Some years ago in my university days, I attended a party. A young bachelor approached me. We engaged in the usual small talk: What’s your name? Where are you from? What do you do? It all seemed to be going okay. It reminded me of a speed date. We started to talk weekends, free time. What have you read lately? What movies do you like to watch? What do you like to do in your spare time? I paused. I frowned. I stuttered. I was totally stumped. The answers that sprung to mind were none I dared to admit. I thought about how an honest answer might sound out loud. Study. Procrastinate. Declutter. Repeat.
In the space of just a few moments I had one of those lightbulb moments where I realised that I wasn’t living the life I wanted to lead. The life I had led for many years with full gusto internationally, but for so many reasons didn’t in Australia. I felt pathetic and low. I had always been the vibrant person through whom others lived vicariously. When had I become so boring and monotonous?
While I yearned for change in that instant, I acknowledged it would be hard; I was in university, and the things I wanted to do required money, resources, or time, all of which I lacked. I could hardly spring into action straight away. Still, the moment remained with me. If only because I’m aware the balance is still tragically out of whack. Always has been. Friends and family live at great distance, contact is sparse throughout the year. My jobs take up all of my time. As did university. My ‘stuff’ has clogged my psyche for years, from its height of hoarding to the recent triumphs in decluttering. Meanwhile I’m prancing around the world. Alone.
So I was really hopeful last year when Clare Elizabeth Dea published her first book, The One Breast Goddess: Transforming Shame into Beauty, a motivational book that also guides people through self-improvement. I met Clare, an accomplished entrepreneur in Australia, a few years ago. Her energy and spirituality enthralled me from the get-go. I love her outlook on life and her methods for living life in the moment, being present and authentic to yourself, particularly because she earned these lessons by going through some heavy and tough experiences outlined in her book. She describes living an aspirational life in a bubble; something many minimalists might also aim for.
”Everything you want is in the bubble. Not what your head wants, your soul….When you are in the bubble, people, things, opportunities flow to you easily. Some may call it a miracle. I call it living life in the bubble. When you live a life in the bubble, you can also be grateful for every challenge that arises as you know this is shaping your next desire to manifest. You are getting the opportunity to get even clearer with what your heart is craving.”
Reading this struck a deep chord within me. Balance aside, I knew in an instant I have lived my life in a series of bubbles just as she described. People and opportunities certainly have flowed to me in each bubble. Everything I wanted I got from my bubbles. It’s just, my three bubbles have been heavily centred on one theme for each phase of my life, and everything I attracted revolved around that theme. Anything that didn’t fell to the wayside very quickly, or dragged along like a deadweight until I had to set it free. In that moment, I realised the root cause of all my imbalances. Despite the benefits gained in each bubble, my tunnel vision focus hadn’t allowed for any balance in life’s great seesaw.
- The work bubble. My job is unique. There are few careers in this world where your job provides you with everything you could possibly want. An international nanny lives in a luxury home rent and bill-free, drives expensive cars, eats in nice restaurants, travels the world, stays in 5 star hotels, gets bonuses and designer gifts, and better than all else, has the rewarding task of raising children in a multi-national world – introducing them to other languages, culture, people and places. While others work in an over-air-conditioned office a short commute from home, I am out in the great landscapes of the world, taking children on African safaris, to New York museums and Parisian parks and Caribbean beaches. I love my job and most nannies who live this life find it very difficult to leave.
Of course there are always catches, and for nannies it is the sacrifice of personal freedom and relationships. It is also recognising that, after you move on, most ties to your employers will fall by the wayside as life gets in the way, and your only reminder of the fun times spent are in photos and memories. Life can feel a little empty. I have lived this life since I was 23 years old. Many friends and acquaintances have envied me and dreamed of the places I’ve seen, of living this life, but it takes a strength and determination and pursuit that isn’t for everyone.
