Friday, 2 July 2021

Graduate Degree Show

Last Friday the class of 2021 exhibited the work from the Final Major Project, a unit which ran from February of this year until June 7. I was pleased to arrive on private view night to see I had been nominated for two awards - the Project 78 Award for Artistic Integrity and the Vincent Lines Memorial Trust Award for Creative Excellence, for which I received a Highly Commended.

I know last Friday I used the space here to speak about some concerns I was having on my journey into understanding more about our natural and man-mad landscapes, but here I want to talk about the Final Major Project and share a few images of the final piece in situ. The body of work I produced for Major Project is called "The State We're In", and speaks of the uncertainty the next generation, our children, face as the country follows the roadmap out of lockdown.

Above you can see the scale of the final piece. I had spent nearly every day for the preceding three weeks either on the phone to my printer, or at the printers. The tonal ranges were hard to fine tune as the drop off was originally too pale for a clear white "edge" to be visible around the image. I corrected this by adding a tone in Photoshop, and correcting the awful chromatic aberrations that had occurred, essentially due to blowing it up so large. Once the test strips had been approved, I had to make a decision - either print at this size on this paper, which was the largest size my printer could go to (5ft2 by 7ft2), or face one of two other choices. Choice 1 was get the paper I really wanted, which was a smooth mat paper, at a huge extra expense, or Choice 2, get it at the size I really wanted (which was a couple of feet larger in either direction) and face having to "join" it. The thought actually terrified me, and with time constraints what they were I opted for to meet myself in the middle and the above is the result. 

The postcards I have displayed in wall fixings are the images from the rest of the series, see images below:

To explain the work, I have copied my artist statement below which accompanied the work on the wall last week;

"The State We’re In is an on-going body of work exploring the interrelationship between man and place, seeking out how human activity is expressed in the spaces around us. The primary artistic concern of the work is to synchronise metaphorical analysis of place with human perceptions of the world we inhabit.

The image displayed for the show depicts a sublime landscape that the viewer can engage with experientially. Shot at the moment of sunrise, the sense of depth is enhanced by the way the sea washes away from the shore, taking with it any memory of the lockdown and replacing it with a fog of uncertainty.  Is this state of paralysis over the unknown future that awaits us after ‘unlocking’ like the hypnopompic state between sleeping and waking? Will we forget all that was discovered during the lockdown, including these little man-made areas of escape from the urban centres so altered by the imposition of social distancing measures? My child is present as a mere presence in the right-hand side of the frame. An echo of his time spent within the landscape, before his memory of the last year of his short life is repressed as things returns to ‘normal.’"

Sadly, due to the ongoing pandemic concerns, my graduation ceremony at Brighton Cathedral has been postponed until February, however this does mean I could be graduating twice next year pending the successful completion of the MA. Silver linings and all that. :)


Friday, 25 June 2021

Captive Audience - First World Problems

Another year has passed and I am once again guilty of neglecting the blog space here, I probably don't need to give all the excuses (ya know, just casually completing a full time bachelors degree from home whilst in a lockdown, looking after a 3 year old and home schooling a 5 year old) but here we are.

As my final degree show night is upon me, I have set this to publish automatically in advance (having written it during a rare moment of peace this fine Wednesday 23rd June) and as this goes live I will be found somewhere on the 5th Floor of the Station Plaza building, drinking wine with my very good friends who have travelled from as far as Chicago to see my work in situ, across a very large wall which I have filled with a single piece.

What is the piece about? Well, here it is...

I am not going to go into too much detail at this point about what this image represents, but the people who attended the show this evening may well have taken away one of my postcard images on display next to this piece which would have directed them straight to this website. The image above is so you know you've come to the right place.

I will write up a blog shortly after the show has been dismantled with some images of my work in situ, and an explanation about the project series the image represented at the final show.

This blog has largely been disabled for the last year as I am rethinking my work as an artist before heading onto the MA at Brighton in September and I had decided to take it down. However, as I was required to put my website address on hand outs including the show catalogue from this evening I decided I would have a captive audience to share a very important message that will most likely form the basis for my work going forwards in my career.

Our planet is dying.

