Saturday, 30 January 2010


I may appear to have been remiss with my blog over the last couple of weeks, but in fact I have been extremely busy - and have achieved a lot, though to all outer measures it may not seem like much.

As readers may have garnered from past posts, I live in a shared house for economic reasons. It has always been a constant bugbear for me, in particular since the place has been in such a state of dirt and mess, a result of literally years of neglect. I say was, since I decided this state of affairs was going to be rectified.

As with all motivating forces in life, the dynamic always runs from internal to external. Extraordinarily frustrated with my life on countless levels, I have begun a process of reordering and directionalising my energies - and I am now seeing the dividends. For countless years I have attempted to be "more organised", and always tried numerous hi-tech solutions; from Psion palmtop computers (state at the art at the time!), to laptops, to phones, to setting up endless systems and all sorts of software and files on my computer. However, despite the fact, that, for example my Samsung phone is by far the most powerful I've owned (it is very similar to an iPhone), I have come to realise that nothing can beat the perfection and purity of pen and paper. So I bought a Filofax (which, rather pleasingly, I got a nice genuine leather one for an excellent price on sale); in fact I bought an A5 one. More to the point, I bought this size specifically because A5 copier paper is easy to buy for a home printer: this means I can create my own custom stationery. Not only does this mean I don't need to buy the overpriced official Filofax stationery, but I am only limited by what my imagination can devise. So, into OpenOffice and I set about creating a whole range of sheet templates, ready to print out "refills" as I need them. Customised and specific to my needs; To-Do sheets, Notes sheets, Workout sheets, Diet sheets, Recipe sheets, Concept sheets, "Look Into" sheets, Sleep chart, Dreams sheets... Naturally, the Filofax already came with a fair bit of paper in there, including of course, the all critical Diary.

As you can probably tell, I've created something that is far, far more than a mere organisational tool for mundane tasks: I wanted something that was going to be my "offload" center for all my ideas, thoughts, and generally everything that cluttered up my mind. I say cluttered, because previously I struggled to keep on top of everything since I would have so many bits of information that I would try to mentally record and internally organise; e.g. I might hear some particular artist on the radio, or someone might mention some book - and then inevitably fail to recall it when I had the spare time to investigate. Meanwhile, of course, I would be trying to lodge said piece of information into long term memory.

One thing that virtually all successful writers insist is of great importance is observation - and those observations are useless as usable future material if you don't record them, since it is unlikely you'll be able to recall the specific details some time later on.

It also exerts a surprising "mentally fatiguing" effect trying to continually organise and preserve all this information purely within your memory. So, since I got my organiser, my life has been radically changing, because I've made a very deliberate decision to use it: as soon as I have some interesting thought, or indeed any snippet of information - perhaps something as basic as adding "bathroom cream cleaner" to a shopping list - it immediately goes into the appropriate section. All those tasks that I kept intending on doing, and sort of eventually getting round to... now get done immediately. I built a long list of fairly mundane things to do and have been slowly working my way through, doing them.

Micro managing the informational complexity of my life in this way has had a profound effect on several major aspects.

Before, I used to eat quite well (in comparison to the average Briton), and did always cook "proper" meals, eat my fruit and vegetables, etc., but still tended to do the halfway house solution of using pre-made sauces, etc. This was always rather unsatisfactory for me, since I developed a real passion for cooking some years ago; I also take my health and fitness extremely seriously. Most ready made sauces are not only expensive but also far too high in salt, and also quite often contain a lot of sugar. Meanwhile, for lunch at work, though I did make an effort to cook more than one portion at a time at home and take some in for lunch, it was rather hit and miss; some days I'd have to buy lunch, or resort to making sandwiches.

Because I train extremely hard at the gym, and lead such a high activity life - the walk to and from work is nearly 5 miles, for example - my calorie requirement is very high if I am to have any energy to have a decent workout at the gym. So sandwiches were never much good, as I'd inevitably end up having a massive lump of bread in order to fill me up: a load of nutritionally empty carbohydrates. 

I was also not organised enough in doing the food shopping, so tired on my way back from the gym, I'd drop into my local Tesco express and pick up some food to build a meal with: the selection was limited and relatively expensive, plus I was just in a hurry by this point.

