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.
I’ve been watching a riveting anime called Dr Stone. In it, a mysterious wave of light suddenly washes over Earth and turns everybody into stone. 3,700 years later, the world has reverted back to how it was before humans became advanced, and the humans that break out have to survive and rebuild civilisation.
So many things in this anime have stood out to me, but one which has stuck in my mind is how quickly everything can be taken away in a flash, whether that’s by natural disaster, or from unfortunate circumstances.
The humans who found themselves 3,700 years in the future had to start from scratch; foraging for food, hunting, building basic shelter, surviving wild animal attacks, and encountering other humans who’d made their own rules.
There were no smartphones, no TV, no convenience shopping, no electricity, no doctors, and no medicine.
Dr Stone shows just how much we take for granted in today’s modern world.
All humans want happiness, and too often we try to achieve that by buying the things which we believe will make us happy and which marketers have convinced us we need: a new phone, the latest fashions, the latest car, the best smelling cologne, the shiniest, most expensive jewellery, the latest tablet/laptop, the biggest TV, I could go on forever here.
Another thing which struck me in Dr Stone, was how much vegetation had taken over where entire towns and cities once stood. It made me think about how much damage us humans have actually done to our planet.
Gilbert goes on to say that back in the 60’s people had a sense of community, helped each other out, and believed that technology would give us more time to be with the people we love, and to take care of ourselves.
Instead, technology has been used to increase productivity and place huge demands on people, more so than ever before. We now live in a society where everyone is rushed off their feet and busyness is looked upon more admirably than producing quality or meaningful work.
We live in a hive rather than a community. Tick boxes in place of what’s really important. Productivity in place of quality. As busyness has become a hidden expectation, it’s become the norm, and so has stress and mental health disorders.
Rush, rush, rush. Tick, tick, tick. Click, click, click. And what for? To make more money to own a bigger house, to afford everything influencers and the media tells us we need, and to fund the vices that helps us to cope in the resulting frantic, consumerist world.
Now, I’m not saying that buying things you need or will actually bring you joy is bad. Of course it isn’t. I’m talking about mindless, frantic consumerism here. Zombie-like consumption and trying to keep up with the joneses is no good for people, or the planet.
At the end of the day, everything is just stuff. Some of it makes our lives more convenient, some of it brings us joy, some of it is just there to make us look or feel good in front of others, and some of it we don’t even realise we have.
Self-growth requires confronting and accepting hard truths about ourselves and our situations and learning to move forwards while becoming better people in the process.
Because that’s what it all is. A process. A journey. And a bumpy one at that with twists, turns and long stretches of smoothness.
I used to be what I call a tidy hoarder (although I didn’t realise I was a hoarder at the time). Candles, mugs, trinkets and figurines lined shelves and window sills while cupboards and drawers were bursting at the seams and collapsing under the weight. Boxes hid under my bed collecting dust and the top of my wardrobe towered with boxes, storage containers, and soft toys.
My hoarding habits were a source of frequent arguments and discussions about my ‘trash’ in the home.
I kept all sorts. Masses of keyrings collected over the years, old party invitations, old school work, old defunct cables, those little badges you can get with rebellious statements on, old jewellery, old stationary, little notebooks and relics I’d got from cereal boxes as a kid (including a Rugrats flip book).
I’d even kept a ring from when I was seven years old, simply because I’d worn it at primary school.
As a person I was angry, unfulfilled, lost, and confused, with severe identity issues which caused massive problems in my relationships. Until I discovered minimalism, I didn’t realise that the state of my stuff reflected the state of my mind, and my past.
Just like with my drawers and cupboards, I kept parts of myself hidden away in dark dusty corners of my psyche, and every so often, bits would burst out and everyone around me would be left picking up the mess, only for it to end up back in the box it all burst from.
I’d grown up with such a turbulent school life among other things, that by the time I got to college and made the life-long friends I have now, I’d become a master of wearing a mask of silliness and extreme cheer. I was so skilled at this it became a genuine part of who I am today.
The first time I got confronted with my hoard was a wakeup call for me. I was renting a house with the man who is now my husband, when mum brought over all my old stuff from their attic. Bags and bags of stuff. Bin liners stretching with the weight of the memories inside them I’d carelessly stowed away.
At first, I just saw it as a monumental physical task I needed to work through. I couldn’t escape it because there was nowhere else for it to go. The attic was already rammed with game consoles, Christmas decorations, old memories, and other paraphernalia I’d just shoved up there when we moved in.