Over the last year, increasingly I have been researching into the systems of power that govern and dictate the world we live in. Capitalism has come to the forefront of my mind as an insidious evil that keeps people in the western world suspended in a dreamlike state so that their eyes can filter the reality before them and make them feel safe and secure through the acquisition of stuff. Things like brand loyalty, a bigger house, a nicer car. Fast fashion, **the beauty industry*** (snarls...this is whole separate kettle of fish I won't go into right now). It's all killing our planet. And it's exploiting third world countries for our gain. Y'all wanna go round having kids and working hard so you can hand them down a nice amount of money when you die...well that won't help them when the British coastline is gone, huge scale famine causes mass migration and everyone's dying of cancer. I'm sorry, I know that sounds a little extreme. But for people to collectively wake up from this matrix style delusion we are all oppressed into, we need a social reform that starts with the individual. Did anyone ever watch Humans? That was a pretty good analogy for what I am talking about here.

So. Starting on a very individual level, and extending where as so far as it's possible to my own family, I have made some changes in my life which I hope will at least go some way to making a difference in the longer term. No one individual can solve all the problems in the world. But a small section of society is beginning to wake up, and we need to put pressure on governments worldwide to make changes not just for social reform, but to preserve and protect the only planet we have so that our children and grandchildren have a future on this earth. 

Here are just a few of the small changes my family have made and why:

1. We got rid of plastic.

Ok, insofar as it's possible to eliminate plastic from our lives. I am such a bad person. I used to go through between 3-5 bottles of smart water A DAY. Not only is that a pretty huge waste of money but THINK OF THE CHILDREN!!! I did recycle the empties yes. But since discovering through multiple sources that the UK is a HUGE contributor to dumping our so called recyclables abroad to be landfilled or worse, burnt in countries like Turkey, I decided to switch out the endless flow of plastic water bottles with a stainless steel bottle instead.

I'm not here to sell stainless steel bottles, so I'll spare the details on why this is the greatest thing ever, but I do want to comment on re-usability. A lot of people will tell you that the energy used to produce one of these things far outweighs the total energy footprint of a plastic water bottle. Not true. I'm sure you could do your own research into the exact ins and outs of energy
input vs output for the various types of drinks containers, but what I will say is that I believe buying and using this one metal container for the next few years will most definitely be more eco-friendly than my former life choices.

As for the rest of the household plastic, that will be a process. I've actually thrown away a lot of the children's plastic items that were scratched or damaged, due to chemical exposure that can occur as a plastic degrades. We will be swapping plastic lunch boxes for stainless steel, we have swapped from Fairy liquitabs (plastic coating, plastic container) for Smol laundry capsules (biodegradable tabs sent through the post in a recyclable/cardboard packet) and we also now use Smol dishwasher tablets. Did you even know about the sheer volume of micro plastics entering our beautiful oceans from our washing machine habits alone? Which leads into fast/cheap/nasty ass fashion made from fast/cheap/nasty ass fabrics. Personally I've always hated polyester and I wouldn't be caught dead wearing it (especially when **certain** high street retailers think they can charge high end prices for a dress made entirely from the cheap plastic shit) but there are also environmental reasons why doing so is harmful. Not just to the planet either, but harmful to your health. Are you aware of how many items in your home including clothing, in your children's clothing, that are coated in flame retardant? Would you want flame retardant rubbing up against your skin? (But of course, the beauty industry will have a capitalist answer to that irritation...just buy sensitive skin products right?)

Of the plastic we *have* to have, as in food packaging etc, we now recycle EVERYTHING we can, in the hope that some of it actually gets recycled. There isn't really much else you can do, aside from shopping local in places that aren't as heavy on the packaging for their produce (eg a greengrocers) and signing petitions to get supermarkets to use less in the way of packaging for their products. I read a fairly scary article recently on Phys.Org which stated how 2020 was believed to be the year that man-,made mass actually outweighed biomass on planet earth. What the actual fuck.

