What a difference a year makes!

DSC_0054It is a Friday, the last day of the financial year. I have finished work early and jumped on the train home just after lunchtime, looking forward to the weekend. It’s a glorious, sunny day with a fresh breeze. As I walk up the hill, the sun warm on my face, I can’t help but smile at the perfect row of little steam-train like clouds against blue sky. I have to blink because the sun is so low that it shines right in my eyes on the way up the hill. Just when I reach the crest, with a perfect view over the city some 15 kilometers away, a gust of wind ruffles and shakes my blouse, and for a second I feel free as a bird, with no care in the world.

And then I have to laugh, because I realise that this is my ‘click moment’. The moment when I realise how fundamentally I have changed my life over the last two years, since first picking up a copy of The Life Changing Magic of Tyding Up. On the surface, my life doesn’t look that different. Still happily married, still finishing up home renovations, still working for the same organisation. On the inside, everything has changed.

Two years ago, on the last day of the financial year, I would have left the office in the dark, after rushing to finish up last-minute finance paperwork. I would have grabbed my laptop from the cradle and run to the bus stop, just see the back of the last express bus home, reeling at the disappointment in my husband’s voice when I tell him that I’ll be another hour and a half because I just missed the bus. It’s not the first time.

On the bus, I’d get straight back to my laptop, just to realise that the document I was working on hasn’t yet synced to the server, because I grabbed the laptop without taking the time to put it on standby first. So I have to back track and re-do the last 20 minutes of work.

At home, hubby has nodded off on the sofa while my mind is still racing, which doesn’t make for a good starting point for a conversation. Later that night, there will be tears, and a feeling of dread that no matter how hard I’ll try this weekend, I already know that I won’t be able to get the house tidy, or get enough bandwidth to do some of the overdue thinking and planning for work that’s been hanging over me like a big, black cloud for a few weeks now. Let alone some time to relax.

Just need to get over that hump of urgent stuff, I tell myself. I’m angry at the person at work who said that feeling stressed at work is self-induced, all the while my to-do-list is filling up with tasks that are urgent and non-negotiable, but I know are not important in the grand scheme of things.

Back then, when I read the article about Marie Kondo’s book, claiming that you could tidy up your house once, and never again, with no relapse into untidiness, I was intrigued. I often felt that I wasn’t getting any rest and enjoyment on weekends. I couldn’t sit still to read the book I really wanted to read, or watch a good film. Out of the corner of my eye, I would see clutter and disorganisation and would constantly feel the need to jump up and fix it. Taking care of that might just give me a bit more bandwidth, I thought.

I happened to have two weeks of work, one week by myself at home before going on a week’s travel with my husband. During that first week, I learned about the Konmari method of tidying and tackled the first three categories – clothes, books and paper. This relatively short time investment already had a major impact on my life. Clothes and paper had been a major contributor to the feeling of frustration, trying to find the elusive second sock when already in a rush to get out of the door in the mornings, or working through semi-organised piles of paper in the office, pantry and living room at tax time. A fan of process improvement at work, I could not believe that I had not thought about keeping all clothes and laundry basket in one room, thus eliminating unnecessary shuffling of socks between different places in the house!

The process of choosing possessions that only spark joy also made me trust my gut a whole lot more, and in a strange way, I experienced the deliberate, neat folding of clothes as a very mindful activity which brought back fond memories of helping my mum ‘iron’ clothes as a child. She’d be ironing my Dad’s shirts, while I was in charge of folding singlets, smoothing out any creases with my little hands. Marie Kondo describes it as infusing garments with energy, the Japanese word ‘te-ate’ (literally ‘applying hands’) meaning ‘healing’. The right-brained part of me concurs.

So, does that mean my house is now always perfect and there’s never a shred out of place? Of course not. But today, even if there is some chaos around me, I can be quite relaxed about it, because I know that I can sort it out within a few minutes, and because it’s not a chore, it’s actually easy and fun to put things back in their rightful places. I have also learned to focus on my own clutter, which means I can happily relax and do more important things, even if there’s still some clutter around.

And I’m pleased to report that there hasn’t been a single lost sock or mad scramble for something to wear in the mornings in over two years 🙂

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