But as I emptied the bags and started to work my way through them, I felt all kinds of emotions, even over innocent things like soft toys.
Sadness, grief, nostalgia, warmth… such a mixed bag of feelings all attached to these objects, many of which I’d owned since I was a child. There were several piles of old school work, even my old school planner, complete with sad, angry scribbles.
To the people around me, that was all junk. Why hadn’t I put it in the bin ages ago? Why was I storing all that garbage? But to me, they were feelings and parts of me.
That school planner represented the part of me that expressed my feelings when nobody else would listen; proof that I experienced those feelings.
My school work was a trove of teacher praise, writing, and essays which I’d poured my soul into. I’d even kept hilarious pieces where it was clear I hadn’t understood the task or concept.
I found gifts from people who’d long since left my life, and a tower of children’s books I used to treasure.
By the end of the day, I charity-shopped about 90% of the bag’s contents, and I felt so light that I could have floated a metre above the ground. It was as if those bags had never been stowed in the attic but been tied to me the whole time.
I also felt emotionally drained.
That was my first step into self-growth and into what would later reveal itself to be the path to minimalism, but it took a long time for the universe to make me and the concept cross paths.
Since discovering minimalism, I’ve not only unearthed many parts of myself that I didn’t realise existed, I’ve discovered and reignited my dreams, and have worked persistently to accept the past and make way for who I’m becoming.
Clearing the clutter in my life was the same as clearing out the drawers of my heart and the closets of my mind. It took a lot of soul searching, confronting parts of myself and re-discovering where I wanted to go.
I had spent a lifetime living in the past, believing that I was worthless, and that the feelings I had were nothing but a lie if I got rid of the stuff I associated with them.
Without going into too much detail, this is because I grew up unable to express my feelings. It was taboo. It was wrong. It was weird. So I ended up attaching them to tangible objects.
When my heart got too heavy and full, it got emptied into cupboards and boxes, instead.
Of course, minimalism isn’t a cure-all and I’ve had to do a great deal of self-growth. Self-growth is something which never stops and should never plateau because people are forever experiencing life and taking on new beliefs and values.
For me, minimalism is the foundation to grow a new successful self. One not weighed down by stuff, the past, and outdated subconscious beliefs.
It’s my hope to help you on your journey, too, whatever your values or your past may be. It’s deep, hard work, but you can get there.
Remember, just as you don’t grow from toddler to adult in a day, you won’t change and grow your core values and beliefs overnight, either.
Since we’re entering the festive season, let’s consider Scrooge from ‘A Christmas Carol’. He changes from a lifetime of being cruel, miserable, greedy and selfish, to jolly, charitable, fun, and caring. All in one night.
While the story is great and has a powerful message, in reality, Scrooge would have taken years to change because his persona would result from various factors throughout his life; beliefs instilled into him by his parents, the people around him, his circumstances, and his environment.
Every single person has their own story, background, and beliefs. You can’t change a lifetime of beliefs and behaviours overnight, no matter how much you want to. And while throwing them out with the trash is freeing, you still need to do the emotional work to prevent returning to old habits and circumstances.
Hi there to all my awesome readers! This week’s post is late as I’ve been on a bit of a hiatus due to sickness (you know how it is once the winter/autumn bugs start their rounds and the kids bring them home from school).
Anyway, I appreciate all of you and want you to know I will be posting again shortly as soon as I’ve had some much needed hardcore rest.
“Get a move on!” my husband raged at the car in front. “You’re already halfway out so you may as well go the whole way!” He was complaining about a car to his left which had half pulled out into the road we were on, but then decided not to go any further.
And this is exactly what happens to so many of us chasing success. We want the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. We want to go where the grass is greener. To join that exclusive party of awesomeness where people are living their dreams while living it up.
But as soon as things get challenging, we come to a stop or retreat altogether.
I know how great and how easy it is to start something feeling so energised and motivated that the people around you wonder why the hell you’re smiling so much. Whatever project you take on, whether it’s a business idea, a book, or a habit you want to change, starts off easy. It’s new and exciting.
The real challenge is staying committed and keeping that level of motivation, even when the drive has deserted you. Because there will be so many days you want to do anything but what you know you should be doing.
You’ll have a bad day at work, cure it with a Netflix or gaming binge, and miss out on writing the five hundred words you intended for your book.
There will be days where life’s responsibilities have buried you, and all you can think of is that enticing bottle of wine you were trying to quit.