In our move to eliminate plastic, this brings me on to toilet paper. Now most people will agree that toilet paper comes wrapped in plastic, right? Right. And I know that y'all don't recycle that plastic wrap. You throw it in the bin. Where it goes to landfill. And ends up in our oceans. And you may be one person, who only does a finite number of ones and twos each week (half of those ones go down the shower as well don't lie), but when you add up all the toilet paper a family of say, in my case, four, goes through on a weekly or monthly basis, and then thinking about how many of those plastic wrappers you unwrap and throw in the bin each year, and then think about how many millions of people there are in the UK alone (it's over 70 million).....yeah. Not so fun anymore. So we found a solution in the form of "Who Gives a Crap?"....sustainably sourced toilet paper wrapped in....paper. I say sustainably sourced, because most people also don't really think about the rainforests that are cleared just to make your toilet paper. Who Gives a Crap makes the toilet paper from recycled (Office, not toilet!) paper. When buying absolutely any paper products, try to look for the FSC logo to ensure the paper has been sustainably sourced. (You'll start seeing that logo everywhere now, from wrapping paper to advent calendars)

Another small thing we've done until I can find a better alternative is switch from buying method hand soap bottles (at a rate of about 4 per week) with the method refills. The refills fill the hand soap bottles three times over and you can just keep reusing the bottles. Method is also made sustainably from plants, and doesn't contain animal fat like some soaps. And fabric softener. Did you know your fabric softener contains animal fat and makes your clothes more flammable? Mine doesn't, it's vegan dontcha know- Sarah, I'm laughing out loud. (readers it's a private joke. But the fabric softener thing is serious).

2. I took a good hard look at my beauty regime

Sounds a bit left field, but seriously. About two years ago I found out I had a tumour in my neck. An apparently random, benign tumour growing on my parathyroid and causing me all sorts of problems. The parathyroid is part of the endocrine system, which as most people are aware but in case you're not, is responsible for hormone production. I'm not an expert in mens health, (or women's health for that matter) but as a card carrying women it concerns me that so many products that are sold specifically to women to fix (in the true capitalist style) their many "problems" (think anti-aging, spots, wrinkles, fine lines...need bigger lips, better eyebrows, dewier skin, less oily skin, more this less that) actually contain multiple TOXIC chemicals that can cause serious harm to women. The biggest culprit in my increasingly educated opinion are so called Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals, or Endocrine Disruptors, which are found in so many products it makes me feel physically ill. And the two groups most susceptible to the effects of endocrine disruptors are women and children. Women. And. Children. They are the kinds of chemicals that cause conditions like Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, among others, including but not limited to tumours. When you start tugging at this thread, you start to realise that the beauty industry is a toxic one indeed. Half the ingredients present in most beauty products aren't safe to be anywhere near a rabid dog, let alone a living human person, but especially let alone a poor innocent child, who's poor innocent parent has no idea what they're actually smothering into their child's skin. The FDA doesn't make the beauty industry pass any sort of tests for what chemicals they can include in their products, so for example when they list "fragrance" as an ingredient, that fragrance could be arsenic and the company could state it has been "FDA approved". It's why there are SO MANY toxic substances in cosmetics. Lets start with Sunscreen. Homosalate is one of the biggest culprits of endocrine disruption, and is listed as a chemical to avoid on the Breast Cancer Research UK website list of chemicals to avoid and yet it is present in a shocking amount of sunscreens, many of which are marketed to families and children. It's disgusting. In doing extensive research, I have found that if you absolutely must wear sunscreen (and again, this comes after wearing loose cotton clothing, hats, sunglasses and just generally staying out of the direct sun and not as the beauty industry has you believe that you should wear it every day even when indoors) then make sure you're using a mineral sunscreen, where the active ingredient is something like Zinc Oxide. This one by Jason is a good example of where to start, and although physical sunscreens like this tend to be heavier and stickier than chemical sunscreens, I know what I would rather be slathering myself and my children in. There's also the eco-factor. Try to look for "bio-degradable" or "reef safe" variations. Sunscreen that gets washed off in the shower invariably ends up in the sea and is damaging to aquatic life. Something to think about.

I won't go too much into the beauty industry as whole, and I know many people that make a living from working in the industry and it's not my intention to bash people. All I want to say is that you should do your own independent research into it.

And whilst I'm on the subject, I have switched to reusable make up remover pads (for the products I do use) instead of the single use cotton pads, or cotton wool. Again, the sustainability factor will come from years of sustained use on these things. I've done the same with our dish cloths and washing up sponge. If you have babies, then choose re-useable nappies, although the actual sustainability factor from this will really come from using from birth, and using for all your children (i.e. to outweigh the energy cost of producing them in the first place). The research I'd carried out suggested that using them only for your second child for example may not be ecologically sustainable if you used disposables for your first child, but if you go on to have a third child, then it may be. So do your own research on that.

