Stuff: The Thief of Time

It’s been a few months since my last post, and in that time I’ve become a mum again to a gorgeous little girl.

I’ve also got back to minimising and simplifying, which is now more important than ever with a family of four, even more so because my six-year-old son has just received an autism diagnosis. I know that simplifying his life and routines can help make a difference in his stress levels and sensory overload, but the same can be said for any child, and of us adults. 

Since having a new baby to take care of and settling into the new rhythm of sleepless nights, exhausting daytime hours when she refuses to sleep, and making my son still feel loved and valued, it’s forced me yet again to look at how I spend my time. 

Because all my time in the week is now spent on changing nappies, doing endless feeds, keeping up with the laundry, and other household chores,  the time I get has to be used intentionally whether that’s an intentional hour of rest, half hour of gaming, reading a book, or decluttering.

The past week I’ve spent a good chunk of my time decluttering the attic, not just because I love the sense of freedom and satisfaction I get, but because I’ve been thinking a lot about the future of my kids. And that involves me facing a prospect many of us don’t like to acknowledge – death. 

One of the many reasons I live a minimalist lifestyle is because when I’m gone, whether that be when I’m a hundred years old, or even next month, the last thing I want is to burden my loved ones with sorting through my stuff, deciding what to keep, what goes in the skip, what gets donated, feeling guilty if they don’t keep something, trying to figure out what best represented me, and frankly, wasting hours of their remaining time on this Earth. 

When I pass, the last thing I want is for people to look for me in my stuff. I want to be remembered for the life I lived, for my personality, for the things I said and how I made people feel; not the figurines I owned, the shoes I wore, the limited editions I collected, or the phone I had.

You may be thinking this all sounds a bit too much on the morbid side, but hear me out.

When I gave birth to my son six years ago, I lost 4 litres of blood when my placenta got stuck to the walls of my uterus. I almost died and one of the nurses told me how lucky I had been to have pulled through. Before that, I’d never really considered the life I was living or the impact my stuff was having. Soon after, it struck me that I wasn’t following my dreams, either. Rather, I was just floating along in life with no clear direction, buying more and more stuff to fill the sense of emptiness.

Back then I was still living as an organised hoarder, and to think back on it now, it’s sad how much stuff my family would have had to go through. Trinkets, old toys, old letters, old party invitations, tonnes of gaming paraphernalia, old stationary, overflowing boxes, relics of my past, painful memories, stuff I clung to because I thought ‘I wasn’t me without my stuff’. 

As it turned out,  the ‘me’ I was clinging to was the biggest piece of clutter of all, and the real me was waiting to be discovered in empty spaces, free of the hoard that weighed me down, free of the physical weight of my past, and with more free time that wasn’t wasted on organising and acquiring more. 

We all have limited time on this planet, and that also goes for our children (if we have any). 

Why keep a bunch of stuff for them, for our partners, for our parents or siblings, to have to spend hours, days or weeks going through our stuff when we pass on? As uncomfortable as it is to realise, it’s not like we can take our stuff with us when it’s our time. Instead, the weight of our life cascades onto family and friends. Sadly, that stuff sometimes even harbours the power to cause heated arguments and family rifts. Families get divided for decades over an antique vase, a china collection, or money, which, ironically, would probably be spent on acquiring more stuff. Stuff that won’t even matter when we’re gone. 

Remember, we can’t take our stuff and whoever deals with it all can’t get back their time. Time which is so important and passes in the blink of an eye. 

But enough about death, let’s go right back to the very beginning. 

We’re born owning nothing. Blank slates of endless potential. All we want is the love and attention of our caregivers, and whatever we need to survive. Then suddenly, at some point along the line, we accumulate stuff. Stuff to speed up our development, stuff to teach us about the world, stuff to entertain us, stuff to distract us, stuff to show us how much we’re loved.

We grow up and we want more. More toys, more gadgets, more games, more clothes, more, more, more. Where once we were happy with love and experiences of the world, we’re taught by the people close to us,  and through endless advertising, that we can’t be happy without the latest toy, the fullest wardrobe, the biggest game collection, or the trendiest coat. 

We’re taught that we’re not enough, that if we don’t receive more, we aren’t loved or not worthy. Our ‘self’ gets hidden by the sheer amount of stuff, and that pattern continues through life until we break it or we die. 

Let me give you an example of how too much stuff affects us as children. 

Recently, I was forced to declutter my son’s room. He struggles to let go of things regardless of how many years it has been since he last played with that teddy bear or can no longer fit in that favourite t-shirt. Finally, the drawer under his bed broke under the weight of years of artwork and plastic toys that he never played with. Yet despite it all, he complained he was ‘bored’ or would roll around on the floor in a state of overwhelm. Whenever he wanted a particular toy, he always came crying to me or his dad that he couldn’t find it. I’d go to his room and it would look like a hurricane had passed through it on his hunt. 

