Breaking up…

No, not with my husband (I still kinda like him!) Or the blog (though it’s tempting!). Or sugar (NEVER gonna happen). Or anyone. But with… things. Physical things. Mental things. Annoying things. Things. A year ago I was sitting at my dining table that was piled high with papers, half-finished kids crafts and an overflowing washing basket. I had approximately 10 minutes before Annika woke up (I knew this because I had just put her down – the child does not sleep!) and basically I just wanted to enjoy the sunshine coming through the back doors and some peace and quiet before it was back to my one-arm life (she also only ever wants to be held…) I looked over to my sideboard for a spot to put the washing basket and my eye just saw things. Too many things. A pile of books with a shell and glass dome on top, a brass stork I bought from a charity shop, about 8 different vases with nothing in them but the shapes or colours were nice so they’d been collected over time. There was a clock that didn’t work that was a gift so I felt obliged to keep it there, candlesticks, decorative letters that once adorned a wall somewhere, random picture frames, some white ceramic animals I don’t recall buying and a pile of magazines. Oh the magazines. That was just one pile – I knew there were cupboards full in my cabin from my previous life when I worked for them. I realised I couldn’t see my sideboard properly – obviously there was a piece of furniture there, but you’d be hard pressed to notice its beauty. The map on the wall – one of the favourite things I own – was barely noticeable for the crap that lay beneath it and the string lights I had draped over it. The two items that I loved in that whole space – my Parker sideboard (roadside find!!!!) and vintage world map (one of the first things my Dad bought when he migrated here from Germany) were hidden by things. Things I didn’t even really care for. Or – as was the case for a lot of them – things I didn’t even like.

While these “things” had been styled to some degree into vignettes you see in magazines (assorted heights/ layers/odd numbers!), there were too many of them. The sideboard is so large, I thought it was the perfect space to show off some pretty things. But in that moment I realised how stupid it looked. It looked cluttered and pointless and dusty. The only reason stylists do these decorative vignettes in magazines is to promote as many products for advertisers as is physically possible – after all, most of the time it’s all about getting you to buy something. I suddenly hated it all. So instead of enjoying the sun, I picked up a box and put pretty much everything on the sideboard in it. Then I walked around the rest of the living areas and boxed anything that just screamed at me “WRONG!” There was quite a lot. I grabbed a few other things I had piled in a box in my bedroom for when our house was big enough to display them again. And I grabbed all my Domino magazines from storage, chick-flick DVDs I just don’t watch and a couple of chairs that were just taking up space outside and piled everything on my dining table. I made up signs and had a spontaneous mini yard sale the next morning. Whatever didn’t sell went straight into the boot of my car and to the charity shop. I felt so happy. I felt lighter. My house instantly looked cleaner and tidier and nicer. Better than that, the emptier space made me want to ensure it was always clean and tidy. I started to enjoy cleaning – there were less things I had to move to dust or vacuum. It was addictive to keep it pristine and good for my soul to see clean, empty surfaces. I started making my own cleaning products to enjoy the experience even more – it was creative DIY that didn’t clutter my space or look like a shonky DIY project (which, let’s face it, so many do). It was a nice feeling but I wasn’t finished.

I’ve never been one for excess. I rarely buy things for the sake of it. I don’t own or want a cupboard full of kitchen appliances or five different sets of crockery – I don’t care to spend a good chunk of a pay cheque on a Thermomix or even a Kitchenaid. I used to want a Kitchenaid mixer – I thought being the baking-lover I am it would be worked into our kitchen budget and look smashingly good sitting on the kitchen counter. I never bought it. I like my little hand mixer and I like my almost-bare counters even more (There is a toaster for convenience, though, and fruit bowl and knife block). Even when I worked at Cosmopolitan magazine, I didn’t spend all my money on clothes, shoes or going out – we had a mortgage we were keen to pay off as quickly as possible. We bought things only when we needed them or in terms of the big things like a house/car/boat/renovation, when we could afford them – we have never owned credit cards or gone into debt for anything other than the mortgage on our house. We don’t buy the kids things for the sake of it. They get a few things at Christmas and their birthdays. They get new clothes when they need them and at the start of each season. There are no cupboards of make-up or beauty supplies. There are more than enough towels for each member of our family, but only one set of linen for each bed. There is one vacuum cleaner, one broom, one mop. There is not only nowhere else to PUT extra of anything, but there is no need for it either. And to me there is still too much stuff in this tiny house. And with four children and two adults and so much noise and chaos every day (and night!), I need calm and order and quiet in some aspect of my life and I feel I can get those instantly to some degree with less things and a tidier home.

