Charity Shopper #4

Charity shopper is a weekly blog post. The rules are that I have to visit a charity shop every week and purchase something from it. I cannot leave the shop without making a purchase and I must use the purchase at least once. I will report every week on what I buy.

It’s more fun if you play at home: this week you have the opportunity to win all of the items I purchased. This is partly to spread the word about the Charity Shopper blog and partly because my wife has threatened divorce if I bring anymore stuff home from charity shops.  To be in with a chance of winning all you have to do is contact me on twitter @TmhoLudek or email: themagichappinessof@gmail.com and I’ll enter you into the prize draw. If your name is pulled out of the hat then you win: Status Anxiety by Alain de Botton, Once upon a Potty by Alana Frankel and The Husband, A Ladybird Book by J. A. Hazely and J. P. Morris.

Last week’s winner was the unfathomably talented @RebekaLord. You should definitely check out her website: www.rebekalord.com and if you are in West Yorkshire over the next few weeks pop along to see her paintings as part of the Turps Correspond Exhibition at the Artworks 1830 Gallery between February 21st and March 20th.

Date: Mon 19.02.2016 

Shop: Dove House Hospice, 7 High St, Market Weighton, East Yorkshire YO43 3AQ

Purchase: Status Anxiety by Alain de Botton, Once upon a Potty by Alona Frankel and The Husband, A Ladybird Book by J. A. Hazely and J. P. Morris.

Cost: £1.48

You’ve been quiet this week. A bit tardy with this post, it normally comes out on a Sunday!

I’ve been busy reading.

So I see. A book about potty training?

Once Upon a Potty is a book by Alona Frankel to help parents introduce the potty to their youngsters.

I see. Sounds…

Well, admittedly it’s not exactly…

No, I suppose not. Is it any good?

Erm well, it’s maybe not in the same category as some of Dostoevsky’s stuff but you know. It’s… different…

How so?

Well it’s got this picture in it:

A bottom for sitting and in it a little hole for making Poo - Poo. Once upon a Potty by Alana Fra
A bottom for sitting and in it a little hole for making Poo – Poo. Once upon a Potty by Alana Frankel

Oh! I see what you mean. That’s a little awkward.

The book is regarded as a classic by some and you can buy it on Amazon. For $50.

Say what?

That’s right. Original hardback copies from the 1980s change hands for $50 or more. There are 3 on sale at Amazon.com at the moment. Here’s another odd picture. Is it just me or does the poo look like angel delight?

Later on she made Wee-Wee and Poo-Poo but not exactly into the potty.
Later on she made Wee-Wee and Poo-Poo but not exactly into the potty.

This reviewer from Goodreads.com won’t be buying it though:

“The ugliest, nastiest potty book ever written. What moronic parent would actually WANT to read this one to a kid. “Wee-Wee” and “Poo-Poo”? FEH!
(And please don’t tell me it trained your kid […]. Your kid trained because they were READY!)

There are TONS of good potty books if you insist on reading them to your kids. But don’t expect them to magically train your child–it ain’t gonna happen. Better still, relax and stop obsessing over potty training. Is it going to get them into college someday?”

Oh dear. Alright shouty! Well, it might be a bit difficult to survive at college if you haven’t learnt to use the toilet by that stage. Surely you’re potty trained though?

It’s not for me. I’ve been potty training my daughter.

Our daughter.

Sorry?

Our daughter. Because I am you and you are me. You’re interviewing yourself, remember?

Oh yes.

Why is that?

What?

That you’re interviewing yourself?

Erm… well I don’t know really. I don’t really have any friends to talk to about this stuff… Why do you ask? Do you think I need more friends?

Do you think you need more friends?

Umm, well I’m married and I have children. Do  I still need friends? None of my friends seem to have friends. Well I mean, Rob has lots of friends. He’s divorced though. Lots of his friends come from a website that he’s on… does that count? Rob seems to be very happy.

Why do you think that?

He gets to go to the pub a fair bit and sometimes he rings me up during the early hours of the morning after he’s been to the pub to tell me about how happy he is. I don’t know if I’m as happy as Rob. I feel a bit worried about that. Do you think I should get divorced?

Perhaps you should read the ‘How it works’ book from Ladybird about The Husband before you make and rash decisions.

