Recipes for happiness

April 3, 2019 at 12:24 am | Posted in Bookshops, creativity, decluttering, libraries, List making, Living creatively, Simplifying | Leave a comment
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That warm glow of excitement and satisfaction

It’s been a while since my last blog post and I make no apology. I don’t write them for click-bait – they’re for contemplation and the odd laugh. I’ve been working – writing non-fiction – and, of course, reading. One thing I read expresses precisely my situation about books to be read. New Yorker staff writer Katy Waldman admitted in that journal (4 December 2018) that she was ‘criminally behind on the books I want to read, and my job consists of reading books, so I can only imagine what most readers feel. … The deficit grows by the hour.’

Judging by the towering pile of books on my bedside table, and probably on yours, we know exactly what she means.

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Hope and optimism in a world of worry

January 7, 2017 at 8:06 pm | Posted in creativity, decluttering, Inequality, politics, writers' health | 1 Comment
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A single word

Rather than making a list of New Year’s resolutions, someone I know chooses a single word to guide her through the coming year. It could be ‘simplicity’ or ‘generosity’, ‘creativity’ or ‘serenity’. Careful thought about the choice of a meaningful word makes decisions during the year easier and quicker.

Even though a glance back at last year, especially politically, could plunge us into despair, there is a case to be made for choosing ‘hope’ or ‘optimism’ for 2017. You know how certain people float into your mind at odd times? I’ll recall them while cycling on quiet bike paths or in the shower or swimming laps at my local pool. Sometimes they’re people who give me hope.

Some Churchill Fellows in my book, Inspiring Australians ( ) are often on my mind because of the positive difference they make to this country, like environmental experts Hugh Lavery and Peter Cundall – more about them later. I also think about Al Gore. I’ve never met Al Gore but it’s because of his TED talk from last year, ‘The case for optimism on climate change’ – that I keep recalling him.

(See …)

He presents some bad news (of course) but much more significant good news about climate change. The bad is catastrophic and Gore presents the facts in accessible language. He asks, ‘Must we change?’ and ‘Will we change?’ and answers with the evidence that justifies a ‘Yes’ to both questions. It’s not too late to act – and we are acting.

Solving the crisis

‘We are solving this crisis,’ he says, pointing out that in China, Europe and the US, coal plants are being cancelled at a massive rate in favour of renewable sources of energy. Even though fossil fuels are still subsidised by many governments, solar energy is growing exponentially, so that renewables have achieved grid parity and are getting cheaper all the time.

He shows pictures of solar panels on grass huts and we learn that microcredit schemes enable even desperately poor people to buy them. At the other end of the scale (and this is my observation, not Gore’s) money is the only language some people understand – well, Al Gore presents the evidence that now there is more financial profit to be made from renewables than from coal and gas.

We’ve known that investing in renewable energy and not digging up more coal is backed by science, we’ve known it’s backed by reason, and now we know that it’s backed by better investment opportunities and financial profit. This last is what is now changing things in a hurry.

Hungry for decent leadership

People’s motives for abandoning fossil fuels don’t matter – what matters is that it’s finally happening, and Al Gore’s stirring words ring in my head: ‘The will to act is itself a renewable resource!’ In a world hungry for decent leadership we’re lucky to have some people like him showing breakthroughs like this and inspiring people to action, demonstrating a leadership rarely seen these days.

We don’t see leadership in most of our politicians and we’ve come not to expect any. Too many of them have vested interests in maintaining the status quo, to put it mildly and politely. Some visitor to Australia said recently, ‘They say a country gets the politicians it deserves, but nobody deserves Australia’s politicians!’

From their abusive treatment of refugees and asylum seekers, to say nothing of our own Indigenous people, we can see that most of our political leaders are morally bankrupt. If decisions are left to them they will soon bankrupt our nation financially too because of the same limited vision that causes their racism.

The only leadership we’re going to get is from ordinary people. Hugh Lavery AO, an early Churchill Fellow, from Queensland, with environmental qualifications, experience and awards as long as your arm (see for Inspiring Australians, p. 76-77), learnt much from stockmen and fishermen, as well as those developers who ‘are informed and smart and who keep out of the news’. He maintains that the quality of the environment is ultimately delivered by the people and he agrees that ‘now, we have tough times. But it’s a good time for opportunity.’

Peter Cundall AO (Churchill Fellow, 1974) is optimistic about the future of the planet and about the wisdom of ordinary people once they see that things are wrong. He sees the environmental movement growing stronger every day and he believes that it is beyond politics. He says that people all over the world are improving the earth and the planet and they are doing it themselves: ‘The politicians won’t do it; the people have to.’

Life-changing magic!

What can we do? We can live more simply and harm the environment less. The program called ‘A Simple Year’ is a good one – it’s inspiring and keeps you on the right track. They focus on a different theme for each month, like January’s is ‘Clutter’ and February is ‘Busyness’. (See )

See also Courtney Carver’s and Sarah Wilson’s blog on living a healthy and sustainable life, every Friday:

You could also check out the Australian Conservation Foundation’s website at and see how they focus on five big ideas, such as clean energy; laws to protect our air, water and wildlife; and putting the planet before profits.

