Tag Archives: clutter

Update on my 2019 “resolutions”


It’s over 6 months – yikes over half way – into 2019. Time for an update on my kinda, sorta resolutions. This is my second year nailing down specific, simple things I’d like to accomplish. I consider it a positive new thing. It gives focus and a certain order to my year.

I have read 25 books. The goal, which I expected to exceed, was 20. The most recent was the 400+ page Maybe You Should Talk To Someone by Lori Gottlieb. It’s part memoir, part nonfiction, a fascinating book for anyone psychologically minded. It gave me a lot to think about. It’s the longest book I’ve read since I got serious about reading again (less internet, more books).

I have slacked entirely so far as continuing the Italian language cds I started in late 2018. I think it’s because I didn’t feel successful. I never felt I had a knack for languages and I can’t say my opinion has improved! I will try again but maybe a different cd set. I can’t give up this easily; I mean, geez, I should nail down a few phrases at least.

I have kept up my crossword puzzles hobby and, as planned, got a hold of several New York Times Sunday papers so I could try theirs. I really like the NYT puzzle. The puzzles increase in difficulty over the course of a week (one of my commenters pointed this out to me but I didn’t know which day the NYT “week” officially started). The puzzle is easiest on Monday and most difficult Saturday,  with Sunday’s puzzle being equivalent to a Thursday in difficulty. Having that measuring stick is useful.

I didn’t do as well on all the puzzles I tried as the one pictured but I’m still pecking away at them (without using the internet for solutions). The puzzles are created by different people and a short bio is included. A 25 year old named Erik Agard, a professional puzzle maker, had, as of June 2, contributed nine puzzles to the Times this year, more than anyone else. Professional puzzle maker! At 25!! I look at the puzzles and (very) vaguely wonder if I could make them. I don’t see how you’d even begin. Daunting. Which makes the 25 year old maker that much more impressive.

My favorite thing from the NYT however, is “Spelling Bee” , a challenge of making words from proffered letters. I don’t know exactly what it is about this but I love coming up with words. I need a framework though, and as with “Spelling Bee” a way to rate my progress. The Times has: Good, Excellent, and Genius scores. Naturally I’m striving for Genius! And occasionally with actual success! (So why aren’t there JOBS that need such a skill?😕) Useful or not, I always enjoyed finding words from random letters but now I see the importance of such word games in keeping your mind sharp, more so as you age.  Mental (and physical) challenges were part of 2019’s resolutions.

My self-instructed yoga got off to a good start. I’ve done the “sun salutation” – a five minute pose set – 21 of a planned 50 times. Additionally I’ve done 30 minutes plus of yoga 12 of 25 planned times. I haven’t been doing yoga recently because I’m very active outdoors in Spring and Summer and I really don’t need extra exercise. I’ll plan to pick it back up later in the year. Since I’ve done just about half, I think I should hit my goals by December’s end. I’m intent enough that I bought a DVD player for the TV in the living room – the only spot in the home big enough – where I “practice” yoga, primarily using library DVDs. I tried different ones to see who I’d like. I’ve never used exercise DVDs so this is new. It kind of makes you feel like you have company although I wonder if repeatedly watching the same one or few would get old? (I won’t pony up for classes and don’t feel the need.) I think if you get bored of hearing the same things, you can turn the volume down and just follow the poses.

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Sun Salutation (simple 5-minute set of poses

 

I regularly de-clutter and get rid of stuff – and have been at it for years – so at the end of December I made a modest goal to get rid of 15 things. What was I thinking?! I’ve already let go of 125 things. I surprised myself. Getting rid of stuff is addictive, though. And really, I’m down to almost all little things. It feels awfully good to shake off debris that no longer serves you. Keeping a list makes it more fun. Same with the other numerical goals.