At bedtime, he couldn’t even decide what book he wanted me to read to him; he either made me choose or constantly chose ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’. Even though it’s one of his favourite books, I realized he wasn’t even listening to it anymore, and had become bored with it. He was simply choosing it every night because there were far too many books on his shelf for him to process. 

So, I got to work removing most of the plastic McDonald’s toys, Kinder Egg junk, and things he never touched. I also removed a pile of books he’d either outgrown, or seemed to hold no interest for him. Then, I went through all his artwork, discarding the damaged pieces, paper with hardly anything on it, or pieces I knew he didn’t care for as it was something he had done when he was two. I’m ashamed to say that most of the artwork clogging his drawer wasn’t even his doing; it was pieces I hadn’t been able to let go of because I was still clinging to his toddler stage. Most of those went in the bin once I had taken a few photos. 

Before and after decluttering my sons art drawer. As you can see, the drawer above had snapped off its runners

Bear in mind, instead of instantly donating the toys and risking upsetting him, I put the bags of his stuff into the attic to be sorted at a later date. That way, if he wanted his jingly bells back, or the teddy he had picked up that time he went to hospital when he was 2, he could have them. 

Now, here’s the surprising thing. 

He’s never once asked for any of it back, nor seems to have noticed that 70% of it is missing. And he’s started choosing books other than ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’ all by himself. There’s also been fewer instances of him crying because he can’t find his Nerf gun bullets or other favourite things. 

Quite often, we think we need more, and we assume the same for our children. Whenever we’re bored or unfulfilled, we might order something new on Amazon or go shelf-browsing until we spot something we like. 

And when they’re bored, we rush to buy them another toy or download yet another app. 

Instead, we need to rediscover simplicity,  then do the same for our children.

We need to reconnect with loved ones, and claim back the time that is so precious, and we need to remind ourselves that we’re worth it, despite what marketing would us believe. 

Photo by Jude Beck on Unsplash

Stuck Inside – Ways To Beat Boredom and Maintain Your Mental Health

Photo by Emma Simpson on Unsplash

It’s like something from an apocalyptic movie;  a pandemic has been announced, countries are in lockdown, people are isolating themselves for months, and businesses are struggling. 

In times like these, it’s easy to panic, and it’s easy to lose sight of the good things around you. And if you’re self-isolating for a long period, loneliness and boredom can set in quickly. 

Humans are social creatures and it’s vital that we find ways to connect with others and maintain our mental health, not just during times of challenge, but as a part of everyday life.  

Here are some things you can do to beat boredom and look after your mental health when you’re stuck inside. 

Feel-Good Productivity 

Deep clean your kitchen cupboards 

You’ve probably been meaning to do this for months, but work and other responsibilities meant you could never get round to it. Now is the perfect time to empty those cupboards and give them a thorough cleaning. For more cathartic impact, imagine that all the grime you’re removing are also layers of negative thoughts being scrubbed from your mind. 

Deep clean/declutter cutlery drawers 

Remove all your cutlery, declutter what you don’t need, and give the drawers a good clean. It’s so satisfying to get your utensils out of a clean and organised drawer, and makes meal times much easier. 

Deep clean/declutter the bathroom

Bathrooms accumulate mould and bacteria quickly. It’s also amazing how many supplies end up multiplying in bathroom storage. Get rid of out-of-date toiletries, makeup, and medications, then remove everything else and make the surfaces shine. You’ll be glad you did. 

Declutter Rooms In Your House 

Start a mission to declutter your home, starting off with one room and gradually making your way round to the others. When you remove what you don’t need and keep only the things you love, you create space and clarity in your home and your life. It also becomes much easier and faster to clean, which frees up time for other activities or rest. 

Decluttering is so incredibly freeing on the heart and mind it can become addictive. 

Photo by Norbert Levajsics on Unsplash

Wash/clean your curtains or blinds

I don’t know about you, but I rarely think about the blinds in my house when I’m doing a clean and recently I couldn’t work out why my rooms still had a dusty smell to them. The other day, I thought to check the blinds, and they were covered in a thick layer of dust. Giving your curtains a wash or your blinds a good wipe-down will help to freshen the air in a room. 

Wash your bedding 

Bedding needs changing once a fortnight, or even more frequently if you’re a heavy sweater. Dust mites also build up inside mattresses, so it’s a good idea to give the mattress a hoover while you’re at it with a dust mite vacuum. 

Declutter/tidy the shed or garage 

Sheds and garages are clutter hotspots. They accumulate multiples of tools or things get stowed away in them which we believe we might need ‘one day’. If you have a nice sunny day, why not set aside some time to clear these spaces out? 

Fix the thing you never got round to 

You know that broken toy you promised your kid you’d fix two months ago? The shelf that’s been wonky for the past year? Now’s a great time to finally get round to fixing it. Once it’s done, it’s off your to-do list and your family or partner can stop nagging you to do it. 

