Deep Cleaning

If you’ve followed this blog, you must know that since news of the pandemic, and the pandemic itself spread, I moved back to my childhood home and I’ve spent most of my time here – barring a few days in May. While that has provided the opportunity to work on several projects and knuckle down to use the time as best as possible, it has also given me the opportunity to reflect on how I lived here while growing up.

I stayed in this house full-time between the ages of 10 and 17, moving away to attend University and returning only as a part-time visitor. As a result, I came back home to the house being in the same condition as when I had departed. My room even had my Grade 12 board examination pouch and all the copies of my hall ticket I had made. That prompted a lot of clean-ups.

While my approach to cleaning my room was defined by Marie Kondo and trying to eliminate everything that did not spark joy, cleaning up the rest of the house has been a bigger challenge. There are several reasons for this. First, I am not the sole owner of everything within the rest of the house. It is a common space, and there are attachments to those objects that my parents and other members of the family have. As a result, I could not be the sole judge of whether an object sparked joy – my judgment would have led to several things being disposed of, that perhaps brought happiness to somebody else at home. Second, I was not aware of everything that lay hidden around the house. I have perfect knowledge of the items within my room. Beyond that, is a world of adventure. Given how my parents and I have taken turns visiting the house, it was difficult to actually collect information on what was located where, and what category of items I may find in a particular spot. Third, I did not know where to start. The house is the perfect size for our family, but when it comes to storing items – and cleaning, it suddenly starts to feel very, very big. I felt this way for the first couple of days in April where I fended for myself and did all the brooming/mopping. It is overwhelming.

I had to figure out a fresh approach.

I spent most of April and May thinking about what I wanted to clean-up/fix, deciding the areas of improvement I could see for the house and discussing strategies with my parents. We figured out how to tackle each of the problems I listed. Since transplanting the Kon-Mari method here was futile, we decided to prepare an itemized list of the big items so my parents could make a joint decision on the same, based on why the object was with us. The smaller ones, I had agency over. While discussing this, we realized that it was not necessary to know what I would find prior to cleaning-up, but that I would have to adapt my cleaning-up method as I went along and discovered new items. This meant localizing the clean-up and fixing particular areas to clean – emptying every cupboard out, and then segregating to clean up. Finally, I decided to take control of what areas of the house to clean, by asking myself: what caused me the most angst? It felt like a natural consequence of this would mean that when that place was cleaner, I would be less angsty, and happier. That led to three places: the kitchen, the guest bedroom, and the bureau.

I started with the bureau. It was closest to my room, and so meant that I could return to the sight of a clean space within an instant when I passed by a mess. The reason the bureau frustrated me was that there were way too many things we no longer used or required, and they were all over the place. It took me two weeks to clean the bureau, which yielded a large amount of electronic waste but provided the opportunity to examine more closely two parts of my parents’ lives I had no involvement in: the foundation years in their relationship, and their academic study. The first was just really lovely because it prompted a discussion on how much my parents valued letter-writing and how that has translated to e-mail. The latter showed me why my parents placed expectations upon me: their own credentials, experiences, and efforts in getting their qualifications. It was lovely to find their dissertations, read them – and try to get them to remember stories from their University days, just as I came to the close of my own journey. There are photos from that time where my father, in his early 20’s, looks exactly like I do today – minus the glasses, which was fun to look at.

Then I moved on to the kitchen. I couldn’t really clean much, but what I really wanted to do was to look at the appliances and try to get them all working. To my parents’ and my dismay, we had to let go of our oven, but the microwave was repaired. That was sufficient. It has helped me cook potatoes quicker, and I imagine that my chili con vegetales would have cooked faster if I had it in April. That was a quick job – not too much effort, and a useful break before taming the giant.

The guest bedroom.

There was a lot to work through here because it was delightfully clean on the outside, but I had to organize the cupboards and I had no idea where to begin. It’s why (apart from work), it took me a month to actually finish up. I finally managed to segregate all the materials into four distinct categories for the ease of my parents’ access, and sort out things that did not possess utility any longer (for us), to give to society.

I don’t know if you can tell (you probably can), but my enthusiasm to clean-up started out really high, and tapered off as time went by and I understood the magnitude of the task I had taken up. I’m glad it’s done now, to be honest.

There is a lot I’ve learned, however. Deep cleans are worth it. If nothing, they teach you how to better appreciate what you have, while giving you the opportunity to evaluate whether there is somebody else in this world who may be able to use the same in a better way. That process itself is extremely rewarding because it really puts into perspective two things. Privilege, and priorities.

Couldn’t have managed this without my parents’ trust – and I’m really hoping I haven’t disposed of something they value. I think I’ve scared my mother that I may have.

Time-Tabling Hobbies

Yesterday I wrote about how much not having clear time-tables affected how I measured progress on my hobbies and my passion projects. Today was devoted to rectifying that by plugging the gaps that existed within my time-table for the past two weeks and trying to craft a schedule that would allow me to get back to looking at how I was engaging with the things I am passionate about.