Or perhaps your kids have worn down the last thread of your patience and that course you started has suddenly fallen to the bottom of your priority list.
You think: I’ll write the chapter tomorrow. I’ll just study an extra two hours next week. I’ll go to the gym again when things have calmed down. I know I was trying to quit, but I’ve worked so hard and surely one drink/donut won’t hurt.
But tomorrow never comes. Tomorrow becomes the dreaded ‘I’ll get to it one day’. Things never quite calm down enough. Before you know it, you’re back to before you even started. What an exhausting cycle!
To achieve anything in life, you can’t just go at it with a hammer one day and a plastic sword the next. You need to stay consistent. It helps if you have a strong ‘why’. Why is it you want to become a world-class football player, a prolific author, or a famous chef? Why is it you want to declutter your home? Why are you trying to quit drinking? Why are you trying to lose weight?
Once you know your reasons, you’ll want to identify the true culprit behind the never-ending cycle of starting, stopping, and retreating. Quite often, if you look deep enough, you’ll find that it wasn’t your boss, your kids or your house chores that was the problem, but fear.
And fear is a master of disguise, often masquerading as busyness or distraction.
Becoming successful with anything takes dedication, consistent hard work, and winning habits, and even then, you might fail and look stupid. It’s so much safer and easier to hit snooze one more time on the alarm clock when you could be learning a new skill, or to binge Netflix with pizza when you could be breaking a sweat and losing the pounds you wanted.
For years, my whole life was governed by fear and inaction – and those two things got together, had a party, got wild, and smashed my vision. I stayed stagnant for a whole decade, dreaming without doing.
It took years to pick the pieces back up and arrange them into something new. Years to change my mindset and transform a lifetime of negative beliefs and self-defeating attitudes.
But fear hates it when you take action, and the more you act, the easier it will become. Fear’s influence weakens and it will sit in the corner of that party, as soon as you unleash your power and take control of the music.
You can’t half-ass any of this. Like the car at the start of this post, you’re either in or you’re out.
Arnold Schwarzenegger said, in his book ‘Total Recall’, “I was only wild when I was wild. When it was time to train, I never missed a session.” In other words, his free time was scheduled and not an endless, all-consuming loop. He took himself seriously and went for his dreams at a blistering speed, never dropping his vision. To him, time was treated as the precious and limited thing that it is.
I’m going to tell you one more crucial thing about keeping your motivation. The despair of staying where you are has to be torturous compared to the initial pain of committing yourself.
Staying in your 9-5 job must be infinitely more painful than the discomfort you would feel from getting up at 5am every morning to study for a new career.
Putting on five more pounds from eating pizza and donuts must be a hundred times more agonising compared to the initial pain of changing your diet.
You need to decide that enough is enough. You can’t and won’t tolerate more of the same.
I take online courses and study almost every day. I read every day. I write every day. Because I am dedicated, because it’s exciting, because I’m obsessed, and because just one more year of waking up to the same old me is, quite frankly, unthinkable.
One thing to keep in mind, however, is that dreams and goals can change and that’s completely normal. It doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you, it just means you’re a living, breathing, human.
Some people (like me) have always known what they wanted to do, but also stumble upon something else along the way which ignites their soul. That’s also completely normal.
Everyone has their own definition of success so just go for whatever your heart tells you to do, and if you haven’t found your calling yet, don’t worry. Just take the time to be still, carry on living, try new things, and one day you will find it.
Once you find it, don’t let go. Don’t half-ass it. You have endless potential! The question is, are you in or out?
This week, I’m talking about daring to be different and letting go of the fear that stops so many of us from reaching our potential. I will refer to video games again because they’ve taught me some valuable lessons, so if you’re not a gamer, bear with me – what I’ve learned could help you, too.
I’ve been playing Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild; a massive game about exploration. It’s been in my backlog for years, mainly because I couldn’t stand that you can go wherever you want in any order, and there’s no real structure on how you do things. Just as there are so many ways to progress, there’s so many ways to fail.
I feared playing it. What if I go wrong? What if I fail? What if I get stuck? How will I know what to do next? Will I have wasted my time?
It’s a hugely limiting mindset that’s not just stopped me from experiencing award-winning video games, but living life to the fullest.
Anyway, I decided to give the game another try, and overcome this way of thinking.
Surprisingly, I’ve found myself addicted (not unhealthily) and actively exploring the environment, even when the main quest is blinking on the humongous map. There’s always something to see, and always a reward or two for exploring an area.