Self Improvement & Mental Health 

Photo by Wes Hicks on Unsplash

Take a course/learn a new skill

Always wanted to become an awesome cook, but never had the time to learn? Thought about learning how to write a book or start a blog? There’s no time better than the present.

There’s no shortage of both free and paid courses online to learn anything your heart desires. Some sites I recommend are Udemy, Skillshare, Open university, and Youtube. And there’s an ocean of excellent, insightful books out there for your chosen topic.

So, what’re you waiting for? 

Go for a walk or run around your neighbourhood

Walking or running is a fantastic way to boost your mental wellbeing and should be a part of your everyday routine if you can. It’s also a great way to get your dose of vitamin D on a sunny day. Currently, the lack of cars and human activity in many areas has made for cleaner, fresher air, so there’s no better time to get some fresh air.  

Beautify your garden (if you have one)

Gardening can also have a positive effect on your mental wellbeing.  Not only is it a mindful activity, it can keep you fit. And there’s nothing like the satisfaction of some beautiful green space to clear your mind after a stressful day.

Journal 

Journaling is a fantastic way of getting your thoughts down on paper (physical or digital). It can relieve your mind of worries that have been building up on you, lead you to solutions to your problems, or even help you build a writing habit.

You don’t have to be perfect; you don’t have to be able to write well; you don’t have to please anyone. You can be as messy, as creative, or as neat as you like. There are no rules. 

When you go out for or order a shop, buy some flowers or plants to cheer the place up 

It might sound small, but buying some flowers or some nice house plants can really help to freshen up a room and make it feel more cheerful. Believe it or not, houseplants are known for being beneficial to your health and productivity. 

Photo by Julie Marsh on Unsplash

Practise gratitude 

This might feel almost impossible when the world around you seems to be going to Hell, but I assure you, if you set aside the time and put some thought into it, you’ll come up with at least a handful of things in your life to be grateful for. Practising gratitude is great for boosting mental wellbeing and for adopting a positive mindset. 

If you really struggle, there are some lovely gratitude journals out there which give you some gentle prompts and beautiful pages to look back on. 

Colouring

Before you cast this aside as childish, hear me out. Research has shown that adult colouring can help to reduce stress and anxiety. It’s a peaceful, mindful activity and there are hundreds of beautiful or humorous adult colouring books to choose from. It doesn’t matter how good you are because there’s nobody judging you. It’s all about you and your relaxation.  

I personally love Secret Garden by Johanna Basford.

Play some uplifting/upbeat music 

Music can change or enhance our moods, so if you’re on a bit of a downer, try putting on some happy, upbeat music (or whatever chills you out). Music has also been proven to reduce pain in some chronically ill patients. I have been enjoying sitting in my sunny garden with the living room door open, listening to the radio, and have found it massively relaxing.

Photo by bruce mars on Unsplash

Play board/card games 

A few weeks ago I bought two classic board games from my childhood: Ludo and Snakes & Ladders. Despite all the screens and other distractions, they’ve been a surprising hit and are something the whole family can enjoy. When the board games are out, boredom flies out the window, people’s cheeky and competitive sides come out, and screens are forgotten. 

Recently, I’ve discovered Solitaire Klondike and have become somewhat addicted (no, I really hadn’t played this before).

Don’t underestimate board games or card games for some classic family fun.

Play videogames 

I’ve always been a gamer, but even if you don’t consider yourself one, or have never picked up a controller in your life, there are thousands of games out there now to appeal to all ages and preferences.

The Nintendo Switch is a https://www.nintendo.com/games/switch/good choice for access to a massive library of games, as is the Nintendo 3DS.  You can’t go wrong with either and there’s bound to be something you like whether that’s puzzles, point & click, party games, platformers, or action-shooters. 

Multiplayer videogames are also a great way to stay in touch with others, make new friends online, or have fun with the family. 

Help someone in need 

For the ultimate pick-me-up, if you’re not sick you can always help somebody in need. With panic buyers emptying store shelves, and the elderly and vulnerable unable to get supplies, there are multiple ways you can help. 

You can deliver shopping to their doorstep, leave a kind note, or drop off some flowers. Even making a few phone calls to some lonely people would be a huge help with the current situation. 

Here are some links to just a few of the acts of kindness that have come out of the Coronavirus pandemic.

https://edition.cnn.com/2020/03/26/europe/kindness-coronavirus-strangers-helping-gbr-scli/index.html

https://www.stylist.co.uk/life/coronavirus-how-to-be-kind-random-acts-of-kindness-ideas-helping-others/368441

https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/coronavirus-positive-kindness-italy-singing-corner-shop-elderly-postcard-a9404781.html

Photo by Austin Kehmeier on Unsplash

What NOT to Do

As important as it is to stay updated, there are some things you shouldn’t be doing, that have the potential to increase your anxiety and feelings of hopelessness. 

Don’t keep checking the news

The news updates to the minute and it’s tempting to keep refreshing it or checking back to see new updates of what’s happening. But as useful as the news can be, it can also be a huge trigger for anxiety and worry.

