Lovely Blog, Lovely Supportive Family

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Finding mutual support is one of the great things in blogging. I am very happy to nominate She Cleans Up  for One Lovely Blog Award.  By opening up her own experience, and sharing the trials and tribulations of coping with complex family behaviour, She Cleans Up is helping others learn coping strategies, and even sometimes have a chuckle about the thorny issue of hoarding. Keep it up, She Cleans Up! I’ve already put you on my blogroll for others to stop by and see how things are progressing.

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House of Hoarders

Hi Poppy,

I have a problem with my household.

It’s full of too much stuff. Sometimes I dread walking in the front door when I get home from work because I know the house will be so disheveled that it gets me down.  It’s mostly not my stuff, but the belongings of the other members of the family – my husband and my teenage kids. It’s like they can’t throw anything out, and get angry and upset if they catch me throwing things out. These items are not treasures by any means: my daughter has saved every stuffed animal she ever owned, and has this gigantic pile of stuffed animals taking up a whole corner of her bedroom. The rest of the room is similarly filled with piles of crap up to the eyeballs. Another daughter, now almost twenty years old, insists on keeping a whole series of tutus that would fit a six-year-old that she wore in her childhood ballet classes. Her room is also up to the eyeballs in other unsorted belongings. My husband is no better; he has kept every piece of anything that his mother ever gave him -

The sock snowman looks harmless, but he's from the house of hoarders!

Tchotchkes from hell!

complete junky tchotchkes purchased in souvenir stores. In our house, every space, including the garage, is packed with junk, most of it unloved, worthless crap. Nothing is organized. Everything is a mess. It’s depressing. It makes me physically and emotionally ill. No one seems happy, and tempers are frequently frayed. Sometimes I fantasize about moving away so I can have my own restful, ordered space.

Sign me,

House of Hoarders

Dear House of Hoarders,

The objects you selected to illustrate your problem reveal your own analysis of it: a six-year-old’s tutus, a child’s stuffed animals, and silly gifts from your husband’s elderly mother. These childish objects have an active, visible presence in your family’s life, suggesting they offer some kind of reassurance from a fondly remembered past, when each person’s role was more child-like. You have also endorsed this trait by allowing the (then) six-year-old to hang onto these objects, now for many years it seems.

No one knows why people hoard things.  Your problem is composed of a host of emotional elements that are difficult to define or act upon. Instead of trying to analyze that whole ball of hairy wax,  focus on your goal: peace of mind. You have already identified what conflicts with that goal: an overabundance of objects and a lack of organization. Let’s address each of these separately.

Overabundance of objects

Consumer culture glorifies the new and novel, and it values accumulation of multiples, even if they’re  shoddily made or mass produced. We buy a lot of stuff, and then we feel guilty discarding it because ‘there’s nothing wrong with it.” You may have unwittingly encouraged these ‘preservation’ characteristics of your family, and they may actually see positive traits in their hoarding, such as frugality, recycling, preserving memories, etc.

Downsizing after divorce

A friend who had to downsize from a large house after a divorce adopted the following tactic successfully: She bought her two kids one large plastic storage container each. Into this one container she said, they could take with them only their most favourite treasures from their rooms. Anything they could squeeze into the storage container they could keep. All the rest would be donated or thrown out. She also bought a similar container for herself, and together they spent an afternoon working together on building the new life that awaited them. Your husband’s tchotchkes warrant similar treatment: in the New World Order you are installing, he must care for these precious objects appropriately – in a newly purchased curio cabinet. Anything that fits into this cabinet he can keep, and the rest he must let go.

The disorganized mind

The situation you describe is not just one of accumulation, but one of disorganization.  The definition of clutter is a mass of objects with no homes. Help the homeless! Get organized!

Organization does not come naturally to everyone.  A disorganized person needs to have everything in view because their mental filing systems are so haphazard that if they put anything away, they will likely lose it.

