LIVING MORE WITH LESS

Originally published on Urban Affairs Magazine on December 7, 2017

Winter has arrived in Bangkok with cool mornings and breezy evenings. It’s that time of year when you reunite with good friends and things at the office hopefully start to run at a slightly slower pace. It is also a time for reflection and for setting goals. One of my goals is to live more with less. The other day, my husband picked up something of mine, and asked me, “When are you going to use this?” Although I’ve been decluttering regularly for the past few years, I realize I’ve fallen off the decluttering bandwagon and need to get back on.

I first started decluttering a few years ago after I read an article in The New York Times about the Kon Mari craze grappling the US. I was curious and went out to buy Marie Kondo’s book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. I immediately saw why it was a hit. The book was both humorous and eye-opening. After reading it, I looked around the house and started seeing things I hadn’t used in years. Ever since, I have been working on minimizing the amount of “things” in my life.

Marie outlines her Kon Mari Method which is a guide to acquiring the right mindset for creating order and becoming a tidy person. Purging and throwing away things takes a lot of mental power as it is all about making decisions. I find myself asking a myriad of questions: Should I keep this or that? What if I would later need to refer to these old lecture notes? This was a gift or this was once my favorite bag/shoe/dress. Should I save this for when I lose weight?…And it goes on and on. The reasons as to why I should keep something are endless and mentally exhausting. Looking back, some of them are quite funny. My husband solves this by suggesting I take photos of things I’d miss.

Marie Kondo’s method is simple. You keep the things that “spark joy” when you touch it. That is her sole criteria for whether you keep or throw something out. If you decide to throw something out, she says you should also thank it for the joy it gave you when you bought it, and for letting it teach you that it doesn’t suit you and to let go. This part reminds me a bit of Buddhism.

Following the Kon Mari method does not mean you tidy by room or area as we often do, but by following a systematic Kon Mari approach. We start with clothes, then books, papers and miscellaneous items. This is to prepare our minds for decluttering more difficult categories. Each category is subdivided. For example, under clothes you start with tops (shirts, sweaters, jackets, etc.). You take all the tops you have, wherever they may be in the house, and pile them altogether. The size of the pile gives you a sense of how much you have. The first time I did this I was shocked. I was never much of a shopper, but I certainly had more than I needed and there were certainly a few I hadn’t touched or thought of in years. It was a bit overwhelming. I had to take a deep breath and go for it and I’m glad I did. The outcome is cathartic. A house clear of unwanted and unloved goods feels amazingly good.

A wonderful side effect of decluttering is that you save money on buying storage and you save time because it becomes much easier to find anything you need. Money and time for you to live your life and accumulate more experiences. Isn’t that wonderful? Marie Kondo sums this up well in her book: “when you put your house in order, you put your affairs and your past in order, too… You become surrounded by only the things you love… pour your time and passion into what brings you most joy, your mission in life.” Life begins when your house is in order. Now let’s get on the decluttering bandwagon!

Zoey, hunter. James, cute.

There are many stories, reviews of travels and eateries waiting to be told, yet tonight I feel like writing about dear James and Zoey, my two dogs.  It’s been roughly three months since we’ve had James and four months since we’ve had Zoey. Time flies happily when you have dogs and I have to say they really are good for the heart and soul. I smile whenever I talk about them and if you talked to me about dogs, I could spend a long while discussing them with you.  Make sure you have a chair. There’s something about dogs that is good for the soul. Its no wonder they have been man’s companions since times past.

James the labrador is a heart breaker.  He has one of the most innocent looking faces especially when he is sitting quietly looking in quiet anticipation of a treat or snack.  He doesn’t jump, nor does he offer his paw, he just sits quietly looking up (for that’s how he has been trained) at you hoping that whatever you are doing will provide him with some snack.  Labradors have a voracious appetite and James is no exception.