Every time there’s a new death, there’s a new headline. Do you need to know about every single death and crime? Keep in mind, many articles are written in a way to grab your attention and make you react with a panicked curiosity. These kinds of articles are often referred to as clickbait. 

Set times for when you will check the news. After all, why worry about the things you can’t control? 

Don’t check the news/social media first thing in the morning or last thing at night 

How you start your day affects how the rest of your day will feel or go. If you start the morning reading depressing, worrying news, those will play on your mind for the rest of the day and keep you checking on events.

Similarly, if you start by scrolling through social media, that can have the same anxiety-inducing effect as constantly checking the news, especially as people are currently voicing their constant anger and worry. 

Checking either late at night could keep you scrolling well into the time when you should be relaxing or catching a good night’s sleep.

Not only can the blue light from devices keep you awake, the anxiety from the news or from other people’s feeds can make you too anxious to sleep, and cause nightmares. And if you aren’t getting decent sleep, you’re going to feel consistently crappy. 

Don’t believe everything you see on your newsfeed

Along with the coronavirus came the viral wave of fake news sweeping the internet. Companies are trying to slow the tide of fake articles, but there’s only so much they can do. The best thing you can do is to do your research.

Don’t immediately believe what you read online unless it’s from a well-trusted news source or website (in the UK mine ours is BBC News, Sky News, and the NHS website). There’s also the World Health Organisation who keep their website updated with the latest Coronavirus information. 

But how can you know if what you’re reading is fake? First, check the source. Is it a familiar website? Has it got a weird-looking address? 

A lot of shared fake news starts off with someone who knows someone else, who’s related to someone important, who said or saw something that nobody else knows. A quick Google search should show you if it’s fake or not. 

It’s better to ignore ‘news’ like this, as it’s the equivalent of a game of Chinese Whispers – one which starts off with a lie to begin with.

Remember, if it’s not on any of your main trusted news websites, it’s likely not true. 

Don’t worry about what you can’t control e.g other people’s behaviour. 

In the end, no matter what’s going on outside, you can’t control it all. So focus, instead, on what you CAN control: your thoughts, your reactions, your words and actions. 

Try not to succumb to vices such as excess drinking which can make anxiety or feelings of depression worse. 

In many supermarkets, shelves are being stripped not just of food and other essentials, but of beer and wine. While there’s nothing wrong with having a drink now and then, drinking to excess will eventually cause a slew of both physical and mental health problems including anxiety, depression, weight gain and liver damage.

I hope these ideas have been useful to you, and remember: stay calm, stay healthy, be mindful of others, and follow the safety rules in your area.

Photo by Erriko Boccia on Unsplash

Starve Your Inner Critic and Claim Back Your Power

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

Almost everybody has an inner critic, that snide, sniggering, scoffing voice at the back of your head that says you aren’t good enough, pretty enough, smart enough, strong enough, or deserving enough. 

And let’s face it -with all the ways we have to compare ourselves to everyone around us nowadays, as well as intense marketing designed to reinforce beliefs that you’re lacking in some way unless you buy their product, is it any wonder that those internal insults become ever louder?

“I’ll never be able to live like him/her”

“My writing’s crap compared to this”

“I’m not smart enough to go for the job I want”

“I’ll never be disciplined enough to achieve that because I’m a loser”

“I can’t”

“I’m not”

“I’ll never be…”

“I’m (insert insult here)”

Even the most successful and confident people out there struggle with that quiet, doubtful voice most of the time. The difference is, they’ve learned how to control it, and even use it as motivation. 

You’ve probably read and heard that a thousand times, and thought, ‘Well good for them for being born with that ability’. 

But it’s not an inborn ability that people either have or they don’t. It’s all about training and rewiring your brain to think and react differently.  That takes time and inner work. A lot of it. 

Granted, some people might find it a little easier than others, depending on their past, their circumstances, the people they hang around with, and their mental health. 

My inner critic, which I refer to as my inner gremlin,  used to be like a raging tsumani. All- consuming, all-powerful, endlessly destructive. And hungry for more. 

It never used to be like that. When I was a small child, I had boundless confidence and curiosity. I’d sit and write on my typewriter on the living room floor, or write a story in my notebook and race to show anyone who would read it. 

Like most young children, I truly believed I could be anything I wanted; an archaeologist, a TV presenter, a weather reporter, a famous author. 

What happened?

Circumstances growing up, plus being bullied throughout my whole school life, fed the inner gremlin that had started to emerge once all the other children started forming cliques and showing off their own unique personalities. 

I wasn’t like everyone else. I was inappropriate, loud, wore baggy, unfashionable clothes because everything else irritated me, and didn’t understand social jokes or cues. I wasn’t interested in the things others were interested in, or in talking about relationships. 

It wasn’t until early adulthood I got diagnosed as being somewhere on the autistic spectrum. 

