Beware Of The Urge To Hoard

As a child, I observed my grandmother clean the kitchen. She disposed of all the unnecessary things, scrubbed every surface by washing and wiping them diligently. At regular intervals, she repeated this process with every room in the house. My mother, I can say with total confidence, is the chip off the old block. Keeping things organized and clean is not just her habit but also her hobby and passion. I wonder where those genes disappeared when it came to me. I clean my house no doubt, but that passion is completely missing.

For almost the last ten years, I have been living in the same old house. It has two bedrooms, a living room, a dining room, a kitchen, a laundry room and a storeroom. Every room, including the laundry room, is large. The problem with large spaces is that we tend to accumulate things. Over the decade, we had collected many things. Moving out from that house was nothing short of a nightmare.

It is at this juncture that I realized that I have been hoarding. Embarrassed by my situation, I got into a feverish pace of disposing and giving away things that I don’t really need. Things that we usually collect and pile up in corner cupboards are:

  • Old clothes: We stop using clothes that we grow out of, but somehow we don’t throw them away. They just sit there collecting dust. Removing old clothes is a very good way to declutter the house.
  • Old newspapers, books and magazines: What do I say about this one! Both my son and I love to read. We have a collection of books that we don’t have the heart to throw away. I managed to dispose of some and give some away yet, I have quite a few books that I am emotionally attached to. But, clearing them frequently is what I advise.
  • CD’s/ DVD’s/Records: This one was a surprise for me. I never expected to see so many CD’s/DVD’s in my house. The more I cleaned the more I found. We cleared at least fifty per cent of what we had and still, I have more to sort through in the collection.
  • Old electronic items: This category includes old phones, chargers, gadgets that no longer work and a few gadgets that we do not need anymore. They just lie in a corner covered in dust and grime. After a while, I don’t remember if it’s useless or otherwise. I had been lazy in getting them fixed or disposing of them. Now we have a ton of things to ship to the garbage bin.
  • Old expired items: This category is a critical one. We need to regularly check the expiry date on medications, cosmetics and food items stored in the kitchen. We need to get rid of items that are past their expiration date. This is one thing that I never miss out, fortunately. Laziness in this area means putting the whole family at risk.
  • Old bags: Yep! That’s what I said. Old handbags and school bags, lunch kits have a way of getting settled into cozy areas of the house. We tend to collect them out of nostalgia but, they should be cleared at the earliest.
  • Recycling Projects: These projects intend to use up the leftover and unwanted items. Make something interesting out of them and reduce the unnecessary stuff. However, the end result is often the opposite of this. We end up accumulating more waste with a project in mind, but never come around to finishing it.
  • Unfinished projects: This category is linked to the above pointer. I collect things with the idea of making some craft item but, these things rarely see the light of day. I have a hard time letting go of such projects. Every time I look at them, I hope to finish the project and make an art piece. I had to close my eyes and throw away all those things. From now on, I am setting a time limit of six months on such projects. If I don’t finish in that time, I have to throw those things because it means I will never have enough time to do it.

Finally, after clearing out all of these things, the house felt lighter and brighter. Our new house is smaller than the old one; the downsizing has helped us a lot. Cleaning the house is a never-ending task. I decided to devote a day or two, every month, for decluttering the house. If you have any other suggestions on this topic, I will be very happy to hear from you. Feel free to write your opinions in the comments section below. Enjoy!

Image Source: IStock

My Tryst With Cooking

Let me start by stating that I am not a bad cook. My cooking skills are not bad, but they are not great either. When I cook dinner, it is edible, but not exceptional. I am just glad that it is not unforgettable for the wrong reasons.

Having made that fact clear, I have to admit that my skills at cooking are not stellar. They are not anything to feel proud of. I have tried to follow the cookbook, but it was not helpful. I also tried to practice my skill with my mom and sister as they are good cooks. I followed their instructions to the tee, but no avail. I can cook any dish and it may taste good, but something is always amiss. Sometimes, the vegetables turn mushy or the cake is crumbly or the skin of the chicken is burnt. If everything else turns out right, the dish just does not look appetizing. The complaints are accompanied by jokes more often than not. There was a time when I was tasked with cooking daily as a way to practice. However, I believe that was just an excuse to assign the chore to me.