If you are a bit late with the food, he doesn’t complain but just quietly goes and sleep by the food box, just “in case” you forgot.  He would do anything for a snack so training him is easy. All I have to do is have a snack in my hand and go through the motions together with the words.  Apart from sitting, rollover, heel, fetch and a few other tricks,  my favourite is “Bang bang” where James temporarily acts dead.

I make my hand into a gun, point it at James, and he falls on his back with his paws up as if he were dead. After awhile his paws fall down and if you go “bang bang” they go up again.  It makes me laugh just thinking about it.  It’s incredibly cute especially with his big paws.

James’ babyish charms also get to me.  When he was a puppy, I’d let him crawl onto my lap and sit on it looking out at the garden.  Now that he weighs 18kgs he still attempts to climb onto my lap like a baby wanting to be hugged, only to be turned down because his head alone is as large as my lap.  He hasn’t realized how large he has grown.  It melts my heart.

Zoey, by contrast is a petite, light weight and delicately built Thai dog with a small little face and two black patches that give her a distinct look.  She came together with the house is what we like to say. A sort of “free gift” that popped along with the house and we didn’t have the heart to just throw her out.  She was a mere puppy with a wagging tail and two beady eyes.

Unlike James who runs through water and jumps in whenever he can, Zoey is a clean and polite lady.  She dislikes water and rain and if the grass is wet, she’d walk on the stone slabs we have laid out.  If she wants to walk around the garden, she’d jump onto the little ledge we have along the fence and tiptoe along its walls.

She is also easily distracted living in her own world like a little girl chasing butterflies.  Once let into the garden, she’d run from back to front in a speed that’ll make you wonder if she was a tiny replica of a horse or maybe some sort of greyhound.  She also jumps high.  Sometimes just for the sake of it, she’d jump over James while running as if he were some part of an obstacle course.

Oh and yes, she can also play “dead” with the “bang bang.”  Her tiny legs come up into the air. She too can be cute when she wants to.

Don’t be fooled though by looks and behaviour.  Amongst the two dogs, Zoey’s function in life is to be a guard dog.  She instinctively barks at any strangers with a bark that’d make you wonder how it could have come from such a small dog.  She doesn’t trust people easily and is a fearsome hunter.  My garden has no lizards or crawling insects.  She kills them all.  Sometimes she jumps up in the air to snatch a flying insect.   In the mornings, she looks up into the trees longing to get that squirrel by the mango tree.  Zoey is a hunter.  She lives to hunt.

James’s purpose in life?  His purpose is to just be cute.  He melts your heart into a soft gooey slush and puts a smile on our face.  He fetches balls and frisbees, acts dead and do rollovers.  Nothing useful, nothing with a purpose, but just pure FUN!

So that’s Zoey and James.  Two dogs, two characters. Two different barks. Wolf! Wolf!

 

 

 

It’s a peaceful Sunday my dears

When was the last time you had a peaceful Sunday morning?  For me it’s been awhile since I had a relaxing Sunday like today.  Weekends are usually hijacked by the errands and other obligations that necessitate us being up, dressed and out of the house, or just waiting for people to arrive.  I have come to realize that the most valuable Sundays are the days you can just get up, laze and not feel obligated to do anything.

It’s a day to be treasured.

Last weekend it was hijacked by house projects that although voluntary, it requires one to be up and ready.  Even though all I had to do was wait for the gardener, cleaning lady and fence man to arrive, one still had to be on the watch and make sure things were done correctly.  Which means that you can’t just laze on the couch looking out the window at the big sky with the dogs by your feet.

It becomes an energized day with dogs on full alert at all the strangers roaming about which rubs out on you as well.  You find yourself checking to see if the fence was done the way it was discussed, the dogs don’t get in the way, or just seeing that everything is in order.

This morning, it was an ideal Sunday morning.  There was no one coming, no place I had to be, and nothing I had to do.  It was truly a relaxing “me” time sort of day.

It feels absolutely great.  Rejuvenating.