Anyway, the older I got and the more insults were thrown at me, the more I believed them. The more I saw the other people around me, the more inadequate I felt.  I didn’t need to be told I was ugly and worthless by other kids because my own inner bully had grown vicious and gigantic by that point. 

I’d tell myself I was vile and worthless. All the while, my inner gremlin fed and grew. 

Eventually, I stopped showing off my writing outside of school. I went through periods of self-harming, and my self-esteem was as low as it could get. 

As a young adult, I still had my dreams from childhood – my main one to be an author – but I had serious issues with my identity and with extremely defensive and angry behaviour in my relationships. 

Where did all this come from? My inner gremlin which had been gorging itself quite happily over the years on all of my negative thoughts and beliefs. 

Strangely enough, my first step into altering those terrible beliefs started when my mum came to my house one day with bags and bags of my old junk and clutter from childhood, which she had cleared from the attic. 

I was a hoarder, you see. But at the time I didn’t realise because I kept everything crammed out of sight or neatly lined up. 

Confronted with years of my own mess, I realised I had a serious issue with letting go of the past. In many ways, I was still living in it. 

I may have been an adult with a child and renting a home, but inside I was still that angry child pining for acceptance. 

That day, I let go of so much stuff, and when I did, I physically felt like this huge spiritual weight had been lifted from my shoulders. Years of attachments, sad memories, and old work finally where it belonged – in the trash. 

Image by Лечение наркомании from Pixabay

Something got sparked in me that day that triggered years of self growth, and opened the gate to minimalism. 

Because I was forced to question why I had been holding onto all that stuff, I started to ask myself deeper things, like where my beliefs came from, and why I felt the way I did. 

I started reading every self-help book I could get my hands on that appealed to the specific issues I had identified. Books about overcoming trauma, writing, confidence, self-improvement, and later on, minimalism. 

I didn’t just read these books once. I read them over and over, completing all the exercises inside them until I knew them off by heart and looking inside myself until it started to feel natural. 

It’s safe to say that those books, alongside the action I took, went a significant way in helping me to change who I had become, and started me on a path of acceptance and becoming my true self. 

For those of you who are interested, I will list some of those books at the end of this post, but keep in mind, your needs and what works for you might well be different, and that’s OK. 

Fast forward to the present and I’ve made this blog, started training to become a counsellor, taken some Udemy courses, written part of a book, and made a new friend (who is also a writer). I’ve also become brave enough to enter a couple of writing competitions. 

How did I silence my inner gremlin? I didn’t. Instead, I got strong enough to fight back and to co-exist with it in a healthy way. It’s nowhere near as big or as consuming as it was, and it certainly doesn’t stop me from writing or going for my dreams. 

It’s highly unlikely you will completely silence your inner critic because for the most part, its job is to try to protect us from pain and humiliation. That’s why so many of us remain stuck in jobs we hate, lives that are going nowhere, and relationships that don’t serve us. 

At its least destructive, it tells you to stay where you are, in comfortable waters, with everyone else. It halts and destroys dreams. 

At its most destructive, it becomes like mine did. A seething mass of hate, doubt, and negativity. 

The trick is to not feed it, and to gain power over it by fighting the inner demons that allow those beliefs to cement in your heart and mind. 

Let me give an example of the occasional things my gremlin will rasp, and the things I now say back. Perhaps some of it will resonate with you. 

Gremlin:

You’re dreaming if you think you’ve got a chance.

Just look at this article – no readers. You’re rubbish, may as well give up now.

You lead a rubbish uneventful life, people don’t care what you have to say.

What qualifies you, of all people, to think you can help others?

Me

Oh shut up, everyone started from zero. 

But I’m doing something I love. Which is more than what you can do. 

You’re just my inner critic, what do you know about writing and having fun? Nothing! 

Inner Gremlin, you’d never get anywhere with an attitude like that. You suck. You’re mediocrity itself. 

I can do what I want with my life, unlike you who can only criticise. 

I am qualified to help people because I desire to, have been through things which could be valuable to others, and am training. You don’t know a thing about helping – just critisising. 

I dare get my words out there regardless, and that’s awesome and more than most people will continue to do.

And you know what? Time after time of practising inner dialogue like that has turned the balance of power. 

I’ve taken its energy source, cut off its supply, and shrank it down by doing the thing it hates the most – taking action. 

Try it today. Argue back with your inner gremlin. Do it time and time again until it becomes nothing more than a minor annoyance. 

Wage a war and confront your inner demons. Cut off its food supply. 

Don’t let your inner gremlin decide your future. 

Oh, and here are the books I said I would link, but before I do that I would also like to give a mention to Anthony Moore on Medium whose stories and articles help keep me going even through the tough times.



Image by John Hain from Pixabay

A Quick Update and What’s Coming Next

Greetings all! I’ve just realised it’s been 11 days since my last post, which is annoying because I always intend to post once a week. Illness over the past couple of months has made it hard to be able to post as often as I’d like, but I am working on my latest : Wage War Against Your Inner Critic and Win.