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A sample selection

 

I have not made any Thai food (yet). A Thai-inspired Cole Slaw prompted that goal.i

This wasn’t in the January post but after an unusual year of indulgence of sorts (relative I assure you) I wanted to bring my food spending down. I was prompted to spend less as a goal because the  $2,200 I spent on food in 2018 seemed like a lot and was decidedly more than I’d ever spent. I have markedly cut my food spending in the first 6 months of 2019 but I wonder how much of that owes to the fact I had, I see in retrospect, the equivalent of a small grocery store in my home! I had quite a stockpile going on. You’d think a stash like that would just last & last but no, it seems I ate most of it.😐

In the first six months I spent $766 on food, which, if doubled and divided by 365 is about $4.20 a day. I did this NOT by dieting or going hungry but by eliminating pricier products or prepared foods like the $5 pound of hummus I treated myself to occasionally in 2018. (That hummus is now $5.50 and shouldn’t a home cook like me be making her own hummus anyway?) I bought only fish (frozen or canned) and shellfish, no other animals (which is not to say I never will but as of now have no thought to). Other than Olive and Sesame I haven’t bought any fancy oils, such as the delicious Avocado oil I bought a few times in 2018. I’ve eaten well, nutritiously, and plentifully (I have to for my activity level), no complaints. At this rate, one I’m not sure I’ll maintain, I’d spend $600 less on food this year than last. I’ll be satisfied if I cut it by $300 (more beans, less pasta.😁) and that seems like a realistic or probable savings by year’s end.

The only real indulgence I’ve kept – so far – is an occasional bottle of Kalamata Olives. The point of cutting my food spending isn’t to be a martyr or self-punishing in any respect. I ADORE food and its importance in my life can’t be overstated. It’s to see if I can spend less and still be happy with my food and to get myself to make even more foods at home.

I’ve watched (or watched again) two Marx Brothers films. Who said goals can’t be fun?! I know I need it, more levity, and the Marx Brothers are a sure thing. I have watched A LOT of movies and several series this year but I’m not too concerned so long as nothing more important is short-changed. This is the first time I’ve kept a list; I simply had no idea how many hours I spend watching DVDs and I wanted to know.IMG_20190708_122736

Lastly, I ‘m maintaining my physical health and with the yoga earlier this year, definitely challenging myself. I was pleased to find I kept up with everything the instructors were doing in the DVDs. On other fronts, I haven’t mastered a chin-up or pull-up 😁 – something I’ve mentioned – but I don’t really expect to.

(More) thoughts on clutter and “stuff”

Every time I go through my stuff I find more to get rid of. I wonder how that can (still) be. I am far from a hoarder and I’ve worked diligently to create a home that is organized, user-friendly, and attractive. I have shed so much. I give away A LOT of things so I am uncertain at times how there can still be more to purge! I look around and say “What is all this sh*t??” WHAT IS IT??

In the last several weeks I’ve given away several bagfuls of belongings and moved many others by the road with a “FREE” sign. It feels good. It always feels good. I am in no danger, however, of sitting around in four bare walls holding just a bowl and a spoon.

I do believe we as humans tend to take over whatever space is available to us. It’s only when we move to smaller quarters do a lot of people, willingly or otherwise, get rid of lot of junk. I don’t want to wait for that. I want to stay on top of it.

One thing I am trying to do – and it’s utterly new to me – is become comfortable with empty spaces. A shelf with nothing on it. A bin with nothing to put in it. Empty hangers. Unconsciously I believed for a very long time that wasn’t right – all spaces should be filled. Like it was a rule.

Having addressed the initial discomfort, I find that seeing empty space is luxurious. It makes my mind feel open too. It’s just freeing. As I’ve seriously de-cluttered and organized over roughly the last 8 or so years, it never occurred to me there might one day be empty spaces, or that they would somehow challenge me.

The more I get rid of the more I want to get rid of. I look around and say, “What else?” “What else can go?”

I find that some of what I’ve hung onto suited a younger me and that I must reconsider it in light of middle-aged me. Does it still suit me? Is it age-appropriate? Is it representative of who I want to be? Is there a place for it in my future?

