They say you learn something new every day.

Posts tagged ‘flats’

Moving Times (11/02/2012)

I’m moving house again.

These days, I seem to move house almost every year. I think it gets easier over time. I can’t say I’ve got it down to a fine art (like George Clooney travelling in Up in the Air) but I’ve down it enough times now to know to keep the boxes stored somewhere between moves and things like that.

This time, because I’m hoping to buy a flat soon, I’m renting somewhere for six months which means I’ll be moving again in 5 and a half months time. In some ways it’s a little unsettling. In other ways, it’s upsetting. Of all the places I’ve lived in London, this is my favourite, and I’ll be sad to see it go. Of course, if all goes according to plan, I’ll be moving back in a few months time to a nearby flat. But you never know until the keys are in your hand.

The process has flagged a few things to me though.

It’s made me realise how expensive moving is. But also helped put money into perspective. Sure, you end up paying several hundred pounds in one month, but in no time at all, that cost disappears. Costs are quite transitory like that. It’s reminded me that money is just there to buy you freedom and happiness and to pay for your life. Obviously, your expectations of money vary depending on how much of it you have. When you have enough for a deposit, you start thinking about buying a flat. If you just have enough for a few drinks, you maybe think of going to the pub. The amount you have affects how you think about life.

It’s also made me realise that so few of the things that make me happy cost money. Spending time with my friends and with L. Reading and writing. Messing around with computers and code. Films and TV. These things are largely free. Obviously I need a computer, and maybe I could get a big TV. But these are minor things. What I really want is to have my own place to live which is mine and is safe so no one can take it away (like our previous landlord did).

Finally, it’s reminded me again how much stuff I have. But, more crucially, how little of it I really use. I’ve felt this lesson keenly the last few Christmasess, where I’ve wanted a WiFi Radio (used for about a week, then stopped using), cordless headphones (used for about a month, then gave up) and some GameCube games for my old games console (played for about a week).

The only thing I’ve got that isn’t now just taking up more space as I lug it from place to place is my Kindle. Which I love. There are so few things like that. Other than my computer, laptop, phone and kindle, there aren’t any other consumable electrical devices that I want. I don’t even have room in my life for them.

But it’s more than that. As I empty my cupboards, I’m shocked by just how much stuff is there. I haven’t really forgotten about any of it, it’s just when you see it all, it amazes me how much there is. And it’s faintly confusing how I feel like I need it, and I can’t throw it away, but I never use it.

Half of my moving time seems to go into boxing up things that I don’t want.

I’ve learnt that I don’t need to buy any other things (I forgot to mention my jumping stilts and my mini laptop, that sit around unused these days).

I’ve learnt that I don’t need much stuff. And in fact, I should spend more time focusing on what I do want. Give the stuff you do want to use space to breath rather than cramping it in with stuff you don’t want. It’s like designing a user interface. You don’t cramp the button you’re going to use a lot right at the bottom of the screen surrounded by buttons you never use.

Finally, I reminded again about recalibrating. I’ve always known I like having fewer things. When I move I always clear up as well. I always say I’ll just get out what I need. But I still have so much stuff. I almost need to pack all my stuff up every month or six months, just how much there is that I don’t need.

Don’t look back in anger (24/01/2012)

I’m in the middle of a situation at the moment. My landlord (a hideous multi-million pound corporation) has cut short my contract and is throwing me out of my flat (they gave me notice on Christmas Eve). They want to sell the flat. But they don’t have a buyer lined up, they haven’t put it on the market and they don’t even know what the flat looks like.

When we asked for a month’s extension, they refused.

I’ve taken this opportunity to see if I can afford to buy a flat, and at the moment I’m waiting on the seller to come back to me. It’s a hideous experience, and the most stressful thing of my life.

A few times now, when thinking about my project to “write about something new I’ve learnt every day”, I’ve thought that if I get this flat I’ll write about how disasters are an opportunity. And if I don’t I’ll write about how sometimes you have to know when to walk away.

However, this is ridiculous. I’m arguing it both ways. And an explanation that works both ways is meaningless. It can explain anything. I came across this idea in Thinking Fast and Slow a few days ago:

A story in Nassim Taleb’s The Black Swan illustrates this automatic search for causality. He reports that bond prices initially rose on the day of Saddam Hussein’s capture in his hiding place in Iraq. Investors were apparently seeking safer assets that morning, and the Bloomberg News service flashed this headline: U.S. TREASURIES RISE; HUSSEIN CAPTURE MAY NOT CURB TERRORISM. Half an hour later, bond prices fell back and the revised headline read: U.S. TREASURIES FALL; HUSSEIN CAPTURE BOOSTS ALLURE OF RISKY ASSETS. Obviously, Hussein’s capture was the major event of the day, and because of the way the automatic search for causes shapes our thinking, that event was destined to be the explanation of whatever happened in the market on that day. The two headlines look superficially like explanations of what happened in the market, but a statement that can explain two contradictory outcomes explains nothing at all.

Again, this is something I’d come across before (and even written about before) in a talk by Michael Blastland:

It’s amazing how powerful these beliefs can be. Michael Blastland tells the story of a journalist looking at the figures for alcohol consumption during the recession. He saw that alcohol consumption had gone up.

“Oh,” he thought, “that follows, since people have lost their jobs and have gone out to drown their sorrows.”

Then he realised, this was before the recession had started. After this, alcohol consumption had actually gone down.

“Oh,” he thought, “well, that makes sense, since during the recession people have less money and so can’t afford to go out.”

Then he realised the figures were for 2007.

In each case, he was able to justify the figures by fitting them into his existing worldview. The point is, he could have justified it either way, and then used it as a headline to support his argument.

The point in both of these things is that as humans we look for “agency”. By that, I mean we assume there is a reason for things. In fact, often there isn’t. Often stuff just happens.

As Daniel Kahneman explains:

The prominence of causal intuitions is a recurrent theme in this book because people are prone to apply causal thinking inappropriately, to situations that require statistical reasoning.

I think this is a key thing. And there’s a confirmation bias here as well. When we do something, and then things go well, we assume that things went well because we did that thing. If we pick our lucky number, or pray or even something that seems logical, like make a compelling argument, and then something happen, we think we made it happen. In fact, that thing might have happened anyway for a different reason entirely.

If you want to get to the heart of something and make a difference, you need to fight against this view. Which is very difficult because we’re hard-wired to think like this. There’s a video of some triangles moving around, created psychologist Fritz Heider. It’s just shapes, but as you watch it it’s almost impossible not to create personalities for the different triangles.

Sometimes, you have to avoid seeing patterns where there are no patterns. 

Tag Cloud