I have read a lot of books about personal development, productivity, organisation, home management, and so on, in my attempts to wade through adult life.
I’ve managed to pick up a lot of good tips over the years.
I think it’s fantastic that there is even more content like this on TV – Queer Eye, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, The Home Edit.
I absolutely love self-help. There is almost always an insight that helps me look at the world or my life in a new way – even when the topic doesn’t feel obviously relevant to my life, or I think the author’s approach is a bit off the wall.
But when it comes to actually seeing improvements or changes that feel like they make my life easier or better… well, let’s just say I quickly find myself looking for the next book to solve my problems.
I’ve wondered why this is. Is there a problem with me? With the system? Well, surely the next title will have the answer.
But as I’ve been reflecting more on how I’m organising my life, I’ve felt that there are some common issues why the systems and techniques that seem so inspired (even foolproof!) in these books don’t seem to solve my problems.
Most household management advice is written by people who are good at it.
The experts are brilliant. But they’re too good at what they do.
People are different – and the kind of person who keeps a spotless house probably can’t understand what it feels like to spend an hour having an internal debate over whether or not to keep a bag full of bags.
Sometimes it is dangerous to take advice from someone who is really good at the thing you are trying to do. Their viewpoint is so different that they can’t understand what it’s like to be struggling
Most self-help books are written for individuals, but the problems belong to families.
It makes complete sense that most of this kind of advice is written for the consumption of an individual reader. But most of us live with other people. (And even folks who live alone can find their relationships affecting the efficacy of this kind of household advice.)
It makes me think of what a revelation family systems therapy must have felt like when it first appeared. It was radical to focus on how people function in relationship rather than just an individual being psychoanalysed in isolation. (I am not a therapist, so please excuse the generalisations!)
I feel like a similar approach is needed for how we run our domestic lives.
It is true that we cannot change other people – but a family home is a shared environment. No system is going to work unless everyone is on the same page.
Epiphany is not the same thing as action.
It’s easy to mistake the lightbulb moment for the moment of change.
These books are packed with wise words, and it’s easy to get excited by new insight and possibility. I know this feeling all too well. Somehow it feels like by reading the book, I have done the the work – but I haven’t really, I’ve just added another title to my reading list.
The real magic isn’t taking in information – it’s actually putting it into action.
So now what? It’s time to be honest with myself.
I think part of why I read so many of these books is chasing the high of the next epiphany.
It starts to feel like if I just find the right expert answer everything will fall into place. But our lives are actually made of the things we can do (and want to do) every day.
Looking outwards for these ideas – rather than engaging in focused introspection about the kind of action that is realistic for my life – is missing the point.
I have no intention of giving up my self-help reading habit. (I love it too much.) But what I’m really looking for now is a way to work around these pitfalls.
Different people need different strategies.
Figuring out how we negotiate change with our loved ones is as important as the changes themselves.
And accepting ourselves and the truth about our own priorities is key to adapting brilliant ideas to our actual lives.