We all have an inner critic; that niggling voice at the back of your mind that keeps you grounded in mediocrity, fear, or self-loathing.

My inner critic used to be unrelenting, powerful, and all-consuming, but I learned how to fight back, and gradually, I started to overpower it.

With the right tools and knowledge at your fingertips, you, too, can take back the power that’s rightfully yours.

The power to control your own thoughts.

The power to carve your own path.

Until then, stay tuned, and remember, you’re awesome!

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

More, More, More – The Reasons You Can’t Stop Buying

Image by Jan Vašek from Pixabay

We all buy things we don’t need from time to time. Unless we’re incredibly disciplined we get tempted by the seasonal sales, or the second we desire something new, it’s just a few clicks away. 

But what happens when buying gets out of control? When everything you ever desired surrounds you but you still want more? 

It’s a trap that’s easy to fall into, but for some, the cycle of purchasing can turn into a shameful nightmare. 

You may not realise you have a problem until people in your household start commenting on the number of deliveries. You may deny you have a problem at all, especially to escape feelings of shame.

Or you might realise you have a problem, but find yourself unable to stop. 

Signs that purchasing has got out of control in your life might include comments from family members about the number of deliveries, consistently low finances, feelings of shame and guilt, or a feeling of spiralling out of control. 

You know you should stop spending but you can’t. 

The clutter in your home is growing but you can’t control it.

You’re not any happier than before, but you’re convinced that the next purchase will help. 

Well-meaning people in your life may try all sorts of things to get you to stop, but it’s not going to happen unless you understand what’s triggering you to buy or order things in the first place. 

I wish I could tell you that it’s going to be easy, but it’s not. Not once you look past the surface level of the factors that make you fork over your cash. 

Let’s take a look at these levels. 

Surface level (Grass)

Influencing from marketers, sale items, emails, peer pressure, images and messages of success and happiness. 

The surface level includes the factors above which may seem obvious to yourself or others. 

We’re all subject to advertisements on our screens and in the streets, we all love a good bargain, and it’s likely that at some point your friends convinced you to buy those new jeans, that new makeup set, or that awesome new videogame. 

We’re also surrounded by false messages and images all the time that money + stuff = happiness + success. 

Of course, happiness can never be achieved through endless material gains, but our world is set up to make you believe that. 

Deeper level (Mud)

Comparison with others, the feeling of not having enough, shopping addiction, wanting to project a certain image, chasing everlasting happiness 

These are the feelings that make us even more susceptible to the surface level factors above. 

With constant access to the internet, it’s easier than ever to compare ourselves to the people around us. Before the internet, we had to walk down the street or look out at our neighbours shiny new car to start feeling jealous or inadequate.

Now, all we need to do is look on Instagram, Facebook or Youtube to see who’s sexier, richer, more popular, and living more exciting lives than us. 

Some people want to project a certain image so that they will appeal to a certain group of people, or to look as if their life is more extravagant than it is. 

All of it is to chase this need for everlasting happiness that all of us strive for. 

Separate to all of those is shopping addiction, where people have found themselves caught up in a hellish cycle of buying that they can’t get out of, usually due to underlying emotional problems. 

Deepest level (Fossil)

Boredom, depression, needing a buzz, unresolved issues in life, insecurity, identity issues, trying to fill a void or solve an issue with material stuff, need to feel in control if other things are in complete chaos, struggling in the past. 

Underneath all desires for material possessions (which don’t include needs for survival) are the deep-seated reasons and feelings that drive us. 

Deep down, you might buy things because you’re bored and can’t discover your passion. 

People insecure with who they are might buy lots of things to try to figure it out or to fill the void. For example, someone who isn’t an artist might buy a load of painting tools because they want to create something great but haven’t yet figured out their passion.

Someone else might buy loads of makeup and dresses when they don’t even like makeup and dresses, just because they feel ugly, or aren’t sure of their image. 

Some people suffer with depression or feel empty inside, then attempt to fill the void with material possessions. 

For others, buying and ordering goods is the only thing they feel in control of. 

Even a person’s past can play a part. If all someone has known is poverty and struggling, and suddenly they have the power to surround themselves with the things they never had, buying and surrounding themselves with stuff might be a comfort or reassurance.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, someone who has always been surrounded by things might be unable to find satisfaction without buying something new every week (this one is definitely a part of me that I regularly battle). 

Photo by Onur Bahçıvancılar on Unsplash

Now we’ve looked at the different levels of feelings which can trigger us to buy things we don’t need, let’s look at the feelings you might experience before, during, and after an impulse purchase. 

First, know that for the most part, dopamine is responsible. 

This is the feel good chemical that our brain releases whenever we do something pleasurable such as make a purchase, drink alcohol, receive a like on Facebook, or complete a level in a game. It can become very addictive and many companies exploit the dopamine hit that people chase to keep your attention. 