Ah yes, this is one of those  Ladybird books for adults. I remember reading these as a child…

Ladybird for adults books: How it works - The Husband A Ladybird book.
Ladybird for adults books: How it works – The Husband A Ladybird book.

Brings back happy memories doesn’t it?

Ha ha, yes it does.

Kind of.

Feels and looks exactly like the originals, just funnier…

This is what the inside of Tim's head looks like.
This is what the inside of Tim’s head looks like.
Adrian's wife sometimes cries herself to sleep
The husband likes things to be in order.

 

That’s because the authors, Jason Hazeley and Joel Morris, have taken the original Ladybird pictures and put satirical little barbs with them to fit the images.

I’m not sure it’s helping with my anxious feeling though. All the women in the book seem fairly unhappy. So do the men too.

If you’re feeling anxious then maybe you need to read Alain de Boton’s Status Anxiety.

I have been. That’s what made me feel anxious. Having read his incisive study of modern social mores I realise that not having any friends means I lack social status – the world doesn’t love me in the same way that it loves Beyonce and… and… Joe Pasquale. Do you think I should tell my friends about how I’m feeling?

I wouldn’t if I were you.

You are me.

Don’t be facetious. That could be why you haven’t got any friends. You should definitely not mention how you’re feeling to your friends. 

Really?

Absolutely. De Botton says that you are craving the love and admiration of your friends and ‘the quest for love from the world is a […] secret and shameful tale.’

My head is hurting a bit…

De Boton says, ‘to feel that we are taken no notice of necessarily disappoints the most ardent desires of human nature.’

My most ardent desire is to be noticed.

Is that why you’re talking to yourself at the kitchen table at 1.00am and writing down what you say as though it’s an interview?

Umm, I think so…

I thought so too.

God this is confusing!

My head is hurting a bit.

 

The Charity Shopper returns on Monday. 

To be in with a chance of winning all you have to do is contact me on twitter @TmhoLudek or email: themagichappinessof@gmail.com and I’ll enter you into the prize draw.

If you’ve enjoyed this week’s foray into secondhand land then check out the previous blog posts here:

Charity Shopper #1

Charity Shopper #2

Charity Shopper #3

Talking shop #1

Talking shop #2

Talking shop #3

Talking shop #4

 

The Organized Mind Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload

Self Help: The Organized Mind by Daniel Levitin

The Organized Mind Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload
The Organized Mind by Daniel J. Levitin

Every week I try a different self – help guide’s life advice. This week I’m reading Daniel Levitin’s The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload. In the first installment I reviewed Marie Kondo’s The Life – Changing Magic of Tidying. Last week I tackled Paul Arden’s It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be.

At the start of this post I’ve got to issue a disclaimer – it’s not that I’ve received this book gratis from the publisher (btw – just how do you get those free books to review?) or that I know the author or anything like that: it’s that I am by profession a Science teacher. This is a book, notionally at least, about neuroscience and so I must confess that I have a natural inclination to favour this book over the other two books that I’ve read so far: The Life Changing Magic of Tidying and It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want to Be

Some of you have noted a faintly derisive tone in the last two reviews and it’s true, my Self – Help Binge is slightly tongue in cheek, but it started with the most serious of intentions and I have genuinely attempted to live by the teachings of Marie Kondo and Paul Arden (at least during the week in which I read their books). Marie Kondo’s writing was annoying but the effect on the tidiness of our home was dramatic. Conversely, Paul Arden had me talking like one of those daily inspiration Twitter accounts and turned me into a really quite annoying person. Daniel Levitin’s Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload seems at first glance to have more potential: Levitin attempts to bring his learning to bear on the problem of our fantastically complicated everyday lives. I feel I certainly fit the bill as someone who leads an overly complex life: I am a teacher, often working upwards of 60 hours in a week, I am father to two small children who attend a plethora of clubs and activities, my wife works full time and I edit themagichappinessof.com which takes up all my spare time; so I have plenty of everyday commitments to juggle.

Levitin identifies attention as the most precious of the brain’s resources. Knowing where best to put your attention is a skill harnessed by a group of people the author assigns the tag HSPs: Highly Successful Persons. These people are CEOs, business leaders, social media tycoons, musicians, presidents and prime ministers. In short, they have a lot on their plate. Levitin argues that the HSPs are where they are because they leverage their considerable mental faculties in the right areas rather than wasting their attention on posting cat photos to Twitter or clicking on pop – ups promising ’15 quick tips to boost your productivity’. The phrase ‘paying – attention’ is one that we give little thought to but the author demonstrates how it has a basis in the way the brain is wired up.