Alex and I make a mental note that more days like this are needed.  Every now and then, it is absolutely divine to just stay home and laze.  It clears the mind and regulates your heartbeat.  I feel myself breathing slightly slower (although it could just be my imagination) and my mind is strangely clear.  Stress relieve. What about you?  When was the last time you gave yourself some rest?  Have a lazy, peaceful Sunday everyone 🙂

 

The Heart Melter

There’s something about coming home to dogs that are just great for the heart. No matter how tiring or crazy a day you’ve had, when the dogs run towards to you as if they hadn’t seen you in years, wagging their tails, and innocently staring up at you with the sweetest eyes;  a part of you melt.  It softens you and your heart goes all gooey.

It reminds one of nature and of life.

It reminds us to take time out from all the gadgets, TVs and technologies that surround us.   It reminds us to enjoy the nature that surrounds us, to feel the grass beneath our feet, feel the wind in our hair and hear the birds chirp.

Yes having dogs remind you of all that.  They do because you have to really stop and notice them, take care of them.  You also have to play with them so that they use up excess energy.  Excess energy they would otherwise turn into biting your trees, and digging up your flowerbeds.  So you end up on grass throwing balls and playing “Fetch.”  You end up gardening to fix those plants the dog dug up or finding ways to keep them from digging.  Then as you are doing all that, the dogs are running around playing, occasionally bumping into you as if they were six year olds.  You can’t help but smile.  They seem so happy just running around on the grass, like when once a upon a time we too used to run around.  That must have been over twenty years go.

To be happy doesn’t mean you need to have all the excesses of this world.  It’s purely a state of mind.

Dogs are happy with the simplest snack or a little scratch behind the ear.  Maybe we should train our minds to be happy just as easily.  Life would indeed be a happy one.  Yes, dogs are indeed good for the heart (even though your house and garden gets occasionally turned upside down.)  Have a good weekend!

Dog Meets Dog

When we were going to get James, I didn’t think much about dog meeting dogs.  I had never had two dogs before as Dyzio had been the sole spoilt dog of the house.  Now we had Zoey and James was on the way.  Then we watched TV and came across Ceasar’s Way which talked about dog psychology.  It was fascinating.  I didn’t think I’d need to use it that much but it was good stuff learning about dominance issues.

I read up a little on what to do when dogs are to be introduced to each other for the first time, but then thought to myself, “Zoey” is a genteel dog that doesn’t bark and wags her tail.  She doesn’t really have any territory and runs around the garden so meeting James should be a no brainer.

James arrives and I carry him off the car in my arms.

Zoey runs around smelling and a little confused.

I let her smell him and she seems a bit confused.  Then I put James down on our front porch and she sniffs and growls.  She gives a deep growl that frightens both James and I. He snuggles in between my feet and lies quietly.  Zoey continues to growls.

Alex and I decide, “Okay, we’ll try it the dog psychology way.”  We’d take them to a neutral location which isn’t our house, have them both on leash and let them get to know each other.  Walk them a little and when all seems good, we’d walk them in together.”

So we did.  Both on leash, we took them outside the front gate to the street in front of us. Both seemed good and both Zoey and James sniffed each other.  A few minutes later tails started wagging.  Alex and I had one dog each and we took them on a little walk outside our fence together.

After a while,  Alex took both the leash and we quickly walked through our front gate as if nothing could be wrong.  We had met friends and taken them home.

James was now a friend, not an intruder.

Still on the leash, we had them play a little.  When all seemed better, I took off the leash and watched them play.  (Here most websites, says its good to watch them closely in case of agression.)  Luckily there was no agression.

Wagging tails and gentle sniffings prevailed that lazy Sunday afternoon.  What a relief.  I wondered what would happen if we had two dogs showing agression.  James slept a good couple hours the way puppies do, occasionally being sniffed by wagging tail Zoey.

Since that day, they have gotten closer and closer.  Always together, always playing the way dogs play.  Some wrestling, some soft biting and leg pulling.  Dogs must be dogs.

