I had in mind to write a post for today about the concept of an authentic self, and put together a few paragraphs on that topic yesterday.  But then I got busy with other things, never got back to it, and put my partial draft in a folder with other half-finished stuff.  That wouldn’t have been a problem except that I started worrying about whether I’d have time to finish the post today, and how it would mess up my planned schedule for the blog if I didn’t, and I had some work to catch up on, so maybe I wouldn’t be able to get anything written for Thursday either…

And then I thought, whoa! What’s going on with all these pointless worries! First of all, a personal blog is supposed to be fun, rather than just another chore to get done. If I didn’t enjoy it, there wouldn’t be much reason to keep writing it, would there? So there’s no sense in taking the fun out of it with self-imposed production schedules; my job gives me enough of those already! And second, to the extent that I write for insight and sharing rather than just for fun, I can accomplish those goals much more effectively when I set aside the time I need for meaningful reflection. Hurrying through a task never gets the best results, even when it’s just a blog post!

So, I took a few minutes just now to refresh my mind by browsing through photos of peaceful nature scenes to put myself in a reflective mood. Here’s one that I enjoyed:

 

Photo of trees reflecting on water at sunset.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)
 

That was definitely more fun than worrying about whether I’d have time to finish writing yesterday’s draft. Hope you enjoy it too!

I have a green coat that became a favorite when I got it—26 or 27 years ago.  Even after it went out of style and I bought other coats, I still wore it sometimes because it was comfy and warm.  Last winter my husband bought me a new coat made of modern synthetic fabric that keeps me just as toasty, even though it’s not as thick or heavy.  That was very welcome in last winter’s long string of freezing cold days!  So I have no good reason to keep the old coat.  It might once have been useful, but it is just taking up space in the closet now, and there’s no getting around the fact that I’ve got to give it up.

 

Old green coat hanging on a doorknob.

 

In honor of the occasion, I’ve added a classic old-school music video to this post. Yes, I know that getting down and dancing was what Marvin Gaye meant by “Got to Give It Up,” rather than getting rid of stuff, but I think the song fits anyway! After all, having a comfortable, clutter-free home can go a long way toward feeling in the mood to dance and celebrate! So let’s all give it up for conquering clutter, yay!

 

 

About Clutter Comedy: Every Sunday (which I envision as a day of rest after a productive week of de-cluttering) I post a Clutter Comedy article describing my most memorable clutter discovery of the week. Other bloggers who wish to join in are welcome—just post a link in the comments! There’s no need to publish any “before” photos of your clutter, if they are too embarrassing. The idea is simply to get motivated to clean it up, while having a bit of fun too!

As another year approaches, many of us choose a word or symbol to represent an intention for the new year.  While it may still be a bit early for that as we’re only halfway through October, I happened to notice a figurine while browsing on Amazon last week that felt just right for how I’d like next year to go!  So I went ahead and bought it, found a place for it in a sunny room where I’ll see it regularly, and took this photo.

 

Figurine of fairy holding small white dragon.

 

The title is Release Dreams Fairy Holding Dragon (I’ve made that into a link to the Amazon page for anyone who might be interested).  It gives me a lovely visual reminder of what I want to do in the upcoming year—release my dreams to fly free and grow into something beautiful! And I do believe that seeing it every day will keep my thoughts focused on bringing more positive, creative energy into my life.

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to “give this planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.” Visit her site to find more Nurturing Thursday posts and a list of frequent contributors.

We’re often told that we must be willing to go beyond our comfort zones if we want to accomplish anything significant and that otherwise, we’re doomed to stagnate. But not everyone agrees with that view. I recently came across a blog post entitled Comfort Zone Malarkey, in which the author pointed out that when we are more comfortable, we are also more productive. Why shouldn’t we want to arrange our lives in comfortable patterns that reduce our stress and make us more productive in our everyday tasks?

I’d say that as with many things, it is chiefly a matter of self-awareness and finding the right balance. Some of us naturally have wide comfort zones and are always eager to try new activities. Others get anxious about small changes in routine. Because the modern world is so full of change and disruption, those who get anxious more easily are often advised to work on expanding their comfort zones.

When a disruptive situation can’t reasonably be avoided, getting used to it is probably good advice. For instance, advances in technology may seem intimidating, but we’re much better off to get comfortable with new products as they come into use, rather than keeping obsolete stuff. Considering how quickly things are changing in our society, though, I don’t see a need to randomly jump into all sorts of activities with the aim of expanding our comfort zones. Just keeping up with today’s new technologies and cultural changes ought to give us plenty of practice in that!

As I see it, the main reason why people get stuck in unproductive routines is not that they haven’t tried to expand their comfort zones, but that routines can get outdated quickly without it being noticeable. We’ve all had to adjust our comfort zones hugely in recent years, just to deal with the massive changes taking place all around us. Even when a change is good, we still need some amount of time and mental energy to get used to it. And when we get stressed trying to keep up with everything that’s going on, we fall back on familiar routines to calm ourselves.

Having comfortable routines is not a problem in itself. We all need them! But if we don’t take enough time to reflect on whether our routines suit our current circumstances, we can end up mindlessly stuck in habits that don’t work well at all. Especially as we get older, it’s all too easy to keep on doing something a certain way because that’s how we have done it for the past 30 years, whether or not it makes sense anymore. That lack of reflection is what causes people to stagnate, much more than being afraid to leave a comfort zone. After all, if it hasn’t even crossed our minds that doing something different might be possible, then we never reach the point of considering whether we might want to do it—and our comfort zone slowly shrinks.

When that happens, it’s not because we lack the intelligence or imagination to notice that our circumstances have changed. Rather, it’s because the complexity of the modern world forces us to adjust our routines much more than our ancestors ever had to do. Keeping up with everything that has changed around us is a lot of work—it’s no wonder some things get overlooked! So, when dealing with people whose routines seem overly rigid, kindness and understanding are needed. After all, we may have our own stagnant habits that we haven’t noticed yet!

Keeping a few of those little plastic dose cups that come in a cough syrup package can be useful.  If more than one person in the house catches a cold at the same time, there are enough clean cups to go around, and nobody has to wash the cups immediately while feeling tired and sick.  But on the other hand, it’s not necessary to keep every cup from every package of cold medication bought over the past ten years!

 

Four stacks of old plastic cough syrup dose cups.

 

As with any other clutter, they just take up space and get in the way when they’re not purged regularly. The stacks get so tall that when someone reaches into the cabinet, the cups are likely to tip over, making an annoying mess. And I had some particularly useless cups because the manufacturer recently changed the markings and dose instructions from teaspoons to milliliters. So I threw away all the old cups marked only in teaspoons, while keeping the new ones with metric markings and a few transitional cups marked with both.

In general, it’s important to check the contents of a medicine shelf or drawer regularly. Otherwise it gets cluttered not only with old dose cups, but also with old expired medicines, which can be dangerous. To prevent environmental contamination, old medicines should not be poured down the sink; they need to be disposed of properly.

About Clutter Comedy: Every Sunday (which I envision as a day of rest after a productive week of de-cluttering) I post a Clutter Comedy article describing my most memorable clutter discovery of the week. Other bloggers who wish to join in are welcome—just post a link in the comments! There’s no need to publish any “before” photos of your clutter, if they are too embarrassing. The idea is simply to get motivated to clean it up, while having a bit of fun too!

As children, we sought out comfy little hidey-holes almost by instinct. A favorite spot might have been a branch halfway up a backyard tree, surrounded by colorful autumn leaves. Or maybe we had a secret cave inside a closet where we went on imaginary adventures with a storybook and flashlight. It was all ours, and it was great fun. Pets like to find and claim cozy little spaces around the house, too!

 

Puppy lying on a wood shelf in the kitchen.

 

When we grow up, though, it’s not so easy to find places that feel like our own comfy space. Maybe we’d like to sit and relax with a cup of tea and a good book on a rainy weekend; but there isn’t even enough room for a teacup on the kitchen table because it got so full of clutter, and someone else already took the couch and settled in to watch TV. And of course, sitting in a tree or closet while reading the book is not something a grown-up would even think of doing! So, instead of enjoying a restful afternoon, we end up cleaning off the kitchen table again…

That can go on for many years while we assume it’s just the way adult life goes. But eventually, after neglecting our need for restful places, we start to develop symptoms of Comfy Space Deprivation—stress, tiredness, and general blah feelings. Fortunately, there is a cure. Instead of letting everyone’s junk pile up all over the house until finding a place to sit feels like a game of musical chairs, we can take control and get the house organized the way we want it.

Yes, we still have the power to create comfy spaces, just like when we were children! Although we probably wouldn’t want to hide in a closet like our six-year-old former self or climb up on a shelf like a puppy, even if we were small enough to do it, there are plenty of other options to creatively decorate our own cozy little corner—a bamboo screen, a cheerful painting, our favorite music, and maybe a new chair if the budget permits. All it takes is a bit of time and imagination!

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to “give this planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.” Visit her site to find more Nurturing Thursday posts and a list of frequent contributors.

To read all posts in this series from the beginning, click here.

 

Our houses get cluttered unless we regularly take inventory of the contents and purge things we no longer want or need, which is something I’ve been working on this year. In much the same way, bad habits and unhealthy thought patterns get out of control all too quickly if we neglect to tidy our minds. That is why the personal inventory taken in 12-step programs is not just an isolated event but is instead an ongoing process of continuing improvement.

Step Ten says: “Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.” Promptly acknowledging the need to correct a problem is always important because the longer things go without being corrected, the worse they get. That is true in many areas of life—when we get in the habit of fixing small things promptly, we find that routine maintenance is a lot easier than leaving stuff to pile up and turn into big, overwhelming problems.

Addictions, including chronic negativity, often are made worse by the stress that comes from letting unexamined stuff pile up like that. Even though we may not want to face up to whatever we’re doing wrong, we probably have at least some subconscious awareness that things aren’t going as they should. That not-quite-right feeling triggers anxiety, which in turn leaves us tempted to indulge in self-comforting addictive behaviors. Then we feel guilty, which causes more anxiety, and down we spiral.

In our complicated society, where it’s very easy to overlook things because we always have so much demanding our attention, it’s an unavoidable fact that we are going to be wrong sometimes, no matter what we do. And as a result, we need to admit when we’re wrong. That simple necessity shouldn’t leave us feeling ashamed or intimidated. Sometimes it does anyway, because we all have bad memories of having been bullied—or at least criticized harshly—when we were wrong. Admitting a mistake can feel like it leaves us more vulnerable to abuse from judgmental people.

But in my experience, calmly owning up to a mistake and taking action to correct it usually has been uneventful—not nearly as scary as procrastinating about it while imaginary negative scenarios multiply in my thoughts! When we become confident enough to own our actions, including the mistakes, we project authenticity and strength to others, and they are more likely to respond positively to us.

Taking personal inventory regularly, followed by prompt action, can be looked upon as just another one of life’s many necessary tasks, like washing the dishes or mowing the lawn. The dishes will need washing again, the lawn will need mowing again, and we surely will make mistakes that need correcting again. That’s just the way things go.

Many years ago, when my kids were little, I bought a piece of fabric with a design of roads and brightly colored buildings, so that they could roll their toy cars around on it. They spread it out over the driveway and often expanded the map by drawing more roads and scenery with sidewalk chalk.

 

Toy cars arranged on fabric with pictures of roads and buildings.

 

As they grew older and lost interest in playing with toys, this all ended up at the bottom of a plastic basket in my garage, along with other clutter such as lids from empty sidewalk chalk buckets and worn-out soccer balls. Then other stuff got put on top of it, and we didn’t notice how much old junk had built up in the basket. The memories are good ones, but there’s certainly no need to keep the actual stuff forever!

About Clutter Comedy: Every Sunday (which I envision as a day of rest after a productive week of de-cluttering) I post a Clutter Comedy article describing my most memorable clutter discovery of the week. Other bloggers who wish to join in are welcome—just post a link in the comments! There’s no need to publish any “before” photos of your clutter, if they are too embarrassing. The idea is simply to get motivated to clean it up, while having a bit of fun too!

Last weekend, my husband and I noticed that a board on top of our deck railing had gotten warped on one end and the screws had come loose. I thought at first that we might need a new board, but he said that we could just turn the warped board over and it would be fine. We had to scrape off some old wasps’ nests and other icky stuff that we found under the board; but after we cleaned it up and screwed the board back into place, it didn’t look nearly as bad anymore.

 

Wooden deck railing, slightly warped.

