Hoarder’s regret

Hoarders regretHoarding is one of those compulsive behaviours that is hard to battle. It makes so much sense when you’re in the grip of it, and this digital age gives hoarders easy access to so much more stuff and to so many more reasons to hoard. Sorry, not reasons – justifications. Our reasons are hidden and lost so much of the time, they’re the last thing we want unearthed.
Stuff is the most obvious symptom, but it certainly isn’t the only thing. Food is also very common. Books I have previously confessed to also. Bits of string. Obviously. So handy. Photos – another thing made easier to duplicate and hoard in this digital age. Money. Like Scrooge McDuck there’s an urge to pile up coins and notes somewhere safe against a future of doubtful resources. Hmmm but what if something happens to money? Best diversify and hoard precious metals or gems too. And it is now, at this far shore, where the hoarding mind spins into another space and realm. What if those thing are no longer precious? Plush toys, pocketknives, fishing hooks, lenticular placemats of unicorns, all this and more becomes important. Potentially life saving.
I’m lucky. My hoarding is driven by this wildly irrational fear of the future. Others cling more strongly to the past, or are caught in a time-vortex around a particular event. So many flavours to it, and we all wish it were otherwise and can’t imagine any other possible way to face a day.
The future is a fascinating beast. She swirls and morphs moment by moment, drawing everything thing into an unknowable melange that defeats all but the most gifted of divinatory oracles. And so a future arrives, needs unravel and find the hoard … wanting. The hoarder misguessed, mistepped, invested heavily in screws when widgets took precedence. Oh the pitiful tragedy of a hoard unusable.
Here’s a lesson. Nothing stashed is worth anything. TV shows of antiques and rare finds that earn a fortune to the collector are a rarity worth mentioning. Reality is the regret in having to eventually pay someone to take it all away. Unless you use it, for the original purpose you purchased it for, before the mice and mould and age weary it beyond hope or you simply forget you have it. You won’t listen. No hoarder does. You’ll entomb it in plastic and seal it in tubs and catalogue and cross reference the resources. But it doesn’t help.
The future demands nothing of us than the bravery to live in right now. Everything else is a case of hoarder’s regret in the brewing.

Bliss of being

Do you feel the bliss of being? Are you in love with the play of light and the feel of the earth as you move through the days of your life? Or do you feel that you’re missing out on something and if only you knew what it was you’d never rest until you found it? “Just tell me!” I’ve heard people plead, “I want to be happy, tell me what to do, I’ll do whatever it takes.”

bliss of beingActually, we’ve been talking about this topic for a long time here, it is why the quincunx model is so important, why we spent time witnessing our behaviours around debt and provisional living. All those topics are connected. They are all part of the incandescent line of who you really are – the part of you that is always enough. It is the part of you that knows the bliss of being, the part that is always already free.

As human beings we get caught up in the human parts of our lives. Our intellect is in charge, driving us this way and that that way, lashed invisibly to our powerful and cunning egos we are so busy in the four senses of the world and their pleasures that we lose touch with being. We look down on “just being” a bit. After all, why go to all the effort of evolving this giant brain if you’re not going to use it all the time? (Exacerbated by all those ways we have of proving how clever and giant that brain really is – MENSA memberships and official measurements of IQ and the university system and so on.)

The burden of the brain

So what’s the drawback of the valuable brain? Well because your amazing, unique, wonderful giant brain will never bring you bliss. Instead it brings with it all of the side-effects of thinking; constant thinking, over-thinking, worry, anxiety, living in the past by re-living events and conversations, trying to double-guess events and reactions that haven’t and may never happen, living in a future that is not certain (when I lose weight, when I have more money, when I have time).
Let’s come at this from a different direction for a moment, and use time as an example. We’ll use ‘human time’ and ‘being time’ to illustrate the difference. Humans used their giant brains to invent clocks so we could keep appointments. That’s handy and lets us get a lot done in an organised and efficient way. Independent of clocks, there is ‘being time’.
If you’re one of the lucky people who has ever shared your life with a pet or an infant human (or indeed a wild creature) then you’ll know that they live completely in ‘being time’. If you’re very lucky indeed and you’ve connected with them deeply and at their level, you’ve probably experienced the bliss of being.
In ‘being time’ you’re able to encompass thinking, but not react to it, you’re able to exist in that brilliant, fluid stillness that we in our impoverished spoken language just call “now”.
Once we give ‘being time’ a name, your giant brain tries to take over again and it interferes with experiencing the now by thinking about what it is that you’re doing while you’re being. Notice those thoughts too and let them go. What you’re after while you’re in ‘being time’ are gaps between thoughts and, if possible, letting those gaps become longer because it is only in those gaps that your being can blossom up into bliss.