So why does all this matter? Well, I’ve known lots of people who either lived surrounded by stuff and junk or even lived in squalor (it’s hard to keep a place clean when there is stuff everywhere and no bare floors) and they weren’t happy. I understand we can have a powerful relationship to our possessions – I do too – but I also see when there’s a point the stuff OWNS YOU. People keep (too much) stuff around because it makes them feel secure, or so they think but in reality the stuff is helping to keep them insecure. That’s what I think anyway.

Here are two rules of thumb of mine that I’ve been using when approaching my stuff:

1) If I saw it in a store today would I buy it?
2) If I was moving tomorrow would I take it with me?

(I’ve got a 3rd somewhat macabre one you cannot disregard if it seems too dark, “If I was dead would someone else want this?”)

These questions  force my hand. They show me how much the item really does or does not mean to me. It has raised my standards too and that’s a good thing. What I’m willing to keep around is tied to how I think about myself. What I deserve. What I’m worth. How I want to live.

At times I believe our stuff gets shabby when we’re looking the other way. I mean a pair of socks, for instance, doesn’t get pilled or lose its elastic overnight. It happens gradually and that makes us less likely to notice. I need to look with fresh eyes and decide whether something is serving me, adding to my life. Whether it’s socks or more substantial things.

I am still a consumer. Still a shopper. But I am taking in less than I am moving out. And the quality of what I buy and/or bring home has gone up. Now I consider far more carefully before I decide I want something. Sometimes when I acquire an item I give myself a set amount of time to use it (same thing with things I’m thinking about getting rid of). If I don’t use it in that time frame it goes. No more one day, maybe in five years or whatever, I might need this. If I give it some thought I can usually figure out why I’m not using something and further, a self-imposed deadline gives me an incentive to use it and form an opinion one way or the other.

It’s hard to find the right words to convey – and I know I’ve tried before in this blog – but for me possessions and the way I live are directly tied into who I am. I have a vision. I have a vision of who I want to be and how I want to live. It’s tricky to totally articulate it as a wholesale philosophy since much of it is based in feeling. But I know this. I want things to be beautiful, pleasing to the eye and to the senses. I want to feel a sense of calm and comfort. I want to be at ease. I want to look around with pleasure. I want to feel secure and in control. I want to feel cared for. My “stuff” is part and parcel of that.

Clutter rules (no, Clutter RULES)

I’ve written before about de-cluttering and organizing, which, like any other practice or commitment, is ongoing. I have less clutter and am more organized than I’ve ever been in my life. My home is not high end but attractive and fairly stream-lined. I generally know where things are. I can look around with pleasure and a sense of accomplishment so I would not be embarrassed to show you around if you turned up unannounced (but don’t turn up unannounced, okay?!) Still, there is always more to get rid of and areas where things accumulate.

Several books helped me improve my thinking about possessions. I took many things to heart but one idea was that being surrounded by stuff and things could serve as a distraction, to keep someone from focusing on more important issues, specifically those they should be addressing. As is true of any other crutch, obsession, or addiction, once the coping element is removed, a person has to deal directly with whatever is really amiss. That is, when the tables are cleared, there is nothing between you and “the world,” you and your troubles – and that’s a good thing. That makes sense to me.

I was never a hoarder, never someone who had a serious issue with clutter. As a lifetime renter, hanging onto stuff (and moving it from place to place) was not an option. That alone was incentive to not own a whole lot. Having stayed in one place for some time now though, I’ve seen the temptation to collect.

My parents stayed in one place for decades and kept a lot of junk. Things were loosely organized. Yes, they had many children (and I absolutely understand when children are involved, there is going to be much more stuff), but even when those children were gone, the stuff stayed. My mother blamed my father for owning so much junk, but she kept a lot of stuff too, just different kinds. Regular de-cluttering was not part of the way I grew up. Hanging onto stuff, keeping it “in case” very much was. I took my parents’ attitudes into my adulthood but I didn’t see that for a long time. I had to examine what was in my head from childhood versus how things could be. Chances are most people repeat the patterns they knew early.

