Selecting Those 1% Reads

I haven’t written in months. I would classify myself as someone who writes, as opposed to a writer. The former brings possibility, the latter pressure and expectation. I need to feel to write. Today, I feel.

I’ve read many books down the years. I intensely disliked reading as a child, yet was handed the opportunity to address that at university, when, for the first time in my life, I could not get around reading the assigned book, Jacqueline Wilson’s The Suitcase Kid. Whilst aimed at people younger than I was, it was most enjoyable, and over the years, cemented its place as the spark that ignited a bonfire. The fire continues to burn, and, having read a mind-changing piece minutes ago, it motivates me to share a few titles with you, titles which represent that one-percent, crème de la crème to me.

Each has changed the way I see the world. I’d love to know how you felt about these if you have read them, now, or later, or which books impacted you so. Book talk multiplies the enjoyment of reading exponentially.

Stuffocation – James Wallman

Perhaps the best title ever given and a word that should surely adorn the pages of our dictionaries for time to come. Wallman argues that too much stuff is the greatest problem the Western world faces, that it’s killing us. Dramatic? Possibly. But it led me to minimalism as I found myself identifying with the problems of having too many things, a problem I naively felt was unique to myself, yet formed part of the reason I entered therapy some time ago, and spent my early adult years unhappily married yet hopelessly trapped. Wallman has a couple of talks on YouTube, and a slightly awkward manner of delivery. I urge you to check them out, especially if you’re at the beginning of the minimalism journey, or, even better, yet to discover it.

Sapiens – Yuval Noah Harari

Harari’s brief history of humankind presents thoughtful considerations on why Homo sapiens have developed as we have, with particular reference to behaviour. Today’s reading discusses the development of religion, and how Communism and capitalism fall squarely within its confines. Time and again, he has illuminated my thinking, and I love nothing more than a person that challenges the way I think about things.

The Things We Are Prepared To Walk Away From – Joshua Fields Millburn

In this short essay, Fields Millburn cuts to the heart of how I interpret minimalism, providing a parallel context away from the abstention of unnecessary material pursuit. Here, he discusses the need for ongoing love for the people we spend time with, and that only with that love can both parties attain fulfilment. Thought-provoking, borderline radical in parts, I challenge you to read this with passivity. I couldn’t, and, many reads later, cannot today.

The Damned United – David Peace

The controversial fictionalisation of football (soccer) manager, Brian Clough, covering his early career and dovetailing this narrative with that of his ill-fated forty-four days as manager of then-giant Leeds United. In Peace’s version, he brings to life the legend of Clough, with his greatness and especially his weaknesses. I have many, many weaknesses, and tend to respect, if not quite revere, those who know what it is like to struggle with things too. The character is portrayed so strongly that you can begin to predict what he’ll say or do next. A fabulous text for anyone who understands why we don’t always do what appears so obvious to everyone else, for anyone who understands what it is to be driven by fear. For anyone who understands what it is to spend so much time watching the bottom line that ascension to the levels above appears as mythological as Heaven to an atheist.


When Does a No Mean Yes?

