Despite having so many luxuries and so much stuff, I wasn’t happy.
Back when I was a child I was spoiled. On Christmas and birthdays, presents would be piled to the rafters, and my parents bought me whatever I desired throughout the rest of the year.
The trouble was, I always wanted more, and that pattern continued into my adult life. I also had a real problem with letting go of things from my past.
When I started minimising, I felt an amazing sense of freedom, but something else started to happen as well – I no longer desired the latest smartphone, or a hundred books, or a game room filled to the brim like the collectors I admired on Youtube.
It’s also become virtually impossible to tell family and friends what I want for Christmas or my birthday because, truthfully, there’s very little I desire.
If you’d asked me that question two years before, I wanted so much that it was hard for me to choose what to ask for. The things I didn’t get, I could find in the January sales.
But now I realise that I never needed a bigger house, or any of the other luxuries I craved.
The more I’ve downsized my collections, the more I’ve realised I didn’t need a bigger house or more storage. A bigger house would just mean more maintenance and time wasted. And I’ve never been a party animal.
The reason I was so unhappy was because I wasn’t challenging myself.
I was living in mediocrity, staying at the same level I always had, doing the same job I’d always done, and was content letting my husband take care of the important stuff. After all, I was looked after and fine, so why change anything?
I soon learned just how dangerous that mindset was.
One day, he was driving us to work as usual, and we had a near miss with another car who pulled out on us from the left. As he swerved to avoid it, another car was coming at full speed from up ahead. I started screaming and my life flashed through my brain at a thousand miles an hour.
Mainly all the stuff I hadn’t done.
If my husband hadn’t had super-sonic reflexes that morning, we wouldn’t be here today and this blog never would’ve started.
For the rest of the day, I felt shaky and couldn’t stop thinking about what would happen if I died without accomplishing what I wanted in life. I also came to the sickening conclusion that I’ve always been looked after, and if anything happened to him, I would be as helpless as a child.
Life can be taken away in an instant. Dreams extinguished along with it.
Minimalism has revealed that I don’t need stuff to make me happy. I need to be able to stand on my own two feet.
I need to be fulfilled. I need to help others. I need to become a full-fledged author and a successful counsellor. I need to make an impression on the world – not my stuff.
That’s why when my husband asked what I wanted for Christmas this year, I was delighted when he suggested that he pay some money towards my training rather than something else that will end up forgotten on a shelf.
I was also more than happy when, for my birthday, my mother paid for my hair to be done. She said she would rather get me something useful than something I would shove in a drawer.
After a year of feeling misunderstood as a minimalist, I can’t even begin to express how much that meant to me.
Now, I also want to say that it’s totally OK to enjoy giving gifts at Christmas, or to ask for a physical possession, as long as it’s something that’s well thought out, and will be loved for a long time, rather than something that will give a quick dopamine hit and end up in a charity shop by summer.
What I want is to invest in my future so that I can be fulfilled and support myself and my family. I want to be of value to others and to enjoy myself in the process.
Does that mean giving up every physical thing I enjoy? No. Of course not. And I’m not ungrateful when people do buy me things because that would make me into an asshat. Being ungrateful for how others choose to show their love is also a surefire way to end up miserable and frustrated.
Minimalism is more than just about decluttering your home and your schedule. It can also apply to people and relationships in your life that are causing you stress or harm. So, this week’s post is all about how to deal with toxic people.
You know the kind of person; they walk into a room and the atmosphere becomes dark and oppressive, almost as if someone sucked the light and energy out of it. They whine and complain, moan and berate. Punch and stamp. The world is a terrible place. They’re always a victim. It’s always your fault.
But I’m not talking about people who’ve had a bad day once or twice, have a moan and say something they later regret. I’m talking about the people who constantly whine, complain, talk about others behind their backs, take without gratitude, and never ever give back.
I’m talking about people who raise their fist and use fear to gain control over others.
Personally, I don’t like the word ‘toxic’ for these people. Rather, I see them as damaged individuals who may or may nor be conscious of the effect they’re having on others. It’s the behaviour that results from that damage that’s toxic.
Please understand that I’m not giving these people a free pass to abuse or belittle others – there is no excuse whatsoever and it’s not acceptable in the slightest. I’m also not asking you to feel sorry for them. I’m simply trying to shed some light about what’s really going on with the so called ‘toxic’ individuals.
For example, a person who spent their whole lives being smacked around by their alcoholic father might go on to abuse others in the same way, or become an alcoholic themselves (I realise that not all abused people go on to abuse!). But the person with that behaviour was once a pure soul who came out of their mother like everyone else.
These kinds of people appear in all walks of life. They’re parents, brothers, sisters, children, friends, colleagues, and people in authority positions.
At best, they make you feel annoyed and fed up. At worst, they start to have a huge impact on your health and mental resources, or even pose a danger to your life.
It doesn’t matter how serene or minimalist your life is behind closed doors, if you constantly hang around people who drain you in such ways, your life will always feel like a hellish whirlwind and you’ll constantly feel exhausted.
But how do you deal with that kind of person without resorting to nastiness or reacting to their behaviour in the exact same way that you despise from them?
I know the feeling; you want to finally say something. To take action. But you worry about feeling guilty, and perhaps hating yourself. Maybe you’re scared.
The reality of having those feelings becomes even more of a worry when you consider that many of these damaged people are also manipulators who know all the right buttons to press to make you feel that way and forgive them , time and time again.
The alternative, is you play tit-for-tat. Perhaps you shout at them and call them even worse things than they called you. Maybe you threaten them with not doing favours for them in the future, or withhold something from them in the hope that they will change.
THIS NEVER WORKS. Reactions such as promises to change will likely be based on fear and/or control. People cannot change overnight. They have to want to change themselves, and it takes many months or years.
Here’s the thing: it sounds crazy but you can still forgive these people without hanging around them and further forfeiting your well-being. You can let go of these people while still remaining a friendly and caring person.
You see, when we hold onto negative feelings for too long; hate, upset, frustration, fury, sadness, despair, helplessness, it becomes emotional clutter that weighs even more heavily than an excess of physical possessions. Eventually, you can no longer function.
But you don’t have to hold onto to all of those feelings. Here’s some ways to deal with those people who are wearing you down, without playing tit-for-tat.
Gradually reduce the time you spend hanging around these people. Or massively cut down on the time you spend responding to them on social media or other means.
On the more extreme end of the spectrum, cut them out of your life completely. This might be the only option if the person is extremely mentally and/or physically abusive or has worn you down over many years with no possibility that they will change.
If you really must be around them, frequently attempt to change the topic of conversation to something more positive. Refuse to engage in negative discussion, especially if it involves bringing others down or going against your own values.
Encourage them to be positive by being positive yourself. Be kind and friendly to them at all times. Be a positive influence in their life. This doesn’t always work and you might find that they re-gravitate towards more negative people, instead. Remember, kindness doesn’t mean you have to accept abuse!
Raise your standards of the kind of people you allow into your life. Many times I’ve heard people say “Why is it I only seem to attract assholes?”, “Why don’t people ever treat me with respect?”. If that sounds like you, consider the Law of Attraction. If you’re negative yourself, orbit around people with toxic behaviour, and you see yourself as that’s all you’re worthy of, I can guarantee without a doubt that you will attract more of the same . The universe will send more people like that your way, and it won’t stop. Manipulators and other damaged people will sense your weakness and take advantage, even if they, themselves, don’t realise they’re doing it.