Switching attention between several tasks actually incurs a neural ‘cost’ and the more times we switch between activities the more of a cost we incur. This leads to us becoming tired and tiredness affects our ability to make judgments. I was happy to learn that multi – tasking, something my wife claims to be expert at, is nothing of the sort. During writing this article I have checked Twitter 15 times so far (no one has mentioned me in a tweet, liked or re-tweeted anything of mine in that time scale), checked Facebook 22 times (no new notifications), checked my blog stats three or four times, checked Tumblr and my Google+ account a similar amount of times. All for no yield. This isn’t multi – tasking. This is just switching my attention from Twitter to Facebook to my blog to Google+ and round and round again. ‘Attention is a limited capacity resource’ says Levitin, ‘there are definite limits to the number of things we can attend to at once.’ He gives the example of driving along a street looking for a turning whilst listening to the radio or trying to hold a conversation. Most of us recognise that we tend to turn the radio down or pause the conversation whilst we scan for the correct street to turn down.

It is the same with all those social media accounts: if you are trying to write a book review then write a book review. Turn off Twitter, mute the updates alert on your phone, close the Facebook tab and focus your attention on the book review. All sounds eminently sensible and dare I say it, common sense, so far. The problem is, we are distractable beings. Indeed, we evolved 200, 000 years ago in an environment where things were fairly static. If something changed in your environment then it was a novelty and novelty meant potential danger. The human brain has evolved to attend to novelty. When your phone pings to tell you that you have a new Twitter notification your brain switches it’s focus to that. It takes willpower to ignore the update and focus on what you’re supposed to be doing. But this willpower incurs a cost. Levitin quotes a study by Glenn Wilson of Gresham College, London who found that having knowledge of an unread email in your inbox whilst you are trying to concentrate on a task can reduce you effective IQ by 10 points. That’s just knowing that the email is there, whether you intend to do anything about it or not.

A lot of Levitin’s advice might seem common sense: write everything down that you need to remember, turn off your phone whilst you’re trying to concentrate on a task, stop posting cat photos, organize your contacts, answer emails during a defined period of time each day, get enough sleep. It’s all stuff that you’ve heard elsewhere on productivity blogs or in lifestyle supplements. Where Levitin’s book sets itself apart is in showing the reader how all of this is routed in sound neuroscience.

It’s not easy to adopt new routines though. I’ve tried one strategy from the book which is something that I remember reading about as a teenager in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. ‘Zen and…’  is a strange book and when I read it as a youngster I completely missed it’s function as a self – help book and read it mainly as a novel of ideas.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Prisig

The protagonist uses the idea of writing down his to – do list on a series of index cards. This is something that appealed to me. Each item on your to – do list is written on a separate card and then these cards are shuffled so that the item that is uppermost on your list of priorities sits on top. Once I have completed that task I rip the card up and throw it away. This is much more rewarding than crossing it off an enormous long to – do list. The reward element of completing a task should not be neglected. In a recent review of So you’ve been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson I discussed how social media is designed to hijack our attention systems by offering us a neurological reward – a quick release of dopamine, the hormone associated with our brain’s pleasure pathways – every time we complete a task.

So You've Been Publicly Shamed Jon Ronson

Gaining an extra follower on Twitter or a share on Facebook, responding to a tweet or answering a query in an email counts as completing a task and so generates that little kick of dopamine that keeps you going back for more.

Now these ‘tasks’ are not really tasks of any significance at all. I might spend 15 minutes checking my emails, then 5 minutes going through my Twitter notifications and a further 5 minutes checking my Facebook notifications and responding to inbox messages. None of these little ‘tasks’ is really achieving anything significant but they all bring with them the feeling that I’m being busy. My brain is certainly busy switching from one thing to another constantly and I’m generating the little addictive reward of a kick of dopamine every time I complete a task but I’m not really achieving anything. And whilst doing all this insignificant ‘work’ I am neglecting significant things that need attending to like setting up a new savings account or securing some dental insurance at a reasonable price.