I've found here a list of chemicals you definitely want to avoid in your home for your own health's sake, if nothing else.

And another list of toxic chemicals to avoid here:

I was particularly pissed off to find having recently read Caroline Hirons Skincare book cover to cover that she actually advocates the use of Parabens. Cheers Caz. And why would she do that? I hear you ask, "I watch her on This Morning all the time!" 
Is "To make money" a good enough answer for you? Seeing as how she's made a whole career from working in and for the beauty industry, and is paid by many of the brands she promotes, I doubt she's about to start slagging off a whole section of it. But that's another story.

The beauty one is a tough one to navigate I'll admit. It's very hard to find products that are both "clean" and "green". On the one hand, you don't want to be rubbing so called "actives" into your face that is full of preservatives that should be reserved for use on people in open caskets at funerals, but on the other, you also don't necessarily want to be using a non toxic substance that has somehow caused a beluga whale to suffer. It's tricky. There is such a thing as "greenwashing" in the beauty industry, but you can read up about that here. Just....tread carefully, and do your best. But don't let anyone who's living depends on it tell you that you need a beauty product to make you better. You don't. The scary part was that from my research, it seems that there is a consensus among scientists that although many actives in skincare (such as Beta Hydroxy Acids and Retinol) give immediate results, in the long term they actually cause damage to the skin resulting in a greater need for the products....which reminds me of a piece of text by Guy Debord called The Society of the Spectacle which basically says that capitalism exists purely so that once a persons needs are met they constantly regenerate only at a slightly higher level. In layman's terms, this means that you'll need to keep buying more and more of their crap in the long run. Go figure.

Feel lied to yet? Here's the kicker..

3. We are Vegan

I've left this one till last, and I wont go into too much detail here, but some good resources for anyone in any doubt are on Netflix. Try Seaspiracy, Cowspiracy and What the Health for starters. There are others. There is no way I could say I was an environmentalist, or cared about the future of this planet if I wasn't a vegan. Animal agriculture is not only the leading cause of deforestation in the Amazon, and nearly 50% of plastic pollution in the sea, either through ghost fishing gear or microplastics, not to mention dead zones caused by agricultural "run off" (nice), but the produce itself is filled with contaminants like antibiotics, hormones and yep, endocrine disrupting chemicals. No thanks.
For me, I think if you're going to make the jump to vegetarianism then you may as well go vegan. You can think that keeping animals for their products such as milk and eggs is ok, but you know it's still exploitation. How many good egg laying years do you think a hen has? About 9 months, at best. Then it's straight to the slaughter house. And all the time it's laying those eggs it's being kept at best in an over crowded tin container where it couldn't stretch it's legs let alone anything else, and at worse in a cage, wall to wall, nose to nose with about a thousand other caged hens. And to think there are people out there blaming China for the Covid-19 pandemic. Well, don't throw stones from inside a glass house. The pandemic was an accident waiting to happen, but no one wants to acknowledge the elephant in the room - that zoonotic diseases spread to humans from the conditions involved in animal agriculture. Maybe it has something to do with the massive tax subsidies going to farmers to make sure you have bacon for your breakfast on a Sunday morning, or maybe it's because the pharmaceutical companies (like Astra-Zeneca and Pfizer for example) pay to sponsor companies that produce meat and animal products because when outbreaks of disease occur, or people rock up to their doctors with cancer caused from eating too much processed meat, they can cash in on the treatments required to make these people "well" again. Funny though, with all the money that goes into funding research for a cure for cancer, and there still isn't one. The World Health Organisation states on ITS OWN WEBSITE:

The risk increases with the amount of meat consumed, but the data available for evaluation did not permit a conclusion about whether a safe level exists.