There were times I’ve felt overwhelmed, but I kept playing anyway, determined to see all it has to offer. And I made tonnes of progress. That gave me the confidence to try another exploration type game called Hollow Knight. It’s popular with gamers, but I’ve shied away from it in the past because of the game not holding your hand and telling you where to go next.
“Let go of that mindset and just explore,” my husband said when I started. And I did. I went against everything inside me that was screaming with the anxiety of not being guided down a specific path, and before I knew it, I was immersed and finding something new with every direction I went.
Yes, I got my ass handed to me several times, but it was such an enjoyable experience that I found myself trying again and again until I beat certain enemies.
I stopped worrying about whether I was going in the right direction and started wondering what I would find in the next area. I was enjoying myself without being directed.
What’s your enemy in life? Fear? Procrastination? Being a master of weaving excuse stories rather than the story you want to tell? Go ahead and beat it! There’s joy and excitement on the other side.
In real life, I’ve always struggled and become very anxious when there’s no clear path or no guidance saying “do this/go here next.” Playing video games that took me out of that comfort zone has been a big stepping stone for me.
Overcoming that anxiety and learning to guide myself is vital because I’m on the path to becoming a counsellor and want to own my own practice in the future. I want to feel more relaxed and confident in situations where nothing is certain.
Because life isn’t certain.
I’m not saying that you should play video games if you want to change your mindset, I’m saying that taking action and facing your fears has more power than you could imagine.
Since playing those games and fighting through that mindset, I’ve also had a revelation about my writing. A lot of the writers block I get is down to feeling creatively blocked because with writing there are no rules per se.
Just like with Hollow Knight, and Breath of the Wild, it’s about exploring and finding what works. It’s about letting go of fear of the unknown and turning it into excitement and curiosity. It’s about exploring off the beaten path. Trying something different.
As Albert Einstein once said “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
It’s like boarding a plane to America, even though you’re trying to get to Japan.
Straying from the beaten path is crucial if you want to escape mediocrity and discover your true potential, yet so many of us stay stuck in jobs we hate, in toxic relationships, and with habits that no longer serve us.
Most of society would have you believe that life is all about survival. Keeping your head down and not taking any risks. After all, staying on the well-worn path is ‘safe’. It’s far less scary than going off to explore that sparkling river of opportunity in the distance.
It’s also the path to forgotten and lost dreams. Staying on that path can lead to you forgetting who you are, what you have to offer to the world, and what you truly find fulfillment in. By staying on the linear, worn path, you don’t get to see the sparkling river, the lush forest, or find the hidden treasure.
So, don’t hesitate. Let go of your fear. Be adventurous. Leave the beaten path and follow the river instead. Who knows where it could take you?
I’ve lost count of the times people have said things to me like, “But you own all these books, that isn’t minimalistic!”, or “How come you’ve bought another game? I thought you were a minimalist!”
But here’s the thing: minimalism isn’t about depriving yourself of having the things that make you happy or bring value to your life. It’s not about white furniture and empty shelves. And it’s absolutely not a competition.
Minimalism is about living a simple and clutter-free lifestyle. It’s about finding what’s important to you and minimising the less important things so that you can maximise your time on the most meaningful.
For me, that’s family, friends, writing, reading, relaxing, watching anime, and gaming. For you, that might mean baking, working out, creating, hosting parties, or spending less time online.
Everybody is different. That’s what makes the world so interesting.
Telling someone they can’t be minimalist if they own a certain thing is as crazy as saying to someone, “You play sports? No you don’t because you’re a tennis player, not a footballer. Football is the only real sport!”
See how silly that sounds?
I’ve also seen, in several minimalist groups, people posting a photo and asking “Should I get rid of this?”, or posting a photo of a room in their house and asking, “Is this minimalist enough?”
But there’s no such thing as ‘minimalist enough’. Nobody else can tell you to get rid of or keep that penguin figurine collection because nobody else knows the significance of them in your life.
Only you can answer those questions because only you know the story behind your stuff. Only you know what holds meaning in your life and why. Only your heart can tell you when you’ve reached that level of satisfaction.
If you rely on others to tell you what to keep and what to throw, or what looks ‘minimalist enough’, you can’t grow as a person because you won’t be developing those crucial decision making skills that come with minimising and decluttering.
And if the decisions don’t come from you, you will end up living someone else’s version of minimalism. Someone else’s life.
