The un-sparking of joy. KonMari update 6 months on.

Ok, I am calling BS on the Marie Kondo method. After my joy filled rose tinted post several months ago about organizing my entire life I need to come clean about my fall from the organizational wagon. When the impossibly well presented Marie Kondo popped up onto my Netflix watch list in February I looked around at my living room which was strewn with various neon coloured bits of plastic and eyed the bulging drawers I daren’t open and felt decidedly non joyous. This sweet lady was offering to spark joy in my life and all I needed to do was throw out all of my things in return. Simple, easy, I. can. do this.

So I drank the Koolaid, I immediately binge watched the entire show and decided I needed to get my life in order or I risked becoming one of those people who hoards newspapers and becomes the centre of a television show documenting how I was crushed to death by my lifelong collection of greeting cards (it’s a problem, I keep them for no reason). No, this would not be my fate. Everything needed to go and it needed to go now.  So off I went with my bin bag (that’s garbage bag for you North American’s) and began holding every piece of clothing I owned hoping for the elusive feeling of “joy”. Unsurprisingly, much of my pre-pregnancy closet did not spark joy so into the bag it went and off to the donation centre. I earnestly held towels, ornaments, shampoos and other random household items in my search for joy and most of them found their way into the bag too. A lot of times the notion of joy gave me pause. Honestly, how can a towel spark joy? It is necessary but I don’t have a strange magic feeling when I hold it. What about my wireless skin coloured bras? it offers comfort yes, but joy? no. Soon I had my husband involved and a mountain of bags ready to leave my house. I was an organizational wizard, neigh a goddess. Why hadn’t I done this sooner? I recommended the book to everyone who would listen to me. I carefully took pictures of my drawers and promised myself and Kondo that I would NEVER fall back into my old ways.

marie kondo perfect shirt fold
Warning: this is an unrealistic, Utopian ideal.

Well it was all sunshine and lollipops for a few weeks. I carefully folded everything into strange triangles and put them into my drawers. I blogged about how amazing I felt and sang the methods praises. I must have been nauseating. But then things inevitably went awry. I must preface this by stating that I am a closet messy person. My house is organized and tidy on the surface but I have a nasty habit of sweeping stuff off counters and into the nearest drawer. It started small. Cables escaped their carefully organized box prisons. Bras were shoved into dividers rather than being carefully laid out. clothes were pushed into drawers in haste with the 0.5 seconds I had to myself.  Socks lay divergent on my bedroom chair. Folding the laundry became an EVEN WORSE job as I now had to take ages folding everything so bloody small. Perhaps a pivotal moment in the sullying of the Kondo method came when my 4 year old decided she wanted to dress herself daily and pulled every item of clothing out of her drawers. I could not face refolding. I couldn’t do it. I’m sorry Kondo but I have had my awakening. This was not sparking joy.

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She totally sparks joy but the mess that her new found style expression leaves does not.

So has my life turned into disarray and a joyless void since I stopped following the KonMari method? In a word, no. Folding and putting away my laundry, whilst not speedy, does not take 10 business days. I don’t want to cry in the fetal position every time my kid opens a drawer and spills the contents onto the floor with no regard for the hours of careful folding I have put in. It wasn’t a completely wasted exercise though. I have become a little more mindful of putting things back in their place, but I’m realistic. Sometimes you’ve gotta throw everything in the nearest drawer because you have company coming over. Sometimes you have things that just don’t have a “place” and end up moving between drawers. Sometimes All the time you don’t have time to fold your underwear into neat little squares. I’m not saying that her ideas are without merit, millions of people have bought her book and found a calmer life through her method but for the average, busy mum it is just a level of organization that is simply unattainable.

So there you have it. I throw my hand up and admit that I’m a messy person. I’ve been waiting 33 years to become a proper grown up who knows how to fold a fitted sheet and cared about folding underwear but it’s just not happening you guys. Will I ever be a grown up? But you know what? It doesn’t matter, what sparks joy for me is a relatively tidy home that is a place of calm but where you’re not afraid to get comfy or put your feet on the couch. Just don’t look in the drawers.