And it has classified processed meat (think salami, bacon, ham, pepperoni, chorizo, smoked meats etc) as a GROUP 1 CARCINOGEN. Which means they KNOW it causes cancer, in the same way that smoking does. I don't see any warnings on the child size pepperoni sticks we've all been casually shoving into the mouths of our children. Why's that? Cheeseburger laws. I'm not joking, you can read about these here. In the UK, this translates as a so called "common sense law". Red meat has been classified as a GROUP 2 carcinogen, which basically means "probably causes cancer". Don't take my word for it, read it with your own brain over on the WHO website here.
I have kept this list short and sweet because for me, they are the three points that raise the most concern. Plastic, Beauty/Chemicals, and Animal agriculture. 
There is so much more to learn, and to change. Big social reform is needed, and I for one intend to continue on with my journey into this sad state of affairs so that I can try to effect change from within. Gandhi once said you should be the change you want to see. I am a firm believer that if you're not part of the solution you are part of the problem. You may now be experiencing some sort of cognitive dissonance after reading all of this, and I totally feel you. I felt abused too when I woke up. But it's not too late to start now.

We can't be perfect, we can't even come close. But as I raise my children I want to do so in a way that educates them to the reality of the world they live in. I don't want them living in some American Psycho dream world where they can feel protected by brands, and feel successful based on how many of those brands they feel they have some sort of ownership of.

As I go forwards into my photographic career from here on in, I will be looking into more of the key issues that affect us in this dystopian capitalist nightmare, as I fight to try and save our planet so that my children can enjoy it. I believe where there's a will there's a way, and where there is hope, there is light at the end of the tunnel. 

Thanks for reading xoxo


Sunday, 16 August 2020

Life in Lockdown

 I can't believe it has been almost a year since I wrote. My bad. Since last September when I touched base here, I have completed Year 2 of my Bachelors degree and, I am truly proud to say, earned myself 5 straight As, giving me another First to follow Year 1 with. Naturally, the last twelve months brought up challenges I wasn't quite prepared for. I hit a creative block at the beginning of November, & for a while I was seriously worried as to what direction I was going in with my photography. I've always considered myself a creative photographer, not one for working on things that don't resonate with me. I usually always create work for catharsis, and prefer to work slowly and meaningfully rather than to a commercial brief. 

Before the UK went into Lockdown, I managed to start work for one particular uni brief capturing images that I felt represented a moment of escape. It was a personal project I started back in 2012, when I started noticing that familiar places around the town I lived in started to look unfamiliar when viewed with a fresh set of eyes. The preconceived ideas I had about somewhere were cast aside just for a moment and I realised I could be absolutely anywhere on earth, my perception of the status quo was challenged. As the UK was plunged into Lockdown myself & the rest of my class were faced with yet another challenge - to curate and execute an exhibition for the work we were creating - while being in isolation at home.

Cue Zoom calls galore, a group WhatsApp chat that was going off the hook, and day after day of photo taking, sketchbook work, website creation, reading, writing, planning and numerous emotional and nervous breakdowns. We got there in the end though, and the fruits of our labour can be seen over at Opening night on 27th May was a hit, and the show will remain live for a minimum of twelve months until May 2021.

For my part in the show, I decided to combine the images I was taking to show my escape to reality with those taken by friends, family and even strangers during the Lockdown period and create a large scale mosaic. When viewed from afar, it appears to be a somewhat pixellated image taken from a beach in some far off paradise, but when viewed up close it reveals its secret and the viewer can spend hours getting lost amongst the rich tapestry. I have since had a professional print made of the piece, measuring up at a huge 107cm by 71cm, and it is hanging proudly in the bathroom of my new home. Which is my other news! I am moving in with my boyfriend to a beautiful new home we have just spent ten months renovating alongside his parents. And a little secret about the paradise image for the mosaic 'cover' - it was an image I took whilst in Mexico with him back in February. Phew, what a year!


Monday, 23 September 2019

September Reflection

I'm pretty sure I have no idea where the last year has gone and it's suddenly dawned on me that everyone in the world is now officially younger than me (I'm serious, I don't know "older" people anymore); but as September draws to a close & the start of a new academic year begins I decided to sit down & have a little time to reflect over the last twelve months of my professional development. 

On the 7th September, I had the honour of shooting the photographs and capturing the magic at the wedding of Scott & Sara, a fun-loving couple that I met back in twenty sixteen when they moved into the same building as me. 