 

Sometimes life is kind of like that, too. Bad habits and negativity can leave us feeling like our lives have gotten a bit warped, or even make us wonder if we have a screw or two loose; but often all we need to do is to turn over something that we haven’t looked at in a while, scrape off the accumulated crud, and then go forward with the benefit of a different perspective.

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to “give this planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.” Visit her site to find more Nurturing Thursday posts and a list of frequent contributors.

This is Part 16; click here to read Breaking the Ice from the beginning.

 

Woods had been sitting in the dining hall for a few minutes, mostly just looking at his hot oatmeal rather than eating it, when Mastroianni walked in from the galley carrying a lunch tray with soup and salad. She put the tray down on the table directly across from Woods and gave him a pleasant smile. He noticed that today she’d pinned back her long hair with a silver and turquoise clasp in a Southwestern style. No doubt it was a souvenir of long-ago travels; the Martian colonists generally favored simple, no-frills clothing like his own plain microfiber shirt and slacks.

“How are you today—well rested, I hope?”

“Yes, thanks,” Woods answered by rote. He touched his clean-shaven chin, which still felt odd after so many years with a beard. When he’d shaved today, he had given himself a small nick—which he hadn’t noticed right away—while preoccupied with thoughts of alien telepathy.

Perhaps Mastroianni could shed some light on whether it was real? And even if she couldn’t, Woods expected that as the ship’s doctor and counselor she would at least have enough respect for confidentiality not to gossip about him. He went on speaking before he could overthink it and change his mind. “I was just wondering about telepathy. Whether there’s any way to test for it.”

“This has to do with the images you mentioned yesterday?” Mastroianni left a forkful of reconstituted lettuce and cucumber hanging in the air while she considered the question. She finally shook her head. “Nothing that would amount to definite proof. I can think of a few possible tests—looking for chemical changes in the water of the tank, measuring changes in your brainwaves and those of the squid-creature when you see the images, and scanning for electrical signals. The hard part would be interpreting the data. We have no idea what’s normal for this species, so how would we recognize evidence of telepathy if we saw it? Maybe if we knew more about the species, or if the creature had some way of communicating to others… and if you don’t mind my asking, have you seen any more of those images since you woke up today?”

Although her tone hadn’t changed significantly on the last sentence, and she continued eating her salad like this was just an ordinary lunch, Woods could hear the shift into counselor mode. Well, he shouldn’t have expected anything else. Truth be told, if their positions had been reversed, there wasn’t much chance he would have taken alien telepathy seriously.

“No. You’re probably right that I just imagined them because of my lack of sleep.” He looked down into his empty cereal bowl, without any recollection of when he had finished eating. There was no need to mention—at least not yet—either his guess about detailed recollection triggering the telepathic link or his avoidance of it after he woke up. “But I want to know for sure. If the creature is sentient, we shouldn’t be treating her like an animal.”

“Even if we somehow could find proof of telepathy, that likely wouldn’t settle the animal question,” Mastroianni pointed out. “I had a great-aunt who firmly believed that her cats could converse telepathically with her. Ability to communicate is not necessarily the same as being a sentient person. When a dog brings its owner a stick, the dog is clearly communicating that it wants to play fetch, but it’s an animal regardless of how well it can communicate such things.”

Woods turned that over in his mind, concluding that it was indeed more complicated than he had thought at first. “If I had enough images and understood more of their context, I could sketch the images and ask the linguists to look at them. Maybe they could figure out whether there’s anything similar to a human language. But they’d need more images to have enough data to analyze.”

“How about keeping a journal? You can sketch the images and write notes about what you think they might mean. If you see any new ones, then you can add them. And if not, well,” Mastroianni smiled again, “you’ll have a good start to a sci-fi novel when we get back to Earth. All of us will be celebrities for a while, and I expect the publishing companies will be eager to print whatever we write.”

He returned the cheerful smile as he got up to take his empty bowl to the galley, though being a celebrity was the farthest thing from his mind. Having a research lab with a tank full of alien microbes, however, was beyond awesome, and he was eager to get back to work. This was what he’d been waiting for his entire life, after all! He could give more thought to the mysterious images and the benefits of journaling after his workday was over. Maybe then he’d have a clearer idea of how to proceed.