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Musings On Friendship In Your 30s.

It seems like your 30s are a decade of many questions and mysteries. Why are my veins sticking out? Is that a grey hair? Why don’t my shorts fit? What do I wear? How do I parent? Why can’t I sleep despite being perpetually exhausted? But one of the trickiest mysteries is why is it so blinking hard to make friends?

Friendships throughout the years

Humans are by nature pack animals. We seek out others to make tribes with and have done for millennia. Taking a look at our own lives, making friends throughout the years never seemed that much of a challenge. Lets go back in time for a moment. In the school yard you were a kid who had no idea who they are or what they wanted yet making friends was as simple as sharing a bag of crisps or playing a game of Little Mermaid. In Comprehensive school you got separated from your primary school pals and formed new bonds over the Bunsen burner which led into going to the park and chasing boys after school and then your first nights out on Bacardi Breezers and ten quid in your pocket. University saw you move away from home and into halls of residence with the giddy sense of freedom yet the responsibilities of adulthood being so far away. People from all over the country were thrown into the same situation and just like that you fell into easy friendships with room mates, course mates and randoms you met at the union. Who remembers waking up on a Sunday morning with a dozen friend requests and multiple tagged pictures? It was easy, it was fun, it was…natural. Then in a blink of an eye university was over and yet again you moved, either back home or away for a job. This seems to be where those carefree, easily formed friendships got a little trickier. Now you were an adult and probably had a job that required at least an iota of professionalism. New people at work needed to be vetted before friending on Facebook or asking them for a drink after work. Welcome to the minefield of adult friendship forming.

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Behold the wonders of early 2000s fashion. Side belts, kilts and halter tops. Wait is that a..TIE?

I am an adult now, I am important and serious.

I think that a big change we go through with our friendships as we age is the fact that we develop a stronger sense of who we are, understand what we need (and don’t need) and lose some of that carefree childlike attitude that allows us to talk to practically anyone who crosses our path and ask them to join in our imaginary game. Add to that mix the lack of organic meetings (like school or uni), partners and children and it seems like an impossible feat to make new friends once you hit your third decade on the planet. Everyone is just so freaking busy and not to mention the fact that they might be plants from your boss to befriend you only to access your Facebook and divulge its most hideous content to your superiors resulting in your termination and social disgrace (Okay maybe that’s a bit dramatic and my Facebook doesn’t have anything THAT incriminating on it but I’m definitely more wary than I was many moons ago in the union when everyone and anyone made the cut to my friend list).

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Taking a short break from annoying absolutely everyone by retelling stories from school.

I moved across the world when I was 23 and left behind all my friends which was torture. I haven’t ever been a flavour of the week type of friend. I chose my mates carefully and have been friends with my girls since school. I love them more than anything. Each one makes me laugh and I wouldn’t want to imagine life without them. I’m a very lucky girl to have them. Now if they’d just move to Canada already! My best friend in the world, Charlotte, and I have been friends for almost our entire lives. I mean it started off a little rocky between us but a teacher forced me to sit next to her one year and the rest is history. I still chat to her practically every day and when we’re together its like we’ve never been apart. We have millions of in jokes and stories from our childhood and perhaps why I find making friends at this point in life is that lack of history. There’s something so special about having your lives intertwined for so long you can’t remember them not being there. Now just because you didn’t go to school together doesn’t mean you’ll never be amazing friends. I will say that I’ve got some amazing friends here in Canada who I cannot imagine being without. Many of them I’ve been friends with for years now so we’re building a new history together. My closest friend here keeps me sane, makes me laugh till my sides hurt and loves her wine as much as I do.

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My Swansea girls. Not to brag, but they are literally the greatest (and most gorgeous) girls in the world.