The scene for the whole day was a venue quite local to me; Manor Barn in the Old Town Quarters of Bexhill in East Sussex. I'd only visited the site once previously; back in June to do a recce of the building and it's surrounds, but on a personal level I was really impressed with the venue on the whole & the level of service from the staff on site.

The day started out cloudy and the threat of rain during the main part of the day was high on the weather forecast, however, while driving to Sara's house that morning I could see the sun shining brightly behind the clouds and had a feeling we were going to be OK.

I was really lucky to work with Scott & Sara. The main reason being that they were so laid back and down to earth about the whole wedding day, even though it could have easily been planned & organised by a bridezilla when I considered how much care & attention to detail had gone in, from the hand made table centre-pieces to the hair & make up of the bride and her bridesmaids. It was in every sense of the word, a traditional wedding, but the couple's good sense of humour and relaxed attitudes made it possible for me to try out a range of new creative shots I hadn't had the skills or confidence to pull off before.

I used the Canon EOS 5D MK III for the duration of the day and alternated between a 24-55mm zoom, a 16-24mm wide angle & a 70-200mm telephoto lens. I had the added benefit of a Canon Speed-lite which came in very handy for some of the creative shots and particularly when the clouds came over. To achieve some of the shots shown above, I focused on shooting in aperture priority and played between a shallow or a wide depth of field. I ran all the final images through the edit suite in Adobe Light room and just made small adjustments to the contrast and vibrancy, ensuring the white balance was correct and cropping and straightening any photographs that needed it.

I also had the extreme luxury of a second shooter for this wedding which is not something I have ever done before. I think it was a huge success to have a second person with a camera for a multitude of reasons; the main one being that they can come in at all the angles that I myself as a single shooter can't get to. It's the secondary shots that I'd love to take as well as my priority shots and am usually completely unable to that made the album I presented to this couple that much more appealing. It is also always incredibly comforting to know there is a back up camera on site in case of any dramas with the one I'm shooting on.

As I wrap up, I'll point you all over to my professional website; where you can find more images from this special day under the wedding gallery, and also check out some more of my work over the last year, including some personal projects and my first studio maternity shoot. As I enter into the second year of my bachelors degree I will attempt to keep the blog more up to date with continuing work, and I look forward to embarking on new challenges over the next few months. Stay tuned!


Saturday, 1 September 2018

The Amalfi Bride

On the morning on Saturday 18th August, I woke up almost shaking with nerves and excitement as I prepared to go to work on the biggest wedding I have shot to date. As 10,30 rolled around, I was collected from Sorrento train station by the Best Man and driven up into the mountains of Massa Lubrense where I met my bride Ciara, who was eagerely preparing for her big day, along with her bridesmaids at the villa she was sharing with her family.

Ciara had asked me to shoot her big day back in September last year after her and Reg got engaged, and I couldn't have been more honoured or excited. I couldn't believe how quickly the couple had managed to pull together a wedding in a foreign setting, and with such apparent ease that I started to feel slightly inferior that it had taken me nearly a week just to pack my bag for the trip. But this was the kind of bride who could pull this off; typically on arrival at the villa she was staying at for the week, she was cool, calm and all over everything - and a glass of prosecco in hand. 

My nerves quickly settled and I relaxed into the swing of shooting, switching between a standard zoom and telephoto for most of the day, and finally having some fun at the end of the evening with the wide angle. I stayed with Ciara as the cars arrived to collect the bridesmaids and the rest of the family, and hopped into the car with Ciara and her Dad for the serene drive back down the mountain into Sorrento, where Reg & Ciara tied the knot at the stunning Chiostro Di San Francesco. 

This chapel, known to us Anglos as simply 'The Cloisters' is open for the public to wander around at leisure, including during wedding ceremonies, and yet I may not have even realised it was there had I not been employed to shoot a wedding there that day. From the outside, you could almost miss it and walk straight past in pursuit of the view of the marina just beyond it. But on entering from the busy, bustling and touristy noise from the streets outside, I was met with a peace and tranquility that stood in stark contrast. It was calm, and quiet, and above all, beautiful. The true beauty for me stood not in the architecture itself, but in the single tree leaning delicately over the walkway through the chapel, displaying the symbiosis between man and nature. It was under this tree the vows were exchanged, in front of an audience of thirty guests and a handful of public spectators. 