Zoey digs up our garden less, and James seems happy with Zoey by his side.  Dog Meets Dog really does involve dog psychology, so if you are planning on having another dog, pay close attention! 🙂  It can make a world of a difference.  Now both are sleeping by my feet.  What happiness. 🙂

A Doggy Sunday

Today I leave flowers and Amsterdam for a day and instead want to talk about dogs.  There is just something about these loyal companions that make your heart warm and your soul soft.  For the past few months or so Alex and I have been enjoying the loving nature of our skinny black and white dog that came along with the house.  (Yes, once the house was finished we found ourselves with a wagging tail puppy that just looked at us with beedy eyes and melted my heart. I wondered what would happen to her if we didn’t look after her?  All the workers had left and the only living thing at our house was the dog.)  Today, in a few hours, we welcome another new member a Labrador Retriever.  It’s going to be a busy Sunday afternoon playing with the dogs.

First about our black and white dog. When we took her in and due to her white body yet two black patches on her head we called her “Zorro.”    We had the vet give her injections, bought her a bed and gave her a bath.  She became our little “Zo.”  She’s a Thai dog that means she isn’t any particular breed.  One of those local dogs you see running around the streets in dog gangs. She’s a gentle dog that wags her tail and has a bark bigger than her body.  The first time I heard her bark, I thought it was another dog.  As time passed,  “Zo” became “Zoey” when she seems to somewhat be like me and a little clumsy at times.  She’s a dog that sometimes misplaces her footing when running up the stairs.  Super excited, always hyper she just wants to be near her “pack.”

To make sure she knew what she can do and not, she is now slowly being trained, in English. Yes English.  So Zoey is a little clumsy Thai dog who knows how to “Sit”  and “Turnaround.”  Love her.  She doesn’t walk on carpets, bite our furniture or act inappropriately in the house.  (Outside is a different matter..she loves biting my plants!)

Now the Labrador retriever is going to be a different story.  I’ve never had a dog so big whose size even as a puppy is larger than Dyzio and Zoey combined.  It’s going to have to live indoors while its still a puppy though we have already prepared an enclosure for it as well as a nice little dog box where he can sleep mosquito free in the case that indoors is not a good option.  He also got a cute bed with a cherry design (there was only a limited selection left at the store!  I’m excited and looking forward to our new member.  We’ve temporarily called him James but lets see if the name will suit…

Now its time to read up on dog introductions. Do you have dogs? Would love to hear your stories this doggy Sunday!

Building house

These past few months Alex and I have been working on building our house. It’s hectic but at the same time rewarding. You get to see your ideas and imaginations on paper take form and completed. There is progress there are clear methods of measurement. It feels good to see it finished but that is not all, building a house has taught me some valuable lessons.

First of all, things don’t always turn out as expected or planned. That beautiful tile you wanted for the bathroom might be out of stock and the floods have affected the production of bathtubs.

Yes, it was interesting to see how devastating our floods were. If I wanted that bathtub I would have to wait a long while which would delay the project.

Secondly, perfection is good but learn to let go of minor things in favor of the bigger picture.

In search of perfection we want every little detail to be perfect. Sometimes down to the minute detail. ( I like to be detailed) Move the cupboard to the left by so and so inches…. Make sure that the curtain rails are at so and so height.

But then when you don’t have time to go oversee everything and timing is important you just have to see the positive side of things.

It’s not perfect but it’s still wonderful and good. So if it’s an inch off, it’s okay. Don’t stress over that inch.

Lastly, learn to laugh, have fun and just see the positive side of errors. My painter mistakenly switched the colours in two rooms. However, upon looking at his work, I realized it actually looked better the way he had painted it. The rooms looked cozier and the colours fit better with the surrounding rooms.

So we embraced this mistake and are now very happy with the colours on the walls.

Building a house has made me more patient, more decisive and taught me how to see the positive side of things. It’s not perfect but don’t forget to enjoy the experience and have fun. Afterall, we aren’t putting our house in any architectural competition. Make it a happy one and that’s all that matters ! :):)

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