So, find homes for everything. Start with one item that they are constantly losing, but need every day, as in, “Always leave your glasses in the cupboard by the piano.”Your running shoes live in that shoebox by the back door.” Another good place to start is shared items. Disorganized people are made crazy by other people moving things. Collaborate in identifying ‘homes’ for shared items, and insist that everyone always store them there.

If you get any push back, my friendly advice is to haul out the big guns. Tell them the truth: that you are literally sick from the condition of the house.  Describe the mysterious physical ailments that you are certainly experiencing: Difficulty breathing? Sleeplessness? Heart palpitations? Do you literally have pains in your neck?  Never underestimate how literal your body will be in trying to teach you about an unbearable situation.

If you ‘come clean’ you may find that your family have been feeling the same way, and are relieved they can finally shed all that old baggage.

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Exceptional Business Etiquette

perennial happy face

Effective business communication keeps everyone happy and business rolling along.

Email, phone calls and meetings are the information fuel lines that keep your workplace running at top performance. Optimize your communications in seven simple steps:

1. Don’t waste people’s time.

Joel Babbit, the CEO of Mother Nature Network hates long meetings. He told Corner Office: ” the higher up you go in a corporation… the shorter the meetings…You meet with the vice president, that’s an hour. You meet with the chief financial officer, that’s half an hour. You meet with the CEO, it’s 10 minutes…same thing with returning phone calls: assistant vice president takes four days; vice president takes two days; the CFO in one day; the CEO calls you back in 10 minutes…that’s how he got where he is.” Want to get somewhere? Don’t waste people’s time. Same goes for emails or phone calls – get to the point without being short or insulting. Being straightforward and succinct shows respect for your colleague’s time, and indicates that you have things to do yourself.

2. Be organized.

Return someone’s call after you’ve reviewed the file, not as you’re scrolling through your database looking for their record. Nobody wants to wait on the phone while you get yourself organized.  Implement consistent systems for storing information. You know the difference between long-term memory and short-term memory? Don’t try to keep all the facts in your head. File them in a location where they can retrieved instantly. And clean your desktop, both physically and virtually.

3. Be informative.

The worst kind of managers are information hogs. They read somewhere that ‘information is power’ and they decide to keep it all to themselves. They think ‘share’ is a financial word. Don’t be one of them. Say things, don’t insinuate them. Don’t ask your colleagues to play ‘whack a mole’ when they need a direct answer. When writing an email, make the subject line and message meaningful, not mysterious. If you’re responding to something time-sensitive, put your answer in the subject line, if at all possible. For instance, here’s a message from a colleague:

Subject:    Jack

Message:   Has Jack left? Do you have a cell number for him? I need to catch him before he gets on the plane.

Your reply?  Subject line: Jack’s gone. 212-878-9900.

No further message required.

Same goes for long email strings on the same subject.  Change the subject line to reflect the content of your response. Nobody wants to hunt through through a series of replies all with the same  subject line looking for THE message they need.

4. Be respectful and considerate.

Courtesy is always appreciated. This especially goes for faceless communications such as email. Email is the enemy of the short-fused. Trying to be brief and efficient can brew impulsive and seemingly rude emails, or incomplete messages that convey the wrong impression. Re-read what you write before sending it. Fill in the address line last, so you don’t fire off ill-considered or abrasive commands.  Include a greeting and a sign-off, even if it’s just an initial.

6. Be specific.

If Jack’s facing a deadline, he doesn’t need communications that say things like, “Time’s a wasting” or “We need this soon.” When do you need it exactly? Today by 11? Next week? The same goes for dates – always include the Day of the Week, as in, Tuesday, June 5th. People can respond to specific requests, but are frustrated by vague demands.

7. Be business-like

Business communication doesn’t have to be stiff, but consider your interlocutor in all your communications – some people appreciate emoticons (I do : ^ )  !!  and some people don’t.  Your IT department will probably hate you if you clog up the bandwidth with lots of clip art doodads and pictures in your email. But working life needs colour, too, so if your colleagues are attuned to it, customize or send the Daily Dilbert. If they are not, it’s best to follow the approved template and keep your communications crisp and (your organization’s version of) buttoned down.