I have discovered a destructive habit cultivated in marriage that has affected my relationships since.
My ex wife and I disenjoyed a fractious and tense relationship. Never more so than when she wanted money. We split everything, income and bills; we had the same. Our values were different. She would burn through hers within a few days, I didn’t. 
Tired of her wanting more, I began to respond, “No,” almost instinctively. This felt like the only course of action because a softer approach was met with the sort of railroading you would rather be prepared for. This marked the beginning of the game; my ex wife would kick her persuasive efforts into overdrive and it became a case of counting the cost: losing money versus losing the modicum of peace we had.
I laid on the couch one evening. Her aunt had been discarding a couch and a couple of chairs that my ex wife wanted. It meant hiring a van, which would have been around £300 with deposit. I loved our current couch, and knew (as did she) I had about £350 in the bank until payday two weeks later, to cover food and living. 
She raised the idea days before and I had said that I didn’t want to do it, mostly due to the cost of getting it home, but also our couch was comfy. This night, she was more determined. My resistance was met with rage, after shouting, then abuse, she began to hover over me. I’d never felt threatened by her, much less frightened. Yet here I found myself pulling my legs towards my chest with my right arm and covering my head with my left. She dropped and sunk her teeth into my leg. Days later, I was in the bath, and she asked me about the large bruise on my leg. We even laughed about it. It wasn’t particularly painful, at the time or later, and still I felt no fear of her moving forward. 
But that wasn’t the point. The point was that we booked the van the next day, completed the swap and were left with a little over £10 to last a few days as it takes a while for deposits to be refunded. The boundaries were virtually non-existent by now.
And though the methods employed to turn a no into a yes were more severe here, it was a well-worn pattern of behaviour between us. She believes every no is a starting point for a yes. It’s not a bad thing, or a good. It is what it is, and it wasn’t right for me.
I have since realised I was never the right man for her, and that brings me peace of mind. We weren’t right for each other.
This quick-thinking, reactionary manner has devastating consequences with those not used to fighting over everything. With people that take a no at face value and an acceptable expression of self without feeling obligated to challenge it, it represents finality where it isn’t meant. 
This hit home last week when, with my partner, I was in Tesco, and I picked up some chocolate. She wanted some saved for a few days later, and asked. 
My immediate reaction was no:

There wasn’t much… I would have burned through it by then… I could easily buy more later… and all of these immediate, if unhelpful, emotional responses we voice internally, whilst we compose more appropriate replies.
I uttered “no;” she accepted it. I wished I could take back that word but I couldn’t. 
You see, I was expecting the battle, and this was my part: a player in the back and forth until middle ground was found. It’s like the quick no served as a scanning system, to detect threats and buy time. A gap of silence in marriage would have been taken as a fatal hesitation and make no, if tendered, a less credible position. 
Even with trivial matters, the meaning of the quick no transcends context; it stabs at the heart of generosity and consideration, especially when your partner isn’t a player in the game. 
When I think slowly, and do less, I find myself more calm than excited, and better able to express myself according to my values. A gap of silence is a good thing; it extends the courtesy of time and attention to the other. We respect people who have boundaries, and take their time. And we respect ourselves when we behave that way.

Taking a Step Back

This week has been all about taking a step back in my relationship, cutting out the noise that creates unhappy thoughts and feelings, and looking for something that aligns more with my values. 
It’s easy to forget who we are in this world of constant stimulation. A moment’s peace is harder to come by. Even on a walk by yourself, you can find yourself bombarded with unwanted advertisements – billboards, taxis, even minimalist podcasts – all vying for your attention. 
But attention is a scarce resource. By paying attention to one thing, you cannot, by definition, be paying attention elsewhere. Choosing how to spend it governs much of our wellbeing, which is why it is imperative to monitor how you feel when you are around different people, things and situations. Ask yourself: Why am I here? If you can’t describe a net positive contribution for your soul, maybe you should be some place else. 
A difficult week with my partner follows a couple of difficult ones and we decided to be honest with each other a couple of days ago. It was a painful experience and I’m digesting what was said, and I realised I needed to take a step back. Some of the things that were said made me realise my partner doesn’t really know me at all. Maybe I’ve lost so much of myself in the relationship that I don’t either. I don’t like who I am when I’m around her sometimes, and that matters. Having a poorly face adds frustration into the mix, feeling unable to comfortably express myself so much of the time. Taking the last couple of days to reconnect with myself has left me peaceful, enjoying a slower pace of life. 
This morning I packed and brought home several everyday items that I had left with her, clothing mostly. I found it quite upsetting and put it away immediately, the sight of it heaped in the corner a reminder of what ultimately looks like failure. A healthier way to express it would be the continuation of my journey, and all steps are valuable, even the unhappy ones. When unencumbered with false urgencies and stress, I often reflect on the past this way; it enables me to enjoy happy reminiscences and neutralise events that once caused me pain.  
I don’t know what the way forward will be here. There appears one or two insurmountable obstacles, though time softens the sharpest of words, because when it’s all said and done, no one remembers what you said or did, just how you made them feel. And I don’t feel that bad. 
By taking that step back and spending more of my attentional energy in my world, my space, it’ll give me that peace of mind and freedom necessary to be able to give more to others, which is what I’m doing when I feel most purposeful, and ultimately happiest. 