Let’s hear it for Mum Tinder

A major problem in your 30s is the lack of organic friend meeting opportunities. You’re probably done with school and don’t go out as much unless it’s with your kids and you spend an abnormal amount of time chasing them around persuading them to go to the bathroom and not much time looking like the carefree, approachable perspective friend you hope to be. I joined the Peanut App (think mum Tinder but way, WAY more wholesome) and I’ve been blown away by how many 30 somethings seem to struggle to find friendships that are meaningful. So many women say they’re lonely or find it hard to get out and meet people that it seems somewhat pandemic. I’ve decided to put myself out there during this maternity leave and I’ve made it my mission to say yes to anyone who wants to meet (within reason of course, I do not wish to be made into a lampshade or have my organs harvested and sold on the dark web) and to take a chance on asking fellow mums out on play dates or for a drink. It’s actually been an incredible experience and I’m amazed of the response you get when you just put yourself out there. I’ve met some incredible women who I have so much fun with. Sure it wasn’t the most organic way to meet but it works!

Another reason is that we’re busier now than ever with careers and families, but I remember my parents always having people around or going to their friends’ houses for dinners and parties. This left me wondering if it is a generational thing? Or is it the advent of the smartphone and how we now message people for our friend fix rather than taking a chance and ringing the doorbell to see if they’re in for a chat? It absolutely blows me away that no one just calls around their friend’s house for a coffee or a wine on a whim but it is a somewhat military style operation that must be organized and reorganized a month in advance. Why are we so scared of inconveniencing people? I guarantee you that many of your friends are probably sitting at home wishing someone would just ring the bell and take the freaking pressure off of all. this. damn. planning. I fear spontaneity is an art lost on many millennials.

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Some 80s frienship flavour. My beautiful Mummy and one of her besties, Kim. Oh and that’s me.

FEAR

Maybe the real reason that making friends as you get older has much to do with fear. Fear of not liking other people, fear of not being liked, fear of being too much or too little, fear of offending people, fear of being made into a skin suit (this fear is REAL when you are meeting internet people guys…just me?). Maybe if we could go back to that carefree child we once were who danced with abandon in public and thought nothing of pretending to be a cat with a perfect stranger then we would find it a lot easier to connect with other people as we age (or find ourselves the subject of an unflattering newsreport).

There seems to be many reasons as to why your 30s seems like some kind of friendship black hole whether it be lack of natural circumstances to meet, being cooped up covered in baby sick and barely functioning, or just plain old fear. What we need to do is take a chance on friendship, put ourselves out there and start making new stories with new friends that soon become old friends. That way you can be part of the biggest clique in the nursing home (on Wednesdays we wear support stockings).

Love,

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Are You Truly Listening? 6 Steps To Become A Great Listener

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply” Stephen Covey

Hands up, who loves to give advice? Guillltttttttyyyyy! We all love to be the hero sometimes. OK, another quiz, hands up who loves to be right in an argument? Guilllllttttyyy as charged again. I mean come on, who doesn’t love to throw down an amazing point in an argument that silences your opponent? It’s human nature to fluff our feathers in conflict. It’s also in our nature to take on the role of savior and sage adviser. But did you know that being the agony aunt or the victor actually makes you a less successful communicator? I came across this quote a couple of years ago and it was one of those things that has stuck with me ever since. “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply”. It’s a simple concept isn’t it, listening to someone? We all do it throughout our every day life and many of us give ourselves the title of “great listener” without giving much thought to what is actually means to listen. When I talk about listening I don’t mean merely switching your lugholes on. I mean REALLY listening and not just say “yeah” while you’re painting your nails on the phone or sitting there waiting for a gap in the conversation to offer some groundbreaking advice that will also award you with the title of “wise one”. So few of us genuinely practice active listening yet we believe whole heatedly that we are “great listeners”. It seems to me that we all have our two cents that we want to add to a conversation and part of being human is a desire, no matter how small, to help and if we’re really honest a small part of us that wants to be right. How many times have you had an argument with someone and sat there poised to respond? Mouth slightly open waiting for your chance to butt in. How many times have you thought that you know just what to say to your friend who is in crisis? You’ve got the perfect anecdote of a time you experienced a similar problem and want to tell them how you overcame your challenge and how they can too. Now I’m not saying that it’s wrong to give advice. Sometimes our experiences that we share with others help them exponentially and sometimes people genuinely want to hear what to do. However, sometimes people just want to spill their guts and not hear what you would do in their position. Because it’s just that, it’s not you in their position, it’s them.