Despite my lack of natural talent at cooking, I decided not to give up. I decided to observe and learn any nuances that are not shared. I watched cooking shows, sat through boring discussions and gossip with my aunts to pick up some tricks, attended classes etc. I was successful in making a few observations that proved useful. Here are some findings:
● My cakes were crumbly because I didn’t use enough butter. The point is, use the correct ingredients and get the measurements right. Replacing cream with butter, or butter with oil or lettuce with cabbage etc. is not always advisable. Each component has its flavour. The taste is bound to change when you replace it.
● Be mindful about the quality of the ingredients. A bad batch of potatoes can ruin your potato salad or mashed potatoes. Stale meat or vegetables can ruin the best of dishes.
● Cooking requires patience. Wait till the vegetable or meat is tender or cooked thoroughly before you proceed to the next step. In a curry, adding water before the vegetable or meat has lost its natural moisture will spoil the dish. The vegetable or meat will not absorb the flavour of the spices.
● Do not rush the dish. Give it time to cook sufficiently. Setting the stove on high won’t make the dish cook faster. It will just burn and ruin everything. Cooking at the correct heat setting is critical to the outcome.
● Pay attention to the terminology used in cookbooks. Sauteing, boiling, frying, shallow frying, simmering, grilling, roasting, double boiling etc. are all different processes and they all have different effects on the dish. Interchanging the processes could spell disaster to the dish. Just because you do not have an oven, you can’t replace baking with grilling.
● The ingredients and the procedure are crucial to the outcome but it is equally important to understand the flavours. Not all spices or flavours work well together. Some spices do not suit certain cooking styles. For example, using ingredients like oregano or olives or avocados in Indian dishes does not generally taste as good. Using dry spices while grilling might not have the same result as the spice will just end up charring the dish and the flavour will not be absorbed.

I have listed a few basic procedural pointers to be wary of. Each style of cooking has its own set of tips and tricks. I have only just scratched the surface of the vast world of cooking. I hope to master it someday and share many more tips too.

Is There Anything Like Too Much Self-help?

For those of you who read my articles regularly and follow me, you would know that I am a believer of self-help and self-improvement. I strongly believe that every one of us has the potential to be better and greater. We just need to recognize the hidden potential and constantly improve our self for a better tomorrow. For me to find a friend who shares a similar attitude was a blessing. I felt that the universe was giving me a sign. It turned out to be that the universe was actually, teaching me a lesson.

I am a staunch believer in self-awareness and self-improvement. Any problem or issue that we face can be handled or eliminated without outside meddling. I believe this is the best way to handle them. At my workplace, I found a friend who thinks in the same way as I do and believes in the same things. I felt like I found my sister from another mister. We shared information and knowledge we gathered on self-help. We researched all the programs that were being conducted in our city and attended a few. She would often come up to me and tell me about some new teacher or self-help guru. She was always finding someone new and better, who ‘made it so much easier to learn’.

Too many cooks spoil the brotth

Initially, I tried to keep up with her and followed every new guru that she found. However, as I adapted myself to the teachings of one, she would come up with a new guy who, apparently is the best person out there. Soon, I started to recognize a pattern, my friends would start following a teacher and praise them sky high in the beginning, but once they got down to handling the issues at the core, or when they asked her to face her fears, my friend ditched that teacher. She would look for someone new. She would make an excuse that the old teacher didn’t understand the situation and that the new teacher had a better way of handling things.

Through all this, I noticed that she was not achieving anything. She was not solving her issues, or facing the real problem. Since I was riding along with her, I ended up confused and disoriented myself. I couldn’t follow the teachings of one teacher and my mind was a mixture of so many different thought processes. I realized that I had put my hand on too many things and lost focus on the actual goal of self-improvement.

So, what have I learned from this experience? Self-improvement is a solo project. It is not a team effort. Take your time to pick the right teacher, but once you find someone you like, stick with them to the end. Do not try to jump ship halfway through the journey.