Why do we have 1 in 20 unemployed in the UK, vast swathes reliant on meagre benefits to survive and unprecedented inequality, with all the problems that entails?
When you posit the question that way, a considered answer requires an examination of our education system, of why minimum wage is below subsistence level for many, and of why we have a system of governance designed to protect the rich rather than enhance living standards for all.

The Unwanted Transfer of Clutter

Recently, I had friends around, who saw my pile of things to donate/toss, amongst them, several books, a loo block, shoelaces and a blue plastic box. 
My friends pored through the items as if offered some sort of golden ticket. Could they have this; could they have that? Yes, of course! If I can pass anything on that’ll be of value, definitely. Even if I actually wanted it, if it was of more value to someone else, I’d seriously consider parting with it. 
But why did they want it? The plastic box: I know where my friend will keep it. I’m sure it’ll remain unused; a great just in case item; my friend has an extensive Tupperware collection. I know of its unhappy, unused existence, because I stopped using it around four months ago and only just discarded it. Should I have said no? That seems a little judgmental and controlling. Superimposing my values onto my friends is probably a great way to irritate them too. 
The shoelaces attracted my other friend, who’s to put them in his Adidas Superstars, a pair of clean, white laces to replace the clean, white laces. Those replaced would go into another pair, from there another pair, until the twin fogs of disinterest and disbelief had fully descended. 
So, the items went, yet I feel frustration at adding to clutter problems elsewhere, and in so doing, firstly, preventing a charity from making a little money, and secondly, making it from people who may have gotten more value from my discards – the opportunity cost of saying yes was the sacrifice of two meaningful ends. 
What do you do with your discarded items, if people want them, and you feel they will get no value from them?

The Compulsive Desperation for Debt

Recently, a friend complained about her credit card bill. Some of the items weren’t hers and her spending partner isn’t going to pay. What interested me more was why she had a credit card in the first place. She had the money to buy the perfumes in question many times over. 

Curious, I asked. “To keep a good credit rating.” Why? Mid-sixties, she’s a homeowner who doesn’t drive, has money and won’t need to guarantee any loans for others. What does her credit rating matter? 
Years back I had tens of thousands of debt, and a superb credit score. I always made my payments, extendable credit was always an option. Now – I have virtually none. Just a mortgage and the balance of my ultra low interest student loan. And… my credit score is now worse! Just think about that for a second; my situation is better but my score is worse. This is the clearest sign of the debt disease. 
The system needs you to be buying before you can afford it, paying exorbitant interest, to prop itself up. And when you start to feel uncomfortable, then comes the magical solution: one loan to consolidate all your other debts, with more interest to pay on that!  
My friend’s concern about credit scores reveals a compulsive, unthinking desperation for credit to be on tap, even when it’s unnecessary, and bad for us. 
There is no good debt. It obligates us to work jobs we don’t enjoy, missing time with our children, even to stay in bad relationships for fear of drowning alone – I spent five years in this one. 
If debt is a disease, health is found in understanding that we can live happier, freer lives without (an excess of) debt, because, simply put, we can. 

The Detail of the Declutter

Last year, I went through my Agatha Christies, unsure why I loved half and cared nothing for the others. It wasn’t to do with the plots, it wasn’t whether I’d been immersed in a televisual adaptation. Finally, I realised, trivial as it may seem, it was the font. The ones I loved had a particular look and feel that the others didn’t. 

I accepted this, quite proud of how I’d drilled down to the detail, and the decluttering and donating continued, my Christie books half in number. 
What are some of the stranger factors that have helped you to keep or discard?