And here are the feelings that might be familiar to you at the three different stages of making a purchase. 

Feelings after impulse purchases

Elation, excitement, impatience, a rush, anticipation. 

You can’t wait to get the item home and see what it will look like on your shelf or your body. It also felt great to buy something new. You feel the excitement and anticipation of the delivery coming to your door, or from the shop to your home. 

Feelings after receiving the item 

Emptiness, sudden drop in satisfaction level, shame, embarrassment, guilt, exhaustion from wasted energy and possibly making a return, panic at finances. 

The initial rush from making a purchase wears off as fast as the dopamine hit. And that’s fast.  Eventually, buying things we know we don’t need can lead to the negative feelings above. 

I know because I’ve been there myself plenty of times. 

The item never gave me the happiness I was sure it would give me at the time, and then comes the shame and embarrassment, and the realisation that the money could have been better spent investing in a skill or saving. 

The shame can be tripled when returns have to be made and family members see it happening again and again. 

Not to mention, the financial burden caused by impulse purchases can lead to even more stress and shame, and cause arguments with family members. 

Ways we might try to deal with the after feelings

Buying more stuff, hiding the stuff, reselling or returning the item, adding it to the hoard and convincing ourselves we must keep it as we spent money and time on it, drinking or other coping device, shoving it in a cupboard and forgetting about it, denial (making up stories as to why we had to have it, or that there is isn’t a problem). 

Believe it or not, people who have a problem with impulse buying or who have a shopping addiction often try to get rid of the negative feelings by buying yet more stuff. Others might hide the stuff and how much they spent from the people around them. 

This can become a vicious and never ending cycle. 

Alcohol and other coping mechanisms may also pose a problem for those trying to escape the shame and other bad feelings inside. 

As you can see, there’ are a lot of factors to consider that might cause you to get trapped in a cycle of buying. 

The only way to escape is to look at the deepest part of yourself which your purchases might be covering or compensating for, then take steps to deal with the issues themselves. 

While some issues, such as boredom, can be more easily solved, painful issues relating to your past or mental health might require some sort of therapy or seeing your doctor.

Without pulling out or killing the roots, weeds will keep coming back, sometimes bigger and more numerous than before. 

It’s the same with our inner selves. 

If we don’t recognise and treat the underlying cause, we’re doomed to forever fall victim to the resulting behaviour or activity. 

Photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash

Upcoming Post – Do You Really Need That?

Are you struggling in a never-ending cycle of buying things you don’t need? Do you feel lost if you’ve not got a parcel on the way? If so, stay tuned for this week’s upcoming post which is all about what keeps us stuck in the cycle, and why you might feel the need for more, even when you know you have enough.

With this post, I won’t just be talking about the usual ‘marketers want to keep us buying’ but am going to focus on the emotional and deep-seated reasons that can cause us to compulsively click ‘buy’.

Image by Mediamodifier from Pixabay

Is It Really You? – The Masks We Wear and 10 Questions You Can Ask Yourself

Photo by Victoria Priessnitz on Unsplash

All of us wear masks.

The professional self we use at work, or to talk with our clients.

The sweet-talking parent we use with our three year old

The always dependable friend who’s everyone’s support post

The perfect self-help guru who needs to set an example

The sensible teacher 

The brand-name rich guy 

The party-goer

A mask is something we wear to suit the situation we’re in and it’s natural to switch from one to the other depending on the situation.

For example, the professional CEO would , perhaps, switch to family mode when getting home. 

The sweet-talking parent might become foul mouthed in front of friends, once the child is out of earshot. 

The sensible teacher might get home and start planning their crazy stag night out. 

Masks help us to adapt. 

The problem starts when we forget who we really are beneath, when we construct them purely to cover up parts of ourselves we don’t like, or when we use them purely to fit into a crowd that doesn’t match our true values. I will refer to these masks as ‘theatrical masks’. 

These days, with social media, it’s easier than ever to project the image of a perfect life, while leaving out all the crazy or mundane.

You can show people only what they want to see, write only what people want to read.

It’s easy to pretend you’re somebody else.

Carl Jung spoke about the unwanted parts of ourselves as ‘the shadow’. The parts of ourselves we don’t like to acknowledge but are there whether you like it or not.

We often construct masks to relieve that discomfort, or to appear a certain way in order to find acceptance – something all people strive for. 

Sometimes, we’re aware of using these kinds of masks, almost as if we’re performing on a stage, but most of the time, we don’t even realise it. 

Photo by Dominic Hampton on Unsplash

We think we’re a party animal, but we’re not. We think we’re thrill-seekers, but we’re not. 

We can wear masks for so long that not only do we forget who we are, it slowly becomes a part of who we are. That can be a terribly destructive thing, but not always. 

For example, as a teenager and young adult I used to be wallowing in depression and self-pity, but would pretend to be hyperactive, silly, and fun-loving. That way, I would surely make and keep friends. 

