Don’t just ‘keep calm and carry on’. Have a natural disaster on your terms!

First of all, thanks to everyone who has been supportive of my first blog post. I really appreciate your support. I am riding a range of different emotions at the moment, switching between elation for my freedom and fear for my security. As much as I’d like to be all ‘I don’t care what you think of me, you ol’ World’, I actually do care quite a lot. So thank you.

And thank you also for the interesting conversations that my blog has sparked. The idea of escaping the ‘golden handcuffs’ seems to resonate. A number of people I spoke to are thinking about making a similar change, whether actively or passively. Some are hoping for restructuring or redundancy to give them the excuse they need. (NB: On the note of creating excuses, may I endorse Monkey Based Travel Adventures).  Others are facing different but equally, or more scary, challenges that they shared with me. Decisions they have to make or hope to have made for them. Which got me to thinking…

Change and adaptation. AKA Why arson may be an appealing prospect

I think that we humans are very adaptable creatures and that we don’t give ourselves the credit for it. We adapt all the time, whether to changes brought about by active decisions we make or by passive decisions that are made for us. We adapt financially, we adapt our expectations and we survive. We keep calm and carry on.

Changes like these are all around us everyday. People are fired. Surprise children are born. Relationships end. Fires and earthquakes destroy possessions.

These things are hard but people adapt and often come out saying ‘it was the best thing that ever happened to me’. Why? Because often these unexpected events serve as a reality check, stripping life back to the essentials of human experience – the things that really matter. We get perspective and we start actually living, rather than making plans and thinking about what we’d like to do. We get present. And we get present fast.

So, why do we wait for external circumstances to impose change on us when we can make the change ourselves?

Example: A friend told me a story of a man. A man who had a terrible house fire and survived but lost all his possessions. Pure tragedy? You’d think so. But my friend secretly envied this man because this man was free. He got to start afresh, be free of his stuff and focus on the important things. When I asked my friend why he didn’t just get rid of his stuff if wanted the same freedom as the man, he confided that he just… couldn’t.

I don’t wish to diminish the pain that can be caused by unexpected calamities like natural disasters and fires. But what if we could have a natural disaster on our terms, with more of the benefits and less of the pain?

I’m not unlike my friend. I am a hoarder. I collect stuff and I get emotionally attached to it. As a student I developed a dirty little habit whereby I’d go to an op shop, buy my body weight in second hand clothing, ferry it home and stash it about my room like a demented squirrel. Most of it just sits around on shelves and in boxes and in drawers, being hauled from flat to flat, seldom worn or used, weighing me down physically and emotionally. But, throw it out? I just… can’t. It makes me feel safe and secure in the same way that my job made me feel safe and secure for many years. Like my job, I think I’d actually be happier without it right now.

What I’m saying here is that it’s time I started a fire in my life and stopped waiting around for a fire to be lit for me.

NB: If my flatmates are reading this, I am not thinking about arson. Much. If my insurance company is reading this, I am not thinking about arson. At all.

The Minimalism Movement

The concept of down-sizing and de-cluttering to improve one’s life is not a new one. It has, however, recently exploded all over the internet. Some might even call it a ‘minimalism movement’. One of my favourite minimalism blogs is zenhabits, which describes itself as:

‘…about finding simplicity in the daily chaos of our lives. It’s about clearing the clutter so we can focus on what’s important, create something amazing, find happiness.’

I really recommend checking it out – it is quite inspiring.

The minimalism movement is about more than decluttering stuff. It’s about cutting the crap in our lives so we can do the good stuff.

Part of the challenge of my transition from workerbee to ‘less structured income haver’ is learning to live with less. With the GFC and the ensuing global recession – arguably, global depression – I am not the only one confronting this reality.

[NB: I note there are many less fortunate than I who have had this belt tightening imposed by external forces rather than some sort of self imposed quarter life crisis. I am aware that I am in a privileged position here.]

One thing I noticed over the past ten years of going from being a poor-ish student to having a graduate level income to having an above average income is that I never actually felt any happier as my pay cheque increased. My lifestyle just adapted to my new reality. Things that were previously out of my reach became part of my daily life and lost their special ‘treat’ status.

I mentioned above my university habit of trawling op shops for bargains. Well, after a couple of years of working, I alarmingly found myself doing the exact same thing, but at lunchtimes on Lambton Quay in the chain stores. How many unnecessary articles of clothing did I buy, just because I was bored? I feel like I was trying to fill a void by going to the shops. Working all the time to earn money to buy things that I didn’t really need. Seems pretty sad when I look at it like that.I felt no happier with more money than I did with less.

In fact, there may even have been an inverse relationship as my dreams were gradually dashed when I realised that getting the job, the money and the dress did not a happy Christine make.

So, where does this get us to?

This adjustment in my lifestyle through my diminished income status and my imminent travel plans create a perfect storm. Now is the time for me to divest myself of all the things I don’t really need and to adapt my lifestyle to one where I live with less and, hopefully, focus on more of the important stuff . Over the next little while, I will share my experience of this process with you. I am looking forward to the challenge.

What do I plan to do?

  • I plan to get rid of a whole bunch of stuff I don’t need that is weighing me down, both physically and metaphorically
  • I plan to give new meaning to the word, ‘fire sale’
  • I plan to cut my expenses and indulge in ‘frugal luxury’
  • I plan to minimise my use of terms like ‘frugal luxury’.

I may cry as I dispense with some of my best ever op shops finds that I don’t really use and as I realise I can’t brunch my way around Wellington’s cafes of a weekend. You may come across 100% pure hard core emotion, harvested from my very own soul. Don’t be saying I don’t treat you right, internet.


About maximumbrooks

Christine is currently based in Wellington, New Zealand. She improvises regularly at venues around town and dabbles in other things that interest her. She likes mango sorbet, monkeys and, apparently, throwing caution to the wind.
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4 Responses to Don’t just ‘keep calm and carry on’. Have a natural disaster on your terms!

  1. Chris915 says:

    Good on you Chris! I have been donating a lot of stuff recently (particularly to St Vincent de Paul in Newtown, as a friend of mine works there). Mind you, my replacing it with other stuff bought on Trademe might not quite be in zen spirit …

  2. Robbie says:

    Zen + improv: have you heard of the podcast Zenprov?

  3. Pingback: That which shall not speak its name. Also – experiments in minimalism! | maximumbrooks

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