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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A moment to spare

Just in case you were under the impression that I had cluttered up only one room of my apartment (perhaps in some sort of Picture of Dorian Gray fashion), let me disabuse you of the notion by showing you a picture of the area beside my bed.

This has been how my beside has look for ... oh ... lets just say 30 years.  Being in decluttering mode, I stopped and looked at this one day (and took this picture) and pondered for a moment what this was telling me about myself.  I noted that half of the books there were ones I had borrowed from the library just because they had caught my eye and when I got them home, I read about ten pages and decided they weren't worth reading.  [Note to self - read those ten pages in the library and you won't have to carry the books home and back to the library again.]  I also noted that the one book I was really interested in (The Places That Scare You by Pema Chodron) had been neglected in favour of the books I should have left in the library. It made me realise that not only do I indiscriminately fill my space with things that I don't really want and that I certainly don't need, I do the same thing to my mind.

This realisation was further reinforced when I tried to re-borrow The Places That Scare You to have time to finish reading it, only to have my request rejected because somebody else had reserved it.  I decided then to stop acting like a kid in a lolly shop at the library and to try to read only a couple of books, and preferably one, at a time. (Much to the joy of my husband who has been telling me to do this for years.) 

Today I was reminded of a guy I read about early on in my decluttering travels.  He was the ultimate couch potato, but decided to declutter his house.  After starting small, he eventually got the whole place sorted with the final item to go being his TV, because he didn't watch it anymore.  

At the time I read this I just couldn't imagine life without television.  I was spending three to four hours a day watching TV and couldn't see how I could reduce that down.  In our home, we have a PS3 with PlayTV and are in the habit of "taping" whatever catches our fancy in the TV guide.  As a result, the PS3 regularly fills up and we try to watch the shows to empty space so we can tape more shows.

But something strange has happened in the last couple of weeks.  First, the PS3 filled up again. At first I thought nothing of it, but by this Friday just past, we had recovered half the disk space (has never happened before) and I found myself clicking through the remaining shows and thinking "no, don't think I'll bother" for each and every one.  I actually found myself staring at the TV with nothing to watch.  I can't remember this happening since we got our first hard-disk recorder about four years ago.

Then today, my husband asked me about three times what I wanted to watch on TV and each time I said something along the lines of - "I want to get X done first".  As a result, I realised that there has been a shift.  I no longer tape things just for the sake of it, I usually only tape things I know I want to watch and if, occasionally I tape something just because, say, the title caught my attention, rather than watch the whole thing, I will watch if for a few minutes and delete it if it doesn't really interesting me.  Hence, for the first time in years, I found myself with nothing to watch (if only for a few hours).
So what has caused this shift?  My theory is that decluttering gets you into the habit of evaluating.  Evaluating what? Evaluating everything!

Decluttering is almost pure evaluation (and a little bit of moving things around).  You evaluate every item you come across to determine whether to keep it, give it to someone you know, give it to charity, try to sell it on eBay or to simply toss it in the trash/recycling (note, as time goes by the validity of that last option becomes increasingly apparent).

Decluttering gives you a true appreciation on how much you have and the realisation that its far too much. You realise that the easiest way to deal with things is to not buy them in the first place, so you stop shopping.  But the evaluation habit spreads, to books, to TV, to all the other things you are in the habit of doing, until one day, you find yourself for the first time in a long time, with a spare moment, an actual real spare moment in which you don't feel any pressure to do anything - and its wonderful!

Sunday, September 5, 2010


On the 4th July holiday weekend in 1991, Warren Buffett met Bill Gates.  The story of their introduction as written in The Snowball is a great read so I won't ruin it for you here, but I will repeat a comment that Warren Buffett made about it:

"Then at dinner, Bill Gates Sr. posed the question to the table: What factor did people feel was the most important in getting to where they'd gotten in life? And I said 'Focus.' And Bill said the same thing."

About 10 years ago, I first came across the notion that genius is not an accident of birth, but 10,000 hours of work. Aparently, this was proven in a scientific study in 2008 and written about in the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.  