The kitchen was also too dirty and disorganised, and always took a lot of effort getting things sorted.

In terms of workouts, if you want to make progress with any training regime - and especially once you're an experienced trainer - in order to go forward you really need to set specific targets and goals, and have a very structured and systematic routine: it requires a lot of effort to force your body into overload and thereby cause an adaptation response.

When I had previously recorded workouts, I'd always done it on my computer, in weblogs or in a spreadsheet. But what about those evenings when it was getting late after I'd come home, cooked, eaten, washed up, done whatever other tasks, and simply wanted to go to bed? Naturally, I wasn't going to take all that extra time to boot my PC up purely to key in a few numbers and then shut it down. So after a while it becomes inefficient.

So, bring out the pen and paper. Suddenly efficient shopping lists started to be built; economising started to happen as I tracked expenditure immediately (on-line banking suffers from exactly the same flaw: you have to bother to go and sit in front of your computer and track all your finances; now I simply scribble down the amount spent virtually immediately after spending it - merely a few seconds effort); workouts now took literally seconds as I scribbed the numbers on to my ready made sheets. All those things I needed to remember were simply there in the diary. Tasks or things to do immediately went into to-do lists - and consequently got done: the pure satisfaction of trailing that line though the writing.

Every single aspect of my life has started to be brought into control and order. As is probably apparent from this blog, I am someone who likes detail: someone who likes order: someone who likes things to be systematic and organised. Previously, these aspects of my personality were in a constant battle with the mess of my life. I was always so desperate after such a dull week of endless work to do the things I enjoyed on my day off that the prospect of spending my day off doing yet more "work" - since I would spend all day at work organising, cleaning, sorting or dealing with things - was almost unbearable. Yet by not neglecting; by getting everything done and sorted in my personal life: so it is tremendously liberating, and more important, I am starting to reap massive gains from the new efficiencies.

The house is now spotless: it is far less effort, rather than try to get anyone else to do anything, simply to do it yourself. The kitchen is immaculate; the bathroom is pristine; my bedroom now a proper sanctuary. Mess and dirt effectively become an external manifestation of your own internal disorder; attempting to ignore it comes at severe psychological cost.

Cooking is now a joy again, meals cooked absolutely from scratch are far tastier - and my health feels better than ever. My strength and weights are flying up because I am now tailoring my diet to my exact nutritional requirements. My finances are coming under control because I know exactly how much (or rather, how little!) I have left. I am buying all my ingredients fresh and from the local market during my lunch breaks at work: not only is the quality of produce and meat much better, it is also significantly cheaper. I have freed up all sorts of storage space in the house from clearing out all the junk left from endless previous residents. With all this new storage space, everything is infinitely tidier; I have space to buy things in bulk and reap savings (i.e. rather than buy 500g of rice at £1.79 a bag, I bought a 10kg bag for £8.50...).

Perhaps more interestingly I am feeling intellectually sharper than ever, and no thoughts are getting "lost": the relevant snippet gets jotted down, ready to return to whenever I have a moment.

I have far more spare time now, because I waste so little, and don't muddle myself with inefficiencies or continually forgetting to do things.

I feel infinitely more in control of my life. I am becoming clearer as to exactly what I want from life: and I am also becoming much clearer as to how I'm going to go about it.

The next step is to scale everything up. I am going to invest in a catering size stockpot: no more cooking portions of a casserole or home made curry for 2-3 servings. Instead I am going to cook about 10 portions worth all at once: hardly any more effort, and it would mean on work days I have a virtual instant top quality meal every day, with minimal washing up afterwards. It'll make things even cheaper too. I'll invest in enough air/water tight containers to immediately place each days meal in. Etc.

All these mundane details are dull, but absolutely critical: freeing up one hour more each working day, for example, means one hour when I can be writing or doing something productive or fulfilling.

Small things can be surprisingly satisfying. In our previously neglected kitchen, there were a load of empty glass spice jars, filthy after not being used for years. I cleaned them up and filled them with a load of fresh spices. A little detail, but it really changes the feel of the kitchen space. The spices look very attractive in the glass jars (I am aware than technically you should keep spices out of the light - but they'll keep getting used up well before they go off in any case!).