There are specific practices that help me. When I am looking through my things with an eye to getting rid of stuff, I ask myself questions like:

1) If I was moving, would I take this?
2) If I died tomorrow, would somebody else want this item (or would it be promptly thrown out? “Good god, why was she keeping this??!”)
3) Would Madonna have this in her house? (You may substitute anybody you like but although she and I have very different lifestyles and means, Madonna works for me because she seems like somebody who treats herself well and wouldn’t keep crap around.)
4) Would I be sorry if I got rid of this? Would my life be any different?
5) Am I keeping this for reasons other than it’s useful, meaningful, or makes me happy?
6) Are the reasons I was keeping this no longer true?
7) Why am I keeping this?

This isn’t original, but one de-cluttering idea is to place all the clothes that are on hangers backward in your closet. As you remove and wear them, the hanger is turned back around. (If there is something about the garment you don’t like after wearing it, good-bye to it.) After 6 months or a year, it’s obvious what isn’t getting worn. This idea can be applied to other objects as well. I am currently doing the same thing with my music collection to see if I am hanging onto music I no longer like or listen to.

If I try on a piece of clothing in my closet and there’s something not right with it, I stick a little note on it with the date and what was wrong, such as on a pair of pants “4/16 too tight at the waist but baggy in the butt”. That way if I revisit the clothing in 6 months and the issue is still the same, I know it’s time to get rid of it. Sometimes I just write “not flattering” and see later if I still think that. I do the same thing with other objects as “needs cord” or “missing a piece” or “needs repair”. (Nothing is allowed to sit around listlessly for 3 years with a “needs repair” note stuck on it.)

I date things. If uncertain about whether to get rid of an item I put it in a box or bag with a date on it and set it out of the way. When it isn’t missed for 6 months or a year, there’s a better sense of how important it is or isn’t. I will also write dates on things indicating when a decision needs to be made.

I put my hands on everything I own on a regular basis. Otherwise they “cease to exist”. I will never have a box I don’t open for five years because what is the point?

An easy way to organize is to have numbered containers and a corresponding list saying what’s in each one. Same idea with a drawer or closet. Instead of rummaging around hunting for something, it’s quicker to consult a simple list. Every now and again I look to make sure the lists are current and accurate. This isn’t fancy stuff; just handwritten notes. It is just too easy to forget what you own and where it is otherwise, especially if it’s in the back of a closet or hidden away in an attic or on a top shelf out of sight. I tell myself all the time “I’ll remember so-and-so” – where I stored something – but often enough I don’t, so I know not to trust myself.

“Stuff”

I think a lot about stuff, things, and consumerism. Both how they play in my life and on a broader scale. It is easy in America, to fall into tunnel vision, where the focus is on gobs & gobs of possessions, forever trading up, keeping current, going bigger, and god forbid, not getting left behind. I live very simply; I don’t have money or things by the standards around me, yet even I am susceptible to the desires perpetually stroked by our consumer culture. I don’t know when exactly happiness and possessions became so inextricably linked here – likely further back in time than I’d guess, but linked they are.

At times I intentionally force myself out of the limited tunnel of vision, and think about how my life and possessions might appear to someone in the second or third world. It’s almost embarrassing to consider, especially when I’m feeling deprived in any fashion. I see an abundance. Food, clothes, entertainment. I see the positive effects of lifelong nutrition and dental care. I see plants, greenery and the upside of nature. I see education and access to books. And access is a great word here, because that may be the one thing, access of all stripes, that stands out in relief. This kind of reflection jogs my thoughts out of wanting mode and makes me see that what I have is enough for a happy life. That is, I’m reminded that if I am not happy, or more accurately, satisfied, it is not the fault of my possessions or what my life affords me, literally and figuratively.