The guests later departed for Castore, a contemporary and yet rustic reception venue in the mountains overlooking the Bay of Naples and Mount Vesuvius far off in the distance, and yet seeming so close in the pristine weather conditions. The guests enjoyed a delicious four course meal while the sun set and cast everyone in a warm honey coloured light before it finally set beyond the horizon turning the sky pink, and then finally gave way to starlight under which everyone danced out on the terrace until midnight when the cars arrived, and it was time to depart back into Sorrento. 

My heartfelt congratulations to this truly lovely couple.

Thursday, 14 June 2018

The Life Changing Magic of KonMari

In my twenties I used to love nothing more than reading works of great fiction. Valley of the Dolls, The New York Trilogy & Wuthering Heights were among some of my favourite reads. However, since turning thirty a few years ago I have found myself reaching for books that awaken my spirit and speak to me on a personal level on my quest for self improvement. Some of the most notable books I’ve read of this genre include Secrets of the Worlds Healthiest Children by Naomi Moriyama & William Doyle, Happy by Fearne Cotton, The Danish Way of Parenting by Jessica Joelle Alexander & Iben Dissing Sandahl, Pretty Honest by Sali Hughes and The Life Changing Magic of Tidying by Marie Kondo. 

It is with reference to the last book that I am writing today, as I was so profoundly affected by the words of this wise-beyond-her-years Japanese lady that I’ve talked all my friends into beginning their own tidying journeys as well. I call it a journey, because as anyone who has read the book knows, it’s about far more than tidying. In following her process start to finish (and for once I followed instructions WORD FOR WORD) and tidying by category in the order she suggests (Clothes, Books, Papers, Miscellaneous and Sentimental) you will find that in putting your home in order, you are putting your life in order as well. Essentially, by keeping only those possessions you actually love and discarding ABSOLUTELY everything else, you can hone your decision making skills, gain self belief and confidence as you trust your ability to make those decisions and confront your past when you let things go that no longer bring your current self any joy. 

Here I am sharing some of the absolute best things I discovered and did on my tidying journey and how they have had a hugely positive impact on my life;

1. Clothes

My friend told me the other day she was always quite surprised by how small my selection of clothes is. She was shocked when I then told her I got rid of about two thirds of that while adopting the KonMari method. I am a simple girl; I like my clothes made of cotton or viscose,  and as my friend pointed out I like white black and grey. There isn’t an awful lot of room for anything else in my clothes life. I don’t need it. She asked me but don’t i end up wearing the same things all the time? Yes. I do. But I explained that I also recently read 'The Life Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck' by Sarah Knight and quite simply, I no longer give a f*ck about what anyone else thinks of my limited wardrobe. I own a washing machine. I can wash and re-wear my clothes. That’s a perfectly OK thing to do. Except now compared to before I always feel good in what I’m wearing and without exception. And thanks to Marie Kondo’s method of folding I now have space for everything and can easily see what I have in one glance and that’s not just because I don’t have very much :)

I also liked Marie Kondo's method for storing clothes hanging in a wardrobe. The basic concept is to hang long and heavy garments on the left, and light and shorter garments on the right, in the order of coats, dresses, jackets, skirts & trousers then blouses. Also, hang anything that looks like it would be happier hung. Intuition plays a part here. I also decided to hang everything on the same style coat hanger, cause, you know. 

Finally, even my two boys didn't escape my tidy. By adopting Marie Kondo's suggestion to fold everything vertically I was finally able to restore some order to their clothes drawers. They have more clothes than I do, so it was necessary.

2. Books

This is the only instance where it’s OK to judge a book by its cover. You can read books not based on their cover, but when it comes to a decision of what to keep and what to discard you should only keep the ones you love to look at, or pick up and hold. The content is entirely irrelevant. Keeping books based on content is pointless. That’s what libraries are for. The point of books is to read the content and then retain something of that content, inside your head. Not on your shelves. 

3. Papers

I have only three folders for paperwork now based on the advice in this book. One for 'Currently in use' (Jesse’s passport application, an appointment letter for the hospital, Father’s Day cards to write), one for 'Needed for a limited period of time' (Lease contracts, water bills, mobile phone contracts, receipts and product warranties) and 'Needed Indefinitely' (Decree Absolute, My Will etc). These folders all sit on a shelf in my storage cupboard. 