The bliss of being

There is a vast something inside you that is brightly alive.

Let’s not give it a name today that will just set your giant brain off again. This aliveness is the source of true bliss in your life and it is always with you.
For a long time I thought that buying (and stockpiling) books would make me happy (at some point in the future) by filling a hole I felt inside of me. I thought that if I knew more, I would feel full but it wasn’t a hole, it was the ‘giant brain’ and the ego keeping me distant from Being. That’s how central it is to us, we know that we need it and yearn for it constantly in the background of our busy lives, our worries, fears and cluttered rooms. We can find freedom from that hurting chasm by re-uniting with our own being, with our aliveness in our center.

It is one thing to know this, but the magic is in feeling it. Seek and ye shall find.

Gandhi’s storage unit

Recently I came across a picture of the personal items of Mahatma Gandhi that were auctioned in 2009. Many people enjoy the secretive delight of peeping into other people’s lives and handbags, particularly famous and powerful people and Gandhi was both. I wondered what the historians found when they looked into his storage unit.

Gandhi's personal belongings

He was an incredibly active and influential leader in Indian politics from 1915 through to the eventual political emancipation of India in the late 1940s. During this turbulent time his leadership was to earn him the endearment of Bapu (Papa). What does a man of this stature, of this importance own? What iconic luxury items might he flaunt to demonstrate his power? What valuable investments would he hold and what unique mementoes and gifts from a grateful population does he display? In short, what can we learn about modern living from Gandhi’s storage unit?

He’d had a long and successful career in law, travelled the world, met with many famous people. He was a well published writer, a political activist and leader, a family man and a philosopher. He was assassinated in 1948 at the age of 78. This was someone still in his peak, still active and publicly involved in the world, not in a hermitage or in any way winding down his life. Should be quite the haul of cool and amazing things!

Live simply so others may simply live

Famously, he owned very few things. The selection in the picture represents nearly half of his worldly stuff upon his death. No need for a storage unit. In fact he nearly wouldn’t have even needed a bag, most of his belongings were his daily wear. That’s his eating bowl there. He owned one book and a little statue (of the Three Monkeys) and actually, that was pretty much it. He replaced those sandals as they wore out, he had the one outfit. It is radically stark. There’s a wallet and reading glasses and a watch, that much most people have on their bedside table.

But then, nothing else. It is confronting.

Not just the lack of books (libraries were a real option in the 20th century) not just the lack of photos (he and his family were already being publicly documented) there’s nothing that to a modern eye says ‘this is who I am”. No music, no brands, no toys or other discernable displays. No sporting goods or dvds or miniature Eiffel Towers. But of course we know very well what type of man he was, what his beliefs were, how powerful his integrity and focus was. I don’t know if he was deliberately proving a point about stuff, but it sure feels like it.

What might our lives be like if we embraced only those things that were necessary to what we do, how we live our purpose in the world? His may be an extreme example – but what if it isn’t? What if we acknowledged how useful it is to share resources for the  many (libraries and kitchens and laundries) and keep our personal items humble? Humble stuff in life obviously does not have to mean humble impact.

Let Gandhi have an impact on you, especially if you’ve ever felt frustrated or smothered by your belongings or debt. He lived in a modern, complex world and he did it meaningfully and successfully without a collection of boxed vinyl figurines from a tv series or even sunglasses. There are seven billion people in the world, and there’s not enough room for us all to have a storage unit.

Be happier

Why do we put off having a good time? Sure, technically, celebrating is normally reserved for a ‘significant event’ but that shouldn’t put the dampeners on enjoying our day-to-day living more.

That’s what we all want, right, to be happier?

shared mealDon’t wait to celebrate. It is a long way between birthdays and promotions through the year, those special events often slip by us anyway. Birthdays are particularly fraught with baggage in our culture where youth is venerated. What can we do to be happier in our lives? Time is ticking people, this is our life we’re talking about!

What stops us being happier?

We worry – but by definition worry is about things that haven’t happened yet. So we’re making ourselves less happy now to think about things that may not happen in the future.

We turn worry into anxiety. While worry is tiring, anxiety is crippling. It isolates us from support and undermines our confidence.

The world is noisy. There is an avalanche of data every day, we’re suffocating under information and opinions.