Simply accept them as they are but put boundaries in place. This doesn’t mean tolerating disrespect and abuse, but understanding why they are the person they are and seeing things from their point of view. Show them warmth and understanding, but have boundaries in place to protect yourself. For example, you will gladly listen to them but under no circumstances will you join in with bad mouthing others, and you will not pick up their messes for them. You are not on beck and call 24/7. Recognise that unless they have a severe mental illness, they are, ultimately, responsible for themselves and their actions. Again – you do not have to put up with any kind of abuse.
If you’re deeply worried about a person and what they might do without you, or they make threats of suicide, either call the emergency services to protect them, or provide them with helpline numbers and services they can contact. As tempting as it might be, try not to play the part of the rescuer unless it’s absolutely necessary. Use common sense and trust your judgement, but don’t be manipulated.
For those of you who aren’t sure what to look out for in a manipulator, some signs are:
threats of suicide if you leave them or don’t do as they ask
Sudden bouts of aggression or dramatic weeping when they’re denied something or don’t feel in control.
controlling behaviour e.g controlling who you talk to
constant phonecalls/texts/social media communications
saying or doing things to make you feel guilty, either by saying something to make you feel sorry for them or by buying expensive gifts.
Please take what I say as a guide only. How you choose to deal with the people in your life will depend on many factors including: your situation,how long it’s been going on, mental health, the ages of the people involved, their relationship to you, and your beliefs.
Whatever you take away from this post, let it be this: you are a worthy human being who deserves love and respect. Learn to love yourself and don’t let others devalue you.
That being said, if you frequently suffer from depressive thoughts and feelings, or can’t seem to pull yourself out of a slump, talk to your GP, or consider therapy such as counselling.
Now, if you’re reading this with two fingers down your throat pretending to vomit, I urge you to consider why that is. Do you feel vulnerable?
It’s hard to admit but it makes me feel vulnerable whenever a sappy scene plays in a movie or game. I sometimes recoil and make immature comments or start acting silly in general.
It used to make me feel vulnerable when my husband acted sweet and romantic towards me (he still does, although I’m now much more mature and accepting about it).
Why? Because it might expose my feelings. Because others might ridicule or judge them, and therefore, ridicule and judge me.
But why, in a post about dealing with ‘toxic’ people, am I telling you this?
Because by becoming better in tune with who you really are and what you really want out of life, you can start to recognise and deal with the toxicity around you.
With that, I leave you with a few questions to think about.
Who are you and what do you stand for?
Who and what do you want in your life and why?
How do you want to spend your time and who with? Why?
How do you want to be treated? Why?
What kind of person don’t you want in your life? Why not?
How don’t you want to be treated? Why not?
How don’t you want to spend your time? Why is that?
What’s the worst way you can imagine yourself or anyone else behaving? Why?
If you allow yourself to be treated as less than human, why is that? Are you scared of being alone? Do you feel unworthy? Why?
You may have noticed that the above questions contain a tonne of ‘whys’. So many they might just be driving you nuts. The reason is because without a ‘why’ it’s next to impossible to understand yourself and others. Without a ‘why’ you’re more likely to give answers without much thought. It makes it easy to avoid difficult truths and feelings.
Remember: never settle for less than you’re worth (you’re always worth far more than you think) and always be kind.
This week, I finally completed a videogame I’ve had for years called Alien Isolation. For years I would make a certain amount of progress, only to get stuck, scared out of my wits, and quit.
It’s only in the past few months I plucked up the courage to restart it after a friend said, “don’t let your fears rule you”. I realise how cheesy that sounds, but that’s exactly what I was doing. I was acting the same way I used to in real life.
In the end, I pushed through that fear, and my failures when the alien killed me again and again. And in doing so, I finally reached the end credits. I was successful.
But most people don’t keep on pushing through when they fail. Like I once did with Alien Isolation, they give up at the first few hurdles. So many people stay stagnant.
They won’t go for that career opportunity, or start a new business, or ask that guy/girl out, or attempt to learn a new skill, or travel somewhere new, or stand up for their beliefs.
Life is tedious but safe. Unfulfilling yet secure.