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7 Steps to Raising Powerful Children

Torn photograph from a 1940s photo album

Families have changed, but parents still want to raise powerful kids.

Raising Powerful Children

When you become a parent, you’re given an opportunity to change the world, so make yourself a promise: you will raise your child to be a courageous, compassionate, imaginative, tolerant, and disciplined person by being one yourself.

As a parent, you can empower your kids to create meaningful, self-directed and courageous lives. When you interact with your kid:

1. Respect his fears,

…but don’t embellish them with your own worries or concerns.

2. Allow him to take things at his own pace,

…but don’t ‘overwrite’ your kid’s work, or do his homework for him. He learns by trying to do things that are hard for him.

3. Never glorify violence or punishment.

The world can be a violent place.Resolve to cultivate the discipline of a martial artist, whose capacity for violent response is always balanced with self-discipline.

4. Never humiliate her.

Only a coward humiliates another person. Being courageous requires empathy and compassion. I watched a conversation between a father and a four-year-old in a diner. As the girl told the rest of the family seated with them that she liked honey, the father said she didn’t like honey. “Yes, I do, ” she said. “I tasted it once and I liked it.” He hardly let her finish, because he was angrily shouting, “YOU are a CHILD, and children DON’T KNOW!” His outburst was illogical and rude. Certainly she knew whether honey tasted good or not, and he just came across as stupid and overbearing. It’s hard to see how his daughter would ever respect his opinion about anything. By trying to humiliate her, he ended up humiliating himself.

5. Avoid sarcasm or criticism.

Children are not equipped to counter your sarcasm. It embeds itself in their well-being like a thorn. If a child’s performance at a task could be improved, it’s up to you to provide assistance, not build your own ego with personal criticism. Teach in small steps which can be accomplished with pride. Never overwhelm a child with overly complex tasks and then ridicule their attempt.

6. Prepare her for challenging situations.

You can often anticipate challenging situations in a child’s life, such as the first day of school, first swimming lesson, or attending a formal event such as a wedding. Without painting horror stories or worst case scenarios that create worry, you can help the child imagine themselves encountering new challenges, and consider how they will respond or what they will do if they need direction.

7. Set an example with your own courageous behaviour.

They used to say, “You can take the measure of a man by the size of the things that make him mad.” Role models are not everything, but your children watch you and listen to everything you say. If you respond with fear or anger to situations, your child comes to learn helplessness and outrage. If you exhibit courage, you teach your child that we all have inner reserves of strength to meet the unexpected.

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Got a Problem?

thinking, depression

Talking things over helps solve most problems.
Photo by: anitapatterson Morgue File

Looking for good advice?   Obnoxious boss? Noisy neighbours? Awkward moment? Unwelcome invitation?

I’ve Got a Problem Blog is here for you. Add your story to the Comment string on any post and Let’s Talk Things Over, or send an email to:

Poppy (underscore) Fox (at) rocketmail (dot) com

Posted in Career Advice, General Angst, Love Life Advice, Parenting Advice, What's Your Problem | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Fickle Friend

I need friendship advice:

Doll sitting on a wooden chair

Competition for seating can be fierce at the friendship picnic.

I had been working with a woman who became a close friend for about a year. Years before, she had divorced the guy she married in high school, and had been single since. She had a great career and a couple of teenage kids living with her part time. Her ex-husband was a decent dad, but otherwise, they had nothing to do with each other. I had just broken up with a long-time boyfriend at the time, too, and so I guess we had plenty to commiserate about, but we also shared a lot of interests. I knew she had been lonely, and she felt humiliated by a guy she dated for a short while at work, who didn’t treat her very well.  Then she met a guy online who lived a couple hours away, who began courting her pretty seriously – long late night phone calls, visits, flowers. She told me about all these attentions, but never introduced him to me. She began spending more and more time with him, and eventually quit her job and moved to his town to live with him. Happy ending, correct? My problem is, I considered her a really good friend, and enjoyed her friendship, but since she met Mr. Right there’s been no contact.  She never calls me. I have never met her new man, and when I got her new number from someone and left a message for her, she never returned my call. I was included in one mass email she sent to everyone she knew here talking about how she’dmet the love of her life”. It’s hard for me to believe that she’d cut me off so completely – I thought we were the best of friends. I never felt angry about it, just sort of shocked and hurt, and I miss her company. I don’t know why she treated me this way, and I don’t know if there’s any way to rekindle the friendship. I just feel,