Is The Internet a Knowledge Hub In The True Sense

The virtues and dangers of the Internet is a topic of discussion that has been done to death. People have made very strong arguments for and against the impact of the internet on youth. So, when I speak of this issue, I am not talking about anything new. I am only sharing my story about our dependence on it and the way our dependency is turning into our weakness.

When I was in school, the internet was still in its nascent stage. It was still an unknown entity and we were not aware of its uses. During this time we were given a project about the seven wonders of the world. Back then, I had to go to the good old library and refer to different encyclopedias to collect information about them. Some of the structures on this list did not exist anymore. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, The Lighthouse of Alexandria etc. were destroyed long before man invented photography. The discussion that we had in class was about the validity of such structures being deemed as wonders. We grumbled about spending precious time in the library to research something that we could not see. As part of the research, I spent more time reading other facts on World wars, European architecture, psychology etc. It was an informative project for totally different reasons.

At the end of the project, I learnt more than just the seven wonders. That was the beauty of going to the library. I went there to research on one topic but, ended up gathering information on many others. I also formed my own opinion on them. For example, while referencing about the Taj Mahal, I found out about the pollution from the industries and the river Yamuna. While researching on river pollution, I found out about the factories that dump waste and the apathy of the government. 

Nowadays, we turn to the internet for all our information and research. In theory, I should have access to more information on the internet while having the same ease in obtaining facts on any topic, issue, or subject. Well, I was in for a surprise. While I researched on the internet, I found bare minimum facts, but more of conspiracies, people’s opinions, theories to support one thought process or the other etc. 

I found that, on the internet, I was not given information to form my own opinion, but I was being fed other people’s opinions. One website felt that the Taj Mahal was being destroyed because of industrial effluents and not vehicular or air pollution. Another article blamed the ravages of time and natural deterioration. Some blamed the government, some blamed the rampant tourism. Even the most acclaimed article hinted subtly towards a communal angle for the deterioration.

The reason for the destruction of Taj Mahal is just a smokescreen. The main focus of the articles is to spread the propaganda or the thought process of specific groups. I am sorely disappointed with the lack of correct and complete information. The example I quote of the Taj Mahal is just to show that the internet has become a place to promote one’s ideology rather than a place of knowledge and information. People are using it to spread incorrect information and confuse the truth with various smokescreens. It is important for everyone to recognise facts from opinions, truth from propaganda and information from conspiracies.

Think Before You Forgive a Person

‘To err is honest and to forgive is divine’. This has been constantly and consistently drilled into our subconscious. We have been taught to be forgiving people; Although it is a different thing that we do not always forgive.

The saying basically tells us that we all make mistakes, but only a great and wise soul can forgive. It encourages us to look beyond the mistake and see the true worth of a person. I agree with that part of this teaching. We need to look beyond the action and try to see the true reason for the error; however, it is truly difficult to forgive someone for any transgression. It can be a simple lie or forgetting something that is important to us or using our things without permission or disregarding our feelings with their actions etc. Most of the time, it is simple things like these that we tend to forgive.

The more serious actions like a betrayal of trust, showing a lack of integrity, blatant disrespect for boundaries and law etc. are some instances when forgiveness should not come by easily. This type of behaviour indicates a deeper flaw in character. When a person leaks out a secret, throw a friend under the bus to save his skin, tries to enforce their own will on others by any means possible etc. it indicates a deeper psychological problem. Forgiving such a person who lacks loyalty and integrity or a person who doesn’t respect boundaries and authority could imply that we find nothing wrong with such behaviour. It shows that we ourselves belong to the same character and personality type. By forgiving these people, we end up insulting our character.

A person should always think twice before forgiving anyone since we also need to ensure that the transgressor learns his or her lesson. In today’s world, we see many instances where bad behaviour and bad attitude is forgiven in the name of ‘Free Speech’ and ‘Freedom of Expression’. Repentance for one’s mistakes, errors or wrongdoings should be paramount. Only with repentance can we be sure that a similar situation does not arise.