Last year I read Anthony Robbins' book Awaken the Giant Within.  It includes a process for working out which goals to focus (there's that word again) on.  In the last step of the process, you write down what you are going to do each day for the next 10 days to work towards your goals.

At the time, I was pregnant and suffering with morning sickness.  By which I mean, I suffered food poisoning for nine months except it wasn't food poisoning, it just felt like it.  The upshot of this being that I was not feeling particularly motivated, so I decided I would do the absolute bare minimum for each of the 10 days.  For example, if I had to spend one minute looking up something on a website, that would be it for the day.  As a result of doing the absolute bare minium for those 10 days, I got more achieved in those 10 days that for the entire rest of the year.

Following the quote about focus by Warren Buffett, the author of The Snowball, Alice Schroeder, waxes lyrical about Warren Buffett's ability to focus like its a form of magic.  But I think she is wrong.  I think its a very straight forward thing, the more time you spend developing your skills the better your skills will be.  I think we all like to over-complicate things and assume successful people are inately better than us - but really, its just that they got off their arse.

In my last post, I wrote about the success I have had using the feng shui silver box.  You could not be blamed for thinking that the silver box is a form of magic, but again I don't think it is.  I think it is a ritual for developing your focus.  First you have to think about your goal and refine the wording down to one sentence.  Then you write out the words on a card and place it in the silver box.  Silver is a precious metal, so again the importance of this goal is highlighted to you.  Each time you see the box, which stands out in your home because it is silver, you are reminded of your goal, so your attention is focused on it.

The two silver box goals I have had success with both required my focus.  The first in gathering all the information required and filling out the extensive form for the Baby Bonus.  But I knew in advance that I was eligible.  I also had a fairly good indication that I could pass the test to join Mensa based on result of career apitutude tests and I was aware that, as with all tests, the more practice you do, the higher the score you will achieve.  So I was spending a least an hour a day doing practice tests leading up to the formal examination.

Even if I win the house in the lottery, I will still not be convinced it's magic, because someone has to win and there are only 80,000 tickets.  Yesterday I was given a tattslotto ticket for next week's $20 million draw.  I have put the ticket in the silver box.  If I win the $20 million, with odds of 1 to 8,145,060, then I may concede that there is something more to it.  In the meantime people, I recommend you follow Nike's advice and Just Do It!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

So how are things going with the silver box?

Way back in May, in my first post on decluttering, I wrote about a fung shui "cure" involving using a silver box to "attract" things you want to you. So far I have used it three times:

  1. to get the Baby Bonus - a $5,000 grant from the government available to anyone who has a baby and earns under $75,000 in the six months after the birth - as discussed in previous posts: Successful
  2. to join Mensa - I am constantly coming up with ideas of things to do that I regret when the time comes.  For example, I can't tell you the number of early Sunday mornings (when it is just wrong to be out of bed) that I have found myself standing in a crowd of properly fit people waiting to start a (no-)fun run and thinking "why the hell do I do these things to myself?".  It was this same spirit that led me to decide to try and join Mensa - the club for people who's IQ's are in the top 2% of the population.  Success or failure would not really have been an issue for me except for some strange reason, after sending off the form to do the entry test, I then updated my Facebook status to tell people I was doing it.  So of course then I had to get in.  So I got out another card and put it in the silver box just to be safe, and the result? - Successful
  3. Every year the Royal Melbourne Hospital runs a serious lottery where you can win some truely amazing prizes.  This year the first prize is a house and not just any old house but a 370 sqm (that's 3,984 square feet to our American friends) two-storey, fully furnished, four bedroom, two-living room plus a home theatre, double garage and a lap-pool house in one of Melbourne's most expensive suburbs. I want it. I want it in the way only someone who lives with two other people in a two bedroom flat can want it.  The prizes will be drawn on 19 Oct 2010 or (if all tickets are sold) on the early bird prize draw date 28 Sep 2010. Status: Pending

Note: further details of the lottery and tickets can be obtained here: