Confessions of a minimalist hoarder

Recently I have spent a lot of time looking into the concept of minimalism and what it would mean for me to start minimizing my life.

I love the idea of eliminating aspects of life and material possessions that are bringing you little or no value. It is a process of de-cluttering not only your physical space, but also freeing up your mental space, so that you are able to focus more clearly on what you find to be truly important.

Historically I have been a bit of a hoarder. To clarify, I am not a hoarder in the sense that my house is so crammed with things that there is no visible floor space, but in the past I have had a hard time saying goodbye to things that I’ve held some kind of nostalgic attachment to.

I have clung on to old movie tickets for years to the point where the writing has faded beyond comprehension. I keep mementos from all of my holidays – postcards, old ticket stubs, brochures and other paraphernalia I picked up along the way. I cling to clothing that I haven’t worn in years with the thought that one day there may be an occasion to wear them…one day. My PVR is filled with TV recordings and movies I am adamant that I will watch when I can find the time – which is often never.

At the beginning of the year I decided to reverse some of my hoarder tendencies by clearing out most of the old clothes I had left behind at my parents’ house. As a former charity shopper I had piles and piles of clothing to sift through and set aside to donate and the feeling of clearing everything out was positively liberating.

After going through the process of eliminating so many clothes I realised that I have more than enough clothes, to the point that I really shouldn’t be buying any more. So as part of my attempt to become more minimal I have decided that I am not going to buy any new clothing unless I have items that are close to falling apart and need to be replaced. So far so good – I haven’t bought anything for three months and counting.

As part of reclaiming my time I have become more purposeful about how I spend my free moments. As an avid reader of the news I noticed that the largely negative focus of mainstream news on my commutes would start my days off with a cloud of negativity hanging over me.

I realised that part of clearing my mind in the morning would involve cultivating a meditative state and reading more optimistic articles, all of which has helped me to start the day from a more upbeat and positive place.

Another tenet of minimalism is to consume less and create more, which is where this blog comes in. Being productive and creating content as opposed to simply consuming it all the time has given me a more purposeful way to spend my free time.

Adding to that, the act of writing has not only provided a great form of creative expression, it has also provided me with time to focus and centre myself, akin to a state of meditation.

With all of the changes I have made towards leading a more minimal life, I can see that they have gradually made me happier and healthier by extension.

There is further to go, more ways that I can minimize going forward, but starting the journey is the hardest part and I feel good about the fact that I am on the path to a simpler, more minimal life.

Minimal

Romantic realism: get rid of your “perfect man” checklist

Most single women I know have a list in some form or another of qualities their ideal partner should have. This list may be extensive or it may be short but either way it summarises a lifetime of accumulated hopes, dreams and desires about the kind of person they think and believe they would fall in love with.

Whilst I have never had a defined list per se, I am guilty of having some vague ideas of the kind of qualities I have looked for in a partner: number one being a sense of humour and a great personality (though doesn’t everyone say that?).

Seeing as there are billions of people on this planet I don’t think there is anything wrong with having some kind of filter which will help you to sort through the masses of people that pass us by everyday. Those filters exist everywhere in online dating sites and apps – they might be geographical, by height, interests, age – and they may be genuinely useful.

At the same time we should all remain open-minded about the fact that people can surprise us. Someone that we wouldn’t ordinary look twice at if we were to follow our ‘lists’ may have qualities that complement us perfectly.

When we connect with someone romantically there is something intangible that happens, it is chemical and it defies comprehension or description. For that reason we can’t expect to be able to find the person that connects with our body and soul through a long list of very specific qualities.

For us to be truly open to finding love, there needs to be room for discovery, for people to click with us in ways we weren’t expecting, and to realize that the person on your list, that ‘Mr. Perfect’, may not exist. Even if there is someone out there who meets that criteria, he may not be someone you click with romantically.

So next time you are on the look out for love, give someone new and different a chance. Try swiping right on someone out of the ordinary or engaging in a conversation with someone who may not be your exact type. You never know if someone might just surprise you.

Is romance dead? A woman’s insight into the seduction community

In what feels like a lifetime ago I was a documentary production student looking for an idea for my masters thesis film. I knew that it had to be something that would sustain my interest for an entire year otherwise it would not be worth doing.

One fateful evening I was speaking to a friend of a friend and he mentioned that he had been getting lessons in love from a so-called local ‘guru’ who had introduced him to the book ‘The Game’ and the seduction community.

My first question was, “What do you mean by guru? Is this anything like Hitch?” He replied, “Not technically. You should read ‘The Game,’ it will tell you everything you need to know’.

Not really knowing how I would explore this subject matter I managed to push the idea aside until I was browsing my local library a few weeks later and came across a book that was bound like the Bible with decidedly un-biblical figures of the female form on the spine. Low and behold it was ‘The Game’.

I snapped up the book and spent the next few days immersed in it, reading the glossary first of all and oscillating between reactions of laughter, horror and mortification at some of the terminology used to describe the techniques that men in the seduction community deploy to attract and bed the fairer sex.

‘Close’ was the term used to describe how far you were able to get with a woman, as in ‘number close’ or ‘kiss close’. ‘Neg’ was a back-handed compliment used to show active disinterest in the girl being targeted. ‘BAFC’ was an acronym (of which there are many) for Below Average Frustrated Chump, who for all intents and purposes appeared to be the core market for these kinds of teachings. ‘HB’ was a Hot Babe, which was often used in the context of a ratings system, as in HB8, or as a descriptor, as in HB Redhead.

The book details Neil Strauss’s journey into the world of the LA seduction community as he gradually learns the techniques and becomes a master of seduction in his own right. He has brushes with Courtney Love and Paris Hilton and details countless tales of dalliances with women who he apparently bedded through the techniques he learns and adapts from ‘Mystery,’ who would later go on to star in the TV series ‘The Pick Up Artist’.

I was intrigued by the book and knew that if I was able to meet with anyone in this community and get them to agree to be in my documentary I would have landed on the perfect topic for my film.

So I set about researching the idea. I came across websites from all over the world of guys involved in the community and countless ‘bootcamps’ and conferences that men would spend up to thousands of dollars on to get access to the teachings of certain pick-up ‘gurus’.

It was clear that not only was this a community, it was also an industry in which some guys were making a lot of money teaching these BAFCs, and in many instances were making a full-time career out of it. The idea of ‘Pick up artist’ appearing on a Linkedin profile seems absurd but to these men it was as legit a job as any.

Through my research I also discovered that the seduction community teachings were rooted in a mish-mash of ideologies and techniques, from roots in neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) espoused by of the community’s founding father Ross Jefferies (who was the basis of Tom Cruise’s character in Magnolia), the psychology of influence and evolutionary biology.

Suitably intrigued by this point, I got back in touch with the friend who had introduced me to the idea to begin with and got the details of the ‘guru’ he had been in touch with. I sent him a message outlining what I wanted to do only to be met with complete silence.

I thought that may be the beginning of the end, until I found the local ‘lair,’ the online community which was at the heart of every seduction community worldwide, allowing men to chat about their experiences and organize meet ups and ‘sarging’ sessions.

I decided that I had nothing to lose and contacted the administrator of the community, detailing my interest in making a film and asking whether I had any hope of getting access to these guys and convincing them to share their stories on camera.

To my surprise I got a response and it was fairly positive. The administrator was willing to meet and mentioned one of the younger members of the community who was already filming himself on nights out and presumably would not have an aversion to being on camera.

After a failed attempt at meeting this guy, I managed to get hold of him and whilst he was not willing to be filmed, he suggested posting on the community boards detailing what I was attempting to do and asking for those with an interest in speaking to me to come forward.

I followed his advice and had several responses, some from guys who were willing to talk to me but not willing to be filmed, and some from guys who were willing to take the step of putting themselves on camera to talk about their involvement in the community and what they got out of it.

I am always amazed that people are willing to put themselves out there to be filmed as it is not something that I would ever be inclined to do myself. But I was incredibly grateful that I had happened upon people who were willing to talk openly about their experiences and why they had become involved in the teachings of this community.

I managed to get a good cross section of people in the community – a newbie, a guy using it to elevate his game and his judo skills, a pick up bootcamp instructor and a few regular guys who had happened on the community and wanted to use the techniques to improve their success rate with women or even improve their communication skills in the workplace.

So what did I learn? From what I could gather the community broke down like this.

First there were the AFCs (Average Frustrated Chumps) and BAFCs who were getting no traction as far as women were concerned and really needed the help to get out there and get some level of success in their interactions and attempts to ‘pick up’ women. Some of these men had struggled; maybe they had been computer nerds or mathematicians and had a more technical mind which required a formula and a structure to follow to make their interactions with women easier, to break down their barriers and gradually build their confidence. Most of the men in the community appeared to fall into this category.

There also appeared to be a few regular Joes who hadn’t necessarily struggled with women but were interested in getting involved with the community and were interested in some of the techniques to enhance their social skills and maybe to even improve their skills in the workplace. To these guys seduction could be applied anywhere from clubs to the shop floor to the boardroom, it made no difference.

Sadly there were also tales posted by misogynistic types who had some atrocious ways of talking about women. I read the views of these men in disturbing forum posts and watched them spew their hateful point-of-view on a video of a conference one of the guys gave me. Their descriptions of women were derogative, demeaning and offensive. It was clear that these men had either been burnt by women in the past or had no success at all and this translated into a deep-seated misogyny. In their view women were disposable; if they struggled with engaging one woman there were hundreds around the corner.

Whilst I was sympathetic to the plight of many of the men in the community, I couldn’t help but feel that at the core of the subculture the ideologies were deeply flawed. Many of the techniques and dynamics were structured around creating an alpha-male persona and putting the woman you were interested in on the back foot. Men were taught not to cling to rejections as failures, but to move on to the wealth of other options that lay ahead of them. These views were in the service of building the confidence of these men, of ensuring they didn’t cling to negative outcomes. But what they gained in confidence they often lost in humanity.

It has been nine years since I made my thesis documentary and I do wonder what happened to the guys who I met along the way. It is my hope that they took the techniques they learnt from the seduction community and applied them in a productive way to their lives. I would like to believe that they didn’t get caught up in the more misogynistic aspects and ideas and that they have gone on to development meaningful relationships with women.

As a woman, I have always been curious about the male perspective. My insight in the seduction community taught me that as humans we are all seeking human connection in some form or another, whether it is through forming a community with likeminded men or women who provide advice, guidance and support, or through the romantic and sexual relationships that we form.

The desire for connection is natural, I just hope that men still using these teachings are viewing the women they connect with as complex human beings and not disposable targets to practice their skills on and abandon.

Female Solo Traveler

Traveling solo if you are a woman is not for the faint-hearted. It is a test for even the most independent of spirits but if you have ever done it before you know that it is well worth doing it at least once.

A word of warning – you must thoroughly enjoy your own company because that is all you will have for the many, many hours that you will be away. This experience is not for people who fear that people are staring at them as if they are the biggest loser on earth if they eat alone at a restaurant. Spoiler alert, you are likely to be eating alone, most if not all of the time. So you need to be at peace with solitude. Either that or you need to have the gift of the gab and the ability to pick up friends along with your travels.

I have traveled solo twice and I find that your choice of city can really make or break the whole experience. I like the cities to be compact and manageable; with plenty of sights to see but not so many that you don’t feel as though you have seen everything you wanted to by the time you leave. Verona and Lisbon perfectly fit that criteria and I had the most amazing time in both cities.

I am a pretty easy going person but I find that the biggest difficulties you get when traveling with others is people often have different ideas about what they want their holiday to be like.

When travelling solo you can prepare for feelings of pure joy at your ability to decide what time to start your days, where and when to eat, how long you want to spend poring over artwork in museums (or not), and whether you want to get around by foot/tram/rail/bus.

I am a big walker and can easily stroll across cities by foot for days at a time from morning through to nighttime with the occasional food stop. This hasn’t always gone down well with travel companions who aren’t up for such a walking-heavy holiday so when I get a chance to do whatever I want I get ready for my perfect holiday jam – walking, eating, reading, sleeping.

My days traveling solo in Verona and Lisbon were filled with blissful walks through bustling town squares, climbs to stunning lookouts spanning as far as the eye could see, meandering walks through picturesque gardens, with the sun beating down on me as my spirit was nourished and relaxation set in.

To beat solitude I had a never-ending soundtrack of my favourite music playing in my ear, punctuated by rest stops spent reading memoirs and essays by the likes of Norah Ephron and Diane Keaton. Their voices kept me company, as if I had a friend telling me funny, personal stories over a cup of coffee. So in a way I did have a companion with me, but one that had no demands whatsoever about what we should do everyday. Perfect company!

While I don’t mind eating alone, it became a bit of a dire situation on occasion. First there was the time that I attempted to get served at the restaurant of a popular site in Lisbon and was ignored, then told they were closed (they weren’t). I guess they just didn’t want a single lady cramping their style.

Then there was the time I was seated and then approached by wait staff who were somewhat concerned, telling me that they ‘don’t get many single women dining alone,’ followed up with recommendations about a music festival happening out of town ‘filled with young people’. Boy oh boy, I must have really been coming across as Sally no mates.

What these people didn’t understand was that I had made a conscious decision to travel to their city on my own, that I had planned my days there meticulously, and that I was having a ball being in my own company.

The memories of those solo holidays are positively dreamy. Awkward solitary meals aside, they were two of my best travel experiences and I would do it all again in a heartbeat.

Mary Poppins Syndrome: the curse of our bottomless handbags

The defining feature of Mary Poppins, for me, is not that she was wonderfully chipper or that she could really hold a musical note. It was that she had a bottomless bag, and I could really use one of those.

I have been called Poppins for the very reason that, like Mary, I try to be prepared for every eventuality. My oversized handbag is filled to the brim, packed with my necessities – umbrella (for rain), sunglasses (for rays), tissues (for sniffles), plasters (for scrapes), lipsticks (to transform), water bottle (to avoid dehydration), almonds (to snack on). It also happens to be filled with all sorts of floating debris, from opened, faded packets of gum which may no longer be edible, rogue nuts and half nuts, torn receipts and more.

Many woman understand my plight. I know this because on occasion I have held another friend’s bag and buckled under the weight of it, sighing with relief that I am not the only person to be suffering from what I like to call Mary Poppins syndrome.

I think it is a good thing to be prepared. The Scouts obviously think it’s a good thing to be prepared too. But on occasion I have had to pay the price for this.

Case in point being on a trip to New York when I ended up being labeled “Disabled Poppins” when I injured my leg after attempting to carry around all of the above contents whilst traversing the city day and night for two weeks.

Once my limp became unbearable I sought refuge in the nearest Duane Reade and bought a leg support band. This allowed me to continue to hobble around for a few extra days but I knew then that I needed help. Out with my 24/7 supply of water and any nice to have items, in with the bare necessities – wallet, keys, phone.

I have since discovered that I got off light with a leg injury. Apparently heavy handbags are a major cause of back pain, headaches and muscle stiffness. This is not in any way surprising but is still somewhat alarming given I live in London and must carry a bag when travelling by foot, bus and train.

The good thing is I have changed tack and bought the ultimate utility item for those days when I know that I am going to be pounding the pavement for hours – a backpack. It is medium-sized, black so that it goes with everything, and I can fit everything I need and still have plenty of space. This has been a revelation for me and there can be no turning back.

Here’s to being prepared – without causing grievous bodily injury.

Down the rabbit hole: celebrity news addiction

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Anyone who has ever been on the Daily Mail website and been drawn to their showbiz column knows exactly what it is like to lose an hour of your life without knowing or remembering what happened.

These days I rarely allow myself to get caught down the rabbit hole that is the never-ending showbiz column, namely because I inevitably want to scan through every single story headline and there are a lot of them. I end up opening at least 10 of these articles in succession, thereby crashing my Safari session, which then begins to draw me out of my celeb-addicted haze and back into cold hard reality wondering where the last half an hour just went.

