is a bit jumbled in this post – part gratefulness, part decluttering, but really when I think about it, the two go hand in hand. It is those that respect their possessions (and therefore are grateful for them) that move along items they are not using so that others may gain benefit from them.
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