Now, it certainly got me friends, and after a while, I noticed that I was no longer pretending – I really had become more energetic and fun-loving, and I was no longer depressed. It was a classic case of ‘fake it to make it’. 

But that’s not always the case, and quite often, the theatrical masks we use to escape from parts of ourselves only serve as a constant drain of precious mental and emotional energy. 

Celebrities are under a lot of pressure to project a certain image, and thus the true self can end up totally lost or destroyed and lead to substance abuse or breakdowns. 

Imagine what it would be like to be constantly practising lines, ready to perform in front of thousands of people, day in, day out, without a break, whether you’re a celebrity or a student. 

Contrary to what many think, it’s a hundred times more exhausting to maintain a mask, than using the courage to just be ourselves. 

Left unchecked, a theatrical mask can cause serious mental health and relationship problems as we are constantly at war within ourselves. 

Marketers promote the use of masks all the time  – they convince you that if you buy their product you can appear a certain way (strengthen the mask you show to the world). 

There’s constant pressure in society, as well, to be or look a certain way.

Wear celebrity-endorsed fashion, become rich, have two kids, become a CEO, own the latest iphone, keep climbing the usual career ladder, don’t think outside the box, don’t break the mold, don’t be exceptional. 

People who do break the mold, start walking their own path, and being their authentic selves often face a lot of backlash and confusion, often from people who are busy maintaining their own masks and are concerned that you have pulled off yours. 

Image by Leandro De Carvalho from Pixabay

Someone who quits their job to run their own business, for example, might encounter a lot of “You’re mad”, “that’s wrong”, that’ll never work.”

Minimalists might encounter others who laugh at their way of life. 

Authors might encounter people who shake their head and tell them to get a real job. 

But people who laugh at or discourage others from being their best authentic selves, are most likely wearing their own masks and are disturbed to see others break free from the stifling need to keep thoughts and dreams, as just that. 

After all, it’s utterly terrifying to be directly confronted with another truth or way of life, when you don’t know yourself, or are suddenly forced to ask yourself uncomfortable questions.

Most would rather project their worry and pain onto the person in question, rather than confront and discover themselves.

Sooner than asking things like, “If this is possible, then what have I been doing for the past twenty years?”, it’s much easier to try to pull the other person back into the circle of what is ‘known and acceptable’, or to make them start doubting themselves.

Confronting yourself is hard. It’s petrifying. It can be paralysing.

To check whether you’re wearing a mask right now, you should make a habit of asking yourself these questions:

What is my dream?

Is what I’m doing contributing to that?

What’s my opinion on (insert topic here)?

Do my words match my beliefs?

Do I speak the truth, or do I fear hurting or angering others?

Why am I doing what I’m doing? 

How do I act around my friends? 

Is that true to how I really feel? 

How do I act around my significant other?

Is that true to how I feel inside?

Asking such questions can be uncomfortable, but can bring a lot of clarity and save you a lot of energy from fake performances. 

Being authentic can lead to true happiness and a sense of wellbeing that performing never can.

Just recently, I discovered I was wearing my own mask without even knowing. 

I used to have anger issues, but over time, in my quest to become a better person, I became the opposite.

I became complacent and started covering up my true thoughts and feelings. Being overly nice to people when I felt like ripping into them. Playing the videogame platforms that the people around me said was for ‘true gamers’.

Somehow, I had discarded one damaging mask, only to put on another damaging one.

I was only alerted to the mask I had been wearing, when I almost had a mini-breakdown the other week. 

Someone had upset me and made me feel very small. I recognised what they were doing was a classic power play technique, but instead of sticking up for myself, I made a joke out of it. 

Instead of having my mini breakdown, I sat and wrote for hours. Pages and pages. And it was amazing the things I was doing simply to please others and ‘not hurt or anger’ others. 

To be accepted and liked, I would let people walk all over me, laugh at me, and control my likes. All without me being aware. 

I was pretending to be an avid PC gamer, all while deep down I prefer to play on consoles and earn the satisfying ding of achievements. Then I was wondering why I rarely played any of my games. 

I was covering up my real thoughts and feelings and acting like a mouse, all while the me inside was screaming and raging. 

I can’t tell you when the mask started, because it was more of a gradual construction, but from that moment on, I decided to start being more authentic. 

That started by telling someone close to me exactly how pissed I was with them when they were making me feel insignificant. And didn’t sugarcoat it. 

To my surprise, they quickly stopped. In that moment, I had self-respect, and I earned respect. 

It’s easy to forget how liberating it feels to say what you’re really thinking. It was as if a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. 

Also, I went back to mainly gaming on consoles, and using my PC only for the most power-hungry games and The Sims. I felt so much happier.

Masks can be useful, but they can also be a major hindrance. 

They can help you to get that promotion, and they can cause you to become drained and depressed. 

They can support you or they can weigh you down. 

What type of mask are you wearing?

Photo by Noah Näf on Unsplash