The index cards method of sorting my priorities worked out fine for me for the first two days. I assiduously wrote down every new thing that I needed to attend to and indexed it in my to – do pile. I sorted the pile at regular intervals and when the pile seemed to be getting too thick I whittled it down by actually doing some of the things in the pile. Great. Except keeping on top of the pile required self – control and motivation.

When the colourful index cards were fresh out of the packet they were a novelty and I attended to using them as one attends to a new pet. When I’d lived with the method for a couple of days I started forgetting to write out new cards when a task popped up or skipping it altogether, telling myself that it was too much hassle to fish the cards out and fill one out. Then I started to forget to check them altogether. I could remember what was written on the uppermost card but not the ones underneath.

I think the message from this book is that some of us are more organised than others but the key is that none of us evolved to be this way. Our brains are set up to handle  a much  less complicated world with less information to process and far fewer social contacts to keep track of. Feeling like we’re not on top of our everyday existence causes anxiety and can be stressful. We can teach ourselves to become organised though, but it takes training and practice, like mastering anything else. Oranisation is about embedding good habits into your day to day routine. The trick is to be consistent. Adopt a strategy and stick with it until it becomes a habit.

Next week I will post a review of my self – help progress so far; what’s worked, what’s gone wrong and what I’ve learnt so far. That will give me a bit of time to read the next book on my list which is Thrive by Arriana Huffington and was suggested by Its – Jme whose awesome blog you should check out.

If you’ve read any of the three books I’ve discussed so far I’d love to hear your thoughts and if you’d like to suggest a self – help title for me to try out then please comment below, tweet to @TmhoLudek or email themagichappinessof@gmail.com.

It's not how good you are, it's how good you want to be. By Paul Arden

One book to change your life? Could it be this one? The Magic Happiness of… thinks it could.

Every week I try a different self – help guide’s life advice. Last week I reviewed Marie Kondo’s The Life – Changing Magic of Tidying. This week I tackle Paul Arden’s It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be.

Sandwiched somewhere between a career’s advice lecture and an evangelical call to self – improvement for anyone with a creative bent, this little book is small enough to fit in the pocket and short enough to read in a matter of minutes. That’s not to say the ideas in it aren’t profound though.

Arden’s little book was a sensation when it was first published in 2003 and has entered the hearts and minds of many an ambitious, bright young thing since. Arden’s prose is direct and bossy, but his message is never less than engaging and thought provoking.

‘So how good do you want to be?’ he asks at the outset.

So how good do you want to be asks Paul Arden
So how good do you want to be?

Well, I don’t know, you think. Probably quite good. Fairly soon though you get the sense that this isn’t good enough for Paul Arden. ‘You can achieve the unachievable.’ he exhorts. By the third page in I’m feeling ecstatic.

Many of the messages are counter – intuitive: ‘It’s right to be wrong,’ ‘fail, fail again, fail better,’why do we strive for excellence when mediocrity is required?’ And Arden’s wisdom is delivered with such clear – eyed certainty that you get caught up in it. The layout of every page is delicious, the bold titles and large text allied with clean, monochrome images mean that it’s easy on the eye. You wouldn’t expect anything less from a former  Executive Creative Director at Saatchi and Saatchi though would you?

So I’ve been trying to apply the book’s message of ambition, self promotion and positive thinking to my life. I’ve been relentlessly chipper at work. Emma, my colleague, took me aside to ask me if everything was alright. ‘You keep talking to everyone like you’re reading from a leadership manual,’ she said worriedly. ‘Have you been getting enough sleep?’ ‘Without a goal it’s difficult to score,’ I replied, assertively.

I’ve designed myself some business cards. I’m a teacher so they say ‘Headteacher’ on them.

Design your own business card says Paul Arden. Impress people with a completely made up job title.
Get your own business cards. With a made up job title on them.

I handed them out in the staff room at work which went down well. People asked me if I’d gone mad and the real Headteacher said he wants a meeting with me. ‘Getting fired can be a positive career move,’ Arden assures me on page 70. Which is comforting to know.

It’s not How Good you Are…’ is not really a self – help book. You will find it in Waterstone’s in the grey area to the right of the self-help section headed ‘smart thinking’. I’m not sure how much of this book is smart thinking and how much has little thinking behind it. If you suspend your judgement then it’s freshness and energy is infectious.