Lots of people are mean and selfish. Let’s not go into this one too deeply, but I bet you thought of an example immediately didn’t you? Probably from the last day or so. We live in a crowded and pushy world, where a lot of people are out to get what they can.

Never enough money to go around. Do you get to the end of your pay and still have some week left? Do you wonder where the last pay went to?

We don’t have time. So very busy all the time with doing things and buying things and planning things and worrying. Oh my. So much to do! Where does the time go!? Another month and still you haven’t gotten around to that important thing you wanted to start? Drive faster, work harder, try harder to squeeze it all in. ARGHHH!

We just don’t think of it. It is a bit of a rut, day to day, doing all the things you have to do. Plodding through work and chores and bills and buying groceries and getting that thing fixed and all the other details. Being happy just kindof slips out of the picture.

Seven things you can do this week to be happier

Live in the now. Take life a bit more ‘as it comes’, or as a wise friend used to say “one meal at a time”. Of course you have big-picture plans and a few things you really want to achieve, but let go of obsessing over the illusion of control. Roll a little as the waves of life come at you.

Count your blessings. Make a list of all the things you’re grateful for. It is the best ever antidote for other people being nasty. Why? Because it brings you back into a core space that is ok, a space from which you can worry less about other people being grabby, because you realise you probably already have enough. Want a challenge, send a postcard or a letter to someone and thank them for being in your life or for something particularly that they did.

Buy less stuff. Being happy is an experience, evaluate how you spend your money in terms of what you value.

Turn off the worry switch. Anxiety is a horrible outcome from a quirk of our clever brains. The capacity to think through events that had not yet happened gave early humanoids a survival advantage. These days it keeps the wheels of our minds spinning when we need to be sleeping. Not so helpful. Learn about sleep hygiene and mindfulness practices that suit your variety of worry. If you can’t act on your concern, mentally count numbers. Or do maths. Really.

Be in a bubble. Cut out some (or all media) and detach from the ‘stay informed’ imperative. You need some of that intellectual energy to deal with your own life, to solve problems (see ‘worry’, above) or to create and heal. You won’t miss much. If you feel like a challenge, learn how to meditate and give that a go. You’ll get the secret bonus that meditators know all about (true quiet).

Time travel. Pretend you already lived today and then time travel back to the morning and tell yourself what the one important thing to do is. Just do that. No matter what other random, confusing, urgent and distracting things happen, hold onto the knowledge that future you needs current you to just do the one thing. You’ll change the nature of your time. Trust me, I’m a Doctor.

Share a meal. No need for a special occasion or fancy food. Just enjoy an ordinary meal in company. Chat about your hopes. Listen. Relax and enjoy the taste of the food, feel grateful for the earth that grew it and the people who worked to bring it to your plate. Tell jokes, daggy ones you remember from when you were a kid.

There you go.

None of this is too complex to grasp and you don’t need to hire a professional to do the paperwork to get started. Don’t like this list? No problem, here are 10 scientifically proven paths to be happier and Dr G will point you to any number of similar lists.

The real trick? Just make one of them happen. Now’s your moment, act on a whim so you don’t over-think it.

This week, don’t wait to celebrate. Make the call and put an idea into action. You’ll be happier for it.

A spiritual tool for personal growth

Don't PanicWe’re on the third part of our exploration of the quincunx (here is part one and part two) as a spiritual tool for personal growth. Of course you will have noticed that there are some drawbacks to this model. For example, the lines can give an unrealistic sense of solidness (which we all know to be a tricksy illusion); we don’t easily see how these circles change size over time in response to the efforts of our will or our habits; and it might look like we’re all individually in little boxes – a perception with particularly negative connotations in our culture besides which we know ourselves to be interconnected. The purpose of the model is to give a framework for reference that can help us to grow. It gives us a new set of choices, not simply an answer.

Don’t panic

It might feel challenging at first, but imagine that you can see your own actions in each of these circles sometimes strong in one and less active in another, see how over time you’ve made a set of spirals and they reach from your past to where you are right now. This can be challenging and uncomfortable because life is often not how we wish it would be. From here you can see the whisper of their trajectory – the next steps you’re likely to take in each of those realms (potentially also an unpleasant vista as we see ourselves perpetuating unwelcome or unhelpful patterns despite our intentions. If you can hold on through this discomfort, it is more than possible for you to visualise these paths, because you’re already living it now, and you are, at least, unconsciously aware of them.

