If you need proof that LEAP YEAR, the new book by Helen Russell, actually works, read on! Helen is the author of the bestselling The Year of Living Danishly (and the person who brought hygge to the UK!) – but her new book tackles a much bigger topic: when so many of us are filled with indecision and fear of change, what can we actually do to change our lives for the better, and for good?
We’ve been conducting our own experiments in-house, road-testing the theories from the book, and improving our own lives along the way. In today’s blog, Kate, Senior Editor and the person who has just published LEAP YEAR, takes you behind the scenes and shows you how this book has changed her life (and the life of her desk neighbour!)…
I have many, many character flaws, but if you asked a) my boyfriend and b) my boss/desk neighbour what my biggest flaw is I’m pretty sure they’d say, in unison, SHE IS MESSY. I am. It’s almost a talent; a kind of Midas touch for chaos. I’m Bernard Black in Black Books. When I walk into a hotel room everything I’ve packed leaps out of my suitcase and strews itself across the floor. My desk is a disaster zone.
So when I read the chapter on Home in LEAP YEAR (surrounded by piles of paper and empty coffee cups) I thought that maybe I could use it to try to sort of my desk. And then, possibly, the rest of my life. There are loads of great techniques in this chapter, but the one that I felt I’d be most able to implement was what Helen called The Danish Art of Decluttering. Long story short, if it doesn’t either have a specific function, or enhance your existence through being a Nice Thing, it goes. Doesn’t matter whether it’s a picture of a hedgehog little Horatio painted on a rock for you – unless you actually feel attached to it.
This was phase one and two of the desk clearout, anyway – and it was really freeing to stop worrying about what I thought I needed and just go, ‘Do I need it?’ or ‘Do I like it?’ Another thing that Helen notes in the book is that the longer you do it, the more ruthless you get! Half a day later, and my desk was as clean as a whistle. That’s when stage 3 comes in – putting back a few touches that either make a desk an oasis, or (as in the case of hygge), make a house a home. For me, this mostly consisted of edible things. Tea, vegemite (what? It’s an iconic piece of design.), coffee beans, biscuits…but you might have less food-centric tastes. From that point on I tried to instigate Helen’s ‘one in, one out’ rule’. Working away over the next few months, I felt remarkably…light. And, er, I knew where everything was. And I was less likely to spill coffee on my keyboard. And we all lived happily ever after.
…well, almost. A few months down the line, I noticed that the mess had crept back. I say I noticed: mostly I noticed that my boss had built a wall of books between our desks so she didn’t have to look at mine. And this is where another of Helen’s techniques from elsewhere in the book came in – in the past, I’d have been tempted to just write it all off as a failure. But actually, I now had the skills to clear it again, and faster and more efficiently: so I did. It turns out, when you struggle to make changes, the only way to fix it is to go right back to the beginning and start again. It’s not the magic fix so many people promise us when it comes to improving our lives, but at the same time it’s not rocket science, and it actually WORKS.