I started being drawn to Instagrammers with clean, simple spaces. Those magic “people you might like” suggestions that Pinterest and Instagram do are amazing – they always get it right and soon I found myself following a whole bunch of new people who loved their homes, who lived with less and who were happy. One day I saw a comment on someone’s Instagram about a book called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. I’m pretty sure you’ve heard of it – hasn’t everyone by now? Well I hadn’t at the time and so Googled it. And read review after review of it – I was a little obsessed. In fact, I probably didn’t need to read the book because the reviews and constant articles or blog posts about it told me all I needed to know. But I wanted the whole context so I bought an eBook version and read it during Annika’s feed/nap times. Honestly, the last time I completed a whole book that wasn’t a children’s book was before any of my children were born. I haven’t read anything – completely – in almost nine years. That is a whole other issue! I lapped that book up. I read every page. I eye-rolled so hard and questioned her mental health several times throughout it (and also mine – I was reading a book on TIDYING? What was wrong with me?), but sometimes even the most blindingly obvious things in life can be missed and in this case, it took a book to tell me that I should only keep things in my home that bring me joy. How simple and obvious is that? And yet… I realised I wasn’t really living that way. I started her method immediately.
I didn’t stop at the contents of my home (to be fair, I’m still going, but with our home all upside down in parts due to our cabin being torn down a few months ago in preparation for our house extension, I have to hit the pause button on some areas). I felt the need to apply the konmari method to other areas of my life. For each of the new people I started following on Instagram, I unfollowed about 10 more who didn’t inspire me or who started to bug me. I said no to invites to things I wasn’t interested in. I stopped blogging for ages because it was a huge chore. I even turned down all work – even crafts for Kidspot and other offers – because making the kids do forced crafts for photos wasn’t bringing them OR me joy. Instead, we started exploring more of our area on the weekends with bush walks, we got obsessed with nature and creating things with it. We realised it was ok to do absolutely nothing some weekends except watch movies or sport and let the kids run crazy outside all day and play computer games or YouTube videos at night till really late. Because sometimes, being ignored by my children and ignoring them for hours on end doing frivolous things brings me joy.

I even got rid of niggling thoughts that were stressing me out unnecessarily; the main one being my lack of career. All my life growing up, all I wanted to be was a news journalist. I became one. When that got too heavy, scary and depressing and I craved the lighter side of journalism, I knew magazines were for me and that’s where I ended up. Once babies came along, I watched that life and the determined, ambitious me, drift further and further away. Ideas for various things would pop into my mind and ultimately be brought to life by other people. I watched shops start up, business ideas flourish and careers I’d maybe have considered had the time been right, all be taken up by someone else. My mind became muddled and I didn’t know what I wanted to do anymore. I still don’t. I have NO IDEA what I want to do with my working life when the time comes to go back to it. It’s a horrible feeling and a new one. So I recently decided to not worry about it anymore. Not right now, anyway. There is no need for me to work. We are incredibly lucky in that respect. Steve has a good wage and Annika is still young. I never wanted to work outside the home when my kids were little so why worry about it now? Why not be grateful I can enjoy this time time with them. Why not put that energy into enjoying being AT home? After all, playing house – buying, renovating, decorating, living, being around the home – has been my obsession since forever. So I might as well take this time to revel in it – in those little things like nice-smelling, homemade cleaning products, tidy, organised spaces, edible and pretty gardens, play spaces for the kids, designing and organising our extension… These things are bringing me joy, so I’m sticking with them.

You know what doesn’t bring me joy sometimes? Instagram. This week I just stopped using it. Not for ever; maybe not even for another day, but I just couldn’t stand being on there anymore seeing the same images, the same selling of souls for free gifts and money, the same waffling tones that make you think you’re doing motherhood wrong if you don’t write in poetry the fact your kids ate breakfast or tied their shoes. The same sameness. Social media is a funny thing. For something that inspires so much and brings me in contact with great people and ideas, it completely, utterly does my head in at times. From watching small businesses get ripped off by bigger companies (I’m looking at you, Kmart), to seeing a product I love become a trend and done to death in a matter of months or even weeks hurts my brain. I’m now even seeing this “less is more” lifestyle, the KonMari book, the simplicity and beauty of little things become “trendy” on Instagram and it makes me question every thought I have now when I decide I like something: am I liking it because I like it or because I have seen it so much, I assume I’m meant to like it? Am I doing this because others are? Or because I want to? What is harder to deal with is when you do it BEFORE it hits the “trend” bandwagon and then you feel like everyone will assume you jumped on it too. That is the most annoying one… Oh no wait! The most annoying aspect of it all is seeing people spend a lot of money buying a lot of new things in order to live with less. Seriously, if you’re doing that, you’re doing it very wrong and for the wrong reasons! The truth is, I don’t want my home, my kids clothes, my activities or my lifestyle to look like everyone else’s. But sometimes they do. I am guilty of having similar kids clothes, plants or home accessories and adventures or activities to many, many other Instagrammers. Because when you find like-minded people with similar tastes/ideals/style as your own in a handy app on your phone, whether you’re the copier or the copied, if you keep peeking into the tiny square windows of their lives, sooner or later, it’s all going to look the same. Your real life is filled with different types of people with different interests and styles and values. On social media you can pick and choose and seek out people just like you. The downside is it becomes a very concentrated dose of “you” in so many forms and there is such a thing as too much of a good thing! Maybe I just need to get over that. And maybe my love/hate relationship with Instagram is a post for another day.. Right now, I have to sleep! I do wish my sleep pattern was not of the “living with less” variety, but alas, it is right now. A shame, really, because sleep most definitely does bring me joy and is not something I could ever break up with…

{All pictures are scenes around my home. Images by Belinda Graham for The Happy Home}

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