Whilst this was once a daily activity, a few years ago I decided to go cold turkey on engaging in this zombie-like consumption of useless news and I haven’t turned back since (bar the odd relapse which then reminds me why I went cold turkey in the first place).

I now find out celebrity news through the grapevine (Amal Clooney is pregnant?? Beyonce is pregnant? Everyone it seems is pregnant!). I find it odd being so out of the loop with news I was once so up-to-date on, but I need to stick to my guns on this if I am to maintain my sanity and prevent countless hours of time wasting.

Moderation has never been my forte which such things, which is a shame. But I rest easy in the knowledge that I have gained back countless hours of my life that I would have never seen again and that is really worth something. I am not sure what those hours were then filled with alternatively (watching TV, eating?) but I have to believe that whatever it is must be better than being stuck down the celebrity news rabbit hole.

#Fitness goals

I have always admired people who have a dedication to exercise and intense physical activity in their spare time. Several of my friends have run marathons, taken part in iron woman contests and regularly attended boot camps. They’ve spoken about their exercise preferences – high frequency, low intensity; low frequency, high intensity. My preference – low (to no) frequency, low intensity.

By low intensity I am largely referring to my love of long walks which tend to be pretty chilled by their very nature and work wonders when it comes to giving mental clarity whilst gradually increasing fitness levels. I am lucky to have London’s Thames river on my doorstep and one of my favourite walks is around Putney Bridge and back, taking in Hammersmith’s pub and house boat-lined shore and Bishops Park, covering an impressive amount of greenery by London standards.

Over the years I have actually played several sports for fun (believe it or not), mainly over ten years ago but I figure that still counts. I played netball competitively when I was very young and tennis non-competitively on Saturday mornings when I was at high school. Non-competitive tennis largely involved me learning how to hit a tennis ball without it flying out of the court and serving within the lines. Needless to say, there was no risk of me getting good enough to play a complete game from start to finish but I had fun in the process. There were also short stints with touch rugby and swimming, none of which really stuck and which I largely dreaded attending.

In London I tried my hand at increasing my fitness levels by attending a boot camp once. This was obviously not of my own accord, but thanks in large part to my very fit friends who attended it on a regular basis. My goal – get through it in one piece, preferably by not being the worst person there. Not lofty ambitions but I made it, running countless laps of the field in Hyde Park, crawling through mud, and doing those high jump things that exhaust you.

I was proud of myself for getting up early on a Sunday morning and going (an accomplishment in and of itself). But the train ride home covered in mud left much to be desired and the fatigue and aches for a full week afterwards convinced me that I needed a break from boot camps. Permanently, it turned out.

That brings me full circle to the present day and Zumba – my saving grace when it comes to elevating my fitness goals. I had seen the infomercials for Zumba years ago and never had any real desire to try it out…until I turned 31 and I realised that walking alone would not necessarily be enough to get me through the long winter months whilst still fitting into my jeans. Winter means Christmas feasts and comfort food and this combination is not good for one’s waistline.

So my sister convinced me to join her for Zumba class, the main criteria being that it be in close walking distance to our flat. I could easily get a gym membership at work and go to classes there, but I am not one for fitting in lunch break gym sessions, the main issue being that I simply can’t be bothered with having to lug in gear to the office, shower and get myself back into presentable shape by 2pm. I have great admiration for people who can do this.

Anyhow, we found a Zumba class that is less than ten minutes from our flat and I managed to drag myself down there one chilly December night. We got there a bit late which already put us on the back foot as far as getting into the moves goes and being a complete novice I struggled to keep up with the moves through the whole class. I was conscious of my flailing limbs being out of sync as we moved across the floor, moving in the wrong direction as we shimmied and did various hip hop, samba and salsa moves. In the middle of it all I realised that this was precisely why I had never taken a dance class – I suck at choreographed dancing. This is despite actually loving to dance, but only if it’s freestyle and I don’t need to co-ordinate myself with other people in any way.

By the end I realised that it was going to be sink or swim and that I’d need to get those dance moves down pat if I was ever going to be able to show my face around there again. My sister and I vowed to return. When we did, I decided to chill out, kind of follow the moves and just have fun – all in the Zumba spirit. I am a convert.