Sometimes to bring that picture to the conscious mind just takes finding the most comfortable image or story that will help you translate this idea into your life. The quincunx itself might have done the trick, or it might have just nudged a door ajar and you need something else to follow on. It is worth the effort because when you have a conscious connection to the patterns of your life you are in a position of choice rather than reaction.

What you’re looking for is a map or a guiding idea that contextualises the dynamic balance of holding the awareness of these five states at once. Possibly there’s one in the faith that you already prefer. Buddhists refer to the four noble truths and the eight-fold path. In Kabbalah this model would connect to the tree of life (which gives a more detailed breakdown of the archetypal actions likely within each of the realms). Christian’s can turn to a Christological reading of the crucifixion (theological significance)  and indeed the symbol of the crucified Christ is a powerful and globally recognised symbol. These examples are given in the spirit of sharing major, existing models not directing us into a theological comparison! There are lots that aren’t religious too. Surfers have their own language for dynamic balance in the moment, and that complete physical and mental commitment often creates a space or an experience in which the higher consciousness’s presence can be felt directly. Some American Shaman teachings refer to the ‘spiral dance’ and to me that idea made sense – hearing the music, feeling the rhythm, interacting with the ground, the sky, the other dancers.

How this is helpful in normal life

When we are stuck in a pattern of behaviour that seems solid, the story or map that we’ve chosen to use can help us to interrupt the habit.

By the way, you might not believe this, but you’ve already made the first step in getting help where you want it. By asking, you’ve found this concept. Just as importantly now is to accept what comes to you as help. (That’s just one of those obvious things that is worth saying out-loud now and then.)

A real example

Let’s say you’re worried about money. Specifically you’re worried that you’re not making enough savings or the right investments right now for when you’re older. I worry about how I will cope with my chronic illness, how I will survive in a hostile economy if I can’t work. In my version of the model, I understand money primarily as Earth (well-being in the physical world) and as Air (a shared concept in our culture). When I’m worrying, and maybe you do this too, I’m often taking a Water perspective (of emotional values) on the situation. That is to say the issue is that I feel weak and vulnerable rather than the rational odds of the likelihood of the situation that I fear or an evaluation of the other mitigating factors that I could use my intelligence to deal with. Notice there is no Fire in this example. Here’s where the model can point out a new perspective. What might the lack of a Fire perspective illustrate? It shows that I feel that I have no grasp of the mechanics of wealth, of how money as a technology functions.

Instead I look around at what I can see others have (Earth again) and measure myself against their possessions or investments. I read articles (Air) about what people in my demographic ‘should’ have or own. Sometimes I witness myself feeling (Water) that I deserve better or more. All of these behaviours perpetuate the habits I’m stuck in.

Even by trying to describe what a fire perspective might be, I had to interrupt my patterned reactions to the issue and go into a perspective that was new and in this case diametrically opposed to the main realm in which the worry holds power. That action of interruption marks a powerful choice. Actions that interrupt our thoughtless reaction mark a point of self-rearrangement. You may also have noticed the use of the word witness in there – that’s another healthy separation that allows us to put what’s going on back into the circle or corner it belongs in and remind ourselves that we’re more than just that reaction.

Even so, there’s one more angle we haven’t used yet to look at this worry. You can see it now can’t you? That’s right – from the centre. What might the soul perspective be on money, debt or poverty?

What does your soul tell you? Did you get a flash of feeling or a picture from your past come to mind?

What perspectives have opened up for you out of this discussion? Please feel welcome to share them in the comments or to think them over in the days ahead. It sounds so simple, but actually doing this can be confronting, can be a challenge, and it can leave you feeling woozy or even a bit lost. Drink some water and be forgiving. Ask for help, we’re all in this together.

Debt grief

Did you hope we were done with the melancholy subject of debt?
Not yet.
Something came up from the readings that was unexpected and bears airing. People have a lot of hidden grief about their debt. It is out of sight, but not out of mind and weighs heavy on hearts.

All that material abundance has come at a greater price than we were told at the checkout when we punched in our PIN.

Drawing by Theodoros Pelecanos, in a 1478 copy of a lost alchemical tract by Synesius. Wikipedia.

There are the obvious initial thoughts when buyer’s remorse kicks in or we get home and find there’s simply no where left to put something new. Deeper than that we think of the days of sunshine lost to our grey cubicles and fluorescent lights. We know that the youth of our hearts and the blushes of love are drained by uniforms and timetables and the indignities and compromises that come with not feeling free to walk away from a job. Perhaps you have figured out how much your modest mortgage will cost over the course of your loan and what each of those dollars will cost you in time in your cubicle or uniform. It is beyond sobering, it is a painful and softly brutalising moment.