And then sometimes you come across a picture of some pigeons on a plinth and you are a little baffled.

‘Don’t be afraid of silly ideas.’ (Page 58)

Next week I’m trying Daniel Levitin’s The Organised Mind. If you have read any of the books I’ve discussed on my blog or would like to suggest a favourite self – help book for me to try out then please comment, tweet @TmhoLudek, check out my Facebook or email themagichappinessof@gmail.com.

Look forward to hearing from you all.

 

 

 

Lost in Ikea…

ikea-map

I have long been a fan of the ‘heroic age’ of exploration: Mallroy and Irvine, Captain Scott, Ernest Shackleton, Ray Mears. These names echo through the ages. Finding the Poles and Everest somewhat inaccessible I have conducted some of my own, more modest, but nonetheless equally perilous, expeditions through modern life. Here I bring you my experiences and some advice for fellow explorers.

The map on first glance is not overly complicated though the ‘find your way in the Self Serve Furniture Area’ diagram looks like a schematic of a nuclear reactor.

The more you wander the show room though, the more the map starts to take on the appearance of a diabolical maze. The clean, ordered white lines of the Showroom and Market Hall diagrams, and the gently meandering dotted white line that marks out your seamless progress through the store, bears no relation to the reality of the situation you find yourself in when ‘on the ground’.

Upon arrival in the entrance foyer you are immediately presented with a scene reminiscent of the American withdrawal from Saigon, minus the helicopters. The flow of humanity through the seemingly haphazardly arranged layout of the store presses you onward. No beating against the tide here. Missed the stylish chrome towel rail you saw on their website last night? Can’t find that discounted storage unit that you thought would be in the ‘bedroom area’ but wasn’t? Thinking of turning back for a second look? Forget it.

I turned back, like a salmon seeking it’s spawning ground. I decided to swim against the tide to locate a desktop lamp that I thought would look nice on our kitchen table. The name of the item was a string of vowels, some with umlauts hovering over them, no consonants, which made pronunciation inadvisable. Asking for help was rendered futile. ‘Are you looking for the Äeoiae or the Øöeaüo?’

I saw grown men weeping.

Advice for fellow explorers

Items to pack for your journey:

  • Tamazepan or Valium and/or sizable hip flask containing spirits depending on the length of stay.
  • Mindfulness colouring book and pencils in case things really do get testing.
  • Compass, in case you find that the map you pick up at the entrance doesn’t match the layout of the store (as I did). I had to escape through a ventilation duct.
  • Credit card: just as the 1921 expedition members to Everest found the silent whiteness of the ice – bound world they discovered powerfully alluring, deciding to go back several times until most of them were dead, so will you find the siren call of cheap, minimalist Swedish designed furniture difficult to resist.

 

 

Review: Marie and Me, The KonMari method

Every week I try a different self – help guide’s life advice. Here’s how I got on with Marie Kondo.

Here’s the thing with me and Marie: at first everything was great between us. There was the initial excitement of a new relationship, the butterflies in the stomach every time I opened ‘The Life – Changing Magic of Tidying,’ counting down the seconds until I could get home from work to be with her. Then there was the physical stuff: tearing our clothes off the shelves, arranging our cups in the cup drawer, folding our socks – all the usual ‘new relationship stuff’. After that though, things fizzled out a bit between us.

Don’t get me wrong, Marie’s a great girl. She’s upbeat (relentlessly), she’s organised (goes with the territory really), I mean – she’d never forget to remind you it was your mum’s birthday. And she’s got a great sense of humour too, I think. When she’s in the mood she can say some pretty funny things, possibly unintentionally, but nevertheless – she’s entertaining company. And she smiles – a lot.

But that’s kind of the thing really. You could never take Marie down the pub to meet your mates. You’d always be a bit concerned she might say something odd. Robbo’s pulled a muscle playing footie for instance. Marie’s advice is along the lines of: ‘a firm but gentle massage by human hands does more to loosen knotted muscles that being pummelled by a massage machine.’

Fair play you think. Nothing too controversial in that. ‘The energy that flows from the person’s hands into our skin seems to heal both body and soul,’ she continues. She’s had a fair bit to drink  by this point: ‘The same is true for our clothes.’