Take time out to think back at instances when we faced such dilemmas. Think back if it was really helpful to forgive such people. Write back to me if you want to share any instances, I will gladly add them to this post.

Are You Living With a Depressed Person?

Every time we talk about any mental health issues, we only talk about the patients. We talk about their mental state, their emotions, their needs and we prioritize on them. However, it is very important to talk about the people supporting these patients as well.

Mental health issues in themselves are difficult to handle because of all the stigma associated with it. A patient is generally not willing to seek help because of the fear of ostracization and ridicule from society and peers. And this fear, ridicule and alienation are faced by the people taking care of them as well. In fact, I would say the caregivers face a bigger challenge than the patient themselves. They do not have the wounds to show, but they have to bear all the pain and stand strong for the patient and take added responsibility.

I have had the misfortune of witnessing the kind of responsibility faced by the family or friends of the patients. The most common statement they hear is, “You should have been more responsible when you know the situation”. It is almost like it is their biggest curse for being the caregiver. It does not matter how difficult the patient is being, the caregiver always ends up taking the blame. The worst part is that we do not have to verbally blame them or say anything. Their conscience will not let them rest for even the slightest of mistakes. That is generally an enormous strain for anyone. It could end up causing problems for them in the future too.

I do not have a solution or suggestion for this concern, as I am not a qualified professional to deal with mental health issues. I can, however, bring to light this concern and hope that those in the know can show us the way forward. Please leave comments and suggestions if you have any.

Take up drawing as a hobby

When we talk about drawing or sketching, we think about life like imagery that one replicates with pencil or charcoal. We rethink about the complex shades that bring out light and shadow to create depth. Drawing always brings to mind images of portraits, realism, charcoal sketches, architectural drawings etc. It always sounds like a complex art that seems beyond my reach. I always felt jealous of my cousins, as they are artistically gifted.

However, now I discovered that drawing is not limited to just lifelike imagery only. There are many more styles and facets to drawing apart from realism, that requires a different set of skills like imagination, dramatic flair etc. I am talking doodling, caricatures, anime, cartoons etc. These streams of drawing are very different from traditional styles but are just as impressive and beautiful.

If you are anything like me, then, you cannot draw a straight line without a scale. Do not despair, there are many styles through which you can express yourself. Step away from the traditional classroom style and discover yourself through another style. Tell me how successful you have been and we can exchange stories of discovery.

All drawings in this blog are contributed by Sharda and Sharath

Don’t We All Just Hate Free Advice

The title of my post must have made it amply clear that I hate free advice. The fact that most free advice is just common sense makes it even more irritating and frustrating. The whole thing makes one feel like they are too stupid to figure out a matter of simple logic.

Incidentally, the other day, I was sitting and complaining to my friend about a meddling neighbour of ours who cannot seem to mind his own business. Lo and behold, my friend’s neighbour comes up and starts dispensing free advice about being patient and tolerant. She tells me that there is no point in arguing with a stupid person and I almost blurted out, “I know aunty, that’s why I am not replying to you.” She literally gave a detailed reenactment of meddling neighbours and proved the reason for my rant.

I might sound like a rude and arrogant person right now but think about it. Most of the time, when a person is ranting, they are just letting out their emotions. We sit down with our friends to rant about the problems in our lives, we are not looking for solutions. We are just venting out emotions and frustration. At such a time, when someone gives unsolicited advice, it only fuels our anger more.

The next time you hear a person telling you their problems, just listen to them. Don’t try to give advice. Many of us are not clueless about how to handle our life. We are just looking for someone to listen, someplace where we can speak our mind out loud so that we can declutter our thoughts. I, luckily have my blog to declutter my mind. Every once in a while, I pen down all the things that I want to say out loud and post a ranting article.

Do Small Things in a Great Way

Martin Luther King Jr once said, ” if I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way”. This inspirational quote literally means that great things need not always be a convoluted plot or an elaborate task. Doing everyday small deeds of kindness could also amount up to greatness.
There are many examples of highly celebrated philanthropists. However, today I will speak of a lesser known lady, whose greatness even moved King Edward VII of Great Britain.