Strawberry Girl said...

Sounds a lot like me.

I went through the gamut of organizing, ordering, detailing, budgeting and almost had everything in order... and then annoyingly I hit a few snags. I found out that I have some food allergies and my husband (at the time) messed things up so badly financially that I didn't know which way was up.

For a while I was throwing everything out of my cupboards because I kept finding more and more ingredients to avoid in the products that I had been buying... well anyway, gone through the gamut myself and just coming out on the other side.

I've got four kids though so keeping things as ordered as I would like is near impossible so I've had to learn to deal with a fair bit of disorder. Hmmm, ordered chaos... well an oxymoron that I have to deal with. OI!

Great to see the theory of order being played out so well in someones life. I completely agree about disorder being an outward manifestation of an internal disorder. Disorder gets in the head and messes around with your sanity...

Ah, perfect Captcha "Manic," well sometimes it feels that way, hehe...

Louise said...

Wow! You've really made some changes. I LIKE the A5 filofax idea. They were scoffed at when they were first on the market in the 1980s, and everyone was sitting in cafes scribbling furiously in their filofaxes, but I have to say they work for certain kinds of people. Stay with it. Soon the cleanliness of mind and kitchen will become so much of a habit you won't have to think about it, and it will have become part of the fabric of your life! Best wishes from Italy, Louise.

Triana said...

I keep track of everything like that in my phone. Years ago I tried the pen and paper version; I nicknamed it "my brain" as I felt lost without it. Now, I use the notes section of my phone to scribble down anything and everything that comes to mind. Since I can create different notes, I may have a grocery list on one, thoughtful quotes in another, virtually anything! I have my phone in hand 24/7, so much so that most think I'm addicted to texting. Reality is, I text very little compared to most, but am usually scribbling down something random from my head lest it get away forever.

Good luck!

dianne said...

Good for you Aren, I like to be organised myself, not to the point where I become 'anal' but I do have a file with each month's accounts which have to be paid, that way I don't forget insurance premiums, power etc as I know that they are coming up and budget for it.
The same with my daily expenditure, I write it all down, gives you some idea of where your money is going and how you can cut back and save more.
I like to buy fresh ingredients and cook my own meals, all of that frozen and packet stuff is too high in salt and sugar, you can't beat fresh, especially vegetables and fruit.
I have always written down snippets of information with pen and paper, maybe a song I have heard, a phrase, a quote, the name of an artist and their painting, something that might inspire a poem, even if it's only one line or a few words.
I think it is a great idea for you to cook your meals in bulk and freeze them so they are ready to microwave?
My house is clean, I am very particular about clean bathrooms and kitchens, if your fridge and pantry are clean and organised it is so much easier to see what you need to buy at the shops.
Good luck, you are sounding so much more positive which is great to hear. ♡

The Crow said...

White Man popular with girls.
Crow not often see so many in one place.
Crow notice them all organized.
Crow make note to tidy nest.

Aren O. Týr said...

Well since two of my house mates are now moving out, I need to fill the rooms quickly, to help with the communal bills (tax, utilities, etc.).

Better I do it than the landlord; can at least vet the new potential people first.

So you can be as organised as you want: but we all have to learn to deal with those events outside of our control.

Testing times at the moment with my finances so stretched; I'm keeping a much better tab on them this year than ever before, but it is even harder than ever to live within my means - things won't improve for me till January 2011 when for various financial reasons I'll be £250 a month better off.

Dianne, I now have a much bigger freezer in the house so can do the whole bulk cook/freeze thing. Got a massive new stock pot so can easily cook about 10 meals at once now.

Strawberry Girl, mmm, not sure the theory of order has played out as well I would like (though the house is still nice and tidy!), so I'm having to learn to "deal with a fair bit of disorder" as you say!

Louise, yes, now that I've got it up to scratch it is pretty straightforward staying on top of it - regardless of whether anyone else helps or not.

Triana, yeah, I do use the "Notes" function on my phone too, which is handly. But my pen/paper version is more powerful and immediate for my purposes. I also like writing with my fountain pens :-)

Crow is always perceptive. Aren note to keep closer eye.