Living a simpler, more sustainable life frees up your time and resources to do more meaningful and creative things, creating a happier you and a healthier planet. Does that sound saccharine? Well even if it does, I’m not deleting it because it’s true. Healing the planet is up to us – ordinary people, and it’s amazing the difference living simply makes.

Courtney Carver’s Be More with Less blog is where I discovered Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (Ten-Speed Press, 2014). See my 2 Nov. 2015 blog post. This book is whacky and funny. The translator seems to have preserved the young author’s voice of originality and verve. If you go to the initial trouble of following her unusual advice, it really does make your life easier and happier. Before you know it, with the free time and mental clarity you have, you’ll be full of hope and optimism and chipping large chunks away from that world of worry the media keeps flinging at us every day.

On hearing inner music: the pleasure of the written word

January 10, 2016 at 10:11 am | Posted in decluttering | Leave a comment
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As one who has digested and recommended Marie Kondo’s The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up (2 Nov ‘The life-changing magic of Marie Kondo’s book on the Japanese art of de-cluttering), I am pretty good at throwing away old pieces of paper and notes in the rubbish bin. But I do keep some stuff, for example, miscellaneous bits of scribble, other people’s descriptions I admire, and quotations, all of which I think of as ‘compost’ because out of these scraps I can be inspired to create a new piece of writing.

One of the quotations saved is by Truman Capote (McCall’s November 1967):

‘To me, the pleasure of writing is not what it’s about, but the inner music the words make.’

I loved that description – inner music. We can get it by writing and by reading. The inner music we hear as readers is what is made by a particular writer’s style. It’s a joy to discover different pieces of music and to have the time to rediscover the pleasure of the inner music my own words make as I write fiction again.

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The life-changing magic of Marie Kondo’s book on the Japanese art of decluttering

November 2, 2015 at 8:36 pm | Posted in decluttering | Leave a comment

photo(2)The National Association of Professional Organisers (U.S.) claims that we spend one year of our lives looking for lost items.

Clearly, we would have more time to spend on what is important to us if we didn’t waste all that time on looking for stuff we’ve lost. What is important to me? Books, art (film, dancing, photography, food…), health and love; your list might be different, but simplifying your life will give you more time to spend on those things, whatever your priorities are.

Courtney Carver’s ‘Be More with Less’ online course tells you how to do this. I subscribed at the beginning of this year. Even though I was often travelling to interview selected Churchill Fellows in my book Inspiring Australians when the webinars were on, you can download them later so I still gained much from the course.

I was on the right track already, since I’d once lived for a long time in a one-bedroom flat and had lived before that in tiny rooms in Corin House and Toad Hall and Burton and Garran student accommodation at ANU. I’d learnt to keep possessions to a minimum so I could maximize two necessities: space and light, plus have a serene clutter-free life.

Now I live in a three-bedroom house with a vast study but it’s still important to do what Thoreau advised: ‘Simplify! Simplify!’ And now it’s important to simplify not only one’s possessions but do it digitally too – something with which Thoreau did not have to contend. Courtney Carver’s course helps with digital simplification as well.

Courtney Carver ‘worked too hard and slept too little’ and became sick, and now has created a saner, healthier life for herself. She shares how she does it on her site, plus she invented Project 333 – Google that and see how she minimizes her clothes. Whoahh! This is too extreme, even for me. My take on things is: If in doubt, throw it out. But I couldn’t restrict my clothes to 33 items because clothes are self-expression and a way to enjoy colour and texture, but on my body, not just on my floors and walls. But you can adapt the 333 method and swap it for a more realistic number, like 66 or 100.

But the best thing of the whole course was her recommendation to read Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese art of decluttering and organizing. (Berkeley, Ten Speed Press, 2014) This neat little book (translated beautifully by Cathy Hirano) is a gem, a delight. It will make you laugh. It makes me smile just to think of it. I’ve read a lot of these organizing-your-life books over the years and I’ve never seen one like this. It is original and profound. I give away lots of my books once I’ve read them but I won’t be parting with this one. It’s too precious.

A couple of days ago I opened my Be More with Less email and there was a beautiful series of photos of North American lakes – a snow-covered path, a winter lake with grey satin water, misty pines … and the quotation was by one of my favourite American poets, Wallace Stevens: ‘Perhaps the truth depends on a walk around the lake.’ And I was just about to walk around my local one, Lake Burley Griffin!

When I say ‘around’ I mean what we call the ‘Bridge to Bridge’ walk, which is about five kilometres. Takes about an hour. Walking does wonders for the mind as well as the body. On a long walk your subconscious will sort out problems and come up with a solution. Or the truth. Or at least a truth. You don’t do a PhD in a Postmodern department without being compelled to qualify ‘truth’! For example, the truth from whose perspective?

From almost anyone’s perspective though, their lives would be improved by spending less time looking for lost things and thus having more time to spend on what is important to them.

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