There are many articles and blogs addressing how the five stages of grief relate directly to debt and I encourage you to get some support for where you are up to with yours because it is hard to see your way forward while you’re stuck in sorrow.

Ram Dass in his recent post on grief spoke about finding some solace in realising that “we only grieve for what we love” and in that moment there was a terrible clashing noise for me. None of us believes we love money, but in our culture, where we treat wealth in the form of money as the portal to fulfilment, the portal to all the things we do love to indulge in, debt does brings with it a trailing veil of grief. We must feed the screaming baby at the expense of current or future desires. Fear of missing out, yes, and the harsh reality that the money is not coming back, and worse, needs more money yet. We are not done working for someone else. Working to their timetable and to no foreseeable end.

How can we be released from this cycle?

Is it even possible?

Do we have the power to release ourselves?

Yes, we do have that power. As with all swords it comes with two edges so you’ll need to be sure you can handle it if you want to pick it up. Next week we’ll explore those edges.

 

Image source and © information: “Serpiente alquimica” by anonymous ; uploader Carlos adaneroThis work is in the public domain in the United States, and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 100 years or less.This file has been identified as being free of known restrictions under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights.. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

 

Financial balance

Two Pentacles copyright Erin Morgenstern Phantomwise Tarot

Maybe you don’t see the debt you have as a problem  that needs fixing. After all, it is pretty normal to have some and probably you’ve reached an agreement with yourself about what’s ok to live with. The suggestion to live within your means is patronising and overly simplistic. I get that. Maybe you really are happy with constantly feeling the compulsion to get new stuff and shoving the old stuff to the back of the closet. Maybe you think that if you need to, you could take a load of barely used clothes and accessories to a store and get some cash back by selling them. Good luck to you.

If you haven’t tried to sell your stuff, especially if you think you could, and have even found yourself referring to it as “a type of asset” then I suggest you try. See what you can get for a hardcover book that you bought new for $45 just a year ago. See what your designer jacket is worth on the second hand clothing market. Take just one of those unused sporting items down to the pawnshop and see what they’ll offer you. I challenge you to swallow your pride and accept whatever you’re offered, if they’ll take it at all. Now ponder how much it cost to fill all those busting cupboards. If you’re using that stuff, fantastic, we’re talking about what is essentially clutter. You don’t use it, maybe you don’t even remember buying it. The point is, you’re still paying for it, and you’re paying to keep it.

You just don’t know what the future is going to bring. I know you’re likely to feel positive about it, to be optimistic that probably whatever’s coming is good news. I hope so. What if it’s not? Sure, most of the time nothing much changes. Every now and then something big happens to one of us personally, or to a friend. When it comes down, everyone involved goes right into reaction mode. When it happens, it all seems to happen fast. The rest of your life gets put on hold and you deal with it. Emotionally it can be hard to keep it together. Financially it can be a tsunami of bills and expenses and you need to be able to move through all of that and keep it together to go to work, or look after someone, or call in the attack lawyers or translate from the medical specialists. Whatever the flavour of the situation what you do not need is to be green with worry about where the money will come from.

That’s an extreme example. Personal catastrophes are not common, but they do happen and a financial cushion of some kind can really help. In our interconnected global economy, there are many ways in which a twitchy butterfly somewhere you’ve never heard of can result a few weeks later in difficulties or hardship for you and the ones you love. If you have debt, you’ll find it harder to respond and recover from anything that blindsides you.

Of course it is hard to jump from debt to not debt. It is very much worth doing, although it is a challenging project in itself because you have to learn to balance two moving targets in an unpredictable environment. Like a dog standing on a ball and balancing another ball on your nose, you are going to need some specialist training and some good motivational treats.

Before you’re ready to perform you might be best placed to face up to the quirks and habits that got you where you are today. For all the rationalising about it, mostly why you’re in debt is likely to be due to some unconscious behaviours (I’m not talking about people looking up and aspiring to the poverty line, or in hardship due to extreme or ongoing, systemic poverty. If this is you, please contact a reputable charity and get some help and support in dealing with your situation. I’m talking to everyone else except probably Lady Gaga, Gina Rinehart and Rupert Murdoch).