At work I stayed in the same old position for ten years, despite many opportunities for growth. Why? Because I was too terrified of failure to try anything else. My life was on autopilot. Go to work, get paid, buy new shiny stuff to feel more alive, dream of winning the lottery, dream of writing, rinse and repeat.
Because of turbulence in my life as a young adult, I felt that I should be grateful for even having a job. My mother often drilled the last part into me.
The message was clear: Stay where you are. Don’t try anything else. Don’t push your luck. Don’t even think about it.
And I didn’t. I fought the symptoms of undiagnosed chronic illness, and when I finally got diagnosed, I thought, This is it. My cards have been dealt. Now I need to fight to keep going, to keep my job. It was the first job which I genuinely loved (and still do).
Supporting students was highly rewarding, and I grew over the years. I became a better TA, better able to build relationships, gained more empathy than ever before, and a wider view of the world.
But there came a point where I started longing for more. Dreaming about creating content that would help and inspire adults. Fantasising about becoming an author. About helping people with their life problems. And I stayed like that for many more years.
Just dreaming and wishing.
Whenever I saw somebody else become successful, it was like looking through a telescope from across a vast, raging ocean. Success was something that only happened to gifted people. Whenever students left the school with their grades and a blank slate, I longed to go back to the past.
If only I had chosen the right courses (journalism or creative writing). If only I hadn’t been so scared to pursue what I really wanted. If only I didn’t have a chronic illness.
All of that was faulty thinking based on limiting beliefs I had at the time: That I was now too old to chase my dream. That I was a crap writer and had nothing worthwhile to say. That I was dumb and didn’t deserve better.
The truth is, if I had made different choices, and if I was free of illness, I wouldn’t have learned the things I have. I wouldn’t have met my husband, and most likely, would be a completely different person. I wouldn’t be writing my first book which is all about coping with chronic illness, and I probably wouldn’t have discovered minimalism and grown as a person, so I wouldn’t be writing this blog.
It doesn’t matter what stage you’re at in life, or how old you are, you choose how you play the cards you have been dealt in life. You choose if to keep playing or surrender your hand.
It’s only over the past year I’ve wrestled back control of the steering wheel and have a clear aim. Minimalism helped clear my vision. And once I had a clear view of what I wanted and how I was going to get there, I just went for it.
I made this blog and carried on writing even when the writing gremlin told me I was crap. I applied for a BACP counselling course, even though the sneering voice of self-doubt piped up, Pfft. You? You’ve spent years on the wrong path. What makes you think you can help others to find theirs?
I could have listened to that voice and not applied for the course. But I remembered that it was because I had gone down the ‘wrong’ path that I came to the revelation I did.
It’s the people I met along the way. The lessons I’ve learned by teaching others, and by overcoming challenges in my relationships. Relentless studying and reading every book on success and communication I could get my hands on.
Slowly but surely, as I kept reading, applying what I learned, and clearing more clutter from my home, my old limiting beliefs fell away.
I had proved that I could become minimalist, even though I was a hoarder for most of my life. Why couldn’t I work for myself when there are people who have overcome massive adversity and still achieved their dream?
Reading about some of these people, I realised there was always a common thread. They all had a clear vision of what they wanted. And they all worked their asses off to get there. They all kept pulling themselves out of the quicksand. They stopped drowning and kept kicking their legs until they started swimming.
It turns out that some of the world’s most successful people had also been told they would get nowhere in life. Often by teachers, other authority figures, and by the attitudes of the people they were surrounded by at the time.
Arnold Schwarzenegger’s parents noticed his affinity to physical labour and suggested that he could become a furniture maker, or a mechanic. But what he wanted was to become a famous body-builder. His friends at school thought he was weird for his strong desire to go to America, because he talked about it all the time.
Do you think any of that stopped him?
Can you imagine if Arnold had played it safe, instead? If he had only done what others expected him to do?