I once shared an image of my minimalist living room. Some loved it, some thought I had too many books, some thought I had too many photos, some people found it inspirational, and some went as far as to say they what pieces of furniture they would change.
None of the people who commented were either right or wrong. What I got what a diverse snapshot of other people’s visions for their own lives.
What you need to ask yourself when minimising or simplifying is, “Is this perfect to me?” Not, “Will my uncle Pete like it?” And certainly not, “Does my house look better than Amy’s on Instagram?”
Minimalism isn’t a war. It is a means to live a simple, more peaceful, and more intentional life.
Comparing your minimalism, or your home to others will not do you any favours unless you’re using it purely for inspiration. In fact, it will drain you and make you miserable and resentful.
Once minimalism becomes a competition it loses its meaning. You become no better than you were when you were subconsciously, or consciously, comparing possessions or status, which is as far from minimalist as you can get.
So, minimise in a way that feels right for you. Inspire others by becoming genuinely happy and satisfied with your own life. Be simply you.
I was reading Bing to my son the other night, when I asked him, “How come you still love the books but don’t watch it anymore?”
He replied, “I’m too old for Bing now, mummy, I like to play my games more now.”
I was shocked, but it wasn’t the first time he’d told me he’d outgrown something. Apparently, he’s also too old now for his Paw Patrol wallpaper and wants Spider-Man, instead.
Why am I telling you this?
Because time is precious, and it passes by faster than a falling raindrop.
Despite that fact, many of us fritter that time away behind phone screens, behind ‘busyness’ and working to accumulate bigger, better stuff. All the while, our children grow up under our noses, our friends and family age or move away, people pass away. But it happens so subtly that we don’t see these things until they’re suddenly upon us.
I was chatting to a colleague the other day, and they said “At the end of the day, once you’ve retired, you’re just another person.” That stood out to me because so many people base their lives on having a particular status, or working all hours to afford stuff that bring them more status.
Some people work so many hours, or place so much emphasis on acquiring more stuff and staying busy, that they’re shell-shocked when they finally stop and see the changes in their reality. Some even forget to look after their health in the process.
Like with my son growing up in a few blinks, it’s the same with other milestones in life. They’re here before you know it. And if you’re not mindful of how you spend your time, you’ll look back wondering just where the hell it all went, like you’ve passed by on an out-of-control rocket.
One of the most prominent incidents in my life that have shown me the importance of time was when I visited my uncle in the hospital.
He was a popular and well-loved man, always laughing and making others laugh until their faces and sides hurt. We were close, but then the day came when he was an old man and ended up ill in the hospital. Even then, he was laughing and joking around. The nurses loved him.
While I was visiting, I did talk to him and laugh at his jokes – but it felt forced because I wasn’t fully present. At the time, I was going through a terrible drama in my young adult life, my mind kept drifting, and I was texting on my phone every few seconds, trying to sort it all out.
I didn’t see his time on Earth flickering like a dying candle. I didn’t see that our time together was shortening to a stub.
Some naive, childish part of me thought he would be around forever because, to me, he was invincible. Nothing seemed to get him down.
The next time me and my family visited him he was in an old people’s home. He was upset from losing his independence and it was the first time I’d ever saw him cry.
My uncle with the spirit of an excitable child, who was the embodiment of joy itself, was having to come to terms with how frail he now was, while I stood there surveying the surroundings, feeling dumbstruck and helpless.
I never got a word in during that visit. And that was the last time I saw him before he passed away.
That’s when I got my first taste of how precious time really is, and of how important it is to give people your all when you visit them. Show them how important they are and make memories because you never know how much time is left.
Although I grieved for a long time, what tore me apart the most wasn’t his death itself, but the immense guilt from not being fully present with him in the hospital room that day; the last time we would laugh together.
When I got the news of his passing, suddenly, the life issues I’d had while I was visiting him seemed as important as whether or not I was out of teabags. I would have thrown my phone into a pit of fire and never owned one again if it meant I could relive that day how I should have done.
The thing is, you can’t change how you’ve spent your time and you can’t get a refund on it like with an impulse purchase. So don’t waste time worrying about how you’ve used it in the past. Instead, be mindful of how you spend it from this moment forth.
The sad thing is, that all too often it takes a sad or shocking event, or a big slap in the face from the universe to wake us up to what’s in front of us.
So, if you’re one of those people on that rocket, just remember you can get off and walk at any time. You can stop and see the sights.
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.