I feel like I’m constantly trapped in this state of combating my desire to enjoy hobbies as they are in the present along with my aspirations of engaging with my hobbies more deeply.

For the time being, I think I have resolved that conflict by creating goals – where I want to see myself with all of these passion projects, and trying to figure out how I can get to that level while having the most amount of fun.

Striking this balance is really proving to be tricky.

Losing OneNote

Over the last two weeks, I had to knuckle down and focus on a singular project that consumed me. While I did relax, and carry out other leisurely activities, most of my work time was taken up by this individual project. As a result, I didn’t really feel like I needed the daily planner I usually used on OneNote. I relied on an approximation of what the day needed to look like to slot out the time I had on hand and figure out how best to spend it. I used my whiteboard to keep track of anything that came in which demanded priority. Speaking to my parents and recounting my day to them helped me keep check of whether I had actually done what I set out to do. I completed the project I had to complete, but in the process, not using OneNote for 14 days, after using it religiously for 6 months felt like quite a shock.

I didn’t see any impact of this move on my habits – because I think they’d formed by then already. As a result, I still woke up early, tried exercising a little each day, played my instruments and learned new things. I didn’t notice a dip in my happiness – which was very gratifying in a sense. One of the fears I had with daily logging is that I’d associate all my happiness with ticking things off a list, but it was nice to know that I was able to keep myself happy without searching for an external validation or metric/measure of that joy.

One of the things I did observe though, is that I have no record of how I’ve progressed in the last two weeks on some of the bigger things I want to do with my time.

For me, what I’ve taken comfort out of in the last four months or so is being able to track how I’m doing against the kind of things I want to be doing. Some measure of progress of some kind. I never felt anything out of this, but it helped me see how much the small things I did on a daily basis led to immense learnings in the long-run. The guitar, for example –  I wouldn’t have been able to appreciate how much 15 minutes of one activity daily could influence a larger goal as much if I didn’t keep track of it.

That’s what I’ve missed in the last two weeks. I can roughly say I’ve made progress, but on what – and how much? I have no clue.

It’s nice that I’ve hit reset at the start of a new month. Back to OneNote I go.

Sincerity

Yesterday, I wrote about how much I disliked playing catch up to all my writing, about how it made me feel insincere to something I loved so much, and loved so much about. That idea, and notion of sincerity, in my head, is something that’s been on my mind all day.

I try out several things and take on a lot of things at once. This comes out of the fact that I enjoy multitasking, and hold a genuine interest in a variety of subjects I know far too little about but am fascinated by. Coupled with my love of productivity, I end up consistently feeling like there’s this mass of information out there that I have accessed 1% of. That 99% I don’t know, I want to know, yet it feels like there’s so little time to do all of it. While not often, that feeling gets overwhelming and leads to procrastination.

I’ve half-assed several things before: by which I mean I’ve started out giving things my best, and being sincere about the effort I’ve put into things, and then either piggy-backed off others’ efforts, or dipped the amount of my own time I’ve spent on things. That is natural if I lose interest, but something I learned at University is that I ought not to take on work that ends up affecting other people, if I’m not going to follow-through on it to its completion. But I’ve half-assed personal projects too. That feels worse somehow, because I feel like I’ve let myself down by not being able to sincerely follow through on something I was so interested in and so passionate about.

This doesn’t happen frequently though. I’m usually okay with multitasking. However, it shouldn’t be happening at all. One of the things I want to improve is eliminating the possibility of giving up on an interest of mine. To do so, I think I’m going to try being a little smarter in making decisions about how to allocate my time. Most importantly, I think I need to revisit the number of personal projects I take on and prioritize them. Whenever I think of new projects, the question I’m going to ask myself first, from now onward, is going to be: where does this fit into existing priorities?

If it ranks below than an existing priority, I think I need to keep a tab on the number of things that pique my interest, and revisit that page as often as possible when I have free time. That way I think I’ll be able to explore all of my interests when I have the bandwidth to do so, but also at a time that my interest in the subject is high. In a sense, this method of decision-making, to me, is likely to counteract the ebbs and flows that come with my interests and hobbies.

It’s odd to me that I’m trying to be so systematic about something that, at it’s core, comes down to asking yourself three questions:

  1. Do you like it?
  2. Do you want to do it?
  3. Do you have the time to do it?

But those questions seem like they aren’t enough for me anymore, since the decisions I make seem to not account for how sincere I can be while doing things – although the third question is meant to.

Not anymore. I hope I can be successful with this. At the very least, I hope to be able to be more sincere in all the endeavours I take on – so they’re equal in terms of how much of myself I give to the activity.

Irregularity

I sat down to write this after dinner, which is when it struck me that I hadn’t posted a blogpost for five whole days. I didn’t even realize it had been that long. After putting off writing on the 26th, I kept telling myself I’d write one the next day, and the day after, and so on, till this evening. Time flies by, and while this blog has meant several things to me, it’s always been a record of time going by. It was bitter to realize I hadn’t recorded time for the last five days.