One of my favourite authors, Bryan Hutchinson, struggled throughout his education, and was told he would never be a writer. He was even humiliated in front of a whole class once by a tutor who didn’t believe in his abilities. Eventually, he pushed through his limiting self-beliefs and the remarks from his past. Now he owns a successful blog and has published several books.
Once you start believing, and you put in the hard work, the life you envisioned materialises bit by bit, like the sun after a heavy storm.
I decided I was never again going to let myself be told that my dreams were ‘unrealistic’, or that I was being ‘ungrateful’. Of course, I’m grateful. Gratitude is important. The problem was, I took being grateful as meaning to always stick with what you have.
I never took risks because ‘realistically’ I could fail and look like a fool. I could see people saying “told you so,” with a satisfied smirk. I could see readers making fun of my writing. But being realistic and safe was making me miserable and unfulfilled.
Not too long ago, I put all talented people, or people in a higher position than me, on a pedestal. I know it sounds ridiculous, but I was so fascinated by these people that I saw them like a celebrity. In my eyes, I saw a mystical human before me and felt privileged just to be around them.
You can imagine how I saw myself.
I didn’t see the seeds they had planted in the past. All the years of grafting and climbing the ladder, while feeling just as insecure as most other people.
After chatting with these people for a while, I started to notice how different their attitude was. They didn’t complain or hang around in cliques. But they avoided negative people and meaningless tasks as sure as a cat avoids showers.
I was one of those negative people, and I didn’t even realise it. So it was no wonder these more successful people didn’t talk to me for too long.
You attract who you are.
You’ll notice that gossipers tend to hang around and attract other gossips, that toxic people are never far apart. But the successful ones are well out of the way, hanging with positive people and doing whatever it takes to live the life they want.
These people still treat everyone with respect, even if they’d rather be elsewhere in that moment. They understand the importance of positive relationships, and that what they say reflects who they are or who they are becoming.
I’m not talking about people who are in a successful position, but who then abuse that power to make others feel small. You could argue that they’re not successful because their power plays come from a place of deep insecurity and fear. They haven’t mastered their fears and perceived shortcomings, so project them onto others.
Truly successful people are living the life that they want to live, never stop growing, are humble, and treat everyone with respect. They aren’t perfect, because nobody is perfect. But they know that the best way to live a sub-par life is to bring others down, brag about their life, and stop learning once they’ve reached a certain point.
Notice how I never said that successful people are all walking around with high-paying jobs and a briefcase? That’s because it’s nothing but a stereotype. An idea sold to you via the media, through marketing, and by the rest of society.
Success isn’t about having a certain job and wearing a custom-fit suit. It isn’t the amount of stuff you own, or the amount of money you have in the bank. It isn’t the amount of friends you have or the sexual conquests you’ve had.
In fact, there are some obscenely rich and popular people out there who are drowning in misery and can’t quite figure out why.
Success is living the lifestyle you want to live, with the job you want, with quality friends, and continuing to grow as a person.
If happiness, to you, is working a 9-5 while voluntarily working at homeless shelters, and that’s what you do with your life, you’ve been successful.
If it’s about having a happy marriage, and you have many joyful married years behind you, you’ve been successful.
If you’re a stay-at-home parent who values raising children, and you have happy kids, you’ve been successful.
Be careful not to mix happiness up with mediocrity- that is staying safe and settling for less than your potential.
It’s important to know that there are many areas of success which add up to a whole: job, marital, friendship, financial, parental, spiritual…
And you can be successful in as many areas as you want. Not perfect. Successful.
Owning a big house just because you can is meaningless. Owning the latest gadgets wears off fast. Wearing a suit to work every day and earning hundreds of thousands a year is meaningless if you’ve got no plan but to chase more.
People who tie happiness to possessions, or success to a suit and briefcase are destined to become mere shells of themselves.
Some people get caught in the trap of waiting to become a certain way before they go after what they want. But they forget one important thing: It’s our experiences that help shape who we are and how we think.