Sorry? What was that Marie? ‘When we take our clothes in our hands and fold them neatly, we are, I believe, transmitting energy…’ and on she goes.

And then there’s the jealously to deal with. My wife Annie was well and truly sick of Marie by the end of the week. ‘Marie says this, Marie says that… why don’t you just go and bloody well live with bloody Marie bloody Kondo? I mean, where have all my hair grips gone?’

Oh sure though – credit where credit’s due. If Marie’s taught me one thing I’ll take away from this it’s that focusing on what you want to keep and the joy that those items bring you is more important than the tidiness aspect of it all. Just don’t let the lads here me saying that.

With less stuff to sift through I spend less time worrying about what to wear, which shoes go with which shirt, whether the lime green cords really go with anything. I’ve kept a few shirts and jeans that just go with each other and to hell with it.

We ‘Kondoed’ the kitchen and the bedrooms and the house feels fresher. We threw away enough paper work to build and igloo out of and about a dumper truck full of crappy plastic toys. That bit felt liberating. Now that we’re liberated and the house is very spartan it could, ironically, pass for the interior of an East Berlin condominium circa 1978. It feels a bit cold without all our old stuff.

On the plus side. Now that we’ve got nothing left we’ll need to go shopping. Just for some essentials. And I love a good shopping spree.

Next week my self – help binge continues with Paul Arden’s ‘It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be.’

Clear out confidential…

So it’s time to embark on ‘Kondoing’ our home but there’s a stumbling block already. We’ve decided that clothes are the Achilles heal of our tidiness problem so following Marie Kondo’s advice to work on one category at a time we’re starting with a whole scale clear out of our clothes.

ugg boots 2

My initial skepticism about the KonMari method overcome I am enthusiastically ditching my clothes by the bin – bag full. The vile lime green and black checked Burberry shirt – does it ‘spark joy’ KonMari asks? Presumably it did around 15 years ago when I paid £215 for it at Birmingham Bullring but I have worn it a handful of times and it has languished in a early – noughties ghetto in my wardrobe for a decade and a half. I feel a small tug at the heartstrings as I pitch it into the bin bag but as soon as it disappears inside the guilty feeling is replaced by a strangely vertiginous rush of euphoria. Turns out that throwing away, donating, disposing, consigning one’s possessions to oblivion is actually quite addictive.

The kids have got in on the act too. Gretchen (who we call G) is sifting through piles of decapitated and limbless barbies, dismembered teddies and broken roller skates. She draws the line at disposing of Mifkin, her 9 year old Steiff bear who, having very little fur left and only one, leering glass eye, is frankly terrifying, . She does, however, consent to have him washed so at least we can rid him of the faint whiff of piss that clings to him. Small steps.

All is going so well until I check on Annie’s progress. She is sat on a vast clothes mountain on our bed, her head only a foot away from the ceiling.

‘How’s it going?’ I ask.

‘Good!’ She is reading a copy of Take a Break magazine. ‘Have you heard about this woman? She didn’t know she had a mouse living in her hair for three months until it fell out one day!’

‘I meant with the clothes. Have you thrown any away yet?’

‘Some. A bikini. A pair of pants with some brown stains on them.’

‘What about these boots?’ I ask.

‘THOSE?!’ She is incredulous. ‘They’re Uggs! They were really expensive. And you bought them for me.’

It’s true, they were, and I did. We got them on our honeymoon in New York. I remember the exact day, the weather, how much fun it was to wander around Manhattan visiting all the shops and how happy we were, high on the euphoria of being newly married and in The Big Apple. If you parachuted me into Central Park tomorrow I could find the exact Ugg shop we purchased those from. Holding them in my hand awakens some of those memories.

But the zip is broken now and in any case, they are pink and Annie hasn’t worn them in the five years she’s owned them because pink doesn’t go with anything she owns.

‘I can get the zip replaced,’ she says, raising her eyebrows in a mock sad expression. I feel like a mean spirited bailiff stripping a penniless woman of her television or something.

‘OK! You can have those,’ she says springing down from the clothes pile, ‘but I am keeping these.’ She clings a vile pair of luminous orange Crocs to her chest as though they were a naked baby.

‘They’re vile Annie.’

‘But they’re mine!’ she says defiantly and flounces out.

Small steps.

 

Life – changing?