Within the last couple years, I have put my hands on every last thing I own. There are no “mystery boxes,” no “what is this part for?” conundrums, no “I haven’t worn this shirt in 10 years but dagnabbit I’m keeping it anyway” stances. If I’m hanging onto anything extraneous or illogical, I know what it is and where it is. I’ve moved a lot of junk on down the road. It’s outta here. A woman I know told me that you spend the first half of your life collecting things and the second half getting rid of them. I’d never heard that before! It sure sounds like what smart people would do. I can’t exactly sign on for that plan though, because I never really had much in the first place, and what I mean by that are nice, quality things. I don’t have any family heirlooms, no good China, no investment pieces. What I’ve sent packing was detritus, even if it took awhile, in some instances a long while, to see that.

There are still things I want, still cravings and wishes. However, I can catch myself and decipher what’s motivating those urges. I think carefully before bringing anything into my life. There has to be room for it in every sense. I now buy smallish things that make my life easier or more enjoyable, that I did without in the past (whether I opted out, they didn’t yet exist, or I just didn’t know they existed), but even they are subject to standards. It’s a bit of a cliché that when you get rid of old things, space is freed for better things. I gotta admit, cliché or not, I’ve found it to be true. Habit, fear, and imagined senses of obligation (“I must hang onto this!”) drive much of what keeps a person stuck. And what I’m saying applies to objects yes, but it’s shown itself beyond that as well. I hadn’t figured on that. The thinking changes I’ve made are broad and philosophical in scope. You have to clear the decks of all the crap and clutter, create space and then consider what you want to fill in the spaces with, if anything. That’s where I’m at anyway.

My “stuff” isn’t getting the better of me any more

Probably like (too) many things, we first learn about “stuff” [tilts head toward the late George Carlin] from our parents. My parents hung onto their stuff. There were two generations between us – they could have been my grandparents age-wise and had lived through the U.S. Great Depression – and I have to think that affected how they approached their belongings. They weren’t of the same exact mindset and that was but one of the things which caused friction between them. (Note to self: Only cohabitate with people who share your attitudes about stuff.)

I grew up believing that a person could have one nice thing of a type for “special” (that was almost never allowed to be used be it shoes, a piece of jewelry, a dish, a dress), and the rest had to be kinda crappy or run-of-the-mill. I learned to hang onto things, because you just never know. And: don’t be wasteful. Contrary to increasingly popular attitudes about scaling back and getting rid of things you don’t need, when I was coming up, the message (from what I heard and read in articles & books) was about how to keep things. But there’s only so many pencil holders made from tricked out tin cans a gal can use.

Over the course of my life, I’ve moved a lot. I don’t mean around the country, but the way a typical renter moves a lot. And I hauled all my sh*t with me. It just didn’t occur to me that I could let things go. I felt an obligation to keep every stuffed animal given to me by old boyfriends, friends or relatives (even though I didn’t really like having them, or so darn many of them past the age of 20 or so); every greeting card, everything I’d made, every knick-knack, almost every present received. It wasn’t as if I was toting around heirlooms, antiques, and things that would appreciate in value. (As I told a cousin who expressed regret over possibly having tossed out too many things, if they were gold bricks you would have saved them.) I’ve kept house plants that were ailing and/or I didn’t like. It’s a plant, a living thing: you can’t throw that out! I kept broken or substandard things: you might be able to fix it one day. Or it’s good enough (and here’s the uncomfortable, then-unconscious part: …for you.)

I never lived in squalor. I always cleaned. But I couldn’t always lay my hands on things I was looking for; my shelves were stacked with books and knick-knacks, my closets were full, my paper files plentiful. Every time I saw certain items – things from the past, broken stuff, things that were once nice, jewelry I no longer wore, things I’d hauled home with the thought of one day making something with them, magazines and books I hadn’t read (yet) – I felt twinges of guilt or unease. Those were familiar sensations, part of the diet I was fed from a very young age, and had been toting around for years. Applying them to my belongings was largely my own doing. (Feelings are always in need of outlets are they not?! We just look around for what’s at hand.)