Without failing, you can’t grow. You can’t know what you need to do to improve, to move further along.
Yes, hone a positive growth mindset. But don’t wait for perfect. Because perfect never comes, and success never comes to those who sit and wait.
Always remember your values. Don’t stray from them. And value yourself highly.
‘Gratitude’ is one of those words we see everywhere nowadays in self-help books and even in planners which have sections for listing the things you’re grateful for. Yet people don’t realise how incredibly important the concept is. It’s become like white noise in the background, yet it has the potential to turn someone’s day around, and to completely change the way you see your own life.
Recently, I personally delivered a load of thankyou cards to the people and services who had contributed to my wedding in some way: the man who made our beautiful cake, the lovely ladies who styled my hair, the hotel staff who hosted us,the lady who did all the makeup, even the lady in the perfume department who helped me to choose the perfect scent.
And let me tell you, the radiant smiles on those people’s faces was worth a thousand times more than the glow from treating myself or buying something new.
People often say to me “But you paid for that, so it’s to be expected. You don’t have to go out of your way to thank them”, which I think is really sad.
After all, we all have a finite amount of time on Earth. Whenever somebody does something for you, they are giving up a fraction of their time on this planet.
Taking the time to personally thank someone who has done something for you, even if it’s mundane, like serving you on a checkout, is one of the kindest and most thoughtful practices you can adopt in your everyday life.
Expressing gratitude doesn’t even have to cost a lot of time and energy. A small, cheerful conversation, or a big smile and a thankyou, can go a long way to help someone who has had a rough day.
When we see someone in customer service frowning and sighing, it’s so easy to think, “Huh, what a miserable attitude, they shouldn’t even be serving!”. But we’re all human and sometimes all a person needs is some compassion and gratitude.
I’ve noticed that smiling at someone who looks fed up, complimenting them, or making a point of thanking them, can light up their eyes and turn the frown upside down! Positivity and kindness is light and uplifting, negativity is heavy and depressing.
But what about when the light has dimmed in our own lives and we’re the ones wearing the frown?
That’s when it can be a huge help to write a list of all the things you’re grateful for in your life.
For me, a list didn’t quite cut it, so I chose to write about each thing I had listed, and in no time at all I was feeling as light as air and supremely grateful for everything in my life. I listed having great friends, my family, my house, my job, and everything else I felt I was fortunate to have.
One thing I noticed by writing such a list, was that almost none of it was about the stuff I owned. Everything I needed for happiness was already there. You can do this exercise for loved ones who have upset you as well (depending on the situation, of course). List the things that you like about the person rather than the things that annoy you, and you’ll soon feel much lighter.
I understand that many of us struggle to think of things to be grateful for, especially if life is on a bit of a downer, so here are some things you might be grateful for that you might not even consider, and that others might not have. Please note, I realise that not everything on this list will apply to everybody, but I’m hoping that there will be something on there for everyone.
Clean, plentiful food
A paying job
A flushing toilet
There’s one more thing I would like to share with you that’s too obscure to list with the above, but I feel is well worth mentioning.
Years ago, I was in a bad place with my education, my career and my health. My college placement as an ICT technician was going so terribly that my tutor paid a visit to the place and I almost got finished. Thankfully, my mother in law who worked there took me under her wing as a teaching assistant. And as a teaching assistant I thrived.
I loved the kids, I loved the teachers, and I loved that I was (and still am) helping to make kids lives in the classroom more bearable.
I’d never considered being a teaching assistant before, and had spent the past few years working in retail and studying the wrong thing, which for me was ICT. To discover something I loved, I had to follow what seemed like the wrong path. For that , I am now grateful. I was even able to use the skills I had learned by supporting in ICT classes.
So, even when everything seems to be going wrong, look for the hidden meaning. And when it’s all over, you might even find something to be grateful for.
Gratitude will lighten your heart. Gratitude will brighten the world.