If you’ve been following my posts over the past couple of days (which you absolutely should have been) then you’ll know that I’ve set myself the challenge of transforming my life in six key areas:

  1. To be happy(er)
  2. To not be nearly bankrupt
  3. To not feel disorganised
  4. To have more time with my kids
  5. To have time to be creative
  6. To feel physically healthy

I have decided to go on a self – help binge as a way of exploring whether the $11 billion industry really can improve my life in a sustainable way and I invite you all to follow my progress on this blog – wherever it should take me.

To give you a bit of back story in case you haven’t been following this (if you haven’t then where have you been?): one week ago I came home from work expecting a pizza and Netflix and to fall asleep on the sofa only to find that my wife had been pulled by the Police for driving without insurance. Cue a £300 fine, 6 points on her licence and a massive insurance bill.

By the way, as an aside, the back wheel of her car nearly fell off today but that’s a whole other story.

Clearly my life has some scope for improvement so who better to get the ball rolling than Japan’s self proclaimed ‘expert declutterer and professional cleaner’, not to mention multi – million selling organisation guru Marie Kondo?

The Life – Changing Magic of Tidying arrived through the post today and I felt a genuine thrill of excitement at opening it. ‘The Japanese sensation – 3 million copies sold’ proudly trumpets the cover and I am primed and ready to join the ranks of the converted.

I should confess at this point to coming at this self – imposed challenge with some skepticism. ‘After your course, I quit my job and launched my own business doing something I had dreamed of doing ever since I was a child,’ proclaims a satisfied former client of Kondo’s on page 3. Sounds good though it depends what the dream job is. I dreamed of being a fighter pilot and would be stoked if reading The Life – Changing Magic of Tidying could transform my life to such a degree: ‘I went from teaching Science to disaffected teens to fighter pilot months after reading this book. Despite having none of the physical attributes necessary for the role.’

The old adage ‘you get out what you put in,’ applies here though so I press on, resisting the urge to cackle with laughter at: ‘Your course taught me to see what I really need and what I don’t. So I got a divorce,’ and: ‘Someone I have been wanting to get in touch with recently contacted me.’ Presumably the longed for phone call from Michelle Pfeiffer is only a short read away.

‘I finally succeeded in losing three kilos,’ testifies another adherent but it doesn’t specify if that was in body mass or old nail varnish bottles and Happy Meal toys.

Despite all this, and my natural reticence when it comes to self – examination, I have to admit to feeling unduly excited at the prospect of what is, essentially, doing loads of housework. The clean, minimal design of the book cover and short, tidy sentences seem to hint that a life of order and fulfillment lies 240 short pages ahead of me. And watching Marie cheerfully folding socks and undies, who could doubt it?

Play along at home if you have a copy of the book. Let me know your experiences and thoughts if you’ve already done this. Comment, tweet, add me on Facebook.

 

The Magic Happiness of Marie Kondo…

Thanks to everyone for their suggestions on their favourite self – help books. I’ve got a list of 8 titles to get me started. With some degree of inevitability (see my previous posts) by far the largest number of votes was for me to try out Marie Kondo’s ‘KonMari method’.

life changing magic of tidying up

I bought Kondo’s ‘The Life – Changing Magic of Tidying Up’ from Amazon this morning so it should arrive tomorrow (Friday 29th January) and we’ll be ready to go.

In anticipation of its’ arrival here are 6 of the best KonMari quotes that I could find (in the 30min time limit I’ve given myself to blog this):

  1. ‘Do you like talking to furniture? Do you believe shirts have souls? Are you insane? This might be the book for you.’ George Cotronis quoted from http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3263855.George_Cotronis’
  2. Kondo thinks you should treat your socks like tiny people, and that when they’re in your sock drawer, they’re “essentially on holiday”.’ Oliver Burkeman quoted from http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/dec/05/change-your-life-strange-decluttering-advice
  3. May cause death

also from http://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/jan/17/spark-joy-japanese-art-tidying-marie-kondo-digested-read

4.“This book is a cult. A totally reasonable, scary cult that works, doesn’t kill people (a bonus), but does drastically change your life. In this case — for the better.” — Buzzfeed

5. “It seems mundane but I’ve Kondo’d some deodorant that I didn’t like the smell of.” quoted from http://nymag.com/thecut/2015/02/marie-kondo-room-purge.html#

6. “When you put your house in order, you put your affairs and your past in order, too. As a result, you can see quite clearly what you need in life and what you don’t.” Marie Kondo quoted in http://www.wsj.com/articles/marie-kondo-and-the-tidying-up-trend-1424970535

If you’ve Kondo’d your home (or indeed some deodorant) or if you’ve read the book leave me a comment or tweet me @TmhoLudek.