Dokka Seethamma was born in the mid-1800s and lived her life during the British colonial rule. She was born into an ordinary family in Andhra Pradesh but married a rich farmer. Her greatness lies in the simple life she leads while doing great service to the poor and the lonely. She is known for her extreme generosity at serving food to everyone. She made it her life goal to feed any and every traveller, poor and homeless person that she encountered. Any time if the day or night, if anyone asked for food, she was ready to serve. She and her husband Dokka Joganna spent their life’s earning to ‘annadanam’ for the needy and the poor. Her name and fame spread far as ‘Apara Annapurna’. The title is representative of her role as someone who feeds the hungry.

Annadanam program at Tirupathi Temple

When King Edward VII heard about this great lady, he sent her an invite to come for his birthday celebrations. When the chief secretary of Madras presidency went to invite her, she politely declines. She said that her goal was only to feed the hungry and not the gather fame or publicity. The king was moved by her ideas and placed an honorary seat with her photograph at his table.

Srimati Dokka Seethamma, with a simple deed of feeding the hungry, has achieved the greatness that few can dream of. She has proved to us that however small a deed may appear, when we do it wholeheartedly with good intentions, only greatness results from it.

The Lessons I Learnt from an Unpleasant Friendship

She was not really “my” friend, she was introduced to me as my husband’s friend’s wife. That’s how I met her for the first time. Since then this friendship became a test for my patience. Patience that could not last beyond five years and one day I had to put an end to this ordeal. Today looking back at those days I wonder if there is anything that I should have done differently?

unplesant friends

Right from the very start I felt she was boastful about almost everything she did. She talked greatly of herself, her kids, her life and carrier etc. In her view, she is never wrong and she is always the best. Every decision she took, be it great or small, she had the desperate need to explain to people what a great thing she did. The icing on the cake was how she insisted others should follow suit. If by any chance she felt that someone else is doing better than her, she would spread lies about them or put them down publicly, say hurtful things and embarrass them.

Jealousy

This level of overconfidence, overbearing attitude, intense enviousness, pompousness was too much to swallow. It gets dark and unpleasant when she looked upon others as lower in intellect and class than herself and was never shy of showering her arrogance.  She once said, “There is no one and nothing in this world that money can’t buy”. People should not be treated so cheaply I thought.

Most of the time I listen to whatever she had to say about other people and about me and responded only with a smile. Sometimes I tried explaining to her but she never tried to understand. I noticed a total lack of empathy for my feelings, needs and wishes. I did a lot of soul searching and self-assessment due to the fear that I might be misunderstanding this person. In the end it was irritation and a feeling of hurt that got me because she treated my friendship like use and throw. I redoubled my efforts to get along with her by filling my mind with positivity but the hurtful things she said already caused a lot of damage. Probably I shouldn’t have put up with all this, I should have told her right at the beginning that she is stepping on my toes.

The only people who were still her friends were those who could put up with her awful treatment and those people who were obviously in a much better position than her. Today I feel much better that I no longer have to put up with her. But it does make me wonder what could be done and how to deal with people like this.

This a list of points that came to my mind:

I am the BEST and I LOVE myself

  • Be self-reliant and expect no help or favors from them because these people will talk the talk but don’t walk the walk.
  • Be prepared to shower praises on them. I know! We have to lock up our inner voice for a while. Praises, I notice, always send them to the seventh heaven.
  • Never fall for the falsehood they spread about others. Always assess people with your own fair judgement. You might be surprised that they are not as villainous as they were portrayed.
  • Keep conversations with them short and simple. Get out while you still can.
  • Never fall into the trap of show off. They love to gloat and we will definitely lose all our self-respect in a gloating contest with them.
  • Most importantly don’t lose sight of your goals and work diligently to achieve it irrespective of what anyone says.

These are the lessons I learnt from my experience. If you meet any one like this (I hope and pray that you don’t), I hope my suggestions will be of help to you. And if you have any more points to add to or correct in my list, please feel free to comment. I like to hear from all of you. All the best and wish you all a wonderful day.