Dumped

Dear Dumped,

By your own admission, your friend has already seen the seamy side of love enough times to know that people are fallible, and not always constant – even when they promise to be till death does them in! That goes for best friends, too. How many songs are there about my best friend’s girlfriend”? What you’re experiencing, dear, is the time-honoured strategy of dicing up competition before it gets on the field.  Consider yourself from her point of view: similar interests and freshly unattached. Alarm bells were going off in her head the minute you started grousing about your boyfriend, I’m sure. She met a new guy, and clearly, she did not want you waltzing into view to upstage her.

Lovers need a lot of room

If it helps at all, you’re not alone in being dumped by a friend in favour of a new love interest.  Friends routinely ditch friends for lovers. Research at the University of Oxford shows that on average, people shed one friend and one family member when they start a new romantic relationship.  Lovers take up a lot of room, and somebody has to make it. Looks like it was you in this case. Sending out a mass email about it all does seem a little extreme, I admit. Sounds like she had a few axes to grind with that cake mail list, but forgive her decision to board another ship and sail away. Ah, that beautiful bubble of newly minted love, when the whole rest of the world disappears from view. Remember that?

Love of her life

Take heart and be happy for her. It sounds like she was looking for an old-fashioned type after a recent stinging humiliation, and who can blame her? Flowers and late night phone calls sound pretty good, don’t they? No wonder she was determined to hang onto the ‘love of her life’ once she found him. She did the musical chairs analysis, Dumped, and I’m sorry, she got her ass in the seat before you did.

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Ten Lost Years

Dear I’ve Got a Problem:

My problem is I’ve lost the last ten years! I don’t know where they went. Can you help?

Signed,

Stumped

Dear Stumped,

Barring chronic illness or an overdose of really drawn out higher education, you probably left the last ten years in the usual place: preparing to do things you never ended up doing. You may have heard a vague sucking sound in the distance on some days when the air was just right and you were attuned to the universe – that was the sound of a slow leak in what you meant to accomplish.

Analyze your own problem

A person’s fictional signature is often a clue to their own analysis of their problem. In your case, your chosen name “Stumped” might easily have been something like “50, not 40” or “Assistant  to the Dean” or “Vice-president”.  Are you feeling cut off from attaining a long-treasured top spot in your profession? Or have you spent too much time training for something instead of stepping into the ring / onto the stage / or into the light? Are you afraid to be seen trying?

Optimism…Fake It Till You Make It

Ten years is nothing. Don’t waste another year looking for them. In a recent (July 2012) New York Times article, psychologist Elaine Fox, who studies the positive effects of optimism, says “What really makes the difference is action…If you sit back passively, you won’t get the job you want.” She means that in the sense of fashioning the life you want. “The important thing is having a sense of control over your life, your destiny.”  The Optimist’s plan of action can be summed up as “Fake It Until You Make It” or “Do it, then Learn How.”

To recoup the ten years you kissed away waiting for somebody to notice how terrific you are and hire/promote/ or marry you, screw your courage to the sticking place, my friend, and ‘fake it until you make it’. Make a list of things you want to do, start at number 1 and go for it. Buy the plane ticket, or make the call, or pack your bag. Like that 70s song, there must be 50 ways to get off the shelf.

Always the Bridesmaid…

If you continue to always stand for election merely as the bridesmaid, honey, face it, you’re never going to be the bride. At this point in your life, you probably have the money to go buy yourself the ring and the dress, and pay for the big party, so stop  waiting around for someone else to  propose, and sprout some new branches out of that stump.

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