I’ve been enjoying all this time we’ve been given to be at home. University didn’t figure out an online teaching/learning system to implement for us, so I don’t have classes to attend, which means I’ve genuinely got all 24 hours to myself. I thought I had a routine nailed down, one that included all this writing and researching I’ve wanted to do. I still think I do have a reasonable routine set up for myself, but the consistency part is probably going to take a lot more effort.

One of the things I wanted to do on the blog this year was to ensure that my pieces were more topical. Rather than providing a snapshot of my day, I hoped to pick out a singular theme each day and write longer essays about them. As you may be able to tell, today’s theme is irregularity.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, he explains the 10,000 Hour Rule. That rule [which has since been slightly debunked by studies], states that enough practice can make a master of anyone. The 10,000 hour mark was used as a yardstick. Practice anything for 10,000 hours, and you can perfect it. Of course, the regular caveats, of practicing in a certain method appropriate to your craft apply. Now, the 10,000 hour rule finds itself in various forms in our everyday lives. There are adages about how habits only ever build up over time, and how it is, only with repetition that things feel, well, natural.

I’ve never liked that. My concern stems out of my sheer impatience. I hate having to wait to see tangible results, and being slow and steady with things has never been a trait I possessed. Early memories of this come from UCMAS classes. UCMAS, for the uninitiated, is an abacus program. Learning the abacus improves the speed and accuracy at which you perform basic mathematical operations. I attended those classes for a year (or two – my memory is foggy). Once I learned the basic operations through a few months, my patience began to grow thin. The UCMAS Foundation essentially made us do repetitions and variations of exercises, so the abacus technique really drilled into our heads. After a month of repetition on a particular level, I felt that I had gotten the hang of it. I was applying it reasonably well in class, to good results, but I was very bored of continuing to repeat through the levels. I became cranky, did homework irregularly, using a calculator, when available to complete some incomplete sums – almost feeling a sense of complacency with the skill. I quit UCMAS after that. My parents realized it wasn’t for me. At least, that was the easy way to put it.

I’m irregular with things that require diligent practice too. My piano has been a start/stop endeavour that I’ve recounted the tale of quite often. However, it isn’t exclusively owing to my disillusionment with what I was being taught. It was also because I found it boring to practice the same thing over and over again. Rather, I told myself I found it boring. I knew, and have known for a while, that I’ve wanted to learn the violin, and it felt like I was spending all this time learning the wrong instrument. It felt unnatural. My drive fell, and as my effort dipped, so did all the work I had put in for several years. By 12th, I could play things I heard, because I picked up a new skill with my free time, but my classical training basically deteriorated far enough, that I had to pretty much start from scratch to develop the feeling in my fingers for the piano keys. It’s going to take a while.

These two examples are from different times in my life, although they illustrate the general premise that I’ve had to ultimately let go of things because I’ve been irregular with them. I don’t know what, or how good I would’ve become at Math (I love Math) if I had continued with the abacus, or, where I’d be today had I never stopped my piano lessons. I don’t have regrets today, because I try to live without them, but I find it intriguing that this pattern of irregularity stands out.

A distinct memory of getting into some sense of regularity and habit stems from childhood again. I had this awful habit of biting my nails, which my dad honestly worked hard to get out of me. While my memory of the process is hazy, I do know it took quite a long time. Since then though, I’ve had these neatly trimmed nails because we replaced the biting habit with this cyclical habit of allowing my nails to grow to a particular length, and cutting them immediately after they pass that threshold. It’s almost like an invisible marker line, where I know exactly when I’m due for a cut. Often, thanks to routine and regular repetition, I can tell 3-4 days out that they’ll begin to irritate me in a few days.

Another distinct memory comes from board examinations, where studying irregularly would have cost me in academic results at the time. In Grades 10, 11 and 12, I cannot honestly remember one month where I wasn’t studying seriously for a test or an exam of some kind. While today, with my friends, I often wonder why I took them as seriously as I did (I could have afforded a bit of a break), I do know that I settled into habit then. Especially around the study holidays, when I was the captain of my own ship, the master of my own fate.

On both these occasions, I could see some tangible metric or consequence to a lack of regularity or repetition. For me, it feels like its easier to build routine or habit when there’s a result-oriented process in place. It’s almost tougher to build something into the day-to-day purely because it brings me happiness, or something of the sort.

My workaround has conveniently been to work-in some tangible goals into everything I’m doing, including those hobbies I genuinely just want to enjoy without much pressure. At the moment, it doesn’t feel like it’s adding pressure to any of these activities, but I guess I should let go of some of that.

Build routine for the sake of it, because it’s important.

You know what made me think about all of this? Cleaning the house on the day-to-day. There’s no real result to doing every day, except a cleaner environment to live in – and that’s something the hostel has sort of taught me to be a little more lax about, so to speak. However, a lack of cleaning routine leads to the kind of irregularity that leads to random mess being in places it ought not to be. That’s something I’d like to avoid, and maybe all the trash I throw out is a large metaphor for all the bad, irregular habits I’m shedding.

Or maybe all of this is a thought experiment that will never see the light of day. Only time will tell.