- The study bubble. I returned to Australia a while back to study. For six years I bounced between unemployment and study opportunities, online and on campus, in vocational learning and in university- Certificate, Bachelor and then Postgrad. I let study expand to fill most of my waking hours, such that there was never any time to really find or work in a meaningful job, to engage in a passion, to appreciate enduring friendships, to volunteer. University was my entire life, what work and volunteering I did was on campus. I came home and studied or allowed meaningless distractions like social media and TV to relieve my weary brain from the overload of study and the pressure I placed upon myself. I lost the ability to live away from a screen, save for weekend walks to the local market to shop, when I would intentionally leave my phone at home and trot around the city with just a paper shopping list in hand and a shopping cart trailing behind me. I could do it because, so well had I shut everyone out of my life, no one ever called.
- The clutter bubble. This was the one that stopped me in my tracks chatting with the young man that day. It’s a given that study takes up a lot of time, especially the more time you have to give it. But the same can be said for clutter. When the young man asked me that day what I did in my free time, I knew in an instant that I never allowed myself free time. Not purposeful, relaxing free time spent doing leisurely things. No, in my downtime I preferred to systematically sort through my clutter. Sell things on eBay, rarely with any profit to make the time spent worthwhile. Read through magazine articles to recycle. Scan important documents. Organise digital files. Make plans, plans and more plans to declutter more efficiently. If only I had more time. Or the money to buy a faster scanner. Or a new computer, once my old one was stolen. If only.
This was the life I manifested for myself. My bubbles. So all-encompassing were these bubbles that they sucked up all my time. They weren’t bad, but perhaps they shouldn’t have been so all-encompassing.
Certainly, as Clare describes, I got everything I wanted. When I lived in the work bubble every opportunity and every challenge led to greater things. Each country I lived in topped the place I lived before; mountains, historic cities, rural mansions, tropical islands, deserts. Each family more incredible than the last. That bubble popped itself when I dared to ask the universe for a reality check, to switch gears, to pay bills. I went from believing I was born under a lucky star, to struggling to remember what that belief felt like. In the study bubble, I didn’t believe it was possible to work and study at the same time. So I lived for my university; I worked hard, I developed new initiatives, I modelled myself as the wonder student, and I joined in everything. Until there wasn’t time to study anymore. Everything I did started to become about seizing opportunities for after university, post-graduation, as challenge after challenge I knew would shape my future prospects. At the same time, I was losing control of everything else. My clutter bubble, meanwhile, sat subconsciously in the background by then, always there, needing to be lived, to be felt, to be the challenge and the metaphorical drowning in the ocean so that I could come up for air in the form of minimalism. I needed to have that conversation with that young man to wake up. To see what I was missing.
So on and on it has continued, until I sat one day in the Middle East, enveloped in a new work bubble, again, reading Clare’s book. And for the first time, I saw this new perspective. I thought about my old work bubble, how it stretched across my twenties in a series of global positions building up my collection of clutter and keeping me distanced from those I loved. I thought about the manifestations of demanding study and project schedules and the misery that occupied my study bubble so completely that I downward spiralled to my rockiest bottom during post-grad. Then I thought about my clutter bubble. Ten years it’s been since 2007. Ten years of focussing all my extra time and attention on clutter, on sorting through everything I have. So many hurdles have prevented me from making quick progress. Lack of time, money, transport, materials at first, and now, distance keeps me half a world away from the physical objects that tell the story of my life. I felt sick. Crushed.
The scale of life tips, unbalanced.
Minimalists usually have a past or other motivation that sets them on the path for a simpler life. This has been mine. If the simpler life is my new bubble, I need to acknowledge I’m on the right track, that I’m already inside. Debts are paid off. Savings are growing. I no longer accumulate in great amounts. I prefer experiences to things. I have dramatically downsized and also travel lightly. I have a great family and good friends both near and far. I am taking numerous steps to better health. I have solid values and morals that I pass on to many children in my work, that lead to them also becoming good people. I contribute to my community and support others with the same minimalist values. Time and even distance may be my big challenges, but there are a number of positives to remember as well. Like Clare says, the challenges exist to help you manifest what you really want, to make your desires clear and imaginable.
I can see my bubble, feel it deep in my soul that I’m living it. That in the coming pockets of time, changes will happen and make my bubble even better. As long as I keep the focus, the mindfulness, the intention, the vision, the attitude, the belief – I feel deep in my core my bubble will be as amazing and balanced and shiny as I want it to be. Life, truly is, what you make it.