4. Miscellaneous 

This was the most fun category for me! It includes...well pretty much everything not covered by the other four categories (sentimental comes last). Once I had decided what dvds, cds, bathroom supplies, hair accessories, perfumes, gifts, baking trays etc I loved and wanted to keep, I found my home just kind of ‘offered up’ storage though the things were telling me where they wanted to be stored and how. By this stage in the process my decision making skills were getting quite refined and I just instinctively started to know where everything wanted to belong. 

My major wins in sorting this category were; 
a) I found tucked away inside my iPhone packaging a little cable to convert the pesky phone jack into one that is compatible to the aux lead for my Roberts radio. This makes me happy on so many levels, namely being that I was going to buy an iPhone dock, which is now no longer necessary. Also it means I get more use out of two things I have paid good money for; my radio and my Spotify subscription. Amen to that. 
b) The empty iPhone box became the perfect storage solution for all my favourite hair accessories and the need for the fussy, porcelain butterfly shaped tray that I used to keep just because was removed. 
c) I came across a washing machine in my storage cupboard. Laugh all you will, this is an actual thing I was storing in my cupboard for the last three years because the kitchen where I live was fitted with one already when I moved in. The crazy part? I LOVE my washing machine. It is black, it is silent, it treats my clothes well, it is Hotpoint...and it is brand new. I used it for a grand total of seven or eight months before I moved and I decided it was superfluous. I actually chose to use the old, unknown white cheap brand washing machine that my landlady clearly said I could dispose of...for no reason. I just do not know why I did this. The moral of the story is how crazy people can be when they fail to think things through and just let their stuff accumulate around them and settle for second best. The very best part of the whole washing machine gate was actually selling the old machine for spares and repairs the same day I decided to get rid of it to a bloke who actually came and took it off my hands. I used the money to buy my favourite face wash by Clarins. Literally, if you can’t see the magic by now I think you may be immune...

5. Sentimental

Saving the hardest til last. Picking up every sentimental thing I had kept, hoarded or saved over the years and deciding to keep only what I loved was hard to say the least. But I love it all! I can’t possibly throw that away, it’s irreplaceable? Several statements running through my mind before I tackled this category. But you know what? I DON’T love it all. The entire folder of, for want of a better word, sh*t that I kept from a trip to NYC? No I don’t love that. I love NYC. I love my memories of it. But I do not love subway tickets, Knicks tickets, nor any other piece of paper with words written on them. The exception was my copy of the New York Times, which is a joy to hold, touch and look at. So I kept that. 

Another pile I found hard was all my old sketchbooks. But Marie Kondo suggests that as most people won’t be routing around inside your cupboards you can decorate them to make them attractive and boost your spirit. So I tore out my favourite old sketches along with my favourite greetings cards and stuck them around the home inside various cupboards. Now I smile every time I look at them and they get seen every day, as opposed to...well, never. The most amazing feeling from getting rid of all this old stuff is looking under my bed and seeing the light at the other side. There is nothing under there anymore, and all that light and energy is free to flow around me while I sleep.

By far the hardest jobs lot of emotional crap I got rid of (and friends who know me well will confirm this book must really have affected me for me to go this far), was twenty years worth of diaries and journals. I’ve been keeping the damn things since I was ten years old. Sweet in places, amazingly happy in others, and downright miserable in parts..they needed to go. I do not need a physical written reminder of a past relationship anymore than I do a hole in the head. So the last to face the judge, jury & executioner was my enormous weighty pile of hardback diaries and they pretty much all went on the  ‘to burn’ pile. Every last detail gone into the fire and now only accessible in the way I can recall them as memories in my mind. And in my opinion that’s the best way to remember things - the way I want to remember them. I kept only two; based on the fact that they are leather bound gold leaf Aspinal ones that incidentally tell the full story of my pregnancy with Leonardo (2015) and the one I’m using now which documents daily life during Jesse’s first year. The weight that has lifted from my shoulders in making this realisation, at the end of my festival of tidying is the true Life Changing Magic. Truly putting your home in order is confronting your past, letting it go and finally being able to move forwards as a free spirit open to the boundless opportunities life has to offer.

© Sophie De-Roe
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