You can’t see for yourself the patterns you’re in, or you’d change them. Who knows you well enough to tell you the truth without making a big deal about it (or it just being massively awkward)? Your subconscious is your best friend here. It really knows what’s going on when you don’t remember why you had to buy another pair of shoes almost identical to a pair you’ve never worn, or spend your week’s wage on a night out. I’m not normally someone who promotes a binary world view, but in this instance, it works well for the predicament we’re faced with. Income and expenditure, they need to be balanced in your life.

Think about it. You know about budgets, compound interest, and all those things, but you still do it. You’ve been cranky at yourself and sworn you’ll change, and you haven’t. You need to break the cycle. Imagine you had the information to stop your self-sabotage. You need to clear away some of the shadows you have around money so you can use your energy to gain balance and take control over your situation. Dance in balance with the available resources and your perceived needs

(Woo Woo Warning)

I use a very simple tool to ask my subconscious things that I feel ready to know (and you should really be ready because it never lies. It doesn’t tell even little white lies.) Your subconscious is always delighted to be invited to start a conversation with you, but it is not tame. You may not like what it says and some things it throws at you will be confronting.

There are lots of tools, but I like tarot cards because they represent archetypes I understand. There are 20 major life moments in pictures and 4 lots of simple, everyday experiences grouped by the themes of emotion, willpower, money and thoughts. That is the most simplified and basic description I could come up with in 25 words or less. It leaves a fair bit out as you might expect, but it is enough for what we’re want to achieve at the moment.

Well I’ve made a tarot spread, especially designed for this topic and it is available on my freebies page.
I haven’t had time to do a sample reading to illustrate this layout, so if you don’t have your own cards and you are keen to find out if this is helpful, I have a special offer. Let me know either in the comments or by email that you want a free reading and I will do a one for you (this offer is for the first three people who respond or until Monday 8th September 2014 whichever comes first) on the proviso that if I change any identifying details I may use your reading as an example. I will need you to tell me about your situation in order to do this, so please don’t ask if you’re all like “you’re the psychic, you tell me” because I am not a psychic, that’s not the kind of exercise we’re in here.

So, Income and expenditure. Face into the sun and the shadow falls behind you.

(Image © Erin Morgenstern from the unpublished Phantomwise Tarot)

A sober assessment

One simple rule $Before we move off the topic of debt, there are some positive things to share. I find this subject quite emotional – as I’m sure many people do – so let’s clear the air a little with some practicalities.

One simple rule $ imageIn my past, I’ve been through the experience of some credit card debt going bad (which happened to coincide with some poor decisions about tax also coming home to roost). Out the other side of that experience I’m cautious about spending money I don’t have on hand. ‘Vigilant’ would not be too strong a word. ‘Terrified’ might even be appropriate on some days! I worry about it. I don’t really have much now and yet still I worry about it.

I worry about you having it. I do. It is too much. Debt is hurting us. It is one of the heaviest shackles stopping us from living a life of deliberate liberation, and it is voluntary.

Some people seem to think of credit card debt as a kind of charity to themselves. ‘Thank you credit card for helping out for the cost of a pad thai on Saturday night!’ You might be out of cash and craving those sweet noodles, but actually, unless you’re as scrupulous at paying yourself back in full and as quickly as you’d expect any of your friends to be, in reality you’re in a Ponzi scheme with your bank, and the house never loses.

Let’s talk about getting out of debt. That’s a pretty obvious next step conversationally but let’s not go into paying down or clearing it off, not budgets. Not haggling over interest or swapping balances and accounts. Not how to expand or grow your income or start a business on the side. Those things are all great tactics and they can really help you but I’m not the right person to talk about those. Honestly, there’s just huge amounts of useful information and lots of knowledgeable, well-meaning people to help you with all those things online already. Hit up Doctor Google with a few simple questions and you’ll be inundated with options and links. It is easy to find an approach that works for you. Just be aware of anything that people are asking you to pay for!

What is there left to talk about? There’s a key truth to debt that hardly gets any headlines. You could be forgiven for thinking that it is a secret. It wasn’t bad luck that gave my phone number to a collection agency. It wasn’t not having education or a job or support if I’d asked for it or an understanding of how to do a budget. I was lazy, busy, a bit selfish, maybe arrogant that I could do it differently – you know – normal. Even so, when faced with the bottom line, despite having the kind of habits that meant a lotto win would end up as more debt, I knew this truth and I bet you do too. It is just one simple rule and it works. I warn you now, it’s a tough one. It is not sexy. It is not huge glittering fun.

It is this: live within your means.

