The shift from busy-busy copywriter to busy-busy mother to stressed-out-busy-busy-copywriter-slash-mother has been one that left me wondering where to go next. Waking up tired and overwhelmed every day was starting to take more than a bit of a toll, and I knew some big changes were needed.
I was inspired to make the change from a results-driven business to a more holistic model by two things, really – one: an absolute need to claw back some head-space for myself, and two: seeing other women doing it and thriving on the new, pared-down lifestyle. I knew it was achievable, and sure enough – here we are.
Once I’d made a shift in my career, I decided, then, to revamp my entire life. Because of course I did.
I was at a new phase with my career anyway, so why not tackle everything in one go? Messy house – kapow! Overflowing wardrobe and nothing to wear? Boom, gone! Baby weight that I tried and failed not to care about? Zap!
KonMari and the path to true enlightenment
First on the list was the house – everyone was talking about KonMari, so I decided to look into it. It’s a method of tidying that involves keeping only the things that ‘spark joy’ in your life. That, plus lots of really intricate folding.
“Have you tried it?” friends asked. “It’s amazing! I can fit so much in my drawers now!”
I don’t have drawers – I have built in wardrobes. Plus, all that origami with your knickers…like, I have a toddler. I know I keep citing that as an excuse for various things, but I’m not even sorry. She’s this tiny dictator whose mission in life seems to be to challenge me in various ways, including pulling all of the clothes out of my wardrobe while I’m trying to get dressed. It hurts enough, watching her scatter clothes like confetti; mostly I just grab things off her and literally throw them in the direction of the wardrobe. Imagine if I spent hours KonMari-ing instead.
I wasn’t sold on the whole sparking joy thing, either. Does my phone charger spark joy? How about the extensive collection of tupperware I use to save bits of dinner for my daughter to have later? Wet-wipes? Muslins? Extension cords?
The whole thing just struck me as a bit naff. During tough times in my twenties, I sold everything I didn’t need and could get money for, leaving me with only the stuff I used all the time. Did it spark joy? No – I didn’t have the time, space or money for stuff that sparked joy.
But then, maybe I was looking at it the wrong way? Maybe I should’ve found an extension cord that did spark joy! The whole point of KonMari, we’re told, is to give it 100% – I clearly hadn’t been giving it enough.
Operation Lose That Baby Weight!
Next up: baby weight! I’d bought into the baby weight shame – how lazy of me to gain weight while growing and nurturing a whole human in my abdomen!
I sloped off to a Slimming World meeting – a two-hour session in a windowless hotel conference room, where the leader shouted motivational things about fat-burning sardines and her
victims members sat there, listening avidly and tucking into snack after Slimming World-branded snack.
I took a booklet away with me and spent a few hours on the whole Food Optimising thing: free foods, SP foods, A choices, B choices… After a couple of days, I found myself shaky and dissatisfied. I’m vegetarian but I don’t want to eat unlimited eggs and potatoes. I want more bread. I need chocolate. Plus, I don’t like salesy neologisms, and “syn” was one of the most obnoxious I’d ever come across. Slimming World was consigned to the rubbish heap, the little booklet tucked away in a cupboard.
Gym bunny gets boiled
I teamed up with a friend and joined the gym – a session of Pilates on a Monday morning, and Spin on a Thursday afternoon. I spoke to my Pilates instructor after a few sessions – I’d started (OMG!) to see results, and I wanted to know how to do better.
Instead, I got a talking-to about how I just wasn’t committing enough.
“You won’t make any difference with just two sessions a week. You need commitment. You need to say, ‘OK, I’m not working that day, or that one, or that one – and you need to come to the gym instead. And you need to track your food. Vegetarians always eat too much.”
I’d already told her that I’d wedged those two work-out sessions into a packed-out week, and that I was making healthier choices in my diet. I’d actually been stupid enough to be proud of myself for it.
I’m not a gym person. I’m self-conscious as hell, so to go and sweat and puff in a building full of people who I’m convinced are all 1) super fit and 2) laughing at me is a big thing. To be told I just wasn’t trying enough made me feel really small. I’d tried to get my life in order and, instead, I was exactly where I’d started and feeling pretty shitty about myself.
So, here’s the rub
On the back of all this ‘failure’, what I realised is that I was being sold to. I was being told that a fixed ‘package’ was a perfect fit, not just for my life, but for everyone’s – and it’s just not true. Some lucky folk will find a package that fits like a glove; the rest of us have to wonder where we’ve gone wrong.
The truth is, we haven’t.
I’m not flaky, I’m not lazy (well, not very lazy) and I’m not failing if I choose the parts of these programmes, lifestyles, techniques – whatever you want to call them – that suit me. I’m actually placing a value on my own comfort and my own judgment. Recognising that has turned out to be a lot more empowering than trying to slot into a ready-made lifestyle with no consideration for my personality, my lifestyle and my needs.
I go to the gym twice a week and I do as much as I can. I push, but not too hard. And yeah, I’m seeing changes. I’m stronger, more toned and less tired; I’m still pretty unfit, but I’m proud of achieving that little bit more each week.
I’m cutting down on empty calories – not because I should lose weight, but because I feel better when I feed my body well. It’s done something amazing, after all – growing, birthing and feeding a whole new person – and it deserves to be nourished. So yeah, I spread the butter a little thinner on my toast, I have a little less sugar in my coffee and I’ve cut down on the generous glugs of olive oil and blobs of butter that I enjoy bestowing on my cooking. And yeah, I’ve noticed a difference.
I’m clearing out my house bit by bit, using “love it, use it or chuck it” as my motto. I’ve got rid of grotty old make-up, used up and combined nearly-empty bottles of toiletries and cleaning products, and taken bags of clothes and toys to the charity shops. I’ve stopped impulse-buying and started buying one thing I love instead of two things I’m sort-of-OK with. And yeah, there’s more space in my wardrobe, now.
One size does not fit all
While all this started out as regular exercise in anxiety, leaving me wondering why I couldn’t just do more, try harder, commit more, it’s actually turned out to be pretty worthwhile.
Daring to deviate from what I’ve been told should be right for me has given me the space and courage to identify what actually is right for me. One size doesn’t fit all of us, neither does one cleaning technique, diet, or exercise regime. Listening to the signals my body and mind were sending out is getting easier all the time, and the benefits have fed into themselves: the more I listen, the better I feel; the better I feel, the more I find myself able to listen.
Instead of getting eaten up with guilt and a sense of failure, I’m making small changes to my life that are making a big difference to the way I feel. There’s no stress, only a sense of achievement.
And yeah, that does spark joy.
PS: if it’s not completely obvious, I’m not telling anyone to actually f*ck off – the clue’s in the title: just pick the bits that fit!