This concept of actually listening opened my eyes (or should I say ears) to a new way of understanding people and managing conflict. When we’re in a heated debate or argument we naturally think one, two or three steps ahead, eager to get our point across. We aren’t actually listening to the person offering an alternative point of view and therefore our arguments never go anywhere apart from shouting territory as we’re only listening to our own internal monologue. I often tell my students that they need to turn off their own minds and fully listen to the person they are having trouble with. It is only when we stop and truly, honestly listen that we gain a new perspective.

Sympathy V.S Empathy

Many people think that two two words mean the same thing when in actual fact they’re very different. To sympathize with someone means to feel sorry for their situation and feel sad for their sorrow. This is a very superficial response to someone’s problems. Of course you will feel bad when your friend is in a bad place but pitying them doesn’t equal understanding them. Instead of sympathizing we want to aim to EMPATHIZE. When we empathize with someone we truly listen to their perspective and understand their struggle from their point of view. We put ourselves in their shoes.

How can you become a great listener?

  1. Give the speaker your full attention

    This means putting your phone down or sitting in a quiet place if you’re talking on the phone. If you’re face to face, turn your body towards the speaker and look them in the eye. Show that you’re giving them your full attention.

  2. Clear your mind of your own thoughts

    Yes, I know you have a to do list that is huge and your own problems but try and put that to one side and just listen to the speaker. Give them space in your mind and let their words sink in. Don’t think what you would do in the situation or how you would react. Remember this isn’t you, it’s them.

  3. Don’t interrupt

    This is simple etiquette when you’re having a conversation but I still cannot believe how many people jump in before you’re done talking with their own quip. This is classic listening to respond rather than listening to understand. We’re all guilty of this type of listening, especially in an argument. You need to take pause and think about what the person said and how to respond. See my 5 second rule to stop the interrupting habit.

  4. Repeat what they said

    You know when you meet someone and it’s recommended that you repeat their name so you remember it? Well this falls along the same line as that (full disclosure I am awful at names so any tips please leave them below). If you repeat what the other person has said to you then you can fully take it on board and internalize it as if it was your own thought. It also lets the other person know that you’ve listened to what they’ve said as you are able to repeat it back.

  5. Count to 5 before you respond

    This is something I picked up to help me not snap back at people when things get heated. It is also a power play if you’re trying to get more information out of a person as people like to fill silences (but this is not what we’re aiming for here). I sit and count to 5 in my head. This gives the other person’s words time to wash over me and helps stop an automated response. You’ll be amazed at how you see things more clearly when you give yourself time to digest the other person’s thoughts.

  6. Just listen and don’t give advice

    Unless you are asked directly for help, just listen to the other person and tell them that you understand how they feel. Offer support but not advice. There is nothing worse than unsolicited advice (am I right mums?) but support is always welcomed.

These tips for listening can be applied in many contexts from debates, to lending an ear to a friend to conflict. So next time that you’re in a position to listen to someone, try truly and actively listening. Put your own ego aside and actually take on board what they’re saying and I guarantee you’ll be amazed by the results. The world would be a better place if we listened more and talked less. Wow, all this yoga I’ve been doing is really rubbing off on me. I’ll be scrubbing floors at an Ashram and taking a vow of silence before you know it.

So, are you an active listener?

Love,

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