Can we block unwanted thoughts??

Your mind is like a hummingbird that is constantly wandering from topic to topic, looking for a thought or feeling to latch on to. This sometimes leads to the discovery of some hidden talent that brings happiness, and sometimes it leads you into a spiral of unwelcome thoughts and undesired emotions. Many a time these unwanted thoughts are difficult to get rid of. They leave a lasting impression on you and alter your attitude and personality. Not all undesired thoughts are detrimental; in fact, some of these thoughts can trigger a change for the good. But, what happens when you encounter negative thoughts?

Time and again, one hears about how your mind just ran away with a thought and you end up feeling depressed and lonely. As the old proverb goes ‘an idle mind is the devil’s workshop’ and having a chaotic mind makes it a very busy workshop for the devil. To stop this flow of thought, many of us take up different activities. Some take up hobbies like gardening, cooking, craft work etc, while others take to penning down thoughts in blogs, journals, stories etc.

These are the more constructive ways to deal with an idle mind. There are other, more harmful, habits like drinking, drug abuse, smoking etc that trap you while you are in such a vulnerable state of mind. It is easy to get into these habits, but very difficult to get out of them. You get stuck in this quagmire with no means of escape. The downward spiral that they lead into might have deadly penalties.

So, how does one break away for this chain of events?
How can you stop your mind from wandering into these unsolicited thoughts?

I strongly feel that our mind is strong enough to stop these very thoughts that it triggers. I find that our own fight or flight instincts can be used to escape this quagmire. Everytime our mind starts wandering into this dangerous territory, our conscience always warns us. Our conscience dispels all doubts and negativity. I have experienced phases where i questioned my decisions and doubted my abilities. The only way I was able to get out of this dark place was by listening to that positive voice.

Sometimes, that positive voice is not necessarily our conscience. It can be the voice of your friend, a teacher, a parent etc. It could even be the free advice given by a random stranger. The only way to make sure that you heed it is by having a strong belief in yourself and faith in your actions.

Having a strong belief system is critical to everyone. It can be your belief in god, in a certain value like equality or justice or in your own wisdom. You can draw your beliefs from anything, but it is important to stay true and stand strong to these beliefs.

Self Awareness is the key to better life

Self Awareness quite literally means to be aware of one’s true self. It means to be aware of the true worth, one’s strengths and weaknesses. Being aware of the honest truth about oneself that we mostly hide. It sounds like a very philosophical and spiritual matter that sages and dreamers speak of. However, it is an essential and practical requirement that everyone needs to know.

Let me start with a simple example to explain the relevance. Many times, we perceive our self-image to be one thing, though in reality, our true self is very different from our own perception. Our perception of self might suggest that we are honest, straight-talking individuals or that we can give as good as we get etc. However, when the time comes to actually display these qualities, many of us are unable to. We are held back by fear or personal gain or sometimes apathy. We might give reasons for backing down, but the truth remains that we do not display any of these attributes. I do not want to speak of just negative instances. Sometimes, we might consider our self as weak or timid, yet when faced with the situation, we display great bravery and courage.

This may well be the truth about half of all people. So, how does self-awareness help us in such a situation? When I am fully aware of my abilities and my limitations, then I can be prepared better. When I am not brave enough to stand alone, I will first seek out those who are brave enough and take their support. When I need to be heard, I will speak through those who have a competent voice. We can build strong teams and work together to overcome each other’s weaknesses and capitalize on the strengths.

This might seem very whimsical and simplistic at first glance. It, however, requires great strength of mind and will power to be really honest about our limitations and weaknesses. Once we have found our weaknesses, it is crucial to align our self with the right people. We have to set aside our ego, look at the bigger picture, shed any inhibition we have etc. We all experience this on a smaller scale at different stages in life, be it the workplace, family or friends and college life.

Most of the time, self-awareness takes place unintentionally, or it goes unnoticed. We must change this and start focusing on our self more. Seek out situations to find more about our self and take to mind the lessons we learn. This will lay a strong foundation for a better and more peaceful future.