As I started to look at myself differently – from reading, from thinking, from growing up – I started to look at the stuff differently too. Part of what motivated me was being involved in dismantling the households and possessions of a few people who had died. There is nothing like seeing what another person has held onto to shock you into action. Looks like THEY never found a use for 20 old glass jars. As I mentioned in one of my earliest posts, I saw a garage belonging to a woman I know that was almost empty. It housed a car and almost nothing else. I was so impressed! I watched public personalities like the quirky, common-sensical Peter Walsh, clutter master, and too cute designer Nate Berkus, on TV. I couldn’t relate to the shopping habits and hording I saw in many of the people profiled, but the basic principals I could. I read books from the library: Throw Out 50 Things, Peter Walsh’s books, and others.

What these people said made sense. It’s like they gave me the permission I’d been seeking. I remember one author mentioning that a shelf didn’t have to be filled. Maybe it’s terribly obvious, but that had never occurred to me before. I felt huge relief in letting things go. It became a game and a challenge (and I love both!). What else can I get rid of? I wanted to look around and only see things that pleased me. It wasn’t about money. It didn’t require a bunch of spending, so much as getting creative. Raising my standards. I stopped accepting substandard stuff from other people, both tangible and not. And not to get too metaphaphysical on you, but as I did this, better stuff came along when I needed it.

Don’t imagine I now live in a museum, stark and bare, the kitchen stocked with a simple bowl and a single spoon, the shelves stripped, no knick-knacks or houseplants in evidence. Not at all. I like having pictures on the wall, plants in every room, knick-knacks on shelves, and a couple time-saving devices in the kitchen. Doesn’t have to be pricey or high-end. Comfortable, organized, and attractive is the goal. I need a place that makes me feel cozy and safe and at ease. I need pretty. But I’m mindful and careful now. The whole kit and caboodle requires maintenance, needs me to be vigilant and keep my eyes on the prize.

I’m a “borrower”

I study people. I’ve been doing it for as long as I can remember. Before I consciously knew what I was doing. This trait could stem from a number of factors but at any rate I’ve become highly aware of it. One aspect is that I am often fascinated by how other people do things. I want to know if they’ve figured out a way of being or thinking or doing that I’d like to incorporate. Sometimes I watch and think: Wow you can do that? I hadn’t thought of that. So I borrow.

I dated a man years back who, when asked a question be it by me or someone else, didn’t immediately answer. He took his time and formed a response. It didn’t seem ignorant or designed to be somehow passive aggressive, but just his nature. By contrast, all my life when asked a question, I hopped to in an effort to immediately answer it. I still tend to go that way but realized there’s no particular requirement to do so. It’s quite possible that a man can get away with taking his sweet time in responding more so than can a woman, but just seeing another way was so useful to me. Huh!

In recent years I’ve been on a serious kick of de-cluttering. I don’t mean to say I ever lived in squalor or had piles of junk in every room. No, I just hung onto collectibles and old birthday cards and more than a few things that might be “useful” one day. (It won’t surprise you to learn my parents were this way and then some. Quite then some.) So I’d begun to rethink all of this. I read books and took ideas where I found them. About 2 years ago I saw a garage belonging to a woman I know. And it was all but EMPTY. It contained basically a CAR. That empty garage became imprinted on my psyche. I wanted an empty garage. And I don’t even have a garage. Or a car for that matter. But you get the idea. Well, I hope you do. My life is a lot more like that empty garage now. I have plenty of stuff but I don’t have too much stuff.

When you are sick, I learned, make dinner in the morning so it’ll be there waiting later when chances are what little energy you had that day is spent. Long ago a former neighbor mentioned this and I am invariably sorry when I forget her clever idea.

When I was younger, I knew a man with 10 years on me who started exercising routinely. The men in his family he said, with a lone exception, had all died by 40. He didn’t want to join the Dead Under 40 Club so he committed to making exercise a part of his life sooner rather than later – or too late. Although at the time with the perspective of youth I gave little thought to an exercise routine or the notion of dying before 40, this man’s words (and those of author Covert Bailey which echoed them) made a deep impression. I started exercising young and haven’t stopped. (And just so you know he did see 40 and is alive today.)