I know, right? Bor-ring. I can feel your eyes rolling back in your head. Stay with me on this one. I think it is radical. Daring. In this age of rampant entitlement, what could be more personally and politically powerful than to disengage from the consumer culture except on occasions of deliberate choice? Okay, that might be a bit of a long bow to draw, but think about it. Why do we immediately reject this obvious truth? Because it requires decisions and choices. It implicitly asks us to do without some things. Our fear of missing out (so common now it just goes by ‘FOMO’) immediately gives us an eye-twitch but reality is all about limits. We are finite beings on a finite planet. Our time is finite, our income is very clearly finite. Knowing this, doesn’t it seem almost childish to continue to believe in ‘later there’ll be more’?

That’s not to say that there’s no such thing as hard work that pays off, or ideas that meet a need and create happy customers, or great services and products you can build and grow from your own capacity to learn and create. It is just that winning lotto isn’t a plan. There is no magical unicorn going to come along and poop golden nuggets onto your welcome mat. Once we face our limits we get to make informed decisions about how to spend our time and the resources we already have. It is not just reasonable, in this day and age it is revolutionary.

Next week I’ll share a tool that will give you a glimpse through your blind spot, or a whisper from your fairy godmother about your particular secrets and self-destructive habits with money. You can skip it if you’re scared, or ask someone to hold your hand.
We can get through this together.

Desire’s dark side

Lustful affairs bring consequences. The lovechild of the compulsion to consume is the unwanted bastard offspring Debt.

Oh Debt. We are not shy about conceiving you.

Australians lead the world with an average household debt (which includes mortgages) footprint of 1.8 – this means that people are spending nearly twice what they earn. All of their income and 80% of a whole ‘nother wage. Staggering. (ref ABS Data May 2014 )  No really.

‘Yeah’ you say ‘but that’s including houses and everybody knows that the Australian housing market is overvalued. That’s why I rent!’ Ok fine.
Australians owe billions on credit cards, about $4 400 per person.

Just for fun, this clock (ASIC Moneysmart ) shows how much Australians currently owe on the plastic. Your factoid for today is that 49% of those who carry $5,000 or more in credit card debt have a degree or a diploma. Oh wait, last one! Two in five people have no idea what interest rate they are paying on their card (and that was in March 2013! ).

Charles Dickens quote from David Copperfield

Much as those figures stimulate the curiosity and sound all newsy they actually distract from the human story that sits behind them. It is all too easy to evaluate yourself immediately against those figures so you can dismiss them. Relief – ‘mine’s lower!’ Or to judge – ‘how could they let it get to that?!’ I chose to include them because they’re real. Most Australians of age have one or more credit cards. They owe money on them that potentially they will never ever actually pay out. Or like dieters who know better, they yo-yo in and out of debt on the cards in tides of recrimination and stoic, forced budgets.

None of us is alone with our debt baby. We live in culture where it is normal to carry debt. That’s what we call it, not ‘tortured by’ or ‘enslaved by’ an endless burden. No, we just casually ‘carry’ it. We consider it part of the ‘cost of living’. Everyone does it. Those who do not have a credit card have an uneasy aura of either a do-gooder or a bankrupt (depending a bit on the tone of voice used to convey the information) but are a bit creepy either way. Not someone you’re going to listen to anyway.

Would you listen to yourself though? If your future self could tunnel through the time vortex and whisper in your ear, what would they say to you about how you left them holding the crying, hungry baby? Can the future you remember the emergency purchase or convenience of takeaway dinner or the money you saved by buying on sale with credit? Did you ever fall in love with a book that you simply must have only to get it home and put it on top of the pile of other books you haven’t yet read? I did. Many times.

When ANZ handed my debt over to a hard-nosed collection agency and I had to own up to my past indiscretions there was no way I could remember a single thing that had been so important it had to be bought with that card. My past self had blithely given me a big stinking problem to deal with and I hated her for it. If that’s not a perfect example of provisional living going bad, I don’t know what is. I don’t know that I would have listened to future me though, if I had tried to deny those lustful urges. In the end, it was an affair that took me years to recover from.

Why do we assume that our future selves will somehow have more resources, more ability to deal with the consequences of our actions? Because we’ve inadvertently subscribed to the doctrine of progress. We do it in our personal lives, we do it in our communities when we build houses on every next block of land, leaving no space for anything else. We do it as a nation when we use every bit of energy we can grab because ‘they will figure out a new technology soon and we’ll all have limitless lives and won’t have to work’ or something that sounds like winning the ‘infinite planet lotto’. Not going to happen. Addictive and easy, sure, but not real.