The magic happiness of a self – help binge?

A quick internet search for the term self – help reveals it to be the worlds biggest selling genre. The most commonly quoted figure of the industry’s worth is $11bn, most of it spent in the US admittedly, but the UK is catching up.

Shelf Help packshot shelfAs with most things I am a little behind the curve on this one. I have never read a self – help book or considered myself to be in the target audience for a self – help book. Recently though a new branch of the genre is making waves in the market: the so called ‘intellectually credible’ self – help book. The publishers Penguin assure me that it is OK now, if not even cool, to own books with titles like ‘The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves’ . Well why wouldn’t it be you may ask? And I suppose you’re right.

Through their imprint Vintage, Penguin are promoting a series of 10 books they say have the ‘power to make life brighter’.

In response to the latest crisis in my life I decided to make a positive change to the way I live and have drafted a list of 6 things that I want to change before the end of the Year:

  1. To be happy(er)
  2. To not be nearly bankrupt
  3. To not feel disorganised
  4. To have more time with my kids
  5. To have time to be creative
  6. To feel physically healthy

With 2016 set to be dominated again by the publication of a slew of self – help titles from some of the biggest hitters in the field I began to wonder whether self – help could lead me to a happier, more sustainable and ultimately more rewarding lifestyle.

In this series of blog posts I’m asking have we become a nation of self – help bingers? What are the best self – help titles out there? And what are the worst? Have you got a favourite example that you think I should try?  Throughout the year I intend to read as many titles as I can get through and to post the results here for you all to read about.

Comment below or tweet me @TmhoLudek to leave suggestions.

 

Das Boot

I recently re – watched Das Boot in it’s entirety. For a bit of light relief. Worryingly, I identified quite strongly with the U – Boat captain. Especially during the scene when they are stricken on the bottom of the sea waiting to be torpedoed.

DasBoot-Still1
Worryingly, I identified quite strongly with the U – Boat Captain.

‘Know how you feel mate,’ I said to him, even though he couldn’t hear me – he being stuck on the bottom of the sea in the straights of Gibraltar and me being at home in Hull. And what with him being fictional and all…

But the point is, I feel like lately things have been building up on me. Not fathoms of sea water but small everyday things. My wife is not speaking to me now because of the £300 fine she got for not insuring her car (that’s correct…). All of the lights in the kitchen don’t work. Today I had to wear one blue sock and one black sock to go to work because I couldn’t find a matching pair. I imagine that Capt.-Lt. Henrich Lehmann-Willenbrock knows exactly how I feel.

Fair play to him, he probably had more on his mind than mismatching underwear but that’s not the point. He was in what one might, without fear of understating the case, call a tight spot. And I feel like, over the years, I have let things tighten around me without really noticing it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not comparing my plight with that of a stricken submarine crew (well, I am a bit) and I’m not unhappy, or at least, I don’t think I am. I mean, I don’t really think about it at all, I just plow through the days in the same way that everyone around me seems to.

What started as mild procrastination has got out of hand. Now I am faced with something that I can’t get a handle on. When I think about what needs to be sorted out I can’t see a way in. I can’t think how to get started. And if I do get started, what will I uncover? I haven’t checked my bank account for months. I daren’t log in to Experian to check my credit rating and I stopped opening mail about a year ago.

Once I’d put the kids to bed on Friday I sat at the kitchen table and decided to make a list of the top 10 things that I would change about my life, in priority order:

  1. To be happy
  2. To not be nearly bankrupt
  3. To not feel disorganised
  4. To have more time with my kids
  5. To have time to be creative
  6. To feel physically healthy

And I couldn’t think of any more…

Staring at me from the page the list didn’t seem unmanageable. ‘This is a start,’ I told myself, feeling almost proud. ‘And making a start is the hardest thing to do,’ I said, looking at the short list.

And then I thought, what now?