The reality is that it is impossible to be free when we are in the thrall of endless compound interest on debt. In the next quiet moment you have to yourself, ask your future self what it is that you both want most out of life.

It is not going to be more debt.

Kiss your loved ones and plan a different way forward. We’ve got a lot ahead of us.

Consumption compulsion

Muddling forward into our shared future, let’s have a cuppa and talk about the elephant in the room. Lust.

Yes, you’ve felt it. Unbidden, from deep in you rises that heady, powerful urge to purchase. New things. Shiny things. Perfect, desirable, cool, promising things. We have an affair with that orgasmic moment of transaction. The Purchase. *sigh*

This is what gets us into trouble in the first place. It is easy to believe that we’re all immune to the lure of the marketing demons and advertising parasites, yet our houses, garages and storage units are bursting with gadgets and gear that we’ve barely used. We’re cheating on the side with stuff, and it’s an affair we swear off and crawl back to. I’m not pointing any fingers or throwing any stones here, I’m coming clean and asking for help.

It starts off, as every affair does, innocently. You see it in a picture alongside an article, or as a prop in a film or tv series. Maybe you notice it, maybe you don’t. Then you spot it in another feed or your favourite blog or pinterest board. Oh, here it comes, the momentum is building and it is already too late. You click through. You note the hashtag. You check the site and are appalled at the price, and then all over again at the shipping. You close the window. Swear off but you know you’ll be back.

Whatever that item is, you DO NOT NEED IT.

You don’t. You just want it.

A friend and I were talking this week about notebooks (We’re mad for stationery. Don’t judge.) and we’ve both been “looking at” (you know what this is code for) a particular name brand ‘notebook’ that is actually just a cover that you buy inserts for. The covers are expensive and hard to get. Perfect. They’re also not all that practical for how I live and work. Even better. Plus, they’re made of leather. Watch two committed vegetarians rationalise how this is ok because at least it will be long wearing. Oh dear.

Why? Why do we sometimes want these name-brand items, no matter what? How does it become, out of nowhere, such an urgent passion? We can drive ourselves almost crazy with the craving, even though we know it can cripple us financially (or send us into a spiral of unmanageable credit card debt).

I wish I knew how this happens, so I could unhook from it. I feel it *all the time* it is like a constant undercurrent in our culture. Watching a lot less TV does help – but now the internet is littered with visually driven content – and these ‘notebooks’ seem to be everywhere that aspirational images are and nowhere in my mundane, suburban reality. They exotically promise creativity, freedom, and a life unfettered by the necessity to carry anything other than this in your tiny, light bag. Probably you’re too cool for a bag because you’re such a free spirit. You travel so light you just live out of a pocket.

Let me tell you why I’m a tiny bit bitter. It is because I’ve been down this road before. Let me introduce you to The Filofax.

My 20 year old Filofax (almost exactly the same size and concept) is still in perfect condition but now just looks daggy and old-school. So 80s! Yet at the time, it was the same, I burned for a Filofax. Burned. Planned it for so long, shopped around (pre-Internet!). The fact that the card slots in it are US size and none of my cards ever, EVER fit was shaming but I pretended that I didn’t care. I still use it at home to keep all my friends’ addresses in (yes, by hand, on paper!) but I would never carry it around (like we all used to) because it is just too heavy and really it is a back-up for my phone (yes, before there were mobiles!). Even carrying my B5 journal feels bulky and I sometimes see people with kindles smirking at me. I have a little pad of A6ish post-its in the back of the journal and that works really well for any notes on the go, so I know I would never really use this notebook and even so, I STILL WANT ONE.

For now, I recognise that my affair with compulsive consumption is destructive. The seductive allure of fresh pages; or the glamour of pristine, unscuffed bags; the excitement and promise of exactly the right shoes is the frisson that hooks me in and keeps me coming back. I’m getting better. I tell myself little white lies (“I can’t afford it”) or keep a 30 day list. But what really keeps me on the straight and narrow is the thought of that perfect, beautiful almost useless Filofax on my cluttered desk at home.

I’m going to get that Filofax out tonight and give her a glass of wine and gentle rub. Make it up to her. Let her know I still appreciate her patented system and secure papers and useless card slots. Most of all, I’m going to thank her for being a lesson well learned from days long past about how lust fulfilled fades so quickly and leaves a wake of bedraggled leftovers cast aside to make way for tomorrow’s rising favourites.

Let us settle for love and honesty in the face of these incessant temptations. You have enough. We are already enough.